The French Budget Minister Francois Baron leaned over his desk to look at the man many considered would solve the case.
He was hardly more than five feet four inches but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. Even if everything on his face was covered, the tips of moustache and the pink-tipped nose would be visible.
The neatness of his attire was almost incredible; and a peck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound. It was hard to see how this little man, who limped badly, had been in his time one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police.
Baron said: “You know we have leads in this case?”
Poirot sighed. “Tout de même, I must thank the pipe-smoking undersecretary for French Fries for bringing this uh, this extraordinary case to my awareness. I have examined your leads, Monsieur and I understand that leads are mostly for, how do you say, dogs – and these criminals are not “dogs” but hackers.”
“So what then, Mr Poirot is the outcome of your deductions?”
Poirot raised his cane with a flourish.
“Let us for a moment reconstruct the scene of the crime. In December there was a meeting of all the top Ministers including the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who raised eyebrows when he appeared without a young belly dancer?
“That same night there was someone with a great deal of intelligence, who chose to hide it in the one place where its presence would not be remarked. But we must be even more intelligent that he does not suspect us of being intelligent at all.
“That night this very clever hacker broke into the French government’s websites and attempted to steal documents.”
“Surely you cannot suggest that the Moroccan belly dancer Karima el-Mahroug was responsible for such a hack?” retorted Baron
Poirot raised his finger. “Monsieur, I have not gained my considerable respect among Agatha Christie fans by working out the most obvious answer to the question, or ruling out the most ridiculous idea too early.
“But in this case I must point out that the attacks were directed by Chinese servers which seemed to receive the Intelligence in the raid. The topic was particularly contentious for the Chinese, who have been refusing to target exchange rate valuations, currency reserves and economic surpluses, I believe.”
“So you think the largest attack on the French computer services was a Chinese attack?”
“That, Monsieur, would be too obvious. While there is no doubt the actors in this attack were determined professionals and organised, they were sufficiently professional to cover their tracks,” said Poirot. “I believe that the attack was conducted a little, shall we say, closer to home than all that.”
“Surely you are not suggesting…”
“Precisely, Monsieur Baron, precisely where were you on the night of the attacks?”