Month: January 2017

Never A Cross Word – Part Four

A Poirot parody for Captain Hastings fans everywhere

 

“The first of the Marble Murder victims is a name and face we all know well,” began Chief Inspector Japp, consulting a dishevelled collection of notes written in a spidery hand. “Not that there was much left of his face, to be honest.”

This was in fact true. American actor and socialite Randy Beavis had been discovered in various pieces at his London address some three weeks ago. At the time he was playing Algernon in the Aldwych theatre’s production of The Importance Of Being Earnest, but he was better known on both sides of the Atlantic for his rambunctious antics in the public eye, and yet even more salacious ones in private. He was a man with many enemies; the theatrical community regarded him as an abomination, his wild behaviours bringing shame upon their number – a treachery to the thespian tribe. Yet the public adored him for his exotic good looks, his fine moustache and for being just as entertaining on the stage as he was off of it. Although reviled by his peers, he was favoured by theatre management for his incomparable ability to draw the crowds and so found himself abundantly availed of work of his choosing. Quite aside from Beavis’ contemporaries, there was also many an angry husband who might bear bloody inclinations towards him, not to mention the fury of dozens of discarded damsels.

“Monsieur Beavis was certainly a man of some character,” said Poirot.

“He’s a little too fond of baring his chest in public for my liking,” muttered Hastings. “If you ask me, a fellow like that is asking for trouble.”

“Perhaps Monsieur Catchpool has an observation he would like to share?” Poirot turned with imploring eyes and an encouraging smile towards the armchair. As silence mounted, Catchpool became uncomfortably aware that he was the focus of interest.

“I say!” exclaimed Hastings “The rascal is reading a newspaper! Good lord!”

“I’m not!” retorted Catchpool. “Really, I’m not. It’s just that… four down…”

“He’s doing the ruddy crossword,” Hastings was furious. “I say, I have a mind to bop him on the nose.”

“Chief Inspector, I think it better that you proceed with haste to our next victim,” Poirot said quickly, motioning for Hastings to help himself to another sherry.

“Actually, Hastings, I think this one might be of some interest to you,” began Japp, shuffling his notes. “A Margot Askwith, the leading lady in the Novello’s Oh, Crikey – a play with which I believe you are familiar?”

“Oh, yes!” replied Hastings. “A wonderful show. What could be better than a good British farce? But I am afraid I haven’t seen this particular production as I’ve been out of the country, as you know.”

“Tell me Hastings, what is this ‘farce’ you speak of?” asked Poirot, polishing his spectacles as he spoke. “If it is something that entices you to seek out some culture then I wish to know all about it.”

“A farce is a sort of comical play,” explained Hastings. “Lots of slapstick, trousers falling down, people saying ‘I say!’ and ‘Oh, crikey!’ all the time, you know.”

Poirot sighed. It was clearly not the soul-enriching experience that he had come to expect from a theatre. But the name of Margot Askwith was somewhat familiar to him. She had been a celebrated star of the musical hall style in her youth and was, by all accounts, a great beauty. Much of that glamour had been retained into her later years, until the point she was found on the floor of her dressing room.

“You notice gentlemen, do you not, the connections between our first two victims?” Poirot believed the question to be a straightforward one, but when no response was forthcoming, he gladly took it upon himself to explain. “Both are actors, currently starring in lead roles. And the theatres in which they were until so recently performing? They are both on the same street in West London. But this is where our third victim is indeed a mystere – please, Chief Inspector, for you to continue.”

“Well, our third chap is a different prospect entirely,” agreed Japp. “Maurice Kelly – he’s an actor, there is that, but he hadn’t worked properly in months. His last role of note was as the third brother in a touring production of The Fishmonger’s Daughter. They were last seen being booed off stage by an angry mob in St Albans.”

“I can’t say I’ve ever heard of that one,” said Hastings, visibly searching his mind for reference.

“No, nobody has,” Japp concurred. “And no one seems to really know much about him. At least, if they do they aren’t letting on to us.”

Mais non!” exclaimed Poirot. “Ce n’est pas vrai! Catchpool – you know of Monsieur Kelly, do you not?”

Catchpool looked up sharply from his seat, once again in the position of trying to find his place in the conversation.

“I say, I SAY!” Captain Hastings fumed, cheeks flushing at his rising anger. “The wretch has got his nose back in that newspaper. I told you I should bop him. You utter philistine!”

“What have I told you about those blasted crosswords?” boomed Japp, his moustache wild with contempt.

“You should be careful how you speak to me, Chief Inspector…” mumbled Catchpool, bowing his head.

“Don’t you talk back to him, you hear?” raged Hastings. “You’re nothing but a good-for-nothing ingrate!”

Hastings bounded in great strides towards Catchpool, ripping the newspaper from his grasp and tearing it to pieces with the same ferocity deployed by the Marble Murderer, no doubt.

“You’re lucky I don’t jam the ruddy thing down your throat!”

“My dear Captain Hastings, please!” protested Poirot, rising at once to his feet. “It appears to Poirot that we should adjourn our endeavours until the morning. Catchpool, you will meet with me in Chief Inspector Japp’s office at nine o’clock precisely tomorrow morning.”

“I’m coming too, I can’t leave you with this fool at your right hand, Poirot,” said Hastings, eyeing the shredded newspaper and knowing that his host would be irritated by the mess.

Non, Captain Hastings,” Poirot replied. “The detection of the criminal requires both the calmness of the mind and the most precise of the temperaments. At this moment you possess neither one!”

Hasting’s anger was bested by a creeping sense of chagrin and he cast his gaze towards the toes of his shoes. With much remorse, he made a polite but bilious egress.

Never A Cross Word – Part Three

A Poirot parody for Captain Hastings fans everywhere

 

“Inspector Catchpool, if you don’t start doing something useful sometime very soon, you’ll be out on your ear, d’you hear me?”

Chief Inspector Japp glowered across the desk at Catchpool, who had only a copy of the Times to employ as means of defence. Catchpool was very much wishing that he had the stomach for dead people, as alive ones certainly didn’t seem dreadfully keen on him. But like a rat caught in a trap, his mind started scrabbling for a way out.

“If you sack me, I shall tell your wife about your affair with Miss Wandsworth!”

In truth, Catchpool would like nothing more than to be sacked, but he had rent and bills to consider and little in the way of competence to offer an alternative employer. Japp was caught off-guard by this unexpected gumption but remained resolute. He hardened his gaze and gave a great deal of consideration to his position. The Chief Inspector had never been known for his patience but to make a misstep at this juncture would be folly. Japp withdrew his splayed hands from the desk and adopted a more fatherly tone towards Catchpool.

“Listen here, I’m trying to do you a good turn,” began Japp. “Don’t think our friend Hercule Poirot hasn’t noticed you’ve not been pulling your weight. You don’t want to make an enemy of him, I can tell you that.”

“Poirot is always very encouraging of my work!” retorted Catchpool, jutting his chin most unconvincingly. But, in truth, he knew that the great detective was becoming irritated by him. Poirot did his very best to mentor and inspire the dour Inspector, but to no avail. Catchpool was a little disappointed in himself, in fact; although the tussle with the intrigues of four down in today’s Times crossword was equal cause for concern.

“Come on, Catchpool,” said Japp, with a sigh. “Poirot is expecting us at Whitehaven Mansions at eight – hopefully to do one of his famous big announcements about the Marble Murders. Let’s hope so, anyway, because you’ve been getting nowhere!”

The apartment at Whitehaven Mansions complimented its meticulous occupant completely. Although the pervading notion was of order and efficiency, a flair for the aesthetic and an almost obsessive attention to detail were plainly evident in the furnishings. The clean, straight lines of the bookcases were reflected in their resident folios, who stood awaiting their orders like lines of snug little soldiers. Poirot had quite the eye for the more understated varieties of modish decor, which was demonstrated by a number of scrupulously placed table lamps. But none of the fastidious fixtures and fittings could quite compare with the man himself, resplendent as he was in demurely exquisite tailoring and with every hair and extremity diligently preened to perfection. It was Poirot’s earnest belief that when men failed to starch their collars, the downfall of society would be imminent.

Poirot sipped thoughtfully from his small glass of sirop de cassis, taking great care not to wet his magnificent moustache. Whilst a weak tisane would perhaps be better for the little grey cells, a beverage of considerable fortitude was required to tackle these dastardly Marble Murders.

“I say, Poirot, it’s a dashed nuisance that you’ve been landed with that awful Catchpool fellow to help with the investigation,” said Captain Hastings, inspecting his sherry glass which had now been empty for several minutes. “They tell me the man is something of an idiot. And a bounder and a cad, by all accounts – I heard he was thrown out of the bowls club for upsetting the ladies.”

Hastings, although undoubtedly dashing, managed to appear unkempt in the presence of his immaculate host.

“That, Hastings, I do not know to be true in one way or the other,” Poirot’s reply was as measured as the careful sips from his glass. “But if only he would listen to Poirot! Apply his mind in the ways I have shown him – perhaps he could promote himself from idiot to dullard.”

“You’re far too generous about him, old chap,” said Hastings, discretely furnishing himself with a further sherry. “In any case, that fellow gives me the pip.”

A sharp rap from the door to the hallway briefly preceded the arrival of Chief Inspector Japp with a glum-looking Catchpool trailing behind him.

“Well, well! There’s a sight for sore eyes if ever I saw one!” Japp’s face lit up and he brightened his step on seeing his old friend Captain Hastings. Given the illustrious history between the two, one might have expected a warm display of affectionate bonhomie, but the occasion was marked instead by a firm handshake.

Whilst Inspector Japp was very keen to hear all about Hastings’ adventures in Argentina, Poirot preferred to proceed at once to matters of business. They had three grisly murders before them, with three victims all linked by the London stage – and three scenes tied by the presence of rare and unusual marbles. Poirot cleared his throat and the room fell silent.

“Gentlemen, it is to my very great plaisir that I have in my salon not only my fondest friends but also the finest minds in criminal detection!” Poirot turned to the morose figure slumped in the armchair. “It is nice to see you also, Catchpool. Now! We must gather together the facts as we know them and Poirot will machinate them all with his magnificent mind and the killer will be ever nearer our grasp.”

“If you say so, Poirot,” replied Japp, well-used to the great detective’s florid turn of phrase. “What say we start with the victims?”

“Always, when faced with a murder, it is the natural place to begin,” said Poirot, nodding. He placed himself lightly in a high backed chair and closed his eyes, sharpening his wits in anticipation. “Chief Inspector, please tell to me what it is we know about the victims.”

Never A Cross Word – Part Two

A Poirot parody for Captain Hastings fans everywhere

“I am very sorry but you have to understand – I just don’t trust the police!”

A fresh wave of sobbing preceded this querulous outburst from the rather plain young woman sprawled in an armchair, dabbing ineffectually at her eyes with an already sodden handkerchief.

“Please calm yourself, mademoiselle, I can assure you that I am very much not the police.”

Hercule Poirot leant towards the woman, offering her his own embroidered silk handkerchief with a flourish of a gloved hand, a kindly smile glinting beneath his immaculately presented moustache. The portly Belgian had the most disarming manner about him that rendered displays of hysteria useless in his presence – but the particular thing that the woman would always remember about the time she met the famous Hercule Poirot, was how utterly wonderful he smelt.

The woman was the assistant of the recently butchered stage actor, Maurice Kelly. Her name was Philomena Chase, but everyone called her Miss Pip. It was Miss Pip who discovered the grim scene in Kelly’s study and she had been engaged in turbulent weeping ever since. Poirot had brought her down to the drawing room in an effort to aid her composure. Mopping the hot tears from her puffy little cheeks, Miss Pip arranged herself somewhat more delicately in the armchair.

“I’m sorry, Mr Poirot,” she said between sniffs. “It’s all just been such a shock, you see.”

Oui, mademoiselle, murder is rarely an expectation.”

“These Marble Murders have been so horrific!” Miss Pip continued, the hysteria sufficiently subdued, for now. “Why would anyone want to kill our very best actors, why? I just don’t understand…”

Poirot braced himself for further effusions of woe, but thankfully they were not forthcoming. Miss Pip appeared to have regained her poise and replaced her thick-rimmed spectacles on her nose before returning the detective’s handkerchief to him with a grateful look. Taking the handkerchief, Poirot could not help but find a niggle with her last statement. Whilst the first two victims of the Marble Murders – Randy Beavis and Margot Askwith – were indeed celebrated actors, Maurice Kelly was more likely to be referred to as a ‘ham’. Whilst he had appeared in some of the larger stage productions, it was only ever in small roles and speaking parts were kept to an absolute minimum. But he did not wish to upset the young lady once more, so Poirot retained the thought as the preserve of his little grey cells.

“Tell me, mademoiselle, Monsieur Kelly – was he acquainted with Monsieur Beavis and Madame Askwith?”

Miss Pip appeared to consider her response.

“Of course, he knew them in passing, they moved in very similar circles,” she replied. “But he was not close to either of them. I would have known if he was.”

“You would, mademoiselle?”

“Of course!” Miss Pip sniffed. “I know all of his business. I was much more than just an assistant to him, you know…”

These words were conduits to a further influx of grief and Poirot waited politely for the young woman to compose herself once more. He stood silently awaiting the sobs to subside, thinking about a great many things. These murders were all excessively brutal and the rare and unusual marbles a most unnecessary complication. But what vexed Poirot most particularly at this moment was the disappointing performance of the dratted Catchpool – quite possibly Scotland Yard’s most ridiculous detective. He had done his best to keep the reluctant Inspector away from the gorier aspects of the investigation, but it was a gesture that seemed greatly unappreciated – whenever Poirot went to him to inquire as to his progress, the irksome fellow was always to be found with his nose in a crossword. But perhaps his presence was best placed elsewhere, after all. Mademoiselle Pip had made clear her distrust of the police – engaging with Catchpool was unlikely to improve her opinion much.

Speaking of Catchpool, the crime-averse policeman had done a marvellous job of barricading himself in his office, surrounded by great piles of papers and notes pertaining to the Marble Murders case. He had a freshly brewed cup of tea before him, too – three sugars. Unfortunately, Catchpool had made the mistake of perusing some of the photographs from the Askwith crime scene and he was feeling quite unwell, now. All in all, the wretched chap was finding the whole concept of murder rather distressing and he thought it best to calm his fraught mind by turning his attentions to four down in today’s Times crossword. As he mused over the significance of ‘a letter for Socrates (5)’, he was almost able to forget that there was something dreadfully familiar about the latest murder victim. Almost.

Meanwhile Poirot was beginning to understand Miss Pip’s apprehension when it came to dealings with officers of the law. Whilst questions about Maurice Kelly’s recent activities resulted in little more than anguished laments, he found that he was able to pick at useful threads from the actor’s past without causing too much calamity. And even the smallest of threads can find their roots in the most curious of knots.

“Poirot! I say!”

Miss Pip turned in her chair with a start, but Poirot made no move except for the slightest bristle of delight from his moustache. It was a voice he had not heard in far too long and he did not need to move a muscle to know that it could only belong to one man.

“Oh, come on, old chap, don’t be like that,” Captain Hastings strode into the room, hands in pockets and beaming furiously. He tipped his hat to a curious Miss Pip, before approaching his old friend. “I say. Unsolved murders, damsels in distress – it looks like I got here just in time!”