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!”

 

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