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.”

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