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.

50 comments

  1. Poor Hastings! I’d be tempted to snatch the paper away from Catchpool myself. To be berated by such a detective as Poirot would be humiliating.
    Love the humor – Oh, Crikey! – really?

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