Chief Inspector Japp and Captain Hastings arrived at Whitehaven Mansions at eight o’clock precisely, as instructed by Hercule Poirot. When they reached the door of his apartment, they found it invitingly ajar. Nudging the door open with a cautious palm, Hastings led the way through to the hallway, followed by an impatient Japp. When they reached the hallway, an unusual and troublesome sight awaited them.
“What do you make of that, Hastings?” asked Japp.
Hastings scanned the scene but was able to reply only with a shrug. All alongside the far wall were stacked trunks and cases and it appeared that many of Poirot’s personal effects were wrapped and prepared for storage.
“Perhaps the old chap is off on his holidays,” said Hastings, eventually. But his words were made hollow by the growing feeling of ominous dread in the pit of his stomach.
They exchanged worried glances, before heading through to the living room, where they hoped to find their Belgian friend. Poirot was, indeed, awaiting their arrival, pocket watch in hand and a tray of sweet sherries arranged on the occasional table before him. Their punctuality evidently delighted him, as he greeted them with a cheery countenance as he replaced his pocket watch and motioned for his guests to help themselves to the refreshments on offer. Japp and Hastings duly obliged, but their concerned expressions drew a quizzical response from Poirot.
“Is the sherry not to your liking, messieurs?”
“I’m sure the sherry is very good, Poirot, but what’s all this business with the cases in the hallway?” asked Hastings.
“Ah, bien sûr, the cases. Poirot, he is going away imminently, mon amie…”
Hastings and Japp simultaneously cried out in protest, but were hushed into silence by Poirot before either could remonstrate further.
“Poirot will resolve this all in good time, I promise. Mais d’abord, I have much to explain to you both.”
“Right, yes,” said Japp, taking a seat and another sherry, feeling that he would have great need of both. “Hastings told me that you have solved the Marble Murders.”
“Hastings, he is always getting carried away with himself,” replied Poirot, eyeing the Captain in mock admonishment. “I told him that I had solved one of the murders.”
“But surely if you have solved one, you’ve solved them all?” said Hastings, perplexed.
Poirot sipped at his sherry, before replacing the glass on the platter and removing a small hand mirror from his jacket pocket. He made fastidious adjustments to his eyebrows and moustache, before removing imaginary specks from his gleaming bald head. His personal preparations complete, Poirot composed himself in the time honoured fashion with which he delivered his legendary conclusions of criminal cases of all descriptions.
“Chief Inspector, you remember the morning when I first met with yourself and your experts, the morning when Inspector Catchpool, he failed to arrive in your office?”
“Of course, Poirot,” Japp replied.
“I told you that perhaps he was struggling with the statement of Miss Pip, non? And so I took my leave to go and assist him. Mais, I knew I would not find him with Miss Pip, as I had given him no such instructions. Of course, Miss Pip had already told to Poirot the story of Catchpool stealing the girlfriend of her late employer, the unfortunate Maurice Kelly – to send Catchpool to take her statement would have been folly. Instead, I went straight to the place where I expected to find him.”
“And where was that?” asked Hastings, agog at the unfolding tale. He had always enjoyed Poirot’s theatrical explanations immensely.
“Why, I went to his residence,” Poirot continued. “On numerous occasions previously I have found him there, nose-deep in his crosswords, when he was supposed to be working. It is a most infuriating thing, non? And so it was that Poirot found him there, still wrestling with the wretched four down – ‘A letter for Socrates’. Zut alors! But it made Poirot so very angry. Especially as it was not a particularly difficult clue.”
“Aha!” exclaimed Japp, realisation dawning upon him. “‘SIGMA’ – the Greek letter ’S’. It was written in large letters on the notepad found by Catchpool’s desk!”
“Exacte! But even when Poirot told this to him, still he would not think about the case of the Marble Murders. Still he insisted on thinking only of his crosswords. The rage within me, it was too much. Before I knew what I was doing, I had taken the pages from The Times and I had forced them into the throat of Inspector Catchpool, with such violence that I never knew I possessed. Such violence, that, I am sad to say, killed him.”
The stunned silence from Hastings and Japp hung heavily in the air, just as their mouths hung open in unequivocal disbelief.
“Good lord,” muttered Hastings. Then, unable to think of anything else, “I say.”
“But I don’t understand it, Poirot,” remarked Japp. “You were always so protective of Catchpool. I mean, there was never a cross word between you two the entire time. How could you find it in yourself to kill him?”
“I think I know,” said Hastings, slowly nodding. “Yes, I see it all, now. Inspector Catchpool was never up to being a decent assistant to the great Hercule Poirot. And with these diabolical Marble Murders to contend with, no doubt the chap was a positive hinderance. I bet Poirot needed him out of his way – and no doubt hearing about my… difficulties in Argentina, he wanted to recruit me again and do us both a favour! I bet that’s it, isn’t it, old friend?”
Poirot smiled once more and considered his response. It would not harm the situation further for his great friend to believe that this was the truth, nor would it impair his own reputation for the facts of his furious temper to be concealed. With Hastings now looking at him with such warmth that might usually be reserved for auburn haired ladies, Poirot nodded ardently in response.
“But what about these marbles we found at Catchpool’s, then?” continued Japp. “I expect you put them there yourself, did you?”
“Oui, Chief Inspector, I did. I wanted it to appear as if the Marble Murderer had claimed him also as a victim. When I was examining the scene, I slipped the marbles under his desk, as if they had fallen there in a struggle with the Marble Murderer. It became très difficle when you arrested Captain Hastings, but luckily the marbles were found before too long.”
“Oh, don’t you worry about that, Poirot,” said Hastings, getting quite swept up in events. “All part of the grand plan, I’ll wager! Very clever of you, I must say.”
“Mais, not clever enough,” sighed Poirot. “When I took the marbles from the scene of Monsieur Kelly’s murder, it was very late at night and so dark. I did not notice that they had tiny flecks of blood on them. I selected those marbles furthest from the body, thinking they would be untainted, but I was mistaken.”
“But why are you confessing to us now, Poirot?” asked Japp. “You probably could have got away with it. I would never have suspected you, you know.”
“This is true, Chief Inspector. But when Hastings noticed the blood on the marbles – something Poirot had not himself noticed – I felt great shame that in my attempt to perform the perfect murder, I had failed to fool even him. My only recourse – confession.”
“So I suppose the packed bags are for your midnight flit, then?” said Hastings. “Don’t worry old chap, Japp and I will see you on your way under the cover of night. I’ll not let them lock you up.”
Poirot shook his head, which was now heavy with remorse.
“Mais non, Hastings. Poirot is prepared to accept his fate and will take his bags to prison with him. The remainings of my possessions must pass to you, mon amie, for whatever use you see fit.”
“Now steady on a minute, Poirot,” Japp interrupted. “I’m not sure that sending you to prison is the best idea. There’s still the Marble Murder case to solve for one thing. And no one really liked old Catchpool anyway, I can’t see as it would hurt to let everyone believe that his murder was a foil to implicate Hastings.”
Japp got to his feet and searched around casually for the sherry. He could have sworn that Poirot’s eyes were filled with tears.
“You will not send me to prison, Chief Inspector?”
“Bugger that for a game of soldiers, Poirot!” exclaimed Japp. “No, no. We’ll say no more about it. Both of you report to my office first thing tomorrow. We’ve got a murderer to catch!”
Unable to find where Poirot kept the sherry, Chief Inspector Japp took his leave and disappeared out into the night. Poirot and Hastings – reunited as the greatest crime fighting force in all of London – thought briefly that they might indulge in a celebratory manly embrace. But that would never do. A firm handshake would more than suffice.