Never A Cross Word – Part Five

A Poirot parody for Captain Hastings fans everywhere

Hercule Poirot fixed his considerable gaze upon the only thing in Chief Inspector Japp’s office that was currently making any sound at all. It was a round-faced wall clock encased in a mahogany octagonal surround, with a heavy brass pendulum swinging morosely beneath. He had watched as the minute hand juddered first to one minute passed the hour, then two and now – heaven forbid – three minutes after nine o’clock. Poirot despised tardiness in all its forms, but none so much as when it left him waiting to proceed with his work. To a lesser extent, the great detective maligned the time wasted of his professional associates; not only Chief Inspector Japp, but also two experts Japp had invited along to assist with the case.

The Chief Inspector had assured Poirot that they were experts, although the immaculate Belgian was having several doubts about such an affirmation. The two persons sat across the desk from him appeared both flamboyant and untidy. In ordinary circumstances one or the other would be somewhat acceptable, but to Poirot’s mind finding both traits together in a singular soul was cause for great concern. And Japp had succeeded in finding two such souls to present to him. The start to the day’s endeavours was anything but auspicious, it seemed. Tapping the silver capped handle of his walking cane, Poirot uttered a curt sigh before turning to Chief Inspector Japp.

“Chief Inspector, we can wait no longer, please to begin our meeting before we find ourselves availed with yet more of the dead actors.”

“You don’t want to give Catchpool another couple of minutes?” replied Japp, glancing up at the clock. “He’s only a few minutes late.”

“It seems that our friend perhaps has found more urgent matters with which to occupy his time,” said Poirot, with surprising lenience. “Now that I think of it, it occurs to Poirot that he may well have paid a visit to Miss Pip in order that he might take a statement from her, now she has recovered from the terrible shock of Monsieur Kelly’s untimely demise.”

“But Poirot, I distinctly remember you saying to him last night to meet us at nine o’clock sharp, here in my office,” Japp retorted, eyebrows bunched in confusion. “I really don’t know why you are so forgiving of that fellow, he’s a bloody nuisance, I tell you. I’ve a good mind to send him off with a flea in his ear.”

“Please, Chief Inspector – you must have some of the – how you say? – charity towards Catchpool. You know how nervous he is of the serious crime. Let us try to think the best of him for now.”

Japp shook his head in disbelief at Poirot, but as he appeared inexplicably adamant about the matter, saw nothing for it but to press on regardless.

“If you say so, Poirot,” Japp grumbled, turning to his neatly typed notes, no doubt prepared for him by the ever efficient Miss Wandsworth. “Right then. As you know, I have invited along these two good people to help us with the Marble Murders case. Now the pleasantries are out of the way, I say we get straight down to business.”

Introductions had been made, although Poirot felt they had lacked the usual formality he might have expected from a professional circumstance. Even so, both were acclaimed practitioners in their respective fields, although murder investigations were certainly not their habitual familiarity. Sadie Darling was a pinched-faced middle-aged woman with a most interesting and somewhat alternative approach to her personal presentation, although she lacked a flair for co-ordination. Her chosen outfit of red jacket and green skirt was almost offensive to the delicate sensibilities of Hercule Poirot and he saw no reason for the garish decorative feathers stitched to her lapel. Her mousey hair had been reluctantly persuaded into an erratic bun and a pair of fine wire spectacles sat neatly upon her upturned nose. Darling was one of the leading professors of Astronomy at Cambridge University and her knowledge of the night skies was unsurpassed.

Next to her sat a ruddy and corpulent gentleman, whose clothes appeared to be losing the battle of containing his enormous bulk. All present were fervently hoping against an early surrender. Wild and woolly white hair cascaded about reddened cheeks and swept across the sparkling little dots of eyes that had been partially consumed by a face that seemed far too big for itself. Although Poirot wished that the fellow had seen fit to attire himself in a suit of correct size, he was at least heartened to note that the gentleman was wearing a very fine bow tie indeed. This was Angus Atkinson, a leading astrologer of nowhere in particular and considered beyond compare by no-one but himself. Nonetheless, this seemed adequate for Chief Inspector Japp.

“I am very curious to know why you have brought me here, Mr Japp,” began Darling, adjusting her glasses at infinitesimal increments along the bridge of her nose. “I do not believe my expertise has ever been required in criminal matters.”

“I myself have been involved in several mysterious events and investigations,” countered Atkinson. “Tell us what it’s all about, then, Mr Poirot.”

“You are both most kind for coming at such short notice,” Poirot smiled, flicking his eyes between the two. “Let me explain to you what it is that Poirot is thinking. You know of the Marble Murders, oui? So named because the most beautiful and rare marbles have been scattered at every scene. Within the glass of these marbles are the tiniest flakes of the precious metals and they glitter and shine in ways most wonderful. And it struck Poirot, as he was observing them among the mutilated corpses, that they look to him just as the stars in the sky. And then the little grey cells, they tell Poirot something more. They tell him that the victims themselves – are they not stars also? It is perhaps that our murderer is familiar with the heavens and maybe the marbles have not been placed randomly after all. Perhaps they are sitting as the constellations would sit in the sky, and it might be that these marbles are giving to us a message, oui?”

Darling and Atkinson stared back with the customary countenance of those not accustomed to working alongside Hercule Poirot. Sensing the growing ambiguity, Chief Inspector Japp stepped in.

“We think that the position of the marbles might represent positioning of stars, perhaps in constellations or,” Japp turned to Atkinson “Perhaps something of a more mystical nature. We’d like you to take a look at the crime scene photographs and see what you think.”

“While you are engaged in this most important of tasks, I will look into things of my own,” said Poirot, rising from his chair and removing his gloves from his pocket. “First, I shall hasten to the address of Monsieur Kelly and offer my assistance to Catchpool in the interview of Miss Pip.”

“Oh, Poirot, this really is too much!” groaned Japp. “He doesn’t need his hand holding if all he’s doing is taking a statement.”

Au contraire, Chief Inspector,” Poirot replied. “Miss Pip is very mistrusting of the police and there is great reason for her to mistrust Catchpool especially. My assistance is very much required, I think.”

With Japp at a loss for words, Hercule Poirot offered his apologies to all assembled and made his way with some haste out of the office.

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