The small and dreary flat of Inspector Catchpool was made none the more inviting by the lateness of the hour and the presence of its occupant’s corpse, sprawled upon the floor near the writing bureau. A nonchalant Chief Inspector Japp loitered in the doorway, flanked by an equally blasé Captain Hastings. Neither had been especially fond of Catchpool and both had good reason to feel some relief at his unexpected passing. Japp had concerns that his ineffectual colleague would reveal details of his affair with Miss Wandsworth, whilst Hastings viewed Catchpool as an imposter who had taken his own rightful place at Poirot’s side. Although neither seemed to much mourn the deceased, it was surely beyond the realms of possibility that either could have had a hand in his fate.
When Hercule Poirot first arrived at the scene his manner was one of district sorrow, an attitude considered inexplicable by Japp and Hastings. Whilst they found Catchpool dour, rude and incompetent, in truth Poirot viewed him as a parent might their least favourite child. He was always harbouring hope that the boy might one day redeem himself. And now it would seem that that day would never come.
“I say,” said Hastings, as Poirot went about his meticulous business of examining the body. “For such a dull fellow, Catchpool certainly had a most interesting death!”
This was true. The unfortunate Inspector appeared to have died from asphyxiation, having had the crossword section of The Times inserted with considerable force so far down his throat that breathing would have been impossible. On the writing desk were further crosswords, from every publication imaginable and even some that he had been constructing himself. A chaotic notepad had tumbled to the floor – perhaps during a scuffle with his assailant – and among the frantic jottings was one word which stood out. Written in a heavy hand, as if the writer had gone over the letters several times, was the word ‘SIGMA’.
Poirot picked up the notepad and replaced it on the desk, before returning to the floor and busying himself with some unseen thing of interest near the toppled chair upon which Catchpool must have been sitting shortly before his demise.
“Where have you been anyway, Poirot?” asked Inspector Japp when it became clear that the detective would not respond to Hastings’ comment. “I’ve had my men looking all over for you.”
“They were looking in the wrong places, my dear Chief Inspector,” Poirot replied, removing himself from beneath the desk and returning his attentions once more to the corpse. “All evening the little grey cells have been taunting Poirot, so I returned to the scene of Monsieur Kelly’s murder, to see if they were correct.”
“And were they?” asked Hastings, eyes agog. Poirot smiled.
“Mais oui, Captain Hastings! The little grey cells, they never lie.” Poirot moved his gaze to the Chief Inspector. “Tell me, Chief Inspector, it was you that discovered our friend, non?”
“That’s right Poirot,” Japp replied. “I came round here after I finished my shift. I intended to give him a proper ear-bashing, I don’t mind telling you. I hadn’t heard a peep from him all day, much less got a sniff of the statement he should have taken from Miss Pip.”
Poirot gazed for a moment at his shoes, so highly polished that one could observe infinity in the toecaps.
“Malheureusement, it seems that Monsieur Catchpool did not visit Miss Pip after all,” said Poirot. “This was to her great relief as, you see, there is some history between the two of them. Or, more correctly, between Catchpool and her late employer, Monsieur Kelly.”
“Really, Poirot?” exclaimed Hastings, unable to contain his surprise. “Good lord. What possible connection could there be between them?”
“When both our friend Catchpool and Monsieur Kelly were young men, there was la lutte – a duel for the affections of a young lady,” explained Poirot. “It seems that Catchpool was the victor and Monsieur Kelly, he was never the same again. Miss Pip considers this event to be la raison for Monsieur Kelly losing his confidence and never reaching his potential as a great actor, the one that she believes he could have been. Her love for the late Monsieur Kelly meant that she has never forgiven Monsieur Catchpool and has never trusted the police since.”
“I say, that seems a bit extreme, don’t you think?” Hastings remarked.
“Well, you know what ladies are like,” sighed Japp. “A woman scorned and whatnot.”
“Exactement, Chief Inspector. A woman scorned.”
“Surely you can’t think that Miss Pip killed Catchpool?” said Hastings. “Dainty little thing like that. Doesn’t look like she has it in her.”
“I think it’s fairly obvious who killed Catchpool, don’t you Poirot?” said Japp, somewhat unexpectedly. The remark caught Poirot off-guard and in his surprise was able to return a quizzical look only. “Well – look at him, for goodness sake. Newspaper shoved down his neck like that – I distinctly remember someone threatening to do the very thing to him just last night…”
Silence fell about the room as collective recollection was soon followed by horrified realisation.
“Good lord…” muttered Captain Hastings. “But.. I didn’t mean… oh my.”
“This gives me no pleasure, I assure you,” said Japp, turning to the Captain. “But I don’t see that I have any other option. Captain Arthur Hastings – I am arresting you for the murder of Inspector Edward Catchpool!”