Never A Cross Word – Eight

“I tell you, Poirot, I didn’t do it!”

An agitated Captain Hastings paced the scrubbed floor of his spartan cell, whilst his friend sat patiently on the low mantle that served as a sleeping place for those wretched enough to find themselves in the bowels of Scotland Yard. Poirot looked most out of place in this criminal chamber and sat with an austere rigidity that ensured the absolute minimum of his surface area was in contact with his surroundings.

“Calm yourself, my dear Hastings,” soothed Poirot, his gloved hands gripping his walking cane ever so slightly too tightly. “It is your temper that has caused the trouble in the first place, non?”

“No! I mean yes! But no… oh, Poirot, it really is too much…”

Hastings placed himself heavily next to Poirot and sank his head into his hands, his ordinarily immaculate hair unfurling in sorrowful locks across his forehead. Poirot was thoughtful for a moment, before the anguished sighs of Captain Hastings became too much to bear and he felt compelled to intervene.

“Hastings, I know that it was not you who killed Inspector Catchpool,” he said.

Hastings sat up and when he turned to face Poirot, his drawn features had the suggestion of hope upon them.

“It has not escaped the notice of Poirot that Inspector Catchpool, he was not a man with the many friends,” Poirot continued. “Not even among his colleagues at Scotland Yard. Tell me Hastings, did you notice the notes of Chief Inspector Japp, that he brought with him the other night to my apartment?”

Confusion crept across the face of Captain Hastings, as he tried to recall the events of the evening.

“I can’t say I did, Poirot. What about them?”

“The notes were hand written in a most disorderly fashion and were almost illegible,” Poirot paused to give his companion the opportunity to comment, but no opinion was forthcoming. “Yet his notes are always typed with the greatest precision by the magnificent Miss Wandsworth, non? This was the case when I met with him and his experts yesterday morning. And why is it that Miss Wandsworth was not able to find the time to type the notes of the Chief Inspector? It is because he is keeping her occupied with engagements of another kind…”

The blank look returned to him by Captain Hastings dismayed Poirot and he was forced to persist in his explanation.

“Engagements of which Mrs Japp would no doubt disapprove and, I am certain, that Catchpool found most unsavoury also!”

“Good lord!” exclaimed Hastings. “Don’t tell me Japp’s been having it away with Miss Wandsworth! And Catchpool found out! Do you think he was going to tell his wife and Japp killed him to keep him quiet?”

Wincing at the florid turn of phrase, Poirot was at least comforted that Captain Hastings was at last beginning to grasp the concept of his thinking. Hastings leapt to his feet, the turning cogs in his handsome head bringing him renewed vigour.

“And then there’s Miss Pip – she had it in for the bounder as well,” Hastings resumed his pacing, a thoughtful finger tapping his chin.

Mais oui, it is true to say that Inspector Catchpool had the knack for making himself unpopular, non?”

“Now I think about it, I don’t know anyone who had a good word to say about the chap at all,” said Hastings, beaming from ear to ear. “In fact – I bet there are scores of fellows who would cheerfully do him a mischief!”

Exactement! Do not worry, my dear Hastings. Poirot, he has a plan and he will not rest until the crime, it is solved.”

Hastings felt that he might hug his friend – who had never felt dearer to him than at that very moment – but thought better of it. The immaculate Belgian was uncomfortable with displays of affection and less fond still of physical contact. Besides, it had been some time since Hastings had been able to shave and the less said about his neglected personal hygiene the better. But no matter. With Hercule Poirot on his side, no doubt his good name would be cleared by teatime and the two of them would resume their fine partnership, causing wrong-doers of London and beyond to tremble in their boots once more.

The gentlemen parted with a firm handshake and elevated mood, with Poirot returning to Whitehaven Mansions resolved to bending his considerable skills to the aid of his great friend Captain Hastings.

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