As the exhilaratingly jaunty crescendos of Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue filled every corner of the salon, resplendent in its understated splendour, Hercule Poirot closed his eyes for the briefest of moments and allowed his racing thoughts to be swept away in the swirl of orchestral opulence. Although the rhythmical scratching and scuffling from the phonograph would catch his ear intermittently, Poirot found that immersing himself in the mesmerism of the music helped him to make some sense of the tangled and contrived case before him, which was every bit as complex and nuanced as any melodic composition.
Poirot felt something of an affinity with George Gershwin, both of them as they were foreign virtuosos making their names in strange and far away lands. He reflected with only the slightest of bitterness that it was difficult to prove one’s genius when people were intent only at laughing at one’s accent. Poirot was unaware of the door from the hallway opening and he was quite startled to realise that he had company, his visitor being almost upon him by the time he noticed him.
“Ah! My dear Hastings! But you are early!”
“The early bird catches the worm, Poirot!” replied Hastings, once more returned to his usual state of the preened and dashing English gentleman. His spell under lock and key at Scotland Yard had tainted neither his chiseled good looks nor his indomitable enthusiasm.
“Oui, and it is quite the worm that we must catch,” Poirot sighed. “It is a worm most vicious and one that is sure to strike again.”
“Do you really think so?” Hastings creased his perfect brow and placed a hand in his pocket. “What makes you so sure?”
“The Marble Murders, they are demonstrations of the most unusual Chinese astrology,” replied Poirot, reaching into his desk for the collected materials pertaining to the case. “There is much for you to learn – and you must do so quickly, dear Hastings, before we find ourselves staring at the gruesome remains of another dead actor!”
Taking the hefty wedge of files, Hastings sat himself on the opposite side of the desk and threw Poirot a steady smile that he hoped would convey his absolute delight at taking once again his rightful place as the great detective’s right hand man. Hastings knew that he could never match the intellect and brilliance of Hercule Poirot, that his talents lay elsewhere in the realms of heroics and charm, but he wanted to offer him every assurance that he would never fail in his steadfast support of the famed Belgian sleuth. And surely Poirot would know this; he never once doubted him about Catchpool’s murder, after all.
As Hastings poured over statements, photographs and notes, Poirot interrupted with ever increasing zeal at pertinent points, encouraging his friend always to use his ‘little grey cells’. Poirot had come to realise that the naive and often idiotic questions and observations of the diligent Captain were the very spurs that sparked his own propensity for detection and without this innocuous input, his convoluted cogitations would more often than not trip over themselves in a riot of rumination. Fortified by the finest tisane served in delicate china and plate after plate of cucumber sandwiches – made by the fair hand of Miss Lemon – Poirot and Hastings were soon making great headway in the investigation of the Marble Murders. The actors, their plays and the theatres in which they had been performing all had spurious and previously unforeseen connections that began to reveal themselves in glorious clarity and paths of enquiries opened up through the rabid mire that enveloped the seemingly impenetrable murders. But in their excitement, they had almost overlooked a most important thing.
“I say, Poirot, we mustn’t forget that bugger Catchpool in all of this,” remarked Hastings. ‘After all, the Marble Murderer left his calling card under his desk. Perhaps there is some clue in all of that we might find useful.”
“It is good that you are thinking of such things, Hastings,” Poirot replied, nodding sagely. “But you must remember that Catchpool’s demise was merely a device for removing you from the scene, as it were – la espièglerie! Such distractions will only delay in the capture of the killer, mon amie.”
“Yes, but surely a quick peek at the marbles he left behind couldn’t hurt…” Hastings shuffled through the scattered specifics until he found the small clear pouch that contained the three marbles found at Catchpool’s residence. “Ah, here they are!”
Hastings held the pouch up to the light so that he could better observe the contents. Despite their grim connotations, the marbles were certainly things of great beauty. The glass had been expertly hand-blown, and the flecks of precious metals encased within glittered in the morning sunlight. Squinting his eyes, Hastings turned the pouch over and over, shaking the marbles in order that he might view them in their entirety.
“I say, Poirot!” exclaimed Hastings, his voice pitched with excitement. “See what I’ve noticed, here! Why, these marbles have spots of blood on them!”
“Blood, Hastings?” Poirot raised an immaculate eyebrow.
“Yes, Poirot! But there was no blood at Catchpool’s murder, he was choked to death…” the slowly ticking cogs of Hastings’ mind were almost evident on his face. Poirot held his breath, waiting for the Captain’s eventual conclusion. “That must mean… that these marbles must’ve come from one of the other murder scenes!”
“Bravo, Hastings!” said Poirot, stiffly.
“Well, that can only mean one thing…” the air was still once more as Hastings’ laboured thinking ploughed ever forward. “The Marble Murderer must have… run out of marbles?”
He turned to Poirot, who was caught in a moment of deep contemplation. There was a flashing in his eyes that signified a cacophony of intellectual machinations whirring behind them and his moustache twitched with an electrified intellect that seemed to be coursing through every inch of him.
“This is it, isn’t it Poirot?” Hastings gushed “This is the clue that is going to solve the Marble Murders! And I found it! We must fetch Japp at once!”
When he made his reply, Poirot’s voice was measured and a good deal quieter than Hastings had been expecting.
“Oui, my dear Hastings, you are indeed correct. Now, Poirot knows exactly what he must do. At least one of the murders, it is solved beyond all doubt.”
“Good lord! Hurrah!” Hastings leapt to his feet and clapped his hands together, a broad smile splitting his face in the most delightful fashion. “You see, I knew we would get to the bottom of this together. You and me, Poirot – there is no case that can out-fox us!”
“Calm yourself, Hastings. There are still one or two things that Poirot must first attend to before we alert the Chief Inspector.” Poirot stood up smartly and straightened his waistcoat before checking his pocket watch. He turned to Hastings, smiling benignly. “I have just enough time. Please, for you to leave me now, Hastings, and return here tonight at eight o’clock with the Chief Inspector. It is then that I shall reveal all to you both.”
The next – and final – post contains Poirot’s ‘big reveal’. Anyone wishing to review the story in its entirety and try to solve the case can request a PDF by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org