captain hastings

Hide & Seek – Finale

A thin-lipped smile crept across the tense features of Lord Bottomclutch. A collective breath had been drawn in the drawing room of Somersby Hall and for a moment it seemed it would never again be exhaled.

“Roger, you cad! I knew there was something between you and that blasted maid!”

Lady Bottomclutch flung herself at her husband, but was intercepted by the nimble Captain Hastings, who had been expecting trouble of some sort. He instantly regretted his decision as the hysterical Lady Bottomclutch was only too pleased to be finally in the arms of the handsome Captain and wasn’t about to relinquish her position. As Hastings tried to wrestle her into the more demure setting of the settee, she clung to his broad shoulders, her spindly neck straining so that her withered lips might find his.

“I say, Japp, a chap could do with a hand, here!” exclaimed Hastings, handling the woman as if she were a rampant eel.

“Calm yourself, my dear,” said Lord Bottomclutch, rising to his feet. “I was not the father of Maggie’s baby.”

Non, monsieur,” said Poirot, never at ease with female histrionics. “You were not the father. And neither, as you know, was Barton.”

“Well, who was the father, then?” asked Major Walker. “Aha! It must have been the Philpott boy after all! A double bluff!”

James Philpott gasped in horror, flourishing a delicate handkerchief from his crushed velvet waistcoat and fanning himself furiously.

“I can assure you, Major, it certainly was not!”

“Ah, but you didn’t want to marry her, did you?” Walker continued. “Bumping her off would get you out of the wedding rather nicely!”

“Major Walker, Monsieur Philpott did not kill Maggie. Nor did he bludgeon to death poor Clara,” replied Poirot, his voice calm if not a little irritated. “C’est impossible. Mais, he may not be entirely innocent in all matters, c’est vrai, Monsieur Philpott?”

“I do hope you have suitably firm evidence with which to back up your claim, Mister Poirot!” blustered the vicar. “My son is of very good stock! From a long ecclesiastical line!”

Oui, he is a very fine and particular young man,” replied Poirot, nodding. “A young man who does not like to, as they say, dirty his hands. I noticed on several occasions how he would clean his fingernails with his beautiful little pocket knife. The type of knife, exactly like that described by the mechanic who replaced the tyres on the car.”

James spluttered and a crimson flush burst across his cheeks.

“I… I panicked!” he stuttered. “When I saw Clara dead on the floor… I didn’t know what to do! You see, Clara and I were both outsiders in Tunkle-on-Wyme. Both different from the norm… freaks, if you will. I feared that whoever killed Clara would be after me next. You see how the people are here, Mister Poirot – any one of these narrow-minded toffs could have done it! Your good self and Captain Hastings were the only people I could trust to catch the killer. I wanted to make sure you didn’t leave.”

“I say, this is an outrage!” boomed Hastings. “Japp, arrest that man at once! For crimes against motor vehicles!”

Poirot simply smiled and, ignoring Captain Hastings, continued to address James Philpott.

Mais, we know now that Mademoiselle Clara was not the intended victim of the muderer, non? In fact, was it not your father who said to Poirot, ‘Uniforms make everyone look so alike’ when Mademoiselle Clara was playing maid at the party? I knew already, from the letter Mademoiselle Maggie sent to her friend at Cambridge, that she had recently been given a new uniform. Was it not true that the staff shared with Mademoiselle Clara their old uniforms, for the purpose of her games of make believe? And, Monsieur Barton, did you not say that they ‘were both gangly things’? The uniform, if would fit her perfectly, non?

“But Maggie was heavily pregnant,” Enid cut in. “How could anyone mistake Clara for her?”
“In the dark of the poorly-lit pantry, and from behind, it would be an easy mistake to make, Mademoiselle Enid.”

“So the murderer used the game of hide and seek to facilitate their crime!” exclaimed Major Walker. “But it was Clara that suggested the game. How can that be?”

“It was simple coincidence, Monsieur,” replied Poirot. “The killer, he did not know of this game. He simply knew that there would be a party. He expected only to find Mademoiselle Maggie in the pantry, with everyone else distracted by the business of making merry. When he discovered that he had murdered the wrong girl, the murderer, he devised a new plan. The next morning, he took a rope from the gamekeeper’s hut in the copse, returned to the house, where he strangled Mademoiselle Maggie with his bare hands, before tying the rope around her neck and hoisting her up on the beam to make it look like suicide.”

“I saw Barton on the edge of the copse with a rope, when I was in your room before breakfast,” said Hastings. “You thought he was carrying a gun.”

“That is almost correct, my dear Hastings,” Poirot continued. “Indeed, I did see Monsieur Barton with a gun. The man you saw was the killer – dressed as Barton and carrying the rope. Monsieur Barton kept in his hut his old jacket and cap for Mademoiselle Clara, non?

“But who was it, Poirot?” asked Japp, a creeping hunger making him impatient. “Who was the father of Maggie’s baby?”

“Pah! From what I hear, Maggie had been with half the village,” snorted Walker. “Could have been anyone!”

“Whatever you may have heard, Major Walker, it is very wrong,” snapped Poirot. “This tale of her freedom of affection is a convenient invention of Lord Bottomclutch – a tale that delighted the village gossips, to distract from the truth. Oui, Lord Bottomclutch? C’est vrai, non? Because to discover the truth, we must travel back to Cambridge, the very college where your good friend John Archibald Venn is President and where your own son Harold was a student. Madame Toppocket, Venn’s maid, spoke of unruly students causing problems. And Harold, he was sent down, non? Even your friendship with President Venn could not prevent this. And soon after, Mademoiselle Maggie, she came to work for you here at Somersby Hall. You yourself said to me, Lord Bottomclutch, that you felt responsible for her. Pourquoi? Because Harold was the father of Maggie’s baby and Harold is the killer most foul of Maggie and his own sister Clara!”

Shocked faces turned towards Harold Bottomclutch, who blustered with outraged indignation.

“Bloody cheek of it!” he thundered. “Why, I wasn’t even here at the time of my sister’s murder! What poppycock!”

“That’s right, Poirot,” sniffed Lady Bottomclutch. “Harold didn’t arrive until the next morning.”

“Ah, oui, Harold he said to Poirot that he arrived on the first train from London, non? Mais, I knew that this was a lie. Chief Inspector Japp, he also arrived on the first train from London and, if you recall Lady Bottomclutch, he arrived several hours after Harold. Non. Harold, he arrived the night before, the night of the party. It was Harold who the mechanic saw in the telephone box that night, making the call to say he had been delayed. He stole into the pantry through the courtyard steps and, seeing the figure of a tall, gangly girl in a maid’s uniform who he believed to be carrying his illegitimate child, the girl who ruined his academic career by having the temerity to become pregnant, he carried out his plan to rid himself of this embarrassing problem, before retreating to the copse where he abandoned the murder weapon. He hid there overnight, returning to the house the next morning. His muddy boots which Lady Bottomclutch insisted he remove proved that he could not have come from the station – the cobbled streets and dry weather would have left his military footwear with their customary shine, non? Mais, when he realised the mistake he had made, he had to think quickly. Pretending to be overcome with grief, he returned to the gamekeeper’s hut in the copse, disguised himself with the old jacket and cap used by Clara and took a length of rope before returning to strangle Maggie and set the scene of a suicide.”

“But Harold, why?!” cried Lord Bottomclutch, turning to his son who was now making no moves of rebuttal. “It was all arranged! No one would ever have found out!”

“You know how people are, father,” replied Harold, his face ashen and voice grim. “People would always have asked why I left my studies so abruptly. And no one would ever believe that James Philpott could have fathered a child. I just wanted to protect the family line and the great Bottomclutch name!”

“And instead you have ruined us all!” sobbed Lady Bottomclutch, flinging herself to the floor and weeping bitterly.

Japp thought this to be an overreaction. With arch-gossip Ethel now dead, news of the murder could be kept to a run-of-the-mill scandal, soon forgotten in the chattering classes of Tunkle-on-Wyme, no doubt. Even as he led the stone-faced Harold away, Japp couldn’t help thinking that such a bright young mind had been wasted – all because of misbehaviour and, ultimately murder.

There was little thanks for Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings. Lord and Lady Bottomclutch would perhaps have preferred that, all things considered, the murders had remained unsolved. Enid had invented them to join her, the Major and James for drinks, but Poirot had thought it better to make a swift and dignified exit. After all, they still had the damaged car to explain to Venn and London suddenly seemed so very far away.

Hastings drove back along the winding North Norfolk roads towards Cambridge with much greater care than he had taken on the previous journey. The masterful resolution of the murder was hampered somewhat by the dented bumper of the magnificent Delage D6-11, although the vehicle was now the proud owner of four brand new tyres.

“I say, Poirot, these last few days have been a rum sort of fun and games, wouldn’t you say?”

“I most certainly would, my dear Hastings,” replied Poirot. “Mais, we learn once again that when people play the game of murder, there can be only one winner – none other than Hercule Poirot!”

If you would like the complete versions of either Hide & Seek or Never A Cross Word, please email me at lucy@verticalrecordings.com and I will be happy to send you a PDF for your enjoyment,

Hide & Seek – Chapter Twenty One

A crimson late summer sunset bled through the bay windows and the drawing room of Somersby Hall once again played host to the eclectic Bottomclutch household and their friends. Although, the occasion was somewhat more tense than the welcome home party that preceded the wicked murders of Clara Bottomclutch and the unfortunate maid, Maggie. Lady Bottomclutch was attired in a high-necked mourning gown, which swept from her chin downwards to the floor, covering every inch of her slender frame on its way to her feet. A black, wide-brimmed hat with a silk tulle veil hid her silent features, but leaked grief through its soft mesh fabric. Lord Bottomclutch wore his tweeds like a suit of armour, although they did little to protect him from the horror of events. His son Harold stood by his side, rigid, arrogance for once respectfully subdued.

By contrast, Enid had abandoned the twin set and pearls of her previous life and was resplendent in a shimmering fringed flapper dress, a golden band about her head with a large, almost obscene, feather bobbing gayly atop her chestnut mane. Of greater concern was the manner in which she perched upon the knee of Major Bernard Walker*, although the fellow showed no signs of objection, perhaps because his gaudy complexion suggested an afternoon spent at the bar. Mr Philpott, the vicar, wrinkled his nose several times, but to no avail. His son James, however, looked on with great approval and privately hoped that whatever Poirot had planned would not take too long. He had a mind to invite the Major and the revitalised Enid to continue their merriment with him in his snug.

Barton and Derbyshire were also present, but kept a professional distance from their masters and betters. Barton in particular was most put out to be summoned and even Derbyshire was a little peeved, very much hoping that the traditional theme of ‘the butler did it’ would not come in to play this evening. The only persons displaying anything of a cheerful demeanour were Captain Hastings and Chief Inspector Japp, positioned tactically by the door, should the guilty party make an attempt at escape when their identity was inevitably revealed by Hercule Poirot.

“This is my absolute favourite bit,” Hastings whispered to Japp, rocking on his heels in a bid to contain his excitement.

“Yes, it’s always something of an event when the old boy shows his hand,” replied Japp, allowing himself the smallest of smiles. “Who do you think is our killer?”

“I haven’t a bally clue!” said Hastings, shaking his head.

“A crown says it’s Barton,” Japp replied, tapping his nose. “See, I’ve got a theory about Clara’s murder. I reckon he didn’t mean to kill her at all…”

“Thank you for joining me, mesdames et messieurs!

Poirot, who was standing looking out the windows, his back to the room, finally turned to address his expectant audience.

“Captain Hastings and I came to Somersby Hall in order that we might speak with Mademoiselle Maggie, mais, it is to my great regret, that we stayed in order to investigate her murder. And, also the murder of Mademoiselle Clara – a young lady who was most fond of hide and seek, oui? A game most appropriate. For it seems to Poirot that in Somersby Hall, there is much that is hidden and Poirot, he likes nothing more than to seek. To seek the truth, to seek… the murderer.”

“And have you found either, Mister Poirot?” asked James, playing along with the spectacle.

Oui, Monsieur Philpott,” Poirot replied, a broad smile ruffling his moustache. “Hercule Poirot, he finds them both. Always.”

“Then spit it out, man!” roared Lord Bottomclutch. “Tell me who killed my daughter! I’ll wring their bloody neck!”

“They will be subject to the full force of the law, sir,” said Japp, a note of caution heavy in his voice.

“No one wanted to kill your daughter, Lord Bottomclutch,” Poirot continued. “The death of Clara it was an error, a case of mistaken identity.”

“I knew it!” exclaimed Japp. “She was wearing a maid’s uniform when she was murdered. From behind, in the poorly lit pantry, the killer thought she was Maggie!”

Très bien, Chief Inspector!” Poirot clapped his hands together and spun on his heels to offer a congratulatory grin to Japp. “So it seems that, enfin, Scotland Yard has solved the crime before Poirot, oui?

“Well, Poirot, you mustn’t feel too bad about it,” replied Japp, drawing himself up to his full height, a hint of smugness in his eyes. “We are the professionals, after all.”

Japp winked at Hastings and mouthed ‘You owe me a crown.’

“Then, please, Chief Inspector, do not keep us waiting,” Poirot twinkled from the top of his smooth head to the tips of his shiny-shoed toes. “Share with us all your conclusions.”

Japp tucked his hands into his waistcoat pockets and took to the centre of the floor, unable to suppress a triumphant swagger. He cleared his throat and cast a confident gaze around the room.

“There is only one motive behind the murder of Maggie,” he began. “And that was her illegitimate pregnancy. Therefore, there can be only one person with the motive to kill her – the father of her unborn child.”

Japp paused. As the suspects looked from one to the other, there was nothing in their faces to give any one of them away. He noticed, however, that eventually all eyes fell to Lord Bottomclutch and Barton. Now was the time to strike.

“With that in mind, I place you, Mister Barton, under arrest for the murders of Miss Clara Bottomclutch and the maid, Maggie.”

As gasps of disbelief swelled around the room, Poirot held up his hand, shaking his head furiously.

“Ah, Chief Inspector, it seems that perhaps Poirot, he was mistaken.”

“But the baby was the only reason to do away with her!” cried Japp. “And the bloody mallet that killed Clara was found in the copse!”

Oui, c’est vrai, the father of Maggie’s baby is without doubt the murderer! Mais, Barton, he is not the father. Is that not right, Lord Bottomclutch?”

Next week – the case is solved!

 

*I admit, I completely forgot about this character.

Hide & Seek – Part Nineteen

In Lord Bottomclutch’s private study, Hercule Poirot was in a state of great excitement, albeit artfully restrained. Captain Hastings recognised the signs immediately; the gently pulsating moustache, the lively fire in his eyes and a distracted irritability that all pointed to the inevitable conclusion that the great detective was close to solving a case. Although he would never say as much, Hastings was flabbergasted at this sharp turn of events, as he himself was as baffled by the murders as he had ever been.

Even as Chief Inspector Japp was explaining the results of the investigation by his men into the cause of Maggie’s death, Poirot was unable to tear his brilliant mind from the emerging facts, urgently jostling themselves into perfect positions.

“…So you see, gentlemen, that were it not for the fingermarks on her throat, the broken neck and placing of the body in the noose would have certainly led us to believe that Maggie hanged herself,” explained Japp, unaware he was talking largely to himself (Hastings could hardly be expected to follow such technicalities). “As it is, we can be certain that she was strangled.”

“And what of Clara’s death?” asked Hastings, keen to give the impression of keeping up with proceedings. “Can we be sure of that?”

“Indeed we can, Captain,” replied Japp. “She was definitely killed by the enormous wound to the back of her head. A bloodied mallet has been discovered by one of my lads, up in the copse near the gamekeeper’s hut. We can safely say that it is the murder weapon.”

“That rather puts Barton in a rum position, wouldn’t you say?” Hastings remarked. “But then, he had no reason to kill Clara. He was quite fond of her, from what I gather.”

“He might have had a reason to kill Maggie,” said Japp. “In a jealous rage, perhaps.”

Hastings tapped his lips with his forefinger and knotted his brow.

“It just doesn’t line up,” he said. “Either there is someone with a motive to kill both Clara and Maggie, or we are looking for two killers!”

“And a vandal,” added Japp. “A vicious one at that, after what he did to your car.”

Monsieurs, it is one killer and one, as you say, vandal, that we look for,” said Poirot, sounding somewhat distracted. “And, I can assure you, that the two are quite different.”

“You seem very sure about that, Poirot,” said Japp. “I don’t suppose you’d care to enlighten us, would you?”

“Chief Inspector, Poirot is always certain about the things that he says. And, if it is enlightenment you seek, then, you need only to look at the facts!”

“Facts? But we don’t even know what the facts are, Poirot!” cried Hastings.

But Poirot did not reply. He simply smiled and stood, straightening his waistcoat as he did so. As if on cue, Lord Bottomclutch entered the room. His noble shoulders were weighted with the heavy burdens of grief and exhaustion, but he retained the kind of cool dignity that only centuries of the proper kind of breeding can produce.

“Ah! Lord Bottomclutch. Poirot is most grateful that you find the time to speak with him.”

“Could we make this swift, Mister Poirot?” Lord Bottomclutch asked, his voice weary. “I’ve got police officers crawling all over the place, not to mention some rather unpleasant mess to be attended to. I’m sure you can appreciate this is a difficult time for me.”

“But of course, Lord Bottomclutch,” Poirot nodded. “I promise not to keep you any longer than necessity requires.”

Lord Bottomclutch settled himself into the armchair by the bookcase, poured himself a very large whisky and picked up the half smoked cigar, abandoned in a fit of pique by his son Harold. Once the cigar was alight, Lord Bottomclutch gestured with his hand, indicating he was ready for Poirot to do his worst. Japp lit his own pungent pipe and leant back against the sideboard next to Captain Hastings, both anticipating an entertaining interlude.

“I am afraid that the questions Poirot must ask are of a nature most delicate, Lord Bottomclutch,” said Poirot, gravely. The reclining gentleman did not speak, but nodded in acquiescence. “The maid Maggie, she was with child, oui? And there has been much talk of the identity of the father. It is true, is it not, that you treated the girl with unusual kindness for a member of your staff? Her quarters are lavishly furnished and it is no secret that your actions were preferable towards her, non?

“I see what you’re driving at, Poirot,” replied Lord Bottomclutch, spewing thick smoke towards the ceiling. “I can assure you – I am not… was not… the father. Yes, I was perhaps more generous towards her than other members of my staff. I cannot deny that. I suppose, in a way, I felt somewhat… responsible for her.”

“In what way responsible, Lord Bottomclutch?”

Lord Bottomclutch paused to refill his glass. Poirot noticed that his hands shook just slightly.

“It was very likely that the father was Barton,” Lord Bottomclutch replied, at length. “A long-standing member of my household. Maggie was unmarried and I felt a responsibility as her employer to do the best for her.”

“But, monsieur, if Barton was the father, why was Maggie engaged to be married to James Philpott?”

A long, heavy sigh escaped the lips of Lord Bottomclutch, seemingly involuntarily.

“You might as well know the truth about that, Poirot. The vicar is a dear friend of the family and I will not deny that it is an embarrassment that his only son is not the marrying kind. Mister Philpott was keen that James provided him with an heir to continue the family line and for the two to marry seemed a dignified solution to both problems.”
“But did not Barton want an heir also?” Poirot asked. “Has there not always been a Barton at Somersby Hall?”

“Barton will get his chance again, no doubt,” snapped Lord Bottomclutch, sucking furiously on his cigar. “For James, such a thing is not so certain.”

Bien.” Poirot curled his mouth into a smile that did not reach his eyes. “It is clear to Poirot that you are a man of a generous nature, wanting always to help those around you. Mais, when the time came for President Venn to be of service to you, it was not to be, c’est vrai?

Lord Bottomclutch narrowed his eyes, beady pupils darting between his inquisitor and the watching faces of Japp and Hastings. He licked his lips and at once looked hunted and afraid. Poirot stepped forward, fixing his gaze and mentally arranging his words with great care and precision.

A bone-crunching THUD! followed by a piercing scream tore through the window and the air in the study froze. Something quite terrible had occurred in the driveway.

 

 

 

In loving memory of Eric James

Musician, Entertainer, Friend