catchpool

Never A Cross Word – Finale

Chief Inspector Japp and Captain Hastings arrived at Whitehaven Mansions at eight o’clock precisely, as instructed by Hercule Poirot. When they reached the door of his apartment, they found it invitingly ajar. Nudging the door open with a cautious palm, Hastings led the way through to the hallway, followed by an impatient Japp. When they reached the hallway, an unusual and troublesome sight awaited them.

“What do you make of that, Hastings?” asked Japp.

Hastings scanned the scene but was able to reply only with a shrug. All alongside the far wall were stacked trunks and cases and it appeared that many of Poirot’s personal effects were wrapped and prepared for storage.

“Perhaps the old chap is off on his holidays,” said Hastings, eventually. But his words were made hollow by the growing feeling of ominous dread in the pit of his stomach.

They exchanged worried glances, before heading through to the living room, where they hoped to find their Belgian friend. Poirot was, indeed, awaiting their arrival, pocket watch in hand and a tray of sweet sherries arranged on the occasional table before him. Their punctuality evidently delighted him, as he greeted them with a cheery countenance as he replaced his pocket watch and motioned for his guests to help themselves to the refreshments on offer. Japp and Hastings duly obliged, but their concerned expressions drew a quizzical response from Poirot.

“Is the sherry not to your liking, messieurs?

“I’m sure the sherry is very good, Poirot, but what’s all this business with the cases in the hallway?” asked Hastings.

“Ah, bien sûr, the cases. Poirot, he is going away imminently, mon amie…”

Hastings and Japp simultaneously cried out in protest, but were hushed into silence by Poirot before either could remonstrate further.

“Poirot will resolve this all in good time, I promise. Mais d’abord, I have much to explain to you both.”

“Right, yes,” said Japp, taking a seat and another sherry, feeling that he would have great need of both. “Hastings told me that you have solved the Marble Murders.”

“Hastings, he is always getting carried away with himself,” replied Poirot, eyeing the Captain in mock admonishment. “I told him that I had solved one of the murders.”

“But surely if you have solved one, you’ve solved them all?” said Hastings, perplexed.

Poirot sipped at his sherry, before replacing the glass on the platter and removing a small hand mirror from his jacket pocket. He made fastidious adjustments to his eyebrows and moustache, before removing imaginary specks from his gleaming bald head. His personal preparations complete, Poirot composed himself in the time honoured fashion with which he delivered his legendary conclusions of criminal cases of all descriptions.

“Chief Inspector, you remember the morning when I first met with yourself and your experts, the morning when Inspector Catchpool, he failed to arrive in your office?”

“Of course, Poirot,” Japp replied.

“I told you that perhaps he was struggling with the statement of Miss Pip, non? And so I took my leave to go and assist him. Mais, I knew I would not find him with Miss Pip, as I had given him no such instructions. Of course, Miss Pip had already told to Poirot the story of Catchpool stealing the girlfriend of her late employer, the unfortunate Maurice Kelly – to send Catchpool to take her statement would have been folly. Instead, I went straight to the place where I expected to find him.”

“And where was that?” asked Hastings, agog at the unfolding tale. He had always enjoyed Poirot’s theatrical explanations immensely.

“Why, I went to his residence,” Poirot continued. “On numerous occasions previously I have found him there, nose-deep in his crosswords, when he was supposed to be working. It is a most infuriating thing, non? And so it was that Poirot found him there, still wrestling with the wretched four down – ‘A letter for Socrates’. Zut alors! But it made Poirot so very angry. Especially as it was not a particularly difficult clue.”

“Aha!” exclaimed Japp, realisation dawning upon him. “‘SIGMA’ – the Greek letter ’S’. It was written in large letters on the notepad found by Catchpool’s desk!”

Exacte! But even when Poirot told this to him, still he would not think about the case of the Marble Murders. Still he insisted on thinking only of his crosswords. The rage within me, it was too much. Before I knew what I was doing, I had taken the pages from The Times and I had forced them into the throat of Inspector Catchpool, with such violence that I never knew I possessed. Such violence, that, I am sad to say, killed him.”

The stunned silence from Hastings and Japp hung heavily in the air, just as their mouths hung open in unequivocal disbelief.

“Good lord,” muttered Hastings. Then, unable to think of anything else, “I say.”

“But I don’t understand it, Poirot,” remarked Japp. “You were always so protective of Catchpool. I mean, there was never a cross word between you two the entire time. How could you find it in yourself to kill him?”

“I think I know,” said Hastings, slowly nodding. “Yes, I see it all, now. Inspector Catchpool was never up to being a decent assistant to the great Hercule Poirot. And with these diabolical Marble Murders to contend with, no doubt the chap was a positive hinderance. I bet Poirot needed him out of his way – and no doubt hearing about my… difficulties in Argentina, he wanted to recruit me again and do us both a favour! I bet that’s it, isn’t it, old friend?”

Poirot smiled once more and considered his response. It would not harm the situation further for his great friend to believe that this was the truth, nor would it impair his own reputation for the facts of his furious temper to be concealed. With Hastings now looking at him with such warmth that might usually be reserved for auburn haired ladies, Poirot nodded ardently in response.

“But what about these marbles we found at Catchpool’s, then?” continued Japp. “I expect you put them there yourself, did you?”

Oui, Chief Inspector, I did. I wanted it to appear as if the Marble Murderer had claimed him also as a victim. When I was examining the scene, I slipped the marbles under his desk, as if they had fallen there in a struggle with the Marble Murderer. It became très difficle when you arrested Captain Hastings, but luckily the marbles were found before too long.”

“Oh, don’t you worry about that, Poirot,” said Hastings, getting quite swept up in events. “All part of the grand plan, I’ll wager! Very clever of you, I must say.”

Mais, not clever enough,” sighed Poirot. “When I took the marbles from the scene of Monsieur Kelly’s murder, it was very late at night and so dark. I did not notice that they had tiny flecks of blood on them. I selected those marbles furthest from the body, thinking they would be untainted, but I was mistaken.”

“But why are you confessing to us now, Poirot?” asked Japp. “You probably could have got away with it. I would never have suspected you, you know.”

“This is true, Chief Inspector. But when Hastings noticed the blood on the marbles – something Poirot had not himself noticed – I felt great shame that in my attempt to perform the perfect murder, I had failed to fool even him. My only recourse – confession.”

“So I suppose the packed bags are for your midnight flit, then?” said Hastings. “Don’t worry old chap, Japp and I will see you on your way under the cover of night. I’ll not let them lock you up.”

Poirot shook his head, which was now heavy with remorse.

Mais non, Hastings. Poirot is prepared to accept his fate and will take his bags to prison with him. The remainings of my possessions must pass to you, mon amie, for whatever use you see fit.”

“Now steady on a minute, Poirot,” Japp interrupted. “I’m not sure that sending you to prison is the best idea. There’s still the Marble Murder case to solve for one thing. And no one really liked old Catchpool anyway, I can’t see as it would hurt to let everyone believe that his murder was a foil to implicate Hastings.”

Japp got to his feet and searched around casually for the sherry. He could have sworn that Poirot’s eyes were filled with tears.

“You will not send me to prison, Chief Inspector?”

“Bugger that for a game of soldiers, Poirot!” exclaimed Japp. “No, no. We’ll say no more about it. Both of you report to my office first thing tomorrow. We’ve got a murderer to catch!”

Unable to find where Poirot kept the sherry, Chief Inspector Japp took his leave and disappeared out into the night. Poirot and Hastings – reunited as the greatest crime fighting force in all of London – thought briefly that they might indulge in a celebratory manly embrace. But that would never do. A firm handshake would more than suffice.

 

THE END

Never A Cross Word – Ten

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 lucy@verticalrecordings.com

Never A Cross Word – Seven

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!”