crossword

Never A Cross Word – Part Six

The night sky has held the fascination of mankind for as long as time itself. Ever since there have been eyes to gaze upwards, there have been hearts and minds that both revere and fear the heavens. For millennia, the stars themselves have been regarded not only as the great mysteries of the universe, but also as those that hold an esoteric truth to life itself. These ethereal conundrums had been the cause of great preoccupation to Poirot and understandably so. Their twinkling brilliance had robbed him of sleep for several nights, but none more so than that very evening, when he found himself swathed in their embrace as he made his way through the velvet night towards the scene of Maurice Kelly’s recent murder.

Whilst the remains of what the police generously called the body (although it would more accurately be described as a kind of scattered pulp) had been mostly removed, the marbles and other paraphernalia of the scene had been left in situ in the actor’s study, with the intention of further examination, perhaps by Chief Inspector Japp’s experts, should they have the stomach for it. As Poirot approached the door of the address, he noticed a vaguely familiar face employed as a scene guard by the front step. Despite the mildness of the night, the young constable was wrapped in his weighty black cloak and wore the travails of the nightshift heavily beneath his eyes. Poirot had seen him many times at Scotland Yard when he had been paying one of his numerous visits to Chief Inspector Japp and believed that he remembered his name to be Somersby.

Bon soir, Constable Somersby!” Poirot announced, his bright and cordial tones at odds with the solemnity of the night.

Somersby jolted into life with quite a start, as if he had been sleeping upright upon the doorstep.

“Oh! Mr Poirot!” his voice certainly sounded as if it was filtered by somnambulism. “A pleasure to see you, sir. I wasn’t expecting to see you this time of night, sir – is everything alright?”

Mais oui, Constable, everything is very much – as you say – alright! Poirot, he has been thinking – thinking, thinking all through the evening. And the ideas – they will not let him sleep! So I come here now to see if the ideas, they are correct, non?”

Recognition spread across his face and Somersby grinned and tapped the side of his nose with a gloved finger.

“Don’t tell, me sir – those little grey wassnames have finally come up with an answer!”

Poirot smiled politely at the constable, whilst wondering what the exact translation of ‘wassnames’ might be.

“We must hope that that is the case, monsieur,” replied Poirot. “It is alright that I once more observe scene?”

“Help yourself, Mr Poirot!” exclaimed Somersby. “You’ll find Constable Morse on the door to the study, of course. The Chief Inspector was very clear about securing the scene, you know. But Morse won’t give you any gip. He’s probably more interested in his crosswords, anyhow.”

“Ah! What is it with these young policemen and their crosswords?” Poirot lamented, but with humour. “Inspector Catchpool is also much enamoured with such things.”

“Yes, but, you see – Morse is actually pretty good at them,” said Somersby, once again tapping the side of his nose, perhaps not entirely certain of what this action is intended to portray.

Poirot smiled once more, touching the brim of his hat, before passing Somersby and making his way through the door and towards the study.

As so ably predicted by Somersby, Constable Morse looked up only briefly from his crossword before waving through the renowned detective. Night shift on scene guard was a notoriously monotonous affair and occasionally the most mundane of observations caused unusual conclusions in the mind of a policeman so disposed to erratic cognitive movements. Constable Morse was one such policeman and the thought that struck him was that Hercule Poirot moved very graciously for a man the shape of an egg. He paid him only scant attention as the famed sleuth proceeded with precise delicacy about the crime scene. It wasn’t for a humble street copper such as himself to wonder what incredible machinations were occurring in such a celebrated mind, but it seemed to him that Poirot was paying inordinate attention to the very periphery of the crime scene.

Whatever it was that interested Poirot was soon concluded, as Morse had barely finished dealing with the ‘across’ clues before his visitor was once again at his side.

“I thank you, Monsieur Morse, for your time,” said Poirot, performing the briefest of bows before heading towards the front door and back out into the night.

As he hurried back to Whitehaven Mansions, Poirot was breathing a little heavier than was normal for his good self. This was somewhat in part to relief, but there was also a touch of excitement to be credited, as well. A part of the puzzle had now fallen into place, albeit not the puzzle upon which his Scotland Yard friends were currently focused. Arriving at the door to his apartment, Poirot was faced with a further puzzle. Standing between him and the threshold was yet another constable, and this one appeared to be in a mood not quite as affable as Somersby and Morse. His face grim, the policeman spoke at once to him.

“Mr Poirot, I am sorry to say that Chief Inspector Japp requires your presence urgently at the residence of Inspector Catchpool.”

“But of course,” replied Poirot. “Can you tell me why it is that Poirot is needed at such an hour?”

“I’m afraid to tell you that Inspector Catchpool is dead, sir. It appears that he has been murdered, sir.”

Never A Cross Word – Part Three

A Poirot parody for Captain Hastings fans everywhere

 

“Inspector Catchpool, if you don’t start doing something useful sometime very soon, you’ll be out on your ear, d’you hear me?”

Chief Inspector Japp glowered across the desk at Catchpool, who had only a copy of the Times to employ as means of defence. Catchpool was very much wishing that he had the stomach for dead people, as alive ones certainly didn’t seem dreadfully keen on him. But like a rat caught in a trap, his mind started scrabbling for a way out.

“If you sack me, I shall tell your wife about your affair with Miss Wandsworth!”

In truth, Catchpool would like nothing more than to be sacked, but he had rent and bills to consider and little in the way of competence to offer an alternative employer. Japp was caught off-guard by this unexpected gumption but remained resolute. He hardened his gaze and gave a great deal of consideration to his position. The Chief Inspector had never been known for his patience but to make a misstep at this juncture would be folly. Japp withdrew his splayed hands from the desk and adopted a more fatherly tone towards Catchpool.

“Listen here, I’m trying to do you a good turn,” began Japp. “Don’t think our friend Hercule Poirot hasn’t noticed you’ve not been pulling your weight. You don’t want to make an enemy of him, I can tell you that.”

“Poirot is always very encouraging of my work!” retorted Catchpool, jutting his chin most unconvincingly. But, in truth, he knew that the great detective was becoming irritated by him. Poirot did his very best to mentor and inspire the dour Inspector, but to no avail. Catchpool was a little disappointed in himself, in fact; although the tussle with the intrigues of four down in today’s Times crossword was equal cause for concern.

“Come on, Catchpool,” said Japp, with a sigh. “Poirot is expecting us at Whitehaven Mansions at eight – hopefully to do one of his famous big announcements about the Marble Murders. Let’s hope so, anyway, because you’ve been getting nowhere!”

The apartment at Whitehaven Mansions complimented its meticulous occupant completely. Although the pervading notion was of order and efficiency, a flair for the aesthetic and an almost obsessive attention to detail were plainly evident in the furnishings. The clean, straight lines of the bookcases were reflected in their resident folios, who stood awaiting their orders like lines of snug little soldiers. Poirot had quite the eye for the more understated varieties of modish decor, which was demonstrated by a number of scrupulously placed table lamps. But none of the fastidious fixtures and fittings could quite compare with the man himself, resplendent as he was in demurely exquisite tailoring and with every hair and extremity diligently preened to perfection. It was Poirot’s earnest belief that when men failed to starch their collars, the downfall of society would be imminent.

Poirot sipped thoughtfully from his small glass of sirop de cassis, taking great care not to wet his magnificent moustache. Whilst a weak tisane would perhaps be better for the little grey cells, a beverage of considerable fortitude was required to tackle these dastardly Marble Murders.

“I say, Poirot, it’s a dashed nuisance that you’ve been landed with that awful Catchpool fellow to help with the investigation,” said Captain Hastings, inspecting his sherry glass which had now been empty for several minutes. “They tell me the man is something of an idiot. And a bounder and a cad, by all accounts – I heard he was thrown out of the bowls club for upsetting the ladies.”

Hastings, although undoubtedly dashing, managed to appear unkempt in the presence of his immaculate host.

“That, Hastings, I do not know to be true in one way or the other,” Poirot’s reply was as measured as the careful sips from his glass. “But if only he would listen to Poirot! Apply his mind in the ways I have shown him – perhaps he could promote himself from idiot to dullard.”

“You’re far too generous about him, old chap,” said Hastings, discretely furnishing himself with a further sherry. “In any case, that fellow gives me the pip.”

A sharp rap from the door to the hallway briefly preceded the arrival of Chief Inspector Japp with a glum-looking Catchpool trailing behind him.

“Well, well! There’s a sight for sore eyes if ever I saw one!” Japp’s face lit up and he brightened his step on seeing his old friend Captain Hastings. Given the illustrious history between the two, one might have expected a warm display of affectionate bonhomie, but the occasion was marked instead by a firm handshake.

Whilst Inspector Japp was very keen to hear all about Hastings’ adventures in Argentina, Poirot preferred to proceed at once to matters of business. They had three grisly murders before them, with three victims all linked by the London stage – and three scenes tied by the presence of rare and unusual marbles. Poirot cleared his throat and the room fell silent.

“Gentlemen, it is to my very great plaisir that I have in my salon not only my fondest friends but also the finest minds in criminal detection!” Poirot turned to the morose figure slumped in the armchair. “It is nice to see you also, Catchpool. Now! We must gather together the facts as we know them and Poirot will machinate them all with his magnificent mind and the killer will be ever nearer our grasp.”

“If you say so, Poirot,” replied Japp, well-used to the great detective’s florid turn of phrase. “What say we start with the victims?”

“Always, when faced with a murder, it is the natural place to begin,” said Poirot, nodding. He placed himself lightly in a high backed chair and closed his eyes, sharpening his wits in anticipation. “Chief Inspector, please tell to me what it is we know about the victims.”

Never A Cross Word – Part Two

A Poirot parody for Captain Hastings fans everywhere

“I am very sorry but you have to understand – I just don’t trust the police!”

A fresh wave of sobbing preceded this querulous outburst from the rather plain young woman sprawled in an armchair, dabbing ineffectually at her eyes with an already sodden handkerchief.

“Please calm yourself, mademoiselle, I can assure you that I am very much not the police.”

Hercule Poirot leant towards the woman, offering her his own embroidered silk handkerchief with a flourish of a gloved hand, a kindly smile glinting beneath his immaculately presented moustache. The portly Belgian had the most disarming manner about him that rendered displays of hysteria useless in his presence – but the particular thing that the woman would always remember about the time she met the famous Hercule Poirot, was how utterly wonderful he smelt.

The woman was the assistant of the recently butchered stage actor, Maurice Kelly. Her name was Philomena Chase, but everyone called her Miss Pip. It was Miss Pip who discovered the grim scene in Kelly’s study and she had been engaged in turbulent weeping ever since. Poirot had brought her down to the drawing room in an effort to aid her composure. Mopping the hot tears from her puffy little cheeks, Miss Pip arranged herself somewhat more delicately in the armchair.

“I’m sorry, Mr Poirot,” she said between sniffs. “It’s all just been such a shock, you see.”

Oui, mademoiselle, murder is rarely an expectation.”

“These Marble Murders have been so horrific!” Miss Pip continued, the hysteria sufficiently subdued, for now. “Why would anyone want to kill our very best actors, why? I just don’t understand…”

Poirot braced himself for further effusions of woe, but thankfully they were not forthcoming. Miss Pip appeared to have regained her poise and replaced her thick-rimmed spectacles on her nose before returning the detective’s handkerchief to him with a grateful look. Taking the handkerchief, Poirot could not help but find a niggle with her last statement. Whilst the first two victims of the Marble Murders – Randy Beavis and Margot Askwith – were indeed celebrated actors, Maurice Kelly was more likely to be referred to as a ‘ham’. Whilst he had appeared in some of the larger stage productions, it was only ever in small roles and speaking parts were kept to an absolute minimum. But he did not wish to upset the young lady once more, so Poirot retained the thought as the preserve of his little grey cells.

“Tell me, mademoiselle, Monsieur Kelly – was he acquainted with Monsieur Beavis and Madame Askwith?”

Miss Pip appeared to consider her response.

“Of course, he knew them in passing, they moved in very similar circles,” she replied. “But he was not close to either of them. I would have known if he was.”

“You would, mademoiselle?”

“Of course!” Miss Pip sniffed. “I know all of his business. I was much more than just an assistant to him, you know…”

These words were conduits to a further influx of grief and Poirot waited politely for the young woman to compose herself once more. He stood silently awaiting the sobs to subside, thinking about a great many things. These murders were all excessively brutal and the rare and unusual marbles a most unnecessary complication. But what vexed Poirot most particularly at this moment was the disappointing performance of the dratted Catchpool – quite possibly Scotland Yard’s most ridiculous detective. He had done his best to keep the reluctant Inspector away from the gorier aspects of the investigation, but it was a gesture that seemed greatly unappreciated – whenever Poirot went to him to inquire as to his progress, the irksome fellow was always to be found with his nose in a crossword. But perhaps his presence was best placed elsewhere, after all. Mademoiselle Pip had made clear her distrust of the police – engaging with Catchpool was unlikely to improve her opinion much.

Speaking of Catchpool, the crime-averse policeman had done a marvellous job of barricading himself in his office, surrounded by great piles of papers and notes pertaining to the Marble Murders case. He had a freshly brewed cup of tea before him, too – three sugars. Unfortunately, Catchpool had made the mistake of perusing some of the photographs from the Askwith crime scene and he was feeling quite unwell, now. All in all, the wretched chap was finding the whole concept of murder rather distressing and he thought it best to calm his fraught mind by turning his attentions to four down in today’s Times crossword. As he mused over the significance of ‘a letter for Socrates (5)’, he was almost able to forget that there was something dreadfully familiar about the latest murder victim. Almost.

Meanwhile Poirot was beginning to understand Miss Pip’s apprehension when it came to dealings with officers of the law. Whilst questions about Maurice Kelly’s recent activities resulted in little more than anguished laments, he found that he was able to pick at useful threads from the actor’s past without causing too much calamity. And even the smallest of threads can find their roots in the most curious of knots.

“Poirot! I say!”

Miss Pip turned in her chair with a start, but Poirot made no move except for the slightest bristle of delight from his moustache. It was a voice he had not heard in far too long and he did not need to move a muscle to know that it could only belong to one man.

“Oh, come on, old chap, don’t be like that,” Captain Hastings strode into the room, hands in pockets and beaming furiously. He tipped his hat to a curious Miss Pip, before approaching his old friend. “I say. Unsolved murders, damsels in distress – it looks like I got here just in time!”