finale

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,

The Un:Fairer Sex: The Final Episode

We’ve come a long way, baby…

The concluding part of this PorterGirl series is almost upon us!

Head Porter might have got the girl but there is no fairy tale ending this time around for the boys and girls of Old College.

All’s fair in love, war and academia.

But will we end up with more questions than answers?

Find out on Tuesday 26th April 2016!

A Disappointing Climax

The disquietude in the Armingford Room is like electrified ice, if there could ever be such a thing. Each person present is poised at the very edge of his or her nerves, eyes darting between us, each one waiting to see what will happen next.

The enthralling command that The Dean once held over the room has now passed to the formidable Detective Chief Inspector Thompson. A striking gentleman with a University education, he balances his air of authority perfectly well with aloof superiority. I am ordinarily comfortable in the company of senior police officers, but this one makes me rather nervous. Quite apart from anything else, he has now twice placed The Dean under arrest and left him lost for words at least once and a chap that can achieve that should be treated with caution, I say.

Handcuffed, yet still defiant, The Dean turns to confront the Chief Inspector.

“Tell me, Detective. What was so interesting about the search of my home?”

“Perhaps you would prefer to pursue this down at the station?” suggests DCI Thompson with the slight smugness of one who is confident of having the upper hand.

“Perhaps you would like to tell me how you managed to obtain a warrant to conduct the search in the first place?” replies The Dean, sharp and cutting but bereft of his usual bombastic overtones. DCI Thompson offers nothing but a wry smile by way of reply. That information is something he clearly will not be divulging in the presence of us mere civilians.

“Very well,” the detective says eventually, shifting into a more casual stance and placing one hand in his pocket. “If you will insist on playing this out like the finale of an Agatha Christie novel, then so be it. You have shared with us all your fascinating theory, now I shall share mine.

My attentions were first drawn to you, Dean of College, during our initial visit to Old College. Your first action was to lie to Detective Sergeant Kirby and me about the whereabouts of the Lord Layton. This raised more than my eyebrow, I can tell you – it aroused a fair amount of suspicion. As a police officer of high standing and long service, I am very accustomed to people being less than honest in their interactions with me. But this was something else, something more than the usual Collegiate resistance to outside interference. And your continued hostility towards the investigation, to the extent that you were even prepared to be arrested for obstruction – well. Your behaviour was not that of a soundly thinking gentleman, Sir.”

“If I might, Detective Chief Inspector” I cut in hesitantly “That sort of thing is rather par for the course with The Dean. With all due respect, Sir” the final addition is directed towards The Dean himself, whose expression indicates that this is a reasonable enough comment.

“I am an old boy of the University system myself,” replies DCI Thompson, holding my gaze as though I were a fish on a hook. “And even making allowances for the general lack of sound thinking, my gut told me that something was being kept from me. You, Dean of College, were clever to distract your colleagues with your cunning distractions of the involvement of Head Porter and Hawkins College, very clever indeed. You used your considerable influence to sway the minds of Deputy Head Porter and this mustachioed fellow here,” with a sweeping arm movement he indicates Porter, who looks rather put out. “All the while distracting from the fact that you yourself had taken the painting and hidden it in your very home.”

“What the devil would I want with the bloody painting?” The Dean is furious but is doing well to maintain a civil composure. “What do you suppose I did with it? Hung it in the drawing room?”

“But it was not the painting itself that interested you,” DCI Thompson continues. “Your eye for art is not what it could be. No, it was the priceless antique frame that caught your attention, wasn’t it? You have a fascination with such items, you said as much to the proprietor of the shop on Shelley Street, did you not? When you took some pots in to be valued just recently?”

The Dean is aghast and his valiant battle with his temper is a sight to behold. I almost think DCI Thompson is doing this on purpose.

“A mere item of idle conversation!” The Dean splutters.

“I think not, Dean of College. Besides, when my officers visited your rather sumptuous dwelling earlier today, we found…”

THWUMP!

As one, we all who are assembled in the Armingford Room wheel round to face the source of the heavy sound that happens suddenly at the entrance. The oak paneled door itself has been flung back with some force and bundling through it are two rough-hewn chaps with very narrow vocabularies, limited it would seem to four-letter words. They are both wearing brown overcoats and are carrying a large rectangular object covered in heavy dust sheets. A tickly, unusual feeling makes itself known in the pit of my stomach.

“Hallo, Porter!” says the younger of the two as he sees him sat in the chair. “You alright me old geezer, I haven’t seen you in donkey’s. Where d’you want us to stick this?” He gestures to the covered object. Porter rises very slowly to his feet. I catch his eye and I think he has had the same thought that I have just had.

“You’ve had this away for cleaning, have you?” asks Porter, slowly.

“We have at that. D’you want us to stick it back up on the wall?”

“Show me your job ticket” Porter says urgently. His friend fumbles with a grubby piece of paper and they look at it together.

“Lessee then. I don’t know why they have to use these little symbols. So we’ve got the goat, that’s the Armingford Room thingy, isn’t it? Right. And then we’ve got this peacock whatsit. That’s this painting here,” he points to the plaque beneath the empty space once occupied by the Lord Layton. Porter stares at the document before him and shakes his head.

“No, this painting here, the Lord Layton is the feathers” he says. “The peacock is for Cow By A Lake, over there. See?”

“But that’s a peacock on that plaque there”

“It is!” I say excitedly. “You see, I told you they had been swapped round!”

“No, I don’t think they have” says DCI Thompson looking carefully at the plaque. “These are quite clearly heraldic feathers. An idiot could see that. Admittedly, in heraldry the peacock emblem and that of the feathers are rather similar, but this here is definitely the feathers.”

“I must’ve made a mistake,” mumbles the younger chap. “I thought that was a peacock. So we’ve had away the wrong painting, then?”

The older of the overcoated fellows is casting the dust sheets aside. A collective holding of breath makes the room feel like a vacuum as we watch with something of disbelief at what is revealed.

The Lord Layton. Looking very neat and tidy, I must say.

 

*****

Walking through the cloisters of Apple Tree Court with The Dean and Head Porter, we are all still a little stunned by the enormity of the anticlimax in the Armingford Room.

“So, the painting was never even stolen in the first place!” exclaims Head Porter for the third time in as many minutes. “I can’t believe you thought I did it!” He says to The Dean. Again, not for the first time.

The Dean rubs his wrists which are evidently still smarting from the unforgiving caress of DCI Thompson’s handcuffs. The Chief Inspector had been very gracious about the entire matter, I must say. Seeing as his extensive operation had just been blown out of the water by a couple of chaps in overcoats he behaved in the most gentlemanly manner, I think. The Dean, too, was uncharacteristically reasonable regarding the whole affair. The relief of having the Lord Layton returned, unharmed, to College grounds was enough to placate him I should imagine.

“All that fuss and it wasn’t even stolen” Head Porter shakes his head. “I just can’t believe it.”

“Well, look at this way,” muses The Dean “It was a jolly good jape for a few weeks, there. We would have had bugger-all else to do over the summer. A bit of fun all round, I’d say.”

“I’m not sure Hawkins College would feel that way about their broken window,” I remark. This provokes an outburst of genuinely gleeful laughter from The Dean.

“Aha! The buggers got what they deserved! But what I want to know is, do you suppose Porter will keep seeing that Detective Sergeant? Now that there is no crime to be investigated.”

“He has booked the weekend off, I think he is taking her away” replies Head Porter cheerfully. “That’s a point, I need to change the rotas around. I will catch up with you two later. A drink in The Albatross, chaps?”

We nod in approval and agree to meet Head Porter in our favourite haunt later that afternoon. Alone with The Dean, I decide to tactfully broach the subject of him possibly taking up The Mastership of Wastell College.

“You wouldn’t really leave us, would you Sir?” I ask, the very hint of a flutter upon my eyelashes.

“That depends, Deputy Head Porter” replies The Dean, with a sigh. “It depends on many things, but mainly it depends on if you meant what you said to me that night we drank far too much whiskey. Because, if you did mean it, I thought I might take The Mastership and you with me. I think you would like it there. But if it was just a drunken ramble, well… I might as well just stay here.”

“Right then” I reply flatly, of course completely unable to recall any of the events from that evidently eventful evening.

“Have a think about it over the weekend,” he says, blissfully ignorant of my amnestic state. “We shall be fine friends whatever you decide.”

The Dean pats me on the shoulder and gives me a contented grin. I watch him as he makes his way towards his rooms, his distinctive bouncing swagger accentuated by hands thrust in pockets, and I wonder what the coming academic year has in store for us splendid chaps at Old College.

Probably best not to think about it, actually.