inspector japp

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 – Part Seventeen

“I hope you chaps don’t think me rude, bursting in here like that,” said Harold Bottomclutch, taking a long drag on one of his father’s enormous cigars and running a stubby finger along an over-filled glass of whisky. “But you don’t know what you’re up against with that fellow.”

“Perhaps you’d like to tell us?” suggested Japp, eyeing the whisky and feeling that it was very much time for a small snifter of something or other.

“Bloody man thinks he runs the place, cheeky cur. Just because his family has been here as long as ours, thinks it gives him an entitlement. But I tell you, it’s titles that give entitlement, isn’t it. Not simple longevity. Otherwise you might as well start doffing your cap to the rocks and the trees.”

“Titles are just something you are born with,” remarked Captain Hastings, casually striding towards the recumbent Harold, limbs thrown haphazardly about the easy chair by the bookcase. “Whereas rank, now, rank is something that is earned. Don’t you agree, Private Bottomclutch?”

Harold looked startled for the briefest of moments, even during his thus far brief tenure in the armed forces his name alone carried enough weight that grudging respect was inevitably forthcoming.

“I’m a Lance Corporal, actually,” he replied, sulkily.

“Well, Lance Corporal, I am a Captain,” continued Hastings, much to the surprise of Poirot and Japp, who had never in the many years they had known him, ever before seen him pull rank in this manner. “And I’ll thank you to sit up in that chair properly and mind your manners. A good soldier never forgets himself, you know. How long have you been in the army?”

Harold, at first, was somewhat unsure of himself. However, under the authoritative gaze of Hastings, backed to the hilt by his two sombre associates, he felt there was nothing for it but to comply. Straightening up and putting down the cigar, Harold jutted his chin and squared his shoulders before replying to his superior.

“Six months now, sir.”

“Six months and already a Lance Corporal? Now, there’s entitlement for you,” replied Hastings, eyebrow raised with uncharacteristic cynicism. “And how old are you?”

“Nineteen, sir.”

Poirot and Japp exchanged glances. In truth, Harold looked much older and carried himself with a self-possessed assurance of a man several years his senior. It struck Poirot that nineteen was a rather young age for a fellow of Harold’s privilege to have entered service. Surely his father would have preferred a university education to have preceded such a career?

“You were expected here last night, a welcoming party had been arranged for you,” continued Hastings. “Yet you did not arrive until this morning. Why was that?”

“It was a case of over-exuberance, sir,” replied Harold, somewhat bolder, now. “The bright lights of London proved too alluring for us young soldiers. I regret not making it home… perhaps things would have been different if I had… but I was on the first train home this morning, as you know.”

Poirot’s moustache twitched and he could keep his backseat no longer.

Merci, Captain Hastings,” said Poirot, a polite indication of his intention to resume his position of inquisitor. “Tell me, monsieur Bottomclutch, was this over-exuberance, as you say, of a similar nature to that which occurred in Cambridge?”

Japp and Hastings suppressed mild astonishment, but Poirot maintained his resolve. His conversation with Lord Bottomclutch and the vicar the previous evening had been far from certain, but was enough to conjure likelihoods. Harold’s face crumpled like a week-old shirt and his eyes were that of a scolded child.

“It… it was nonsense what they said about me in Cambridge,” he stammered, a hint of forced arrogance failing to disguise his nerves. “President Venn is nothing but a traitor! And him calling himself a friend of my father’s, as well. Didn’t stop me getting sent down, though. For no good reason!”

“And what, monsieur, did they say about you in Cambridge?”

“Why are you asking me this?!” Harold raged, suddenly. “This has nothing to do with my sister’s murder. You ragamuffins want nothing more than to besmirch the Bottomclutch name! And suggesting my father had relations with that maid… poppycock! It was Barton that was sweet on Maggie, not my father. He wanted a son to carry on the pitiful line of Barton gamekeepers and no doubt saw red when the vicar hatched that ridiculous plot to marry her off to his pathetic excuse for a son. There! Now you have it!”

Harold snatched the dwindling cigar from the arm of the chair and stormed out of the study, uttering unheard dreadful things to Derbyshire as he went. As quiet once again settled into the room, Japp helped himself to a large whisky and lit his pipe.

“Well, Poirot, what do you make of that?” asked Japp. “Sent down from Cambridge, eh? Must’ve raised some merry hell to achieve that, especially if Lord Bottomclutch had connections.”

Oui, Chief Inspector, the incident at Cambridge is a source of great distress for Somersby Hall,” Poirot nodded. “Mais, we do not know what it is that has happened. But, it would seem to be no coincidence that Hastings and I were in the company of President Venn only a few days ago, non?

“And what about Barton, then?” said Hastings, joining Japp in a stiff drink. “Could he have been the father of Maggie’s child? Harold seemed very sure.”

“Indeed, he did seem sure, my dear Hastings,” replied Poirot. “Mais, he is keen, no doubt, that it is not his father who falls under suspicion for this, non? Also, do you notice how it is only the murder of his sister which concerns him? Not once has he mentioned the death of mademoiselle Maggie. Curious, non?

“Perhaps he doesn’t care much for the servants,” suggested Japp, puffing great coils of fragrant smoke towards the ceiling. “He certainly gives that impression.”

C’est vrai, Chief Inspector. Mais, the young monsieur Bottomclutch has lied to Poirot at least once today. I am sure you gentlemen noticed it at once, non? But that, it can wait. I have more questions to ask of the gamekeeper – and a very many questions for Lord Bottomclutch!”

Hide & Seek – Part Fifteen

Japp watched through squinted eyes as the venomous Bowley sisters left the study, a distinct air of stringent bile heavy in their wake. Poirot, too, was pleased to be rid of them, for now. He was far too polite to say so, but Ethel’s obvious glee at the misfortune of others was most unbecoming. Inspector Japp had no such compunction.

“Hardly the shining example of grace and manners, those two, eh Poirot?” he said, poking at his pipe. “Don’t strike me as the murdering kind, though. Unless you’re seeing something I’m not?”

Non, Chief Inspector,” replied Poirot, with a small sigh. “Unless ill-thoughts alone could kill, in which case we would all be as dead as the dodo.”

“And what’s all this talk about Cambridge?” Japp continued. “Didn’t you say our first victim Maggie had recently arrived from there?”

Oui, c’est vrai,” Poirot nodded, his manicured hand thoughtfully stroking his pocket watch. “She was until recently, a maid at Queens’ College. Indeed, the slightest mention of the university city caused much contention from Lord Bottomclutch at the party last night. It is most perplexing.”

“D’you think there’s anything in what those harridans had to say about Clara, Poirot?” Japp fished in his jacket pocket and drew out a small, fat pouch of tobacco. “Could the Bottomclutches have bumped her off along with the maid, for the sake of the family reputation?”

“It would be a most unusual thing, Chief Inspector, to hold a party whilst executing such devilish acts, non?

“Don’t discount it, Poirot,” replied Japp, an uncharacteristic smirk on his lips. “We’ve seen many a murder at a country house gathering. Besides, it’s a good way to bump up the suspect list, isn’t it!”

As Japp lit his pipe, Poirot’s attention was drawn to the sound of muffled commotion on the other side of the door. Three voices jostled for position in the exchange, one of which belonged to Captain Hastings. The door opened a few inches and a perturbed-looking Hastings thrust his head into the room.

“I’m sorry, Poirot, but we’ve got Enid Bowley here, absolutely insists she must see you,” explained Hastings. “She’s been giving poor Derbyshire the most terrible gip about it.”

Poirot and Japp raised eyebrows in unison. This would be the first time the usually-mute sister had opened her mouth in their presence. Poirot felt that surely this request must be granted, if only for the sake of curiosity. Nodding his assent to Hastings, Poirot straightened his waistcoat and steadied himself for this unexpected intercourse.

Without her sister Ethel at her side, Enid had an altogether different manner about her. She shuffled into the room with small, apologetic steps and cast her cold beady eyes to the floor. Her claw-like hands were held before her, not quite wringing but clutching themselves in earnest. A small effort at clearing her throat sufficed as a greeting. Captain Hastings strode in behind her, furiously patting at his jacket in an effort to remove a few errant pastry flakes. Poirot clasped his hands before him, mirroring Enid, and stretched his face into his warmest smile, straining his beautiful moustache in the process.

“Mademoiselle Enid, you wish to speak with Poirot?”

The room fell silent in anticipation and all eyes turned to Enid. Her mouth opened and closed a few times, as if rehearsing an unfamiliar action. Finally, she spoke.

“Yes, Mister Poirot, thank you for seeing me.” Her voice was far softer than expected, certainly not the pin-sharp vocal of her loquacious sister. “All I wanted to say – it isn’t quite right what Ethel said. About Clara. The Lord and Lady were not ashamed of her, Mister Poirot, not in the slightest. They loved her deeply. It is true that they cosseted her here in the Hall, but that wasn’t out of shame. They were protecting her from the crueller elements of the outside world, you see. From people like… my sister.”

Enid at once broke off and the smallness of her voice left a silence far bigger than herself. A spindly hand went to her temple, the effort of speaking seemingly too great to bear. Eyes darting about the room, she scuttled back towards the door.

“That is all, Mister Poirot! I thank you for your time!”

With that, she was gone.

“I say!” exclaimed Hastings. “That’s a turn up for the books. Who would have thought either of those creatures would have a good word to say about anybody!”

“She looked absolutely bloody terrified,” Japp noted. “Guilty conscience, d’you think?”

“Good Lord, anyone would be terrified of having that hideous Ethel as a sister,” replied Hastings, thrusting his hands in his pockets and wrinkling his nose.

“It appears to Poirot that perhaps mademoiselle Enid knows more than she has shared with us,” remarked the Belgian, rearranging his moustache following it’s strenuous activity at forcing a smile. “Mais, for now there is an even more pressing matter at hand.”

Hastings and Japp waited with anticipation for Poirot to elaborate. When he was satisfied with the condition of his moustache, he did.

“Why, Hastings has, this very morning, spied a gentleman wielding the murder weapon from the death of mademoiselle Maggie,” Poirot continued. “From the window in my room, my dear Hastings, when I observed Barton on the edge of the copse. I thought that I saw a gun in his hands, but you correctly identified him as carrying a rope, did you not?”

“I say! You’re right!”

Oui, Hastings, of course I am right.” Poirot ran his thumb over the smooth surface of his pocket watch, before replacing it in his waistcoat. “Gentleman, we must speak at once to Barton the gamekeeper.”