japp

Hide & Seek – Part Twenty

The athletic Captain Hastings was the first to witness the aftermath of devastation in the driveway of Somersby Hall. Close on his heels was Chief Inspector Japp, somewhat hampered by his refusal to put out his pipe whilst giving chase. Hercule Poirot arrived shortly afterwards, the exertion of an urgent waddle evident upon his dampened brow. Lord Bottomclutch, his steps leadened by grief and resolve whittled by Poirot’s questioning, followed behind. He grimly wondered if life in Tunkle-on-Wyme would ever return to the peaceful mundanity he loved so much.

Poirot and Japp frowned at the thick stockinged legs, splayed at alarming angles and footed with severe, sensible shoes that lay lifeless before them. Hastings gasped in horror at the sight of the Delage D6-11, rear bumper hopelessly dented, that currently sat atop the crushed limbs. His stunned disgust was reflected in the greasy face of Tooky, who peered timidly from the driving seat,  bobbing head on a corkscrewed neck, gaze straining towards the rear of the vehicle.

“Ah nivver sin ‘er, thass ut truth!” wailed Tooky, his comment aimed at a remarkably calm Enid Bowley, who stood quietly mere feet from the stricken bumper.

“Is she dead?”

Enid, so unaccustomed to speaking in the presence of her sister Ethel, formed her words with remarkable conviction for one confronted with the mangled body of her sibling. One might even have said that there was hope in her voice.

Captain Hastings hitched his trousers at the knees and crouched down on the gravel beside the protruding legs. He took a cautious look beneath the vehicle and the colour drained at once from his dashing features. He took a couple of steadying breaths and leaned back on his heels.

“Well, if she isn’t dead, she will be furious about the mess, no doubt.”

Tooky clambered from the driver’s seat, oily hands shaking, and joined Hastings on the gravel driveway.

“Ah wuss jus’ orf to gev tha new tyres a testin’,” he stammered. “Bloody thing shot orf backways ent I hears the maw blarin’! Ah nivver sin ‘er!”

“Well, I must say, they really are splendid tyres,” remarked Hastings, gently caressing the fresh rubber. “Damn shame about the bumper, though. It will take more than a bit of spit and polish to get that out.”

Poirot and Japp exchanged puzzled glances. Unused to the gentle nuances of the Norfolk dialect, they were still none the wiser.

“What’s happened here, then?” asked Japp.

Hastings got to his feet and delicately dusted down his tweeds.

“This gentleman is from the garage in the village,” replied Hastings, now confident in his grasp of the local lingo. “He replaced the slashed tyres on the Delage and was just trying them out. Seems he slipped the car into reverse by mistake and has run over Ethel Bowley.”

“Oh, I see.” Japp sucked thoughtfully on his pipe.

Poirot turned to Enid, whose gaze hovered over the vehicle, a curious calm upon her face.

“Mademoiselle Enid, I am so very sorry…”

“Oh! Oh. Mister Poirot, please, save your sympathy,” Enid replied. “Everyone else will, I can assure you of that.”

“Even so, mademoiselle, she was your sister.”

“My sister by blood but my jailor by design,” the quiverings of rage tinged her voice. “She trapped me with her bitterness, her bile, her jealousy of others and her cruel thoughts. Never a kind word, never a good deed – and we were hated because of it!”

To the great surprise of all gathered, Enid tore the demure pearls from her neck and flung them to the ground. She kicked off her clumpy shoes and released her greying locks from the viciously tight bun that held them.

“No more!” cried Enid, as if overcome by a passionate insanity. “No more. I shall wear all the colours of the rainbow and sing songs about nonsense. I shall be as Clara was – sweet and carefree, playful and gay. I have never known love in my life, Mister Poirot, but now I shall seek it. Seek it and give it, wherever I go.”

Abandoning the vestiges of her sister’s identity on the gravel driveway, Enid skipped in her stockinged feet away from Somersby Hall and into the village. Quite likely she was mad, but most certainly she was, at last, happy.

“Job for the local rozzers this, I reckon, don’t you Poirot?” said Japp, returning his attentions to more pertinent matters. “I mean, we’ve got enough on our plate as it is and it’s really only an accident.”

Oui, Chief Inspector, it is but an accident,” replied Poirot. “Mais, the deaths of Clara and Maggie were not accidents, most certainement. And Poirot, now he knows who carried out such deeds and why. Gentlemen, it is time we speak to the household, n’est-ce pas?

Hide & Seek – Part Sixteen

At the request of Hercule Poirot, Captain Hastings had been despatched to collect Somersby Hall’s  elusive gamekeeper, Barton. Hastings eventually tracked him down to where he and Poirot had spotted him earlier, lurking along the lip of the copse on the hill. Barton’s response to his summoning had been gruff and, frankly, he made Hastings rather nervous, although the Captain suspected that his gruffness was a default response to many an enquiry. Barton’s mood was not improved by the solemn surroundings of Lord Bottomclutch’s study, which Poirot and Chief Inspector Japp had commandeered for the purposes of inquisition. Hastings decided to remain in situ, in case the fellow decided to cut up rough.

Poirot invited Barton to take a seat in the easy chair by the bookcase and motioned for Hastings to pour a drink from the crystal decanter on the desk. The introduction of a fiery, amber beverage seemed to warm relations and, after a coupe of hearty mouthfuls, Barton was verging upon amenable.

“You have worked at Somersby Hall for a long time, Monsieur Barton?” began Poirot, his thumbs resting casually in the pockets of his silk waistcoat, which strained against his rotund frame.

“Yuss, sir, I ‘as worked here all me life, man and boy,” Barton replied, finishing his drink and looking around for another. “And me father before me, an’ ‘is father before that. There’s always been a Barton at Somersby Hall.”

Bien. Then, the Bottomclutches, you must know them very well, non?

“I can’t say as I know them well, Mister Poirot, no. It don’t do for the serving classes to be hobnobbing with the.. er… the nobs, so as to speak. We keeps our distance, you understand… ‘ere, it’s like a desert round here, can’t a man get a squink to whet his whistle?”

Despite Barton’s glass still bearing sticky trails from the first drink, Hastings replenished the vessel so that the wheels of conversation might turn with ease.

“Sayin’ that,” continued Barton, revived by further imbibition, “I got to know young Clara quite well, in fact. She were a sweet, sweet lass. Not quite the full ticket, but I’m sure you know that. There was those that made unkind remarks but I can’t see nothin’ wrong with being a child your whole life, can you?”

Non, monsieur, Poirot can see no fault in it at all. Please, to continue.”

“She used to come and see me up in my hut in the copse, her and her little dog. I kept an old jacket and cap up there for her, she liked dressin’ up an’ playing pretend. Ah! She would’ve made a fine gamekeeper, you know – I learned her how to set the traps an’ she could skin a rabbit soon as look at it! I shall miss her something dreadful.”

“Can you think of any reason for which someone might wish to kill mademoiselle Clara, monsieur?” asked Poirot, as gently as such a question would allow.

“Kill her? No!” exclaimed Barton. “Her mother, well, it’s well known about these parts that she was a bit disappointed about the girl’s.. er.. condition. Lady Bottomclutch was a great society beauty in her day, you know, an’ it was thought the daughter might follow in her footsteps, but she loved the girl, it was plain as anything. The staff all took ‘er to their hearts, especially poor Maggie. They were both gangly things, them two, an’ Maggie gave Clara ‘er old uniform when she… er… grew out of it, so as she could use it for dress-up. No, no one would want to kill our Clara, sir.”

“You knew about Maggie’s situation, Barton?” asked Japp.

“Yuss, sir, we all knew.” Barton then fell silent, casting a hopeful eye in the direction of Captain Hastings and the decanter.

“The local tittle-tattle suggests that Lord Bottomclutch might be the father,” Japp continued.

“Yuss, as well he might,” Barton mumbled, darkly. “Damn man fawned over her something chronic. But ‘e’s not the only one in the frame, you know.”

“James Philpott, the vicar’s son?” Japp ventured. Barton snorted.

“Him? He’s the one they’re pinning it on, but it’s never ‘im, I tell you. See, Maggie was a very friendly lass, especially after a couple of suppings…”

A thunderous banging on the door interrupted proceedings, accompanied by protests from the butler Derbyshire, continually ineffectual in his role of preventing uninvited visitors. The door flew open and in strode Harold Bottomclutch, notably more animated than he had been at breakfast.

“Ah! Barton. Here you are. I’ve been looking for you.” Harold announced, his tone rather curt. “I”m sorry to interrupt, chaps, but there’s a fellow outside asking about your car and one can hardly expect me to handle such a thing. Besides, I want to know what you’re doing about the murder of my sister.”

Barton huffed and got to his feet, straightened his cap and made for the door.

“I ‘ope I’ve been of some help, gentlemen,” he said, over his shoulder.

Oui, monsieur, merci!” replied Poirot. “But there is much more Poirot wishes to ask you. You will return here presently, if you please?”

“You don’t need to bother the staff, Mister Poirot,” snapped Harold, before Barton could respond. “My father and I will be able to tell you anything you need to know, I assure you.”

“In that case, monsieur Bottomclutch, Poirot is in your debt,” replied the great detective, his smile cold and moustache as sharp as knives. “Please. Will you take a seat?”

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