Poirot

Career-Defining Breakfast

And so it was that on a Friday morning, in a restaurant in Sloane Square, I realised that my life would never be quite the same again. Over eggs Benedict and a pot of tea, I agreed to an endeavour that will find me hopelessly out of my depth, yet no doubt in exactly the place I was destined to be.

But more of that later. In the meantime, as another frenetic year slips into its final act, I find myself contemplating my place upon the stage. Most pressing, of course, is the matter of finishing the third PorterGirl novel. I have been distracted by writing a Poirot parody when I should really have been working on this, but as the second book was only published in June, I don’t feel too badly about it.

 

Then there was the horror anthology, The Box Under The Bed, which went to number one in the Amazon charts twice and features two short stories by my good self. That reminds me – I have another anthology awaiting my submissions. This time the genre is much more familiar ground – humour – so a few thousand words should only take up an afternoon, at most.

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Rather unexpectedly, my satirical murder mystery nonsense blog Who Shot Tony Blair? is up for publication in novel form next year. It will require a fair amount of work to take it from its current state to something fit for a bookshelf, but the bare bones of it are there nonetheless. There is an appetite for post-Brexit, pre-dystopian satire, it would seem – which brings me neatly back to the restaurant in Sloane Square, London.

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People will often come to me and say ‘I’ve got a great idea for a book, you should write it!’ And quite often these ideas are very good, but if I spent my time writing other people’s books I would never get around to writing my own. However, when the people saying this are impeccably connected senior advisors to the not only the British government but governments around the world, people who have spent the best part of two decades at the forefront of politics and economics, I think it prudent to pay particular attention. Particularly when such people offer to buy me breakfast.

In a few short hours I learn more about how the world works that I think I ever wanted to know – the people pulling the strings, their ideologies and the true end games in a web of power, manipulation and politics. With the rise of extreme views on both the left and right becoming commonplace, Brexit appears to be the very least of our worries. People tell them they should write a book. But they don’t know how to write a book. They would very much like me to write the book. Ideally, a light-hearted, easy-reading fiction that will make the complex and dark possibilities of the near future accessible to a wide audience.

The problem is, the concept is rather too complex for me to get a handle on, let alone write the buggering thing. Not to worry. I will be taught and trained in everything I need to know. The royalty agreement is generous. The forward will be written by a prominent public figure and unfettered access to the national and international press means that marketing will be simple and extensive. Global, in fact. Despite the nagging inclination towards the feeling that I am getting in way over my head, I simply cannot not write this book.

I agree to write the book.

Work will begin in the New Year and we aim to publish in 2019. And what a lot of very interesting work it will be. As I make my way towards the King’s Road to meet a visiting American friend to discuss his outfit for the Brit Awards, I marvel at just how different life has become, since my days portering at a Cambridge college.

 

Hide & Seek – Chapter Twenty One

A crimson late summer sunset bled through the bay windows and the drawing room of Somersby Hall once again played host to the eclectic Bottomclutch household and their friends. Although, the occasion was somewhat more tense than the welcome home party that preceded the wicked murders of Clara Bottomclutch and the unfortunate maid, Maggie. Lady Bottomclutch was attired in a high-necked mourning gown, which swept from her chin downwards to the floor, covering every inch of her slender frame on its way to her feet. A black, wide-brimmed hat with a silk tulle veil hid her silent features, but leaked grief through its soft mesh fabric. Lord Bottomclutch wore his tweeds like a suit of armour, although they did little to protect him from the horror of events. His son Harold stood by his side, rigid, arrogance for once respectfully subdued.

By contrast, Enid had abandoned the twin set and pearls of her previous life and was resplendent in a shimmering fringed flapper dress, a golden band about her head with a large, almost obscene, feather bobbing gayly atop her chestnut mane. Of greater concern was the manner in which she perched upon the knee of Major Bernard Walker*, although the fellow showed no signs of objection, perhaps because his gaudy complexion suggested an afternoon spent at the bar. Mr Philpott, the vicar, wrinkled his nose several times, but to no avail. His son James, however, looked on with great approval and privately hoped that whatever Poirot had planned would not take too long. He had a mind to invite the Major and the revitalised Enid to continue their merriment with him in his snug.

Barton and Derbyshire were also present, but kept a professional distance from their masters and betters. Barton in particular was most put out to be summoned and even Derbyshire was a little peeved, very much hoping that the traditional theme of ‘the butler did it’ would not come in to play this evening. The only persons displaying anything of a cheerful demeanour were Captain Hastings and Chief Inspector Japp, positioned tactically by the door, should the guilty party make an attempt at escape when their identity was inevitably revealed by Hercule Poirot.

“This is my absolute favourite bit,” Hastings whispered to Japp, rocking on his heels in a bid to contain his excitement.

“Yes, it’s always something of an event when the old boy shows his hand,” replied Japp, allowing himself the smallest of smiles. “Who do you think is our killer?”

“I haven’t a bally clue!” said Hastings, shaking his head.

“A crown says it’s Barton,” Japp replied, tapping his nose. “See, I’ve got a theory about Clara’s murder. I reckon he didn’t mean to kill her at all…”

“Thank you for joining me, mesdames et messieurs!

Poirot, who was standing looking out the windows, his back to the room, finally turned to address his expectant audience.

“Captain Hastings and I came to Somersby Hall in order that we might speak with Mademoiselle Maggie, mais, it is to my great regret, that we stayed in order to investigate her murder. And, also the murder of Mademoiselle Clara – a young lady who was most fond of hide and seek, oui? A game most appropriate. For it seems to Poirot that in Somersby Hall, there is much that is hidden and Poirot, he likes nothing more than to seek. To seek the truth, to seek… the murderer.”

“And have you found either, Mister Poirot?” asked James, playing along with the spectacle.

Oui, Monsieur Philpott,” Poirot replied, a broad smile ruffling his moustache. “Hercule Poirot, he finds them both. Always.”

“Then spit it out, man!” roared Lord Bottomclutch. “Tell me who killed my daughter! I’ll wring their bloody neck!”

“They will be subject to the full force of the law, sir,” said Japp, a note of caution heavy in his voice.

“No one wanted to kill your daughter, Lord Bottomclutch,” Poirot continued. “The death of Clara it was an error, a case of mistaken identity.”

“I knew it!” exclaimed Japp. “She was wearing a maid’s uniform when she was murdered. From behind, in the poorly lit pantry, the killer thought she was Maggie!”

Très bien, Chief Inspector!” Poirot clapped his hands together and spun on his heels to offer a congratulatory grin to Japp. “So it seems that, enfin, Scotland Yard has solved the crime before Poirot, oui?

“Well, Poirot, you mustn’t feel too bad about it,” replied Japp, drawing himself up to his full height, a hint of smugness in his eyes. “We are the professionals, after all.”

Japp winked at Hastings and mouthed ‘You owe me a crown.’

“Then, please, Chief Inspector, do not keep us waiting,” Poirot twinkled from the top of his smooth head to the tips of his shiny-shoed toes. “Share with us all your conclusions.”

Japp tucked his hands into his waistcoat pockets and took to the centre of the floor, unable to suppress a triumphant swagger. He cleared his throat and cast a confident gaze around the room.

“There is only one motive behind the murder of Maggie,” he began. “And that was her illegitimate pregnancy. Therefore, there can be only one person with the motive to kill her – the father of her unborn child.”

Japp paused. As the suspects looked from one to the other, there was nothing in their faces to give any one of them away. He noticed, however, that eventually all eyes fell to Lord Bottomclutch and Barton. Now was the time to strike.

“With that in mind, I place you, Mister Barton, under arrest for the murders of Miss Clara Bottomclutch and the maid, Maggie.”

As gasps of disbelief swelled around the room, Poirot held up his hand, shaking his head furiously.

“Ah, Chief Inspector, it seems that perhaps Poirot, he was mistaken.”

“But the baby was the only reason to do away with her!” cried Japp. “And the bloody mallet that killed Clara was found in the copse!”

Oui, c’est vrai, the father of Maggie’s baby is without doubt the murderer! Mais, Barton, he is not the father. Is that not right, Lord Bottomclutch?”

Next week – the case is solved!

 

*I admit, I completely forgot about this character.

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?