The London Syndicate, Chapter 4

Preface/Chapter 1: The Trophy

Chapter 2. The Rival Gang

Chapter 3: Absent Without Leave

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Chapter 4: A Close Shave

Over the next few months following the Bexhill incident, I was loath to let Poirot out of my sight for a minute. When he had sufficiently recovered, he began to protest my persistent hovering.

‘My dear Hastings, be reasonable,’ he murmured. ‘One cannot always be prepared for the completely unexpected in life, it is true. All the same, brains and common sense will go far for both prevention and cure. You cannot remain forever the mother chicken.’

We were in the bathroom of our flat, hastily preparing to meet a client who had made an unexpected appointment five minutes ago and was due to arrive shortly. I was at the sink, lathering up to shave; Poirot, who had shaved earlier, was touching up his moustache in front of the other mirror.

‘You know, Poirot,’ I said, ‘it gets my back up something fierce that they never caught that offensive, blue-eyed fellow who delivered your letter to me when you were kidnapped. His name was Ramsey, wasn’t it?’

‘Oui, my friend,’ Poirot said. ‘Griffon leaked that particular detail on the very day he was arrested and questioned. Scott Ramsey, though he doubtless has many aliases. He was present when I composed that letter to you.’

‘Rumour has it that he lost a great deal of money on some other deals when Griffon’s papers were discovered,’ I went on, rinsing my razor. ‘No great love for you, I daresay. Every time I see you fiddling about with your moustache these days, I think of the threats you told me about.’

‘Oh, yes,’ grunted Poirot in indignant tones, ‘he was most impertinently disappointed that he could not relieve me of my moustache before sending me off to France. His idea of a trophy, ma foi!’ He laid down his little silver comb and reached for more wax. ‘It seems to be a favourite threat of my enemies, mon ami– the victory of depriving me of my trademark. Why, even Girauld himself, our old acquaintance from the Sûreté, would have gladly seen Poirot in such a degraded state, if you recall. It is to them the gesture of– what is the word?– emasculation.’

Yes, Poirot would see it like that, I thought, rinsing my face. A loud sniff emanated from Poirot’s direction as I returned my razor to its place.

‘The safety razor, indeed,’ he said contemptuously, curling the tips of his own facial hair with dexterity.

‘You might try it sometime, you know,’ I said patiently, grabbing a towel. ‘I don’t know why you still insist on a straight razor; it’s extremely inconvenient.’

‘La commodité! That is all that people care about today! My poor friend, the implements of the toilette should be both artistic and of the highest quality!’

I cast my eye over his perfectly-organized grooming supplies, which were currently taking up most of the counter, including his solid silver moustache grooming set. My little friend was certainly a dandy of the first order. Cleopatra herself couldn’t have had a toilette as meticulous as Hercule Poirot’s.

‘Anyway,’ I added, as we tidied up and prepared to leave the room, ‘it’s just a razor.’

‘Indeed. But as you will see, Hastings, the client who has made an appointment with us this morning is one who appreciates the fine things of life. Pray do not reveal too much of your plebeian preferences during our interview. Alexei Dimitri is one of the greatest concert violinists alive today.’

‘Oh!’ I said. I had heard of Dimitri, who, despite his exotic name and flamboyant tastes, was thoroughly English and owned an expensive and sprawling property in Kent. Although still in his thirties, he was one of England’s great patrons of music.

Minutes later, the young maestro was sweeping into our flat: dark, handsome, well-dressed, and smiling in a distracted sort of way. We exchanged pleasantries.

‘Precisely on time, I gather?’ he said, checking his watch. ‘I do hate tardiness. Forgive me, gentlemen, for the last-minute consultation, but an associate of mine positively insisted that I do something about the Stradivarius. You see,’ he chattered on, ‘this evening at six, I’m holding a bit of a social for a wide range of friends and acquaintances at my estate– it will be quite a crowd. My friend, Lord Conway, insists that I am far too careless with my possessions, and seems to fear that an attempt will be made to steal the violin, which is worth a small fortune. Nonsense, I tell him! But he persisted– spooked by rumours, I suppose– so to ease his mind, I’ve come to ask you to the little gathering this evening. Perhaps you could keep an eye on things?’

Poirot opened his mouth, closed it, and looked at me. ‘Ah, well, M. Dimitri, Captain Hastings and I would certainly be available this evening–’

‘Oh, splendid, splendid,’ gushed our voluble client. ‘I daresay many of my friends would be most delighted to meet you– although, perhaps you’ll want to operate with discretion? Oh, never mind– do as you like. The social winds down around nine, and the guests clear out. Nine is the time I’m having a smaller, private gathering in my house, just half a dozen or so friends over from America. You needn’t stay later than that.’

‘Bien, monsieur. Concerning this violin, this Stradivarius, may I ask–’

‘Yes, I’ll have it in the house, nothing for it. I am so particularly looking forward to my little gathering later in the evening. These new friends of mine comprise a sort of Appalachian folk band from the southern U.S. They are quite obscure over there, but I happened upon a show of theirs on my most recent transcontinental visit and oh! what talent! I positively insisted on bringing them over.’

‘Mais oui, bien sûr. Now, this violin–’

‘It’s a beauty,’ beamed Dimitri with pride. ‘Which reminds me– oh, dash it, I must be off. I’ve another engagement, I’m afraid. I’ll meet you at the house at six, but I mightn’t stay the whole time for the first part of the evening. There will be lots of coming and going, I daresay, so I may or may not see you around terribly much. Name your fee and send me the bill. Till tonight, then!’

And with a nod of his dark head, he took his leave again, a sort of cloud of incoherence in his wake. Poirot and I stared after him.

‘Eccentric fellow,’ I said at last, crossing my arms and looking at my little friend wryly. ‘Appalachian folk, eh? Still convinced that Alexei Dimitri doesn’t entertain any “plebeian” fancies?’

Poirot threw me a reproachful glare.

*****

That evening at six, my friend and I arrived at Dimitri’s enormous Ashford estate, situated on stunning woodlands. The autumn air was crisp, and the changing leaves seemed to bathe the whole scene in a sea of dusky fire. Poirot, naturally, was muffled up to the ears to keep out the chill.

We entered in the front hall, which was large and already swarming with clusters of well-dressed people. They seemed to compliment the opulence of their setting: all around us were luxurious furniture, priceless artworks, hanging tapestries and heavy curtains. Dimitri was no ascetic. As our coats and hats were taken, a middle-aged man with slightly greying temples came over to greet us.

‘Monsieur Poirot,’ he said enthusiastically, hand outstretched. ‘How wonderful to meet you. I am Lord Conway; Dimitri may have mentioned–’

As though he felt a summons, our host himself suddenly emerged from a cluster of young women wielding champagne, and hurried over to us.

‘Oh, Andrew, you’ve met Monsieur Poirot and Captain Hastings, splendid. He was awfully keen on your presence here this evening. Seems to think I’m irresponsible!’ I looked around to see several visitors closely examining some enormous Chinese porcelain vessels, while still more knots of people broke away to explore other rooms of the house.

‘Go ahead and take them around,’ said Dimitri encouragingly, finishing off his champagne. ‘I’ll catch up with you later, I’m sure–’

‘Monsieur–’ said Poirot with some desperation, but Dimitri had disappeared again.

‘I’m sure we’ll find him again later,’ said Lord Conway apologetically, as he led us into an adjoining room. ‘He’s a bit scatterbrained, though a genius in his own right, of course. He rather likes to show off, I fancy, and sometimes I fear it will make him a target. One hears rumours at times.’ We looked around the room we currently occupied, which was full of African curios, including a good many drums and other instruments. From there, our guide led us through several other palatial rooms– presumably nearly all of the house– some of which had strangers wandering through, examining any number of objects with great interest. Dimitri had entire rooms devoted to music, including two well-furnished studios for recording, a rather staggering ballroom, and impressive displays of instruments of all kinds.

‘He’s forever renovating,’ said Lord Conway with a shade of a wince, ‘and the way he lets crowds of people wander through everywhere, poking around…’ He shook his head. ‘I try to do what I can for him in terms of security,’ he went on. ‘He is an old friend of mine. You might have noticed the two constables patrolling outside.’ I hadn’t, but Poirot nodded his head comprehendingly. Our companion checked his watch. ‘If you’ll excuse me, gentlemen, I’m headed back to the drawing room for a smoke.’

‘Milord,’ said Poirot, ‘Captain Hastings and myself are here because of M. Dimitri’s Stradivarius. It is feared to be the object of some thief’s interest, is it not so? Would you relay to us, please, where it is kept?’

Lord Conway started a little. ‘Why, I haven’t the foggiest idea where it is right now,’ he said. ‘Didn’t he tell you?’

The look on Poirot’s face was telling. Hastily, I interjected: ‘We’ll head back ourselves in a few minutes and ask him about it.’

When Lord Conway had gone and Poirot and I were alone in the hall, Poirot gave vent to his annoyance. ‘Sapristi!’ he hissed. ‘Our Monsieur Dimitri has absolutely no concept of method! How he expects us to aid him when he cannot be bothered to present the most basic facts of a case…’

‘Yes,’ I agreed, as we strolled back down the hall and made to round the corner. ‘You would think that he’d at least have told us where he kept the Stradivarius.’

I heard Poirot’s first sharp intake of breath before I noticed anything else. Then a constricting arm encircled my chest, and I felt something like the tickle of a hair at my neck. Frantically I looked across to Poirot who stood opposite me, and saw my situation in mirror reflection. Poirot, gasping a little, was clutching at an arm drawn tightly across his chest, a razor blade held to his throat.

*****

Three men had sprung the attack, but I could not get good view of any but the short, shaggy-headed one who held Poirot. My friend and I needed no special instruction to keep silent, and we were hurried down the corridor and through several narrow passages and stairs. (The irony of the razor blades did not escape me.) Our captors had clearly worked out an isolated route. Finally, we stopped before a heavy door, and the tall man who led the way crouched down and began to pick the lock. It quickly gave way, and we were thrust through the door into a sparsely-furnished and untidy room, littered with bottles but otherwise relatively clean. I was surprised to notice that a second room, in the form of a rather large booth with glass windows, appeared within the larger room. It suggested an atmosphere of sound recording. Into this room we were taken, where we were tightly bound with cords, but not gagged. The two men who brought us stepped out of the room again and closed the door behind them. I expelled a torrent of abuse at the man who was tightening the knots that leashed Poirot’s wrists behind him, and he returned me a withering glare.

Those serious blue eyes, the square jaw… it was none other than Ramsey.

‘You!’ I shouted. So the London Syndicate was behind this affair. My expletives became more pronounced and somewhat louder.

Ignoring me, the man abruptly picked up Poirot and brought him to the far side of the little room, where a couple of large, wooden storage crates were stacked against the wall. He laid him atop this perch and came back to me, unceremoniously dragging me backward, forcing me to sit with my back against a support, and anchoring me to it with another length of cord. Poirot watched this struggle, silent and unmoving where he lay. I was bitterly tormented by my impotence. A useless defence I had been for my friend!

‘What are you doing?’ I cried, as the syndicate agent once again approached the place where he had deposited Poirot.

He whipped around. ‘First of all,’ he said irritably, ‘you needn’t shout. We brought you here because this inner room is heavily sound-proofed. It is also isolated, well away from the activity of the rest of the house this evening. As for what I’m doing at this moment–’

Ramsey produced another length of rope and climbed up over the stacked crates, finding an exposed rafter above and firmly affixing the rope to it. The other end that hung down, he quickly fashioned into something that looked rather terrifyingly like a noose.

‘Don’t lose your mind,’ he smirked, observing my expression. ‘No one is being murdered today, let us hope. This is simply an added precaution to keep M. Poirot from wandering about. We seem to have to be rather careful with him.’ And he jerked Poirot to an upright sitting position, his short legs dangling well off the ground from atop the crates. Then the man arranged the loop of rope around Poirot’s neck and pulled it snugly under his chin. The objective was plain: if Poirot were to try to descend from the perch– or even lay down again– he would effectively hang himself.

‘I’d suggest, M. Poirot, not moving around too much,’ added Ramsey unnecessarily, climbing down from the crates again.

The sight of Poirot, apparently seated on his own gallows and a slip away from eternity, was so ghastly and macabre an image that I broke into a cold sweat. My friend was a portrait of remarkable self-control. He still had said no word throughout our ordeal, but glared with a cool dignity at our foe, who was tall enough to be nearly at eye level with Poirot now. Finally he broke his silence.

‘You choose an unwise path, monsieur,’ he said gravely. ‘Have you not yet learned the cost of trifling with myself and my friend? This will be your undoing.’

The man regarded him steadily, but chose not to rise to the bait. ‘My friends and I,’ he said at last, ‘are off to do our search of the house for the Stradivarius, as you are undoubtably aware.’

Poirot nodded, as he was able. ‘And also, you undoubtedly heard that Hastings and myself were not informed of the location of the piece.’

‘Yes, that would have simplified things,’ he conceded. ‘Nevertheless, we will find it. There is plenty of to-and-fro happening so that our presence will not be noticed; Dimitri is not winding the main party down until nine. That gives us over two hours. And when we find it, monsieur…’ He took a step closer to Poirot, who continued to gaze coldly at him. ‘I will be back to bid you and your friend adieu. You will not be killed, no… that is quite unnecessary. But I’ve a score to settle.’

He pulled a blade from his pocket and held it close to Poirot’s face.

‘When you are found,’ he whispered, ‘it will be without your precious moustache. Possibly with slightly less blood, as well.’

And on that sinister note, he spun round and left the room.

*****

‘My friend?’ came Poirot’s voice, sounding far away.

I blinked a little, feeling dizzy. Poirot’s voice, full of concern, came again. ‘You are all right, yes?’

My eyes focussed once more on the little figure opposite me, mounted on the crates in a tangle of lethal-looking rope. He was watching me anxiously and seemed supremely unconcerned at his own paralysation. ‘You have been out for several minutes, my friend.’

I took a deep breath, my face still damp with sweat.

‘I’m terribly sorry, old chap,’ I said, heavy with guilt– a failed soldier. ‘I haven’t been any use at all, I’m afraid. I’d have sooner lost my right arm than to see you mixed up with that loathsome blackguard again…’

‘Mais non, non, mon ami! Do not speak like that! And it is not true; always you are of use. Do not derange yourself at what you see before you– they have arranged me like this solely to produce terror in your heart, to weaken your nerve, and in this they have succeeded. But we shall live to see another day, mon brave. Perhaps we shall even save the violin from being purloined. With the bonne chance, the moustaches may not even be desecrated! Let us hope for better things.’ And my friend, immobilized and inches away from hanging by his neck from the ceiling, smiled reassuringly at me.

His optimism, of course, was patently ludicrous. We were securely bound, in an isolated and largely sound-proof room within another (presumably locked) room. We were powerless to move an inch, much less escape, or pursue our adversaries, or discover the violin’s location. Apparently Poirot fancied himself a magician!

‘If you can get us out of this mess, Poirot,’ I sighed, ‘I’ll eat my hat. In the more idiotic detective stories, the super-sleuth manages some deus ex machina and unrealistically turns the whole story round in the most unsatisfactory manner.’

‘Nonsense; only, do not make rash and impious vows about consuming headwear. Have you not with you the greatest detective in the world? An interesting coincidence, that our captors apprehended us using the razor blades, n’est-ce pas? To think that we spoke of them, and Ramsey’s little grudge, such a short time ago. You might call this a “close shave” that we are experiencing now, my friend.’ And to my intense annoyance, he burst into an irrational fit of merriment.

One of the many intolerable things about Poirot is his complete lack of a proper sense of humour and proportion.

‘Listen,’ I said abruptly, spurred on by the horrible memory of our blade-wielding villains, ‘what if they don’t find the violin after all? What will they do?’

‘I fully expect someone to return to check on us periodically,’ Poirot said, calming down a little from his mirth. ‘They may yet even enlist our help to find the violin. We shall see. If they do not find what they seek by the end of the party… they will not be pleased. They might be inclined to be vindictive, it is true. Eventually they would leave us here, and we would be missed before too long and the house searched, and we would be found and released. The room is not airtight and we shall not starve. It is far from the worst situation we have faced together yet. Try not to worry, mon cher.’

Easy said!

Poirot’s initial prognostications were correct. Not five more minutes had passed when one of the gang– the unattractive, mop-haired gent who had brought Poirot along to this room at blade-point– opened the door to the outer room. We watched him through the glass pane, but we could hear nothing of his movements and, presumably, he heard none of ours, either. He stood close to the glass for a few moments, observing us like vaguely interesting zoological specimens, then hurried out of the room again.

I taxed my little friend about his speculations as to where Dimitri had hidden his instrument, but he was vague and noncommittal, saying only that there were certain observations he’d made when we first entered the main hall that struck him at once. Then he changed the subject.

‘These rooms we now occupy, they are also for recording purposes, you think, mon ami?’

‘Most likely– that explains the microphones,’ I said, not very interested, as I looked at a couple specimens of technology here and there in the room. ‘Many musicians have their own private studios in their homes these days. Dimitri, who’s rolling in money, seems to have a few of them, besides all those other rooms devoted to music, instruments, and performance. He strikes me as rather a monomaniac. This place looks like he could hardly be bothered with it, though.’

‘Yes,’ said Poirot, casually surveying the cheap couch and table in the outer room, its ashtrays and bottles, and its disorganized odds and ends. ‘It is not a pleasant place.’

‘I say,’ I said uncomfortably, looking at the microphones, ‘you don’t suppose that our friends are somehow recording our conversation here, do you– trying to cotton on to some clue that would lead to the violin?’

Poirot considered a moment. ‘Tiens, but I had not thought of that, my friend. It is better, perhaps, to remain quieter. We do not want them to, how do you say, “cotton on” to the clue of the entrance hall.’ And we relapsed into silence.

*****

After a spell, Ramsey returned. His grave blue eyes did not look happy, and he came to the point immediately.

‘I want to know what ideas you have about the whereabouts of the Stradivarius, monsieur,’ he said in a low voice. Poirot wriggled a bit in his bonds, looking uncomfortable. Unable to suppress myself at the sight of his precarious position, I said, ‘For God’s sake, don’t move, Poirot!’ Then a terrible thought struck me.

‘Look, you devil,’ I said, ‘you plan to leave us here after you’ve gone, with or without the violin. We’ll be found, yes, but it might be a day or more. If Poirot falls asleep with that thing around his neck, it’s likely to kill him!’

Poirot shot me a quelling stare, but I thought my point was a salient one. Ramsey stooped down to address me.

‘Quite right, no doubt,’ he said smoothly. ‘And if M. Poirot’s ideas about the location of our quarry bear fruit, we can certainly come to an arrangement on that point. If you help us so that we can leave this house with our object accomplished, I will remove the rope from around your friend’s neck.’

I bit my tongue to suppress a sarcastic rejoinder about how very gracious he was. After all, my friend’s life was on the line, and this could be a chance to save it.

Poirot did not look too inclined to divulge information, but he did look profoundly uncomfortable, as though he had become newly cognizant of the seriousness of his own situation. ‘You… put me in a difficult position, monsieur,’ he said hesitantly. ‘I have promised to preserve the violin for my client…’

‘Poirot,’ I cried in frustration, ‘this is hardly the time for heroics in the line of business dealing. You don’t know, but you suspect.’ He glared at me and opened his mouth to interject, but I cut him off. ‘Poirot told me,’ I said in a rush, ‘that the entrance hall of the house particularly interested him when we first arrived.’

My friend was evidently furious with me, but I figured he’d forgive me later. Ramsey cast an approving smile in my direction.

‘At least one of you has some common sense.’ He moved to the door, glancing at the little clock on the wall of the sound booth. ‘It is a quarter to eight. For your friend’s sake, let us hope his guesses are good ones.’ And he left us.

‘Hastings,’ said Poirot at last, sighing, ‘what shall I do with you? How easily you fell into their trap. The rope around the neck and the lost nerve, and after I had warned you! Sometimes I feel that you could not keep a secret if your life depended on it. The speculations of Poirot are not yours to disclose.’

‘Your life does depend on it,’ I argued. I was grumpy and my limbs had lost feeling some time ago. ‘It was just a hint, anyway. I don’t suppose you really know where the violin is being kept.’

‘I cannot know, it is true, but I can make reasonable inferences.’

‘And if you do fall asleep, like I said? You hadn’t thought of that before. What then?’

Poirot scoffed. ‘Never. Hercule Poirot has the willpower of iron. And he thinks of everything.’

If I’d been able to throw my hands in the air in frustration, I would have done so. Instead I had to be content with the most dramatic rolling of the eyes that I could muster.

*****

It was five minutes to nine. Ramsey returned to us in (I was alarmed to see) a towering rage. His accomplices were with him, and they banged the door of the sound booth behind them. Ramsey stormed over to Poirot, still seated placidly in his bonds.

‘Your little hints have led me nowhere,’ he snarled. ‘This is your last chance. Do you or do you not know where it is hidden?’

Poirot stared back at him coldly. ‘Parbleu, it was never told to me where it was hidden! The house is a large one, monsieur. You can hardly blame me for your own failure.’

Ramsey whipped something out of his pocket. Knowing what it was, my heart leapt into my throat.

‘I have not managed the violin– this time,’ he said steadily. ‘But I have incapacitated you and your friend. And I will not leave here without–’

‘–A consolation prize?’ asked Poirot, with a stiffness to match his exquisitely befurled black moustaches. ‘Le trophée? It hardly seems to me that, even by your own questionable standards, you have earned it.’

Blast him, what did he hope to gain by antagonizing a man who was inches from him with a razor blade?!

‘Supposing, then,’ Ramsey said menacingly, ‘that we were to forgo the plan of shearing that damned arrogant lip of yours, and instead I just give a few almighty kicks to this stack of crates and let that bit of rope around your neck do its work?’ He moved to one side so that I could see the scene clearly. ‘Captain Hastings here would have a perfect view of–’

My nerve deserted me entirely. I broke down and shamelessly begged for my friend’s life, rambling, stammering, and making a general commotion. I did not know how seriously bent this man was on lethal vengeance, but it was too soon after the Bexhill incident. Too soon, and too much. My carrying on encompassed several pitiful minutes, and by the end my breath came wheezy and hitching.

When I looked up at Poirot again, there were no traces of his previous quelling glances, nor of any frustration or fury. He seemed deeply affected by my display and was looking at me with an expression of great tenderness. Ramsey laughed callously and turned his back on me.

‘Well then,’ he said mockingly to Poirot, coming closer. ‘The razor it is. It would never do for the good captain to have a full-blown seizure. Considering your current neckwear, monsieur, I would advise you to focus on staying very, very still…’

‘There is, I’m afraid,’ said Poirot calmly, as Ramsey’s hands inched forward in a predatory fashion, ‘what you might call “the snag.” You see– ’ He nodded infinitesimally to the glass partition. ‘We are not alone.’

Both Ramsey and myself nearly jumped out of our skin at this pronouncement; our eyes flew, together, to the window. Several men were entering the room– we had not heard them– and were stopping dead at the sight of us. One of them, Alexei Dimitri himself, immediately dashed to the sound booth and flung open the door, closely followed by his companions.

If this were not sufficiently astonishing, what happened next seemed a positive miracle. Ramsey’s back was now to Poirot, and my little friend, with a sudden and deft movement, shook off all of his entangling ropes, hopped down, and darted over to me!

Ramsey and I (and perhaps one or two of the newcomers, all strongly-built but somewhat shabbily-dressed men) gaped at Poirot open-mouthed. As Ramsey and his two aides were disarmed and held at bay, with much cursing, Poirot quickly knelt before me.

‘Mon pauvre ami,’ he murmured, ‘Thanks in part to you, I do not come unprepared to the fray.’ And, out of his sleeve, he extracted and unsheathed… his own straight razor.

It sliced through the cords that bound me like they were butter.

*****

‘Do you– do you mean–’ I gasped, as Poirot dextrously untangled me and helped me to my feet, ‘that you had that razor on you the whole time?’

‘Mais oui,’ he said composedly. ‘M. Dimitri, if a few of your friends could escort these intruders out through the front of the house, you will find two constables patrolling outside.’ Exit Ramsey, his confederates, and their handlers, staring at Poirot as they went.

I turned to Poirot, still flabbergasted. ‘But when did you get a chance to cut your bonds? I never noticed it.’

My friend took on a slightly apologetic tone. ‘It was after Ramsey first left us alone, my friend, and you had some minutes of unconsciousness. The razor, I had slipped up my sleeve before we left our flat. The fools who apprehended us with their own razor blades, they did not check to see what we had up the sleeve before binding the wrists! C’était une erreur, ça.

‘By holding the hands at a certain angle, one can manage a small amount of leeway in the bindings. When we were alone, I shook the razor from my sleeve, opened it behind my back, wedged it upright into the slats of the crate, and cut the ropes on my wrists first. Then I cut the other cords as well, and arranged them to look as though they were yet uncut.’

As he spoke, I felt my relief giving way to anger. ‘Dash it all, Poirot,’ I roared, ‘I’ve spent the last couple of hours thinking you were teetering on the brink of death! Why didn’t you cut my bonds, too, so we could escape?’

Poirot had shrunk slightly behind the bewildered Dimitri in anticipation of my just wrath. ‘Mon ami,’ he said piteously, gesturing with an air of helplessness, ‘I had taken on a job to preserve the violin of this monsieur. I could not desert my post.’

‘Your post! What good did you hope to do stuck in here?’

‘Well, I had a little idea, you see…’ Poirot sidled over to the wooden crates where he had been incarcerated, and climbed onto the bottom crate so as to access the top one. He gingerly prised open the lid and reached inside, bringing forth a handsome black case.

‘No,’ I said in disbelief. ‘That’s never… it can’t be.’

Dimitri nodded, taking the case and opening it for us to see. It was the priceless Stradivarius.

My jaw dropped yet again. ‘You were sitting on it the whole time?’

I couldn’t stand it…

*****

Poirot and I were alone in the outer room, sitting on the shabby little sofa, while Dimitri and his remaining companions left us to acquire some brandy. The black violin case lay open on the little table before us, the priceless instrument appearing supremely out of place in our dingy environment.

‘So, they brought us here, tied us up in the sound booth, and sat you right on top of the violin, without realizing they had just done so.’

‘Oui.’

‘And you guessed that you were sitting on it?’

‘Oui.’

I shook my head. ‘It’s ridiculous,’ I exclaimed. ‘How could you possibly know?’

Poirot shrugged. ‘I do not say that I knew exactly, but it seemed strongly indicated. Mon cher, it is strange, yes, but not quite as unlikely nor as complicated as you might think. The Syndicate thought they were very clever by finding an unattractive, unfinished room of the house that was kept locked; there, they could keep us out of the way while they make their search. It even had a sound-proofed room within. Did it not occur to you at once to ask yourself why this room would be kept locked by the owner, when practically every other room in this house, with all its expensive curios, was left wide open during a house party where a theft might possibly occur?’

‘Well… no, it didn’t. There seemed nothing of interest in here!’

‘Precisely what most people would think, Hastings! And yet, locked it was. What was the reason? Moreover, it was not an abandoned room; it is kept dusted, and the microphones we saw in the inner room were of quite good quality. The bottles and ashtrays in the outer room suggest that some form of entertaining occurs here– but not at all the same manner of entertaining that would occur in les grandes chambres of the rest of the house! No, this is a room for the entertaining of those guests who might, perhaps, be uncomfortable with the high-class fancies of Dimitri’s richer and more aristocratic friends. And it is a room of interest to those of the musical profession.

‘M. Dimitri said that he was having, in his house at nine o’clock, a small party for an obscure Appalachian folk ensemble of which he was most fond. Of all the rooms I had seen in this grand house of his, this was precisely the room to which I knew he would take them. And do you really know nothing of the musical temperament, mon ami? He was inordinately proud of his Stradivarius. He would want to show them immediately, perhaps even play and record music with them. He locked this room because his prized violin was here, and this was to be both where he would use it and socialize with his American friends. Enfin, from my observations, there was only one place of storage in these sparse rooms where the violin could be kept, and there it was. It is really of the most straightforward.’

‘So you just decided to wait here until nine o’clock until they showed up?’

‘Exactement. It seemed very much the best way both to keep the Syndicate from finding the violin, as well as to apprehend our would-be thieves at the last with the helpful assistance of M. Dimitri and his guests.’

‘Poirot,’ I exclaimed in exasperation, ‘I could throttle you myself right now! Supposing you were wrong, and Dimitri and his friends didn’t show?’

‘I am not in the habit of being wrong in my deductions. At any rate, M. Dimitri is absentminded, but nonetheless values punctuality. Should something have come up to detain them, I planned to stall for a little more time. Fortunately I did not need to do so, as you did an admirable job doing this for me. I refer to your very touching speech of several minutes, petitioning Ramsey to spare my life.’

I growled a little, remembering my antics with great embarrassment and not best pleased with Poirot for deceiving me on that point. This reminded me of something else.

‘You told me that you suspected the entrance hall as a clue to the location of the violin,’ I said, narrowing my eyes.

Poirot had the good grace to look embarrassed again. ‘Er, yes, that was une blague as well, mon ami. I could not tell you my plans, lest your honest and transparent nature break forth and give the game away to our enemies. I knew that if I gave you a false hint, and then jerked around a bit in my ropes in the presence of Ramsey, that you would break down and convey the false hint to him yourself as a means of bargaining. I feign an upset reaction at this supposed breach of confidence, but in fact my plan has gone ahead parfaitement. Your response would be utterly convincing to our enemies, and they would waste much time searching, far away from us.’

I leapt to my feet, livid. ‘You have been perfectly abominable to me,’ I burst out. ‘The torture I’ve been through this evening, and on your behalf!’

Poirot leapt up too, full of soothing, mollifying gestures. ‘I prostrate myself,’ he cried. ‘I offer a thousand, a million apologies–’

I cut him off savagely. ‘Go to the devil, Poirot– I’ve heard it before! But I’m not one of these susceptible ladies who goes to puddles when you throw out a few winsome-sounding pretenses of remorse.’ I turned away from him, feeling bitterly wronged. The evening’s events seemed to be a mix of silly idiocity and a pain that touched me on the raw. Part of me thought I should shrug it off as nothing; another part wanted me to never forgive Poirot, or perhaps strangle him after all.

My friend was arrested by my bluntness. Several moments of silence followed. Then he drew up beside me and I felt a bracing pressure on my elbow. I passed my hand over my brow, ruthlessly willing away the threat of stronger emotion.

‘You have had to face more than your fair share of pain these last months,’ he said quietly. ‘More than once you feared for the life of a friend, with good reason, and have felt powerless to act. But you have saved me now, mon ami, not once but twice. Were it not for the attention you drew to my straight razor earlier today as we prepared the toilette before our interview with M. Dimitri, it might not have occurred to me, on a whim, to slip it into my sleeve this evening, should we face such a trial as we did. Your frustration is fully justified. You are an excellent and loyal friend, without whom I might now be utterly disgraced or even dead, and I have treated you shamefully. So concentrated was I on the task of apprehending Ramsey, who had wronged me so deeply, that I had forgotten my friend Hastings, who has these past months not left me out of his sight lest harm befall me.’

My rage wavered and ebbed. I turned to my friend. His eyes expressed a grave compassion. ‘I give you my solemn word, mon ami, that I shall not again deceive you concerning my own safety or well-being in order to score points against the London Syndicate. It was a cruelty to you.’

I nodded mutely, and Poirot was undoubtably on the verge of one of his typically demonstrative embraces when Dimitri suddenly returned with his American friends and a butler, who proffered brandy to Poirot and myself. We received it gratefully.

‘You must let us offer you supper before you depart, gentlemen,’ said Dimitri cheerfully. ‘I suppose you missed yours. Well, you have preserved my Stradivarius for me and caught a few thieves as well; neat work for an evening.’

Poirot bowed. ‘Merci, monsieur,’ he said, and glanced at me. ‘Yes, that is enough for one day.’

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Weird endings: The Veiled Lady

The episode The Veiled Lady begins (more or less) and ends with Poirot, Hastings, and Japp enjoying a pleasant jaunt in a park. This particular park is full of boys who have somehow acquired toy sailboats and are taking them out for a float on the water.

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Poirot: “They fear me, Hastings, the criminals, they fear Hercule Poirot so much that they have repented of their naughty ways and have become citizens of the most upright.”
Hastings: “Oh, rubbish, Poirot– I say! Look at that schooner!”
Poirot: “Rubbish, do you say, Hastings?”
Hastings: “Well, I don’t imagine most of them have ever heard of Hercule Poirot.”
Poirot: “You strike a man while he is down, eh!”
Japp: “I wish you were right. I wouldn’t mind retiring early. It strikes me they’re getting even cleverer, our criminal friends…”

Japp goes on to explain a recent jewel robbery that has impressed him; Poirot seems to consider it not really in his line, being a mere crime of “audacity.” But he falls into a reverie– what fun it would be to work against the law. Who better to confound Japp and his men than a great genius like himself, Hercule Poirot?

And at the end of the successful case, they’re back at the park and Hastings has procured for himself an enormous sailboat.

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Poirot: “Sit here, Hastings. Now I hope that you will not again wound my feelings by saying that I am unknown to the criminal classes.”
Hastings: “Oh, I didn’t mean that, exactly.”
Poirot: “Ma foi, they even employ me themselves when they do not know which way to turn!”
Hastings (finishing with the boat): “What do you think?”
Poirot: “Well… I think… that we have made a good choice, Hastings.”
Hastings: “Not bad, eh?”
Japp (suddenly coming up): “Poirot, Hastings? I thought she’d never stop talking!”
Hastings: “What do you think?”
Japp: “It’s a beauty. I thought you were going to get the smaller one.”
Hastings: “Oh, I’d feel silly with a small one.”
Japp: “You going to try it out now?”
Poirot: “Captain Hastings has not brought it here for the good of his health.”
Japp (wistfully watching Hastings launch off): “Did you ever think of going to sea, Poirot?”
Poirot: “No, no, my friend. This is as close as I like to get.”
Japp: “I used to dream about the sea.” (Boat drifts away; credits roll.)

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What. Was. That. All. About.  ??

It drives me crazy when I can’t figure out just why dialog is used. I mean, the boat scenes certainly serve a couple of obvious useful purposes. They showcase Hastings’ impulsive boyishness (often directed toward cars, tracking down criminals, or auburn hair). Perhaps the juvenile nature of the activity is part of what directs Poirot’s imagination to the prospects of playing the criminal and the fun it would be.  And is that an unconsciously jesting dig against Poirot when Hastings tells Japp, “Oh, I’d feel silly with a small one”?

But what is the takeaway supposed to be? It has the feel of a takeaway. Is Japp considering the “audacity” with which Poirot and Hastings pulled off their little investigative stunt– audacity inspired by the initial jewel robbery– and reflecting on his own stolid and by-the-book existence in Isleworth? Japp’s a homebody who likes his garden, and never really seems too enthusiastic in the few times we see him abroad. Does he feel a sudden longing for adventure? Are his words about early retirement coming back to him? “When I retire, I shall have a little place in the country, far from crime– like this,” Japp had said in Christie’s “The Market Basing Mystery.” Does he sense early retirement might be coming after all, what with Poirot putting all these criminals away?  😉

Hastings, that impulsive romantic who pushes off his sailboat, does in fact ultimately get in a boat and go across the sea, all the way to South America, leaving Poirot and Japp behind. Is this a deliberate presage that we, the viewers, are seeing?

What are your impressions of these scenes? What’s up with the boats? What do you get from watching it?

The London Syndicate, Chapter 3

Previous chapter links:

Preface / Chapter 1: The Trophy

Chapter 2: The Rival Gang

************************

Chapter 3: Absent Without Leave

The unprecedented events which I lay down here are of such a unique nature that Chief Inspector Japp himself (in moments of characteristic offensiveness) will swear to anyone he tells about it that he’d never believe it if he hadn’t been there to see it. For certain personal reasons of my own, I’ve always hesitated to chronicle this extraordinary incident with the London Syndicate, which fortunately was largely kept out of the papers. But by the encouragement of my friend, Hercule Poirot, I shall do so now.

*****

Early July in the town of Bexhill was splendidly warm, with a delicious breeze off the sea. I had come down with Poirot for a holiday, eager to escape the stifling hive of London for a week or two. What we had not anticipated was the overwhelming masses of trippers descending upon our solitude.

‘Good Lord, I can’t remember it ever being quite this bad,’ I remarked over my newspaper, as Poirot and I sat on the patio of the Bluebell Café, watching the mobs shuffle by. A cup of coffee sat before me; Poirot sipped delicately at an aromatic tisane. He looked as impeccable as ever in a smart grey suit, garnished with an unusual crimson-and-white orchid in the buttonhole, and panama hat. At my comment, he raised his eyes to the crowds jostling before us, with more coming in on motor-coaches all the time.

‘Americans, I believe,’ he said complacently, as a Portsmouth coach emptied itself of two dozen teenage boys, perhaps a sports team of some sort.

We had seen the signs and advertisements all over Bexhill about this month’s excursions. Tourists were spending July swarming round of all the major English sea resorts from Dover to the Isle of Wight, with the promise of Channel ferries to the continent by the end of the month.

‘The coast, it is agreeable,’ Poirot went on good-humouredly, ‘but for the crowds, the incommodious sand, and the actual travelling about on the water. Never shall I retire to the seaside, my friend. The brief visit is all I require.’

‘You’re not likely to retire at all,’ I laughed. ‘You know you’d only come back again and again for one more case! People for years to come will still see you detecting the great mysteries of the day.’

Poirot caressed his moustaches thoughtfully and looked about him at the crowds. A group of school-age children passed us, sporting identical hats of an unbecoming floppiness and chattering loudly about their recent adventures in Brighton. ‘The younger generation, hein, they are decidedly lacking in education. They know not even of Poirot! And the officers of the law are no better. They think that I am past the prime– in my “second childhood”!’

‘I’ve a suspicion that you’re correct– as to their perceptions,’ I grinned. ‘But I know better. You’re at the height of your abilities.’

‘Mon ami, I am honoured by your confidence in me,’ said Poirot. ‘It will serve you well. Ah, it is another busload of Americans.’ We could hear the boisterous conversation of a somewhat unattractive bunch of trippers, these ones having recently arrived from Hastings. More schoolchildren followed them, chased by stern-looking, middle-aged ladies in sunshades. A grey-bearded gent, big and burly but now stooped and leaning on a cane, was escorting a thin, white-haired matron. Finally, a few sour-faced businessmen with expensive valises exited the coach, shading their eyes and complaining about the rates in Dover.

‘I can’t take much more of this,’ I sighed, dropping my paper and feeling rather as though the light of the sun had been blotted out by a swarm of locusts. ‘What do you say to going back to the hotel and lunching in an hour?’

‘A plan of the most sensible,’ said my friend cheerfully, and we rose. Poirot pulled out a turnip pocket watch and consulted it. ‘A little moment, if you please. I would like to send a few telegrams before returning to the hotel. I shall meet you at exactly quarter after twelve in the hotel lobby.’

Our plans made, we parted ways. Poirot touched his hat to me with a smile, then turned and disappeared amidst the crowd.

*****

At ten past twelve, I descended the stairs into the lobby of our hotel, looking around for Poirot. I knew better than to be so much as a minute late and thus upset his timetable. Having no sight of him, I strolled over to the windows, gazing out at the fine day. So lost in thought was I, that when I thought to check my watch again, I was surprised to see that it was twenty past. Hurriedly, I glanced up and swept my eyes across the lobby, but he was nowhere to be seen.

What on earth could have detained him? It certainly wasn’t like him to be late, even by five minutes. My brow furrowed as I walked idly around the lobby, glancing through every door. Suddenly, a splotch of bright colour on the floor near the coatroom arrested my attention. I bent down to look at it, then quickly picked it up.

It was a red-and-white orchid, slightly crushed. A little scrap of paper was curled around it. Unfurling it, I read the brief, printed text:

With compliments, from the LS.

*****

A thrill of horror came over me, and immediately I dreaded the worst. The London Syndicate. Poirot dead. Then I rallied myself and called for the manager, laying out my concerns. He seemed to think me to be in a ridiculous state on the basis of such evidence.

‘Your friend’s a few minutes late, what of it?’ he said with maddening coolness. ‘Maybe he just dropped his flower. Maybe he meant to give it to some young lady with the initials of LS. Why don’t you just calm down and wait a bit.’

Nothing he said accorded with Poirot’s likely behaviour. Angrily, I left him and returned to our hotel room. Poirot was not there. I hastened back to the lobby and waited for another hour. Nothing.

When Poirot had not shown himself by the end of the day, I frantically rang Scotland Yard and demanded to be put through to the Chief Inspector Japp. He was slightly more sympathetic than the hotel manager, having known of our past run-ins with the London Syndicate, and soothed me with a promise to be on the lookout, particularly if Poirot had not been found by the following day.

He was not, nor was there any trace of him in London. I returned to our flat in Whitehaven Mansions two days later, out of my mind with worry. The local police had no leads, no ideas. My friend seemed to have vanished into thin air.

*****

The following day, I was lunching moodily at a little place in Westminster when a stranger in black slipped into the chair opposite me at my patio table. I regarded him quizzically, noting his serious blue eyes and square jaw, and then I suddenly knew who he must be…

‘Understand, Captain Hastings,’ he warned, ‘If you move or call out now, your friend’s life will pay. You will let me state my piece and leave unmolested.’

I was silent, fuming inside. ‘Where is he?’ I demanded quietly.

‘For the time being, he is safe in a hiding place of our own devising. He is restrained, and being… kept quiet. In other words, he is in no fit state to stage an escape. We are preparing to move him to France. He has been sufficiently meddlesome to warrant a banishment by our organization.’

Several more moments of pure shock came and went. Was this man serious? Poirot, incapacitated and in the hands of the London Syndicate… prepared to be shipped off to France? It was incredible… impossible…

‘If what you say is true, why tell me?’ I retorted disbelievingly. My memory flashed back to Poirot’s discovery of the kidnapped Prime Minister, supposed to have been taken to France when he was still in fact in England.

The man laughed. ‘You are suspicious. I don’t mind telling you this because, frankly, there is nothing you can do to thwart our plans. And some of us think it only fair to extend to you an olive branch of sorts. I come to you now to offer a proposition. It would be a terrible shame for us to kill such an adversary; he is a clever little man. But all the same, his life may hang in the balance.’

‘What the devil do you mean by that?’ I demanded.

‘I mean that M. Poirot has his fair share of enemies in France. Primarily, it is they who are willing to pay a tidy sum for his delivery into their hands, dead or alive. I imagine they prefer him alive, but might not leave him that way for long.’

‘You… you…’ I sputtered wrathfully, leaping up. The man held up a warning hand, and with an effort I relented.

‘But they are not the only ones willing to pay,’ continued the man placidly. ‘We have had some offers from a few contacts of the criminal underground who are willing to keep him alive in order to use his brains and expertise to their benefit– against the Sûreté, with whom he is well-acquainted. And other wealthy patrons in France are actually interested in acquiring him solely for sport. It is astonishing,’ he went on conversationally, as my face went white, ‘the secrets that the rich hide behind locked doors. They have the most absurd trifles kicking about. Your famous friend is of such a singular appearance–’

‘Five seconds to get to your point, before I reach over this table and throttle you,’ I growled hoarsely, the red mist coming over me again.

‘I am willing to offer you greater odds for his life to be spared,’ said the hateful man, ‘if you can make up the difference to us in payment. People do not kill one whose genius can be of valuable assistance to them in their line of work. Nor do they kill the expensive novelty that amuses them. I am not keen that his life should be taken– indeed, only one prominent member of our organization insists on the plan of trafficking at all, against several opposing voices– but business is business, and that member has leverage in this matter. Make up any difference in price there may be between the best offer of his bitter enemies and the best offer of admirers who want to make use of him, and I can at least secure a place for him with the latter.’

I was sick with grief. Even if I could do what he asked, would this subjugation of my friend, with wicked people doing God knows what to him, be so preferable to death?

‘What exactly are you asking for?’ I deigned to ask, dropping into the chair again and fighting to control my temper.

The man’s voice held something strangely approaching sympathy. ‘Various representatives are attending to our hiding place in the coming weeks,’ he said. ‘They want to take stock of the prisoner and meet with syndicate associates before committing to pay in France. Their appraisal will determine their final offers. We do not expect a difference of more than two thousand pounds.’

Angrily, I spat out: ‘You’re asking me to pay for the privilege of my friend being treated like chattel! You… who hope to profit from his humiliation! I refuse categorically. What’s more, you’ve offered no proof at all that you have him.’

‘Ah.’ The man pulled an envelope from his pocket and held it out to me. ‘This was written to you by M. Poirot at our request. We permitted him to compose it himself as a sign of good faith, including a detail or two from your private conversations as proof of its veracity. The letter confirms such information as we allowed him to convey.’

I tore the envelope away from him and opened it with shaking hands. The handwriting was unmistakably Poirot’s.

Mon cher Hastings,

When you read this, you will have heard of my abduction. It is quite true, and I have been shown sufficient proofs to convince me that my captors indeed have specific plans to take me to France, and will do so once they have decided my fate. I am to relate some of our recent conversation here to prove this letter’s authenticity. When we last spoke together at the café in Bexhill, I mentioned to you that some younger officers think me to be in my ‘second childhood,’ and you said that you had a strong hunch that I was correct as to their perceptions.

Pray do not act rashly in this matter, nor fail to employ the little gray cells. I am regularly drugged and am sustained on low rations as I wait in my captivity, with neither the wits nor the strength to flee. All depends on you.

Hercule Poirot

The beginning of my name was smudged with a spot of water that might conceivably have been a tear. The letter fell to the table and I buried my head in my hands in agony. It was true; there was no reason to doubt any longer. My friend was helpless in the hands of his enemies– sedated with drugs, possibly starving– and I could do nothing. If I was hoping for hints as to his whereabouts, those hopes were now dashed to pieces.

I looked up to see the man watching me closely. He seemed satisfied. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘Do you still reject our offer?’

Numbly, I replied, ‘I would not treat with you for all the world. Poirot has given no indication that he would even prefer that I do so.’ I could not move, but managed to force out a few more words.

‘Get away from here. Out of my sight. I will find my friend in spite of all your cowardice and cruelty. Get away, as you value your own life.’

*****

When the man had departed and I found that I could rouse myself once more, I set off directly to Scotland Yard and recounted, breathlessly, my interview with the unknown member of the London Syndicate to Japp. The dumbfounded look on his face spoke volumes.

‘But why,’ I exclaimed, ‘why actually tell us their plans? They know we’ll be watching every port of exit. It is a blind? A trick?’

Japp shook his head grumpily. ‘Just the sort of joke this outfit deals in. It’s a challenge to us, and one they seem to be pretty comfortable with taking. This fellow mentioned the Syndicate’s plans to you to get a few more quid out of this abduction, if you were willing to pay. Poirot’s a natural target, of course, what with his success rate. But pulling this kind of stunt with someone who’s an old friend of the Yard– to say nothing of the little man’s own personal skill– would normally be the height of lunacy. They must be very, very confident of their chances of getting away with it. Not a good sign.’

‘Don’t you think the authorities will be able to spot someone taking a man across the border?’ I pressed anxiously.

‘There are countless ways that they could go about it,’ sighed Japp, who was now scribbling rapidly on a pad of paper. ‘They could take him to Scotland or Ireland first, and go round about to France. With a few well-placed threats, they could coerce him to pretend to come willingly; use his cleverness against him. They could tranquillize him, pack him into a trunk, and have it shipped over. They could sneak out on a small, private boat and go round through Belgium. No, Captain Hastings, there’s a reason that kidnapping and human trafficking are such big business. Under certain conditions, it’s almost too easy. They’ll probably be expecting us to think that since they nabbed him in Bexhill, they’ll take him straight along to Newhaven and across the Channel. But they seem to be taking their time, and that route would be almost too obvious, anyway. He might be anywhere in England by now.’

Despair writhed within me. ‘But Poirot,’ I said. ‘Surely he’ll be able to outwit them.’

Japp did not look hopeful. ‘By all accounts, the Syndicate is relying heavily on drugs to manage our Monsieur Poirot. His advantage is in nothing but those “little grey cells” of his. If they take that away, what then?’

‘But,’ I argued, still clinging desperately to the hope of my friend’s ingenuity, ‘He can’t be drugged twenty-four hours a day. He did manage to write that letter. And if they threaten him and make him accompany them on his own two feet, well, he wouldn’t be drugged then.’

‘Precisely why I doubt the Syndicate will take that route,’ Japp said glumly. ‘No, he’ll be drugged all right. Poirot’s got a face and build that can be recognized miles away– that fellow you spoke to was right about his “singular appearance.” Practically impossible to disguise. Unless, of course, they cut off his moustache…’ We both shuddered a little (on our friend’s behalf) at this idea.

‘Would they risk sending him over in a trunk?’ I wondered dubiously. ‘Suppose there’s a shipping delay, and the drug wears off and he wakes, shouting for help? Or… he might asphyxiate.’ More cold fear washed over me.

‘I wouldn’t worry about that,’ said Japp with a mirthless smile. ‘They wouldn’t let their golden goose suffocate and die on them. First thing we’ll be looking for at the border are trunks and bags, over a certain weight, that have some unaccountable method of ventilation.’

Japp was marvellous, directing a number of officers this way and that with rapid efficiency, even as we spoke together. I gave a sad little smile as I remembered my friend’s scoffing at a detective who runs to and fro, rather than sitting still and employing the power of the mind.

‘Hastings,’ said Japp, pulling me out of my distraction, ‘I’d like to get Inspector Sims in on this.’ Sims was a longstanding acquaintance of Poirot’s, one who (I recalled with some comfort) was inclined to respect my friend’s methods and talents. Japp reached for the phone and barked some orders into it. Hanging up again, he said, ‘Right. We’ll follow up on what we have so far and meet back here next Monday, unless any major developments have gone down before then.’

*****

Japp had sent me home, rather insistently, when I showed no signs of leaving the police alone. Seeing my chagrin, he added with real sympathy: ‘You’ll do right by the little man by getting home and resting up a bit. Anyway, the Syndicate may try to contact you again, and we need you to be in touch.’

This was too much common sense for me to ignore, so sadly I made my way back to the flat I shared with my friend. It was very quiet, and no message awaited me. Knowing that sleep would be impossible, I sank into an armchair and pulled out Poirot’s letter again. It had taken up residence in my pocket, having been copied by the police, analysed, and returned.

Japp had been hesitant to expect much from this letter. With Poirot in a state of chemically-induced lethargy, and possibly threatened to deceive, what assurances could it provide? But I had to trust my friend. There was nothing else for me to go on.

Poirot had encouraged me to not be rash, but rather methodical– to use my brain. The statement gave me a sudden glimmer of hope. Surely, my friend believed that all was not lost, that there was something to be deduced. I pulled out my pocket notebook and a pen, spread the envelope and letter out on my lap, and read it through twice.

In my mind’s eye, I saw my friend… tired and unkempt, fighting to clear his sluggish mind from the drugs… pen in hand, perhaps an agent of the Syndicate at his shoulder, watching his every move.

A point struck me. I decided to write it down:

Poirot writes clearly and coherently; therefore, if this letter is an original composition, he would have had the wits to convey some useful info in it. Any clues would have to be obscure enough not to arouse suspicion.

Thus encouraged a little, I looked up and saw my friend’s desk. I imagined him composing his note at a desk like this… he begins, carefully: Mon cher Hastings… dotted with a smudgy tear.

I stared at the mark. The more I thought about it, the less I could visualize Poirot smudging his neat writing with a fallen tear. I could almost hear him over my shoulder, railing at me with gestures of frustration. ‘Hastings, you are incurably sentimental! Ma foi, a tear-stained letter indeed! You read too much of the silly, romantic fictions. Abandon your stupidity, I pray, and arrange your ideas with order and method, mon ami!’

If Poirot really were overcome with emotion, he would turn away, if only to keep the handwriting neat. I frowned at the little watery smudge on the paper, and wrote in my notebook:

In the letter’s address, my name is smudged unaccountably. Tear?

I continued on, a little worried that I was reading all manner of nonexistent subtleties into the letter. Oh well; I had to carry on. Suddenly, I halted again. He says they have specific plans to take him to France. Perhaps this means that he knows the plan, and is therefore able to hint accordingly. Noted.

I stopped once more at one of Poirot’s favourite phrases: ‘little gray cells.’ Gray cells he writes. Gray. Not grey. Uncommon spelling. I made a note.

What else stands out? I thought, reading and rereading.

He mentions that his food rations are low in captivity. Is there any good reason he would mention that? Drugs alone would incapacitate him. I was certain that since this note was briefly written, every added detail must be of significance. Noted.

Finally, I took a long, hard look at that bit of private conversation that Poirot recorded. He could have chosen any piece of any of our conversations, but he chose that one. It must mean something, and something critical. Certainly I remembered this conversation, and I recalled his use of the term ‘second childhood.’ My overall impression from our exchange that day was the general idea that certain police officers misunderstood or underestimated Poirot, but I didn’t– I ‘knew better.’ It was not much to go on; I noted it only with a question mark and a sigh.

Weariness stole over me. I don’t recall when I fell asleep, but I spent the night sitting in the same armchair, pen in hand. Steel bars and empty corridors drifted through my dreams. I was looking for my keys, and thought I had found them at the water’s edge. But as I stood looking out at the sea, the waters rushed up and surrounded me, confusing me, pulling me under. A voice echoed through the crushing waters: ‘All depends on you.’

It was one of the worst nights of my life.

*****

The following Monday, I duly returned to the Yard to compare notes with Japp and Sims. I was beside myself– it had been a week and a half since the disappearance, and I feared we were already too late, despite the man’s words about ‘weeks’ before Poirot would be transported. As I entered Japp’s office, I noticed a fourth man, tall and of military bearing, who Japp introduced as Chief Inspector Stanton of the Home Office. We took our seats around Japp’s desk. Inspector Sims, a big man and usually jovial, was solemn and quiet. Japp himself appeared to have hardly slept since I’d last seen him. An absurd thought crossed my mind: Poirot lamenting at the sight of his crooked tie and insisting on straightening it, followed by a lecture on not letting personal anxiety over a friend’s kidnapping impede one’s dress sense.

‘Any news?’ I asked fretfully.

‘Well, Captain Hastings,’ said Japp, thumbing through a file on his desk, ‘you could say that… but it doesn’t necessarily help us. There are almost too many leads. We’ve had whispers of the Syndicate from the Merseyside to Cornwall and across to Dover. The police in France and Belgium have been informed as well– the Sûreté, of course, has a vested interest in the case for several reasons. And the Belgian police are unleashing an unholy furor over this; by the Lord, they’ve been hounding me for days, like demons out of hell. Sending a few men over soon, by the sound of it. They’ll be all over their own coast with a tooth-comb until this is sorted out, rest assured.’

Sims leaned forward. ‘Do we know that they haven’t already left England with him?’

‘As I understand,’ broke in Stanton, ‘the man who spoke to Captain Hastings mentioned keeping M. Poirot in their hiding place in England for some weeks, until it was determined who would get him. He could have been lying, of course, but all the same, it’s our belief that if they had him safely in France, they would communicate that fact immediately. It would be in their own interests to draw our eyes abroad.’

For the benefit of the newcomers, I recounted again all that I’d told Japp about our visit to Bexhill, Poirot’s disappearance, and my encounter with that terrible man who gave me the letter.

Sims looked incredulous. ‘It seems impossible,’ he exclaimed. ‘Is there any precedence for these French criminals that were spoken of?’

Japp whipped open another folder and extracted some papers. ‘Rather,’ he said dryly. ‘The revenge business, I hardly need to go into; that’s a given. As to passing him off to agents who would use his expertise against the police, I’ve got two examples of events of this precise nature, one in England and one in France, in the past year alone. In France, it was a secret agent who was believed to have been nabbed in Paris for what he knew of the Deuxième Bureau– never found the bloke.’ My stomach gave a frightened lurch. ‘In England, it was a private investigator, name of Johnson, up in the Lake District. A comparatively minor affair, but he wasn’t found for five months, all the same.

‘As for these wealthy French patrons were we told of,’ Japp continued with distaste, ‘that’s also not unheard of. Kidnapping a person who’s famous– or interesting to them in some other way– and keeping them penned up in their own house as some sort of blinking curio or what have you. People with barrels of money and no moral sense at all– world’s full of them. You’ll have heard of the cases of Anita Ledger and Lesley Morton. Dozens more out there, most not so famous, who are never found.’

If Japp used the phrase never found one more time, I was going to completely lose my head!

The three police inspectors launched into technicalities about border patrol and likely gang hideouts on the English coast. I pulled out my little notebook and the letter from Poirot. In a lull in the conversation, I laid out my observations and thoughts before Japp. He was interested, but cautious.

‘I’ll grant you,’ he said thoughtfully, ‘that Poirot was conscious enough to write normally and coherently. We’ve no definite proof that most of this letter is quite original, on the other hand. But if he was able to convey any clue, then I daresay it would be in his style to do it in the sort of tortuous, roundabout way you’re suggesting.’ I took the observation as a kind of backhanded compliment.

But Japp went on: ‘The name being smudged with a possible tear says nothing conclusive. If he didn’t do it himself, anyone else who handled the letter might have made that mark by accident. They might have even done it on purpose to make you think it was a tear, to give more emotional weight to the letter.’

I conceded ruefully that this was possible.

‘You think the spelling of the word gray means something?’ said Sims with interest, peering at the letter. ‘Funny little detail. More common as an American spelling, of course–’

‘American!’ I exclaimed, and the others stared at me. I hastened on: ‘That day in Bexhill, when Poirot and I had that conversation that he noted, just before he disappeared… We were observing the huge number of American tourists coming off the coaches. They were in the process of travelling all over the southern coast, and were planning on ferrying across the Channel by the month’s end!’

‘Swipe me,’ said Japp slowly, ‘but that is an idea. If our little friend means for us to be looking out for people posing as American tourists, that puts paid to any idea of sending him to France via trunk, or some roundabout way. It’s the regular ferry crossings we’ll be after: Dover, Newhaven, Portsmouth, and the like. There will be many crossings of the American tour groups on different times and days, of course, and unfortunately hundreds of people– but it is a slightly narrower field of search. And if he’s going across on the ferry, there’s a good chance that they’re hoping to coerce him to go on board disguised, after all.’ He made a note of his own. ‘Still a long shot, I’m afraid, but we have to search out the possibility.’

‘It seems to me,’ said Stanton with a frown, ‘that anything definite that Poirot would wish to communicate in hints would be found in his choice of private conversation he relays.’ I agreed readily. ‘His enemies would not be able to confirm the statements or understand any underlying meanings known only to you. What’s all this about police officers believing him to be in his “second childhood”?’

Japp (an officer who had himself used similar phrases in the past to describe our friend’s quirky behaviour) pushed his chair back and laced his fingers together. ‘Second childhood… that’s interesting,’ he murmured. ‘Very interesting indeed.’

*****

A full fortnight came and went. I was in Japp’s office once more, and it was evening. We’d obtained the requisite information about the different tourist groups– their schedules, arrivals, departures. Tomorrow, the first of the ferries would be sending the Americans to France via Portsmouth and Newhaven. Japp was still debating which town to personally visit. And he had a theory of his own.

‘Mark my words,’ he said confidently, ‘if he’s on one of these ferries, there’s only one disguise they’ll have for him. What do you think? They can’t exactly make him much taller, and they’ll have to do away with that moustache. He mentioned a “second childhood” in that letter to you. You can bet that he’ll be in one of those herds of kids you’ve mentioned. He’ll have been coerced to go along and keep quiet on the way.’

Ah! Thinking back to those crowds of children in Bexhill– youths comprising sports teams; youths with floppy hats to shade the face; youths shuffled along by severe matrons– I had to admit that his idea made a lot of sense, and told him so. His satisfied grin gave way to a little grimace, however.

‘It would help immensely,’ he muttered, ‘if we knew which gaggle he’s likely to be in. You don’t remember anything particularly unusual about those young tourists you saw with M. Poirot in Bexhill, do you?’

I closed my eyes, casting my mind back desperately. I saw the mobs of people, young and old, chirpy and sour, hats and valises, souvenirs and canes. Then the last lot of tourists emerged from my memory, a motley bunch including many children, a group pouring out of the motor-coach arriving from…

My eyes flew open and I gasped, ‘Get the tourist bureau– now! The group that arrived in Bexhill, coming from Hastings, the day that Poirot disappeared– we need to know when their Channel ferry is scheduled!’

Japp seemed to understand instantly, and was on the phone while I gathered my wits together.

Poirot had told me, after all! That smudged mark on his letter by my name… Hastings… it was among that particular busload of tourists we’d seen that we must find him.

Several minutes later, Japp rung off and turned to me, satisfied. ‘That lot have their ferry scheduled for tomorrow… at Newhaven, headed to Dieppe. Newhaven it is for us, then.’

*****

Tomorrow afternoon found us at the town in question. Japp and I stood a little apart from the massive crowd, inconspicuously, and I peered among them, trying to remember which ones had been on the Hastings motor-coach. Various Scotland Yard men, discreet in plain clothes, were carefully noting the crowds of children, trying to determine if any of them could possibly be our quarry. In spite of our recent triumph, something, I thought, was wrong. Terribly wrong. Poirot’s words to me, in that last conversation we’d had, floated back once more.

The younger officers thought him to be in his ‘second childhood.’ This was taken, by Japp, as a clue to seek him out among the children.

But in our conversation, those officers had been wrong! I, Hastings, had known better, and had said so myself. What if Poirot knew that Japp would suspect him to be among the children, and wanted to make sure that I realized that this assumption was wrong?

Indeed, it did seem wrong to me. What was it? And then, I had it.

‘Look here,’ I hissed at Japp urgently. ‘I don’t believe they’d do it. They wouldn’t disguise him as a child by removing his moustache. It’s impossible.’

Japp looked at me blankly. ‘Well, I admit that I can hardly imagine our friend without his famous whiskers, and no doubt Poirot will never forgive them for such a cold-blooded deed… but I don’t see why it’s so impossible an idea.’

‘Because,’ I pressed, ‘the Syndicate bargained with the French criminals for his head. He was actually seen and scrutinized for approval. No matter who they turn him over to, those people are going to want him intact. Imagine you were paying a huge sum to acquire the famous Hercule Poirot. Would you accept a Poirot without that famous moustache?’

Two thoughts seemed to be struggling for ascendancy in Japp’s mind: the realization that I’d made a considerable point, and the suspicion that I had, in fact, gone quite barmy.

‘If you don’t think he’s to be found as one of these children,’ he said at last, ‘where on earth do you propose that we find him? I thought you were pretty keen on the idea that he’d be among these American tourists.’

I looked around helplessly at the throng of bustling travellers: the ugly faces… ladies with packs of children… elderly men and women, trying to stay out of their way… businessmen with valises.

That little detail which Poirot had recounted in his letter to me. How he had mentioned his ‘second childhood’ and how I’d replied that I’d a suspicion…

Only– stay– that wasn’t what he wrote!

I’d said, ‘I’ve a suspicion that you’re correct…’ But he’d written, ‘…and you said that you had a strong hunch that I was correct…’

I stopped as if turned to stone, turning this over rapidly in my mind. It was unbelievable that I should have missed it. Surely, surely, there must be a reason for his change of wording. I’d had a strong hunch…

Poirot kept in captivity on low rations…

Once in a lifetime, a blinding bolt of inspiration knocks a person off his feet and, God be thanked, mine came then. I motioned to Japp, and trembling, I quickly pushed through the crowds and approached the burly, stooping grandfather, who was standing by the pier and leaning on his cane.

‘You have something, sir,’ I said, ‘that doesn’t belong to you.’

He gave a startled little jump and peered up at me. Then his whole countenance changed, and with surprising swiftness he bolted. Japp, who was watching, was after him in a flash, and in moments we had apprehended him.

‘What’s this about?’ he demanded.

‘Unbutton your overcoat,’ I said forcefully to the no-longer-infirm-looking man.

He didn’t bother to protest. When he had finally unbuttoned it, I pushed him to his knees, wrenched at the sleeves of the coat, and whirled it off. Japp swore liberally.

The man we had apprehended was not one man, but two. He wore a tight-fitting harness against his body, and onto his back was securely strapped the small, unconscious figure of Hercule Poirot.

*****

As Japp shouted for his reinforcements and moved the gathering crowd back, I bent over the kneeling man and disengaged the harness as quickly as I possibly could, tearing vigorously. Finally, I was able to free him from the last restraints, and I caught and lifted him carefully. Clad in shirtsleeves, dishevelled, and flushed from the heat, he seemed thinner than I’d remembered. His very moustaches were as limp as the rest of him. My heart smote me to see him in such a state.

I glowered with severity down at the man who was still kneeling at my feet, now attended by two constables. ‘You have no idea how fortunate you are,’ I said venomously, ‘that my hands are now unable to fasten themselves around your worthless neck!’

Japp was at my elbow, looking down at Poirot in amazement and relief. ‘Poor chap’s not in a good way,’ he said, checking his pulse. ‘I’ve sent for medics, but I’m sure he’ll be all right. How in the blazes did you know where to find him?’

‘It was the wording of his letter,’ I replied, a little dazed. ‘He mentioned the phrase a strong hunch, but I remembered suddenly that in our conversation, I’d actually said a suspicion. There must have been a reason for the misquote in his letter. We had both seen this crowd of American trippers those weeks ago when we visited Bexhill, including this idiot’ (I aimed a savage kick at him which Japp pretended not to see) ‘disguised as an elderly man with a hunched back. It was a disguise he adopted from the start. He planned to replace the padding he wore with Poirot’s body when it was time for their touring group to cross the Channel to Dieppe at the end of the month.

‘That choice of disguise was one reason that the Syndicate kept Poirot in England for those few weeks instead of setting out with him immediately. They also used the extra time to slim him down a little, on small rations, to make him easier and less conspicuous to carry under the coat. Poirot managed to learn that information… and hint at it in his letter to me.’ I stopped, startled, and looked down at the still figure in my arms, feeling rather as though he had spoken one of his denoument solutions through me vicariously.

Japp regarded me with an expression of awe and newfound respect. ‘Blimey,’ he exclaimed, suddenly laughing and shaking his head, ‘you’ll be giving this one a run for his money, like as not! I wouldn’t have believed it. Not in a million years…!’

*****

At long last, Japp, Inspector Sims, and a doctor emerged from Poirot’s hospital room. My friend had been revived and questioned at some length, and I was allowed in to see him.

He was sitting up, supported by several cushions and garbed in a light hospital gown. He looked sore and exhausted, but at the sight of me he brightened and afforded a weak smile.

‘Mon ami,’ he said, reaching out as I rushed to his side. He took my hand. ‘You have succeeded, succeeded to a marvel. Japp has told me all. You read every clue I offered aright– but every last one! Today, you are a detective.’

Blushing, I said quickly: ‘How are you feeling, Poirot? You must have been through hell!’

He closed his eyes and shuddered a little. ‘It was not my idea of the perfect seaside visit, c’est vrai. The ignominy, the impudence! The horrid food– which, at least, there was little of. And no means to properly attend to the moustaches. I was locked into a small room and was assaulted with the hypodermic needle daily. Escape would be impossible. My grey cells, the great weapon which all criminals must fear, were slow… very slow… and I was afraid. It was chance magnifique that they allowed me some time of sanity for writing that letter to you. And now, I recover. I survive. That is the great thing.’

‘Did they…’ I hesitated. ‘Did they tell you what exactly they had decided to do with you?’

‘Oui,’ he said softly, his expression quite inscrutable. ‘As you know, they had many ideas, each more sordid and dishonourable than the last. People came to see me in my abasement… they spoke of money, of revenge, of all manner of things unutterable… ah, the gloating eyes, the relish, l’horreur! They had indeed chosen my fate before bringing me to Newhaven. Let us not speak of it. Never shall I forget what I might have suffered, but for the astuteness of Hastings.’

‘It was your own clues that saved you,’ I deflected, pleased but quite unused to this high praise. ‘How you managed to find out the information you did while you were captive and frequently drugged flatly astounds me.’

Poirot might have attempted an expression of vanity, but seemed too tired to manage it. He contented himself with a little smile. He knew, none better, the extent of his talent for coaxing, tricking, wheedling, or charming information out of unsuspecting people.

‘Do you know,’ he said reflectively, ‘the man that posed as the elderly American fellow we first saw at Bexhill, who conveyed me about like a rucksack. His name is Robert Griffon. Japp has interrogated him briefly already, and he informs me that it was this very same man who, alone in the Syndicate, insisted upon the plan to send me off to France, awarded to the highest bidder. It was his little mania from the beginning. He is caught, and they will not try a stunt of this kind again. It was not only Poirot he carried on him– the papers he was carrying contain a mine of information, and now Scotland Yard has leads on multiple French gangs, including a human trafficking ring. Le bon Dieu, you see, brings good from this great evil. That man will stay in prison for a long time, and when he comes out? The French, they will not forget, croyez-vous.

‘I wonder,’ he continued, ‘if my captors– not Griffon, perhaps, but others– allowed me to compose that letter to you in the spirit of le sport. I was careful with my hints to you, and made them obscure enough so that you would not give away any recognition in your first read-through. They would have been watching you most carefully to see if I had relayed any clues. Tout de même, they did take a risk of personal failure in letting me write it myself. Perhaps failure in this case did not even much matter to some of them. It is interesting, is it not?’ he said, with a hint of a twinkle. ‘This London Syndicate, I do believe they have developed a tendresse for Poirot. We annoy each other much, it is true, but I daresay they would miss me if I were gone.’

‘Really, Poirot,’ I cried heatedly, being disagreeably reminded of a certain Russian countess. ‘The sympathetic tone you take toward criminals who might have gotten you tortured or killed! They were conspirators with Griffon. They would have gladly taken money in exchange for your head, and dispatched you to France to– to–’

‘Yes, my friend,’ he said hastily, reaching for my hand again. ‘I comprehend. Do not enrage yourself, je t’en prie. I am not myself at the moment. You must forgive my little follies. En vérité, I know who are my friends.’ He closed his eyes for a few moments, leaning wearily back on the pillow.

Mollified (and a little ashamed), I said meekly: ‘Solving a case like this, without you there, was a bit of a shocker. It made me wonder– well, if you’ve felt that isolated when solving all of your major cases, when so much had depended on you alone. I know I’m not the cleverest chap. Often, when we’re on a case, I don’t notice the signs you see, and can’t make sense of the clues you unravel. I hardly know how I managed it this time around. It seems extraordinary.’

‘Cher ami,’ said Poirot with feeling. ‘I know I tease you about these things at times. But, as I have told you in the past, I do not wish for you to be another and lesser Poirot, but to remain the matchless Hastings that you are. To me you are inestimable. Not only because you can run after criminals, or state the beautifully obvious which might be overlooked, or entertain me with your fanciful imagination– although you do these things also. Perhaps, it is true, you do not have the best working knowledge of crime or the criminal temperament; it does not accord with your honest and beautiful nature. But there is something important that you understand very well, my friend, better than anyone– better even, perhaps, than Hercule Poirot! For that reason, I had every confidence in you. It is with that unique and superior understanding of yours that you have succeeded today.’

‘Really?’ I said, extremely surprised. ‘And what is that?’

He smiled again. ‘For the solving of a crime, it is crucial to have not merely the knowledge of the criminal, but most importantly, of the victim. It is evident why you succeeded. For, mon ami, you understand… Hercule Poirot.’

Reused paintings in the Poirot series

There’s nothing particularly newsworthy about reused props in a television series, or in more than one series made by the same people. But it’s fun to point them out all the same.  In Poirot, you’ve got a good 25-year span to notice them in. I recount a sampling of these occurrences…

Possibly the single most obviously reused painting is this guy, because the picture is specifically focused on in the episodes The Mystery of the Spanish Chest, where the painting features prominently at the men’s club, and Dumb Witness, in which the painting at the Arundell house dramatically falls from the wall.

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Dumb Witness

Another fairly easy-to-spot painting of a mother and her sick child appears in at least three episodes: Dead Man’s Mirror, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and Third Girl. The painting functions as a major plot point in the first of the three, and this makes it easier for fans to spot the same painting appearing in Ackroyd’s home and in David Baker’s studio.

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Some recognizable paintings are not merely reused props so much as entire locations. The Adventure of Johnnie Waverly and Third Girl share a location, Wrotham Park, as shots like these indicate.

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But for me, the most interesting of all is this painting here. It is a fairly unremarkable little scene that took up residence behind the sitting room fruit bowl, so that we see it in several episodes.

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But when The Mysterious Affair at Styles is filmed, we might be astonished to discover that this very same painting hung in Poirot’s own room at Leastways Cottage, where he was living by the charity of Mrs. Inglethorp!

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More remarkable still: when Poirot retires (temporarily) to his little house in King’s Abbot in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, that painting is again in his residence! (Far left)

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I guess it may be that the art department was running out of paintings of a certain sort to shuffle around. I myself like to imagine that there’s an untold story here. Did Poirot take the painting away from Leastways Cottage when he left to remind him of his humble beginnings at Styles, his generous sponsor there, and the first major case he investigated in his new country? Did the picture have sufficient sentimental value from the past that he could have even had it sent over from Belgium when he first emigrated, and subsequently installed it in each new dwelling where he lived? Ah, the unsolved mysteries…

The one Poirot-esque thing I can do that David Suchet can’t.

I can make my eyes go greener– on command.

No, seriously.   😉

Whenever Christie writes how Poirot’s eyes turn steadily greener, there is a definite feeling of unreality. It’s as if she’s reminding the reader: “Oh, by the way, this is fiction; this little detail is here to make things entertaining in an outrageous sort of way.” Do anyone’s eyes change color just because they are excited or are happening upon a significant truth?

Mind you, that’s not what turns my eyes greener. In fact, I think that most green-eyed or hazel-eyed people probably have eyes that go greener under certain circumstances– specifically, when they are crying. The edges of the eyes turn reddish, and then the green pops, right into a bright and crazy emerald. So despite the fun unreality of Christie’s description, it is quite practically possible. If being excited makes the blood rush to Poirot’s face in some small way, maybe that stimulates the effect.

This has been your weird and speculative whatsit for today!!

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A favorite passage

‘Is it really necessary to tell such elaborate lies, Poirot?’ I asked as we walked away.

Poirot shrugged his shoulders.

‘If one is going to tell a lie at all– and I notice, by the way, that your nature is very much averse to lying– now, me, it does not trouble at all– ‘

‘So I’ve noticed,’ I interjected.

‘–As I was remarking, if one is going to tell a lie at all, it might as well be an artistic lie, a romantic lie, a convincing lie!’

-Dumb Witness