Hercule Poirot’s Ultimate Secret
Poirot ruminated through the French windows into the manicured garden beyond. Or at least it appeared so to the assembled throng behind him, but in reality he had concluded all his thinking. The little grey cells had finished their work and had duly presented him with the results of their analysis. The rest of the proceedings would be his favourite bit — the part that he lived this career for. Drama.
It isn’t enough simply to be a genius. One must be seen to be a genius, and those gathered in that oak panelled drawing room of Faversham Hall held their silence as they watched in awe and trepidation the great detective prepare to deliver his findings.
‘Mr Simpson,’ he said, still gazing into the garden, ‘you were in the library at the time of the murder.’
‘Yes, that’s right,’ replied the tall man who had sprawled himself within the Chesterfield leather armchair he had chosen earlier to complement his tweed suit. ‘Lady Grey and I had had a disagreement over Spinoza’s position on Cartesian mind-body dualism, and I went to look it up.’
He said this airily in an attempt to mask the deliberate pomposity of the remark, but inwardly he was hoping that the purported intellectual detective wouldn’t understand what it meant. However, Poirot was impervious to such goading and continued on the course he had so carefully charted.
‘And this was at a half past seven.’
‘Yes. Give or take,’ said the slightly demeaned Mr Simpson.
‘And it was at this time that,’ Poirot turned suddenly to face a timid looking young woman who was fumbling with some crochet work, ‘you, Miss Portland, heard a scream coming from — and you said that you were in no mistake about this — the library.’
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I’ve never heard anything like it. Poor Uncle Algy. I can’t believe this has happened to him.’
‘And so you alerted Captain Cheeseford, and he with Reverend Cummings went directly to the library to discover the body of Algernon Fothersdyke with a dagger in his back, and Mr Simpson standing beside him.’
‘Steady on, Poirot,’ protested Mr Simpson. ‘Surely you are not suggesting that I killed him?’
‘Of course not,’ said Poirot. ‘Only an imbecile would leap to such an obvious conclusion. No, there is fouler play at work than merely a murder.’
‘Fouler than murder?’ said Lady Grey. ‘Surely murder is as foul as one can get.’
‘In my business, there is no limit to the depths that a man may stoop.’ Poirot then gave Lady Grey a piercing glare and added, ‘Or woman.’
‘Monsieur Poirot!’ she exclaimed. ‘I am shocked that you can suggest such a thing.’
‘If there is one thing I have learned, it is never to underestimate the supposed fairer sex.’
‘Preposterous! That would be most unladylike.’
‘Then perhaps you could explain what you were doing with Mr Fothersdyke in the Summerhouse earlier this afternoon, your ladyship?’
‘I . . . I . . .’ she flustered. ‘I will not countenance any more of your impertinence.’ She made a grab for her silver cigarette case, withdrew one and hurriedly lit it with trembling hands.
‘I can see this is a dashed complicated case, Poirot,’ said Captain Cheeseford. ‘But what I don’t understand is, what possible motive could anybody have for murdering this Fothersdyke chap?’
‘You see this painting?’ said the detective, indicating the most prominent feature of the room.
‘The Angel In The House,’ said Captain Cheeseford. ‘Yes, it is Lord Faversham’s pride and joy. Worth millions, he says.’
‘Or maybe not,’ said Poirot. ‘Algernon Fothersdyke was an expert in Renaissance art and was here to determine its authenticity, is that not so?’
‘Yes. Therefore no reason to murder him.’
‘Seemingly,’ said Poirot. ‘Unless he had discovered something to undermine its value.’
‘So, Lord Faversham himself would have a motive?’ said Mr Simpson.
‘But he’s away on a big game hunt in the Congo,’ said Lady Grey.
‘That is what we have been led to believe. You see, Mr Fothersdyke was close to discovering that the original painting had been switched for a forgery — notice the brushstrokes in the wings — and this was done to pay a blackmail demand made against Mr Simpson who was having an affair with Miss Portland — it is very evident by the manner in which she is holding her cigarette holder — and as a result Captain Cheeseford feared that he would not receive a return on his investment in Lord Faversham’s diamond . . .’
‘Sorry, Poirot,’ interrupted Reverend Cummings. ‘Going a bit too fast for me here.’
‘Yes,’ said Mr Simpson. ‘Sounds like a load of rot to me. An affair with Miss Portland? What nonsense!’
‘Nonsense it is most certainly not!’ Poirot said firmly. ‘Now if you don’t mind, it is time for me to reveal who the murderer is.’
‘Oh, yes, do,’ whined Lady Grey. ‘This is becoming a most frightful bore.’
‘The person who murdered Algernon Fothersdyke,’ Poirot resumed, ‘is none other than our mysterious and previously unmentioned guest Mr Nathan Boyle!’
A number of gasps were made, and all eyes turned to me.
‘Oh, my word!’ exclaimed Lady Grey, fanning herself with a handkerchief.
‘I knew it!’ said Mr Simpson. ‘I always thought there was something rum about the fellow. Explain yourself, Boyle.’
‘Gladly,’ I said. ‘However, my name is not Nathan Boyle.’
‘I suspected not,’ said Poirot. ‘So typical of a murderer to hide his identity under a false name. Perhaps you would care to reveal your true self.’
‘I would indeed.’
And with that, I proceeded to peel off the fake moustache I had been sporting, which Poirot had failed to pick up on during his deliberations. I winced slightly, as I had misjudged the strength of the adhesive, but if that were to be my only miscalculation then I had little to be concerned about.
The wig came off much more easily, as did the glasses. The plastic boil on my left cheek proved a little stubborn, but fortunately I had enough growth on my thumbnail with which to prise it off.
‘As you can plainly see,’ I said to my bemused audience, ‘I am Detective Inspector Cafferty, and I am here to apprehend the true murderer.’
‘I cannot plainly see,’ said Poirot, ‘as I have never heard of you, Monsieur Detective Inspector Cafeteria.’
‘Either way. And judging by the expressions of everybody’s faces, neither have they.’
‘Never seen him before,’ said Mr Simpson.
‘Nor me,’ said Captain Cheeseford.
‘I may not enjoy the same level of celebrity as you, Poirot,’ I said, ‘but I am able to tell you, and everybody here, that you are wrong.’
‘Poppycock! Poirot is never wrong,’ protested the belligerent Belgian. ‘You are obviously a deranged dimwit who has no understanding of the intricacies of great detective work. Furthermore, your disguise — which of course I noticed but judged to be too irrelevant to comment on — was quite pointless. What were you attempting to hide?’
‘I am here not to hide, but to reveal. For the purpose of my visit to Faversham Hall is to apprehend and bring to justice the true murderer. Hercule Poirot!’
Further gasps emanated throughout the room, but Poirot merely chuckled. ‘I think you are having a little joke, Detective Inspector. I am the great Hercule Poirot. The master of all detectives. The solver of mysteries. Unlike this forgery of a painting, I am the real Angel In The House.’
‘Devil, more like,’ I said. ‘Because I am not merely investigating one murder, but many. Isn’t that right, Monsieur Poirot?’
‘I have no idea what you are talking about, and I shall not entertain any further — what you English call — balderdash.’
‘Then allow me to entertain you,’ I said smugly. ‘You are, a private consulting detective, yes?’
‘The finest there has ever been.’
‘So fine, it would appear, that you have no need for clients to engage you in their investigations.’
‘You insult me, Inspector. My clients come from far and wide for my services.’
‘Can you name any?’
‘I shall do no such thing. It would be most unprofessional, not to say indiscrete.’
‘Tell me Poirot, is it mere coincidence that a murder took place when you attended a card game at a dinner party, or when you took a trip on the Nile, or travelled on the Orient Express? And what about the one that occurred in King’s Abbot, the village you were living in at the time. And as for the series of alphabetical murders, of which conveniently only you had prior knowledge, well that simply beggars belief.’
‘Let’s just say I have a nose for these things. It is a natural consequence of my brilliance.’
‘I will concede that you are indeed brilliant. You are brilliant in contriving highly convoluted stories. You are able to construct complex scenarios in order to commit your murders and frame others for them, some of which are so convincing that even your accused believe they are guilty. You are, what’s known in the profession, a psychopath.’
Poirot smiled and clapped slowly.
‘Bravo, Inspector Cafferty. You think you are so clever, but how do you expect to convict me? With my reputation, intelligence and skill in the dramatic arts I will be able to convince the most astute of juries of my innocence. There is not a court in the land which will find me guilty.’
‘Pride comes before a fall, Poirot. Your time has come, and now it is time for the world to know the truth about you.’
‘So, you think you, a mere police detective, can bring down the mighty Poirot? You foolish little man. Let me tell you this. In years to come, my name will become that of legend. Eminent authors will write my stories illustrating my genius. The finest actors of the age will portray me on stage and cinema throughout the world, while you, Detective Inspector, will remain an insignificant character in a shoddy short story that will be read only by a handful of people who will not take it seriously. And they will swiftly forget you. This is my triumph. This is why you cannot defeat me.’
The butler knocked and entered accompanied by two uniformed officers.
‘Ah, Sergeant Wilson and Constable Daley,’ I said. ‘Nicely on time.’
‘Can we cuff him, sir?’ asked the sergeant.
‘Yes, please,’ I said. ‘Any sign of Jane Marple?’
‘Looks like she’s done a runner, sir,’ he replied. ‘Everyone in St Mary-Mead is either too scared to talk, or dead. It’s quite a bloodbath over there.’
‘You will not find her,’ spoke Poirot as he was having his handcuffs applied. ‘She is too shrewd for you. She will simply fly away, like an angel in the night. And no one will ever know our secret.’
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