Poirot's Chronicles - Hercule Ch. 09byvelvetpie©
***** A great many people have undertaken to portray Agatha Christie's Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, but in my opinion, none has done it as well as David Suchet, star of ITW productions of Poirot. It is his image that I use as my visual and those of Hugh Fraser (Captain Hastings), Pauline Moran (Miss Lemon) and Philip Jackson (Chief Inspector Japp). ENJOY! *****
The problem of the double murder and the nun's disappearance plagued Poirot. His mind worked like a well-oiled clock spring, winding and coiling, meticulously keeping the clues moving through his head as he worked the puzzle. He was close. He knew he was close but something still eluded him. As usual, thoughts of Joceline intruded and warmth flooded his entire face. Was this what love felt like? Did it make you want to scream out her name in the middle of a crowded street? Would your cock harden at the thought of the touch of her lips and the silky skin of her body against yours?
If so, that was what Poirot was feeling. He wanted to shout aloud in happiness. He wanted to skip and sing and ... mon Dieu! What is happening to me? He checked his watch, hurrying Japp and Hastings along. He had been away from Joceline for nearly five hours and the urge to make love to her was ruling him like an addiction. He found such solace in her arms, such quiet comfort in the sound of her slow and even breathing as she lay sleeping next to him, such emotion in her kiss and her touch. Lina.
He parted with Hastings and the Chief Inspector, leaving them downstairs while he hurried back up to his love nest. A feeling of dread met him as he briskly strode to his door, finding the portal wide open.
The bed was empty, the sheets partially pulled onto the floor as if someone had been dragged from them. No, not someone. Joceline. Fear fed his panic as he moved from room to room, noticing a broken item here or an item out of place there. Joceline was gone. Someone had kidnapped her.
His hands smoothed the still-scented sheets, tears coursing down his cheeks. He had no idea how long he sat there before Hastings found him. "Poirot! Poirot, where is she?"
"She's gone, mon ami. Someone has taken her."
* * * * *
"Will he be all right?"
Hastings gazed at his friend, horrified at the lifeless state of his friend. "I don't know, Japp. I've never seen him like this before."
"Maybe I should talk to him." Chief Inspector Japp didn't wait for a positive response from Hastings before heading over to where Poirot sat.
Japp had never seen the great detective like this. He sat silently on the chair, staring at the empty bed, oblivious to the officers that moved around him, collecting evidence. His gaze remained focused and steady, his hands tightly gripping the silver end of his cane and his eyes silvery with tears.
"Poirot?" The chief inspector pulled up a chair next to his friend. "Poirot, are you all right?"
"No." The word was so quiet that Japp almost missed it.
"We'll find her, Poirot. You know we'll find her."
"Alive? I am not so sure, mon ami."
"Why not? Since when has the famous Hercule Poirot ever doubted himself?"
"Since the famous Hercule Poirot fell in love."
That revelation brought everything into sharp focus for the Scotland Yard agent. "Poirot, you can't just sit here."
"What am I to do, Japp?" His normally strong voice wavered with sadness. "What am I to do?"
"Do you want them to win?" He saw a flicker of anger appear in Poirot's eyes. "Sitting here and doing nothing is allowing them to win." He leaned closer. "And if you love her, if you truly love her, you would not let them win. She would not want you to let them win."
The overwhelming sadness was partly replaced by anger; anger that was fueled by the thought of someone else's hands on her body and the fear that was in her heart. He felt, no, he knew that she wasn't dead. He would have felt that from her, he firmly believed that. Poirot closed his eyes against the tears that burned in his eyes and gritted his teeth.
The head officer came striding over, gingerly holding an envelope. He handed it to Japp. "This was left at the desk downstairs."
Japp gave the envelope a once over, then handed it to Poirot. "It's addressed to you."
Poirot wasted no time in ripping the linen paper open and his face paled at the contents, which he read aloud. "Monsieur Poirot, do not attempt to find Miss Tarrant. She will be returned unharmed to you in four months' time if you follow these instructions. If, at any time, you attempt to find and rescue her, we will kill her."
Japp, Hastings and Poirot looked at each other. "Where do we start first?" Hasting queried.
"Beaufort Estate." Poirot spat, his features hardening with ire.
"Because, Hastings," Poirot stood, retrieving his hat. "Lord Wilmouth's elections are four months away."
* * * * *
Before leaving France, Japp phoned ahead and mobilized a small army of men to surround Beaufort Estate and to shadow the duke, his son and the duke's wife, Florence until they could arrive. His officers reported that the duke and his wife were at the manse along with a few servants. The son had left early and was still in a meeting with his campaign advisor.
"So, what do you want me to do?" Japp turned to Poirot and Hastings. "We can't stay here all night."
"No, we cannot, Chief Inspector. On that, we both agree." Poirot took a deep breath, desperately trying to calm his nerves. "If I am correct, my Lina is somewhere inside that mansion. Two murders have already been committed and I highly doubt that Duke Wilmouth wants any more attention."
"How do you know that?"
Poirot ignored Japp for a moment, his thoughts on Joceline. "Let us wait for the son to appear, then all shall be revealed."
The minutes passed slowly while Poirot and Hastings waited in a car, Poirot silently lost in his thoughts and Hastings silently lost in his uncertainty. "Poirot, are you sure about this? Are you sure that she hasn't been harmed?"
"Yes, I am sure that she hasn't been harmed."
"How do you know?"
Poirot kept his gaze centered on Japp, watching him instruct his subordinates. "Because I feel her in here." The detective tapped his chest. "I have been so wrong in everything I've done concerning her. Japp had to convince me to fight for her. Why couldn't I know to fight for her myself?"
"Poirot, you are fantastic at solving crimes but, to put it in your words, you aren't using your little gray cells." Hastings met his friend's gaze. "Simply put, it's fear."
"Fear? Poirot is afraid of nothing!"
"Except losing her." He let his words hang. "Except admitting, finally admitting to yourself that she means everything to you. That you can't live without her. For you, Poirot, It's the fear of knowing that someone has finally cracked your hard exterior."
Poirot glared at him for a long moment, then softly spoke. "Hastings, you are my friend. Do you not feel that you have 'cracked' my exterior?"
"As a friend, yes. But this is different. This is love. You've had several friends over the years and will continue to have them but love is different. You're lucky, Poirot." His usually strong voice grew thin. "You've been blessed to discover love."
The detective heard the change in his friend's voice. "It will come for you, too, mon ami."
Hastings blinked unexpected tears away. "Thanks for the sentiment, Poirot, but I don't think so. I've looked for so long that ... "
"Poirot!" Japp interrupted, pulling the car's door open impatiently. "Lord Wesley is back."
Poirot pulled his gloves on tighter, his actions contradicting the fact that his stomach was tied into knots. "Then let us pay a visit."
* * * * *
Duke Wilmouth was happy to see Poirot and Hastings when they entered the library but when he saw Japp and a group of officers following the Scotland Yard chief inspector, his merry smile quickly faded.
"Ah, I thought this was a social visit."
"Not quite." Poirot forced a smile, setting his hat, gloves and cane on a small table, then turned to the butler. "Would you please call the duchess and Lord Wilmouth in to join us?"
Jarrett Wilmouth's terse words stopped the butler at the door. "Is that necessary?"
"Not just necessary but required." Japp interjected with a bit of provincial swagger. "Get them."
It took a few minutes for Florence Wilmouth and Wesley Wilmouth to join them and both looked confused and fearful as they took seats in the expansive library, their eyes plastered on Poirot. "Good evening."
"Good evening, Mr. Poirot. To what do we owe the honor of this visit?"
"Murder." The Belgian said, his eyes boring into the younger Wilmouth.
"Murder? Someone's been murdered at Beaufort?"
"Not yet." Poirot arose slowly. "That is what I am here to prevent."
"Poirot, what does murder have to do with my family?"
"It has everything to do with your family, Duke Wilmouth." His hard eyes visually stabbed the man. "And everything to do with Beaufort Estate." Poirot gave a characteristic smile. "But I digress. Let me start at the beginning, with the tale of a beautiful, innocent woman. Twenty-three years ago, a woman came to work at Beaufort Estate. Here she met a man, a man who took her breath away. A man who made false promises in order to gain her trust and to gain entrance to her bed. As a result of their tryst, she became pregnant and of course, she couldn't keep the baby without scandal. So she went to St. Marie-Thérèse's Orphanage and Day Home and gave birth to her child. She wanted him to have a good home so she gave him up for adoption, left the service of Beaufort Estate and began her musical career."
"Miss Tarrant?" Hastings breathed and Poirot nodded.
"Yes. Miss Joceline Tarrant. You had an argument with Joceline the evening of the Fall Gathering, did you not, Duke Wilmouth?"
Wilmouth looked uncomfortable, glancing back and forth between his wife and his son. "Yes. Yes, I did."
"Would you care to tell us what it was about?"
"It's none of your bloody business, you ... you frog!"
Poirot again forced a smile but it did not travel to his eyes. "I am not a 'frog', monsieur. I am Belgian."
"It's still none of your business!"
"Ah, but it is because it concerns Miss Tarrant."
The duke's handsome features creased with disgust. "She's got you wrapped around her little finger now, eh?" His anger increased with each step he took toward the detective. "Smiled at you with those perfect white teeth and got you all wrapped up, eh, Poirot?"
Before Poirot could reply, Japp stepped forward with one of his men. "I think you'd better have a seat, Duke." The duke stared down the chief inspector and reluctantly took a seat on the settee next to his bewildered son. "Go on, Poirot."
"These murders have been puzzling me for some time. Two sisters at an orphanage, another missing. One room ransacked but surprisingly, nothing is missing. The other room in order, except for a blotter that had been moved. And the third room ... in perfect condition." He took a breath, touching the bottom edges of his mustache in thought. "Very puzzling until the note."
"Note?" Duchess Florence Wilmouth spoke up, dabbing at her eyes.
"Yes. Someone was so kind as to send me a note. You see, Miss Tarrant has also gone missing and the note stated that she would be released unharmed in four months' time. It occurred to me that you would be the most interested in seeing her disappear."
"Me? Why me?" Wilmouth asked.
"Because you can't risk anyone finding out that Lord Wilmouth is the child that you and Miss Tarrant. At least not before he wins his seat in the House."
The blood drained from the light olive features of Wesley Wilmouth and he turned his horrified stare toward his father, whose florid features were rubescent with rage. "Father? Is it true?" Father's eyes avoided the eyes of the son. "Father, is it true?"
"Yes." Wilmouth hissed, focusing his vitriol on Poirot.
"You are the illegitimate son of Duke Jarrett Wilmouth and Miss Joceline Tarrant. I'm sure that the duke has made every effort to ensure your legitimacy through documentation and the work of his overpaid solicitor but that wasn't enough for him. He was on business in Manchester when he saw the flyers for Miss Tarrant's band and his sordid past came back to haunt him. He worried that his long-kept secret would be revealed and his son's chances would be ruined so he began to leave notes at each stop, notes that warned Miss Tarrant of imminent danger if she was to continue the tour."
"But she continued any way." Hastings piped up.
"Yes, such is the mettle of Miss Tarrant. She came to me with those notes, expressing her worry and I gave her my word that I would see that no harm would come to her. So ... " Poirot stepped directly in front of the duke. "Whomever is her enemy is also mine."
"Get out of my house, Poirot!"
"Not quite yet, Duke Wilmouth. I think Mr. Poirot has a point to make."
"Indeed, Chief Inspector Japp." The detective strode over to the silent wife of the duke. "But there's more, isn't there, duchess?" The woman averted her face, still dabbing at her eyes. "You knew who Miss Tarrant was when you hired her band to perform at the Fall Gathering. You wanted to see her up close and you were ... intrigued to say the least."
"Joceline Tarrant is a beautiful woman, much more beautiful than you are but that wasn't the problem, was it? The problem was that you wanted her for yourself."
"WHAT!" Jarrett and Wesley's voices echoed in chorus.
"After Sister Bernadetta was murdered, Hastings and I had cause to travel to the orphanage and I noticed the list of contributors on the way out and was surprised to see your name there. Knowing the duke's past history with the orphanage, he would not want his name associated with the place so I knew at once that he was not the contributor. It was you."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Of course you do. You're a follower of Lesbos, yes? Women who love women. You discovered that long ago when you and the Duke traveled there to adopt young Wesley. In fact, you've always wanted to be a man. You thought I did not recognize you on the train nor at the restaurant when I had lunch with the chief inspector and Hastings. Mannish clothes cannot hide feminine wiles, madame."
"This is outrageous!" The duke fumed, spitting in his anger. "Chief Inspector, I want this Belgian out of my house immediately or I'll report you to your superiors!"
"You feel free to do whatever you like, duke." Japp's hand arrested Wilmouth's as it reached the phone's receiver. "After Poirot finishes."
Wilmouth glared at the policeman angrily and retook his seat, his gaze searing Poirot. The detective shrugged off the look with a nod of thanks to the chief inspector and he turned back to the duchess. "You began with Sister Bernadetta. She had been your lover before she joined the orphanage but through her hard work, she had become aware of your husband's impropriety and demanded that you either pay her or take her with you."
"Take her with? Where was she planning to go?"
"Paris, Hastings. She engineered the murders to look as if the Duke was the culprit. The semen left in the women and the missing file that contained the adoption information. All of this was designed to coincide with Wilmouth's business travels and after the election, evidence implicating him would be forwarded to the authorities and Madame Wilmouth would be free. Free to engage in forbidden love with her soulmate."
"Oui, Japp. The one person who shared her love of being a man, Sister Lilia."
"The missing nun?"
"The very same, Hastings. It was she that killed Sister Bernadetta looking for the file her lover so desperately needed and it was she who killed Sister Evangeline, who tried to hide the papers to protect her dear friend. The hand prints that Hastings and I found were small enough to have been made by a woman and only someone who was already inside the house could have known her way around."
"But that doesn't make any sense! The semen ... "
"Ah, yes! The semen." Poirot nodded his head, as if just remembering. "That was easy enough. Sister Lilia was having an affair with Jonathan Hawkins, the security guard and he was adamant about using protection. Thus, when he ejaculated, the semen was caught in the rubber and she spirited it away."
"How do you know that she was having an affair with Hawkins?"
"She told Sister Evangeline who told me." Japp spoke up in answer to Hastings' question.
"Indeed and with that evidence, the duchess and Sister Lilia could live, as you say, high on the hog, while the Duke was sentenced to hang for the murders and Lord Wesley, fueled by his father's money, could win his seat and give Florence the attention she so desperately craved."
The sweet, unassuming Florence Wilmouth turned angry eyes upon Poirot, her waspish mouth curling against yellowed teeth, lips forming each word succinctly. "I wish you'd die!"
A scream rent the air and two gunshots rang out. And then ... silence.
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