Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings were sauntering down a fashionable London street when they were approached by a rough looking, dishevelled, character. Poirot took an instinctive step backwards. Hasting stood his ground. “What exactly do you want my good man”, he said.
“Beggin’ your pardon, guv’nor, but I need to talk with Mr Pwarat most urgent. Me and me mates have been robbed blind, so we have.”
“Monsieur, that really isn’t the type of case which interests me.”
“Please help guv’nor. I’ve no one else to turn to. The police won’t help. Lack of evidence or summit they keep telling me.”
Captain Hastings intervened. “What do you say, Poirot, can we at least listen to what this chap has to say? There’s a tea shop at the next corner.”
“Well out with it man”, Hastings urged. “Start with telling us who you are.”
“Everyone just calls me Bert. I’m a working man. I does chimney sweeping and a bit of this a bit of that. Anyway me and me mates have been putting something away for a rainy day for some years. A couple of geezers said they’d invest it for us and make it grow. It sounded on the up and up.
“The girlfriend of one of the geezers vouched for them. They even signed a piece of paper with crosses like, cos they couldn’t spell, but she put her name on it to say they’d signed it proper. Anyway, now it’s all gone, almost three hundred quid. The two of them have skedaddled and left the girlfriend to face the music. But she told me she knows nothink and has dun nothink wrong whatsoever.”
“I’m not sure what we can do about this. What do you say, Poirot?”
“There might be more to this, as you English say, than meets the eyes”, Poirot responded. “Tell me, Monsieur, where does this lady you speak of live?”
“Well I don’t know rightly where she lives, Mr Pwarat, but she hangs out most nights in the Bell and Whistle. You’ll know her. Red hair she ’as, an a saucy manner with it.”
“I know the place, Poirot.”
“Right Hastings, we shall go there this evening. Keep in touch Monsieur Bert. Call this number next week and tell Miss Lemon that you would like to speak to me.”
Poirot and Hastings entered the Bell and Whistle and immediately spotted the woman.
“Mademoiselle”, Poirot introduced himself and Captain Hastings. “Are you the lady who had dealings with my client Bert? “
Oh now, don’t you come the accusations with me. I’ve made something of meself, I ’ave. I won’t have the likes of you saying I did somethink wrong. I’m a good girl I am.”
“Calm yourself”, Hastings interjected. “Mr Poirot only wants to ask you some questions.”
“I’m sick and tired I am of answering questions. I’ve told Bert everythink.”
“Come Mademoiselle let us all sit down have some cocktails and go over it once more.”
“I’m not sure they sell cocktails here, Poirot”, demurred Captain Hastings.
Sit down they did without cocktails. Poirot began, his little grey cells whirling.
“Mademoiselle, did you know these ‘geezers’ that Bert said robbed him and his friends?”.
‘They’re men, Poirot”, Hastings helpfully interjected. A geezer is a sort of cockney slang term.
Quite so Hastings, Poirot replied, and then repeated his question, replacing ‘geezers’ with ‘men’.
“I may ’ave dun. One of em might have been me boyfriend for a time.”
“Surely you know whether one of them was your boyfriend?” Poirot said.
“I dun nothink wrong.”
Yes, yes, but was one of them your boyfriend? Poirot persisted.
I knew him. Alright! There you’ve gone and got it out of me. I knew the other one too. He was a misogynist pig, he was. You look like a misogynist too. I see misogynists everywhere I does.”
“A misogynist, Hastings; what is this?”
“A man who dislikes women, Poirot.”
“I assure you, Mademoiselle, I have the highest regard for women. Why, Miss Lemon, my secretary, is an admirable woman.”
“Did you sign the piece of paper witnessing the agreement between Bert and the two men we have spoken of? Did you write the words on the paper? Come Mademoiselle, the truth please”, Poirot demanded sharply.
“I dun nothink wrong. I dun nothink wrong”, she repeated. “I might have signed the paper and written down some words but I can’t remember”.
“I have the piece paper here and it is written with exactement the type of pen I keenly observed in your open bag Mademoiselle”, Poirot said with a triumphal flourish.
“Well what if I did and I’m not saying I did. What of it? I dun nothink wrong.”
“Why didn’t you go to the police to tell what you knew when Bert told you his money had been stolen”, Captain Hasting cut in.
“I thought the coppers was already on to it, see.”
“Eh bien”, Poirot exclaimed. “But Bert said that you told him you hadn’t gone to the police because you didn’t know the money had been stolen. Which is it Mademoiselle?”
You’re trying to smear me good and proper. I know what you misogynists gets up to. I dun nothink wrong.
“Come Hasting we’ll get nothing more here”, Poirot said. “But Mademoiselle, be aware that I am on the case, and Poirot never gives up and never fails."
As the two companions left the Bell and Whistle they could hear over and over again, “I dun nothink wrong. I dun nothink wrong”.
She’s a queer bird, Poirot."
"What is a queer bird, Hastings?
Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics