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Dudley Stone

The Dead Poirot Sketch

 

Dudley was dead. That was a fact. There was no doubt about it. He had passed on, he was no more. He had “ceased to be, expired and gone to meet his Maker. He’d kicked the bucket, shuffled off his mortal coil, rung down the curtain, and joined the choir invisible.”*  He was an ex-Dudley.

 

That much at least was clear.

 

Wednesday, just after noon. Only the most intrepid souls had braved the blowing snow to reach the library. Perhaps they were made mad by the long winter and cabin fever, perhaps they craved the latest Janet Evanovich or David Baldacci. Perhaps they lusted to salivate again over the previous season of Downtown Abbey.

 

The rowdy members of the Racing Pigeon Society caroused in the conference room just off the main entrance across from the bathrooms and just outside the sliding glass doors that led to the library proper. They had been relegated to this room because of their large and faithful following and the frequently disruptive nature of their meetings. It was commonly held that nothing short of federal holidays and bird flu could stop them from congregating at the library.

 

The members of the Lexington Fiction Writers Group were equally hardy souls. Biweekly they braved the exuberant and possibly inebriated gauntlet that was the Racing Pigeon Society, entered the sanctum sanctorum through the sliding glass doors, and unpacked their various writing implements, pads, snacks, throat lozenges, iced coffees, and bottles of water in a small conference room just off the stacks.

 

So at fifteen minutes past noon the small conference room was occupied by poets, childrens’ authors, creative nonfictioners, fantasy writers, husbands of fantasy writers, and the aforementioned dead Dudley, his forehead resting against the table, arms at his sides, and his chair squarely within a sizable and growing pool of blood. Various objects protruded from the back of his white button-down shirt, whether sharp or not it was unable to ascertain at this juncture. Sharp enough to do the job certainly, judging by the outline of blood around each of the objects and rivulets draining from his body to puddle in the chair and from there cascade onto the beige carpet.

 

Faces were pressed to windows on three sides of the room, interestingly all female, close enough that their breathing made intermittent pockets of vapor on the windows. For several moments the library was breathless with anticipation.

 

Monsieur Hercule Poirot’s presence in the library occasioned astonishment by many library patrons, until it was pointed out to them by staff that he never missed a Racing Pigeon meeting and whose air of dignity perhaps was largely responsible for keeping their meetings an off-color joke short of devolving into an Irish wake. Of course, those who had never read Agatha Christie evinced no such astonishment at his peculiar presence. To their reckoning, he was just another overdressed, prissy, mustachioed, “fat boring Belgian bastard.”*

 

Monsieur Poirot had immediately taken charge and demanded all entrances to the library be locked, that no one be allowed to leave, that nothing be touched. The staff had put up a fight, as did the mother of two small children who, after all, insisted they hadn’t seen ANYTHING, and it was little Jimmy’s and Susie’s lunchtime and if they didn’t get their Happy Meal there would be hell to pay for someone. However, the staff ultimately acquiesced to Poirot’s authority.

 

It was all very puzzling. Poirot’s first instruction, or second, or rather fourth after the other instructions, had been for everyone in the library to return to where they had been when the alarm had been raised. He then surveyed the fishbowl-like room from three sides, scrawling a map of all possible witnesses in his fat boring Belgian handwriting, the witnesses who, yes, curious that they were all women, had their faces pressed against the windows. Each of them claimed to see nothing, hear nothing.

 

Impossible.

 

Poirot entered the conference room and surveyed the scene. The door itself was windowed as was the wall alongside the door. To both left and right of the door the walls were also windowed, the left looking through half-open shutters into a smaller room with a single table, the right looking out onto the children’s section of the library, where Jimmy and Susie were amusing themselves drawing on tabletops with Sharpies. The wall opposite the door was unwindowed and covered largely with a whiteboard with various-colored Sharpie scrawls. In one corner of the whiteboard was a cartoonish drawing not unlike the scene before them, of a figure sprawled across a table with squigglies emanating from its back, and, perhaps due to the absence of a red Sharpie, an orange pool beneath it.

 

On one wall was a clock, now reading 12:20, or approximately 15 minutes since the alarm had been raised. Poirot examined the clock closely, compared its time with his own by consulting his smartphone (his antique pocket watch was in the shop), and was disappointed to find the clock had not been tampered with.

 

Two large rectangular tables were pushed together and made for a single square table, with two chairs on each side of the square. The people in the chairs regarded Poirot expectantly, except for Dudley, who was dead, and Ephrem, Angela’s husband, who sat with his back to the door playing with his iPhone. Poirot looked over Ephrem’s shoulder and noticed that Ephrem was Googling some arcane matter of ecclesiastic history. He perceived a walking stick leaning against the wall behind Ephrem and recalled a case in which a dagger had been secreted in the handle of a similar assistive ambulation device.

 

Ephrem was holding hands with Angela, who sat catty-corner to his left, facing the children’s area of the library. Poirot felt a sickly wave of sentiment rise in his throat at the sweetness of this gesture and thought briefly of the woman in Antwerp he had once — but no, no, he must concentrate. In front of Angela on the table was her tablet. On closer inspection, the document contained words with which Poirot was unfamiliar, some fantasy involving flying carpets, wizardry, and someone (male/female, he could not tell) named Gadiok. He shook his head sadly. His personal tastes ran, perhaps not unsurprisingly, to the pigeon racing press and to potboiler mysteries, especially those featuring Belgian protagonists.

 

In Angela’s ears, he noted, dangled earrings in the shape of tiger sharks, recalling to Poirot’s mind the murder, by poison, and disposal, by shark, of an aquarium employee by an animal rights’ activist to all appearances as mild and pleasant as the woman in front of him still holding her husband’s hand. In short, Poirot reminded himself that personal sweetness did not necessarily rule out a penchant for cold-blooded murder.

 

Next to Angela sat a tiny, gnomish, grandmotherly figure, Karen, nearly hidden behind a stack of children’s books and what appeared to be the library’s entire collection of Daniel Boone-related documents. She was scribbling feverishly on a sheet of paper what appeared to be a description of what Daniel Boone would do in various situations, the answers invariably revolving around the discharge of a flintlock musket. Karen’s eyes glittered, whether from concentration or a largely liquid lunch Poirot could not tell, but she brought to his mind the man from the song who had once shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. Tread lightly, he thought. Grandmothers were capable of anything.

 

On the side of the table facing the door sat Roberta and in front of her sat a large purse, quilted of a Christmas-themed fabric that Angela was furtively eyeing with ferocious envy from across the table. Poirot noted that the purse was large enough to contain any number of murder weapons, up to and including perhaps a small bazooka. Poirot sighed as he thought of the traveling habits of some women he had known. Granted, on his own journeys he was usually accompanied by two sizable trunks and small satchel for his hair and mustache-grooming appliances, but he didn’t feel the need to have them within reach at all times. No matter. He despaired at the thought that he would never understand women, then cheered at the thought that acknowledging ignorance was the first step to wisdom.

 

The chair between Roberta and Karen was unoccupied.

 

Continuing around the table clockwise, the next chair was occupied by the dead man. On the table next to his head was a traveling cup. Drops of coffee could be seen as having spilled out of the spill proof top. Next to that was a sickly green notebook, on top of which sat a pair of glasses. Curious.

 

Next to the dead man sat Sherri, who had scooched her chair closer to the corner of the table to avoid the spreading pool of blood encroaching on her spotless white sneakers. She reminded Poirot of the cherubic ex-wife of a bosom friend, who had poisoned and then strangled her ex-husband, chopped up his body, and painstakingly dissolved the pieces in acid. Poirot, though horrified at the result, had been filled with admiration at the woman’s thoroughness.

 

Across the corner of the table from Sherri, sitting next to Ephrem, but swiveled in her chair so as to regard Poirot, was Jennifer. On the table in front of her were several pages of what appeared to be poetry, one of which had been written on in what Poirot deduced to be Karen’s grandmotherly handwriting. Apparently before Poirot had entered the room, while the pool of blood grew and the body grew cold, the group had chosen to carry on with their meeting.

 

Poirot turned his attention to the body. He regretted that he had gone to his Racing Pigeon meeting without a box of surgical gloves. Roberta offered him a pair from the box in her purse.

 

Rigor had not yet set in, and Dudley’s body yielded to the pressure of Poirot’s gloved hands. Poirot sat him back in his chair. Dudley’s eyes were open, the pupils dilated, his expression one of utter surprise.

 

Motive, method, and opportunity, Poirot knew, were the foundation of all detective work. Here, method at least was obvious. From Dudley’s back protruded six carving knives, one chef’s knife, two plastic-handled serrated steak knives, a pair of sharp surgical scissors, and not one but two Bic pens, one filled with black ink, one blue, with their caps removed. One of the pens became dislodged by Poirot's movement of the dead body and fell to the floor, resting in the rapidly congealing pool of blood.

 

Opportunity was not so clear-cut. None of the witnesses outside the room had seen anything, heard anything. Impossible. Upon questioning, Karen spoke for the entire group inside the room when she informed Poirot, “We found him that way.”  More impossible.

 

Jennifer fidgeted in her chair. She interrupted Poirot’s musings with exasperation, stating that his entrance had interrupted the discussion of her latest poem.

 

Ephrem suggested they dial 911, but Poirot skewered him with a glare and called him impertinent.

 

Poirot paced around the room, unfolding his understanding of the case. Dudley had arrived slightly early for the meeting. He had been seen entering the library, seen entering the room, removing his coffee from his book bag, which he wasn’t supposed to bring into the library anyway (Poirot reminded himself to question the library staff, as here at least was a possible motive), and then, and then . . .

 

When next observed, he had been stabbed multiple times with an eclectic array of instruments. Yet, no one had seen or heard . . .

 

Impossible.

 

Unless . . .

 

Poirot remembered Holmes’ admonition to Watson that “once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”  Madness, Poirot murmured to himself. Once you eliminate the impossible...  

 

Poirot paced around the room, growing in confidence as he spoke.

 

“He came into the room, yes. He sat in his place. He perhaps had a sip of his coffee. It was noon. Other people began to filter in. He would suspect none of you. You (he pointed at Roberta) could have come in, crossed behind him on the way to your chair, and stabbed him with a weapon secreted in your voluminous purse, perhaps this chef’s knife. He would make no sound, yes, but the surprise, the surprise, and then you, madam (pointing at Angela) and you (Ephrem), went to work with the carving knives, clearly purchased together, a wedding present perhaps, and you (pointing at them all in turn), with steak knives, observe the handles, clearly not from the same set, and then, you, madam (pointing at Karen), the mastermind of this fiendish, diabolical plot, and the owner of multiple Bic pens, that I perceive protruding from several of your pockets.”

 

“And motive?  Perhaps he criticized your work too severely. Perhaps he plagiarized you, took your ideas and repackaged them as his own, perhaps you were filled with envy, with jealousy, perhaps you were filled with greed, yes, greed, like a colleague who fancies your particularly fine and well-groomed racing pigeon, clearly a champion,” Poirot said, becoming carried away with himself now in a theatrical, Belgian sort of way.

 

“And what about the witnesses outside the room?”  It struck Poirot that the women who crowded around the windows were all in the same approximate age range as the victim and his eyes flashed. He was dazzled at his own insight. “The witnesses?  These women looking on, perhaps they were all at one time girlfriends, yes, or lovers of the dead man, filled with an implacable need for revenge.”

 

“Yes,” he said, “a perfect crime, in which all the possible witnesses, no, perhaps everyone in the library, is in on it, including the children — do they not bear a striking resemblance to the dead man? — yes, everyone in on it, except me, except Poirot.”  

 

Poirot closed his eyes in rapture. In his mind he heard applause and soaring music but when he opened his eyes he saw only the impassive stares of vengeful faces pressed against the fishbowl’s windows and those sitting around the table, standing now, all of them standing, moving now, coming closer, surrounding him . . . 

 

###

 

The writers left the library in a group and walked to their cars, except for Angela and Ephrem, who had hitched a ride with Roberta. The snow had stopped falling and it was very cold. They could hear sirens, but it wasn’t the police, and the sound soon faded. The head librarian posted a sign stating that the library was officially closed due to inclement weather, activated the alarm system, and locked the door.

 

In the fishbowl-like conference room, Poirot’s blood was thickening into the carpet where he lay. Knives and knitting needles protruded from his chest, various-colored Bic pens from his abdomen. His eyes remained open. He was dead. There was no doubt about that. He had passed on, he was no more, he had “ceased to be, expired and gone to meet his Maker. He’d kicked the bucket, shuffled off his mortal coil, rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible.”

 

He was an ex-Poirot.


 

* Fragments brazenly ripped off from Monty Python. Apologies to the beloved troupe.


 

Dudley Stone’s poetry has appeared in journals across the United States.  Additionally, he has had productions and staged readings of plays in Amherst, MA, Savannah, GA, Hartford, CT, Los Angeles, CA, and in Lexington, Louisville, and Richmond, KY.  He has a B.A. in Theatre from the University of Kentucky and studied playwriting at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.  Mr. Stone lives, bikes, writes, and plays the ponies in Lexington, KY. Bienvenue à la Danse, Dudley.

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