“So, since the case is solved, why don’t we really continue the holiday we were supposed to be having here? Eh, Poirot? Hastings?”
“I’m with the chief inspector, Poirot,” Hastings dabbed his mouth and took up his glass of beer, “We deserve it.”
“We, mon ami?”
“You surely more than us, Poirot,” Japp exaggeratedly rolled his eyes, and exchanged a knowing look with Hastings, “As always.”
“Ah, bien, if this is the situation, I would not see why not,” he put aside his napkin, and moved to stand up, “I just have to inform Mademoiselle Lemon that we will not return tonight as expected, but in a few days, so that she can organize my ordre de semaine.”
“Let me do that, Poirot,” Hastings quickly stood up, without noticing Japp’s amused glance, “Usually, I’m the one making this kind of service calls. Besides, you herbal tea will cool down.”
“Tisane, Hastings, tisane.”
But the good captain had already left, hurrying with an agile pace toward the small hotel lobby, where a couple of pay-phones could do in his case.
“Such enthusiasm for a simple call like this”, Japp stared down the door through which the captain had left, before turning with a knowing a smile toward Poirot, “Don’t you think?”
“Captain Hastings knows how Miss Lemon believes in precision and organization. He had already been a victim of her indignation once, so it seems obvious he want to inform Mademoiselle as soon as possible.”
Japp blinked, before letting his smile to disappear into his ale; maybe Emily was right. Maybe not even Poirot had realized, yet, what was going on right under his sensible, Belgian nose.
Miss Lemon smiled when she saw Mrs Japp entering the small living room, balancing precariously a tray full of small dished and tea cups on a hand, the other caressing gently her son’s dark hair. She got up to help the younger woman, and was thanked with a grateful smile from her host, who bent down to pick up her child, before disappearing back through the door, probably to take him to his bedroom, upstairs.
Serving the tea in some pretty, white cups, Miss Lemon reasoned on the situation: she was happy to have made acquaintance with Mrs Japp, even if in an absolutely accidental way, and now the two women were often drinking tea together when Poirot, captain Hastings and chief inspector Japp were called to resolve some cases far from London - which happened often lately.
Which was happening right now, actually. Where were they? It was Market Basing, if she remembered correctly - and she always remembered that kind of information correctly; she was Poirot’s secretary, after all. They were supposed to be there on a short holiday, for a long weekend, but of course had ended up bundled up in a quite suspect suicide.
“I’m sorry you had to serve the tea, Miss Lemon. Junior was quite troublesome, today.”
“It’s not a problem, Mrs Japp.”
Emily Japp shot her a bright smile and sat at the small table, accepting with a gracious nod the cup Miss Lemon was handing her. It had been a surprise, for sure, seeing Mrs Japp for the first time - it had been completely accidental, but the thing that most surprised both Miss Lemon and Hastings was the fact that, well, Emily Japp was far younger than what they have expected, and prettier, and funnier, than the idea they had of the chief inspector’s wife. And she wasn’t even of British descent! To think that Japp, with all this talks about foreigners and their supposed higher crime records, had ended up marrying the daughter of an Italian couple, it was beyond funny.
Miss Lemon smiled at the thought, and Mrs Japp raised a eyebrow, curios, “What was it?”
“I was just remembering when I first met you. It was… quite strange.”
“It was, yes,” Mrs Japp sipped slowly from her cup, humming gently, “You were with Captain Hastings.”
Something stirred in the back of Felicity Lemon’s mind, but she drove the nagging feeling away, and smiled to her host, “It’s true. We were doing errands for Monsieur Poirot.”
There was something unsettling in Mrs Japp’s kind smile, in the way her head was cocked on one side, that alerted Miss Lemon’s caution, but she attributed it to her maybe too close proximity to Monsieur Poirot and his world - everything seemed suspicious, every attitude led her to wonder if her interlocutor was thinking about something else... she had decided not to be influenced by the worldview of his employer when dealing with people outside the office, and surely that was not going to affect her way of seeing young Mrs Japp, with a sick child, and a husband who was so often in Whitehaven Mansion for work, almost a friend.
“We should do this always. Having tea when our men are away.”
Miss Lemon chocked on her tea, “I’m sorry?”
The vague smile was still on Mrs Japp’s lips, and her head was still slightly bent on one side, but there was something not so innocent in her expression, “I mean, since we’re at home alone, and your employer is away for work, with his associate and my husband, we should meet more often. I quite enjoy having someone to talk to. Someone who understand the world my husband’s and his friends work into,” her smile widened a little, “What did you understand?”
Miss Lemon opened her mouth to answer, without having the slightest idea about what she would have said to the young woman in front of her, but the insistent ring of the phone in the small lobby saved her from the embarrassment. Mrs Japp disappeared with a murmured apology, and she was left alone to think about what had just happened.
Nothing had happened.
The tea had simply gone awry.
It hadn’t been Mrs Japp’s words to make her gasp, choking on her tea.
There was no way she knew. There was no way anyone knew. If even Monsieur Poirot had not realized what was happening…
“Captain Hastings at the phone for you, Miss Lemon.”
The tea went awry again. Blasted man…
“He said he tried at the office, but of course no one was there. Looks like there are some news about their short holiday.”
“Yes. Thank you, Mrs Japp.”
The lady of the house make way for her on the living room door, pointing the phone in green lacquer, before disappearing back into the living room; Miss Lemon was ready to swear she was smiling broadly again.
“I know that,” Miss Lemon threw a quick glance over her shoulder, toward the half-closed door, “Why are you calling here?”
“You told me you use to visit Mrs Japp when we’re not in London,” for a moment, he seemed puzzled, “Is everything alright?”
“Of course it is,” she sighed at his naivety, “Anything new?”
“Poirot has solved the case, so we decided to stay here some more days, to properly have our holiday. He wanted to warn you, so I told I’d do that,” she heard him hesitating a second, and imagined him looking around to make sure he was alone, “How are you?”
“I’m fine. You?”
“Apart from the fact that Poirot made us look like complete fools again?” there was no animosity in his voice, and she knew neither him or Japp where truly angry with the Belgian detective, “We’re good. I’m good. The case was… emotional. A story of devotion between master and servants; quite pathetic, too. How are things in London?”
“Always the same. Monsieur Poirot has received quite a lot of letters, and I think at least a couple of them may interest him; they have crests on the envelopes, and the paper seems to be water-marked. You should tell him about that.”
“I will. How’s Mrs Japp? Young Junior? Is there anything they want to say to the chief inspector?”
“No, they’re fine. Mrs Japp has invited me for dinner tomorrow evening, and we were thinking about taking a stroll in a nearby park, so the child will enjoy some fresh air.”
“I’m glad. Looks like you may have found a good friend in her,” he waited, and she knew it was because he was carefully choosing his words, “You seem happy.”
“Well, I am,” it was her time to stay silent for some seconds; she probably shouldn’t do that, but she enjoyed teasing him about the two of them a little bit too much, “But I could be happier.”
“I see,” The relief was palpable on the other side of the phone, regardless of the miles that separated them, “I think I might be able to do something about that. Listen, about Market Basing…”
Quite annoyed, Poirot put down his now empty cup, meticulously gathering the crumbs of the scones in a pile beyond the porcelain saucer, “Would you kindly check where’s Hastings, chief inspector? This phone call is taking a lot of time.”
The corners of the chief inspector’s mouth trembled a little, as if he was trying not to smile.
“Sure thing, Poirot.”
She listened carefully at what he was telling her, with his usual excitement about something new, “Do you really think it’s something feasible?”
“Yes. It’s a lovely place, actually. And quite near to London, too. We should take the car and come here, one of these weekends. You’d like it.”
Miss Lemon smiled at the phone, his enthusiasm to the idea of a trip out of town with his Lagonda was always endearing, “The car? So that you’re going to repair it by a country road like the last time?”
“Very funny, Felicity.”
The annoyance in his voice was evident, and she had to bit her lip in order not to laugh a little; her name on his lips always made her feel a little bit giddy, “We’ll see. I surely don’t want to spend half of our Saturday by a muddy road only because the engine of your car broke down. Again.”
“Sorry,” it was really hard not to laugh, this time, “You better go, before Monsieur Poirot starts pontificating about you and some random pretty guest of the hotel. She’s surely red-headed, isn’t she?”
“Even funnier than before. Take care of yourself.”
Hastings hesitated just a moment, and she almost could see him staring into the distance, nervously rolling up the phone cable with his long fingers, “See you in a couple of days.”
The underlying question, his desire to see her again, made her lower her head, delightfully embarrassed.
“You better, Arthur.”
Hastings heard her hang up the phone, but remained a few moments staring at the phone in his hand; he was aware that he could seemed a bit stupid, motionless in front of the cabin, but he wanted to savour the few words they had exchanged.
Yes, things were going well. Slowly, but well. They often went out together - to dinner, to the theatre, to the cinema. They had gone a few times out of London to visit the pretty villages he had the opportunity to be familiar with thanks to his investigations with Poirot, and that she’d have liked to see - and yes, the last time his Lagonda had ditched them all of a sudden, but she had seemed more amused than annoyed by the inconvenience - and Hastings was pretty sure that she had liked to see him repairing the car...
“So… Felicity? That’s a pretty name, I say.”
Horrified, Hastings turned around, just to see the chief inspector lazily leaning against the phone booth next to his, arm crossed, a wide, amused smile under his moustache, “Nice to know there’s something new at Whitehaven Mansion. Can’t wait to tell that to —”
“— my wife. Of course I’m not going to spill something like that to Poirot, Captain.”
Japp simply hummed as an answer, his hand deep in the pocket of his brown jacket, “We better go back in, Poirot was starting wondering why the phone call was taking you so long.”
“I’ll invent something.”
“Something credible, Hastings.”
“I’m not that dense, Japp.”
“I’ve never said that, captain. But I was thinking…” the chief inspector pensively passed a hand over his chin, but, to his growing horror, Hastings could see a smile forming again on Japp’s mouth, “Since our wives —”
Hastings accepted the blow with class, and only a faint blush reddened his face, “She’s not —”
“— our female companions, then, seem about to become friends, why don’t we organize something together? See a couple of car races. Go to the hippodrome. Leaving the women alone. I could use some company, while risking a few shillings.”
“Yes,” his answer gained Hastings a strong pat on the back from the chief inspector. It seemed… good, proper, even, to have such a kinship with Japp - the two of them against Poirot, the two of them and their… female companions, “Yes. I’d like that.”