The Adventures of Hercule Porterot
ELOISE DAVIES channels Agatha Christie in a tale of crime in Cambridge.
A small crowd was gathered in the library. It wasn’t yet exam term, so this could only mean one thing… the famous Hercule Porterot was solving another case. During his career as porter at Cambridge’s most criminal college, Corpsus Christi, he had tackled many great mysteries: Who stole the History Society’s stash of champagne? Who was embezzling the JCR treasury funds? And, most importantly, how could one tell the time from that ridiculous insect clock? His most recent conundrum, however was widely regarded as his toughest yet. Someone had been sick on the New Court lawn.
Porterot was a distinctive little man, ex-Belgian police force, with a moustache more coated in wax than your average raincoat. His head was so perfectly egg shaped that the catering staff always joked about trying to sell it at brunch. It was a joke that only got funnier with time.
“Bonjour, mes amis!” he began. “I expect you all know why I ‘ave gathered you ‘ere today…”
“I can completely understand why you chose a silent library to deliver your solution… Again,” muttered Miss. Marple, the deceptively fluffy-looking librarian. She didn’t resemble fluff, but there was something distinctly fluffy in her aspect.
Porterot ignored her and continued: “But for those of you who ‘ave been living under le rock, or perhaps studying medicine, ‘ere are the details of the case.
“On Sunday morning after a lonely night shift I went on my usual rounds. On reaching the court I saw a terrible spectacle. Someone ‘ad – er – regurgitated on it.”
“Obviously my first thought was to call on my dear friend and under-porter, Captain ‘astings, for moral support. ‘e was clearly just as shocked as me. You visibly winced when you came to join me in the sunlit court, did you not, young thing?”
Hastings quickly swallowed his tea.
“Er – did I? Good Lord, I suppose so. Terrible thing… Such a shock…” Hastings was a ex-military man but you’d never have guessed it from looking at him. And if you had, you’d immediately assume that he’d been fired. Today he was somehow managing to be even more hesitant than usual. Porterot had thought this impossible.
“Exactement! There was not much to go on at the crime scene, although the ingredients of the spew suggested somebody ‘ad taken a drunken trip to that popular Chinese takeaway down the road, the Orient Express.
“My dear friend ‘astings had the night off, but I was there. No drunks came through the plodge before it shut at 2am. After 2am everyone uses the back door. There was no reason to come to New Court unless you lived there.
“Who does live in New Court? Mostly people who got firsts last year and ‘ave not emerged from their room since in an effort to match their performance extraordinaire. This left me with only a few suspects.”
His eyes fixed on the Dean. “There ‘as been a sudden depletion in the communion wine recently, monsieur. ‘owever, a few inquiries suggested I should count you out, because it you were seen only a few ‘ours later conducting the Sunday morning service. Few could be that sick and then stomach an hour of organ music…
“Perhaps instead our sweet and innocent looking Miss. Marple ‘as been on ‘er favourite St. Mary’s Mead again. Non, non, non – she also was seen up at 8am preparing to open the library.
“What about someone with a reputation for outrageousness? A Drinking Society president who spent three months in rehab last year perhaps? Was it you, Roger Smackcroyd?”
“Oh no you don’t,” drawled Smackcroyd. “I have an alibi. I was over at Midsomer Murders Common doing initiations all night. I mean… the freshers won’t remember… But I’m sure all the neighbours will. Oh and those policemen that turned up.”
“Quite right, Monsieur Smackroyd. You were to blame for lots of le sick that night, but not the one patch that matters… Alors, one of the fellows perhaps?” He stroked his moutache, and quietly wiped the excess wax onto his coat.
“But then no – they were all with the eccentric Professor Plum in the Parlour with the Candlestick, ‘aving a late night debate about politics. Then I realised – perhaps someone could ‘ave ended up in New Court by mistake. Some visitor from a far off land who didn’t know where they were going. Surely no visitors would be so crass, you say? But I talked to the catering staff. The rowing team had had visitors to formal from Oxford.”
There were gasps from around the library at the revelation. Or it might have just Miss. Marple shushing.
“Once again I ‘ave solved a case using my unbelievable little grey cells, my unbeaten intellect, my innate genius, my unparalleled…”
“Modesty?” Miss. Marple suggested, as the crowds started to disperse, whispering in wonder about the brilliant solution. Of course it would be those Oxford scum…
Porterot wandered off, contemplating his next most pressing matter: Who had stole the ‘H’ key during all of his dialogue?
Miss. Marple also smiled to herself. It was not just that she was happy to see the library silent again. She alone had realised the significance of Hastings’s awkward behaviour and noticed the suddenly relief that had spread over his face at Porterot’s last words.
“Hastings had the night off”; “You visibly winced when you came to join me in the sunlit court”…
She knew how to spot symptoms of a hangover.