Hercule Poirot, that brilliant Belgian sleuth, lifted his egg-shaped head in acute interest; I, sitting next to him, glanced up…and stayed in that attitude for a long time. The entering party was a woman, in perhaps her mid-twenties, who, as was the fashion at the moment, had her hair cut asymmetrically and hanging perfectly straight around her face, parted untidily and jagged at the ends. Only the exceptional loveliness of the girl's smooth, pale face saved it from being extraordinarily revolting; on another it would have been hideous. I could never understand the fads of the young people these days; they seemed to go out of their way to make themselves unpresentable. The clingy frock she wore, however, rather rectified the matter of her hair—and all in all she was an extremely pretty thing, appealingly slender and doe-eyed. Poirot, for his part, seemed a little astonished; pretty girls rarely came to him, or at least not to his private quarters.
"Bonjour, mademoiselle. Come and take a seat."
She obliged, and her slim white hands toyed with her dress, even as her large grey eyes fixed imploringly on Poirot, who was, at the moment, daintily wiping whipped cream from his beloved moustaches.
"Monsieur," she murmured, her light body leaning forward, the picture of innocence. "Monsieur, I came to ask you for—for a favor."
Now Poirot, in his long and illustrious career, had been asked for many, many favors; cautiously, he replied:
"Bien, mademoiselle, proceed, sil vous plait."
"Well, I-I need your assistance in a very important matter." Her voice became impossibly soft and girlish; with her eyes cast down so that her lashes whispered against her cheek, she continued:
"My uncle died last week, Monsieur Poirot, and I-I…I'm determined to find out who the killer is. You simply have to help me…I can't spend the rest of my life—not knowing…"
She would have been, I thought, watching this touching little scene, quite the actress; her histrionic powers were indeed quite inspiring. Quite unmoved, Poirot nodded kindly and murmured:
"Understandable, of course. Pardon, I did not quite catch your name…"
"Jacqueline," she replied. "Jacqueline Browning, but you must call me Jackie. Now, Monsieur, will you help me?"
"Ah, but ma cherie, is there not the Scotland Yard? The local police? Why do you see Papa Poirot as your savior?"
Jackie Browning leant in a little further, until her face was quite close to poor Poirot's; stroking his sleeve, she replied softly:
"Why, Monsieur Poirot, they say you're awfully clever…"
I do not know which tickled Poirot more: this stroking of his already unmanageable ego or the fact that a beautiful female was mere inches from him, her hand caressing his arm. Recalling his disposition, I decided in favor of the former.
"Pah," purred Poirot. "That is, how do you say, sayhear."
"Hearsay," I corrected, alone and ignored in my corner with my bacon (Poirot and I had been breakfasting together when the young woman had entered). A little displeased at being found wrong, and perhaps embarrassed as he recalled my presence, Poirot nodded quickly.
"Mais oui, mon cher Hastings. I make the blunder. Hearsay."
"Now, don't be so modest," insisted the girl, aiming those eyes directly at him—a devastating weapon, I was sure. "Everyone knows how brilliant you are; all I hear is Poirot this and Poirot that…and of course they say you have the most marvelous moustaches…"
The girl, this Jackie Browning, had really done her research; at her words Poirot beamed and gurgled like a schoolgirl complimented on a new ribbon, and one hand went up automatically to caress his beloved facial hair.
"Ah, it is true, they are luxuriant, mademoiselle. The product of much care."
"Of course they are," agreed Jackie, her fingers creeping up his meticulously sleeved arm; I was surprised he wasn't checking for fingerprints or dust even as she did so. "They are splendid, Monsieur Poirot. How on earth do you keep them so nice and healthy?"
"Well, mademoiselle, I have found, over the years, that a small amount of serum every two months is always most helpful with keeping the thickness…"
I regret to say I averted my attention at this point; I had learned long ago that whenever Poirot got off on the topic of his moustaches he could wax poetic for hours.
"Oh, that's so clever," breathed the wide-eyed Miss Browning, when he alas drew to a close. "So Monsieur, do you think you could do it? Please? It would be ever such a favor…and I'd remember it forever and ever…"
Even Poirot, master employer of the little grey cells, was overwhelmed by this dexterous combination of flattery and physical attention; no doubt his old blood was pumping fresh again with excitement.
"Well, mademoiselle…if it must be, it must be…"
"Oh, thank you, Monsieur Poirot!" cried Jackie, and punctuated her statement by kissing the startled Poirot quickly on the lips; I choked into my tea with a mixture of keen amusement at his expression and deep shock. "You're the most marvelous man on earth! Thank you, thank you!"
She nearly danced out of the room, kissing her lovely hand to him once more and leaving a blushing, rather flustered Poirot in her wake; this had certainly been a singular experience. He turned, and, for a bare moment, met my eyes, staring over the rim of my cup and alight with laughter as they observed the soft red lipstick left on his mouth. His eyes narrowed, and grew stern.
"Not a word, mon cher Hastings," he said firmly. "Not a word. The girl, she has made the fool of Papa Poirot."
And yet, as we continued our meal in silence and he nibbled his chocolate éclair (Poirot disdained normal breakfast fare as "too English" and stuck religiously to his pastries and hot chocolate), I thought I heard him murmur wistfully: