We were on the trail of Charles Gough, the thief who had stolen Mrs. Ashwell's prized rubies and Mr. Ashwell's illegal drawings of Britain's latest submarine design. Poirot wished to wait for the information from America that would verify his suspicions, and so he asked me to follow Gough in my car. I was happy to do so because I enjoyed driving and especially the thrill of chasing a suspected criminal. Japp merely rolled his eyes, and said he would stay with Poirot.
I waited for Gough to leave the pub, and then followed him at a safe distance. Despite my care he must have spotted me because he accelerated as soon as we had left the village. We were on a winding road with several blind curves, and I recognized the danger, but I must admit that this danger made our chase all the more exhilarating.
We both negotiated the curves safely, and were on a long stretch of road. At the crest of the hill, however, there was a herd of sheep. Gough swerved, but there was no way to avoid the herd. The sheep scattered, and although I had enough distance to slow down, I could not avoid them either. My car entered the ditch, and my head hit the steering wheel.
When I next woke, there was a throbbing pain in my head and shoulders. I breathed in, and my ribs protested. The sheep were baying loudly, and I could hear a couple of men shouting in the distance. I rested there, my eyes closed, trying to gain my bearings.
I heard another car approach and then a metallic racket as the driver stopped quickly. I then heard Poirot shout my name, and I realized that he must have gotten his information and followed me. Japp must have been there, too. I was very grateful that Poirot had not been in the car with me.
"Hastings!" Poirot said, and I felt his gloveless fingers press against my skin, looking for signs of life.
I groaned, and opened my eyes. Two Poirot's looked at me with similar expressions of worry, and I knew that I had a concussion.
"I crashed," I murmured to Poirot, answering his unspoken question.
"This machine," he replied with a firm, angry voice, "is dangereux, Hastings." His lips clamped together, stemming the rush of angry words. We could both appreciate that now was not the appropriate time for Poirot to berate my car and my driving skills.
Japp hurried over, and said to Poirot, "I've radioed for an ambulance."
"And Mr. Gough? How is he?" Poirot asked.
Japp shook his head. "Dead," Japp replied. He looked at me, and said, "And you're lucky not to be. Can you move?"
I was able to move my legs, which was certainly a relief, but I was nauseated and I felt as though I had fallen down several flights of stairs. Poirot and Japp aided me as best they could to remove myself from my awkwardly balanced car, but as they were leading me to Japp's car, I lost the battle with my stomach.
"That's not a good sign," Japp said, his usual wry, understated voice filled with worry. "Let's get him in the car."
Once I was lying down in the back seat of Japp's police car, Japp went off to inspect Mr. Gough's car and left us with a little privacy. Poirot stroked his fingers through my hair, murmuring softly to me. He was seated at my hip, no doubt an uncomfortable position, but I was selfishly grateful for his presence.
"You must not sleep, Hastings, until the doctor has said so," Poirot said. "Now, tell me what happened, mon brave."
"Gough must have seen me behind him," I replied, resting my hand on Poirot's knee. "He was going quite fast, and when he crested the hill, he could not avoid the sheep."
Poirot nodded, his hand resting on mine. "You remember. That is good."
I hummed a bit in response. Poirot continued to discuss the case with me, including the information that he discovered from America, until the ambulance arrived.
There was much discussion between Poirot, Japp, and the doctor about where I should recuperate. Eventually it was decided that our flat would be best.
Poirot called ahead, and Ms. Lemon had the second bedroom cleaned and ready. I had no need to use it once Poirot and I reached our understanding, but no doubt Poirot thought it dangerous for Japp to assist me into Poirot's bedroom. I merely wished to sleep until my headache departed.
I slept through the rest of the day and night, with both Ms. Lemon and Poirot waking me at various intervals. I felt lonely in my bedroom, and was grateful when Poirot slept beside me that night despite his own bed being more comfortable. In the morning he left me in Ms. Lemon's hands while he went to inquire about Gough's possessions and whether they contained the plans and the rubies.
My bedroom door was open so that Ms. Lemon could hear if I was in distress. Early I had been listening to the wireless, but I shut it off because the noise was making my head throb. I lay down to sleep, feeling restless and slightly sick. Someone knocked on the front door, and I could hear Ms. Lemon's footsteps as she went to answer it.
"Inspector," she said. "Monsieur Poirot is not at home."
"And the captain?" Japp said, a curious intensity in his voice.
"Asleep, when I last looked in on him."
"Good. I want to have a word with you."
Something about the way Japp spoke put me on my guard. It must have done the same to Ms. Lemon because I could hear wariness in her voice when she said, "Yes? What about?"
There was a pause, and then Japp said, "I've had a suspicion for some time, and the captain's accident yesterday has made me more certain."
"Suspicion?" Ms. Lemon said. There was another long pause, and I could picture Japp's weary face peering at Ms. Lemon.
"Of something between Poirot and the captain."
Fear surged through my body, and I struggled to sit up. The danger seemed clear to me in that moment, and I knew that I had to protect both Poirot, my lover, and Ms. Lemon, the accomplice.
"I don't know what you mean," Ms. Lemon replied, her voice defiant.
"For heaven's sake, I saw them yesterday. All the signs were there."
I held back a groan as I sat up, and struggled into my dressing gown. My vision darkened for a few moments, and I stilled until the darkness faded. My head ached, but I was determined to confront Japp and protect my house. That is the duty of a Hastings.
"You are imagining things, inspector," Ms. Lemon said. I staggered to the bedroom door to survey the scene.
"I wasn't imagining the hand-holding, Ms. Lemon, or the look in their eyes. I've seen that look before on newlyweds. I'd be willing to swear that whatever is between them is recent."
Japp was right in that respect, and I admired his instincts before I remembered what this meant for Poirot and myself.
They both turned toward me as I stumbled in, and Japp winced when he saw me. As well he should have. My forehead turned a mottled blue color from where my head had hit the dash, and my hair was wild from sleep.
Ms. Lemon came to my side and took my arm, chiding me all the while. "You know you shouldn't be up and about, captain. You should be in bed."
"No, wait." I turned to Japp. "Whatever you are going to do, inspector, Ms. Lemon didn't know, and… and I coerced Poirot. It's not his fault." I had to stop before I could say everything I wanted. I had to convince Japp, but I could barely speak without the pain in my head becoming more intense.
Japp was also by my side to assist me, and he said kindly, "You couldn't coerce a mouse, captain. Come along. Back to bed."
"Bed, Captain Hastings," Ms. Lemon replied, nodding her head toward the bedroom door. Japp nodded, and they both led me to the bedroom.
My head throbbed in resounding agony, and I felt uncomfortable either reclining or sitting up. I tried to focus on Japp, but Ms. Lemon quickly returned with some aspirin and a glass of water.
"Now you rest, Captain Hastings, and I'll sort this out."
I looked over at Japp, who nodded at me. He did not look angry or disgusted but rather confused and almost hurt. I tried to nod back, but only could moan in pain.
Ms. Lemon directed me to lie down, and then turned off the light to give me the minor comfort of darkness. They both left the room, and whatever they said in the sitting room was too low for me to hear.
I woke to find Poirot seated by my side, a book open in his hands. He closed it as soon as he noticed that I was awake. I looked around, but there were no police officers about ready to arrest us for immoral acts.
"How are you feeling, mon chou?" Poirot asked, brushing his fingers against my cheek.
"My head still hurts," I replied, leaning into his touch. "Has Japp spoken to you?"
"Chief Inspector Japp? Not since I spoke to him this morning." Poirot's response puzzled me. Had I imagined what happened this afternoon?
"Japp was here earlier," I replied. "He was asking Ms. Lemon about… about us."
Poirot's eyes widened slightly, but otherwise he did not react. "What did he say?"
"He saw us holding hands in the car and that we had a newly wedded look in our eyes. Ms. Lemon did her best to avert his suspicions. Neither one of them listened to me, though, when I tried to talk."
"You rose from the bed?"
"Well, yes, they were in the sitting room."
"Hastings, you are ill. You should not have gotten up. You should rest."
I sighed in frustration. "Rest, Poirot? When a police officer is discussing our illegal understanding?"
"You should rest, mon ami," Poirot said patiently, as if he were talking to a child, "while our friend discusses with Ms. Lemon what he has just learned."
"You don't seem that concerned."
"I am, mon ami, but I believe that if Japp were going to have us arrested, he would have done so by now."
I sighed, and said, "I tried to tell him that it was my fault – that I coerced you."
Poirot smiled, and said, "He would not have believed you."
"He didn't," I replied, feeling a bit put upon.
"Poirot cannot be 'coerced', as you say."
I smirked at that, well aware that I could sometimes coerce Poirot using methods both innocent and salacious.
Poirot gave me a stern look, and said, "You should not think such thoughts while you are sick, Hastings."
"I would have to be dead, Poirot, not to think such thoughts about you."
I was amused by Poirot's reaction, a mixture of pleasure, exasperation, and tenderness.
It was nearly two weeks later when I was able to speak to Japp on my own. My bruises had faded to a dull yellow, and I felt able to leave the flat without alarming anyone. Japp invited me out for a drink as we sometimes did. Poirot did not care much for the pub atmosphere or beer, and so after the first couple of invites, only Japp and I went out.
We retrieved our pints and sat in a quiet corner together. I waited for him to speak, content to enjoy this moment outside after so long spent in bed.
"About the other day," Japp said after he had drunk about half his pint.
"Yes?" I said, giving him my full attention. I was cautious but no longer scared. After all, Poirot was right that Japp would have acted immediately if he were going to arrest us.
"I won't say anything," he said, glancing at me and then back to his glass.
"Why not?" I asked, curious about his reasons. Japp seemed as upstanding a British gentleman as I had ever seen.
"None of my business what adults get up to in their spare time," Japp said. "As long as no one's being forced against their will."
"I quite agree," I said, taking a sip.
Japp seemed deep in contemplation, and I waited for him to continue.
"You really would have taken the fall for him?" Japp asked, and this time he looked at me directly, his expression one which I had seen countless times during an interrogation.
"Of course," I said, surprised by his question. "That's what you do when you love someone, don't you? Protect them."
Japp hummed in agreement. "Poirot doesn't need protecting."
I sighed, remembering how little I had convinced Japp when I had been trying to protect him. "I suppose you're right."
"When did this all start?" Japp asked.
I recounted to him an edited version of the events, leaving out my previous liaison which ultimately led to our understanding. Japp seemed genuinely interested, if a little uncomfortable, and I was grateful for this opportunity to discuss Poirot with someone who knew him and would be sympathetic.
Japp glanced at me curiously, and said, "Why Poirot? He seems very…" Japp wiggled his fingers slightly which I took to mean 'finicky' and I said as much.
At Japp's nod, I considered the matter briefly, and then said, "I don't know. There's just something about him that I love."
I could see Japp's thoughts turn inward, but he simply nodded, and we said no more about the matter for the rest of the evening.
Poirot was arranging his stamps in order of what seemed like color when I returned home. I hung up my overcoat, and came over to his desk. I kissed him lightly, and then asked how his night had been.
"Most enjoyable, Hastings," he replied, squeezing my hand gently before returning his attention to his stamps. "How was your visit with the Chief Inspector Japp?"
"Oh, fine," I said, sitting down on Poirot's desk. I wondered how long it would take for him to either tell me to go away or abandon his stamps and join me in bed.
Poirot glanced up at me, and I could see that he knew what game I was playing. "Fine?"
"Yes, he said that he would tell no one, and then asked how long we have been together."
"How much did you tell him, Hastings?"
"Not much, just the facts – carefully edited, of course."
Poirot nodded, and murmured, "Of course." I could tell that he was distracted from his work.
"Yes," I said, resting one of my hands on my thigh, deliberately flexing my fingers slightly. "He asked me why I loved you."
Poirot looked up sharply at my words. "You told him that you loved me?"
I smiled at him, feeling a great tenderness swell within me. "Yes, I did. I had to tell someone, Poirot. I wanted at least one person to know."
Poirot shook his head. I was delighted to see a slight blush on his cheeks. "You are the unexpected romantic, Hastings."
"Thank you," I replied, trying to ignore the shyness his words evoked.
Poirot stood, his stamps abandoned for the moment. He stepped between my legs, and kissed me several times. I wrapped my legs around his hips, pulling him closer.
"One of these nights," I said when I pulled away to breath. I whispered a soft plea as his lips brushed against my neck. "One of these nights, I am going to convince you to make love to me on this desk."
"You will not have to work so hard at that, mon cher, as you may think," Poirot murmured in my ear.
"Tonight?" I murmured eagerly, prepared to lean back and let him have me.
"Non, Hastings, my stamps they will go everywhere."
"Poirot!" I said, disappointed by this frustration of having one of my cherished fantasies delayed yet again.
"Come, mon cher, let us retire for the evening… safely away from my stamps."
I was frustrated by Poirot's pedantic nature, but I knew that I would have him no other way.
"Your stamps," I said, frustrated but also amused. I took his hand, and followed him to our bedroom.