The Dean is peeping through his fingers at the prone and slightly charred body of Senior Bursar lying on the floor. In his blackened and gnarled hand is a partially melted kettle.
“It looks like he has been electrocuted by the kettle,” says The Dean, rather unnecessarily.
“Oh, my goodness” is all I can bring myself to say. Then, “I’ll call an ambulance.”
“I’d say it’s a bit late for that,” says The Dean grimly.
“Well, we can’t very well leave him here, Sir” I reply reasonably.
“One moment,” The Dean says. He goes over to the wall socket and deftly yanks the plug of the kettle from the wall. He then carefully approaches the body of Senior Bursar and leans over to take a closer look. His face wrinkles into a frown.
“What is it, Sir?” I ask. No reply. The Dean straightens up and gingerly pokes the arm that isn’t holding the kettle with his foot.
“He’s stiff as a board!” exclaims The Dean.
“Rigor mortis as set in?”
“It would appear so. That’s strange.”
“Then he must have been dead for a few hours already,” I meant to say this in my head but the words somehow managed to find their way out of my mouth. “I suppose that explains why he didn’t answer the door or pick up your calls.”
“Yes, but I thought you said he sent you an email only an hour ago?” The Dean points out. Hmmm.
“I’m no doctor,” I reply “But I’m fairly certain that dead men don’t send emails.”
“Right! So, either he wasn’t dead an hour ago and was just ignoring me, or…”
“Or someone else sent the email.” An unpleasant silence falls upon the room, adding to the already macabre atmosphere. It is a silence that seems to grow in weight and presence until I feel that my ears could almost bleed. As The Dean and I simply stare at each other across the corpse of our former colleague, I feel I have to do something. “Sir, we must call an ambulance. And the Police.”
The Dean moves swiftly towards me until he is standing very close. I realise that I am shaking ever so slightly and I feel a little sick. This is simply the after effects of the adrenalin my brain has dumped into my body following the shock discovery, this I know, but it is unsettling nonetheless. I look into the face of The Dean and he appears calm and controlled. At least one of us is.
“Now listen to me, Deputy Head Porter” he says in such a low voice I almost have to strain to hear. “You are not to say a word of this to anyone, do you understand? Not anyone at all. Not yet.”
“But Sir…” I mean to make a protest of some kind but I am sorry to say that all strength has deserted me and I find myself quite unable to speak further.
“Don’t worry, Deputy Head Porter,” The Dean says gently “Of course I will make sure Senior Bursar is dealt with in the proper manner. But there is something unusual here and I mean to find out what it is. I will have Nurse come up and do the necessary. This will be dealt with inside of College, you understand?”
“I understand, Sir.” Somehow, this doesn’t surprise me.
“I want you to go home now, Deputy Head Porter, you’ve had quite a shock,” I’m not the only one! “I will tell Head Porter I have sent you out on an errand for me. If you give me Senior Bursar’s keys I will ensure that the room is secured. Return to work tomorrow and try not to worry. I will deal with this.”
“Sir, if I may be so bold” I find my voice, somehow “I don’t think this is the only strange incident involving the death of a Fellow. Professor K…”
“Hush, hush Deputy Head Porter,” The Dean tries to sooth me but his method is ineffective. “We will speak more of this tomorrow. Now, you must get yourself out of the way and leave this to me.”
I swallow down the rising nausea in my throat and nod my head. At the back of my mind, I am wondering why The Dean in so insistent that I leave College and keep out of the way. But at the forefront of my mind my instincts are urging me to get out – out of this room, away from the dead body and away from the sinister dramatics that seem to grip Old College.
And so I go. I hope The Dean knows what he is doing.