Month: May 2014

The Wrong Tea

Explaining to Head Porter the events of the previous evening is challenging, to say the least. He seems less interested in what we found on Senior Bursar’s computer than in the other rather tricky matter of The Dean and I now being embroiled in a fictional love affair, the subtle nuances of which Head Porter struggles to grasp.

“So, are you really having an affair with The Dean?” he asks, troubled.

“Of course not” I reply “It was simply a diversion tactic to throw Junior Bursar off the scent.”

“But why an affair? That could get you into a lot of trouble.”

“Probably not as much trouble as searching Senior Bursar’s rooms and snooping on his computer.”

I try to explain that it was all The Dean’s idea and that I was unable to bring into play my genius plot of rescuing the miniature lemon plant. Head Porter seems stuck on the facade of the inappropriate relationship and has missed the point entirely that our secret investigation could have been uncovered there and then. Although it is not unusual for him to grasp the wrong end of the stick on occasion, I sense that there is something on his mind.

“Penny for your thoughts?” I suggest to Head Porter. He seems perturbed.

“I haven’t got any,” he replies brusquely “And even if I had, they’d cost you a damn sight more than a penny.” Goodness, he is touchy this morning.

I decide to stick to the safer subject of tea. Of course he wants a cup of tea. I shall go and make the tea immediately.

I am annoyed to discover that The Porters’ Lodge is completely bereft of English Breakfast tea – not only my personal favourite but also the most appropriate beverage for this early part of the day. I must have a word with Head Of Catering to replenish our supplies. We have Earl Grey tea, of course, but that is hardly a suitable tea for first thing in the morning. Perhaps Darjeeling will do? I suppose it will have to. Hardly a fitting substitute for a fine Assam, though.

Head Porter is apologetic when I present him with his tea (not half as apologetic as I am, though, for being forced to serve Darjeeling). I was right – he does have something on his mind. Although he is reticent to share, he concedes that he is distracted by a lunch meeting he has planned for later.

“But lunch meetings are great!” I cry “You get to have a meeting… but with lunch as well!”

“I’m meeting my daughter” he replies flatly. I do not quite know how to reply. My instinct is to look for the positives and point out all the good things that could come from this. But I know very little at all about the actual situation and Head Porter has so far been rather backwards in coming forward. The clear message is that this is none of my business. I shall keep a respectful distance until such time as it may become my business. So, I offer a different form of assistance instead.

“Why don’t you take the afternoon off?” I suggest. “We don’t have to tell anyone. I’ll say you are at the locksmiths or something. Just pop back before the end of your shift looking harassed. No one will be any the wiser.”

“That’s kind, but no, I can’t. I have a May Ball Committee Meeting this afternoon.”

Ah, yes. The May Ball – the well-known tradition among the Colleges of throwing a formal event in June, but still calling it The May Ball.

“Gosh, yes, that’s only a couple of weeks away, isn’t it?” I say thoughtfully.

“I know, I know” mumbles Head Porter. “Anyway, I need you to hold the fort here while I do that. I suggest you get ringing round some local bands or something for Junior Bursar’s party. That’s only round the corner, too.”

“You’re right, I haven’t done anything about that bloody party. I’ll get on it.” I go to leave Head Porter’s office when I remember something. “By the way, who has access to master keys for the College?”

“Very few people,” Head Porter replies. “You and me, obviously. Senior Bursar would have had a set. Then there’s just The Master and Junior Bursar. Why do you ask?”

“I was thinking, whoever killed Senior Bursar needed to pinch the spare key to his rooms. Probably someone without access to a master key, I reckon.”

“Good thinking, Deputy Head Porter.”

I leave Head Porter’s office, for some reason not entirely convinced that I have quite grasped the full story about the missing key. Something in my subconscious is niggling away at me, a finely honed instinct signalling that something isn’t right. Given proper thought, no doubt it will come to me.

However, right now my focus should be squarely on Junior Bursar’s retirement party. It should be, but it is not. Right now, my focus is keenly targeted on rectifying the troubling tea situation. Priorities, you see.

A College Affair

Trying to get inside the mind of someone like the late Senior Bursar is not something I would usually attempt, but faced with the password protected log-in screen of his computer, this is something I find myself having to wrestle with. The Dean and I have already tried a couple of times, but to no avail.

“Did he have any pets?” I ask The Dean, suddenly struck by inspiration.

“Good thinking!” replies The Dean. “Yes, he had a cat named Telemachus. Ridiculous name for a cat. Is it named after a footballer, do you think?”

I type ‘Telemachus’ into the password box.

“He’s a character from Greek mythology,” I say to The Dean “He was the son of Odysseus and Penelope.”

I hit ‘enter’.


“He is also our ticket into Senior Bursar’s digital world, Sir.”

“In that case, it’s a great name for a cat.”

I have a click around the desktop and do not find anything unusual, although annoyingly his email account has already been deactivated. I check the recent documents. In the days leading up to Senior Bursar’s death there are just a couple of spreadsheets and an unnamed text document. Aha!

“Have a look at this, Sir” I open the text document and a familiar missive leaps onto the screen.

“Good lord!” exclaims The Dean. “It’s the note requesting a new kettle!”

“Indeed,” I reply. “I wasn’t really expecting to find this on here. It rather suggests that Senior Bursar did in fact write the note himself.”

“Well, that’s right” The Dean agrees. “I would have expected to find this on the murderer’s computer.”

Really? I wasn’t expecting to find this document at all. The murderer certainly wouldn’t have saved a copy of it. And even if Senior Bursar did write it himself, why would he keep a copy? Why didn’t he just send an email of the request? Quite frankly, the very existence of this document is highly suspicious.

“This is all very odd, wouldn’t you say, Deputy Head Porter?” says The Dean.

“Certainly is, Sir.”

The hour is getting even later and my stomach is protesting wildly at not having been given a meal for many hours. Maybe it is fatigue, or perhaps the lack of sustenance, but the atmosphere in these rooms seems to become more oppressive with each passing moment. I think I just want to go home.

“I think we’ve done all we can here tonight, Sir” I say, stifling a yawn and shutting down the computer. “Also, I’m starving.”

The Dean checks his watch.

“Oh bugger, I’ve missed Formal Hall” he curses. Nothing makes a Fellow angrier than having to arrange his own meals. “I shall have to get something in town. The Albatross will still be serving, don’t you think?”

Before I can reply, we are interrupted by a familiar voice.

“Making dinner arrangements, are we?”

I swing round to see Junior Bursar standing by the door, hands clasped behind his back. The man can move like a ninja when he has a mind too; neither of us detected the slightest hint of his presence.

“Good evening, Sir” I offer, weakly.

“Yes, I’m sure it is” Junior Bursar replies, smiling the smile of one who is certain he has the upper hand. “What are you two doing in our dear departed Senior Bursar’s rooms at this hour?”

Think. Think. What are we doing here… What can I say we are doing here that doesn’t sound at all unscrupulous or suspect…

The words are forming in my mind and hastily making their way towards my mouth when the tense silence is broken by The Dean.

“We are having an affair, Junior Bursar” his delivery is blunt, to the point and utterly believable. Had he said any other words at all, I would be delighted at the result. I freeze, open-mouthed and breath held tightly as I wait for Junior Bursar’s reaction. To reinforce the point, The Dean puts his arm around my shoulders. It feels more like a mugging than a hugging.

Junior Bursar just about manages to keep a straight face while the cognition of this information plays around that brilliant mind of his. His smile is no longer quite so certain, but it is rather wry.

“Is that so?” he asks, his eyes flicking between the two of us. I decide that it might be better if I do not say anything. But then, I consider the wisdom of allowing The Dean to do the talking. That could be calamitous, to say the least. As it transpires, neither of us are required to say a word as Junior Bursar continues with aplomb. “I must say, I am very surprised at the two of you. The Dean of College and a College Servant – well well!”

“I am very surprised as well, Sir” I say.

“I trust we can keep this between ourselves?” This isn’t a request from The Dean, but rather an instruction.

There is an intense period of eye contact between the two Fellows which is almost electric. After a short time, I would say that the winner of this stand-off is The Dean. Junior Bursar looks suddenly awkward and fusses with his jacket. He finally speaks.

“Well, this is your business, of course, but I would suggest you find somewhere more suitable for your passionate liaisons. The rooms of a dead man hardly seem fitting for activities of this nature.”

“You are right, of course,” The Dean replies, keen to keep things civil. “My idea. I thought we wouldn’t be disturbed.”

“I was also hoping to rescue this,” I say, indicating the wilted miniature lemon plant. “Seems a shame to leave it here all lonely when it could come and live in The Lodge.”

“I suppose that would make sense,” replies Junior Bursar. “I hope you are making excellent progress with my retirement party arrangements?”

“She has been slaving over it day and night, I assure you” The Deans reassures him.

“Good. Good.” Junior Bursar takes a moment to inspect us both again, obviously unsure about something. “I think it’s time we secured these rooms and left them in peace, don’t you?”

I nod in agreement and collect the little lemon plant in my arms. It really does smell very nice indeed. The Dean maintains his grip around my shoulders and walks me towards the door in what he probably assumes is a gentlemanly manner.

“Good evening, Junior Bursar” he shakes his colleague’s hand in the most convincing fashion. “I can assure you we will be more discrete in future. Come on, darling”.

Sleuthing For Beginners

They would always tell me in the Police never to assume anything as it only makes an ‘ass’ of ‘u’ and ‘me’, but in this case I cannot help but lean towards the presumption that whoever took the spare key was more than likely Senior Bursar’s killer. Or, at the very least, a cohort of the killer. Or, killers, indeed. Honestly, the further along we get with this investigation the more distant a resolution seems. It’s always the way, isn’t it?

The Dean had immediately demanded to return to the scene of the crime, which is why I find myself standing now in the almost abandoned rooms of the late Senior Bursar. The lack of spare key posed no problems as I carry master keys to almost every door and window in Old College. Which is an interesting point in itself; if the killer needed to use the spare key, he or she cannot have had access to a set of master keys. That puts myself and Head Porter in the clear, but who else? I make a mental note to bring this up with Head Porter later.

From the corner of my eye I can see the scorch marks on the wall and carpet where Senior Bursar met his unusual demise. I try not to look at them, but my gaze seems to be dragged back towards that direction with alarming insistence. I am far from squeamish but it is an unhappy sight, more than anything. I am a little surprised that the room has not been redecorated to some extent by now. The College is usually very exacting about its buildings and grounds (if not its Fellows) looking immaculate and any hint of a blemish is usually swiftly corrected. About the only thing that is done swiftly, certainly.

Maybe the rooms are being left untouched for a period of mourning, or perhaps they will become something of a shrine to the late, great Senior Bursar – a man who completely redefined the wearing of tweed, in my eyes.

It is late and I am getting tired. The Dean is poking around ineffectually, picking up bits of paper then discarding them in frustration when they fail to reveal some vital clue, or whatever. I don’t know what he expects to find.

“What are you looking for, Sir?” I ask politely.

“Clues, Deputy Head Porter, clues!” he replies, violently opening and closing drawers in the manner of a particularly angry detective. “Look for clues, will you!”

Look for clues. Right-o.

In my experience, clues tend not to manifest themselves as hidden messages or esoteric symbols and signs. No. Clues tend to be the most mundane and innocuous things, but seen in the context of the crime. But seeing as The Dean is adopting the approach most favoured by literary and other fictitious sleuths, I feel I should at least show a little enthusiasm. I rather think I should have a large magnifying glass to assist me in my task, accompanied perhaps by a pipe and a perfectly-waxed moustache. Maybe a dirty raincoat for good measure.

As The Dean chatters away throughout the course of his search, I become slightly distracted by a sad-looking plant on Senior Bursar’s desk. It appears to need a good watering and some TLC to revive it, but it’s hanging on, just about. I feel a bit sorry for the plant and decide to re-home it in The Porters’ Lodge. It has some miniature lemons growing on it, which are nice. They have a lovely fresh scent which would be very welcome in The Lodge. Pulling off a few of the dead leaves I suddenly think of something.

“Sir!” I say to The Dean, interrupting an especially ferocious examination of a bookcase “We already have a couple of clues to consider. Why not think on them first?”

“Splendid idea, Deputy Head Porter!” he replies. “Now, show me that you’ve been paying attention and reiterate to me what clues they are.”

“We have the missing key, of course, which we have nearly got to the bottom of,” I begin “Then there is the email that was sent to me by Senior Bursar – or at least, from his account – after his death and we also have the typed request to Head Of Housekeeping for a new kettle. The kettle that ultimately became the instrument of his death.”

“Very good, my dear girl, very good!” The Deans booms with delight. “I knew you weren’t as daft as you look. So, obviously, I have a clear and deliberated course of action conceived in my mind, but I would like to hear your thoughts.”

I look towards the desk where the forlorn lemon tree resides next to Senior Bursar’s computer. I walk over and switch it on.

“I believe, Sir, that we should start here.”