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.