“I didn’t even know you had a daughter!”
Head Porter manages to look indignant and uncomfortable both at the same time.
“That may well be because it isn’t really any of your business, Deputy Head Porter” he replies stiffly. I decide not to push him further, for now. He has just been in a scuffle with his nemesis, Hawkins Head Porter, which is enough to make anyone feel rather unsteady. “Come on, we’re going back to The Lodge.”
We return to Old College in silence; him brooding (over the fight or his daughter, it’s impossible to tell which) and me quietly delighted at having my honour defended so unexpectedly. I only hope we haven’t worsened the situation between the students.
Back at The Lodge, things are busy and bustling and Porter gives us both a ‘look’ that suggests we have been away rather too long. By way of recompense I offer to make the tea, an offer which is grudgingly accepted. Head Porter has already disappeared into his office but I am sure he will want tea after such excitement, so make him a cup anyway.
As I gingerly enter his office to deliver the tea, Head Porter seems a little reserved. Without looking up from his paperwork, he says
“You should continue looking through the keys to find the missing one. If Junior Bursar catches you just tell him I have put some party preparation time aside for you tomorrow.”
“Right you are, Head Porter” I reply. Then, because I feel it has to be said – “Thank you for earlier, at Hawkins College.”
Head Porter looks up and forces a thin smile through the stony visage of whatever it is that is troubling him.
“I’m not going to let someone talk to my friend like that, particularly not that bugger. Besides, we have to look out for each other Deputy Head Porter. We are both in a somewhat precarious position, what with us chasing this murderer. We need to stick together.”
“I’m with you all the way, Head Porter” I reply, smiling. I give a thumbs up signal for good measure.
Head Porter turns his attention back to the papers on his desk and I withdraw quietly to immerse myself in keys.
The essential but mind-numbing task of checking the keys takes me well into the evening. To further compensate for abandoning Porter this afternoon, I send him home early. Head Porter leaves soon after and I am left alone with The Lodge and the keys. After some time, the repetitive nature of this chore has an almost hypnotic effect on me and I am completely oblivious when I am joined in The Lodge by the unusually stealth-like Dean.
“Good evening, Deputy Head Porter” his booming voice makes me jump out of my skin.
“Blimey, Sir, what are you doing sneaking around like that!” I gently scold him “Things are disconcerting enough around here without you sneaking up on me.”
“I was not sneaking” The Dean replies curtly. “You weren’t paying attention. I tell you, it would be wise to keep your wits about you at a time like this.”
“I know, but it’s these bloody keys, they’re sending me into a coma.”
“Have you found the missing one yet?”
“Not yet, but I’ve only got these last few to check.”
“Brilliant! Now. On to something not so brilliant,” The Dean pauses for dramatic effect, as it his way. “I’ve had a complaint about Head Porter and your good self. From Hawkins College. I don’t suppose you would know anything about that?” I consider my response carefully.
“There was a degree of… unpleasantness earlier, I’ll grant you that.”
“From what I hear, the unpleasantness was you two!”
“That’s not entirely fair, Sir. He started it.”
The Dean sighs and rests his hands heavily in the pockets of his typically garish trousers.
“Ok, fine, just consider yourself severely reprimanded, alright?” This is very unlike The Dean. He usually takes an unnaturally gleeful approach to reprimands and admonitions. I feel I am getting away rather lightly.
“Is that it, is it Sir? No raised voice or threats of violence?” I ask.
“What were you expecting?” The Dean answers “A sound thrashing across the buttocks to help mend your erroneous ways? Would that really do any good?”
I consider this option.
“Moving on from that, I have an excellent idea”
“What’s that, Deputy Head Porter?”
“Why don’t you put the kettle on while I finish looking through these keys?” The Dean looks a bit put out at my suggestion, he is not a man given to making tea for College servants. But he heads wordlessly to the kitchen area regardless.
Within minutes I have come across something even more exciting than the prospect of being spanked by The Dean. Or rather, I don’t come across something, which is even more important in this case.
“Sir!” I call to The Dean “Sir! Come and have a look at this!”
The Dean jogs through from the back brandishing quite possibly the worst cup of tea I have ever seen in my life. He has somehow managed to produce grey tea. But anyway.
“What is it?” he asks, spilling some of the foul-smelling liquid onto the Lodge carpet.
“Look at this,” I point to a rusted and elderly-looking key hanging innocuously on its hook. “This is the key to the gate in The Master’s Garden.”
“Oh!” exclaims The Dean, delighted at this most important discovery. “But what key should be there?”
“That’s the interesting bit,” I reply “What you would expect to find on this particular hook is the spare key to Senior Bursar’s rooms…”