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”.


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