There is a tense silence in the Lodge as we watch the detectives stride away up the street. I sling a barrage of filthy looks in the direction of Porter. For all the good it does me – he is wistfully watching the shapely behind of Detective Sergeant Kirby sashaying into the distance. I am not about to reveal his probable part in all of this but I am certainly considering taking him behind the bike sheds later for a damn good thrashing.
Head Porter is wearing an expression not uncommon to his good self; one of concern and confusion. I can see his slowly turning mind coming to terms with the bewilderment.
“But… how did they know?” He says to no one in particular.
“It’s those buggers at Hawkins College!” Splutters The Dean, so enraged that he can barely swear effectively. “They’ve tipped them off. I know it.”
Porter is looking very troubled, now. He knows as well as I do where this has come from.
“But if Hawkins stole the painting, why would they go to the Police?” Head Porter asks, reasonably.
“We don’t know that it was Hawkins,” I reply calmly. “Just because one of their Porters was seen…”
“Of course it was Hawkins!” Interjects The Dean. “They’re tricksy buggers, I know them of old. I think…”
“It wasn’t Hawkins” says Porter suddenly. “Not that went to the Police, at any rate. It might have been… it might have been someone else.”
There is a collective intake of breath and for a moment the world stands still. The Dean is not going to like this. Porter visibly steadies himself.
“It might have been the bloke from the second-hand shop on Shelley Street,” he says, finally.
Both Head Porter and The Dean take a moment to organise this information in their heads. I watch, a little amused, as they struggle with this unlikely revelation.
“I tell you,” begins The Dean “Someone should go to the Police about him. I took two wonderful pots in to him last month and he offered me a scandalous price. I say, that man is as tight as a gnat’s chuff.”
I can see that Head Porter is more than a little mystified by The Dean’s florid turn of phrase.
“But why would he have gone to the Police?” I ask Porter.
Mustering a good deal of vigour, Porter makes a valiant effort to explain the situation to the understandably perplexed Head Porter and The Dean. I admire his integrity, I really do. But, regrettably, it seems that the man from the second-hand shop has the propensity to become rather talkative after a few refreshments. As previously suggested, he is also somewhat inclined to keep rather unfavourable company and The City’s finest make something of a habit of keeping a careful ear on such circles, one way or another.
We are all in agreement that it is a very great shame that the chap’s lips are not as tight as his wallet, but there is still some debate as to why Detective Chief Inspector Thompson and friends are showing quite so much interest. There is the view, of course, that the Lord Layton is a work of considerable cultural and historical importance. The appearance of such a thing on the black market could cause all kinds of complexities, especially if it were to fall into the hands of the criminal element.
There is also another school of thought. They think that one of us has pinched it.
“Maybe it’s not such a bad idea that the Police are involved,” I venture, gamely. “I mean, we do want to find the thing, after all.”
This does not go down well.
“Deputy Head Porter, Old College DOES NOT involve the outside world in its affairs!” The Dean makes his point perfectly clear by banging his fist on the front counter. “No. We need to keep those interfering buggers out of it. I will not have the law on College grounds. Do you understand me?”
The clarity of the situation is now forefront in my thinking. No outside involvement. Probably a good thing, considering the sorts of things that go on within these walls.
The Dean’s instructions are as uncompromising as ever. We are to find the painting, keep an eye out for the potential Bursars and enquire with Head Of Catering about his unhappily diminished whiskey supply. In no particular order, but I sense that the whiskey is probably the most pressing matter.
There is nothing else for it but to see to his demands. There is no rest for the wicked, it would seem.
**Quick update for you – the first draft of the next PorterGirl novel was completed yesterday. The long road to publication stretches ominously before me, but it is marginally shorter than it was before. In the meantime, do cast an eye over the first one, should you feel so inclined**