Month: August 2014

Loose Lips

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**

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UK EDITION

US EDITION

Meeting The Detectives

A cursory consideration of the Detective Chief Inspector reveals to me several things. For one, he is a native of The City and quite likely an alumnus of The University. His accent and vernacular give him away immediately. Which College, it is impossible to tell just now but I suspect he did not spend his formative years within these walls.

Notwithstanding his rank, he is an officer who is still very much at the sharp end of his business. Despite the expensive suit, (and it is an expensive suit) he has chosen for his footwear a remarkable brand of boot more commonly used in many forces by the firearms department. It was barely perceptible at first due to military-like shine giving the impression of a dress shoe; so highly polished are his boots that I can see infinity in the toecaps. The thick soles are rather well worn so he is clearly not a man who spends an awful lot of time at his desk.

The watch adorning the wrist of his outstretched arm, brandishing his warrant card like a talisman, is inexpensive and with a leather strap. This, along with his clip-on tie, are further indicators of his lack of aversion to getting his hands dirty.

The Detective Sergeant is a different prospect entirely. In her early forties, I would say she is an attractive woman. The wide-eyed puppy dog look Porter is giving her seems to support this. The still-sharp ironed creases in her trousers suggest her suit is new, but probably not as expensive as her colleague’s. I would say she is fresh to the role of detective; her stance and gait still bear all the hallmarks of a uniformed officer. Although purely conjecture, I do not think she shares the privileged academic background of DCI Thompson. Her eyes tell me that this is a woman who has had to fight for everything she has ever had and who has constantly had to prove herself. Had it not been for the practiced police stare aimed in my direction I would say that we would get along famously.

“What is the meaning of this?” asks The Dean, rather on the back foot. DCI Thompson returns his warrant card to his jacket pocket and turns to face him.

“We have reasonable grounds to suspect that you may be in need of our services,” he says.

The four of us exchange worried glances. Senior Bursar’s murder? The accidental murder of Professor K? The (assorted) attempted murders of Head Porter and my good self?

“You will have to be more specific” I reply.

“News has reached our considerably attentive ears that you might be missing a rather important piece of artwork,” DCI Thompson continues. “I imagine you were about to contact us imminently.”

There is a brief feeling of relief, certainly from myself, that at least it isn’t to do with the unpleasantness from last term. But still, this is hardly good news. In what is quite probably the worst theatrical display of all time, my Old College comrades and I attempt to look – variously – bemused, nonchalant and clueless. I feel that I manage ‘clueless’ fairly well.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” replies The Dean, unconvincingly. DS Kirby steps forward.

“We’ve ‘eard on the grapevine that your painting’s been nicked!” She says. Just as I thought. Definitely not a University girl.

“It’s being restored,” Head Porter says rather too rapidly.

“But you are aware of which painting to which we are referring?” The DCI jumps on this with unnerving alacrity. Porter comes to the rescue with an unlikely stroke of genius.

“Is it that one – ‘Cow By A Lane’?” He says with conviction. “Everyone is always asking after Cow By A Lane.” This is quite impressive. ‘Cow By A Lane’ is one of the better-known works in the Old College collection. DCI Thompson furnishes Porter with the briefest of acknowledgments before turning his attentions back towards The Dean.

“I am, of course, referring to the celebrated work that is the portrait of Lord Layton.”

The Dean is struggling. He seems aware that his usual, bombastic approach will carry little gravity with the formidable Detective Chief Inspector. But he has no other approach. To my horror, it appears that he is going to attempt to use charm.

“My good fellow. The Lord Layton is perfectly safely ensconced in it’s usual residence of The Armingford Room.”

“Can we see it?”

“No!” Our four voices speak as one.

“The Armingford room is undergoing, um, refurbishment” says Head Porter, admirably taking up the mantle. “It would be against health and safety regulations to allow you in.”

“Is that so?” DCI Thompson turns his gaze towards me. Why me? “So conditions within The Armingford Room are too hazardous to permit entrance to officers of the law, yet safe enough to house a priceless painting?”

“Yes?” I reply feebly.

There is the briefest of exchanges between the detectives, entailing no more than the twitching of eyebrows. I know from experience that a thousand words are being passed between them. The silence in the Lodge at this time is enough to make your ears bleed. Observably unconvinced, our guests are out of options. For now.

With a smile that could surely charm the birds from the trees, Detective Chief Inspector Thompson makes his closing gambit.

“We’ll be in touch.”

Porter Takes The Initiative

By the time I get into the Lodge the next morning, Head Porter is already out and about searching the nooks and crannies of Old College that might possibly be harbouring the missing Lord Layton portrait. I would like to think that his enthusiasm for the task is behind his keen endeavours, but it is more probable that he is avoiding me after last night. What with the debacle with The Dean the night before, I do not appear to be very good company just lately.

At least Porter seems pleased to see me. He already has a steaming mug waiting for me – filled to the brim with tea so strong you could stand a spoon in it. Perfect. As I idly leaf through the Incident Book and drink my tea, he hovers around looking unusually pleased with himself. Perhaps something is afoot. I decide to put him out of his misery.

“And what is this uncharacteristic cheeriness in aid of, Porter?” I ask, with practiced indifference. Porter glances quickly around the Lodge, before edging closer to speak to me in a hushed voice.

“I think I might have made a bit of headway with our investigation, as it were, ma’am” he says, a hint of pride evident in his rich Northern tones. I raise an eyebrow and put down the Incident Book. He has my full attention. “Thing is, ma’am, I have a bit of a contact in the, shall we say, underground world of what you might call illicit trading.”

“Really?” I ask. This is indeed a surprise. “What kind of contact?”

“Well, ma’am. This pal of mine runs the second-hand shop on Shelley Street. Some quite unusual bits and bobs come through his door, you know.”

“Porter. The Lord Layton is a priceless and irreplaceable work of art. It is not some house clearance trinket. Whoever took it is very unlikely to be carting it down to the second-hand shop on Shelley Street.”

“You don’t understand, ma’am” Porter continues. “It’s not the stuff that comes through the door I am referring to. It’s the stuff that comes in… under the counter, as it were.”

“Porter…”

“He gets to hear about all kinds of immoral transactions and that. I just thought I’d get him to keep an ear out, like.”

I allow this new information a brief moment to sink in. It would now appear that a local shopkeeper with questionable business acumen is now privy to one of the most intimate and unfortunate nuances of recent College events. One would presume that the continued success of his commercial exploits relies on some degree of discretion. One would presume.

“Porter, I am not entirely sure that sharing our woes with the guy from the second-hand shop is the best idea” I say more gently than I would like to. The poor chap looks a little crestfallen.

“He’s a canny operator, ma’am” he replies glumly. “I thought he might be able to help us out.”

I sigh and return to my tea. I am by no means comfortable with relying on the volition of a decidedly dodgy-sounding local trader, but I can see how Porter may have come to the conclusion that this was a good idea. It is at least nice to see someone making an effort, for once.

Trying to put my concerns about this recent development to the back of mind, I distract myself with the prospect of one of Chef’s celebrated bacon and sausage sandwiches. Just recently I have managed to convince him to squeeze an egg in there as well. They all said it couldn’t be done, but I have proved them wrong. It does make for quite messy eating and I have practically dislocate my own jaw to get it in my mouth, but it is a feat well worth undertaking. Yes, that could cheer me up considerably.

“Good morning, Porters!”

I look up from my tea to see a sight that is possibly even cheerier. It is The Dean, looking in fine fettle, accompanied by a rather jovial Head Porter. My, isn’t everyone jolly today?

“Good morning, Sir” I reply, offering a little salute with my mug. “You two look pleased with yourselves. What have you been up to?”

“Bonding, Deputy Head Porter” The Dean replies. “Male bonding!”

I throw a glance in the direction of Head Porter who responds with a discrete shrug of his shoulders. I am tempted to enquire as to what form this bonding has taken, but think better of it. The Dean is obviously getting a feel for the topic now and continues with gusto.

“It is crucial to the success of our investigation. We must be a tight unit, in tune with each other and with an almost telepathic connection if we are to uncover the evil genius behind the theft of the Lord Layton. And if this has got anything to do with those buggers at Hawkins College I want to bring them to book sooner rather than later. The absolute buggers!”

“Sir, we don’t know for sure that Hawkins are involved” I say, stemming the rather erratic flow of The Dean’s pronouncement. “But I admire the male bonding aspect. Very contemporary. You know Porter is in on this too, you should bond with him.”

There is a gruff spluttering and a small choking sound from the direction of Porter. We all turn to see him staring back, aghast. His moustache bristles dangerously at The Dean, who seems to lose confidence in his tact. He comes to a diplomatic conclusion.

“Well. Bonding comes in all shapes and sizes and Porter is from Yorkshire, after all” he concedes.

My eye is drawn to the doorway of the Porters’ Lodge, where two people, a man and a woman, are loitering quietly. They don’t look like tourists, certainly. They are smartly dressed and paying us a little more attention than I find comfortable. Head Porter spots them, too. He politely but firmly advises them that the College is not open to visitors until ten. They pay him scant attention and make their way towards The Dean. The Dean is not impressed.

“Didn’t you hear what the man said?” he says, firmly but not politely. “I am The Dean of College and I am asking you to bugger off.”

The gentleman, obviously not well versed in the handling of The Dean, fixes him with a condescending glare. We brace ourselves for the inevitable fury that will no doubt follow. We do not have to wait long.

“I tell you I shall not have the likes of you two cluttering up my College” The Dean is a regal shade of purple, now “Deputy Head Porter! I command you to remove these persons immediately! Throw them out!”

A command from The Dean of College is something akin to divine instruction so I move towards our unwelcome guests. The male visitor reaches into his jacket and for a moment I think he might draw a weapon. Poised to defend myself and the Lodge, I am stopped in my tracks as the gentleman swiftly extends his arm and I find myself brushing my nose against a shiny badge. Oh. Dear.

“I am Detective Chief Inspector Thompson,” the gentleman says flatly. “And this is Detective Sergeant Kirby. And we would like a word.”