Well, The Dean has almost kept to his word. He has, indeed, provided me with my very own drinking vessel, albeit not a glass one. What he has provided instead is a red Arsenal mug in which was once an Easter egg, I suspect. Easter egg long gone, the mug now contains quite a lot of very fine malt whiskey so I am hardly in a position to complain.
My erratic host has been making unintentionally side-splitting small talk for the last half an hour while I have been replaying the grainy scene from the CCTV over and over in my head. While not the sharpest image due to the lack of light, the clip Porter found does show something very interesting indeed. It shows that in the wee small hours one night last week, a gentleman looking very much like a Hawkins College Porter entered our grounds by way of an unlocked Sprockett Gate. Porter is earnestly checking for footage of him leaving College but has so far been unsuccessful. That said, Old College has a number of cameras so there is still a lot of checking to be done. I suddenly become aware of The Dean speaking directly to me.
“Sorry, Sir?” I feign temporary deafness and busy myself with drinking whiskey.
“I said – what do you think about that?” The Dean replies. It quickly becomes evident that I have managed to completely ignore a very relevant part of the conversation.
“Well,” I begin. “Well! What can one think, Sir?” The Dean begins to pace a little, a sure sign he is irritated. It is interesting to note that his carpet is a fair indicator of how often he is irritated.
“I knew you weren’t even listening to me. You’re distracted. Is it Head Porter? I am sure there is something amiss there.” The Dean indicates a clear spot on the settee. “Sit down.”
So I sit down and my mug is generously refilled and I think I should just tell him about the Lord Layton. I mean, he is quite obviously going to find out sooner or later. And, really, how cross can he actually be? Not at the Porters’ Lodge, surely. And if he is, well, at least I have whiskey. Deep breath.
“You see, the thing is Sir, there has been a minor hiccup.”
“If it’s to do with those buggers from the Unlikely Law Association I wouldn’t worry, Deputy Head Porter. Damned fools, the lot of them.”
“It’s not them, Sir” I take a long sip from my mug and watch The Dean top up his Stuart crystal glass before making himself comfortable in his armchair. “A painting has gone missing.”
The Dean remains remarkably calm at first and asks perfectly sensible and understandable questions. As I progress further into the unfortunate tale as delicately as I can, he seems a little less calm. There is a prolonged and pertinent explosion of numerous expletives, expressed in a manner the likes of which has never before been witnessed. Very impressive, actually. The man certainly knows how to get his point across. Whiskey is urgently drunk by us both. A strange calm descends.
“Well, you know what this means, Deputy Head Porter!” says The Dean. I raise my eyebrows questioningly, not even daring to speak. “This means we have something jolly interesting to keep us busy over the summer! Another mystery for us to solve, what? Good work, Deputy Head Porter.”
“Sir, we didn’t really solve the last mystery, did we?” I point out. “I mean, Junior Bursar simply confessed everything on the Flag Tower like some kind of Bond villain. And he nearly killed me twice.”
“Three times if you count the poisoned breakfast,” remarks The Dean.
“But the point is, we looked for clues! And such like! I was Holmes and you were Watson. It was bloody good fun.”
“Head Porter was Columbo, as I recall.”
“Yes! Quite right!” The Dean is beaming from ear to ear. An unsettling sight, actually. “A toast, Deputy Head Porter!”
“Wait a minute Sir,” I hold up a hand to stop him getting too carried away. “There was something you were telling me earlier, when I wasn’t paying attention.”
“That hardly matters now, Deputy Head Porter,” he replies, waving away my interest with a deft swish of an almost overflowing glass of whiskey. “All that matters now is adventure! And clue-finding!”
I feel like reminding The Dean that we are supposed to be running a College, not some kind of nineteen-fifties private detective agency. And a bad one, at that. But it really isn’t my place. So I agree to a toast. Several toasts, in fact. Then agree to give a detailed, blow-by-blow account of the story so far. Which is going to prove difficult, after all those toasts. But hey. The Dean is happy,
I’ll drink to that.