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.”