The Dean is already making a move towards the unsuspecting Detective Chief Inspector Thompson. Envisioning the whole array of potential problems that are likely to develop if this particular engagement were to take place, I quickly grab The Dean’s arm and yank him back.
“Sir, I think it might be better if I dealt with the detective,” I suggest firmly. “I do have a little experience in this field, after all.”
Grumpily, The Dean pulls his arm from my grasp. But he no longer seems intent on marching off.
“I don’t trust these chaps you know, Deputy Head Porter,” he says, eyeing the distant detective warily. “And where do you suppose the other one is? They hunt in pairs, I understand.”
Ignoring his rather uninformed observation on police procedure, I once again take The Dean’s arm, gently this time, and start to lead him back the way we came. Distance will be my friend here, I think.
“Listen to me, Sir, I will deal with the officers. You have far more important matters to attend to.”
“All my matters are very important indeed, Deputy Head Porter”
“Well, quite. For instance, this disagreeable new Bursar we are expecting…” I pause for dramatic effect, hoping to distract The Dean with something more compelling. “You should be focusing your deductive skills on him. Find out what The Master has in mind.” Yes, that seems to have done the trick.
“You are right, Deputy Head Porter,” he says nodding, eyes gleaming “The future well-being of Old College could be at stake. I haven’t the time to be trifling with the boys in blue, this is much more your department than mine I think. See to it will you, Deputy Head Porter.”
With that, The Dean strides purposefully back down the path, his attentions successfully swerved and a potentially fractious Dean-related disaster diverted. I’m getting really good at this. The problem of the detective still remains and there is nothing for it but to go and speak to him. Not that I have any qualms dealing with the police, of course, but this chap seems to me to be a very sharp fellow and someone like that could be quite the threat to the bumbling academia of Old College.
DCI Thompson does not look up until I am almost stood next to him, but I know he has been aware of my presence since well before then. He smiles and offers his hand, which I take politely.
“Is there something I can help you with, Detective Chief Inspector?” I ask.
“I’m sure there is,” he replies. “If you have a mind to. You are the Deputy Head Porter, am I right? Then there can be no dissent that you know exactly what is going on here. The Porters have an eye and ear on every corner of College. The secrets you could tell me, what?” You don’t know the half of it.
“You’re a University man, are you officer?”
“That’s right. Wastell College. Matriculated in 1988. Marvellous times,” DCI Thompson adopts a more casual stance and looks me straight in the eye. “I understand you were once on our side of the thin blue line?”
“That’s right” I reply, carefully. If he is going to tug at old loyalties I do not mind admitting to being a little nervous. There is something about law enforcement that never quite leaves you and there is something about this gentleman that makes him very difficult to lie to. Say as little as possible. That’s the thing.
“The Lord Layton is an artwork of national importance,” continues DCI Thompson. “The City underbelly is agog with whispers of the disappearance and if word reaches the higher echelons of the academic world then no doubt words will be had and pitchforks will be sharpened. So to speak.”
He is right, of course. If The University gets to hear about this they will have our guts for garters. The police are far better equipped for this task than we Porters – what is this College obsession with keeping the outside authorities firmly beyond their lofty walls? I cast my mind back briefly to last term and answer my own question. But even so.
“I really don’t know anything about it,” I protest, all wide-eyed innocence and damaged pride. “And The Dean is rather unhappy about you and the Sergeant being here. I think he would rather you left. Quite quickly, probably.”
“Oh, I’m sure” the detective replies. “Yes, The Dean is being very obstructive in this matter, isn’t he. It rather leads a man to wonder why, hmm?” I reply with a blank stare and silence. This isn’t going terribly well. “Does it make you wonder, Deputy Head Porter?”
“I don’t make it my business to wonder about things, Chief Inspector.”
“I don’t believe that for a minute” he holds my gaze for a little longer than is comfortable, then smiles and bids me farewell. Hands in pockets, he casually strolls away without saying another word.
The situation is becoming rather desperate and, at a loss of anything else productive to do, I am ensconced in the records office of the Maintenance Department, leafing through the records of the College art collection. I am hoping against hope that Porter missed something when he checked and that I will be able to discover some simple and straightforward explanation for the disappearance of the Lord Layton.
With growing concern I realise that Detective Chief Inspector Thompson will not let this go easily and he has by far the wits to tackle The Dean and the Porters. Even more worryingly, The Dean seems to be a likely suspect in his view and that is only going to cause headaches, one way or another. Particularly as The Dean has designs on Head Porter being involved somehow and none of us has any idea where the painting might be. I console myself with the thought that no one is dead. Yet.
The art collection records are a puzzling thing. There are a list of dates and corresponding notes about restoration works carried out and things like that. But there are an awful lot of what appear to be heraldic symbols and shapes, either denoting the paintings themselves or some such other mysterious thing. It is really is very strange, like the whole thing is written in a sort of code. It must be an idiosyncrasy of the College administration system but I will need Porter’s help to make any sense of it. How very odd.
As I am pondering the connotations of a record written in code, my musings are abruptly interrupted by Head Of Maintenance bursting through the door of the records office. He looks flustered, but also rather amused.
“You’re never going to guess what’s just happened!” he says with a wry smile.
“I’ll never guess” I reply. “Tell me.”
“The Dean has just been arrested.”