My footsteps echo ominously along the wood-paneled corridor that will lead me to the Armingford Room. I am not relishing the prospect of confronting Head Porter with the rather compelling evidence that he has some involvement with the mysterious disappearance of the Lord Layton. The Dean suspected him from the start, but I couldn’t bring myself to believe it. I shake my head and sigh sadly to myself as I feel my footfall becoming ever more sluggish as I draw nearer.
I place my hand on the large brass door handle of the Armingford Room and feel the weight of the cold, hard metal. The weight is incomparable to that which perches upon my shoulders, however. From behind the door I can already hear raised voices, which I suppose is only to be expected. The most easily discernible protestations are coming from The Dean, it would seem. The other voice is vaguely familiar, but I cannot quite place it. Certainly not Head Porter’s distinctive nasal tones. I had better go in.
The tableau which presents itself within the Armingford Room is unexpected to say the least. Head Porter is indeed present, looking a little forlorn in the centre of the room. Seated in one of the magnificent armchairs is Porter, apparently caught in the act of reading a newspaper when he shouldn’t be. Looking at him, but not quite looking at him, is Detective Sergeant Kirby who, if I didn’t know better, seems to be apologetic about her presence. Tussling with a very animated Dean of College is a stern-looking Detective Chief Inspector Thompson, who is half way through reciting the caution while forcing handcuffs onto the wrists of his resisting captive.
The Dean catches sight of me standing open-mouthed in the doorway.
“For Christ’s sake, Deputy Head Porter, tell them!” He roars at me.
“Tell them what, Sir?”
“Tell them that is wasn’t me! It was HIM!” This final word is directed with bulging eyes towards Head Porter.
“I would advise you calm down and cease resisting, Sir” DCI Thompson says in his clipped, measured tone. “You are under arrest.”
I turn to Head Porter, searching for an explanation. He appears in a state of shock as he fumbles for words.
“They… they’re arresting him for the theft of the Lord Layton!” he says, finally.
“What? The Dean?” I ask, dumbfounded.
“Deputy Head Porter, will you tell this idiot that it wasn’t me! We have evidence!”
There is a momentary lapse in proceedings and The Dean and DCI Thompson acquiesce to a temporary ceasefire. This outburst has piqued the Chief Inspector’s interest and he seems of a mind to hear what The Dean has to present by way of evidence. Rather unlikely behaviour for a police officer, I would say, but quite convenient for The Dean.
Still adorned with the steel bracelets, The Dean begins pacing the room, as is his way. DS Kirby is eyeing him with some suspicion, as if she thinks he might erupt into violence at any moment. With The Dean, that is always a possibility. But he is remarkably measured and exacting in both his manner and his speech. His extensive experience in the legal profession will no doubt serve him well in this scenario. As he begins to put his case to those gathered in the Armingford Room, I see a side to The Dean I could not have predicted. Focused and controlled, he commands his audience as would a great actor on the stage, his words are almost lyrical in their delivery. At this moment I become convinced that the man could make you believe anything he wanted you to.
The facts are presented as if they are written in stone…
” Head Porter has been labouring beneath the burden of financial embarrassment, a situation born from the desire to make amends with his estranged daughter. Desperate to meet her ever-increasing demands, he resolved to sell his house – a tragic moment in the life of a man whose very existence has been peppered with disappointment and rejection. On the verge of losing everything, an opportunity for redemption presented itself. For just a small act of betrayal, Head Porter could find himself furnished with a princely sum that would enable him to retain both his house and his daughter’s affection. Placing the worth of this affection above that of his loyalty to Old College, he agreed to facilitate the theft of the Lord Layton by our rivals, Hawkins College.
It was Head Porter who left Sprockett Gate unlocked to allow easy entry for Hawkins Porter on that fateful night, as witnessed by the CCTV cameras. To be absolutely sure that the simple-minded Porter collected the correct painting, he swapped the heraldic symbol of the feathers for that of the blazon of Hawkins College, the peacock, to identify the picture beyond doubt. The perfect crime and the perfect trophy for our esteemed rivals and neighbours. How jolly they must have felt to have the jewel in the Old College crown stuffed in their retched establishment. But, they had overlooked one vital matter.”
“And what was that?” Asks DCI Thompson.
“Why, the genius of my good self and the Deputy Head Porter, here!” The Dean exclaims. “We had them in our sights in an instant. And we, plucky types that we are, decided to take them to task. Head Porter, consumed by the guilt of his betrayal, could not bring himself to go through with the daring raid on Hawkins College. In fact, he went as far as to forewarn the buggers of our intentions. But his conscience got the better of him at the very last moment, didn’t it Head Porter? Didn’t it?!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” protests Head Porter
“Come come now, Head Porter – you had the means to carry out this crime, you had every opportunity and you had a very clear motive! And now you will see an innocent man such as myself arrested for your wrongdoing? You, Head Porter, are a bounder and a cad..!”
“Enough!” yells DCI Thompson, holding up a hand in protest. “Enough. That is a very interesting case you present, Dean of College. But I am afraid that we see things rather differently. You see, we have had the pleasure of searching your less-than-humble abode. And what we found was rather interesting.”