The last few remaining stars are gently fading in a cerulean sky above, as the chill light of dawn peeks over the horizon. Staring down at the lifeless bodies of the two young lovers, limbs entwined in a tragic eternity, and I am numb to the biting frost that hangs in the air. Shakespeare makes this sort of thing sound romantic. It really is as about as far from romantic as is imaginable. The ordinarily entrancing vista of the far-flung recesses of the College gardens feels somehow stark and bereft.
Porter, having respectfully removed his bowler, is at my side.
“Who else have you told about this, Porter?” I ask.
“The Dean’s on his way, ma’am. I haven’t seen anyone else yet.”
“You haven’t rung your… lady-friend?” Since the to-do with the Lord Layton portrait, Porter has been seeing something of Detective Sergeant Kirby. Quite how much he has seen of her is not worth imagining, but they seem to rub along rather nicely anyhow.
“D’you think I should, ma’am?”
I place my hands on my hips to steady myself against the torrent of huff that has unexpectedly vacated my lungs. More dead bodies at Old College. Hawkins College are just going to love this.
“We should call an ambulance, much good it will do.” I say, trying to think practically. “The police are going to be involved anyway so you might as well see if the lovely Detective Sergeant can get down here and give us a hand.”
“Right you are, ma’am” replies Porter, visibly more comfortable with something useful to do. “I’ll try and get a hold of Head Porter, too.”
As Porter launches himself through the long grass with surprising agility for such stubby legs, I turn and kneel next to our very own Romeo and Juliette. Well, Romeo and Romeo, actually. I recognise the first lad as being one of our own, a second year named Maurinio. I didn’t know him well; he rarely lost his key and didn’t come to the Porters’ attention for any other reason. His mop of ivory hair falls across a face so utterly still; a once-olive complexion now waxen and pallid. His companion is completely unknown to me. With his rugged, slightly unkempt appearance, he doesn’t strike me as a College chap. His fingernails suggest an occupation in manual labour and the rough-hewn complexion hints at a life spent in the open air.
Not wanting to contaminate the scene, I keep at a sensible distance but try to look for any obvious signs of injury. I cannot see any, but it is impossible to be sure either way. There are no discarded bottles to indicate an over-enthusiastic drinking session, although that is also not definitive. Had they taken something? Was this deliberate? The loving pose of the corpses – were they engaged in an act of passion or one of mutual comfort? The suspicion snapping at the back of my mind like a rabid terrier is hard to silence. There is always the possibility of something more sinister at play.
My grim musings are disturbed by The Dean, crashing through the flora and fauna like a herd of something terrible. On spying the scene, he comes to an abrupt stop and struggles to catch a breath. It takes a few seconds for the actuality of situation to sink in, but when it does The Dean reacts as one might expect.
“Oh BUGGER!” He howls, flinging his arms theatrically so as to give the impression of a furious windmill. “For goodness SAKE! Oh, the buggers at Hawkins College are going to have an absolute field day with this. The regularity with which we have unfortunate incidents is becoming embarrassing, Deputy Head Porter. We still haven’t lived down the other thing yet.”
“I know, Sir” I say carefully. “It’s damn bad luck, Sir.”
“Pah! Look. Does anyone else know? Can’t we just fling them in the river or something?”
“Detective Sergeant Kirby is on her way, Sir”
“Right. Right. Yes, I suppose that’s the thing to do.” The Dean paces a little, shaking his head. “Have you got any idea what’s gone on here, Deputy Head Porter?”
“It’s difficult to say, Sir” I reply. “It looks like they came here for some privacy. For what purpose is anyone’s guess. I don’t want to get too close for fear of disturbing the scene. But I can’t really see anything obvious.”
“What’s going on with this patch of earth here?” says The Dean, unceremoniously poking at the darker soil right next to the bodies with a scruffy boot. On closer inspection, it appears that there has been a fire here fairly recently. The ground is now cold but sooty flakes of vegetation remain as testament to long-dead embers.
“Look! There… by his jacket pocket” I point to a two-inch square gently reflecting the sunrise. “It looks like a little mirror.”
“Best not touch anything, Deputy Head Porter” warns The Dean. Which is a bit rich, coming from a man who wanted to chuck the unfortunate pair in the river not five minutes before.
I step back from the scene and turn away. I’ve seen enough. If I don’t get a sausage sandwich some time very soon, the whole day is going to be ruined.