Having once been at the business end of the thin blue line, I know very well the reluctance of ordinary folk to speak to Her Majesty’s Finest, particularly when dead bodies start turning up unannounced. Old College, unfriendly at the best of times towards the outside world, seems particularly uncommunicative towards our warrant badge-wielding friends.
I find Detective Chief Inspector Thompson frowning morosely into what looks like a cup of watery mud. He has set himself up a temporary incident room in what used to be Professor K’s quarters. No doubt the late Professor would raise a wry smile at the irony of this; having played an incidental role in several College murders himself, he ended his days being inadvertently poisoned by my good self. Untimely deaths are something Old College does with style.
But as delighted as Professor K may well have been, The Dean is less enthusiastic. Having been recently arrested under the orders of the Chief Inspector, he has grudgingly agreed to this provisory agreement despite the obvious tension; but only after he spent a good part of the morning following him around saying ‘I told you it wasn’t stolen’ in reference to the Lord Layton. Honour satisfied, The Dean is hoping that having DCI Thompson close by will hasten proceedings as well as offering the perfect opportunity for him to keep an eye on matters. DCI Thompson seems less than delighted.
“Is everything in order, Sir?” I ask, furtively looking round for anything that might hint at the progress of the investigation.
“I’m not terribly impressed with this coffee, I must say” he replies, frowning even harder. “I can’t imagine The Fellowship drink this.”
“No, Sir” I say “I dare say not. You should try the tea. The tea is excellent. It’s a tea conspiracy around here, I’m afraid.”
“I will keep that in mind.” There is a pause; not quite a pregnant pause but certainly a pause that is ‘late’ and considering weeing on a stick. “Did you know either of the… er… victims?”
Victims? Does the detective suspect foul play?
“I didn’t,” I reply. “I mean, I have seen Maurinio around College, of course, but the other gentleman I don’t recognise at all. You should try asking some of the students, maybe.”
DCI Thompson fixes me with a look that is one step away from withering.
“DS Kirby is working on that as we speak,” he says “But early indications suggest that your young charges are not very forthcoming. You would think the poor chap was bereft of social intercourse completely!” DCI Thompson places his coffee carefully on the desk and looks thoughtful. I feel I ought to say something.
“I just think people don’t want to get involved,” I suggest. “You know what it’s like.”
“Indeed I do, Deputy Head Porter. Indeed I do. The ranks of Old College are closing tighter than a Venus fly trap and I need to get a look at the fly. If you get my meaning.” I don’t, but I try to look assured regardless. “It makes me think they might be trying to keep something from us. Something about Maurinio, perhaps.”
“Or… they might be uncomfortable talking to the police, Sir” I suggest gently. “Or maybe they just don’t know anything.”
“You don’t believe that any more than I do,” DCI Thompson replies quickly. “There’s always something. Don’t worry. We shall wrestle it from them, one way or another.”
“That’s good to hear, Sir, really it is. Now. Can I interest you in that cup of tea, at all?”
The Chief Inspector is right, of course. There’s always something. Whilst he waits for the results of the post mortem and toxicology reports he has only good, old-fashioned police-work to rely on and this is where some good, old-fashioned Portering might just have the advantage. The Porters have ways of finding out the unfindable and uncovering the perpetually covered. I am at this very moment hurrying to my bowler-hatted colleagues to pass on this excellent news. As I approach the bridge, I notice an unfamiliar figure standing stoically against the winter breeze, gazing at the leaden waters below. I hope it isn’t someone who fancies a chat. I don’t have time for pleasantries.
As I mount the bridge, the figure turns towards me with a smile that does not make it beyond the lower half of the face. Only one slightly menacing eye is visible, the other hidden by a sweeping curtain of black. It looks like I am about to have my first conversation with The Bursar.