The rooms of The Dean are in their usual of state of familiar chaos, but with a surprising addition of attempted festivities. There is an elderly looking string of purple tinsel strung up along a picture frame in what one can only assume is supposed to be a jolly manner. A couple of battered baubles jangle with little mirth from the doorknob. The ancient string of fairy lights, glaring menacingly from the fireplace, are making a faint humming sound. This is not so much an attempt to welcome in the Christmas spirit as so much as openly threatening it. If I were the Christmas spirit, I’d give The Dean’s rooms a wide berth.
“So, I had a peek around young Maurinio’s rooms whilst I was berating the Chief Inspector earlier,” says The Dean with great delight. “And I noticed some things. But first – I think it’s fair to say that we are of the opinion that he and his rugged companion were engaged in a personal relationship?”
The Dean’s discomfort with the subject matter is amusing. Which is why what he says next surprises me.
“I would have made an excellent homosexual, Deputy Head Porter” he continues, wistfully. “I’ve always had above average good looks and an unusually superior sense of style.”
“Yes” I say, tentatively. “I think there is somewhat more to it than that, Sir.” But he isn’t listening. He has found a crusted stain on the hem of his jumper and is scratching at it furiously. “Sir?”
“Right! Yes. So when I was in Maurinio’s rooms this morning I noticed several items of a, well, pagan-looking persuasion.”
“Really? Like what?”
“Occult-ish things. There was a pentagram poster and candle-holders in the shape of skulls. He had several books of an esoteric nature. They had sinister things on the sleeves.”
“Riiiight” I say carefully. “Do you think it could be relevant?”
“Could be, Deputy Head Porter, could be” The Dean begins to pace excitedly. “Fires are sort of pagan, aren’t they? For rituals and suchlike.” Well, there’s a possibility it might have some bearing.
“Good work, Sir” I say “But we should really get Head Porter up to speed with all this. Can I use your phone?”
The Dean gestures vaguely towards his desk as he seems to contemplate something puzzling. I call the Porters’ Lodge, hoping our brave and fearless leader will be there. Porter answers the phone. He hasn’t seen Head Porter all day.
“I have rung him, ma’am,” Porter tells me, the edge of concern in his voice evident. “But no joy at all. I didn’t want to make too much of a fuss, like, what with all the coppers about. Don’t want them thinking owt’s wrong, like.”
“Okay, I’ll try and track him down” I sigh. Where can he be? “Has your… lady-friend said anything to you about the investigation?”
“I haven’t seen her, ma’am. She’s been down there with the bodies all day.”
“Alright. Let me know if she pops by. In the meantime, d’you think you could maybe keep an ear out for any chatter amongst the students? Find out what the word on the… er… cloisters is.”
“Like what?” asks Porter.
“I don’t know. Anything. And we want to know as much about Maurinio as possible. The Dean thinks he was interested in witchcraft.”
“Could be irrelevant. Just listen out. And find out who his Bedder is, see if she knew anything about him. I’ll be back at the Lodge as soon as I can, I’ve got a couple of things to do first.”
“Right you are, ma’am. Will do.”
I replace the receiver and turn back to The Dean, who is displaying the kind of grin usually seen only on hosts of late-night game shows.
“You’re looking very pleased with yourself, if you don’t mind me saying so Sir.”
“Absolutely I am, Deputy Head Porter. We’re doing it again! We’re searching for clues!”
I cannot stop the smile that spontaneously leaps to my lips.
“Yes, Sir, we are” I reply. “And I know exactly where to start looking.”