Hershel’s usually confident demeanour is showing signs of instability. The sinews of his neck are twitching slightly and there is a noticeable shake to his hands, although he attempts to hide this by toying with the snow globe. With one last nervous glance towards the door of the Junior Combination Room, he moves closer to share his thoughts.
“Look, I didn’t know the chap well, alright? He wasn’t exactly part of my crowd. But I do know he’s had a bit of a falling out with his parents. Penelope’s friend Deborah knew him from the chess club and he confided in her.”
“Was it to do with his… lifestyle choices?” I ask, diplomatically.
“What? Because he was gay?” Hershel laughs joylessly and shakes his head. “No, there was no problem there. No. But they weren’t happy with his choice of boyfriend. Ryan, I believe. They didn’t like him.”
“Why? What was wrong with Ryan?” I ask him. Hershel flicks his fringe from his eyes.
“I don’t know, I know little about the fellow” he replies. “I don’t know if Deborah ever met him or not, I suspect Penelope might have more of an idea. It’s just a shock, you know. Knowing that they… died…”
“I know, it’s a dreadful sort of thing” I say, seeing him struggle to find the words. “Now don’t upset yourself. I’m just trying to find out what happened. Was he very upset by the falling out, d’you think?”
“Upset enough to kill himself, you mean?” Hershel’s eyes are wide and pleading; it is clear that this possibility has been raised in College gossip.
“Let’s not get over excited,” I reply, sensibly. “I am open to all eventualities at this stage. A bit of background information might be useful, the police are unlikely to divulge anything interesting.”
“How long are they going to be here? They’re making me nervous, if I’m honest.”
“Now, why doesn’t that surprise me” I say, teasing. “I’m not sure. They’ll leave a scene guard in place for as long as they have to. Keep out of their way and I’m sure you’ll have nothing to worry about.”
Hershel looks like he is about to respond with some ripping repartee, but is halted by a sudden burst of the theme tune from Minder. My phone is ringing. It is Porter.
It is a brief conversation; the background noise of the Lodge and his gruff tones indicating that Porter is rather busy. Head Porter has made contact. He wants me to give him a ring. I decide it best to return to the Lodge and make the call from there. In my experience it is far better to be seated when dealing with an errant Head Porter.
Before I go, a final thought pops into my head.
“Hershel, do you know if Maurinio had any interest in the occult, at all?”
“The occult?” Hershel creases his brow and cocks his head very slightly, as if he cannot hear me correctly. “I don’t imagine so. I don’t know. That’s an odd thing to ask, Deputy Head Porter.”
“Forget it,” I say. “But if you hear anything else you’ll be sure to let me know, won’t you?” This is an instruction disguised as a question.
“Would you like me to ask Penelope? She might…”
“Don’t make a fuss, I don’t need the whole College getting involved. But I will definitely catch up with her soon.”
I leave Hershel pondering the problem of gift wrapping a snow globe while I head back out into the cold and towards the Porters’ Lodge.
As I try to second guess what Head Porter is up to, a small stroke of genius sparkles at the very front of my mind.
Hershel should put the snow globe in a little box. Much easier to wrap.