The Albatross is unusually quiet this evening, but then it is hardly the type of evening that would appeal to the casual punter. The fog that has stoically remained from this morning has become a cloying, chill soup that meanders the City streets, hand in hand with an icy drizzle. The only comfort is a dazzling new moon that cheers things up somewhat.
I would far rather be tucked up at home with my new book, but it is my duty as a friend and colleague to sit here, warming myself by the fire and consoling myself with a fairly passable Malbec as Head Porter regales me with tales of woe. Even by Head Porter’s standards, there is a generous helping of woe.
The situation, as I currently understand it, seems to be as follows. His estranged daughter arrived, out of the blue, last summer; she was apparently very angry at her father’s lack of involvement in her life and made demands that he should start being a good father. By which she actually meant – I need quite a lot of money. Head Porter says that the wretched girl had fallen out with her mother and was feeling abandoned. This made him feel dreadfully guilty. I try to ease his conscience a little by gently suggesting that maybe her mother had a very good reason for not speaking to her. She has hardly demonstrated an aptitude for charm and grace. This notion is unfortunately received with quite some hostility and conversation lulls for a time while some much-needed alcohol is sulkily imbibed.
It takes a little gentle coaxing for Head Porter to complete his tale. Hoping for a chance of making amends with his daughter, Head Porter moved heaven and earth to meet her request – a deposit for a nice little town house just a few streets away from his own. The long and the short of it is, darling daughter has vanished into thin air with the deposit and seemingly no intention of completing her purchase. Head Porter is understandably devastated.
Whilst I harbour suspicions that the little minx has used nefarious methods to extract a large sum from her father with no further intentions of continuing the relationship, Head Porter is utterly convinced that some tragedy has occurred. I am wary of expressing my thoughts too pointedly as this is bound to provoke further disagreement. Instead, I keep my peace for now and agree to assist him in getting to the bottom of any one of the wild theories he has regarding her sudden departure.
Following this awkward exchange, broaching the subject of two fresh dead bodies at Old College seems positively pedestrian. Head Porter works his way through a pint of what appears to be frothy mud as I explain the early morning discovery of two lovers, one an Old College student named Maurinio, entwined by the remnants of a fire, a discarded vanity mirror the only thing of note at the scene. Our student friend Hershel provided scant background details about a recent family disagreement involving Maurinio but I will need to speak to Hershel’s girlfriend Penelope to gain further insight.
I manage to get a chuckle out of Head Porter when I inform him of The Dean’s enthusiastic involvement in the case, which has thus far consisted of harassing Detective Chief Inspector Thompson during the course of his investigation. Such things have achieved little, however, apart from igniting The Dean’s imagination and he is now convinced that witchcraft is somehow involved.
“The Dean is getting more bizarre by the day,” says Head Porter, supping his pint.
“He is,” I reply. “But he is enjoying himself immensely. Not so for our new friend The Bursar, though.”
“Oh?” Head Porter hasn’t warmed to The Bursar particularly, apart from a grudging appreciation of his choice of footwear. When I relay details of our little chat earlier, he is surprisingly unmoved.
“I wouldn’t bother yourself about it, Deputy Head Porter” he says, waving a hand dismissively. “The police will soon get to the bottom of it all. It will be fine.”
“I am rather concerned that The Bursar might come to his own conclusions somewhat earlier than the authorities,” I reply, worried. “I think we should try to resolve this thing ourselves.”
“But you just promised to help me find my daughter!” wails Head Porter. “That’s our priority, surely? Anyway, you know what happened the last time we stuck our noses into College murders. Besides, this probably isn’t even a murder. It sounds like a… a… drug overdose or something to me.”
“You’re probably right,” I reply, hoping that agreeing with him might keep him onside. “But The Master certainly thinks otherwise and it might be prudent to do what we can to dissuade him.”
“My little girl’s very life is at stake, here!”
“I’m sure it’s not that dramatic…”
“Oh! So you know that for certain, do you?”
“Well, no, but let’s be sensible about this, Head Porter…”
“You never did like her, did you?” Head Porter is angry again, his voice rasping. “You didn’t like me spending time with her. You… you were jealous of her! Do you know what’s happened to her? You haven’t driven her away, have you? Scared her off?”
“Of course not!” I retort. “I would never do such a thing. Your family situation is your own affair. I just think, maybe, you should reconsider your daughter’s motives.”
Head Porter leaps to his feet in a rage, jabbing a finger in my general direction.
“If you’ve got anything to do with this, Deputy Head Porter, I swear… Pah!” And he stomps out of the pub and into the night.
Scowling at the floor, I make my way home, wondering how I have managed to become chief suspect for not only a double murder but also the disappearance of a money-grabbing little brat. If I possessed the evil genius of such a criminal mastermind I would have no doubt noticed by now. And attempted to take over the world, no doubt.
Back at home in the warmth of my bed and the comfort of a good book, there is at least one person who is delighted to see me. My beloved furry companion Terry bounces and tumbles around me, which although is not so good for the reading of books, it is certainly good for the soul.