Whilst there have been numerous awkward moments between Head Porter and myself, somehow today it feels different. Goodness knows, we’ve had our fair share of bickering, grumping and even stand up rows on occasions. The other night in The Albatross was so much more personal. This wasn’t like falling out over Lodge protocol or our little battles for the upper hand; it mattered.
Head Porter was furious at first, of course, but now he has calmed down somewhat into a much more agreeable state, described by Porter as ‘having a cob on’. But he hasn’t been particularly difficult and criticisms have been limited to my tea-making capabilities. I think, underneath it all, he knows I had a point about his daughter.
We are making our way to the far end of the College gardens, the sobriety of the task in hand providing a welcome excuse for silence. I keep glancing over at him, hoping to catch his eye, but he remains mildly interesting in the middle distance. As we walk together we gradually fall in step and a warm flush of camaraderie emerges. Sometimes words are the last thing you need.
Being back at the scene is a nicer experience than I thought it might be. The light of a bright winter sun dapples the foliage and a fresh breeze tingles my scalp. It seems impossible to believe that a place so alive was so recently anything but.
There seems little point in doing any kind of search; anything of any significance will have been taken already by the police. Of course, in all the best detective stories an over-looked and vital clue is often discovered by the rookie investigator – their renegade approach and unique skills succeeding where the professionals fail. Unfortunately, this detective story does not quite reach those heady heights so Head Porter and I find ourselves shuffling respectfully around the long grass and trying to look thoughtful.
“Not much to look at, is it?” says Head Porter glumly. “You know, considering.”
Even the flattened grass, where the two bodies had lain, has bustled itself back to a more natural state. Ground as old as this refuses to be cowed by something as trivial as people.
“If The Dean were here he would be telling us to look for clues,” I reply.
“I thought we were supposed to be trying to get a peek at the Hawkins corpse?”
This is indeed our plan. From what DS Kirby says, we should be able to get a good view of the situation from over the back wall of our gardens. Gardening was clearly not an immediate concern to our mediaeval predecessors and the gardens are notably newer than the other parts of College. Dating from the Victorian era, they are remarkably faithful to the original theme of their time and are encased in a magnificent red brick wall.
I must say, the back wall is far taller and much more imposing when viewed at close quarters. Suddenly, the idea of having a quick peek over the top doesn’t seem quite so straight forward. Fetching a ladder from Maintenance is far too dull a solution for the likes of Head Porter and myself and we decide upon a much more inventive tactic.
With my thighs wrapped around Head Porter’s neck and my posterior seated somewhat awkwardly on his shoulders, Head Porter wobbles and sways towards the wall.
“Stop wriggling!” he tells me, sternly.
“I’m not! I’m not!” I protest, although I am a bit. Head Porter is fairly strapping at just over six feet tall, but my five foot one frame is letting the side down. We are not quite tall enough to see over the wall. With Head Porter huffing and puffing beneath me, I am left with no option but to haul myself up on top of the wall and take up a vantage point from there.
The chill afternoon breeze tugging at my bowler, I take a few moments to gather myself and steady my nerves. Whilst not as high as the flag tower, it is nevertheless too tall for my comfort. I had always assumed that our wall and that of Hawkins College fitted snugly together with barely a cigarette paper between them; this is certainly not the case. There is a gulf of around eight or ten feet between the two walls, filled with unfriendly looking vegetation, brandishing all manner of spiky appendages.
Gazing downwards makes me feel giddy, but somehow I cannot drag my eyes from the seemingly bottomless pit before me. As I sense that my breakfast has a mind to retrace its steps, I take two deep breaths and force myself to look over into the ground of Hawkins College…