Once again, I find myself to be a spectator at another sorry scene on College grounds. This time it is a little different; this time I have a birds-eye view of the scene in question and for once it isn’t in Old College grounds.
About ten feet from the Hawkins College boundary wall lies a rather stout young woman. Her long, auburn hair tumbles amongst the wild flowers and long grass and an ice white arm reaches from beneath a heavy tartan shawl. Two white-suited forensic officers are carefully examining a spot on the ground a foot or so from the girl. It is not clear, from this angle, exactly what they are looking at as their hunched forms hide it from view. A surprisingly sinister part of me is praying for it to be the remains of a fire and I feel a bit cross with myself for thinking it. Another promising young life has been extinguished and I am behaving like I’m in an Agatha Christie novel. Although, Miss Marple never had to contend with The Dean.
Someone who knows what it’s like to contend with The Dean is Detective Chief Inspector Thompson, who appears to have been called in on his day off. The usually sharp-suited Chief Inspector is today wearing a loose-fitting pair of salmon-hued trousers, which for reasons best known to himself he has teamed with a blue striped shirt. The look is completed by brown Loakes on his feet and a lemon jumper casually tied around his shoulders. It took me a while to recognise him but there he is, ably directing the operation. No sign of the lovely Detective Sergeant Kirby.
“What can you see?” Head Porter calls from the foot of the wall.
“Shhh!” I flail my arms in an attempt to quieten him. I do not really want to draw attention to ourselves. I quickly scan the scene to see if I have been noticed. No one seems to have spotted me. But I spot something, or rather someone. Lurking intently behind a log pile is our very own Hershel. What is he doing there? He is looking right at me, but he doesn’t give me away. Probably because he doesn’t want to be noticed either.
“Deputy Head Porter! What’s going on over there?” Head Porter is much louder this time round and the officers below look up as one, the snap of necks almost audible. Bugger.
“Hey! You!” DCI Thompson is pointing directly at me. I consider the age-old theatrical demonstration of innocence of looking around in a confused manner, but reason that it is unlikely to be successful in this scenario. That’s if it has ever been successful. Inspiration failing me dismally, I offer a smile and a cheery wave. The Detective returns a well-practiced irritated stare.
“What are you doing up there?” he asks. I think quickly – and do fairly well, I feel.
“We had a report that The Master’s Cat was stuck up here,” I reply, incredibly convincingly even if I say so myself. “You haven’t seen him, have you? He can be dreadfully vicious when he gets lost.”
“No, I haven’t seen him,” DCI Thompson shouts back. “Now I shall thank you to move along and afford us the courtesy of continuing our work in private.” He holds his stare for a few seconds longer before turning back to his work in a manner so dismissive that I feel ashamed to be within his sight.
Even at the best of times I have the grace of an arthritic hippo; trying to hurriedly dismount a large brick wall does nothing to improve my form. The idea was to lower myself down towards Head Porter’s outstretched arms, but the reality unfolds as a half-scramble, half-fall down the wall, completely ruining my waistcoat in the process. I lose at least two buttons and the pocket is torn. Pah.
On the way back to the Porters’ Lodge, Head Porter and I discuss the striking similarities between the Hawkins College scene and our own. Head Porter seems unusually troubled by these recent events and I do my best to offer a sympathetic ear.
“It’s just such a worry, you know, with my own daughter missing. I can’t help wondering if she is safe or not. Perhaps if I just knew she was safe… you know, as long as she’s okay. The rest of it doesn’t seem that important.”
My heart breaks a little for Head Porter as I look softly into his tired, watery eyes that seem to be on a constant verge of weeping. It must indeed be very hard for him.
“Look, I know we’ve got all this going on,” I say, vaguely waving a hand. “But I really want to help. Why don’t you come round to mine on Saturday? We can get our heads together and come up with a plan. I could do us a bit of food. There will be a way to track her down, I know it.”
Head Porter looks at me gratefully and our recent row is all but forgotten. I think for a moment that he might hug me but mercifully this isn’t the case. My invitation is accepted with aplomb and Head Porter perks up noticeably. If I achieve nothing else today, at least I have cheered up the old chap. I do so hate it when we argue.
We reach the Lodge door with great anticipation for hot tea and possibly cake, if Head Of Catering will oblige. Head Porter offers to put the kettle on while I pop over to Catering. As I turn to head towards the place of cake, I spot a familiar face. Our own dear Hershel is scurrying back into College, trying hard not to be noticed, I would say. I cannot help but notice Hershel. There is something about his propensity for mischief that catches my attention every time. I would be very interested to know what he was doing in Hawkins grounds earlier. I decide to catch him up and have a quiet word.