I am jauntily making my way along the now well-trodden route from the Porters’ Lodge to the rooms of The Dean. He sounded quite excitable on the phone, which is rather unusual for him. I have, of course, been summoned with the utmost urgency; but this time I feel he might have something cheerful to impart. Or, if not quite cheerful, then certainly something that doesn’t require his more likely communication style of bellowing inventive profanities, some of which he has clearly made up.
The light of the day is beginning to fade but the frosted flagstones still find a way to twinkle in the dusk. Although the air is icy, there is a warmth in the courtyards that is just on the very edge of perception, albeit the source is unknown. Old College doesn’t hold with obeying the rules of nature, so perhaps it just isn’t in the mood for the cold this evening.
Someone else who has no tolerance for a chill is The Dean, whose rooms are something akin to a circle of Hell, thanks to a roaring fire burning away ferociously. I find him poking at it viciously with an ancient-looking iron implement. I wouldn’t fancy being on the business end of that, I tell you. Hearing me enter, The Dean swings round and greets me with a broad, toothy smile and open arms. This sounds rather friendly, but when you consider that he is still brandishing the white-hot poker and that his smile is even more disturbing than his snarl – the over-all effect is somewhat alarming.
“Deputy Head Porter! It’s you!” he declares. Who else would it be?
“Yes, Sir, it is I” I reply, keeping a careful eye on the jiggling poker. “You have some news?”
“News, news and thrice news!” he says, before leaning the poker against the fireplace. Thank goodness for that. “Actually, only two bits of news but I’m buggered if I can think of a dramatic announcement for two bits of news. Take a seat.”
I make myself comfortable amongst the books and papers on the battered red leather settee that serves as seating for guests. The Dean pours a couple of unfeasibly large whiskies, one of which he places on the coffee table before me. I regard it with some suspicion; drinking whiskey with The Dean rarely ends well. I decide to ignore it for now.
Settled in his own armchair, which has been dragged slightly closer to the fire, The Dean sips at his whiskey and licks his lips. I can tell from its hue that this is not his usual brand.
“Japanese, would you believe” he says, obviously noticing my curiosity. “Drink up, it’s perfectly palatable.”
I’ll just have a little bit. It can’t hurt. Probably.
“It’s quite smooth, actually” I remark, a little surprised. It’s not too bad at all. Then again, The Dean would not keep bad whiskey. Never.
“Well, quite. Now anyway, I had a flying visit from that blasted DCI Thompson earlier. He handed back to me the keys to Maurinio’s rooms, it would appear they have finished their work there for the time being. This is most excellent news!”
“Indeed it is, Sir”
“Yes, we can get in there and have a nose around ourselves. Hunt for clues and whatnot.”
Something tells me that any notable clues will already have been picked up by our law-enforcing friends. But he seems to be so looking forward to the prospect that I elect to remain silent on the issue. Besides, rifling through the mundane artifacts of virtual strangers is interesting enough in itself.
“We should get in quick,” The Dean continues “Before the blasted Bedders get in there and start rearranging things. Head Of Housekeeping must be itching to get those rooms cleaned.”
This is a very good point, actually. If there is anything of any relevance, it will no doubt be decimated by the unforgiving sanitation of Head Of Housekeeping’s merciless minions. It also occurs to me that the police may be as yet unaware of the possible witchcraft connection so we might be able to lay our hands on something significant before they do.
I point this out to The Dean and also take the opportunity to bring him up to speed with my conversation with Hershel and Penelope. He takes great delight in pointing out that he was right about the importance of the occult and a brief lecture ensues, detailing the many incidents spanning several decades of when The Dean has been right. I listen with solemn intent, nodding occasionally and gasping where appropriate.
“Of course, this is only a modest account of such incidents,” The Dean continues, loftily. “We haven’t the time to discuss the rest now. But, perhaps, another time? Over dinner, maybe?”
This throws me rather off kilter and before I know it, I have gulped down the remainder of my whiskey in surprise. To my immense alarm, there are butterflies in my stomach. Actual butterflies. But that could just be the Japanese whiskey. Get a grip. It’s dinner. Dinner is food and you like food. Focus on that.
“That sounds nice,” I reply, rather pathetically. I am aware that my voice sounds rather unsure so I smile and nod madly to make up for it. He must think I am demented.
“Marvellous!” The Dean claps his hands together in delight. “Saturday night, then.”
“Ah” Bugger! I have already invited Head Porter over on Saturday evening.
“You already have plans?”
“I do. But it’s only Head Porter.”
“Oh. I see.” The Dean seems a little deflated.
I open my mouth to explain the situation, but barely a breath escapes before the door is flung open and a familiar, sinister figure enters the room. The Dean immediately leaps to his feet, furious at the intrusion.
“Sit yourself down!” hisses The Bursar, in that strange accent that I am still unable to quite place. Almost like two accents…
“Bursar! I will not tolerate this rudeness! Bugger off this instant!”
Sneering with practiced malice, The Bursar stalks across the room and comes to rest right in front of me. He has the look of a man who has a terrible task to execute and simply cannot wait to begin.
“You will be coming with me, Deputy Head Porter” he says coldly. “The Master wishes to speak with you.”
“What? What about?” I ask, nervous now.
“I believe you know very well. Didn’t I warn you? Didn’t I give you fair admonition? And yet – the slaughter does not stop. You have much to answer to, Deputy Head Porter.”
The Dean explodes in a flurry of expletives, some of which a sailor would think twice about using. He gives the general impression that he is unhappy about the accusations levelled against me and The Bursar may well find himself with foreign objects inserted into him if he does not leave fairly quickly. The Bursar is unperturbed.
“You will leave with me now. The Master is waiting.”
“I’m coming too,” snarls The Dean.
“No! The Master wishes to see her alone” The Bursar pulls me roughly to my feet and I suppress an overwhelming urge to punch him in the face.
“It’s okay, Sir” I say to The Dean. “I am completely innocent. I have nothing to worry about.”
“This isn’t over!” The Deans calls after us as I allow myself to be led away by The Bursar. This is an interesting turn of events, certainly. But The Dean said he had two pieces of exciting news. The first was about Maurinio’s rooms. I wonder what the second could be?