Month: February 2015

The Porters’ Apprentice

I lay wide awake in bed, staring up into the gloom and wondering whether or not that spindly dark shape in the corner is a large spider or something else entirely. Hopefully something with fewer legs. I am unable to sleep for two reasons – the first being that Terry is demanding endless tummy rubs whilst emitting a strange odour. Not unpleasant, exactly, but certainly strong and most definitely odd. I imagine this might be what sharing a bed with The Dean is like, not that I spend much time imagining that.

The second reason is the most rare of happenings in The Dean’s rooms earlier. There was something amiss about the entire episode but at the time I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. The Dean’s swift acquiescence to The Bursar’s suggestion was one thing, although even I could see that The Dean was acting tactically. The lack of bluster indicates that he has something in mind, I am sure of it. The Dean is perfectly dangerous when he is quiet.

What strikes me now is the reasonable and sensible manner of The Bursar’s idea. Straight-forward and without the usual cloak-and-dagger characteristics that have thus far typified College behaviour, The Bursar has put forward a plan that might actually work. This is very un-academic. Very un-College. No true academic would even consider something so… well… considered.

If The Bursar is not from an academic background then where is is from and what is he doing in Old College? I wonder what that chap is all about.

 

Terry likes tummy rubs and emitting strange odours

Terry likes tummy rubs and emitting strange odours

 ***

Sleep obviously descended at some point as the next thing I remember is my alarm sounding and Terry politely but firmly requesting breakfast. I am a few minutes late for work but Head Porter does not seem to notice. He is poking at his phone and looking most pleased with himself.

“Hey, Deputy Head Porter!”

“Hey, Head Porter” I reply.

“So is it certain that we won’t be breaking into Hawkins College tonight after all?”

“I believe so,” I say. “Do you have plans?”

“I certainly do!” Head Porter beams excitedly. “Take a look at this!”

I take Head Porter’s phone from him and examine the screen. There is an advert for what is evidently an open mic night at a rather bohemian establishment in the less fragrant quarter of The City.

“This looks… nice. I thought you might have had some news about your daughter?”

Head Porter furrows his brow.

“Oh! Well, I haven’t got much further with that, to tell you the truth,” he says dismissively. “But my ‘struggling musician’ alter ego has made lots of new friends on this website contraption. D’you know, there is a vibrant and eclectic fringe music scene just waiting to be discovered. I thought I might pop along to this shindig tonight and introduce myself, you know.”

I take a second to see if he is serious. Head Porter is completely serious.

“You do realise you are not actually a struggling musician, don’t you?” I ask, concerned.

“What? Well, I could be!” Head Porter is obviously giving this some thought. “It all looks rather fun and I would like to have a hobby.”

“Pretending to be a struggling musician is not a hobby, Head Porter. It is, quite frankly, rather worrying.”

“Why don’t you come with me?” he asks, genuinely excited. “Come on, it could be a good night out.”

I take a moment to consider this. Letting him wander alone into such circumstances might not be the best idea. Then again, I don’t want to encourage the chap to start living a double life. Maybe it’s just a phase.

“Good afternoon, ladies and gents!”

Head Porter and I turn as one to see a grinning Hershel bounding into The Lodge.

“Hershel! Just the chap,” I say, returning his grin. “We need to have a bit of a catch-up, you and I.”

“Yes,” huffs Head Porter. “What’s all this about you peeking around at the crime scenes? You little scamp.”

“Look,” says Hershel. “This thing with Maurinio really upset Penelope. It all seemed so senseless. I just thought that if a reason could be found for all this, it might be easier for people to digest. And now the Hawkins girl as well – well! Something didn’t seem quite right.”

“So you were looking for answers,” I say, nodding. Just like us.

“That’s right!” replies Hershel. “And, you see, I have noticed you Porters seem very interested in it all and you obviously have rather the knack for these sorts of things. I must say, watching you fellows is quite the education.”

Head Porter has drawn himself up to his full height and is looking very grand.

“Well, my lad, I can’t say it’s the first time we have had to tackle such difficulties. It is only natural that you should be inspired.”

“I dare say your parents are paying large sums of money for you to do a little more than watch the Porters,” I say to Hershel. “We would appreciate your help but your studies must come first.”

“It’s all anyone is talking about anyway,” says Hershel. “I just thought to listen a little harder than most. Asking the right questions, now that’s the thing.” Clever young chap. He has the makings of a detective, I would say.

“Have you found out anything of interest?” Head Porter asks him.

“Maybe, or maybe not” he replies. “But there are a surprising number of similarities between both incidents when you think about it. And something that everyone seems to have completely missed! Although, it’s so obvious that I am sure you chaps have thought of it already.”

“Well, we probably have” says Head Porter curtly, as I wrack my brains trying to think what it could be.

“But just in case we haven’t,” I say carefully. “Please do share your thoughts with us…”

An Uneasy Alliance

“Now, see here!” hollers The Dean, accusative finger thrust viciously towards The Bursar. “I shall tell you exactly what it is that you should do!”

“Here we go,” Head Porter whispers, seemingly relishing the prospect of witnessing The Dean in full flow. Brilliant and dreadful in equal measure, he is certainly a sight to behold when riled. But it seems we are do be disappointed. The Dean wrestles his temper to the floor and fixes his adversary with one of his classic stares.

“You, sir, need to learn to knock!”

The Bursar returns the stare, but it is bereft of ferocity.

“The most recent of our encounters was preceded by the obligatory tapping of wood but you, sir, responded with an instruction to ‘bugger off’. I did not wish to invite such offence once more.”

There is moment or two of reflection as we try to clarify in our minds what The Bursar has just said. He has a certain way of speaking that makes his true meaning seem evasive. The unidentifiable accent is most diverting and I always find myself thinking I have misheard him. And that haircut is a bit worrying. He does have on a super pair of shoes, though.

“Yes,” says The Dean, eventually. “And I tell you again now, sir, to bugger off! Go on, bugger right off.”

“I beg your tolerance for a few minutes only,” The Bursar replies. “I was mistaken in my initial assumption with regards to Deputy Head Porter and I shall apologise for that until the stars fall from the sky, such is my regret. But now the forward passage of the investigation becomes evident and I wish to humbly offer my efficacy, for what it may be worth. I am certain that I can help you.”

The Dean slowly and deliberately folds his arms across his puffed-out chest and subtly shifts his weight onto his heels. I have seen this look before and it is a sure sign that The Dean is feeling confident. His rather violently eccentric manner belies a supreme intelligence and experience that he seldom gets the chance to exercise amongst the dry and half-senile academic fug. In The Bursar, he sees something of a worthy adversary for his rapier-like wit.

“And just what is it you think you know about any of this?” The Dean asks, his tone almost rhetorical. “How can you possibly have any idea about our investigative endeavours?”

“I will remind you of my observational prowess, Dean Of College” The Bursar replies “It is something I have spoken of previously.”

We Porters are enjoying this immensely. It’s like watching an extremely pretentious soap opera. All we need is for Head Porter’s daughter to rush in demanding a DNA test and the scene would be complete.

Chin jutting, The Dean fires a glare of molten steel down his nose at The Bursar before breaking into a calculated wry smile.

“Very well, sir” says The Dean with a sweep of his arm. “The floor is yours.”

The Bursar glides forwards and offers what he supposes is a friendly smile.

“My gratitude to you all for lending your ears,” he begins. “It is evident that there is an urgent need to discover more about the Hawkins girl. There is a connection between the unfortunate deceased I am sure of it and the nexus must lie within the walls of our esteemed neighbours.”

The Dean expels a perfectly timed laugh, which silences The Bursar.

“That much is obvious,” he huffs. “And I have devised a plan – a plan I was about to share before I was so rudely interrupted. Now then. The first obstacle to overcome is the walls standing between us and Hawkins College, but I have already had a good scout around the Maintenance sheds and found plenty of suitable ladders and planks to tackle that. Then, we will search the gardens. For clues, you know? After which, we shall make our way to the dead girl’s rooms with the intention of uncovering things of interest. Of course, this will all have to be executed under the cover of darkness and in disguise – but we are already masters of this sort of thing so I shall leave the details for Deputy Head Porter to refine.” Oh, thank you very much.

“I was thinking of methods somewhat more orthodox, my dear sir” The Bursar replies gently. “You and I, Dean Of College, are men of immeasurable influence within the University, is it not true? You, especially, are swathed in reputations so unassailable that no person in The City could refuse your request. I propose that we approach our Hawkins counterparts with open heart and mind and suggest a gentleman’s alliance in order that these mysterious deaths might be resolved.”

Head Porter leans closer and whispers in my ear.

“Have you got any idea what he’s talking about?”

“I think he’s suggesting that they go and speak to the Hawkins Fellowship about working together” I reply.

“I’ll be honest, it sounds a damn sight easier than climbing over walls in the middle of the night.”

“You’ve got a point, there.”

“What?” barks The Dean. He wasn’t expecting that. “What? You can’t expect them to work with us. They will never have it. They’ll be wanting to solve this thing before we do so they can laugh in our faces. Which is exactly why we must move quickly! And… surreptitiously!”

“I feel certain that you will be able to convince them to see sense, Dean Of College” says The Bursar. “Your innate ability to persuade shall win the day.”

“I have to say, Sir, that it might be worth having a bit of a try,” I say diplomatically. “Searching the College legitimately would make things much easier.”

“Yes, and Porter and I are rather getting on a bit to be breaking and entering in the middle of the night,” chips in Head Porter.

The Dean looks crest-fallen. He angrily mumbles something about a sense of adventure but I have a feeling he was looking for an excuse to wear the Zorro costume again. Eventually, he capitulates.

“Then we shall work together to convince Hawkins College,” he announces, beady eye on The Bursar. “And when your ridiculous plan fails, we shall return my proper plan, agreed?” he offers his hand to The Bursar. It is accepted.

“We are agreed,” The Bursar confirms.

They shake hands.

An uneasy alliance is formed.