“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.