It will not have escaped the notice of regular readers that I have a new book coming out soon – The Vanishing Lord – the next instalment of the PorterGirl series. There is great expectation of authors to promote themselves and their work, particularly in the run up to a new release. Quite frankly, there’s only so many times one can say ‘buy my book’ before starting to sound desperate, so I thought what better way to promote my writing by actually… er… writing?
Following the success of Never A Cross Word, it seemed only right and proper to return once more to Agatha Christie’s most famous and arguably best-loved characters, Hercule Poirot and Captain Arthur Hastings for another rip-roaring investigation, carried out with tongue firmly in cheek. In the interest of continuity, the tale does have tenuous links to PorterGirl and Old College, so it isn’t entirely gratuitous.
Join me tomorrow in welcoming back our favourite Belgian detective (and his magnificent moustache) in a story of intrigue and mild peril – Hide & Seek !
PorterGirl – First Lady Of The Keys is now available on pre-order, which I am sure I have mentioned several times, but according to my publicist, not enough. It turns out that bashing out 90,000 words was the easy part and now I am expected to actually promote the bloody thing.
I sent a tweet saying ‘Buy my book, you bastards’ but this was considered insufficient. Apparently, we need to focus more on the ‘ sweet, smart but vulnerable girl next door side of PorterGirl…’
So, just for you, here is an excerpt from the book, with our very own Deputy Head Porter feeling a bit vulnerable. I suppose I had better have a trawl through and find some examples of sweet and smart also.
Wouldn’t it just be easier if someone leaked some nude pictures to the press or something?
Late September, just before the start of Michaelmas Term… It is still dark as I make my way towards the huge, iron gates of Old College to begin my very first day as the new Deputy Head Porter. The last remaining stars of twilight sparkle with ever decreasing light to herald my arrival, and a gentle breeze, still chilled with the nighttime, tugs stray strands of hair across my eyes. Pulling them back, I take in the full wonder of the place that is to be my fresh start. The great, medieval leviathan of stone and mortar looms before me seemingly returning my gaze, regarding me with some suspicion. The centuries held in its walls spring forth, rooting me to the spot for a moment. The only reminders of my previous existence in the fuzz are my trusty Maglite and a very nice pen presented to me by my former colleagues. I can feel it there, like a tiny security blanket, close to my heart. Its very presence giving the impression that my old team is only a radio transmission away. But they are not. There is no back-up. I am all alone in a whole new world and I have no idea what I am doing. I have never even been to college, let alone set foot inside one of the very finest universities in the world. I left school at sixteen with little to show for it before eventually finding my calling as the target of abuse from drunks and drug addicts on a council estate many miles away. But now I am the Deputy Head Porter of Old College, an institution steeped in the traditions of learning and academia. I probably won’t need back-up. But I wish to God it was there anyway.
PorterGirl – First Lady Of The Keys is available NOW!
In a fetid communal stairwell of anonymous council flats, I find myself wearing the other hat. The air is laced with urine and recent violence and my chest heavy as up, up, up I go. On the third floor there is a door ajar; it wasn’t the reason we came here but it is the reason we are here now.
Harper is at my backand I have never felt so safe. You could feel safe anywhere if you knew Harper had your back. The open door seems an inevitable destination and through it we go, announcing our presence in the familiar way.
The flat is pitifully bare. Dust and filth fight for purchase on the meagre possessions. Yet the place is oppressively full with a rancid stench that is worse than that of death. It is the smell of the very worst of life. And then all at once they are there – the room is full of them from floor to ceiling. There is something of life within them as they seem to squirm and writhe where they sit. The feculent haze reaches oily fingers down my throat, all the way to my stomach…
I wake with a start and find myself sliding gracelessly from Head Porter’s chair and face first onto the floor. A snooze in Head Porter’s office seemed like the most sensible course of action following the drama of the Choir Competition. No doubt he wouldn’t have been over the moon to find me here, but at least I could immediately interrogate him about his tete a tete with The Master.
“Ma’am! Are you, um, busy?”
I look up to see Porter standing over me, showing not a great deal of concern, I must say.
“Oh no! What time is it?”
“It’s half past six, ma’am,” Porter taps his watch.
“The Choir Competition!” I splutter. “Who won the Choir Competition?”
Porter narrows his eyes a little, as if I might be unbalanced.
“The whole thing had to be abandoned, ma’am. There was an outbreak of mass hysteria and The Great Chapel had to be evacuated before things turned nasty. Well, nastier, at any rate.”
“Oh my.” I put a hand to my head to steady myself. “Well, Hawkins College didn’t beat us, at least. Honour is satisfied!”
“Aye, well,” Porter sucks on his teeth like a mechanic sizing up a job. “That’s what happens when you get so many University-types together in one place. Look, there’s someone for you at the front desk, are you going to see them or what?”
“Oh!” I scramble to my feet and dust off my knees. “Who is it?”
Following Porter through to the front desk, I see the mischievous face of Headmistress smiling back at me. I try to shake off the fug of sleep and also the unnerving thought that Head Porter isn’t back yet. On closer inspection, Headmistress’ smile is not quite the beaming expression of joy it first seems. Her eyes search mine but what for, I couldn’t tell you. She clears her throat.
“Is he here?”
Something tells me that these are the very last three words I would want to hear.
“No…” I say slowly, hoping the right words will come. “But I’ve been asleep. Professor Duke and I left him with The Master, we were just leaving the Choir Competition…”
“Oh yes, the Competition, how did it go?”
Porter makes to speak but I wave him into silence with a casual flap of my hand.
“Our chaps did very nicely, actually. And we didn’t get beaten by Hawkins College, so all in all a success.” I take a breath. “You haven’t heard from Head Porter, then?”
“No and we were supposed to be going out tonight,” Headmistress sounds more concerned than annoyed. “It’s not like him not to text, at least.” Some terrible thought seems to come upon her. “That dreadful Master’s Wife wasn’t there, was she?”
She must really like him.
I carefully explain the events of the Choir Competition, such as they are. I try to downplay our part in the academic anarchy as much as possible but it is very hard to find a positive spin. It is fortunate that Headmistress is an extremely broadminded creature and is anyway more concerned about the proximity of The Master’s Wife to Head Porter.
It is a beautiful thing to witness, two people falling in love. Like a garden in springtime, becoming slowly more wondrous with every passing day. And no one deserves it more than my friend Head Porter. Last year it was Porter who found eternal happiness with the delightful Detective Sergeant Kirby, this year could see another wedding, perhaps. Next year..? Head Porter is a different man to the cold, dead-eyed pompous menace I first encountered. I can only think that unlikely adventuring does him the world of good.
Just as well, really.
A terrible crack of wood on wood rips throughout the Lodge as the front door is thrown violently against its frame, The Dean and Professor Duke thundering through. I nearly jump clean out of my skin, but at least I am properly awake now. The Dean is looking particularly grim, even for him, while the Professor isn’t even wearing his hat.
“Aha and a few! Headmistress, it’s many lucks you are here,” says the Professor, the joviality in his voice wavering only slightly. “You wouldn’t happen to have Mr. Head Porter about you, would you?”
“You haven’t seen him either?”
Professor Duke ignores my question and turns to The Dean.
“Our worst fears are, the sudden, realised.”
“Bugger it!” yells The Dean, stamping a foot. Beginning to pace, he addresses me. “You know that devious little oik I employed to investigate those sinister letters I received?”
I glance at the Professor who nods reassuringly. It appears that The Dean is still unaware that his private investigator is, in fact, his arch nemesis Hershel. Even more damningly, it was Hershel who sent the letters in the first place, of course.
“I do, Sir.”
“Well, welly, he’s turned up something… well… fascinating,” splutters the Professor. “Now, now, Mr Dean, maybe this is something we can have more delicate speaks about?”
“Now listen!” bellows The Dean, somehow managing to stamp both feet at the same time. “All of you, quiet. Deputy Head Porter. There is something you should know about the Music Professor…”
‘Redemption Road’ Fuller&Bear
In loving memory of Graham Fuller : Writer, Musician, Teacher