Crimes Of Old College

Redemption Road

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.

We.

Harper is at my back and 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…

“Ma’am! Ma’am!”

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.

Bugger!

“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.

Something’s up.

“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…”

To.

Be.

Continued…

‘Redemption Road’ Fuller&Bear 

In loving memory of Graham Fuller : Writer, Musician, Teacher

It’s A Knockout

Now, as much as I would dearly love to see The Master’s Wife put firmly in her place by Headmistress, I fear she may be put there rather too firmly and even the students do not routinely brawl in College grounds. Something must be done.

The atmosphere is but butter to a knife as the stand-off between Head Porter’s admirers intensifies. The Master’s Wife dabs daintily at her bloodied nose with one of the sheer scarves that could laughingly be called her outfit. I am an open-minded woman but even I cannot accept that two scarves suffice as attire for a public event. She was pushing it at three, quite frankly.

“You stupid woman,” wails The Master’s Wife “Have you any idea how much this nose cost?!”

“Listen, I think we all need to calm down a bit,” I say, stepping between the bellicose pair. The Dean leans over to whisper in my ear.

“Actually, Deputy Head Porter, maybe we should let this one play out,” he murmurs. “Headmistress has got a cracking right hook. This might be interesting.”

“Check this out,” Professor Duke steps in, brandishing three large glasses filled with something very unlikely looking. “Let’s all have a drink to calm the nerves. And if you all still feel like rioting after this, then I’ll join in. Just because.”

“Great idea!” The Dean claps his hands and reaches for one of the glasses, draining the contents with great enthusiasm.

The Professor forces the remaining glasses into the hands of the warring women and smiles encouragingly.

“You won’t regret this, I’m sure. This Professor’s favorite drink, it is.”

Headmistress snatches up her drink and downs it in one. Head Porter glances at her, somewhat impressed. He has been notably reticent in these current events which – considering they revolve entirely around him – seems like very poor form to me. But it is plain to see that the wretched fellow is absolutely terrified and I cannot say I blame him, especially given the bone-crunching prowess of his lady love.

The violent proceedings are momentarily adjourned whilst the protagonists imbibe but I cannot help but worry about what might happen next. Emboldened by alcohol, surely matters can only get worse. Probably fairly quickly, in my experience. I turn to the Professor.

“Now what?” I ask.

“Oh, it gets great from here.”

I am unconvinced but within a second or two, things have taken a rather unexpected turn. And when I say things, I mean The Dean, Headmistress and The Master’s Wife. The latter hits the floor first, no doubt already diminished by her battered nose. Headmistress is the next to succumb but falls rather elegantly into the arms of Head Porter, who crumples gently with her to the floor. All eyes are now on The Dean.

“What in buggery is going on?!” he fumes, looking about himself, increasingly confused. “It looks like…” he begins to splutter and grasps at his throat. “Bugger! Poisoned..! By crikey..!”

“Poisoned by me, actually” the Professor replies. “But the effect is much the same.”

The Dean at last capitulates to the effects of the Professor’s drink and falls onto the rug like an angry sack of potatoes. Only Professor Duke, Organ Scholar, Head Porter and myself remain upright.

“Now… what the bloody hell just happened there?” Organ Scholar looks at his own drink warily.

“Well, here’s the thing,” replies the Professor, admiring his handiwork with a contented grin. “I only wanted to poison Mr. Dean, because he had to get out of the way and such. But then the ladies started fighting and I thought, ‘Why not poison them, too?’ It was great fun, and we have things to do.”

“I admire your dedication to the cause, Professor,” I say, experimentally prodding the prone Dean with my foot. “But what are we going to do with these chaps?”

“Let’s lock them up here in my rooms. They’ll be out for a bit, bits, and little bits yet.” The Professor’s reply does little to reassure me.

Well, the witching hour is long since passed and we have three unconscious persons scattered about Professor Duke’s floor, one of whom is bleeding messily from the nose. Somehow I feel this does not bode well for what is yet to come, but hey ho. In for a penny, and all that.

Cat Fight

Time was when many of the parties I attended featured a bout of fisticuffs of some description. People may say that this is a sign of a mis-spent youth; I beg to differ. Partying and fighting is a very apt way to spend one’s youth, as such things are most calumnious when carried into proper adulthood.  One needs to get that sort of thing out of the way early on. However, something tells me an imminent return to such times is upon us.

Professor Duke opens the door to reveal the mystery person who has been taking liberties with his doorbell. It is none other than The Master’s Wife, who at least seems to be entering into the spirit of things; she is wearing a costume. I say ‘wearing’ – this is a generous term for the adornment of three sheer scarves draped artfully across her body and the type of shoes my mother warned me about. Whatever she has come as is clearly a character that is very short on clothing.

“Good evening, daaarrrrlings!”

“Bloody hell,” Organ Scholar gasps. “Who invited her? And what… what is she… I mean… is that a costume?”

“Avert your eyes, Organ Scholar,” I reply, taking a large mouthful of unusual beverage. “This is no sight for a young gentleman.”

“Oh, just you, dadblameit,” sighs the Professor. “I thought it might’ve been a ghoul or something rather terrifyingly interesting. The Professor would tell you to come in, but you weren’t invited, see. And you aren’t really wearing anything of note, double-see.”

“But the dear Head Porter is here, isn’t that right?” She replies, her perfect frozen features managing a hint of a smirk. “And I cannot believe he would want to be at such an event unaccompanied by a lady.”

“Well maybe he’s got…a lady!” Professor Duke flaps his habit viciously in an attempt to scare her off. “But here’s the thing, I don’t think you’re a lady. Ladies don’t wear nothing, they wear something. Plus, we’re stock filled with ladies. Too many ladies. Ladies coming out of the rat holes—as they say.”

“Oh, but surely, my dear sweet Professor, this eclectic ensemble proves that I am very much all woman…”

She leans in close to him, her breath on his neck as the Professor very nearly cartwheels backwards in an attempt to avoid her advances. It’s no good. She is determined to come in.

Across the room, Head Porter’s face has adopted a similar shade to that of his milkman costume. His conversational companions have not yet noted the new arrival and he appears to be plotting an escape route. But she has him in her sights. And it seems that there can be no escape from The Master’s Wife.

She stalks across the room towards where Head Porter cowers like a hunted animal, flanked by Headmistress and The Dean. How she can even walk in those shoes is something of a mystery but that is the least of my worries as I place my drink on the sideboard and hurry after her. I motion to the Professor to join me, which he does, albeit reluctantly.

To my great surprise, Head Mistress doesn’t bat an eyelid at the half-naked harridan but instead scrutinises the Professor and I with great interest. A flicker of recognition creeps with a smile across her face.

“Now, aren’t you two the waiters from the French restaurant?” She asks, with a wink.

“We could be, I’m not sure, though,” replies the Professor. “This Professor usually gets mistaken for lots of people, just because. Plus, I hear being a Professor, and a Deputy Head Porter, pays way better than waiting tables, don’t you know.”

Headmistress throws back her head and releases a laugh so filthy you could grow cress in it. She is an intelligent woman and I rather wondered if she had clocked our ruse when she saw us on the River. The game, as they say, seems to be very much up.

“Oh, I think it is dreadfully sweet of you,” she says. “Looking out for your friend like that. But I assure you, Head Porter needs no protecting from me. My intentions are mostly honourable.”

“Actually,” I say “It was more of case of protecting you from…”

“This chitter-chatter is boring me dreadfully,” The Master’s Wife snaps suddenly. “And men dressed as nuns are frightfully offensive to me…”

“Hey!” I am most put out by this remark. But she is in no mood to discuss the matter and, ignoring me, turns to Headmistress.

“I thank you for keeping my Head Porter warm for me but surely you can see that he now has no further need of your company.”

Headmistress narrows her eyes and shoots The Master’s Wife quite the most fearsome and diabolical look I have ever witnessed. Which is quite something when you consider how well I know The Dean. And speak of the devil, he joins the fray with aplomb.

“Madame, The Master’s Wife you may very well be but I can tell you we don’t like this sort of thing at our parties,” The Dean declares. “Do you not think it most unseemly to continue with this carry-on?”

Now, ignoring me is one thing. People do it all the time. But ignoring The Dean can only ever end badly. The Master’s Wife remains engaged only with Headmistress.

“I shall ask you again to step aside, lady, if that is what you are.”

“I think not,” retorts Headmistress, chin jutting defiantly. “Who even are you? Ridiculous creature.”

The Master’s Wife does not take too kindly to this rebuff and shrieks, launching her fuchsia talons towards the truculent face of Headmistress. The whole thing happens in such a flash that I have barely time to move but Headmistress is quicker. Deftly catching the arm of her assailant, she twists the wrist backwards with her left hand whilst maintaining momentum with her right, which lands as a furiously balled fist right onto the dainty nose of The Master’s Wife.

The room fills with horrified gasps as an explosion of crimson erupts in spectacular fashion, great thick globules finding their way to the floor.

“My rug is now suitably ruined, the sudden,” mutters the Professor, sadly. “I knew I should’ve tackled her the moment she pushed past me. Maybe I would’ve broken one of her bones. Cool.”

“Now, now ladies,” splutters The Dean, evidently taken aback by this sudden and unexpected violence. “Let’s not make a scene.”

“Quite right,” replies Headmistress. “I say we take this outside. Right now.”