Matters That Must Be Attended To Immediately

The Chase Is On

Before I can vocalise the stream of four-letter words that are forming with some vigor in my head, Professor Duke is already heading for the door with alarming alacrity. The Dean looks fit to burst with rage and confusion.

“Get after him!” he bellows, quite unnecessarily.

I join the Professor in sprinting down the staircase and out into Apple Tree Court below, a large portion of which is currently a perilous-looking excavation site. Junior Bursar is surprisingly sprightly for a man of such advanced years and is already within reach of the far cloister.

“Stop!” cries the Professor. “Stop in the name of…the Professor!”

Junior Bursar throws us a vicious glare from over his shoulder and redoubles his efforts. We make after him, giving the gaping archaeological crevasse a wide berth. I glimpse, briefly, a clutch of vaguely attentive wedding guests perusing the hole with some interest. They glance briefly in our direction, but the pursuit does not seem to hold much interest to them. They must be police officers. They see this sort of thing all the time.

As Junior Bursar continues onwards, ever snatching a peek at our progress, a moment of delightful serendipity comes to pass. Emerging nonchalantly from the flowerbeds, paws caked in mud from some kind of digging, is a familiar back and white figure. Terry takes one look upon the unfolding scene and immediately deploys the classic feline attribute of being in the exact same spot as human feet are planning to be. The result of which is to send Junior Bursar toppling into the flowerbeds, with quite some grace, it has to be said.

“Oh goody goody!” whoops the Professor, heading towards the scene at a great rate of knots, legs pumping wildly and top hat bobbing up and down with fearsome ferocity.

I follow behind, my stomach protesting at such activity whilst attempting to digest an ill-advised selection of food and drink. I have often lamented the frightful regularity of meals being interrupted by College business, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and only now do I see the expedient nature of such a thing. Giving chase on a full stomach is a miserable experience, indeed.

Junior Bursar has sprung to his feet and, like a hunted animal, has resumed his flight. Terry gives his departure a cursory glance before turning his attentions to the serious business of tail and paw grooming. He pays us no heed as the Professor and I sprint past, diving into the cloister after our quarry.

“He’s heading into Old Hall!” I gasp, pointing towards the lithe figure vanishing into one of the grander parts of Old College.

“And so are we, I say!” the Professor replies, strangely chirpy.

The magnificent, towering wooden doors of Old Hall are slightly ajar and we soundlessly slip inside like ninjas, keen to maintain the element of surprise. There is a reticent hush about the Hall, a suspiciously reticent hush. Stopping for a moment to catch our breath, we cast our eyes around. I have spoken before of the great beauty of this place; the grand medieval fireplace is rather redoubtable when unlit, like an ominous portal to goodness knows where. Oil paintings of academics long since passed gaze down somewhat reproachfully upon us, retaining the pomposity they no doubt so treasured in life.

At the far end, bathed in the light of the late evening sun seeping through the stained glass windows, stand three suits of armour; the eternal sentries to the memory of the past. Their metallic limbs gleam as splendidly as the day they were forged and I must say that I do not envy the poor soul who has the job of keeping them that way.

“You know,” whispers Professor Duke, eyeing the armour. “If this were a film, the villain would be hiding in one of those over there. I might hide in one, too, the sudden.”

“This isn’t a film,” I reply “This is far more unlikely than that.”

“Let’s take a look, anyway, please.”

We tip-toe over to the far end, furtively looking about as we go. The silence is somewhat unnerving. In fact, this isn’t quite what you would call ‘silence’ – that is just an absence of sound – this is something else entirely. I can hear my own heartbeat in my ears but at least it goes some way to blocking out the worrying noises coming from my stomach. We approach the suits of armour with care, studying them closely for any signs of life. Nothing seems amiss.

“It’s a bit of a shame, really,” I say. “I would have thought that would have been right up Junior Bursar’s street, hiding in a suit of armour.”

“These fine fellows can still be of service to us,” the Professor replies, with that worrying look of determined mischief in his eyes. Oh, dear. What is he up to? “Here, he won’t be needing this…” the Professor gently releases a broad sword from the iron glove of the nearest hollow warrior.

“Is that even a real sword?” I ask. Professor Duke handles it thoughtfully for a moment before thrusting it towards my rear area, poking me rather abruptly in the bum.

“Ouch!” It is a real sword. “Why ever did you do that?!”

“It looked quite fleshy, I didn’t think it would hurt too much. But I am sorry.” Nonetheless, the Professor seems delighted that his weapon is effective. “You should get one, too—but no poking.”

Actually, that is not a bad idea. Junior Bursar may give the appearance of a feeble geriatric, but he has dispatched with an impressive number of souls, by all accounts. I look to the next suit of armour and relieve it of a crossbow. Nice!

But then I spot it.

The final suit of armour is bereft of weaponry. Its empty glove hangs redundant by its side.

Behind us, a voice…

“Well, well well! I wondered when you might be joining me. Let us keep this brief, shall we?” Junior Bursar wields his pole-axe with frightening dexterity. I don’t think that this is the first time he has handled one of these.

“We better not get blood on my suit, or I’ll gouge your eyes out once I cut your head off!” the Professor growls, readying his stance and brandishing his sword with equal aptitude.

I look down forlornly at my crossbow. I have never used a crossbow before, which is just as well because it doesn’t have a bolt in it anyway.

Well – it wouldn’t be a proper wedding without a fight, would it?

With Professor VJ Duke

Take Me Home With You. For A Small Fee, Of Course.

Secret Diary Of PorterGirl is now available!

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Called To Account

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?