Advent Episode 7: An Inspector Calls

A bumper double episode today from Burston Central. Who’s teaching your students?

alison. phone di bones. 0208 654 2304. alex.

Alison took the note down. Di Bones? She couldn’t remember anyone called Di Bones. Diana? Diane? She called Alex’s number to see if she could find out any more about the caller, but the administrator must have finished for the day. She wondered whether to call now or wait until tomorrow. Oh what the heck, she might as well get it out of the way. It was probably a reference request from an ex-student.

She dialled the number and was surprised when a man answered: “D. I. Bones”

“This is Alison Fraser. I had a message to call this number”.

“Ah yes, Mrs Fraser”, he said, “thanks for calling me back so promptly. I’m sorry to contact you out of the blue like this, but I need your assistance with an enquiry”.

“Um. Enquiry? I don’t really understand.”

“I think it would be easier if I popped over to see you,” Bones continued “it is fairly urgent. Could I see you this evening?”

“Um. Well. I have to go home soon” Alison answered, rapidly calculating who needed to be where tonight and how late she could stay at work, “What time were you thinking of?”

“Oh I can come over to see you at home,” DI Bones said, briskly “Shall we say 7 o’clock? I’ve got the address”

“Um. Well. OK, I guess…” Alison trailed off.

“Excellent. See you then”.

“Um. Yes. Bye” Alison started to say, but D I Bones had already rung off. Alison sat down heavily at her desk. What on earth could this be about? She did a mental count of her close family and friends. Surely if it was something to do with one of them, the officer would have said something. She scrabbled in her work bag for her mobile phone and called her husband.

“Derek?” she squeaked with relief when he answered.

“Who else would it be?” Derek started to laugh, but checked himself “what’s wrong?”.

“I don’t know” Alison realised that she was shaking. “I got a call from a policeman, but he didn’t say why. Are the kids ok?”

Derek’s turn to do a mental reckoning. “Yes”, he said “Ben’s just kidnapped his fourth prostitute since he got in from school and Emma’s upstairs doing her homework. What’s going on?”

“I don’t know”, said Alison “but he’s coming round tonight to talk to me about an enquiry. I’d better get back and tidy up a bit.”

“Coming round? Why?”

“Honestly, no idea. But as long as you guys are ok, I’m going to try not to worry about it. I haven’t done anything I shouldn’t. See you shortly,”

Alison put the phone back in her bag, scooped up the unfinished review and the following day’s teaching plans, and then paused. She put everything down and retrieved the phone again.

Pressing redial, she didn’t wait for Derek to finish saying “We’re all still fine, you don’t need to phone every two minutes” before screeching “Kidnapped a prostitute? What the hell are you talking about?”

Derek giggled. “It’s a video game. Obviously.”

Alison opened her mouth and took a deep breath in, then remembered the police officer.

“We need to talk about that later. I’m leaving now”, and she gathered up her work again and set off for home.

On the bus, she couldn’t stop worrying about what the police officer could want. Not the family, so that was the main thing.

A graduate who’d run amok? Exciting, but unlikely and anyway she shouldn’t get excited over people’s mental health issues. She straightened her face.

Unpaid speeding tickets. If so, they must have been from cloned number plates, they hardly used their ancient estate car, and it probably couldn’t break any speed limit.

One of the children in so much trouble at school the police had been called in? Too melodramatic, and anyway they’d have phoned home, not work. No, it must be something to do with the University. She was stumped. Also, how did the Detective Inspector have her home address? She didn’t like the sound of this much.

At home, she found Derek and Ben in front of the TV. Ben was steering a fancy looking car around a film noir set while Derek was offering suggestions and encouragement,  “over there – shoot…shoot! SHOOT! Oh for God’s sake, Ben, I told you he was behind you…”

Alison sighed, but neither male reacted. She turned on her heel and went into the kitchen, which looked … she turned her back on that, too, filled the kettle and put it on to boil.

Automatically, while the kettle was heating up, she started gathering up dirty crockery and stacking the dishwasher, while a familiar refrain replayed in her head “honestly, you’d think it was a hotel around here. How hard is it to put something in the dishwasher when you’ve finished with it? Or even to scrape the plates when you’ve finished?” she thought self-righteously. Although in fact she was quite happy to put her own dirty plate on the worktop to sort out in the morning.

The plunge back into domestic routine made her forget about the strange phone call earlier. She was back at home, everyone was safe, the house was in its usual state of entropy and she was engaged in the usual ineffective tussle against the creeping chaos of everyday life. It was comfortably familiar and she muttered away as she swept crumbs from the worktop. “Can’t even use a plate for their toast…”

The pattern of her thoughts was interrupted by the doorbell. “Can one of you …” she started, then realised it was probably futile – if they hadn’t heard the bell, they wouldn’t hear her shouting either.

Episode 8. Have you seen this man?

Grumbling under her breath, she opened the door to a tall, serious-looking man in a dark grey suit. “Hello”, she said, looking at him with an air of irritation

“Mrs Fraser?” he said, fairly rhetorically.

“Dr”, Alison said by way of reply. “How may I help you?”.

“I’m DI Bones”.

For a fraction of a second Alison continued to look blankly at him, and then she remembered.  “Of course, DI Bones! Come in!” she almost shouted, over-compensating for her lapse, “come through into the kitchen, the boys are on their video game in the sitting-room. Excuse the mess”, she continued. “I’ve just got in from work” hoping that this would explain everything.

DI Bones surely knew that she must have just got in from work, as he had phoned her there earlier, and would also surely be able to tell that the disorder in the house was formed in geological layers which were unlikely to have appeared during a single day at work. She changed the subject “Well, DI Bones, do sit down, I’ll just clear these newspapers for you. Can I offer you a cup of tea? The kettle’s just boiled.”

DI Bones glanced around the kitchen. “No thanks, Dr Fraser”, he said “I’ve just had one.”

Alison sat down opposite him. “So, to what do I owe this pleasure?” she said, putting on a cheery tone, as though a police officer in her kitchen was an everyday occurrence.

DI Bones bent over and took a plain manila folder from his bag. He opened it and took out a small photo, and some printed notes. He passed the photo across the table. “We were wondering if you knew this man?”

Alison looked at the photo “No, I don’t think so. Should I?”

“His name is Gareth Jones”, continued DI Bones, looking fixedly at Alison, who was looking again at the photo. She was still thinking.

“Gareth Jones? Gareth Jones. That rings a bell. Was he an ex-student?”

“We don’t know much about him at all. We were hoping you could tell us.”

“Me? I don’t think so”, she declared, passing the photo back. “What’s he done, anyway?”

“He hasn’t done anything, well, not that we know about. I’m afraid Mr Jones is deceased”.

“Oh dear, poor chap, how sad for his family” murmured Alison, automatically.  “But what’s this got to do with me?” she tailed off, feeling that she sounded callous, which she didn’t intend, but really, it had been a long day, she still hadn’t had her cup of tea, and the situation felt quite bizarre; this Gareth Jones had nothing to do with her.

DI Bones cleared his throat. “Mr Jones was found dead and we don’t know much about him. In his rucksack we found a payslip from the university. We phoned your HR department and they said he worked in your department, and the head of department said his records were that he taught part-time on a Biology course, and you were the course leader so you must know him.”

Alison felt a bit confused by the number of characters introduced in this sentence and particularly by the shower of pronouns which tangled her relationship to Gareth Jones still further in her mind. She focused on the end of the sentence.

“So, this is a photo of Gareth Jones, who Geoff thinks teaches on my course” she paraphrased.

DI Bones sighed. “I was certainly hoping you might be able to confirm that, Dr Fraser”.

“I don’t know” she said, simply.

There was a short silence. DI Bones sighed again. He hadn’t had much to do with people from the university before. Were they all like this? “Is this Mr Jones, Ma’am?”

“I’ve never met Dr Jones” said Alison, “in fact I’d forgotten all about Dr Jones.” She realised that this must sound very odd. “Look. We do employ a couple of post-docs – young academics – from the university down the road to teach on the course. But I just don’t have time to keep up with what they do. I needed someone in a hurry at the beginning of term, someone recommended this guy, I didn’t have time to meet him, I just spoke to him on the phone and he sounded OK, he had a good reference. It was just for a 15 credit course, and I did mean to meet up with him, but it’s been busy since the beginning of term…” she tailed off.

She had absolutely no idea what Gareth Jones had been doing with her students. God.  “Anyway, what about him? Has he done something wrong?”

DI Bones looked at her for a moment. “As I mentioned previously, Mr – Doctor – Jones is, er, deceased. We’re trying to trace his next of kin and we hoped you’d be able to help us. But it looks as though we need to try elsewhere. I won’t take up any more of your time, I’m sure you’ve got a lot to do,” he added, looking around the kitchen again, “Thank you for your help, Dr Fraser”.

Alison led the way to the front door. As they passed the sitting room, a slightly muffled cry of ‘Kill him! Kill him!’ could be heard. Alison cleared her throat loudly and bustled DI Bones to the door. “Video game. Lovely to meet you. D I Bones. I hope you find out what you need to know soon.”

She closed the door and leaned back against it for a moment. She felt completely bewildered. A policeman had just been in her house. One of her colleagues was dead. She hadn’t a clue who he was. She had put him in charge of her students and she hadn’t a clue who he was. She went back into the kitchen and switched the kettle back on, then crossed over to the fridge. There we probably still a couple of glasses left in last night’s bottle of wine. She took two glasses from the cupboard, carefully shared out the remains between them, then downed one of them in one, put the empty glass in the dishwasher and sat down at the table. She sipped the second glass of wine contemplatively. She wondered if this was the last straw.

Follow @wadingtreacle on Twitter to be informed of updates from 1 December, or click on ‘follow’ at the bottom of the screen to get new episodes by email. Tomorrow’s episode: Worries


One thought on “Advent Episode 7: An Inspector Calls

  1. Pingback: Advent Episode 6: In full spate | Wading through Treacle

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