Advent Episode 15: Routine Enquiries

DI Bones was feeling very tetchy. Dr Choudhari had emailed the main findings of the post mortem report, but it wasn’t going to progress the enquiry much.

“Estimated date of death 10-12 days before discovery – awaiting detailed weather reports for temperature profile but may not get more detail. No obvious signs of injury. Heart: normal size. No underlying pathology. Samples sent to toxicology.”

It was looking like an overdose or something like it. Not a murder enquiry. Well, that was something. But he was no nearer to finding Gareth’s family.

Gareth Jones. There must be of thousands of them on the electoral roll. His father was probably called David, or Dafydd, or Dai, and the mother was bound to be called Mary. He sighed heavily.

He flipped to the next page in the very slim file. Nasreen Birch hadn’t called him back. Dr Fraser had given him the direct line number and he’d left a voicemail message. Why weren’t these academics ever at their desks?

He wondered if there was another way of contacting her. At Burston Central, he’d gone directly through the departmental office to find Dr Fraser. He Googled Nasreen Birch. At least that wasn’t a common name.

He was surprised to get hundreds of hits, but they did all seem to be about the same person. Conference presentations, publications, quotes….on the third page he found something which looked as though it might have biographical information and so possibly contact details.

Yes, the official University of Burston page for Nasreen Birch, illustrated with an glamorous photo. Alison Fraser didn’t look as though she’d wear lipstick, or the shirt opened just one button too far, even for an publicity shot. He forced his eyes away from the slightly surprising picture and scanned for more useful information. Same phone number as the one he’d already got, email address which he noted, no mention of who to contact if she was busy. He used the side menu to navigate back to the department structure and tried the ‘contact’ page. Phone number: university switchboard, email address biotech_enquiries@burston.ac.uk. He wondered if anyone would answer that one.

He dialled the university switchboard.

“University of Burston, your established destination, how may I help you?”

“Could I speak to the head administrator in the biotechnology department, please?”

“Sorry, sir, the what?”

He repeated the request.

“No sir, I heard you, I just don’t know what the head administrator is. I’ve never heard of that job before. Do you have a name?”

DI Bones felt tetchier than ever. “The main office for biotechnology? Someone to contact when the academics aren’t answering the phone?”

“Ah. I get you. Hold on while I put you through.”

A cheery voice started “Hello there!”

D I Bones started to say “hello, I’m..” but by the time he’d got that far, he realised that it was a recording.

“Did you know that the University of Burston was established in 1863? Since then we’ve contributed an estimated billion pounds to the local economy and been associated with three Nobel prize winners. Our research today is all focused on making life better for everyone.”

DI Bones thought sourly that a billion pounds wasn’t much over a hundred and fifty odd years, and wasn’t there a difference between knowing the prize winners and actually being one? Whatever happened to a tinny loop of Greensleeves while you were on hold? The voice continued telling him of the achievements of the University of Burston, but he’d stopped listening. Eventually, she was cut off in mid-sentence.

“Hello? Joan Garvill here.”

He tried to remember why he was there, sititng in his office with the phone held to his ear. “Er. Hello. This is Detective Inspector Bones, Burston Metropolitan Police. I was wondering if I could leave a message for Mrs, er, Professor Birch. It’s quite important.” He scribbled ‘Joan Garvill. Biotech dept?’ on his pad.

“Professor Birch? She’s out of the country, I’m afraid. But she’ll be checking her email,” said Mrs Garvill, very crisply, and as though she was answering a very frequent request.

Then her tone changed slightly. DI Bones was used to this. People were always curious about why a policeman was making enquiries, even if they were hugely annoyed with the person about who the enquiries were being made.

“Is it something I can help with?”  she added, with the air of someone terribly busy but who suddenly had all the time in the world to assist an important detective.

DI Bones weighed up the possibility of passing on key information in the case to somebody who shouldn’t know too much, or who might even be a suspect. He shrugged to himself. He didn’t even have a case and there was hardly anything important to pass on. At least at the other university, he’d had the payslip to justify making enquiries. They’d kept the details quiet just in case it was suspicious, but it wasn’t looking that way, so he might as well….

”DI Bones?” he realised that he’d been thinking for a fraction too long.

“What’s your role, Mrs, er, Garvill?”

“Senior team leader in the Biotechnology research support team”

“I see” replied DI Bones, frantically scribbling this down next to her name “Do you know when Professor Birch will be back in Burston?”

“Just a moment, I’ll check her diary.” DI Bones could hear clicks.

“It looks as though she’ll next be in the office a week on Thursday.”

DI Bones sighed. “Is there any way of getting in contact with her before that? A mobile number?”

“Well, I do have a number for emergencies, but she’s in Japan; there’s a bit of a time difference.”

“I’ll take it anyway. Thank you.”

There was a pause. DI Bones could hear keyboard clicks and sliding sounds which must be the mouse being moved around. He guessed that she’d put the receiver down on the desk.

“OK. Here you are.” Mrs Garvill recited the number. “Are you sure I can’t help you with anything?”

“Well, maybe you can. What is your exact role in the department, Mrs Garvill? I realise that I’ve got your job title,” he added hastily, “But what does this actually involve? Do you have anything to do with the, er, postdocs?” He really must ask someone what a postdoc was.

“Of course,” she said “I do all of the contracts and expenses and arrangements for them.”

“Oh, great. So. I was wondering if you knew Dr Gareth Jones at all?”

“Gareth? What do you want to know about him for?”

DI Bones felt relieved. At last, somebody who knew the deceased. “I’d rather not say just at the moment, Mrs Garvill. How well did, er, do you know him?”

“To be honest, not that well. He’s a very quiet lad. Keeps himself to himself, but a lot of these scientists are a bit quiet when they come in the office. Minds elsewhere, you know.”

DI Bones waited.

“He doesn’t work here any more, though, his contract came to an end in July. He said he was going to do some teaching down the road, you know, the other, er, university.”

“I see. What sort of a person was, er is, he?”

“I can’t really think of anything to tell you, to be honest. Keeps himself to himself” she repeated.

DI Bones sighed again. He didn’t think this was going to get him very far. He wondered if Mrs Garvill would be able to identify the body.

“Is there anyone else in the department who knew him well?” he asked “Anyone I could talk to about him?”

Mrs Garvill seemed to remember that she was talking to a policeman. “Can you tell me what this is about, anyway? What’s Gareth done?”

He sighed yet again. He might as well tell her. She obviously didn’t know him that well. “I’m afraid Dr Jones is deceased, madam, and I’m just making some routine enquiries about him”.

“Dead? Gareth? That’s terrible! How did it happen?”

“I’m not at liberty to say, Mrs Garvill. But I really would appreciate it if you could put me in touch with someone who knew him a little better.”

Mrs Garvill now seemed anxious to get him off the phone. “I think I’ll have to ask around, D I Bones. Can I take your contact details and get back to you?”

He passed them on and hung up after the usual pleasantries. He wasn’t too hopeful that this was going to get him any more information.

He sighed. Time for the local paper. He jotted down a few notes for a press release and turned back to his computer screen. There was a template for this on the intranet system. He called it up, entered some sparse details, and pressed send to pass it to the press office for release.

He checked his email to ensure he’d received a receipt for it. The search warrant for Gareth’s flat had come through. Well, that could wait till the morning. He called the duty desk to book a uniformed officer to help him with the search, and then closed down the computer. He was going home.


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One thought on “Advent Episode 15: Routine Enquiries

  1. Pingback: Advent Episode 14: Escape Route? | Wading through Treacle

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