Advent Episode 24: All’s Well That Ends Well

Sheila and Bob were in Cheeky’s. They’d picked a table in the corner where they could both see the whole room, and had both chosen ‘soup of the day’ with a plain roll. They were both feeling a little awkward. Last night, they’d been allies against the forces of madness. This afternoon, they couldn’t help but remember that they hardly knew each other.

“So, how’s Lilian this morning?” Bob asked.

Good choice of topic. Sheila sniggered. “She’s phoned in sick.”

They both giggled, remembering Lilian’s meltdown.

“Still, it was a bit of a shock to find out that you’re a cat-murderer.” Bob sounded serious, but he was grinning. “You don’t look the type at all. Who’d have thought it?”

Sheila blushed. “Actually, I’m not. Gareth was back in the garden this morning.” She smiled ruefully, “I hate to admit it, but it was almost good to see him. I didn’t even chase him out. He can’t do much harm at this time of year.”

“That’s a relief.” Bob kept up the light-hearted tone. “I’d hate to be associated with a killer.” He went pink. “Professionally, that is.”

His face got redder. “er. That is, I don’t mean that I wouldn’t like any other kind of association….” He trailed off in confusion.

Sheila smiled and put her hand on his arm. “It’s alright. I knew what you meant. Now, speaking of professional association, how did you get on with Alan?”

Bob appreciated the change of subject. “Pretty well, I think. He seemed impressed by the projections, and the risk assessments. I told him he’d need to get an executive team in place quickly to keep a separation between the College and the University, so that HEFCE didn’t start asking awkward questions. And I emphasised the need for good governance structures, and suggested he employ a good corporate lawyer. I may have mentioned some of the dire consequences I’ve seen where companies have short-cut in that area. He was looking a bit pale. Hope I didn’t put him off the whole idea completely.”

Sheila smiled. “Not him – he’s far too scared of the VC to back out now. I’d say it was perfectly pitched. By the time I went to see him, he was going through the Yellow Pages looking for a firm of solicitors.” She giggled. “As if you’re going to find that kind of expertise in a phone book! It’s strictly word of mouth for the kind of work he needs.”

Sheila continue. “Anyway, he was perfectly primed for me to give him my plans with the proposed governance structures, arms-length connection to the university and HR structure. He looked almost as pleased as if the National Student Survey results had suddenly gone up.”

They both giggled at the thought of that unlikely occurrence.

“I told Alan that he needed a good Chief Exec and Chief Operating Officer in post straight away, and that they could be seconded to the new company for a limited period without going through normal University HR processes, as the company will be in the private sector and wouldn’t be subject to the same rules.” Bob said. “That’s right, isn’t it?” he added anxiously.

“Yes. No need to advertise openly. The UCNB will have new HR policies of its own. Of course, Burston Central will need to check the policies as part of its due diligence when accrediting the College’s courses, but that won’t affect people already in post. Plus the oversight will more be aimed at the policies for recruitment of teaching staff: how we know they’re competent, etc. Not so much at the appointment of the senior management team.”

Bob said “He asked me if I’d be interested in being Chief Exec.”

Sheila looked at him “and you said….?”

“I said no, I thought he needed someone with legal training for that. I was more qualified for the Chief Operating Officer role, if he was offering.”

They smiled at each other.

“Sounds as though we’ve given him plenty to think about.” Sheila mopped out the last of her soup with a piece of bread. “Has he asked you in to see the VC?”

“Yes. 10.30 tomorrow.”

“Interesting, Me too. I’ll look forward to meeting you!”

They smiled at each other again.

“I’d better get back to the office,” Bob said “I’ve got behind with my marking, with all of this extra excitement.”

“Yes, me too” said Sheila. “My students are getting worried about their beer pipes.”

Bob was puzzled, but decided not to ask what she was talking about. He wasn’t usually too keen on cryptic academic comments but in Sheila’s case, they often sounded quite good fun just as they were. Beer pipes? Law?

“Do you think it would be a good idea to meet up after work just to go over the plans again?” Sheila was asking. “We need to be pretty slick tomorrow, and we aren’t supposed to have seen each other’s plans, are we?”

Bob nodded. “Good idea. Um. Perhaps you’d like to come over to my place?” He hardly blushed at all as he made the offer. He was going to have to mark student work all weekend, but what the heck. Live a little!

D I Bones was singing. True, he was on a rather unpleasant mission, and perhaps singing wasn’t the most appropriate response, but on the other hand, it was a road trip. Four hours there, four hours back. On his own in the car. That called for some singing. He’d run through a few rock favourites by way of a warm-up. Perhaps he shouldn’t have wound down the window for the final chorus of  ‘Bat out of Hell’ at those traffic lights. That poor old dear with the shopping trolley had got a bit of a fright. Lucky the car was unmarked. He didn’t need a reminder from the DCI about bringing Burston Met into disrepute with other forces. Now he was onto the power ballads. ‘Never mind, I’ll find, someone li-i-ike you,’ he yelled at the top of his voice. Pity Sandra hadn’t called him back yet.

He rolled into Prestatyn as ‘Bad Romance’ faded out. He switched off the car stereo and pulled over to fiddle with the GPS. He’d not had it plugged in on the way as he’d forgotten the charging cable. He entered the details for Beechacres Nursing Home. Damn. It was on the outskirts of town, on the road he’d come in on. He looked in the mirror and did an illegal U-turn. He wondered with interest if his standards were slipping in general, or if it was just this weird case.

Beechacres really was, surprisingly, an old house next to a beech copse, just as the name suggested. He’d been expecting a soulless council residential home with some wizened bushes in the car park. The beeches still had dried leaves clinging to them and the volume of the rustling sound they made was very noticeable as he got out and locked his car. He thought it was a bit eerie. Perhaps soulless, sound-insulated buildings were more appropriate after all?

There was an imposing front door. D I Bones rang the bell, ignoring the notice outside about acceptable visiting hours, and took out his warrant card.

He knew it would take a while for someone to come to the door. To be fair, they were probably busy doing whatever they needed to do outside visiting hours, but even if they weren’t, he was well aware that there were penalties for people who rang the bell when they weren’t supposed to. After several minutes, he rang the bell again. This time he heard footsteps after only a minute or so, and then some huffing and puffing as various bolts and locks were undone. He held up the warrant card.

“It’s not visit….” began the woman in nurse’s uniform who opened the door. She broke off as she saw the card. “Oh.”

“D I Bones. Burston Metropolitan Police. I’ve got an appointment with Matron Price.”

“Burston? This is Prestatyn. I don’t think any of our residents could have got up to anything that far away.” The nurse giggled. “What’s it about?”

“Is Matron Price here, Mrs, er..?” D I Bones was brisk. “I’m afraid it’s a confidential matter.”

“Oh.” the woman sounded disappointed. “Um. Yes. Please come this way.”

She motioned him to come in and then closed and locked the door. “Some of our residents like to wander.”

D I Bones didn’t take any notice. They continued across the entrance hall in silence. She stopped outside a door marked ‘Reception’ and leaned into the room. “D I Bones from Burston,Matron. Says he’s got an appointment.”

She nodded in response to whatever was said, then straightened up. “Here’s Matron, D I Bones. Bye now.”

D I Bones nodded at her and went into the office. She set off very slowly back across the hall.

Matron Price got up and shut the door of the office. She put out her hand to D I Bones. “Judith Price.”

They shook hands. “You said it was something to do with Mrs Jones’s son Gareth?”

“Yes. I was wondering if you know him at all?”

“Well, not very well, but I know who he is, of course. He comes most weekends to see her, but he hasn’t been for a few weeks. I was wondering where he’d got to, but, to be honest, I didn’t think too much about it. Mrs Jones didn’t really recognise him any more, and I know he was busy with his science. I was surprised he came as often as he did. Is something wrong? Is he in trouble with the police?”

D I Bones took out the photo of Gareth which the pathologist had done for him. “Is this him?”

“Looks like him. Oh dear. This is a PM photo, isn’t it?”

D I Bones nodded. “We’ve been struggling to get a positive identification. One of Gareth’s friends agreed it was him in the photo, but she didn’t seem to know him that well, so I was hoping to find someone who knew him better. Plus we needed to trace the next of kin. Sounds as though we might have finally managed it.”

“Well, possibly. But Mrs Jones isn’t in a position to identify him. Or be informed, really. She won’t understand. Probably just as well. What happened to him?”

D I Bones sighed. “we don’t really know yet. He was found in the woods. There’s no obvious cause of death.”

Matron Price took pity on him. “Maybe we can help a bit. Let’s have a cup of coffee and we can have a look through Mrs Jones’ records. She’s from round here. We should have her family doctor’s details, although we do use our own doctor for the home.”

D I Bones was in the car, and he was singing again. This time it was more about trying to cheer himself up. It looked as though he would be able to close the case, but the story was very dismal. The Jones’s family doctor had looked after Gareth since he was born. Gareth had never had any particular health problems, but his father had died suddenly at the age of forty-six, when Gareth was only two. The cause of death had been given as heart failure, but nothing had really shown up at the PM – some kind of heart condition had been an assumption. So although Gareth was much younger, it was possible that something similar had happened to him. The GP had mentioned Sudden Adult Death Syndrome – SADS – which explained Dr Choudhari’s cryptic note. The GP had also said that Mrs Jones had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s the year after Gareth had left home to go to University, and was now in need of full-time care.

The family doctor had offered to come and identify the body on Saturday, which was really very good of him. Matron Price would sort out a power of attorney for Mrs Jones and ask that person to organise Gareth’s funeral and Gareth’s flat and assets and so on. D I Bones just needed to do a report for the coroner and inform Social Services in Prestatyn, and he could close the file. He didn’t think any of Gareth’s colleagues needed to know any more. They could wait till the inquest if they were interested. Which didn’t seem very likely. Meanwhile, he still had his bottle of wine and his box set of The Killing to look forward to.

He pulled up in front of his neat modern apartment block just as his mobile rang. Unknown number. He pressed ‘Answer’.

“D I Bones.”

An Australian voice answered him “All right, mate? Got a body here for you, but it’s not dead yet.” Sandra Sharpe went off into paroxysms of giggles.

D I Bones smiled. Poor old Gareth. But at least something good might have come out of his enquiry.

Sheila, Bob and Alan were waiting outside Bill Noakes’ office. Alan was looking much more cheerful than he had done earlier in the week. He was holding the plans which Sheila and Bob had produced. He’d asked them both for digital copies and then he’d added his name to the front covers and printed them out on glossy paper and put them in nice bindings. Sheila and Bob were trying not to look at each other. Alan had ‘introduced them’ earlier and commented on how complementary their reports were. They’d both murmured something about that being a fortunate coincidence and it showing what a good idea it all was, but they were both worried about giggling at an inopportune moment. The last couple of days had been a bit giddy for both of them.

Without any obvious cue, Phyllis suddenly put up her head. “You can go in now.”

Alan jumped up. Bob and Sheila followed him into the VC’s office. Bill Noakes was sitting behind his cheap desk flicking through his own glossy copies of the plans. They were filled with Post-it notes. His three employees stood diffidently in front of him. “Sit down” he said, without looking up.

They obeyed. After another few minutes, he stuck a final Post-it note onto a page and finally looked at them. He seemed confused. Alan sprang up again. “Vice Chancellor, you remember Bob Barker, don’t you? From the Accountancy department. And this is Sheila er, er, from the Law department.”

Sheila stood up and put out her hand to the VC. “Sheila Thompson, Vice Chancellor. Pleased to meet you.”

Bill shook her hand reluctantly. Alan continued. “Bob and Sheila have been helping me with the UCNB plans, Bill. Been very glad of their industry expertise, in fact.”

Bill turned and stared witheringly at him. “That explains a lot.” Alan sat down again, crushed.

Bill looked down at the plans again. He took pity on Alan. “These plans are excellent.” The three others let out a collective sigh of relief. The entire institution craved the approval of the VC, and it wasn’t easy to come by. “I do have a few questions, though.”

Bob and Sheila leaned forward. This was their territory.

Later, in Cheeky’s, which Sheila was starting to think of as ‘their’ place, wiping out her memories of meeting Alan there when she’d been worried about the online dating debacle, they went over the meeting again.

“It was fantastic the way you handled the HR question,” Bob said. “I thought he was on to the contract issue, there. But you deflected him brilliantly.”

“And I liked the way you encouraged him to think about seconding a CEO who had a legal background!”  Sheila was really pleased. “I hope you aren’t going to be a difficult employee, though, Mr Chief Operating Officer!”

They clinked coffee cups.

More pensively, Bob said “do you think Alan knew about his early retirement? He looked a bit surprised.”

Sheila shrugged. “It was very kind of you to suggest that with UCNB, he’d be going out on a high, though.” They both started laughing. Poor old Alan. The University College of North Burston really was the last straw for him.

In Geoff’s office, Alison was making a cup of coffee, although Geoff looked in need of something stronger. She realised that his kettle was in full view on a side table. Typical. One rule for middle managers, and another for everyone else. Exactly why she wouldn’t be sorry to leave all of this behind.

Geoff was looking bereft. “But Alison, think how bored you’ll be, stuck away on some little island miles from civilisation and with no meaningful work. I’m only thinking of you. It’s my duty to point these things out. It’s part of your professional development process.”

Alison swallowed hard. She’d promised herself that she wouldn’t get angry, or upset. Geoff had spent years making her feel that he was utterly dependent on her to run the Biology course, because she was so fantastic at her job. But the truth was, she had been a mug, and there was plenty of cannon fodder available to replace her. She was a battle casualty.

She forced herself to say, mildly, “Geoff. I’m not leaving till the end of the year. We’ve got plenty of time for succession planning. You know there are lots of skilful people in the department who are just waiting for their chance to drop a bit of research and do a bit more admin. What about Ingrid, or Dev?”

Geoff shook his head. “Oh, I don’t think we can have another woman as course leader. We need some stability now. If you’re all going to follow your husbands at the drop of a hat, where will we be?”

Alison once again decided to be kind, given Geoff’s distress. “Geoff. You need to get the best person for the job. I’ve been course leader for eight years. It’s long enough. But I think you’d better be careful about your opinions when you’re talking to anyone else,” she added, tartly.

Geoff had his head in his hands and was rocking gently in his chair. “It’s the last straw. The last straw.”

Alison tiptoed out of the room. At least Geoff had confirmed her decision. There was very little she would miss about Burston Central.

Wading Through Treacle is taking a break now, before things get any cheesier in Burston Central. If you’ve enjoyed reading Wading from Treacle, send me your ‘things you couldn’t make up’ for incorporation in the story in 2013.
You can still follow @wadingtreacle on Twitter, or like the Wading Through Treacle page on Facebook to be informed of updates, or click on ‘follow’ at the bottom of this screen to register for updates from Wading Through Treacle.

Advent Episode 23: A Decent Proposal

Alison was entering grades into the student record system. The module leaders were supposed to do it themselves. On the old system, they’d entered them in a spreadsheet, then printed them out and given them to the admin team to enter. Of course, that had been a big waste of time, but now one or two of her colleagues didn’t think it was their job to enter marks into student records, and they either refused to do it, or made seemingly deliberate mistakes. She preferred to do them all herself, then she knew everything was done properly. So colleagues printed them out and gave them to her, and then she entered them. It saved time in the end.

Incoming text message. She sighed. It would be Derek. He was probably quite annoyed with her. She’d been late home every night for weeks. OK, last night hadn’t been entirely her fault. She sniggered at the thought of Geoff trapped in his office by a student. He really needed to get out more. He’d forgotten what it was like in the classroom.

‘Alison. I really need you to get back on time tonight. Derek.’

She sighed again. He didn’t need to add his name to every text. She knew they were from him. He could be surprisingly old-fashioned. She frowned. He must be in a bad mood. He hardly ever made a direct request. He was usually a bit more passive-aggressive, sending something like ‘hope to see you later :-)’

She looked at the list next to her. She’d really wanted to finish them off tonight. She was only half-way through, though, and it was taking ages. The main trouble with anonymous marking, in her view, was that entering the marks in the records when you just had a number, rather than a name, was surprisingly difficult. Everything needed to be double-checked.

Sod it. She picked up a red pen and put a line under the last mark she’d entered. Then she locked the list in her drawer. She picked up an article she planned to read that evening, the papers for tomorrow’s School employability committee meeting and her phone, and stuffed them all into her bag. She looked round for the tablet computer, then remembered that IT services still had it. She giggled at the thought of the locked screensaver.

Shut down computer, put on coat, lock office. She felt quite rebellious, although she was stll the last person left in the building. The corridor was dark. The auto-sensing lights usually came on just as she reached the lifts.

The bus was usually fairly quick at this time of night. She didn’t take the journal article out of her bag, but juts sat and stared out of the window. This part of Burston was lively at all hours. Students from both universities were out and about, there was a thriving street of curry restaurants, the Christmas lights were up. It was really quite a nice place to live.

She wondered why Derek was so keen for her to get home early. It really wasn’t like him. Lately he’d seemed to have given up altogether on commenting on her working hours.  She realiy did feel guilty about it, but things had been so mad lately, she’d just had no choice. And this week, what with Geoff and the student doing her own sit-in, sorting out poor old Gareth, and Jan….

A nasty thought struck her. What if Derek had stopped mentioning her working hours because he’d basically given up on her? Maybe he’d met someone else who had a more conventional job? It would have to be someone at the council. Neither of them ever went anywhere else, other than her Wednesday evening with the team, and Derek knew how dull that was. She felt queasy. She couldn’t cope with that on top of everything else.

By the time she got home she was convinced that Derek was going to explain to her that he was leaving. Or maybe that he wanted her to leave, since he was the one keeping the household going. She felt physically sick. Oh, God. Her life was falling apart, and for what?

She let herself into the house. There was a fantastic smell of roasting vegetables.  I the kitchen, the table was laid for two. With a cloth.

“Smells wonderful” Alison said. The kitchen was unusually tidy. “Um. Where are the kids?” She hung her coat over the back of one of the chairs.

“I let them have a takeaway and rented a DVD for them”

“Wow. They must be delighted. On a school night.” Alison was really starting to panic, but her voice sounded calm enough.

Derek passed her a glass of wine. “Sauvignon-Viognier. You like that.”

Alison smiled. “Do I?” Wine-tasting was one of Derek’s hobbies that she hadn’t quite managed to make time for. “When I retire” she always said. She took a sip. “Lovely. Just what I needed.”

“It’s almost ready. I was just waiting for you to put the tuna in.” Derek turned to the hob. “It’ll be five minutes.” While the oil was heating in the frying pan, he turned to the oven and took out a baking tray of roasted vegetables. He put them down on the table. “I think they’ll keep warm for long enough”. He smiled at her.

Alison was really confused. It was a lot of effort to go to if you were going to launch a bombshell. “Derek,” she started.

“Hang on, I can’t really hear you.” The extractor fan was on, and the tuna was sizzling. “Won’t be a sec.”

Alison took a big mouthful of wine. It wasn’t her birthday. Anyway, Emma and Ben would have been involved with that. It wasn’t their anniversary. Was it? No. They obviously weren’t expecting guests. She couldn’t think of anything else that might merit this level of effort, on a week-night at least. If Derek had something truly awful to announce – affair? Divorce? serious illness? Redundancy? – it wouldn’t be worth a lovely meal and tidy kitchen. Would it? Alison closed her eyes and tried to remember the last time they’d had any kind of conversation which wasn’t about children’s activities, school reports, shopping lists or what to do for that year’s holidays. Probably in the summer. On holiday. She sighed.

Derek put two plates down on the table and sat opposite her. “Wake up!”

She opened her eyes and smiled. “Just thinking.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“I was just wondering what this lovely occasion was in aid of?”

Derek feigned shock. “Are you trying to pretend that you don’t get this service every night?” He looked hurt.

Alison laughed at him. “If only! I should have married a …” she couldn’t quite think of an acceptable way to end the sentence. “Anyway, it looks delicious. Thank you.”

“Finish your glass, you need a glass of Chinon with this.”

Alison did as she was told and Derek refilled the glass. She started to eat.

“OK. You’re right. There is something.” Alison looked at him. He smiled nervously. “The thing is. The thing is. I’ve been offered a job in the Isle of Wight.” He rushed out the last sentence.

“The Isle of Wight?”

“Yes. Deputy Chief  Exec. of the council. Good moving package, rent allowance for six months, house prices down there are reasonable anyway, nice environment, low crime. Well, you know all that anyway. Great job.” He stopped abruptly, as though he’d come to the end of a rehearsed piece. Alison was gaping slightly.

She wasn’t quite sure where to start. How had he got a job like that without even mentioning it? It must have taken weeks of planning. But she decided on the personal. “We can’t do that. What about school?”

“There’s a good school there, Carisbrooke College. Emma says she’d quite like a fresh start for sixth form. You know she doesn’t quite fit in with the other girls in her class. She says at least she’d have a reason to be different if we moved down there. And she quite fancies the idea of surfing every weekend. Ben could do with a shake-up, too. You know his results have been slipping. I’m not so keen on those lads he’s been knocking about with. And the school there has a video games club. Programming, not just playing. He’d love it”

“You’ve talked to Emma about it already?” Alison dimly realised that this wasn’t the thing she should be focusing on, but somehow, just at this moment, it seemed the most outrageous part of the whole proposition.

Derek winced. “Um. She could see I was excited about something. And you weren’t there, so…” he tailed off. “so I thought I’d make an occasion of it when you were.”

Alison seemed lost for words. It really wasn’t what she’d been expecting. “And hang on” Derek said “my salary package is going to be really good. Like I said, house prices are reasonable, we won’t need a big mortgage. We can manage on one salary.” Before Alison had a chance to say anything, he continued at high speed. “I’m not suggesting that you give everything up. But I thought maybe you could just have a bit of a break, do some work on Martin’s fumer, furmer, whatever it is..”

“Martin’s Ramping-fumitory.” Alison corrected  him.

Derek went on. “Yes, that one. It  grows down there, doesn’t it? You could finish that paper you used to talk about. And the OU is recruiting part-time tutors for Biology in that region, I saw an advert in the Guardian. So you could do some teaching, but without all the stress you’ve got now.” Derek stopped again.  “But eat up, it’s getting cold.”

Alison was still staring at him, open-mouthed. In the absence of any better idea, she obeyed the instruction. Quite a variety of things had been thrown at her this week. A dead colleague. Extra teaching to cover. A potentially huge assessment cock-up on her course. A broken computer. An appalling moderation session. Geoff’s student sit-in. Endless mark lists to enter. But that was basically a bad, but not untypical week. Home was usually a bit more predictable. This was so far out of left-field that she didn’t know what to think, or do.

Derek was looking anxiously across the table at her.

Her face suddenly crumpled and she started to weep, quietly.

Derek looked distraught. “Oh, shit. Alison, I’m sorry, it’s OK, we won’t do it.” He came round to her side of the table and put his arm round her. “Here” he reached over to the kitchen worktop and pulled off a piece of kitchen roll.

Tomorrow’s episode of the Wading Through Treacle Advent Calendar 2012 will be the last. (And a good thing too, it’s getting even cheesier!). You can still follow @wadingtreacle on Twitter, or like the Wading Through Treacle page on Facebook to be informed of updates, or click on ‘follow’ at the bottom of this screen to register for updates from Wading Through Treacle. Feel free to send me accounts of daft things which could be fictionalised by email, too:

Tomorrow’s episode: ‘All’s well that ends well‘;

Advent Episode 22: Working the Phones

D I Bones was in no hurry to get back to work. He didn’t expect anything new to turn up on the investigation, and the only excitement he was likely to get all day was handing his weekly money to the lottery syndicate co-ordinator. And writing up some final reports from the last three cases, which the DCI had been mithering him for. He booted up the computer.

To: D I Bones

From: E Choudhari

Subject: G Jones, Deceased, Tox

Nothing in the tox results. Wondering about sads? Def. no foul play. Send you more later.

Sent from mobile

Even for the pathologist, this was cryptic. There was nothing more he could do until IT got back to him. He really hoped there was something of use on the computer, or the phone.

He sighed and opened up the file about Mrs J Alcock, deceased 24 October. At least that one had been straightforward.

The DCI was going to be pleased with him. He was up to date. With one case, at least. The phone rang.

“Kit here, IT Services.”

“Great, what have you got for me?”

“I’ve charged the phone and unlocked it. Do you want to come and get it, so you can check the directory? I can maybe do the browser stuff later. I know you wanted to find the contacts first.”

“Brilliant, thanks. I’ll be down in five minutes. Bye”

D I Bones came back up the stairs with the phone. It felt a bit like a hot potato. Either the phone would have contacts in it, which meant he would have to break the news of Gareth’s death to someone over the phone. Or it wouldn’t, and he would be no further on with the enquiry. He almost didn’t want to look.

He got back to his desk and opened his notebook. OK.

The phone was a fairly primitive smartphone. There was a photo background, a fairly generic landscape. D I Bones made a note. Might be somewhere important. Or he might have downloaded it from the internet just because he liked it. He realised that he was trying to avoid opening the contacts folder. He sighed. Come on.

There were six names in the list.

  • Alison Fraser
  • Chip
  • Mam
  • Nasreen
  • Pizza Planet
  • Sereena

Did he really only need to save six numbers? God. He checked his notebook. Alison – that was Alison Fraser. She didn’t know him. Sereena – that was Sereena Khan. She didn’t know much. Nasreen – that was Professor Birch. Still out of the country. That left ‘Mam’ and ‘Chip’. He really did not want to phone ‘Mam’ first. He didn’t really expect to find anything, because it was a mobile number, but he did a reverse lookup on Chip’s number, just in case. He hoped that wasn’t a takeaway too.  Nothing came up. For once, absence was a goHe dialled.

“Hello! You’re through to Charles Grosvenor. I can’t take your call right now, but leave a message and I’ll call you back!”. D I Bones followed the instruction and hung up. He still didn’t want to cal ‘Mam’. He had another idea.

“Mrs Garvill, this is DI Bones from Burston Met.”

“Fine, thanks. And you? ”

“Well not too great, to be honest with you. But that’s why I called you. It’s a bit of a long shot, but I was wondering if you knew anyone called Charles Grosvenor?”

“Oh that’s great. Any contact details?”

D I Bones scribbled down a number.

“Do you know when he’s due back?”

“Does he? OK. Fine. I’ll give it a go.”

“That’s really helpful, Mrs Garvill. No, Mr Grosvenor isn’t helping me with my enquiries. I just have reason to believe that he may be able to give me some information.”

“Well, I realise that it sounds like the same thing as helping with enquiries, but it really isn’t.”

“I’m afraid I need to get on, Mrs Garvill. Thank you so much for your help. Good bye.”

He pressed down and released the button and then dialled the number she’d given him. “Dr Charles Grosvenor, University of Burston. Please leave a message.”

“Dr Grosvenor. It’s Detective Inspector Bones from Burston Metropolitan Police. Could you call me back on 0208 654 2304. It’s rather urgent.”

He hung up. Fingers crossed.

Five minutes later, his phone rang.

“D I Bones, Burston Metropolitan Police.”

“Dr Grosvenor. Thanks for calling back so quickly.”

“Yes, Mrs Garvill told me you were at a conference, but that you’d be keeping an eye on your mail.”

“Yes, I’m sure. Well, I hope some of the sessions are interesting.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know much about adenoviruses, sir. But I expect you’re wondering why I’ve called.”

“Would I be right in thinking that you know a Dr Gareth Jones?”

“He hasn’t done anything, sir. At least, not that we know of.”

“Ha ha. I’m sure. Well, as I was saying, I did want to ask you about Dr Jones, sir. Were you friends with him?”

“Did I say were? I do apologise. But yes, Dr Jones is unfortunately deceased, sir.”

“I was hoping you might be able to help me find out, sir. Dr Jones’ death is currently unexplained. But I am more concerned at the moment with tracing his next of kin. Are you, er, familiar, with anybody in Dr Jones’ family, sir?”

“Gaga? Do you mean that Mrs Jones suffers from dementia, sir?”

“Fairies? I see. Is she in some kind of care home, then?”

“Oh. Well, that’s helpful. Do you have a first name, by any chance?”

“Any idea of where it might be?”

“OK. Thanks. Now, I do have some further questions for you about Dr Jones. Would it be possible for me to come and see you when you’re back in Burston? I’d rather do this face to face.”

“Tomorrow afternoon would actually be fine. Will you be back at the University?”

“Is that the main campus?”

“OK, I’ll come to Reception of Burley building. Does it have a door?”

“Just my little joke, sir. These university buildings can be different from places I’m used to.”

“Indeed, sir. Well, I’ll see you tomorrow, 2pm. Oh, and of course you can ignore the message I’ve left on your mobile phone. Good bye, sir.”

D I Bones rang off. His notebook hadn’t acquired much more. Mam Jones was demented and lived in a nursing home.  Chip hadn’t known where exactly, but he was pretty sure that  Gareth came from Prestatyn.  There was no point in trying ‘Mam’s’ mobile number in the contacts folder – it was a mobile, and she was ‘too far gone’ to answer, if Chip really knew about it.

D I Bones pulled up the directory enquiries website. Nursing homes in Prestatyn. How many could there be?


Second question. How many could have a resident called Mrs Jones?


Second question. How many could have a resident called Mrs Jones who might have a son called Gareth?


He went down to the canteen for a coffee and wandered back up to his desk. He’d have to get a bit smarter about it. He thought for a while, doodling on a bit of scrap paper. Then he realised the missing link.

Gareth was in his mid-twenties. Mrs Jones couldn’t be very old, so she must have quite early-onset dementia.  She couldn’t be older than in her late sixties. That should narrow things down. He started phoning the nursing homes again.

Follow @wadingtreacle on Twitter, or like the Wading Through Treacle page on Facebook to be informed of updates, or click on ‘follow’ at the bottom of this screen to register for new episodes by email. Tomorrow’s episode: A Decent Proposal.

Advent Episode 21: Flat Inspection and Squatter

 Flat Inspection

D I Bones woke up with a really bad headache. He would have liked nothing better than to phone in sick, but he needed to get into Gareth’s flat. He was expecting to see another note on his computer from uniform branch when he got in, but there was nothing new. At 9.25 he went down to reception. The duty sergeant grunted at him and gestured towards a PC standing by the desk. He looked very young.

“D I Bones. Are you detailed for the flat inspection?”

“Yes, sir. PC McIntyre. Sam.”

“OK, Sam. Let’s go. Have you got a car, or shall we go in mine?”

Sam held up a car key. “Got a patrol car booked out, sir. In case we need the kit.”

D I Bones held up the key to Gareth’s flat. “Don’t worry, Sam, we won’t need the enforcer this time. Saves on paperwork.”

Sam looked slightly disappointed. “Very good, sir.” D I Bones led the way out to the car park.

Gareth lived, or had lived, in an old warehouse which had been converted to small apartments intended for young professionals, not far from the city centre. They drove in silence. D I Bones was mulling over the previous night’s débacle. The thought of the paperwork was making him feel even worse. Why hadn’t he realised that Lilian was just another crank caller? It wasn’t as though he didn’t have plenty of experience with them. He supposed it was because she was a university lecturer. He didn’t think he’d met any before this week. Bloody hell. They were a strange bunch. There was that biology woman, Alison whatever, she wasn’t with it at all. The state of her kitchen! And her reaction to the news about Gareth was weird. He’d never, ever seen anyone so uninterested in a death. Sheila Thompson, his supposed suspect seemed pretty flaky. Nice house, though. The Bob character, fairly normal, but a bit, well, feeble? And as for Mrs Hankin… His head throbbed at the thought of their journey back from Sheila’s house. That woman was completely bonkers. He didn’t care if it was un-PC to say it. He shuddered.

“Shall I park here, sir?”   Sam had pulled up near the warehouse, next to an empty parking space. D I Bones opened his mouth to tell him to go up to the double yellows just by the main entrance, and then thought better of it. Maybe there were some new regulations about that. They weren’t in a particular hurry. “fine” he said.

“Do I need anything special from the car, sir?”

D I Bones shook his head. “Not really. Just gloves and a pack of evidence bags. The death isn’t suspicious. We just need to see if there’s a note, and we also need to track down next of kin. Looking for address books or whatever. Oh, maybe a mobile. He didn’t have one on him when he was found. I suppose it could have been nicked.”

“Who’d nick a mobile from a corpse, sir?”

D I Bones looked at him. He really was young. He didn’t bother to answer. “OK, well let’s get to it, PC MacIntyre.”

The lift was out of order. They trudged up to the fifth floor. “Bet you’re glad you’re not carrying the enforcer now,” D I Bones suggested. He was panting. Sam, however, seemed fine. He really was young. And fit.

Outside Gareth’s flat, D I Bones stopped and knocked loudly. “I thought the guy was dead, sir?”

“We don’t know for sure that he lived alone. I’ve tried calling the landline a few times. But you never know.”

Sam nodded, hopefully storing away a tip for future searches.

Nobody answered. D I Bones got out Gareth’s keys. He hoped they would fit. There was no actual evidence linking Gareth to the flat. The nearest to a confirmed identification had been Sereena’s glance at the post-mortem photo. Nobody else he’d spoken to had actually met him.

The keys worked. D I Bones realised that he’d been holding his breath. He gave a sigh of relief. That linked the body to the Gareth Jones who’d worked at University of Burston and who’d given this address to Mrs Garvill.

They both put on gloves, and went inside. The front door opened directly into the sitting-room. DI Bones scanned the room. It was sparsely furnished. One chair, medium-sized TV, coffee table, desk and small bookcase in one corner. Big window with a fake balcony. No pictures on the walls, but one slightly dog-eared poster for Coldplay, 2008 tour stuck up just a shade crookedly near the TV. It was very tidy. Or maybe sparse was a better word. D I Bones sighed. “You take this room, Sam. I’ll start with the bedroom.”

Back at the station, D I Bones flipped through his notes.

Items removed from apartment of Gareth Jones:

  1. Mobile phone, locked, and battery almost flat (Nokia, on bedside table)
  2. Laptop computer with charger (Toshiba, in messenger bag on the kitchen chair)

That was it. They hadn’t found anything else useful. No bank statements, no utility bills, no personal correspondence, just, nothing. The bedding and the towels looked as though they had been used. The toothbrush and shaving kit were used. But it looked as lived in as a hotel room.

He phoned the IT team. Maybe they’d find something useful on the computer. And they needed to unlock the mobile.


Alison looked at her watch. It couldn’t be so late, could it? She still had loads of things to do. The phone on her desk rang. ‘Geoff Sanders’ said the display. God, what now? She picked up the receiver. “Alison speaking.”

Geoff sounded upset. “Alison. Can you come straight to my office, please?”

“Is it really urgent, Geoff? I’m trying to finish up the course modification forms. They’ve got to be in by tomorrow.”

“Please, Alison. Please.” Was that a sob? She must have misheard. Geoff was permanently vague. He didn’t express any emotion about anything. Even yesterday, with that unpleasant incident with Jen and Mr Patel, he hadn’t really seemed bothered. He was just going through the motions. “OK.” she said, and hung up.

She locked her office and walked down the corridor. The lights came on just as she got to the stairs. As usual, she thought how handy the lighting system was for intruders. She went up one flight and turned left. The lights were already on up here. Geoff’s office was slightly recessed from the main corridor.  As she got nearer, she could hear voices. Odd. Who else would be around at this time of night? Like her, Geoff often worked late, but most of their colleagues were long gone by now.

She turned into the recess and stopped dead. An unfamiliar person was sitting in the doorway to Geoff’s room. She was leaning back against the frame, with her knees pressed to the other side. Alison frowned, then shrugged and stepped over her. “Geoff?”

Geoff was hunched over in his chair. “Alison.” He looked up at her. “Alison. Thank you for coming.” He sniffed loudly.

Alison felt exasperated by this behaviour. “Geoff” she repeated. “What did you want to see me for? I am quite busy.” Geoff gestured towards the door. “her.”

Alison turned back to the figure in the doorway. “What about her?”

Geoff looked incredulous. The problem was obvious. He leaned forward and whispered “I can’t get rid of her. I can’t go home.”

Alison saw no need to lower her voice. “What do you mean, you can’t get rid of her? Who is she, anyway?”

“She’s one of our students.” Geoff gestured at her to whisper. “She came to complain about the Cell Biology lectures being cancelled. She says she pays £9000 a year for this and she’s staying here till I teach her. She won’t go. ”

Alison stared at him. “Don’t be ridiculous, Geoff.” She went over to the student. “I’m Alison Fraser, the course leader. I gather you’ve got a problem with the course. Why don’t you tell me about it? What’s your name?”

The student looked defiantly up at her. “Sue. I’m not going till I get my Cell Biology course. I’ve paid for it and the lecturer never turns up. ”

“Sue. I can understand why you’re upset.” Alison used her special, calm, tone. “I know this isn’t the best way to start your course, but we have had a particular problem with Cell Biology, and I’ve spent the last two days trying to sort it out.”

Alison cursed to herself. One of the things on her job list that she hadn’t got to was to email all of the first year students to tell them what had happened and what she was going to do about it. She’d got Alex on the case with trying to find a timetable slot so she could catch up for them, but he hadn’t got back to her with anything yet.

“Now, why don’t you get up and I can explain it all to you? It’s a bit difficult to chat when you’re sitting on the floor.”

Sue glared at her. “I’m not going until I’ve got my course.” She repeated.

Alison turned back to Geoff, who was watching them, rapt. “How long has she been here, Geoff?”

He looked at his watch. “Since quarter to five.” Alison sighed. He really was ineffectual. She crouched down to Sue’s level.

“Sue. You’ve been sitting there for two hours. You must be really uncomfortable. Why don’t you come with me and we’ll get a cup of coffee, and I’ll explain what’s happened. You do know that your lecturer, Gareth, died very suddenly?”

Sue looked shocked. “Gareth? But he’s so young. How did it happen?”

Alison stood up and held out a hand to Sue. “Come on. I’ll take you for a coffee and I’ll tell you all about it. I’m sorry we haven’t let you know. We only found out on Monday ourselves, and we’ve been concentrating on finding a replacement.”

Sue took her hand and let herself be pulled up. Alison glanced round at Geoff. “I’ll take it from here, Geoff. See you tomorrow.”

“Mmm.” Geoff looked crushed. “Thanks” he added, quietly, as they left the room.

Follow @wadingtreacle on Twitter, or like the Wading Through Treacle page on Facebook to be informed of updates, or click on ‘follow’ at the bottom of this screen to register for new episodes by email. Tomorrow’s episode: Working the Phones