‘Chief Inspector Lever. And you are?’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘I’m confused.’ Martin glanced around the room. It looked like a typical academic office, or - rather - what he would expect a typical academic office to look like: namely lots of books, periodicals, overflowing folders and stacks of paper.
Although, he hadn’t expected to see the chalk outlines spread around the floor, or the ominous dark stains merging into them. A slightly-younger woman came through the door and stood against the wall, behind the man who claimed to be a chief Inspector.
The seated man produced a wallet and - briefly - flashed some sort of card at Martin. It could have been anything: a bus pass, a library ticket, a photograph of the man’s favourite homing pigeon. Martin had seen the police do that sort of thing in crime dramas on the telly, so he felt marginally reassured that he was in the presence of a real policeman.
‘My name is Martin Laws. I came to see Professor Stewart, where is he?’
‘Why what? Why is my name Martin, why do I want to see professor Lever or what?’
The woman standing by the wall stood up straighter. She stared at Martin as though she was carefully calculating the amount of electrical charge she would like to apply to Martin’s genitalia. Martin smiled back helpfully.
‘Why did you want to see the professor? Are you one of his students?’
‘You don’t work for the university, do you?’
‘Were… are you a friend of the professor’s? No, obviously not. You asked me if I was him, didn’t you? So, I’ll ask you again; why did you want to see him.’
‘Ah, I see… well, there’s. Well… you see, someone I live with, she asked me to come and see him.’
‘Well, they, her and her friend… a room became available for rent, and they, well… they just sort of moved in, nearly two weeks ago. She, Lisa - that’s her name - asked me to come and see him.’
‘I don’t know, as a favour I suppose. She was a bit busy and I had some free time.’
The chief inspector appeared slightly irritated by something. ‘Why?’
‘Well, I suppose I just like to help people if I can. It seemed the least I could do, really.’
‘No! Listen to me. Why did she, this… this….’
‘Thanks, Conrad. This Lisa, why did she ask you to see the professor?’
‘Oh, I see. Sorry. I was getting totally the wrong end of the stick, wasn’t I?’ Martin said.
The two police officers stared at him in silence. Martin could see they were both thinking about precisely which end of what particular stick they would like to apply to which exact, and vulnerable, part of his body.
‘Oh, right, well Lisa asked me to see if I could get her essay back from him before he marked it. She suddenly realised she’d made a silly mistake and wanted to correct it.’
‘Oh.’ Both police officers looked rather deflated, as though they had expected him to admit to involvement in terrorism, drug gangs, murderous love-triangles, stolen gold, political assassinations or something else both highly-illegal and very exciting compared to the usual unhappy lot of a policeman.
‘So where is he - the professor? I ought to be getting back, with the essay… if you don’t mind?’
‘He isn’t here,’ Lever said.
The other officer, Conrad, walked over to one of the chalk outlines. ‘He was here….’ she moved to another of the chalk outlines ‘and here…’ she pointed ‘And over there… there… and there… and this…’ she tapped the desk, ‘…was where we found his ear. The left one to be precise. Next to these.’ She pulled a plastic bag from her pocket.
Martin tried to remain expressionless and calm. ‘What are those?’
‘Juggling balls.’ Conrad said. ‘Plain black juggling balls. We think they came in that envelope.’ He pointed across to a padded envelope on the edge of the desk.
‘The postmark is illegible,’ Lever said. ‘So, if you never met the professor before I suppose there is little you can tell us.’ He stared into Martin’s eyes. ‘Providing you are telling us the truth.’ He looked away and then back at Martin. ‘I suppose we had better take your name and address though. We may want to have a word with this… this…?’
‘Thank you, Conrad… this Lisa.’
‘So Mister… Mister…?
‘Thank you, Conrad. So, Mr Laws. Perhaps we will meet again… later.’
‘Right. But what about the essay?’
‘I think there is a chance he won’t be marking it,’ Conrad said. ‘Don’t you?’
‘Er… yes, I suppose so. Can I have it then?’
‘Oh, why not?’
‘If it was in the pile of essays on his desk you wouldn’t be able to read it, anyway,’ Lever said.
‘They were absolutely drenched in blood.’
‘Oh, right. Nasty.’ Martin grimaced and shuddered. ‘So what will I say to Lisa? She’ll want to know. What happened? Did he suffer at all?’
‘I should have fuckin’ well thought so,’ Conrad said as she led Martin to the door. ‘I’m not absolutely certain, but I would have thought being torn limb from limb would - at least - sting a bit.’
Martin stopped in the doorway and turned to face Conrad. ‘You are not very respectful of the dead are you?’
‘No,’ Conrad said and shut the door in Martin’s face.
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