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Part Two: A Failure of Imagination

“Good Lord, this is tiresome.” Gathercole closed the cover of yet another archaeological journal and placed it face down, reaching to the pile for another. “Are we sure this is everything?”

“Everything that’s been published.” Crispin was still in a state of dudgeon from the early morning, but he was dutifully ploughing his way through his own share of the journals.

Gathercole stifled a yawn. “We are looking for something meaningful, something singular, something that speaks to ritual or ab-natural forces. This Professor Bradley seems driven to paroxysms of near sensual joy by a few fragments of pot.”

“Why couldn’t he be interested in the Romans or the Greeks? What I wouldn’t give for a plate illustration of a saucy mosaic or a wall-painting of Apollo about now. Instead, it’s pieces of pot, animal bones and the occasional rusted lump that might, perhaps, in a certain light, be a cloak pin.”

“This is like finding hen’s teeth,” Gathercole harrumphed and turned back a page, having lost focus.

Crispin raised a finger. “All chicks have a special structure on their beak called an egg tooth, which they use to breatk their shell. So a hen’s tooth would be much easier to find than this.”

A white-haired librarian woman with thick glasses appeared around one of the stacks. “Would you mind keeping it down, gentlemen? Students are trying to learn.”

“I do apologise madam.” Gathercole inclined his head slightly.

“Oh, Professor Bradley’s work? Poor man. We’re all quite distraught to hear of his passing. One wonders who could do such a thing.” The woman tutted and shook her head.

“Or what…” Gathercole opined before Crispin gave him a sharp look. “I’m sorry, we’re assisting the police in the matter of his passing. Is this all his work? We’re hoping we might find some clue.”

“Oh, yes, this is everything. Everything that has been published at least. I pride myself on a complete catalogue, at least as it relates to the university and the record of work relating to it.”

“So there is unpublished work?” Gathercole leaned forward in the soft, yielding leather seat, which resisted his efforts.

“Yes, it can take a long time to make revisions and so forth to get published. There’s two or three papers he’s been working on, and everything relating to the Coldham dig site of course.” She couldn’t help herself, and she bent down to tidy the chaotic stacks of journals they had left strewn over the table.

“The Coldham dig site?” Gathercole was standing now, and Crispin reluctantly followed him up to his feet.

“Feelan’s Copse, find of a lifetime he said. Forever harping on about the amateur archaeologists of the past stamping around like elephants. This place was unspoilt, he said. They finished the dig not too long ago.”

“And his work on this site would be where?”

“Well, in his office.”

“Thank you, you’ve been most helpful!” Gathercole strode away on his long legs, leaving Crispin to offer the librarian his hurried apologies before he gave pursuit.

The Professor’s study wasn’t in a position of particularly good standing, tucked away in a warren of rooms and corridors, far from the light of the sun and thick with dust. There was nobody to stop them, and it wasn’t locked, but the state of the room left a great deal to be desired. The police had, clearly, already been here and while they had methodically swept the room for clues, they had not put everything back in the precise order that, presumably, the Professor had kept things in.

Gathercole began to methodically work his way through the papers and notes while Crispin half-heartedly leafed through bits and pieces and ran his fingertips across the folders on the shelves, not entirely sure what he was looking for. It took hours, and even Gathercole’s tenacious and analytical mind began to fray a little around the edges.

“Blast it, Crispin, there’s nothing here about Coldham or Feelan’s Copse other than this near illegible note begging the bursar for some funds. Another blasted dead end.”

“Hmm?” Crispin had fallen asleep a while go, in the battered arm chair that was the only other furniture in the room.

“You could have at least pretended to help for a little longer,” Gathercole snapped at him, reproachfully and got up. The study chair rolled back on its wheels into a stack of books and Gathercole yanked the door to the study open. He almost got a punch in the face, a pair of young men were standing there, one mid-knock upon the door, almost overbalancing as the door opened before him.

“Good Lord!” The first student gasped. “I’m so sorry!”

Gathercole gathered himself with a slight cough, straightening the lapels of his pale suit. “Quite alright young fellow, can I help you with anything?”

The first man looked a little crestfallen at the question, his friend, in a rather natty straw skimmer with a band in the university colours, burgundy and black, spoke up. “We are students of Professor Bradley, old boy. Were, rather, I should say. We’re trying to make do until we get a new Professor and we drew the short straw to look up the lesson plans and the last papers we handed in.”

“Who are you exactly?” The glum-looking, hatless student looked up.

“We’re consultants for the constabulary,” Crispin spoke up as Gathercole was lost for words for a moment. “We’re investigating his death, supplementing their work.”

“We may be able to help you with the papers and lesson plans, we’ve gone through this whole office. One moment.”

Gathercole ducked back into the office and tugged the papers from the shelf, holding them out to the students.

As the hatless young man was about to take them, Gathercole pulled them back, as though changing his mind. “Perhaps you could help us in return? It seems like a lot of the records are missing, particularly about the most recent dig?”

“Ah,” said the skimmer-wearer. “Well, that was only just finished, it’s all still in process. Laid out in one of the storerooms. It’s going to be a bit of a task to get everything in order without the Professor. He was a frightful stickler for doing things properly, the blighter, but a wise old head on matters scientific.”

“You can show me where these finds are?”

“Of course sir, happy to.”

Gathercole gave over the paperwork, and the two young fellows led them through the impenetrably labyrinthine corridors of the university.

Crispin trailed along beside, still thoroughly bored, though he’d seemed to have lightened up a little in the company of the student boys. “This is starting to take me back a bit Gathercole, pair of handsome of bucks like this, almost enough to make me miss it.”

“You’re incorrigible, Crispin.” Gathercole gave him an affectionate biff on the arm as they followed the students into the storeroom.

Electric lights brightened as they warmed up, a series of overhead metal lamps that gave the cement floor and brick walls an even more stark and unforgiving look than they would already have had. All over the floor were crates and boxes of finds, trinkets, broken cloak-ins, pieces of broken pottery, coins, carved stones with spirals upon their surfaces and more.

Gathercole began to move through the finds, mentally cataloguing them as he did, searching for the ineffable something that smacked of the ab-natural.

“The Professor recorded where everything was found in these notebooks, we’d begun double-checking everything. The low numbers are the outer finds, the high numbers are the inner finds. Letters indicate what manner of find it was, roughly most significant to least significant, ‘A’ through ‘Z’. Everything’s labelled too.” Said skimmer-boy.

“I say, William, this crate’s still closed. The label says one-‘A’,” Crispin called out. “I say, fellows, what’s in this one?”

“That’s the chap who was buried in the mound. Fragile skeletal remains, some grave goods. We hadn’t finished indexing them when what happened, happened.” The hatless lad was still rather dour and sad.

“Can we open it up?” Gathercole moved to the crate and rested his hand upon it.

“Na ye bloody-well kin nae open it up!” They all turned and the bellowing shout. It was a short, bald man in red-brown tweed, with a robust scots accent. He puffed on his pipe and growled around it, giving him the appearance of a rather red-faced steam locomotive. “Grey, Winston! Explain yersel, who oor thaese men, eh?”

Skimmer spoke up. “Sorry Professor Sievwright! They’re working with the police on Professor Bradley’s death. They asked to see the finds.”

“And did yae ask for their credentials?” Sievwright’s accent faded as his fury abated, though clearly, it took effort.

“No, sir.”

“Sorry, sir.”

“Away wi’ ye, and as for you two gentlemen. Gae oot!” The accent came back as quickly as it had faded as his face reddened again.

“Sir, if we’re to solve this case we simply must…” Gathercole strove to be diplomatic, but they were all interrupted a second time.

This time it was a young woman, togs and boots, a flowy blouse, a tam on her head, she cut quite the modern figure. She was white as a sheet, though, and her voice was all a-quiver. “Professor, Winnie, Flusher, there’s been another death. It’s Willy. Like Bradders, at his boarding house. The police won’t let anyone see him!”

Gathercole and Crispin shared a glance, that settled it. There were more urgent things afoot than a box. The scots guard dog could wait.

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