An Oxford Christmas Crime

I was driven to Kidlington Police Station late in the afternoon of January 6th, the night already closing in, and the snow which had started six hours ago finally easing off. It was one day after a failed assassination attempt on a prominent member of the Royal Family attending the opening of a new university hall at my old alma mater Oriel College. The police driver who escorted me from the car to the front desk and beyond had not spoken since ascertaining my name on his arrival at my flat and checking the luggage he loaded into the boot of the car was everything I needed. I hadn’t minded the twenty-minute silent car journey since that followed. It didn’t do anything to make me feel either less or more at ease about the situation I was in. I just needed to get through what was coming and quickly enough to get to the airport in time for my flight. 

               The policeman ushered me in from the cold, uttering a short warning about the slippery slush pooled in the station reception before taking me past the front desk and down turning corridors to an interview room. I hurried to keep up, the duffel bag I was hoping would be accepted as hand luggage later swinging awkwardly, and my short legs struggling to match his stride. When he stopped suddenly, I ran into the back of him, bouncing backwards while he barely seemed to notice. 

               “If you’ll take a seat in here, Ms Tresna, the Inspector will be with you shortly.”

               I nodded as I squeezed past him, “Will this take long? I have a flight to ca…”

               “21:15 from Birmingham. Yes, we’re aware, and we’ll do everything we can to have you out of here before then. A car will take you to the airport. You’ve got a long flight ahead of you?” 

               “21 hours.”

               He whistled, “Where exactly do you stop, to get to…” 

               “Alright, Richardson, you’ve had plenty of time to question the young lady, it’s my turn now.” A fat man in a crumpled suit interrupted and bustled past him into the small windowless room and the big policeman who’d driven me gave a little grimace and said tonelessly, “Yes. Chief.” He gave me a curt nod and exited the room, closing the door behind him. 

               “Ms Tresna,” the new man said, sitting heavily on a chair and gesturing for me to do the same opposite him, “My name is Detective Inspector Marlow. Thank you for coming in to speak to us. To help us to understand all of this…” the fat man spoke slowly, as though he thought I might be struggling to understand him, and wrinkled his nose, “…mess. Hopefully, we shan’t keep you too long, and then you can be on your way back to…” he glanced down at the file in front of him, “Java is it?” 

               Summoning up the limited English I’d managed to acquire during my three years studying Classics and English at Oriel, I offered a small smile, “Close to Java. Banten.” It was actually five hours drive with no train option, but we weren’t here for a geography lesson.

               He made a note – as though he might be considering holiday options, “So, to make sure we can get you across to Birmingham in time, perhaps we can keep this succinct. I’m just a common copper, not an intellectual like a lot of them around here, so can you explain to me how you came to be acquainted with Giles Tome?”

               “Is Giles here?” I asked, “Can I see him?” 

               The fat man smiled. It made it seem as if he were having trouble passing wind. “Ms Tresna – as I say, I am a common, unworldly man, so I can’t be sure how things work in Java…” he paused and checked his notes, “…or even Banten. But in England, in a police interview, it’s the police who do the interviewing. To answer your question, however, yes, Mr Tome is here. And yes, you will most certainly be given a chance to see him.”

               I swallowed and nodded, “OK.”

               “So,” said the Inspector, “Let’s start with how you came to know Mr Tome.”

               “I answered a newspaper advert he placed in the Oxford Mail back in September.”

               Marlow flicked to a page in his file and took out a photocopy, passing it across the desk to me, “This advert?”

               I looked at it, “Yes. Gentleman Sleuth requires a biographer to chronicle his work.”

               “And what made you apply for this position?” Marlow asked. 

               I considered for a moment, wondering how best to explain it, “Since being a small girl in Banten, reading Arthur Conan Doyle, I have been fascinated by crime. I thought this might be interesting and…fun.”

               “Fun?” Marlow jotted the word down in front of him, “And how has that worked out for you – now that we’re eleven people dead and only just averted the murder of a member of the Royal Family? Has it been fun?”

               “Well,” I swallowed, “Mr Tome did provide you with the means to save the life of the Prince…”

               Chief Inspector Marlow barked out a laugh, “Did he though? And what about the other eleven dead people, Ms Tresna? I was there when we found Michael Ridge’s body – both bits of it on either side of the Peartree Park and Ride site. The early morning airport bus on Christmas Day had dragged the torso halfway across the site before the driver heard the noise as he drove over a speed bump. The site is only a half-mile from here: it wasn’t the way I wanted to spend my festive morning. And, let me tell you, things have not been particularly jolly since then. So, what can you tell me about what happened after that, what exactly Giles Tome knew about it and, more importantly, what he did or didn’t do about it?” 

               “And if there is time after I tell you, I can see him?” 

               The fat man leaned back in his chair – a chair which seemed to consider trying to escape from under him before surrendering to his bulk, “Ms Tresna – that’s precisely why you’re here. If you don’t know anything – which you claimed when we spoke to you on the phone…”

               “That was what I said.”

               “Then,” the Inspector said as he leaned back forward, “We want you to go into a nearby room – just a couple of doors from here, and speak to Mr Tome. Or listen to him – that seems to be his preferred style. Talking. To the TV, to the radio, online. He loves to talk. Except to us at the moment. He says before that he wants…no, insists on speaking to ‘his biographer’. “I’ll tell ‘my Tru”” what I know first, and then you gentlemen.” Was the way he put it.”

               I took my glasses off and gave them a wipe. They didn’t need it, but perhaps spending the last three months following Giles Tome around had had some theatrical effect on me, “He said ‘My Tru’?”  

               “He did. Is that a nickname? And do you consider yourself his property?”

               I shrugged, “Everyone calls me Tru’. Except for my mother. And ownership? Is that what the youngsters are calling Woke culture, Detective Marlow?”

               The fat man laughed, his chins jiggling with what seemed to be some genuine humour, “The youngsters? How old are you, Ms Tressa? All of 24 as I understand it. And no. I just think Mr Tome is a pompous git who thinks he’s the bee’s knees.” 

               “He does like to say he’s the greatest detective alive.” I shrugged. 

               “He also says he’s the supreme sleuth of sin solving.” Marlow grimaced, “To any media outlet that will listen to him. The man is a publicity whore, Ms Tressa. He would like nothing better than a TV series and a dozen biographies written about his so-called genius. Do you have hopes to be one of those biographers?” 

               I shook my head and smiled back at the Inspector, “My time in England has come to an end, Detective Marlow. I am returning home. But if your immediate questions are finished, may I ask one?” 

               Marlow nodded reluctantly. 

               “Why are you still holding Mr Tome?” 

               He stood up and opened the door, ushering me out and talking down to me, literally not figuratively as we went, “I don’t like Mr Tome, Ms Tressa. He is a big-headed, showboating buffoon who makes our job harder not easier. He gets in the way, confuses things, and takes credit where he doesn’t deserve it. Oh, I’m not saying that weird brain of his doesn’t see things in a way that we don’t always manage. But my concern is…” we reached a door, and the detective looked down at me, “…does he see things that way because he’s as brilliant as he claims… or because he’s psychotic?”

               I said nothing. I didn’t think the detective was expecting an answer. 

               “And,” the fat man went on, “we’re holding him because I want to know how he knew that ridiculous, convoluted attack was going to take place on the Prince yesterday. We’re holding him because I want to know if he knows where the would-be assassin is. We’re holding him because I want to know why he thinks there’s a link between the recent deaths. But most of all we’re holding him because I very much want to know that if there was a connection when he figured this whole thing out.”

               “And he won’t tell you?” I asked, “That doesn’t sound like the Giles Tome I know…”

               “If there is a link… Professor Tome is refusing to talk to us for the time being,” the detective said, “He says he’ll only talk to you. His Tru…” his nose wrinkled in disgust, “… his ‘biographer’.”

               I looked through the small glass window of the door where Giles Tome sat at a table. He was apparently staring into thin air. I was sure he was undoubtedly deconstructing some impossible conundrum he’d once read about, or the rest of us were not yet aware was going to happen. That was the way he was. 

               “So you want me to let him talk to me…or at me, and you’ll …record the conversation?”

               Marlow shook his head, “We can’t do that. But if he’ll talk to you, then you can tell us what he says, and I can decide whether to keep him locked up. Not reporting a future crime is, in my view, as bad as concealing one which has already happened. But the most important thing is we find out what the murderer’s next steps are going to be. And…” he added, “If we keep him in here for much longer and we find the murders stop then…” 

               “Then what?” I asked

               He winked at me before pushing the door open, “Let’s say I don’t believe in coincidences.” He paused, “But I do believe some people will do anything for publicity… You’ve got fifteen minutes with him, then we need to get you to the airport. We can’t detain you, but I need you to tell me anything and everything you find out on the way…”

               Giles Tome (FRS, FRSA, PhD), looked up as I walked in, a small smile creeping onto his long face, “Ah Tru, my Tru…How perfectly lovely to see you.” His gaze flicked to Marlow standing behind me, “That will be all thank you, Officer.”

               The detective made a small growling noise in the back of his throat but turned without saying anything, closing the door behind him. 

               “Please, my dear Tru, do take a seat.” Tome said, gesturing to the empty chair on the other side of the small table he sat at, “I am assuming we have…” he thought for a moment, “fourteen minutes.”

               “How did you know that?” I asked, sitting down.

               Tome smiled, “The passport sticking out your jacket pocket suggests you are about to go on a journey. I’m assuming you’re returning home. The next flight leaving that would get you there within your financial means– albeit with rather unpleasant stopovers, would be…”

               I held up a hand, “OK. You’re right. We’re probably down to thirteen minutes now, Giles. The police…”

               “Want you to speak to me because they believe I will tell you what I won’t tell them. About the recent…events. And they’re undoubtedly hoping I can tell them what will happen next. Where and when the murderer will strike.”

               “That’s…” I started. 

               “Amazing.” Giles Tome said dismissively, as though a given, “Yes. Quite. Well. Best get started shall we? I can tell you three things. Firstly, the murders are linked in a quite fiendish manner. Secondly, there will be no more murderers. Not for the time being, anyway. And thirdly…”

               I waited, breath baited. 

               “I do not know who the murderer is.” Tome said, slumping back in his chair.

               I did the same thing in a mirror image, “You don’t?”

               “Not a clue.” He smiled, “But I’m working on it.”

               “Giles,” I said, smiling encouragingly, “You’re so brilliant I’m guessing you’ll have figured it out by the time I leave in…” I glanced at my watch, “eleven minutes.”

               Giles Tome shrugged modestly – something I knew didn’t come easy to him and sighed, “I wish I had my pipe. These things are better told with a smoke, don’t you know?”

               The way he said it made him sound like an old man rather than the thirty-four-year-old ex-Oxford University Professor he was. The corduroy jacket and polo neck jumper, however, fitted his persona perfectly. 

               “Now Tru, to spend our time most effectively, I must be brief, so forgive me if you do not follow everything I’m about to tell you, but time is of the essence and to…”

               “Murder One.” I interrupted, knowing brevity was not one of the many gifts which Giles Tome possessed, “The Christmas Day discovery of Michael Ridge. Tied and gagged between two parked buses in the Pear Tree Roundabout Park and Ride…”

               “Indeed”, Giles said, looking slightly irked at the interruption, “The driver got into the cabin of the bus at 7:30 that morning and was moving the bus to…”

               “…start one of the few journeys the company were operating that day – airport runs.” I cut in, “Because of the gag and, well – the fact he was driving a fifteen ton bus, he didn’t hear or feel a thing when his acceleration off ripped the man in half. It wasn’t until he reached the exit barrier and heard or felt a bump he checked…”

               Tome paused and then nodded, “Just as I was about to say, yes. But, dear Tru, put it together and what do you have? This was the start of it all – and the first part of the pattern. Michael Ridge, a Park and Ride…but not any park and ride in Oxford…not Redbridge, not Thornhill…”

               “Pear Tree. Michael Ridge was torn in half – so a part Ridge in a Pear Tree…” I said. 

               The ex-professor smiled, “Well done, Tru. And so the game begins…”

               “On Boxing Day,” I said, not needing to check my notes, “The body found of a volunteer worker out at Otmoor Nature Reserve…”

               Giles Tome nodded, “Now, Tru, what you may not know…”

               “Is that Otmoor is one of the few places in the UK which has seen a growth in Turtle Doves. While numbers have been down up to 95% in recent years, Otmoor has seen a steady increase in the birds – although they tend to appear only from April to September.”

               I looked across at Giles, who was looking back at me without a trace of his usual knowing smile, “Why…yes…”

               I provided the smile and continued, “December 27th. The discovery of Claude Reno – a French student, at Rosenblatt Pool on Iffley Road. Reno was a member of the Oxford University Swimming Club.”

               Giles Tome steepled his fingers together, “And this is the interesting part…what you probably don’t realise is…”

               “Poule – French for Hen. Claude was French. So, finding him in a swimming pool could be considered a…”

               “French Hen…” Tome finished quietly, his fingers unsteepling as he looked at me, “Tru, have you been reading my fil…”

               “28th. Man found dead in his home in Blackbird Leys. A civil parish and ward in Oxford, which, according to the 2011 census, had a population of 6,077. An area looked down upon by the town and gown of Oxford, so the death was barely considered a part of this pattern…”

               “And Blackbird…” Giles started, but with hesitation, as though he was not expecting to finish the sentence.

               “Colly bird. The original use of the verse. Not calling bird. A colly bird…a…”

               “Blackbird.” The super sleuth in front of me said softly. He was looking a little paler now under the sickly glow of the interview room light, “And so on the 29th…”

               “David Gold. Found strangled by the Church Bell pull he had been ringing at 5 o’clock in the evening, just ahead of evening service…almost as though it were…”

               “Five Gold Rings…” Giles whispered. 

               I nodded, “Quite. Is this the pattern you were thinking of?” 

               “I…I…”

               I laughed gently, “A pattern that continued on the 30th – James Doyle. Part-time thespian, full-time letcherer. That’s a pun…these things can get very punny, can’t they?” 

               Tome said nothing for a moment, and then in little more than a whisper said, “Found dead after an amateur dramatic performance of Mother Goose. Along with his co-star whom he had, presumably, been having an affair with, given they were found murdered in bed during sex.”

               “Yes,” I said, “A little vulgar that one. ‘Goose a laying’ though, I suppose…I think the killer was running out of steam in originality by then…and after such a bright start too. Do you think it was because you were floundering at that point?” 

               “I was not floundering!” Giles Tome barked, slapping the table in front of him, “I was…considering all options…”

               I see-sawed my head a little, “Were you though Giles? I only ask because I did spend time with you during that period. Frankly, it felt it was only when the teacher John Swan died on New Year’s Eve in that Swimming Pool that you really started to retrofit things…I mean – at that point you were even starting to consider a serial swimming pool killer after Claude on the 27th…we spent most of that day sitting in the Leisure Centre…it was only with the Cheese Shop Owner on the 28th…”

               “Milk made.” Giles said, “That was cunning …what’s made from milk? Che…”

               “I get it.” I said, shaking my head, “So would a seven-year-old. The drummer on the 2nd – from that local band? Any finesse went out the window at that point. The cake decorator on the 3rd. Even with the piping bag forced down her throat: that was a stretch. No pun intended…this time…”

               Giles Tome was looking at me in a way he’d never looked at me before by that point…” You…you were the one that suggested the lap dancing club…”

               I shrugged, “I just pointed out the advert for Dante’s…You spotted the’ Girls from 11 Different Countries…‘ part. Was that your first time there, by the way? They did seem to be familiar with you when we were snooping through the aftermath…”

               I couldn’t tell whether the shade of red Giles Tome was turning was from anger or embarrassment. I liked to think a little of both. 

               “And then the royal visit yesterday…” I smiled, “You were so proud of that one, weren’t you?” 

               “The Lord of the Isles.”

               “Indeed. And it was quite a leap, wasn’t it? How very meta…”

               Giles Tome slumped in his chair, his head in his hands, meaning his voice was muffled when he spoke, “It was you…? But…why?” 

               I looked at my watch, “Oops. That’s time up, Giles. Content yourself with this: you’re right – there’s not going to be any more murders. And hey…you figured out who the murderer was in the end…and you saved the Prince’s life. Not that he was ever in danger: that was just to bring things to a conclusion. And put you here…”

               “Why?” Tome asked again, raising his head to look at me – his face an ashen grey. 

               I smiled, “I’ve got a feeling you’re going to have plenty of time to try and figure that out, Giles. The reasons are more of a novel than a festive short. But for starters, you may want to think about getting back in touch with your father. Ask him about his time with the British Council in Jakarta back in the early ’70s. Before my time of course but I understand as much interest as he showed in the locals, he never bothered much with the language…or appreciated local social norms… I know you don’t speak to your father any more, Giles. But, you may appreciate visitors once in a while. I’ve left a few surprises of my own around your home…the police will be interested…”

               He was still gawping at me, his mouth open, but for once no words coming out, when I knocked on the door and the fat Inspector let me out. 

*       

               The fat policeman and I talked a lot in the hour and a half drive to the airport. I told the Inspector about the mementoes and gave him and the driver enough of an idea where to find them – not obvious; but rudimentary detective work would do it. He’d already called in the search instructions by the time we reached the airport. When he pulled my bags out of the back of his car at the airport drop off, he smiled at me, “I don’t know how you put up with that patronising bast… man. “My Tru” …he’s a prig…”

               I smiled at him, “My Tru Tresna…it has a ring to it, Inspector. Do you know what Tresna translates into in English?” 

               He shook his head. 

               “Love.”

               I shook his hand and headed for my gate.

               

*        

               It was on the drive back to Oxford, snarled up in post-festive traffic just outside the ring road two hours later that the police driver started whistling. Marlow told him to shut it, but the words hung in his head from the tune. 

               On the first day of Christmas, My Tru Love gave Tome.

 

               They turned the car around, made calls, but by that point, the plane was already gone. 

 

 

Author’s Note: This was a bit of silliness that came to me this morning and written in 4 hours…so excuse any typos.

While the people and circumstances are fictional, those familiar with Oxford may recognise some real places…

If you enjoyed this, find some stuff I actually spent some time thinking and writing about at my Amazon Author PageBasement Tales, Cellar Stories or  You Could Make a Killing all titles available on Kindle Unlimited, Kindle, and in Paperback.

Merry Christmas, one and all!

 

 

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