A detective calls
There is a message awaiting me when I arrive at campus this morning. It seems one of my students has been found dead in a park in the suburbs. A detective is on his way to talk to me, although I doubt that I will be able to help him very much. I haven’t had time to get to know many of the students on a personal level yet. He will probably want to talk to the other students which is fine as far as I’m concerned.
When I arrive there are small groups of students in huddles in corners and doorways who appear to be discussing something quite earnestly. They glance at me as I walk past. It is only when I get to my office that I make the connection between the huddles and the dead student. Word has obviously got around but then I daresay it has been on the news which will be on every smart phone by now. I have only just got round to switching mine on!
Ten minutes later my phone rings to inform me that two detectives, a sergeant Bannon and a female officer, are on their way up. I look at my schedule. I can give them half an hour before I deliver a lecture; come to think of it they may like to address the students beforehand. I will give them that option, I think.
Shortly after there is a smart rap on the door. A sharply dressed, slim man, probably in his late twenties with blond hair walks in, followed by a younger, attractive, equally slim, woman whose face is devoid of expression. He introduces himself and then her as DC Fairchild.
‘It’s a while since I was on a campus,’ says Bannon gazing around my office and the papers and books in piles everywhere. Reminds me of my tutor’s room.
‘Where was that?’ I ask him curiously.
‘Corpus Christi, Cambridge. I did classics,’ he explains.
‘I can imagine you got a First too,’ I say smiling.
‘And you?’ he says, rising an eyebrow.
‘Oxford, New College. Double First in Maths and Psychology.’
He looks impressed. I tell him my primary subject here is maths but that I also teach applied psychology. I ask him about the dead student.
‘Johnny Zhang, 20, originally from Dublin. We don’t have a next-of-kin address. We are hoping you can help us with that.’
I tell him that welfare and registration will be able to and tell him who to contact. I ask what happened to John. I didn’t admit that I was expecting it to be a Chinese student.
‘He was murdered,’ says Bannon bluntly. I am about to ask how but decide not to. I daresay he wouldn’t tell me anyway. DC Fairchild has said nothing but simply stares at me impassively. I don’t like her. I don’t know why but I don’t like the way she looks at me and decide to stare her out. She is the first to look away. I get a small feeling of victory. Yes, I know it’s childish, but I don’t care. This is my domain, and I am not going to be intimidated by some female copper with a personality problem. I turn my attention to DS Bannon and invite him to talk to the students before I deliver my lecture.
I decide there is something decidedly odd about DC Fairchild. It is almost as though she has a personality gene missing. She has opted to stay out of the lecture hall saying that she will be outside to speak to anyone who has information.
There is an uneasy silence as Bannon delivers his appeal for information. Some students rather pointedly study their notes or stare at the ceiling. Nobody has questions when he finishes. He thanks them for listening and says that he is available to talk at any time and that I have his number. He hands me his card as he says it, smiling apologetically.
Back in my office, I file my lecture notes and stare out of the window at the street outside. It is one of those gloomy days accompanied by a fine drizzle which I am so used to in County Cork. There are times when I miss my life there, but I know there is no going back and not just because of events in Dublin. I will explain why some other time.
My thoughts turn to the note that Joe’s friend Naomi gave me. At first, I thought it might have been a student joke. ‘We know who you really are.’ Whoever ‘they’ are can’t possibly know about my name change…can they?’ No, that is just too crazy.
I was very, very, careful planning the house fire and my name change. Nobody could possibly have known about it. I am certain I was not followed either before or after the fire. Indeed, I had already left Ireland when the place blew up. And believe me, I would have known if anybody was keeping tabs on me. I learned all the tricks in my old life. It is also tempting to think that somebody has followed me to Liverpool. They didn’t. I would have known.
No, the more I think about it, the more likely it is the note has a completely different meaning. Indeed, perhaps ‘they’ confused me with someone else. The alternative is that it has something to do with the old days. If so, I have good reason to be twitchy.
I decide I need a decent coffee and set off for the local coffee shop. I sit at a table spooning froth into my mouth and get an uncanny feeling that somebody is staring at me. I turn around and there, sitting a few tables away is Joe’s friend Naomi who I met briefly yesterday when she handed me the note. She smiles and gives me a little wave. I beckon her over.
Naomi is an attractive lady, no doubt about it. She has the same denim jacket she had on the last time I met her. The boots have been replaced by trainers and a pair of battered jeans with streaks of paint in places. I guess she is a woman who doesn’t particularly care what others think of her and in that respect, I am with her. I ask her if she lives locally.
‘Just down the road on Rodney Street,’ she says staring at me with a strange intensity which I find oddly unsettling.
‘Isn’t that the road where all the consultants have their surgeries?’ I ask.
She laughs and nods. ‘They are all on the ground floor with brass plates,’ she explains with a wry smile. ‘My place is on the third floor with no brass plate.’
‘Do you need one? Joe said you were an artist “among other things.” I was intrigued by what that could mean.’
She gives me a twisted smile, sighs, and replies that she is a psychic, obviously expecting me to respond with what I imagine is the standard response of deep scepticism or outright disbelief or sneering scorn. But I have encountered the real deal before. My mother was one when we lived in Cork, an orphic lady who was well respected for her abilities in the neighbourhood.
Naomi is staring at me with those magnetic eyes of hers and then down at her mug of coffee, tapping her finger on the side. When she looks up, her face is troubled.
She suddenly says she must go without looking at me. I somehow get the feeling she knows about Dublin, but not in any detail. I want to ask her what she has seen but something is stopping me. She stands up and just as she is about to walk out, she half turns, looking me square in the face.
‘Be careful where you go,’ is all she says and then she is gone.
I wonder what that means.