Deadly Stuff

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Authors: Joyce Cato
    ‘Same here.’
    ‘He seems very popular with the ladies,’ Jenny added deadpan.
    Charlie rolled his eyes. ‘Don’t I know it. I’ve been asking around about our host, ever since I met him yesterday, and I get the distinct impression that he’s a bit of a tom cat. Apparently, he was a bit of a lad when younger. I’ve had my ear bent by several people telling me what he was like in his younger days and how the ladies of his home town weren’t safe. Mind you, I looked him up on the internet, and he was born and grew up in someplace called Wither Sedgewick, which is only a small market town up in the Yorkshire Dales somewhere, so I hardly think that qualifies him as a Don Juan.’
    ‘I thought I heard someone say he lives in Harrogate nowadays,’ Jenny said helpfully. ‘So perhaps you need to dig for the dirt there.’
    Charlie had the grace to blush. ‘Sorry. But I can’t seem to get enthusiastic about stuffed hedgehogs,’ he said, nodding to a table and a case where the cute mammals were displayed in all their prickly glory.
    ‘It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it,’ Jenny said, in a fairly good Humphrey Bogart accent, and laid a comforting hand on the young man’s shoulder.
    ‘See, that’s all the sympathy I get,’ Charlie said, but rolledhis eyes and followed her down the corridor. ‘I’m going to find me a demonstration and take some photos, the more gruesome the better,’ he threatened, waving his camera in the air. ‘The editors love a bit of blood and gore.’
    ‘That’s the spirit,’ Jenny said cheerfully and, waving the young man goodbye, headed back to her room.
    In the back of her mind, however, lingered the image of a bottle of acid.
    Jenny couldn’t settle. Her room was in an older part of the college and, since parts of it dated back to the time when Christopher Columbus was a boy, that was pretty damn old, but for once the lure of history being all around her failed to intrigue. She went to her diamond-shaped lead-paned windows and threw them open, looking down through fronds of pale-lilac wisteria at the ancient quad below. Mellow Cotswold stone and lawns so velvety green that they looked like the finest baize gazed back at her.
    She saw a gardener dead-heading some shrubs and breathed in deeply of the sunny warm air. What she needed, she told herself firmly, was a walk around the grounds, perhaps even around the town. She grabbed her handbag, glanced at her watch, saw that it was still wasn’t quite noon, and wondered if she could find a decent place to grab a bite of lunch.
    Her route out took her back past hall, and it was perhaps the unexpected silence of the place that made her stop beside the wide open entrance. Of course, everybody must be down in the JCR by now she realized, after she’d thought it through for a moment. She saw that most of the tables had been fully set up now, with only a few left that needed some finishing touches. She looked around, expecting to see at least someone standing guard, but the room felt oddly empty.
    Weren’t they worried about thieves? Jenny considered it for a moment. Presumably there were always scouts about. Andalso, presumably, the porter at the gatehouse didn’t let anyone in who hadn’t business being in the college in the first place.
    But wasn’t it open to the public?
    She hesitated and then stepped further into the hall. ‘Hello?’ she called softly. But not even the resident college ghost – some emeritus fellow back in the 1880s who’d died in his rooms and remained undiscovered for two whole terms, apparently – bothered to reply.
    She was just about to shrug and head back out, after all, it was not her gear that had been left lying around for any light-fingered passer by to snaffle, when a flash of blue caught her eye.
    She turned, trying to place it, then realized that it was something on the floor that had caught her peripheral vision. Something colourful on the floor usually meant it

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