Death in an Ivory Tower (Dotsy Lamb Travel Mysteries) (10 page)

BOOK: Death in an Ivory Tower (Dotsy Lamb Travel Mysteries)
2.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

This is not a good time to be standing here with your eyes closed, Dotsy.

I opened them and found—nothing. Nothing but two stone walls and the third with a giant, black, arched gate. Closed. A smaller door cut into the wooden gate was also shut. I pushed on it. No good. I felt around on both sides of the door until I found the touch pad. I couldn’t open the door because my magic button was on the ring with my room key—in the shower.

Heading back, now genuinely confused and aghast at my own recklessness, I wondered if it was possible that the Grey Lady had gone into the Master’s Lodgings. If so, that rather narrowed down the field of suspects to Daphne Wetmore or someone known by, and in collusion with, the Wetmores.

My ankle was killing me.

I turned and hobbled back through the archway, turned right this time, and gazed through the Master’s Garden. Lights were on inside the Wetmores’ den. The curtains were open, and inside a half-dozen people in evening dress sat, chatting and drinking what I assumed was decaf from china cups.

I stopped in at the porter’s station and asked for some ice to use on my ankle. I reminded them that the refrigerator on Staircase Thirteen had no freezer compartment. The porter on duty pulled a plastic ice cube tray from his fridge in a little nook behind a folding screen, cracked the cubes loose, and dumped them into a Starbucks coffee cup.

“By the way, have you seen a strange woman wandering around?”

The porter raised his eyebrows at me. “The mysterious Grey Lady again?”

“I think so.”

He grinned and shook his head. “You professors have great imaginations, I’ll give you that!”

“Oh, that’s right. You didn’t see her last night, did you?”

“No. But if you all say there was a woman who disappeared before you could catch her, I’ll believe you. Who am I to say aught else?”

“I thought I saw her again tonight, over there.” I pointed to the north wall of the quad, visible from the door to the porter’s station, but only partly so from where I stood. “Ah well. I suppose when you have a place that’s been standing since Elizabethan times, you’re bound to collect a few ghosts.” I thanked him for the ice and hobbled back to the shower on Staircase Thirteen.

Back in my own room, I dumped the ice cubes into the quart-sized plastic bag I’d used to move my liquids through airport security. Pressing it against my throbbing ankle, I jammed my pillow into the space between my back and the wall at the head of the bed and trained the light from the bedside lamp on Bram Fitzwaring’s note. His last will and testament? No, but it might be the last thing he ever wrote.

Why had it been lying on the floor of his closet? Was this what Mignon had been looking for? I doubted it. It was more likely that she simply wanted to gather up his clothes and other personal effects. The paper had been torn from a notepad. I could see traces of glue along the top edge. It had been folded twice. To fit in his pocket? This seemed likely. He wrote the note, tore it off the pad, and stuck it in his pants pocket. Draped his pants over a hanger and the note fell out in the closet.

When would they do the autopsy? Had it already been done? Who would be told the results? His mother? Mignon? Would Mignon tell the rest of us? If it was hypoglycemia, would the autopsy prove it? My common sense told me there would be no physical evidence of it. The heart, liver, stomach, and brain would look normal. They might well find evidence of his diabetes, but that in itself wouldn’t be the immediate cause of death.

They’d take a blood sample. They’d send it off to a lab. The glucose level would be very low if it was hypoglycemia. That’s probably what the medical examiner would suspect if he knew Bram was diabetic. How long would it take to get the lab results back?

All this was useless musing on my part. What I needed to do was wring every bit of information I could from the few words on this little piece of paper, and wringing information was my special talent.

This might have been a memo to himself of things to do. A trip to Oxford would be a logical time for research into whatever interested him, and that would be anything to do with King Arthur or the history of Glastonbury. Since, according to Mignon, he had friends here, this might be a list of things to ask them about, or tell them about, or look for books about. Lists are made to remind oneself. The careless way this one had been written in a combination of printing and cursive letters told me it wasn’t meant for any eyes but his own. In fact, the numbers inside the parenthesis in item two were in pencil, whereas the rest was in ballpoint. So it hadn’t all been written at the same time.

The whole thing was in a tiny, cramped hand. It reminded me of my son Brian’s handwriting. This was a funny thing I’d noticed before. The biggest men write the smallest hand as if the instrument in their hand is too small and will only produce letters of a similar size. Or maybe it’s a subconscious desire to
smaller. I doubted that. Brian Lamb, at least, used his hefty proportions to great advantage.

I started with the first item, Tor. A tor is a pile of rocks or a rocky outcrop. The area around Dartmoor in southwestern England was especially known for its tors. But the only tor I knew by name was Glastonbury Tor. Coincidence? I thought not. I flipped the magnetic cover off my iPad and pulled up a map of southwestern England. Glastonbury lay some seventy-five miles northeast of Dartmoor. So a man from Glastonbury would most likely have been referring to Glastonbury Tor in his notes. Still, I needed to bear in mind that England has many tors, and Bram’s list had only that one word.

Next: Bone. Or was that bore? His writing was so small it was hard to tell. Bone seemed more likely somehow. 51.9. A dimension? A length? A diameter? What were the units? If bone was the correct word, it could be length. If length, 51.9 inches would be far longer than any human bone, but might be reasonable for a dinosaur. I can always remember Lettie’s height by the song, “five foot two” and “only sixty inches high.” A 51.9-inch bone would be up to Lettie’s shoulders.

Maybe centimeters? I used an online metric converter and found that 51.9 centimeters would be about twenty inches. But what about these other numbers inside the parenthesis? I multiplied it out, using the rule I learned in school: perform the operations inside the parenthesis first. That gave me 8,771 centimeters, almost the length of a football field. This was getting me nowhere.

Item Three. Now this was more like it. History. Cromwell, of course, was easy. Oliver Cromwell, military leader in the English Civil War and Lord Protector of the Commonwealth in the mid-1600s, was instrumental in relieving King Charles I of his head. Hero to some and an archvillain to others. The preceding word, Sharpham, had me stumped. I googled it and found that Sharpham was a small town near Glastonbury, and also a vineyard on the river Dart south of Dartmoor. Was there a reason why both these names were on the same line? How were they connected?

Finally, item four. TVRA 450 CE. The first four letters were printed so I thought they could be an acronym or possibly a foreign word. 450 CE. A year? CE was the new, politically correct, way of writing A.D. A.D.,
anno domini,
in the year of our Lord, had a definite Christian connotation as did B.C. before Christ. Recently most historians had switched to writing BCE, Before the Common Era, instead of B.C., and CE—Common Era? It still sounded awkward to me. What’s so common about the era we live in?

I googled TVRA and got a number of suggestions, none of which seemed to have anything to do with Bram Fitzwaring, Glastonbury, the Elizabethans, or King Arthur.


My phone rang at midnight and woke me up. It was Lettie, still at her daughter’s apartment. “Lindsey says she can show you around the hospital tomorrow morning about ten if you can meet her in the front lobby.”

This made no sense mixed in with the dream the call had interrupted. I sat up and paused a minute to get my bearings. Lettie’s voice. Lindsey. Her daughter. Hospital? Slowly the pieces came together.

“Are you still there, Dotsy?”

“Right,” I croaked. “That’s good. Why did you have to call me so late?”

“It’s not late. You’re just in bed early. I have to get an answer now because Lindsey’s getting ready for bed and I’m getting ready to go back to St. Ormond’s. She needs to know tonight so she can clear you for a visit tomorrow morning.”

“Ten o’clock. I’ll be there.”

It took me a few minutes to go back to sleep, and meanwhile I heard thunking noises from my window. Standing on the foot of my bed, I cranked the window open and listened. I heard scrapes and metallic clangs that seemed to be coming from my right, down Sycamore Lane. I knew there was a narrow alley on this side of the lane, some twenty yards down. It was full of trashcans. Why would anyone be taking out trash at this hour? Probably a dog or something.

I dropped to my pillow and my knee flattened the plastic bag I’d used on my twisted ankle. The ice had melted and cold water squirted across the covers.

The next morning as I dressed, I studied the conference program for the day. It was Sunday and nothing was scheduled until one-thirty so people could attend church if they wanted to. Oxford abounded with historic churches, and I’d intended to go to services at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin on the High Street because it had been the site of so many pivotal events in its thousand-year history. I’d taken a quick walk through a few days ago.

But I had made plans, sometime in the wee hours, to meet Lindsey at the Radcliffe Hospital at ten o’clock. I wondered if Lettie was in her room, but decided against “knocking her up” since she may have come in very late. Instead, I went to breakfast alone and found very few people there. The only one I recognized was Claudia Moss, the young woman from the British Museum in London, whose lecture I had missed yesterday. She waved me over to join her.

“You’re on Staircase Thirteen, aren’t you?” she said. “That’s why you weren’t there for my lecture yesterday. I looked for you in the audience because you told me you had a keen interest in Shakespeare.”

“I was so looking forward to it. But unfortunately . . .”

She cut me off. “Oh, golly! Was it you who found him?” Claudia tucked her long brown hair behind her ear and leaned forward, her shirt just missing the rim of her plate. She was wearing a brushed cotton shirt that exactly matched the green of her eyes. Her makeup was nothing more than a bit of blush to highlight her cheekbones, and an artful sweep of mascara. She was a head turner of the modest sort.

I recounted yesterday’s scene as briefly as I could. “I suppose we have to wait for the results of the autopsy to find out for sure why he died.”

“How well do you know Mignon? His companion. Isn’t that her name?”

“I only just met her.”

“Were they a couple?”

“That’s hard to say. I asked her and she said they were lovers—sometimes. Whatever that means.”

“So that’s where Daphne Wetmore was yesterday when we were eating lunch.” Claudia added a drop of milk to her tea and took a tiny sip. “Do you remember? You asked Dr. Wetmore where she was.”

“Right. That was when she and Mignon would’ve been waiting for the EMTs. By the time we finished lunch, the ambulance was already here.” I recalled looking at my watch as I sat on the bench in the quad. It was two-fifteen when they emerged with Bram’s body on a stretcher.

“It was odd, though.” Claudia muttered this into her teacup, as if she didn’t mean for me to hear.

“What was odd?”

She paused a moment. She gazed out one of the tall stained-glass windows, and I had decided she wasn’t going to answer me at all, when she said, “Before my speech, I was sitting on the dais waiting for Dr. Wetmore to go to the microphone and introduce me. He and Dr. Roberts, your friend, were standing by the side door just off the stage. Dr. Wetmore said something like, ‘Got your loins girded?’ and Dr. Roberts said, ‘Personally, I’d rather be in the Bahamas.’”

“Then what?”

“That’s all I heard, but I thought to myself, ‘What are they talking about? They both delivered their papers this morning. They can relax. If anyone should be nervous, it’s me and Bram Fitzwaring.’”

I took a taxi to the Radcliffe Hospital, a giant megaplex of glass and steel that seemed a world away from the mellow Cotswold limestone of the university in the town’s center, and told my driver where to let me off. Lettie had given me her daughter’s cell phone number so Lindsey and I stayed connected as my cab approached the entrance. She was waiting for me inside the automatic doors, a visitor’s pass for me already in hand. I hadn’t seen Lindsey for several years and wasn’t prepared for the mature woman in a white lab coat and comfortable-looking shoes. Tall and slender, with her long dark hair pulled back in a ponytail, her blue eyes had sunk deep into their sockets. She looked tired, with dark, puffy half-moons under her eyes.

I hid my surprise and hugged her.

“Where do you want to go? It’s a huge place as you can see.” She peeled the backing from a visitor’s name card and stuck it on my shirt. “Would you like to see the floor where I work?”

BOOK: Death in an Ivory Tower (Dotsy Lamb Travel Mysteries)
2.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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