Death in an Ivory Tower (Dotsy Lamb Travel Mysteries) (5 page)

BOOK: Death in an Ivory Tower (Dotsy Lamb Travel Mysteries)
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“You were sick, too? How odd. I thought I was going to barf, too, but I didn’t.” I caught Mignon’s arm as she turned toward the exit. “Have you seen Bram this morning?”

“No, but he’s a terrible late sleeper. I didn’t try to wake him because his speech isn’t until this afternoon, and I thought he might have been out late. Doesn’t like to be knocked up if he’s having a lie-in.”

I stifled the laugh an American always feels when he hears “knocked up” used in the British way. “I don’t think he was out late. I ran into him outside after dinner and he was right behind me when I went up to my room, about nine-thirty or ten.” I recalled the encounter, and added, “It was weird. He asked me if I wanted to go out for pizza and I said, ‘Huh? We just ate!’”

“Oh, dear. This is not good.” Mignon’s chubby ring-spangled hand flew to her mouth. “He was acting weird, was he?”

“I thought so.”

“This is not good. Bram is diabetic. When his blood sugar is low he gets weird.”

“But we’d just eaten! Hey, I’m diabetic, too. Blood sugar doesn’t run low after a meal. Only before.”

Mignon paused and stared at the ancient stone floor of the entrance. “Bram hardly ate anything. He was so keyed up. The couple we sat with at dinner knew so much about pre-Norman history, Bram couldn’t stop talking. He must have asked a million questions.”

“Maybe that explains it.”

“Oh, dear. I’m on my way out to meet up with some friends in town, but perhaps I’d best make sure Bram’s all right before I go.” She turned back toward the open quad, then paused. “But I don’t have a key to his room. What if he doesn’t answer? What do I do then?”

“I suggest you go up first. If there’s no answer, come back here. The porter has a key.”

I started after her, but when I looked through the passage on the opposite side of the quad, I saw a steady stream of people heading in the direction of the lecture hall. I didn’t want to be late for Harold’s speech, so I let Mignon pursue her mission alone.

I wondered why Harold had chosen “Courtly Love and the Tudor Court” as his topic when his expertise lay, not in the sixteenth century, when the Tudors were on the throne, but in the much earlier Anglo-Saxon period. Upon reaching the lectern he paused, settled his rimless glasses on his bulbous nose, and straightened his notes. He lifted a sheet or two and grimaced, as if he didn’t recognize what they were. Of course, Daphne would’ve made sure his papers were in order already, so the straightening and lifting were purely for show. His bow tie this morning was brown with greenish spots, but his rumpled jacket and trousers looked the same as those he’d worn last night. I wondered if he’d slept in them.

He began by reminding us that the term “Courtly Love,” when used as a sort of cliché to describe affairs of the heart among the nobility, wasn’t used until about 1900, and would never have been used in the Tudor Court. Nevertheless, the Tudor Court behaved as if they had invented it. He went into some detail about the original idea as set forth in “The Art of Courtly Love” written by a French cleric and discussed in the salons of Marie of Champlain way back in the twelfth century. Love was at its best, it’s most ennobling, when it was secret, extramarital, and, usually, unconsummated. Marriage was for children; it had nothing to do with true love.

I tried to see how Daphne was taking this, but spotted her sitting on the front row so I could only see the back of her head.

Harold went on to recount, in the most scholarly terms, the relationship of Queen Elizabeth I to the Earl of Leicester, of Elizabeth to Sir Walter Raleigh, and of her father, Henry VIII, to half the women in England. Somehow, I thought, Harold’s dry description of these unseemly affairs made them sound all the more salacious. Exciting. Even titillating. The woman sitting next to me began fanning herself when he got to the part about Mary, Queen of Scots, Bothwell, and David Rizzio.

But at no point in his speech did Harold mention Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, or a round table.

Larry grabbed me on my way out of the lecture and steered me toward the dining hall. He had a way of latching onto my arm with one hand just above my elbow that actually hurt. I wrenched away, but he still stood slightly behind me on one side, effectively steering me with his body. He smiled and nodded at whoever looked our way as we all headed more or less in the same direction.

Harold Wetmore stood in the arched passage to the Middle Quad, nodding meekly at the many kudos for his fine speech.
Perfect place to stand, Harold. Everyone has to file through this passage and they can’t help seeing you.
I chided myself for my excessive and possibly baseless cynicism.

As we passed by, Harold shook Larry’s hand and the two men congratulated each other on their insightful and thought-provoking lectures. Harold added, “Would you and your . . . would the two of you join me at High Table for lunch?”

Larry fell all over himself accepting with pleasure. I nodded my acceptance while mentally licking the wound inflicted by that awkward pause. Harold couldn’t remember my name. In the dining hall, Larry and I stepped onto the slight rise at the far end where the High Table stood perpendicular to three long rows of tables stretching the length of the room. “Where should we sit?” Larry asked me. I’d hoped Daphne would be there to tell us what to do. Fortunately Claudia Moss, our first speaker of the afternoon and one of my dinner companions last night, was also standing by and wondering the same thing. I recalled that she was from the British Museum in London.

“Golly. I don’t want to take someone else’s place, but there are no place cards, so what should we do?” she asked.

I introduced Larry to Claudia, and then had an idea. “Let’s ask one of the servers.” Several green-shirted young people were standing idle along the walls. That done, a handsome young man told us to sit anywhere but in the two centermost places because they were for Master and his wife. Larry took the chair closest the center—I knew he would—I took the next, and Claudia sat next to me.

“Well? You haven’t given me your assessment of my speech, Dotsy. How do you think it went?”

“It went well, of course. Although I already knew the whole thing practically by heart.” This answer deftly avoided any mention of the audience reaction, which is what he really wanted to hear.

“How do you think the others liked it?”

What could I say? I paused and craned my neck toward one of the entry doors as if searching for someone, but actually buying time.

Larry filled the gap. “I think they all liked it.” He leaned closer to me and muttered, “Did you hear that applause at the end?”

“I did.”

“I was nearly thrown off my game when some guy in the back had that coughing fit. And it
have to be at the best part of my Prologue recitation.”

Coughing fit? Those weren’t coughs, they were hoots! Poor Larry. He had no idea. Maybe it was a good thing, though. As long as he didn’t go around bragging about it, who cared if he went through the rest of his life thinking he took Oxford by storm? “Yes I heard that, too,” I said. “And you know what else I’ve noticed?” I sat back, bringing Claudia Moss into the conversation. “How very self-effacing Oxford people are. They never refer to their own accomplishments. Their attention is always on others. Have you noticed that as well?” I turned to Claudia.

“I suppose it’s that Oxford reticence,” she said. “A bit of pretense, really. But don’t let it fool you. Their apparent humility is only skin deep.”

“Aha. Sounds like a Cambridge graduate talking,” I teased.

“Oh, dear. Is it so obvious?”

We both laughed.

Larry rose as Harold Wetmore sidestepped along between the chairs and the wall and took his seat.

A server hurried over to fill our wine glasses. Claudia passed on the wine because her turn to speak was up next and she wanted to keep a clear head. Daphne’s seat remained empty throughout the meal. The table talk centered on the Bodleian Library’s upcoming changes to the History Faculty Library services.

At a lull in the conversation I asked Harold, “Where is Daphne?” Her seat was still empty.

“I imagine she’s taking care of the hundred and one things—those pesky little details—that always come up at a conference like this.” He turned toward me and his glasses fell into his plate. He picked them up and wiped them with his napkin before stretching them back around his ears. “I don’t know what I’d do without her. I’m no good at details. Pesky little things. But someone has to do it.”


I missed Claudia Moss’s lecture.

Instead, I tried to return to my room on Staircase Thirteen to brush my teeth but got no farther than the ground level. A woman in the uniform of an emergency medical technician stopped me with an outstretched palm and said. “Sorry. They’re bringing a man down on a stretcher. You’ll have to wait.”

My heart flipped. It had to be Bram. To my knowledge, he was the only man staying on this staircase. There was another room, number two, which was, as far as I knew, vacant. Lettie’s room, of course, hadn’t been slept in last night. Then a horrid thought. Could it be Lettie? Might she have come back to her room this morning while I was out?

“Are you sure it’s a man?”

The tech looked at me as if debating whether I had a right to an answer, then nodded. “It’s a man, and a big man, too. They’ll have a right job bringing him down these stairs without dropping him.”

“How long do you think they’ll be?” That sounded selfish and it didn’t matter how long anyway, so I added, “Is he going to be all right, do you think? Is he conscious?”

“Not conscious. Dead, I’d say, but I’m not supposed to be giving out all this information. Is he . . . ?” She stopped. Her face flushed. “Oh, I’m sorry. Is he a relative of yours?”

“No, but I know him. We’re both attending the conference here. I talked to him just last night and he seemed fine.”
But he didn’t, did he?
Mignon thought he might have been going hypoglycemic. “Is anyone else up there with him? He has a companion, a Miss Beaulieu, who’s staying in room three.”

“Big woman?” The EMT’s arms spread out, indicating the woman was overweight rather than tall. “Long braid?”

“That’s her.”

“She’s up there and the Master’s wife is up there as well. It’s a tiny room, though, what with the three techs working on him, I’m surprised the women haven’t been told to leave.”

I backed out and headed for the front gate. Several college staffers stood behind the plate-glass window of the porter’s station, peering out. The big front door was open. Beyond the door, the blue lights of an ambulance bounced off the stone façade of the college across the street in staccato pulses. One of the staffers stuck out his head and asked me for an update on the problem in Staircase Thirteen.

“I’m assuming it’s Bram Fitzwaring in room four. They won’t let me go up.”

“We know it’s Mr. Fitzwaring, but did they say how he is? Did they make it here in time?”

“The EMT at the bottom of the stairs seemed to be of the opinion that they didn’t. She thinks he’s dead.”

“So sad. So sad,” the man said, sounding genuinely sorry.

“Who found him? Who called the EMTs?”

Looking back at his compatriots, as if for guidance on what he could and couldn’t say, he got a couple of quizzical looks. “The heavyset woman, Miss Beaulieu, she came running down. Said, ‘Mr. Fitzwaring! Something’s wrong with him. I can’t wake him up and I think he’s dead!’ Said, ‘Call for help.’ Then, while I was calling nine-nine-nine, Master’s wife, she came in and they both went back up the stairs together. I heard her say, Miss Beaulieu that is, I heard her say, ‘He’s lying on the floor and the furniture’s all turned over.’ Then the EMTs ran in and I sent them up straight away.”

With nothing more to be learned from them, I retreated to the bench in the quad, the same one that Bram and I had shared last night. From here I could see the back end of the ambulance through the open front doors beyond the porter’s station. This was the first time I’d seen those doors open. Normally we entered and left through a normal-sized door that was cut into the left half of the huge arched and nail-studded doors whose age I could only guess at. I had wondered if those doors opened at all. Obviously they did, in a case like this.

Conference attendees started to gather in the quad. Everyone who walked by asked me what was going on. Why was the ambulance at the gate? I decided to downplay the situation, because the one thing the EMTs wouldn’t need as they were taking Bram out was a crowd of rubberneckers. I told the curious that Bram Fitzwaring had apparently had a diabetic problem and he’d be right as rain as soon as they got some glucose in him.

Furniture turned over. That didn’t sound like hypoglycemia. I was fairly well acquainted with the problem of low blood sugar. You get spacey, confused, your vision gets blurry, and your heart goes a mile a minute. If you don’t do something quickly, you may lose consciousness as I have done on a couple of occasions I’m determined not to repeat. But why would he have turned over the furniture? Might he have realized he needed help and, in his confusion, tried desperately to leave the room but couldn’t find the door? Flailed around blindly, knocking things over? It could have been like that.

But if he was showing symptoms of hypoglycemia as early as nine-thirty or ten, when I saw him, he’d have passed out long before the noises from down below woke me up. That was about two a.m. And after passing out, nothing would have awakened him. He would have simply died in his sleep.

The quad heated up in the midday sun and I slipped off my tunic, baring my arms to a couple of wrens who were now my only companions. My watch said five after two, so Claudia Moss’s lecture would have started. That’s why the quad was deserted.

At two-fifteen I heard noises coming from Staircase Thirteen and I stepped over until I stood in front of it, but far enough back to be out of their way. A couple of bumps and swear words, then an EMT muscling the leading end of the stretcher down the steep, narrow stairs backed out, his head swiveling rapidly forward and back to avoid tripping off the threshold or dumping the stretcher’s burden.

BOOK: Death in an Ivory Tower (Dotsy Lamb Travel Mysteries)
8.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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