Death in an Ivory Tower (Dotsy Lamb Travel Mysteries) (8 page)

BOOK: Death in an Ivory Tower (Dotsy Lamb Travel Mysteries)
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Keith Bunsen turned into the archway as I was leaving it. “Aren’t you staying for drinks this evening?” he asked. He was making the same mistake I’d made.

I set him straight.

“Well! What to do? I certainly c-c-can’t go back to my work. My brain has shut down for the day.”

“You work here? I thought your research was at a lab outside of town.”

“It is. I use the facilities at the Radcliffe Hospital. My laboratory is there but I do most of my paperwork here.” Keith’s head bobbed like a pigeon’s, with a rocking motion, when he walked. He paused when we reached the middle of the quad.

This was a logical place for us to part, me to my staircase and him to wherever his rooms were, but I remembered a question I wanted to ask him. “Your research deals with diabetes, doesn’t it?”

“Yes.”

Over breakfast on a couple of mornings, we had discussed the fascinating work he was doing on diabetes and I’d told him I was type one diabetic, having dealt with the condition since childhood. “Did you know Bram Fitzwaring, the man who died today, was diabetic?”

“Was he now?” Bunsen tilted his head and looked toward Staircase Thirteen. “I think I m-m-may have known it, but until you mentioned it just now, I hadn’t made a link between that fact and the man who died today.”

This confused me. “Did you know Bram? I don’t understand.” How could Bunsen know Bram without knowing his name, or alternatively how could he have heard about the death without hearing Bram’s name?”

“Bram Fitzwaring may have been a part of the study I’m conducting. I say, ‘may have been,’ because I don’t have a list of my subjects by name.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’ll take a while to explain.” He looked at his wristwatch. “We have twenty minutes before dinner. Let’s go to my rooms.” Those rooms turned out to be across the way on Staircase Ten, where he had an office and a couple of rooms. We sat in his cozy book-lined office, but I could see through a doorway to a small sitting room beyond. I didn’t ask for a tour. It would have seemed too bold and besides, we only had a few minutes to talk. Bunsen indicated a brown leather wing chair for me and took the swiveling office chair for himself.
So this is what an Oxford don’s office is like.
I quickly scanned a few book spines and found they were medical books, chemistry books, and weighty tomes on statistics.

The room was also cluttered with models of human insides, mouse insides, cell insides, and colorful DNA models. I realized this must be the office Bunsen used during the school term when he was teaching undergraduates. Obviously he kept his visual aids here between lectures. A scientist of his stature would hardly need a plastic model to tell him what was inside a cell.

“I told you the other morning that my research deals with a promising new compound I believe will help to reset the biological clock of diabetics, and regulate the liver’s glucose production.” He plopped one thin ankle on the opposite knee and leaned back in his chair. “The liver is responsible for the production of glucose and, therefore, the amount of glucose present in the blood at any given time. The livers of diabetics get signals to produce glucose all the time, not just when it’s low. So when the production line should be shut down, it keeps cranking out more and more glucose.

“We’ve already run tests in live mice and using human liver cells in vitro. The data is very promising. So now we’ve advanced to testing on human subjects.”

“How exciting,” I said. “Can I be one of your subjects?” I was only half kidding. I knew I couldn’t, because I don’t live in England and the study, I assumed, was already underway.

“Sorry, no. But with luck you may be able to benefit from the results.” He shifted in his chair. “A few years down the road.”

I made the appropriate happy face.

“You asked me if . . . wh-what was his name? Bram Fitzwaring? You asked me if I knew him or if I knew he was diabetic, and I said I didn’t know. Let me explain. I have two groups of subjects. A test group and a control group. The subjects in both groups are diabetic, all volunteers. The subjects come to our facilities at the Radcliffe Hospital at regular intervals. They get a battery of tests and a fresh supply of medicine, all administered by my assistants. Normally I don’t see them. Each has a coded number and my assistants have access to the database containing the names and codes. The test subjects get the real medication and the members of the control group get a placebo.”

So far Bunsen hadn’t said anything I didn’t understand, but I hoped it wouldn’t get any deeper than this. “So you don’t know if Fitzwaring was in your study or not?”

“Correct. It’s a double-blind study. They don’t know if they’re getting the real medicine or not and I don’t know either. My assistants match the patient’s number with a number on a bottle of pills.

“I have actually examined and interviewed each of the subjects at the beginning of the study, but since then, I haven’t seen most of them. We’re talking about a hundred people, nearly a year ago, and I can’t recall what they all looked like. I’m not especially good with faces anyway. As for their names, we have them in our files out at the hospital, but I don’t personally have them.”

“Oh, look at the time!” I said. It was seven o’clock exactly. I wasn’t sure what would happen to late arrivals at dinner. I imagined walking up and down, looking for my name on a place card while everyone else was seated and muttering disapprovingly under their breaths.

As we raced across the lawn to the dining hall, I asked Keith, “Did you, by any chance, have an upset tummy last night after dinner? Several people, including me, did.”

“Upset tummy?” Keith grinned at the expression. “No, I didn’t, but I have a cast-iron tummy.”

We had no place cards this night so we could sit wherever we wanted. Keith and I, being among the last to arrive, took seats near the entrance on the far end of the room from the High Table. Mignon Beaulieu walked in as Harold Wetmore was calling for the invocation. Fortunately I had an empty seat beside me and I waved her over, saving her the embarrassment of searching for one.

She wore the same midnight blue, crushed-velvet dress she’d worn the night before. Her auburn hair was piled up in a twist and held by a Celtic knot clasp like one I’d seen in the jewelry case at The Green Man. She took her seat quietly, but every head in the room turned toward her anyway. Whispers. I couldn’t hear what anyone said but obviously they were saying, “That’s the woman. The one who was with Mr. Fitzwaring.”

I clasped her pudgy hand under the table.

This was awkward. The handclasp was automatic. Nothing more than I would do to console anyone. But that laugh I’d heard earlier still rang in my head. Was she sad or glad Bram was dead?

The starter was a cold sweet potato soup. Wine, which had been free at last night’s dinner, was not free tonight. I ordered a bottle of Chablis and shared with Mignon and Keith. The conversation was stilted and going nowhere so I introduced the topic of Keith’s research, partly to loosen things up and partly to see Mignon’s reactions.

“Keith has been telling me about his study of a new—what should I call it—a new medication for diabetics. It sounds so promising, I wish I could get in on it, but I can’t because it’s already started and plus, I live in America.”

“Is it the one Bram was in?” Mignon’s Welsh accent made questions and statements sound, to my ear, the same. But this answered the question on my mind.

“Mrs. Lamb asked me the same question,” Keith said, “and I had to tell her I don’t really know.” He explained how the study was organized.

“It sounds like the same one,” Mignon said. “Bram took a bus to Oxford once every six weeks. They asked him some questions about how he was feeling, checked him out, and gave him a bottle of pills.”

“Small world,” I said, and turned to Keith. “How many people do you have in your study?” I already knew, but I asked for Mignon’s benefit.

“About a hundred. That is to say, I started with a hundred but the numbers invariably dwindle as time goes on.” The tip of Keith’s tie had crept onto the edge of the table and was taking aim at his soup bowl.

I pointed to the problem. “Why do they invariably dwindle?”

“With that number of adults, even healthy adults, some may die, unfortunately.”

Mignon’s hand flew to her mouth.

Keith, possibly realizing the effect of his innocent remark on Mignon, quickly added, “Some may move away, some may simply decide to drop out. You have to delete all their data when they do. As if they’d never been in the study to begin with.”

“But if they die, isn’t that significant? Isn’t that what the study is all about?” I asked.

“I didn’t explain myself well,” Keith said. “If someone in the study dies, you do include it, regardless of the reason for the death. If they get hit by a truck, in the data it’s simply recorded as ‘deceased,’ and the rest of their line is left blank.”

“Oh, dear. I can see how that might skew the results,” I said.

“Exactly. It does happen. And if it happens more than a few times in a study as small as mine, you run into the old chi-square dilemma.”

“What’s that?” My own research, thank goodness, didn’t involve statistics, although I had heard of the chi-square test for significance. Other graduate students at UVa bandied such terms about much to the chagrin of the mathematically challenged, like myself.

“It’s a f-f-formula we use that tells us whether our results are meaningful or totally worthless. If your numbers dwindle too far, it can mean that one more person dropping out can render your whole study worthless even if the results so far are pure gold.”

“Let me get this straight.” I sat back to let the server remove my soup plate. “The people you’re treating may be getting better, even getting well, but if one gets hit by a truck, the whole study can go down the drain.”

“Right. Particularly in a study that starts with only fifty test and fifty control subjects.”

Mignon had hardly touched her soup. Her question came out in a whisper. “Was Bram in your test group or your control group?”

Keith Bunsen looked at me, then down at the table. “As I told Mrs. Lamb earlier, I don’t know. My assistants have that information.”

Mignon’s implication was clear. If someone wanted to sabotage Keith’s research, killing one of his test subjects might do the job. Or perhaps she was thinking,
if Keith’s research is going badly, if too many in the
test
group have died, Keith would have a motive for killing a member of the
control
group.
I wondered if Mignon knew Keith lived a only a few yards from our own rooms.

While the wait staff was pouring coffee, making their way around the tables in pairs, one with a pot of decaf and one with regular, Harold Wetmore rose to introduce the evening’s speaker. “But first, we all extend our most heartfelt sympathy to the family and friends of Bram Fitzwaring, who passed away peacefully last night in his room. Especially to his friend, Mignon Beaulieu, who accompanied him here from their home in Glastonbury and who, like all of us, was looking forward to his lecture this afternoon.”

I wasn’t sure if Wetmore knew Mignon was in the room or not. Most of the diners in our part of the room turned toward her and nodded solemnly.

Our speaker was Robin Morris, a director of the Bodleian Library and one of my dinner companions last night. I remembered his remark about Prudence Burcote, his nominee for the Grey Lady of the night before. In light of today’s happenings, everyone seemed to have forgotten about that mysterious event. Morris spoke to us about the history of the Bodleian Library and described how visiting scholars, such as we were, could go about gaining entry to one their reading rooms. The Bodleian was not a lending library, and its mission to protect hundreds of rare and ancient documents meant that permission to even sit and read was fraught with red tape. He recited the oral declaration required of all visiting scholars promising not to mark, damage, or remove any document from the premises and to bring in nothing that might start a fire.

Mignon and I walked back to Staircase Thirteen together.

“Have you talked to Bram’s family yet?” I asked, slowing my pace to let Mignon catch up with me. She was wheezing, and I wondered if this slight exertion was all it took to wind her.

“I talked to his mother,” she said. “So awful, having to tell her over the phone, but what was I to do? I couldn’t actually go to Newcastle to tell her. That’s a whole day’s trip.” She stopped a moment to catch her breath. “I offered to tell his brothers as well if she would give me their phone numbers, but she said she had to do it herself.”

“I understand.”

“Bram was a bit estranged from his family.”

“A bit estranged?”

“It wasn’t like a family feud or anything. It was just that his family didn’t approve of his lifestyle or his beliefs. They’re all very conventional, the Fitzwarings. You know. Grow up, get a job, get married, have children, go to church on Sunday.” She shook her head as she walked along the concrete border around East Quad. “It was weird, though. When I told her, it was almost like she expected it. Like, ‘Okay, what else is new?’” Mignon stopped when we reached the entrance to our staircase and turned. “I need to go back to Bram’s room. Do you think they’d let me have a key?”

“We can ask,” I said. I turned toward the porter’s station where lights still burned inside.

The porter handed the key to Mignon. “I was on duty last night, you know, when Mr. Fitzwaring . . .” He allowed his voice to trail off rather than use the word
died.
His face tightened into a picture of sorrow. “I’m so sorry, Miss. So sorry about what happened. I didn’t learn about it until I came back this afternoon.”

“You work three to eleven, don’t you?” I asked him.

“That’s right.”

“Then I don’t think you were on duty when he died. The EMTs seemed to think it was more like two in the morning.” I saw no reason to go into the noises I heard in the wee hours because this porter wouldn’t have heard them. However, I did want to talk to the porter who was on duty and find out if he heard anything or saw anyone out at or around the critical time.

BOOK: Death in an Ivory Tower (Dotsy Lamb Travel Mysteries)
9.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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