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Sally was sitting in the library, trying to get some of her work done. Her books were stacked up in a neat pile in front of her as her pen flew across her paper. She was trying to clear her mind of what she had said to Julian earlier in the day. She wasn’t sure if she really meant it, or had just said it because she was just being her usual sensible self.
Sally tried to push it all out of her mind to try and focus on what she was trying to write, but she couldn’t concentrate. She found herself gazing out of the window by the desks, looking at out at the quadrangle. She spotted Thomas with one of his friends walking about outside. They seemed to be pacing back and forth, discussing something, and sharing a cigarette. She recognised the second boy as the one she’d seen trying to calm Thomas down a week or so ago.
Sally watched them for a while, the boys didn’t seem to realise that they were being observed, they were discussing something that gave the appearance of being urgent. Sally saw the boy she didn’t know the name of, hand a brown envelope to Thomas and head off a second later.
Thomas, assuming that no one could see him, put the brown envelope inside his jacket before stubbing out the last of the cigarette and walking off. Sally frowned.
That was the second time she’d seen Thomas acting peculiar; and last time she’d told Julian what she suspected. She wasn’t sure how this episode would be received so she made a promise to herself that she wouldn’t mention it to anyone unless it was a policeman. She really wasn’t sure if it was important or not.
Sally tried to get on with her work, but her thoughts kept leading back to Julian. She sighed inwardly and was just checking the time to see if she could pack up and go and get dinner yet when she heard footsteps approaching her. She looked up and out between the gap in the shelves that allowed people to get to the desks where she was sitting and saw Ainsworth. He must have sense she was there and looking at him, because he dragged his gaze to meet hers and smiled. It was a charming smile, one filled with politeness, safety and was quite capable of making a girl blush because it made her feel like the only girl in the room. To her horror, Sally felt herself blushing as she smiled back at him, maybe a little less enthusiastically than she normally would have done.
Ainsworth abandoned the search for his book and slipped between a gap in the shelves to sit down at a desk next to her.
“Hello,” he said grinning charmingly.
Sally smiled back. “Hello,” she said in a strangely quiet voice. “What brings you this far into the library? I would have thought this place was boring for you,” she managed to ask.
Ainsworth smiled and shrugged. “Well one does have to study to pass university, even I need to read a book or two occasionally,” he said. “How come you’re not with Darrell? I just saw her at the café in town. She seemed a little put out, if you’ll excuse me saying so. You two haven’t had a row have you? Please tell me to butt out if you think I’m being nosy.”
Sally looked a little sheepish.
“Well Darrell and I didn’t have a row,” she said truthfully. “Though I wasn’t in the best frame of mind earlier so I may have upset her when I left her with David, I don’t know.”
“Why did you leave her with Morton? Seems rather strange company for you two to keep?” Ainsworth asked with another charming smile.
Sally couldn’t stop herself from answering. “Oh, Darrell and I are quite good friends with David and Julian,” she told him. “We find them to be amusing company,” she added though there was a strange tone to her voice as she spoke.
Ainsworth raised an eyebrow. “Something in your voice tells me that you don’t always find them such amusing company,” he said smoothly. “And you side stepped my question earlier, so I’m assuming that you have had a row, just not with Darrell,” he said shrewdly.
Sally blushed again. “Julian and I fell out,” she admitted quietly. She wasn’t quite sure how much she could actually say to Ainsworth, but she wanted someone to talk to about how silly she considered Julian to be right now.
Ainsworth said nothing but gave her a look that invited her to speak on if she wished. Sally found herself pouring out the entire tale of how Julian thought he was looking for clues to the professors missing papers and how she had got tired of his constant searching and called him out on it. Ainsworth was sympathetic.
“Well these people who have their names in the papers as many times as Kirrin certainly need taking down a peg or two,” Ainsworth said, carefully putting an arm around Sally’s shoulders and moving a little closer to her. Sally felt a little awkward at that point; she still wasn’t very comfortable around boys and she had been getting used to Julian putting his arm around her shoulders, but this felt wrong. On the other hand, here was someone who didn’t blame her for losing her temper with Julian.
Sally pulled back and smiled gratefully at him.
“Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. I suspect you’re bored rigid with all my talking now,” she said, looking a little more relaxed.
“Not at all,” Ainsworth said sitting back in his chair, looking a little disgruntled that Sally had pulled back from him. He checked his watch and grinned again, though this time it didn’t look quite as natural as before. “Now it’s almost dinner time, if you’ll excuse me, I must find these books before I meet my friends. If you ever need someone to talk to, I’m always happy to listen,” he added standing up and pushing his chair back under the desk.
Just as Sally watched Ainsworth leave she heard someone moving about behind the bookcase beside her. She watched carefully and saw someone move past the bookcase towards the front of the library. Sally raised an eyebrow of her own as she considered the figure from behind. It was certainly not one she recognised.
Sally got back to her work, working for about an hour more before Darrell appeared by her side and sat down in the same seat that Ainsworth had sat in.
“Hello,” Darrell said with a smile. “Not disturbing you am I? Just thought you might like to come and have some dinner before the dining hall shuts,” she explained.
Sally looked up at her friend and smiled, though there was something odd in Darrell’s manner.
“You’re a little late, usually you’re nagging me to come to dinner much earlier!” Sally said with a smile, as she began to pack up her stuff.
“Sorry about that, I was just having a chat with David, and we got cornered in the cafe after you left by Alicia and Betty who had Thomas and his friend James in tow,” Darrell explained carefully, managing to smile.
“Thomas was in here just now,” Sally said keeping her answer short; she didn’t particularly want Darrell asking what she and Ainsworth had talked about, she got the feeling that her friend wouldn’t approve.
Darrell paused and considered this before she asked her next question.
“Sally, I don’t suppose you noticed anything odd about him did you? Only earlier he gave me the feeling that he wasn’t as nice as he makes out to be,” she said carefully. While Darrell was very certain that Sally and Julian both harboured feelings for one another, she was astute enough to realise that Sally might not yet be aware of this and maybe appreciate the attentions of Thomas who was a little bit older than Julian.
Sally shook her head. “No, nothing,” she said, sticking to the promise she had made herself about Ainsworth and the other boy acting strangely earlier. “Why would you ask that?” she asked as she packed her things away into her bag, and swung her bag up on to her shoulder.
“No real reason, just he was acting strangely towards David earlier,” Darrell said half truthfully. She wasn’t used to not telling Sally everything, but David had suggested that it would be best not to concern Sally with these troubles today, especially considering how she had spoken to Julian. Darrell had agreed with him initially but now she was with Sally it was hard not to tell her best friend everything. Both girls were holding something back today and neither of them was particularly comfortable with not being able to talk to the other.
“Oh, well I’m sure there is some perfectly innocent reason for that,” Sally said carefully, smiling at Darrell. “Shall we go and get something to eat? I’m almost starving,” she added with a giggle. Darrell smiled as naturally as she could manage and slipped her arm through Sally’s as they made their way out of the library.
“Did you catch up with Julian when you left earlier?” Darrell asked as they made their way up to their room so they could drop their bags off.
Sally paused for a second before answering.
“What made you think I was going after Julian?” she asked almost astonished. “Didn’t I say I needed to get some work done?”
Darrell shook her head. “I guess I just assumed that was where you were going. You seemed very wound up after he left that’s all,” she told her friend gently.
“Well, I did think about it,” Sally admitted quietly as they let themselves into the building. “However I thought better of it. I mean I was probably the last person he wanted to see and quite frankly I don’t think I could have taken back what I had said. I wasn’t lying, Darrell, I don’t see what he thinks he can do,” she told her friend honestly.
Darrell shrugged; if truth be told she wasn’t sure either, but there was something in the back of her mind that told her that Julian could be of more help to people than they seemed to think he was. She reasoned with herself that even in his previous adventures when there had been a crime committed and the police called in, Julian and his family had been able to solve the crime before the police, possibly because people didn’t expect kids to actually be looking for something. Darrell stopped herself from saying something pacifying to Sally about just letting Julian get on with it.
“I think he really believes he can do something to help,” Darrell said in the end. “He may just be getting a little carried away, but it seems to be taking his mind off his dislocated shoulder. Also he’s not exactly dragging us into anything. We all seem to just follow him,” she reasoned with her best friend.
Sally gave a little sniff, much like the one she gave when she was talking about Alicia. “I still think that it’s a waste of our time,” she said solidly, as she opened the door to their room and walked in. “I mean, those papers…”
“Those papers are probably long gone by now, I doubt they’d be hanging around,” Darrell finished her sentence for her. “That I think it the most likely solution. Either that or they’ve ended up in the back of a fireplace somewhere,” she added with a cheeky grin.
Sally fixed her friend with a disbelieving look.
Darrell had to laugh. “Well you do hear about people hiding things up chimneys!” she said with a chuckle as she hid her bag under her desk.
“Please don’t suggest that to Julian,” Sally said desperately. “He’ll have us searching all the chimneys in the university!”
“I say,” Darrell said suddenly, turning around quickly. “You don’t think that the professor hid them somewhere safe and has forgotten about it?”
“…So when he found his office ransacked, lab equipment broken and couldn’t find the papers, he thought they’d been stolen?” Sally finished off the picture for her friend. She managed a laugh and for a moment sounded like she had a few hours ago, carefree.
“I suppose it is entirely possible. Scientists always seem to have a knack for losing things, according to Julian anyway,” Sally added as she moved towards the door to head down to the dining hall. “You just remember to tell Julian tomorrow Darrell. That’ll probably keep him quiet for hours!”
Darrell smiled at her friend as things seemed a lot easier now. Without another word about the missing papers, Darrell and Sally headed down to dinner.
David and Julian sat down to finish off their homework after dinner, neither of them having mentioned what had happened earlier with Sally. David had filled Julian in on Ainsworth’s behaviour in the cafe after he had left, which had left Julian very thoughtful.
“You think he’s mixed up in this don’t you?” David hissed across the table at his friend as they sat at one of the tables in the common room. Julian gave a small shrug, as best he could with his injured shoulder.
“I wouldn’t like to say. Hardly my place to, is it?” Julian said with a bitter tone to his voice, reflecting that what Sally had said earlier that day was playing on his mind.
David held back his sigh of annoyance. “Julian, I don’t think you should take what Sally said to heart,” he said quietly and honestly. “I mean she seemed to be having a bad day from what I saw of her. I think you need to take what she said with a pinch of salt.”
“The problem with that is that what she said rings a bell. It’s what everyone had been telling me for the last year while I was studying for my higher,” Julian said with a sigh. “Maybe I should just forget running around after criminals and do what is expected of me and get on with my university work.”
David shook his head at Julian’s words.
“This doesn’t sound like you at all!” he exclaimed. “Honestly Julian, you’re good at solving mystery’s and things, why would you care what anyone else thinks?”
Julian fixed David with an unimpressed look. “I think you need your head examining,” he said sagely to his friend as he closed his exercise book. “People like me don’t go around solving mysteries at this age,” he pointed out, sitting back in his chair, wincing a little at the pain in his arm. “It just doesn’t happen, David. Sally’s right, I’ve got other things that I need to concentrate on,” he finished with a sigh.
David decided to give in on this occasion, but he made up his mind to have words with Sally tomorrow. She’d certainly rattled Julian.
Julian was looking out of the window while David finished his own work and planned what he was going to say to Sally the next day.
“I say, I don’t suppose you think it’s possible that Old Dotty will still be in his office do you?” Julian asked after a few moments, having given up looking out of the window and starting to double check his work. One of the questions that he had been stuck on before dinner was still giving him trouble. He just couldn’t make it work.
David glanced at his watch before saying, “It is possible. It wouldn’t surprise me, especially if he is having to rewrite his stolen papers. He always seems to forget to go home anyway.”
He looked up at Julian and frowned.“Why would you want to see Old Dotty at this time anyway?” he asked, confused as Julian started to pack up his things.
“I can’t make this equation work,” Julian said pointing to the one in the exercise book that was giving him trouble.
“Do you want me to have a look?” David asked his gaze following Julian as he stood up, snapping the book shut and putting it in his pocket. “I’m almost finished, if you give me five more minutes that is,”he added.
Julian shook his head with a small smile. “Thank you, but I’d rather go and see the old boy, don’t want to feel like I’m copying you old chap!” he said, slapping David jovially on the shoulder. “Plus I could use the walk and fresh air.”
“Well it doesn’t come much fresher than it is around here,” David said with a chuckle. Julian chuckled a little with his friend, and turned to leave.
The walk to university was not a particularly long one, and Julian enjoyed the brisk walk towards campus. He drew his coat around him a little more when the wind picked up, blowing an icy chill in off the sea, but he arrived at the gates to the campus with glowing red cheeks. He took a moment to ponder over the merits of trying to see Sally and trying to work out why she had said those things to him earlier, but he decided that this probably wasn’t the right time.
He slowly started to make his way up to the professor’s office in the dark and quiet halls. In fact it was because the halls were so quiet that he could hear muffled talking by the pay phone at the end of the corridor he was walking down. He slowed his own pace and strained his ears to pick up on what was being said.
The person speaking on phone was talking in hushed tones so even when Julian was less than ten yards away he still couldn’t hear very much. He realised that he could hear more clearly from this position but what didn’t help was that the person wasn’t speaking English; he was speaking Russian. It was Pilkington. Julian stopped trying to creep up on the Russian.
The adventurous side of him was urging him forward still, in the hope of picking out a useful phrase or stray English word that would be of help in solving the problem of where the missing papers had got to; but the side of him that had been awakened by Sally earlier today was telling him to be sensible and that there was nothing to this phone call.
Pilkington was allowed to make phone calls as much as anyone else, and so what if he was talking in Russian? His family probably didn’t speak English. Julian took a deep breath and was just about to breathe out when his sharp ears picked up on a change in Pilkington’s tone and his words were suddenly English for one sentence.
“That is what I said fool, the Sahara Project.” Annoyance at the person on the other end of the phone was clear in that one clipped sentence and suddenly the Russian boy seemed much older than his years. Julian swallowed and listened in again, keenly this time, but to no avail. Pilkington had gone back to talking in Russian.
Julian made a hasty decision to head back the way he had come and try the back stairs to get to the professor’s office. He didn’t much fancy letting Pilkington know that he had over-heard him talking.
Julian puzzled over the few words in English he had heard while he walked briskly around the back of the building to reach the back stairs. The Sahara Project sounded like it was something important. He was still in two minds whether to meddle or not, Sally’s words had truly stung him making him wonder if he was indeed getting too old for mysteries and adventures.
Julian pushed his wandering thoughts aside as he reached the corridor where his professor’s office was and saw that the light was showing from underneath the door.
Professor Doaty had been working tirelessly since it had been discovered that the papers for his half of the project had been stolen. He was a rather scatter brained old man, who only taught to supplement his income. He didn’t enjoy being interrupted by students at the best of times, so when Julian knocked on the door of his office, the old man could be heard to exclaim, “Go away! I’m busy!”
Julian noted how the tone of voice was incredibly similar to the one his uncle used when he was working. Julian persevered and knocked again, feeling a little bit guilty that he was the source of his professor’s annoyance.
“Oh come in then, if you must,” Old Dotty said in an irritable voice at the second knock. Julian pushed open the door and entered the office.
“Well boy? What do you want?” Doaty said as soon as Julian stepped inside the door. With rigid politeness Julian told the professor of the reason for his visit. The old man looked extremely put out as Julian spoke, but his professionalism gave him a little kick into action.
“It’s very late boy, but just this once I shall attempt to help you. I shall only explain this once more, and then it’s up to you,” Doaty said, standing up and walking over to the chalk board he had on the wall of his office. Julian looked at the work on the board, his brain picking out the little physics symbols that he knew as Doaty went to rub some of his work off of it, but he paused looking awkward.
“Better not,” he mumbled to himself and sat down at his desk again and pulled a fresh sheet of paper towards him, and started going through the equation that Julian was having a few problems with. Julian watched and listened as carefully as he could, hoping that it would all make sense a second time. The professor seemed to concentrate long enough to be able to explain things to Julian this time, something he usually wasn’t very good at.
After he had finished explaining, Doaty was eager to get Julian out of his office as quickly as possible, and stood up just as Julian was reaching for the door handle. In his haste to chivvy the boy out of his room, the professor knocked some of his files on the floor. Some slithered over to Julian’s feet. Immediately Julian started to help the professor pick up his files, but as his hand closed on the first one, it was whipped away sharply, but Julian had seen the name on the file before it was whipped out of his hand.
“I’ll take that…um…” stuttered the old professor, and gave Julian the impression that he was trying to remember his name.
“Kirrin, sir,” Julian said simply standing back from the professor as he stared him up. The professor stood there for a moment, mouthing the name.
“Kirrin? Kirrin! Are you any relation to Quentin Kirrin, boy?” Doaty asked, apparently amazed.
“My Uncle Sir,” Julian said with ramrod politeness.
“My my,” said the professor, and then proceeded to smile. “He didn’t tell me he had a nephew here.”
“It probably slipped his mind Sir,” Julian said carefully. He didn’t want to sound cheeky by saying that his uncle probably hadn’t even remembered where his nephew went to university and that it probably wasn’t deemed as information that needed to be passed on to a colleague.
“Very true, these last few weeks have not been easy,” Doaty almost mumbled. Then he seemed to remember that Julian was in the room. “Anyway Kirrin, off with you! And don’t expect me to be so helpful next time!” he warned, herding Julian out of the room. Julian went willingly and could have sworn he heard the professor sigh when he was just outside the room. The door closed neatly behind him and he heard the key turn in its lock.
Julian frowned as he took the back stairs down and out of the building. Of course he had known that all projects were given a name, usually it had something to do with what they were researching into, but the name they seemed to have given this project seemed a little simple.
Julian had a bad feeling about what he had seen and heard this evening. The fact that Anthony Pilkington knew that the project Doaty was working on was called Sahara didn’t fill him with much confidence about the Russian boy’s innocence.
Walking through campus towards the street where he could head back to St Salvator’s, Julian wasn’t paying much attention to his surroundings when he found himself near the quadrangle where he had first met Darrell. Realising that he was going in the completely wrong direction, he was about to turn around and head back the way he had come when a movement in the shadows ahead caught his eye. Julian slipped into an alcove out of sight and watched the shadow move about in the gloom. He wasn’t sure who it was but he wasn’t sure that he wanted to find out.
His shoulder began to ache as he pressed into the alcove, but Julian didn’t dare move as the figure crept past him. From what he could see he wasn’t sure who it was in front of him. There wasn’t enough light to make identify the man in front.
Julian wasn’t sure how long he waited until the footsteps had passed him and then without a thought to Sally’s words from earlier that had been plaguing him all day, he pushed on like he had done as a teenager. He followed the person ahead of him, quietly keeping to the shadows trying not to be spotted. It was hard to keep to a crouched run when he passed under the windows the sometimes lined the corridor, but he didn’t want his shadow to warn the person of his presence.
Julian could see a light up ahead as the figure hurried ahead, it seemed the person was heading to the professors studies where he himself had been a few minutes ago.
Julian hid carefully as the person opened the door to head upstairs and the light he had left on streamed out framing the figure in the doorway. It was easy to tell that it was a man now. Julian stayed hidden as the man turned and looked over his shoulder to see if there was anyone about; the light behind him framed his face allowing Julian just enough time and light to put a name to the face. It was Pilkington.
Julian swallowed; this whole business was leaving a nasty taste in his mouth. Pilkington should not be wandering about the university at this time at night and not making phone calls where the names of scientific projects cropped up. Julian watched as Pilkington headed up the stairs and wondered if he should follow the man.
Julian had no doubt where the Russian was going, and really didn’t like his chances of getting away from the corridor if he suddenly turned around. So feeling confident in his knowledge that the Russian was indeed up to no good, Julian decided reluctantly to head back to St Salvator’s and mull over everything he had seen and heard that night.
Thoroughly enjoyable as usual. I hope you soon feel better, Stef – you have lots of good friends on the forum who love your contributions.