Ren heads towards the side of the stage. He knows there’s a door there at the back behind a curtain, which leads to a toilet and a small, hidden-away office. Even if the door is locked he can at least hide behind the curtain so he doesn’t get caught up in the fighting.
He goes past the curtain and tries the door. It opens. The office behind it, next to the toilet, belongs to Foz McKendry, Research Fellow in History, who Ren knows through the occasional game in the University’s social cricket league. (The story about Foz’s crooked nose is that it was caused by a solution to a research problem coming to him just as he was facing up to a vicious bouncer, causing him to lose interest in the ball, until the point at which the ball managed to wrest his attention back again by hitting his nose and breaking it.) Ren sometimes comes to visit Foz, which is why he knows of this office’s existence. Hardly anyone else does, not least because the door to Foz’s office looks like the door to a broom closet. The door doesn’t even go all the way to the floor. Foz thinks the room was most likely a storage room before the critical shortage of office space on campus meant that it got converted into an office. It’s not an office that anyone else would willingly have, but Foz was desperate to have his own space, however small, rather than be in a noisy postgrad shared office.
Ren automatically tries the handle to Foz’s office, even though there’s no way he could be in. Surprisingly, it opens. Even more surprisingly, Foz is in his office.
‘Hallo Ren,’ says Foz. ‘I’m surprised to see you here when there’s some big event going on in the hall at the moment. In fact I was tempted to take a peek at what’s happening because it’s so noisy out there, but I thought I’d better not, as I don’t think I’m supposed to be here this evening. Besides, I do have this paper I really want to finish tonight.’
‘Can I come in?’ says Ren. ‘Bit of a disturbance going on. Political protests.’
As he says this a Murnesian politician and security guard appear in the small corridor as well.
‘We need come in too,’ says the politician, having a look inside the room. ‘If that preases.’
‘Why yes, you can all come in,’ says Foz, ‘but it’ll be a bit of a squeeze. It’s not the biggest room.’ They go into office, which contains a small desk and chair, an armchair, Foz’s cricket bag, and not much else.
‘Where window?’ says the guard.
‘No window in here, it’s completely internal,’ says Foz. ‘I know what you’re thinking – I should complain, right? But for a Research Fellow on a two-year contract, this is as good as it gets.’
‘What this?’ says the guard, indicating a large vent in the top of the wall.
‘Just a vent,’ says Foz.
The guard goes over to it and rips the vent grille off the wall. Then he tries to get into the vent.
‘You’re not going to fit through there,’ says Foz. ‘I know what you’re thinking. What does a historian know about spatial dimensions? But it’s your shoulders. Anyone can see they’re too broad.’
Foz, it appears, is right. The guard gets his body halfway into the vent, and then gets stuck. They can hear his muffled shouting. Ren and Foz try to pull him out, without success.
‘Ignore him,’ says the politician. ‘I need to hide. Quick. Where can I hide?’
Foz indicates the room. ‘Nowhere to hide in here, as you can plainly see.’
They can still hear shouting coming from the hall.
‘Very important that I hide. Think crick. There always place to hide. In 1940s I once hid inside dead donkey for three hours. Save my rife. Think.’
‘If you’re the hide and seek expert, then you think,’ says Foz, who feels his generosity has been taken for granted. ‘I suggest you try the toilet next door.’
‘The coffin!’ says Ren. ‘You can hide in Foz’s coffin.’
‘His coffin? Prease exprain.’
‘The cricket bag. We call them coffins because they’re long. Let’s take the gear out.’
There’s not much gear in the bag, just a bat, pads, gloves and a box (a box is a protector for the gentleman’s area).
‘It too small,’ says the politician.
‘Squeeze up. Pretend you’re inside the dead donkey again,’ says Ren. ‘Time to save your life again.’
The politician steps into the bag, and bends down. Ren grabs him and pushes him all the way down, and then does the bag up around him. It’s a tight fit, but he gets it closed.
Ren and Foz sit down, Ren on the armchair. The trapped guard shouts out for help again.
‘I suppose we should try again with this guy,’ says Foz.
‘In a minute, says Ren, brushing the plaster dust from his hair. ‘Did no-one come to your office to tell you that you couldn’t come in this evening?’
‘No,’ says Foz. ‘I did hear that something was going on a while ago, but I thought I’d just keep quiet until it was over. Got to get this paper finished, like I said, and I don’t have good internet at home. What’s the event?’
‘It’s the Murnesian state visit. Don’t you pay attention?’
‘Got more important things to think about. But I thought that guy in the bag looks familiar. He looks like Ding Pingajing.’
‘I thought he looked familiar too,’ says Ren. ‘Don’t think it’s Ding though.’
They hear shouts from outside in the corridor. Ren grabs a book from the desk and starts reading it.
‘During the Protestant reformation,’ he says, ‘a lot of Benedictine monasteries were closed. In your opinion, Dr McKendry, was this because the monastic vow was seen as…’
The door is wrenched open, and some masked protesters clothed in black rush in. They’re momentarily taken aback by the scene in the office, but they quickly grab the security guard and yank him out of the vent. They take a look at his face. Deciding that he isn’t one of their targets, they give him a half-hearted punch in the face, and turn to go.
Ren is tempted to draw their attention to the bag. The protesters don’t seem to be murderous. If that really is Ding in there, perhaps he deserves a beating. But that would achieve nothing, except to make himself a personal enemy of Ding. The protesters rush out again.
‘Are you going to be playing in the Humanities versus Sciences match this Sunday?’ says Foz.
‘I wasn’t planning to,’ says Ren. ‘But maybe I’ll get along. We’ll see.’
‘I hear Sciences are going to have their new fast bowler from Biology playing this time. He’s marvellous to watch. Not so much fun playing against him. Really gets the ball to zip about.’
‘What was his name again? Gribben? Cribbens? Gibbon? Gibson?’
‘Can’t remember. He’s played for Oxford against some county sides. Too good for our league, really.’
The security guard gives them a disbelieving look, and sneaks outside for a peek. Three minutes of cricket and history conversation later, he comes back.
‘All crear,’ he says, unzipping the bag. The delitescent Murnesian removes himself from the holdall. He seems a little ginger, and rubs his bones, but says, ‘That was a piece of the pie compared to hiding in dead donkey. Bring back many memories of dark times.’ He turns to Ren and Foz. ‘You show sang-froide under pressure.’
‘Yes, time is ticking away,’ says Foz, getting the wrong end of the stick, ‘but I think there’s still enough time left tonight to do a decent job.’
‘He means sang-froid in the face of the riot,’ says Ren.
‘Oh, that,’ says Foz.
‘Cruel as crucumber,’ says the bagman, who is looking at Ren, and ignoring Foz. ‘What your name?’ he says.
‘My name is Dr Ren Christopher.’
‘Thank you Dr Christopher,’ says the Murnesian, who bows. ‘You save my rife.’
‘Nothing to it,’ says Ren. ‘Anyway, I don’t think the protesters were out to kill anyone.’
‘Don’t be deceived, they deadly dark enemies of humanity who kill mirrions if they have chance. That why we have to riquidate them. Orr of them. We must not ruse.’
‘It’s so wonderful to hear of your cultural activities, which provide a fresh perspective on our squabbles here in England,’ says Ren.
‘Ret’s go,’ says the guard, pulling his fellow Murnesian out the door.
‘Do you think I’ll be able to stay here for the rest of the evening?’ says Foz. ‘I really do want to get this paper finished tonight.’
‘I don’t think that’s going to be possible. You’d better save your work, grab your books, and get out of here before the police shut it down for days.’
Now that the danger has passed, thoughts of George’s fate bubble to the surface.
‘They killed George.’
‘Who? You mean old George Bagnall? Who killed him?’
‘The security guards. He was having a heart attack, and they thought he was going to assassinate Ding. So they shot him.
‘Oh my. That’s what those bangs were. I thought they were fireworks.’
‘It happened right in front of my eyes. I think I’m in some sort of a state of shock. Delayed shock. I don’t feel right. My body feels all weird. My head’s starting to feel weird too.’
‘Did anyone else get killed?’
‘Don’t know. Anyway, get out quick.’
Ren turns to leave.
‘What are you going to do?’ says Foz.
‘I’m going to see if I can find out what’s happened to George.’
‘Sure. Quite right. Well, hopefully see you on Sunday,’ says Foz. ‘And if you do come, don’t forget your gloves this time.’
‘Foz, in order for you to be there on Sunday you’ll need to leave this office soon, okay?’
‘Sure,’ says Foz reluctantly, looking at his screen in a worried way. If he can just finish this section…