It was a typical Monday morning at the University of New England. The 9am traffic jam on Elm Avenue was just starting to clear, while the SportUNE car park was filling up. As Arabella made her way past Mary White College, she heard snoring from a first floor window and someone singing in the shower. It had been a successful weekend. The high achieving third year had finished an essay, received back an HD for a presentation, captained her waterpolo team to finals glory, written fifteen anonymous letters to Nucleus, made a new Facebook group to protest the lack of soap in college bathrooms, formed three new student clubs and invented a Time Machine.
Exams were looming, and a queue of law students was filing into Dixson Library as Arabella passed. Coffee in one hand and 150 text books in the other, her friend Archibald could only wave with his foot. She waved back, but could not stop to talk. She was on a mission and time was of the essence.
Arriving at the Grind and Squeeze, she purchased her morning hot chocolate, but not before seeing seventeen people she knew, including a lecturer and that guy from class whose name she could never remember. After all these brief greetings and pause-filled smatterings of small talk, she finally made it outside. The General was waiting for her at one of the tables in the sun.
They called him The General because he was in his seventh year of a BA and hadn’t chosen a major yet, leaving him with a broad knowledge base but no specific expertise. He always did well on trivia night. He was also the President of the UNE Mystery Solver’s Club, a powerful organisation at the forefront of campus detective work. His success at solving the Mystery of the Missing Albies Jersey had earned him the respect and admiration of the entire campus.
‘Some mysteries,’ he told Arabella, instead of saying good morning, ‘Are beyond even my phenomenal skill.’
‘Gosh,’ said Arabella. ‘That’s an ominous greeting.’
As if on cue, the Tune!FM loudspeaker began playing the theme from the X-Files, because a team of DJs had pulled an all-nighter again and were now scraping the bottom of the CD barrel. Nevertheless, their timing was convenient and added an appropriate atmosphere to the remainder of the conversation.
‘A grizzly discovery has been made,’ The General informed Arabella, in a loud voice that also informed the rest of the courtyard. ‘Work on the new college has uncovered a skeleton.’
‘My word,’ she replied. ‘Was it… murder?’
‘We think so,’ said The General. ‘Come… join me at the Crime Scene.’
They drove down to the colleges because The General didn’t like exercise or fresh air and was a Climate Change Sceptic. On arrival, they were greeted by the Vice Chancellor, the Armidale Police Chief, the head of the construction company and a hungry duck who thought the VC’s pockets looked like they were full of bread.
‘Good morning Officer Nietzsche. And hello to you, Vice Chancellor Obama,’ said The General. ‘I say, is that bread in your pocket?’
‘Not at all,’ replied the US President-turned rural Australian University administrator. ‘It is cake, but this duck appears unable to tell the difference.’
‘Show us the skeleton,’ said Arabella, who found cake to be a dull subject.
They were led to the construction site, where the construction workers showed them a decaying skeleton in the mud. ‘We think it is somewhere between 80 and 2 years old,’ said VC Obama.
‘Why then… it could be from any point in UNE’s history,’ said Arabella. ‘Can’t you be more specific?’
‘It was definitely buried on a Tuesday,’ Obama replied. ‘But we can’t tell what year.’
The General sighed the discontented sigh of a detective with no convenient clues. ‘Do we know the cause of death?’
‘We don’t,’ said Officer Nietzsche. ‘But we suspect foul-play, because no one can bury their own body.’
‘Good point,’ said Arabella. ‘I suppose the first step is to figure out when this body was buried then.’
‘We can’t do that,’ said Obama. ‘The muddy earth has decayed the body too badly to date it accurately. So, we have nothing to go on. Unless we get a time machine and go back to various points in UNE history, dig up this area and see if the body is there or not. Which, obviously, is ridiculous.’
Arabella suddenly remembered her productive weekend. ‘Why! I invented a time machine just yesterday,’ she said.
‘How convenient,’ remarked Officer Nietzsche. ‘Almost as if it were foreshadowed.’
‘To The Time Machine!’ said The General, pointing dramatically.
To be Continued…