UNE Time Detective
Episode 2: A Stained Reputation
By Kate Wood
It was a typical Monday morning at the New England University College. There were as many as five automobiles parked outside the Chemistry Department. Students were shoving one another, pushing through the narrow doors in a frenzy, such was their enthusiasm for education. It was June 1950 and gee whizz! Learning was just about as hip as poodle-skirts and the blues, Daddy-o!
As the enthused students entered the practical laboratory, fighting for the best seats near the front, Professor Hardnose watched them carefully, examining them with the kind of suspicious confusion that most people save for unexplained clothing stains or new and exotic foods. He clapped his hands once and the assembled students immediately fell silent, gazing upon their Professor with the kind of reverence a modern educator can only dream of.
‘It has come to my attention,’ said Professor Hardnose, ‘That a number of students continue to show a lack of respect for our facilities.’
A young man down the front wore a plain white, well starched button up shirt and horn-rimmed glasses. That’s what they wear in all those black and white movies, anyway, so we can assume that’s what he was wearing. He raised his hand and waited until called upon before he spoke. ‘Do you mean the chemical stains on the lockers, Professor?’
‘I do indeed,’ said Hardnose. ‘There are yet more brown stains ruining the extremely attractive yellow décor.’
‘This décor is not that attractive,’ said the young man. ‘It looks like vomit.’
‘In the 70s, this will be very de rigeur,’ Hardnose told him. ‘I am ahead of my time. Now, as I was saying, a number of students continue to cause damage to the laboratory by spilling volatile chemicals and failing to clean up after themselves. Also, there are two transparent people riding a bicycle at the back of the room.’
The entire class turned to look at the back wall. Sure enough, the Professor was correct. Normally, that wall would contain nothing but a poster depicting the four known chemical elements, Nitrogen, Uranium, Helium and the Element of Surprise. The poster was still there, but in front of it stood a most peculiar sight. A coruscant pink tandem bicycle sat stationary in the middle of the room. It was partially transparent, as were the two figures riding it.
As the students and their lecturer watched, both interlopers and vehicle became gradually more corporeal, before finally becoming so real that everyone could hear the sound of the pedals moving incredibly fast, though the bicycle did not move at all.
‘I say!’ said the fellow astride the rear seat. ‘Arabella! I do believe we have reached our destination.’
Arabella Henderson stopped pedalling in alarm. A Time Detective from the year 2013, she had travelled back to 1950 on her Time Bicycle, in order to solve a modern mystery involving a skeleton buried under the new college. Accompanying her was The General, a career student with a wide general knowledge base and an enthusiasm for Mystery. Due to his ergophobia, however, Arabella tended to do most of the Mystery Solving.
Not being accustomed to either time travel or hard cardio, The General had found that his legs were not ready for the sudden sensation of being made of custard. He collapsed to the floor.
As he was a tall, handsome chap and what with the sweat making his shirt cling to his chest, The General was immediately helped to his feet by five young women. As they lifted him by his arms, he eyed them with suspicion.
‘They’ve captured me!’ he yelled. ‘Run, My Faithful Servant! Save Yourself!’
An experienced time traveller and bike rider, Arabella was easily able to alight from the bicycle. Ignoring The General’s cries of alarm, she addressed the entire laboratory in her the poshest voice she could conjure.
‘Salutations to you, Students of the Past. I am Arabella Henderson, Time Detective and I require your co-operation.’
‘Gosh,’ said Professor Hardnose. ‘That’s an ominous greeting.’
Reaching for her business card, Arabella approached the Professor. He looked her up and down, taking in her modern-day ensemble with his conservative 50s eyes. Handing him the business card, she took three steps backward.
‘Arabella Henderson,’ he read aloud. ‘Vice-Assistant-Junior-Administrative-President, UNE Mystery Solver’s Club. For every Mystery, throughout History. This business card will self-destruct in thirty seconds…’
As he threw the business card away in alarm, it spontaneously combusted, burning bright green for a few moments before disintegrating entirely. It sat as a small pile of ash on the well-polished laboratory floor. Professor Hardnose pointed a shaking finger at it.
‘Mess!’ he screeched. ‘Mess in my laboratory! I’ll fine you for this!’
Having extracted himself from the helpful young ladies, The General stepped forwards and got down to examine the ashy mess in question. He began with an ocular assessment, first unaided and then again with his pocket magnifying glass. With a magnification of six thousand, this magnifying glass had a diameter of three metres, but The General had very large pockets. He continued by dusting the ash with a fingerprint brush before finally dipping his finger into the ash and tasting it - after sending a bystander out to fetch him the appropriate wine, of course. Having concluded that the ashes were indeed complemented by a 1947 Sauvignon Blanc, he announced the results of his detective work.
‘I believe this mess was left by a man in his late thirties. He is around five foot eleven inches, plays the cello and walks with a slight limp. He is a professional wrestler, he likes piña coladas and getting caught in the rain.’
‘Actually that was my business card,’ Arabella told him. ‘I gave it to this gentleman earlier, while you were flirting with those women.’
‘What women?’ asked The General, looking around him. ‘I say! Did we go back in time?’
Arabella turned back to Professor Hardnose. ‘We are looking for a dead body,’ she said.
‘This is the Chemistry Department,’ he replied. ‘There are no corpses here. Unless I find out who’s been spilling chemicals on my beautiful yellow lockers.’
‘Why, That Sounds Like A Mystery!’ proclaimed The General, with enthusiasm (as denoted by the exclamation mark).
‘Mr. Butler!’ the Professor called. ‘May I have your assistance?’
The lab assistant entered, still carrying a bubbling test tube. He was a short, moustachioed gent, of indeterminate age and resplendent in his white lab coat, a genuine, bona fide, honest-to-goodness replica of the one worn by Pierre Curie on his wedding day.
Professor Hardnose directed Mr. Butler to show Arabella and The General the chemical stains on the lockers. Students crowded around, thrilled to watch detectives at work. Arabella noted the stains, looking above and around the lockers, searching for leaks and suspicious clues. The General did his usual ocular assessment, before sniffing one of the stains and then calling for a pinot noir.
‘Don’t taste that,’ said Arabella, grabbing his arm.
The young man in the hornrimmed glasses attracted the attention of the detectives, because it doesn’t do to arbitrarily introduce a minor character and then forget about them altogether.
‘Detectives!’ he called, because that’s how you attract someone’s attention. ‘Look at this!’
To be continued...
- Kate Wood