فصل 09

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فصل 09

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Chapter nine

Jacko of St John’s

di@k looked at his watch; half past four already. The lunch had gone on far longer than he’d expected. The old boy certainly had stamina. di@k decided to walk back to St John’s, his old college. He would go along the Backs. The frosty February air by the river would help to clear his head.

As he turned down Fen Causeway, he thought again about Sir Percy’s reaction to his question about Molly’s child. He’d obviously decided there was no point in denying it. That would not have fooled di@k. Instead, he had told di@k just enough but no more. He had also managed to issue a warning. di@k wondered how much more he knew, and had not told.

He crossed Silver Street and made his way along the Backs. King’s College Chapel was romantically veiled in the early evening mist, with frost on the lawns sloping down to the river - a perfect tourist picture postcard. He entered St John’s College by the rear gate, crossed the Pepys Bridge and made his way to the guest rooms in Chapel Court.

One of the privileges of membership of a Cambridge college was the right to a few nights free accommodation every year in the college guest rooms. di@k had never used this privilege before but he was glad of it now. He had not told Sally of his visit to Cambridge, and had no wish to meet her. It would only have led to disagreements over the divorce settlement. It was better to let the lawyers sort it all out.

He took a shower, then relaxed in the battered but comfortable armchair in his room. He felt that he needed to think things through, to somehow organise what he had discovered so far, so that he could make sense of it.

He knew for sure now that Vish and Molly had had some sort of special relationship with Keith Lennox in Delhi. The three of them had plotted to get rid of di@k, and then Nagarajan. Earlier, di@k had found out about Vish’s crooked schemes and tried to have him dismissed. He had failed because Lennox had forbidden him to act against Vish. Why? di@k had only survived for a few months longer in the Madras factory, and he had been harassed with poison-pen letters and the death threat. But it was only when he had begun investigating the big Hosur factory contract that he had been sent on early retirement. What was the connection? And where did Molly’s son John fit in? Who was his father? Was this the key to the whole affair?

di@k determined to speak to his old tutor, Sir Jeremy Jackson, the retired Professor of Comparative Philology. Jacko, as he was affectionately known by everyone in the college, was a famous eccentric. Some people even considered him to be mad. But he had been a Fellow of the College for over forty years and was a part of the place. And he knew the undergraduates personally. Unlike many professors, he spent a lot of time just chatting to students. He would certainly remember John Verghese. di@k called the Steward’s office and booked himself for dinner at High Table the next day. Jacko was bound to be there; he never missed his three free meals a day.

di@k had eaten too much for lunch. He did not feel like going out into the cold night and sitting alone in some anonymous restaurant. He read for a while, then went to bed. It was only nine thirty. As he turned out the light, the thought of Lakshmi flashed through his mind. He wondered how she was coping with her father. Though it was ridiculous - he had met her only once - he found himself missing her. He told himself not to be a fool, and went to sleep.

He woke at six in the morning. The courtyard below was dark but filled with thick, milky fog. The windows were covered with patterns of frost. Distant footsteps echoed strangely on the cobblestones in the courtyard. He wrapped himself tighter in the bedclothes and slept again until seven.

He spent a lazy day. After breakfast in the college buttery, he strolled off into the town. He browsed in the bookshops, and bought a couple of collections of short stories for Lakshmi. He lunched at the Riverside Restaurant, overlooking the fateful place where he had fallen into the river. He wondered if his keys were still buried somewhere in the sticky, black mud.

In the afternoon he went to a film at the Arts Cinema, one of the places he used to go as a student. It was called “Wolf” and starred Jack Nicholson as a man who turns into a werewolf. It was oddly disturbing and he looked around at the audience in the cinema almost expecting to see human wolves.

After dressing for dinner, he walked across to the Senior Common Room for sherry. A handful of professors and guests were already there. He helped himself to a glass of college sherry and went to check the list of those dining that evening. Sure enough, Jacko’s name was there. He recognised very few of the other names, except the Master’s. He noted that a Nobel prize-winner and a well-known woman novelist were among the guests.

Jacko came in and walked straight across to him. He was a small, sprightly man, with a round stomach and twinkling eyes. His bald head was sun-tanned; he took a Mediterranean holiday every winter.

‘Got your note, di@k. Splendid to see you again. Let me just get myself a drink. Right. Cheers. Just got back from my holiday in Greece. Lovely weather. Good to catch up with the latest Greek idiomatic expressions. I love it. How are you keeping?’

At a signal from the Master, everyone followed him in single file into the great hall and took their seats at the High Table on a raised platform at one end. Below them, the undergraduate students sat at the long tables under the portraits of famous former students, hanging on the wood-panelled walls. Everyone rose for grace to be said, in Latin, of course.

di@k sat next to Jacko who, between mouthfuls of food, made rude comments in a loud voice about the other dinner guests. Jacko continued to do this for the entire meal. They then stood again for grace, again in Latin, and filed out.

‘Come back to my rooms, di@k. I can’t stand any more of this ridiculous talk. Can’t hear myself think. We’ll have some coffee sent over, and you can try my Slivovica. I got a bottle off one of my ex-students before the Bosnian thing started. Terrible business.’

Jacko’s rooms were on the first floor facing the chapel. Although he must have been over eighty years old, he was clearly still active. A grammar of Albanian lay on the desk, next to a work on the phonology of Old Basque. Journals on linguistics were scattered around the room, and a large Mandarin-English dictionary with well-thumbed pages lay open on the dining table.

A college butler brought them a tray of coffee. Jacko uncorked a bottle of clear spirits, pungent with the aroma of plums.

‘Here you are. This will put hair on your chest!’ and he poured di@k a glass of the fiery liquid.

‘Now, what can I do for you, di@k? What’s your problem?’

di@k explained that he had some friends in India who were anxious to contact a student who had been at St John’s until recently. It was not quite the truth but it was not a complete lie either. Jacko remembered the name immediately.

‘John Verghese? Of course I know who you mean. A very nice chap. Anglo-Indian. Very intelligent. He got a first class degree in Economics last year. I have to admit that he was a bit of a disappointment to me though. I’d been hoping to use him as an informant on Malayalam; very interesting language, Malayalam, spoken in Kerala you know. Fascinating place. I went there many years ago when I was learning the language myself. Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam: wonderful languages you know.

All as ancient as they come. Pushed down to the tip of the sub-continent by those terrible Aryans. I’d been hoping he could help me with translations I’d been doing of some ancient texts. Not a bit of it! The fellow didn’t speak a word of his mother’s language! In fact the poor chap had never set foot in India. Completely English. Terrible thing. Mind you, it happens all the time now. I get Arab students who can’t read classical Arabic, Chinese students who can’t write proper characters, only these miserable simplified things old Mao brought in, and Indian students who don’t know a thing about Sanskrit. I don’t know what the world’s coming to.’

‘Do you happen to know what happened to him after he went down from the University?’

‘He went into a bank in London I think. We can easily check up on it tomorrow morning. Old Briggs was his tutor. Not a bad fellow, Briggs. He has a weakness for his colleagues’ wives, but nobody’s perfect. He’s a good scholar in his way. He’ll have Verghese’s address, I’ve no doubt. I can’t disturb him this evening though; he has a regular lady visitor on Thursdays I believe.’

Next morning he called on Jacko again after breakfast. He learned that John Verghese had taken up a job as a trainee at a well-known bank in the City.Jacko handed him the address and a contact telephone number.

‘There. Do give the boy my best regards if you look him up. Oh, and by the way, if you happen to be in Mysore next time you go to India, do look up old Aranganayagam at the Institute of Indian Languages. He’s a wonderful old rogue. Terrible womaniser. You’d enjoy him. Tell him he still owes me that article. He’ll know which one I mean.’

di@k took an afternoon train to London. The train broke down at Stevenage, and finally crawled into Kings Cross an hour and a half late. It was now the rush hour. To avoid the crowds, di@k had an early dinner at a Greek restaurant in Victoria. He got back to Hove at ten in the evening. There was a pile of junk mail in his mailbox, and one letter from his solicitor setting out details of the proposed divorce settlement. He put it to one side, and went straight to bed.

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