Apologies for the delay in the latest installment of “Death of an Annoying Person” – just the way things worked out, I’m afraid. But as recompense, this installment is about twice as long as normal….
There’s always time to train
Mark looked at Florence, then Monty, before asking, “I know it’s pretty serious that Droightman didn’t write the equations that made his name, but why would someone murder him for it?”
Monty regarded Mark for a moment. He considered handing him the answer on a plate but decided to make him work a little for it. “Tell me, what would be the consequences for Droightman if people find out he didn’t write the equations that made his name?”
Mark cocked his head on one side. “His reputation would be destroyed. All those cosy jobs he’s got on different committees would disappear. He’d lose his income. Maybe he’d have to pay the person he got the equations from.”
Helen added, “And don’t forget he wasn’t a nice person. As someone once said to me,” she nodded towards Florence, “Never be bad to people on your way up, because they’ll all be waiting for you on the way back down.”
Mark opened his mouth, but Monty jumped in before he had a chance to start bickering with Helen again. “Yes, you’re both right, but that just gives Droightman a motive to kill someone else. I can easily imagine him murdering someone to prevent people discovering what he is. But suppose you had been the person that he stole the originals from. When might you think it was worth killing Droightman?”
Mark looked blank, but Helen jumped in. “When you couldn’t get anything else from him,” she said.
“Oh,” said Mark, looking up again, “So like if they were blackmailing him, and he told them the money had run out, or something?”
Monty nodded his agreement before saying, “Although I think it’s a bit more subtle that blackmail. Tell me, Mark, what makes you think Droightman didn’t write those equations?”
“A little while back, he did a guest lecturer thing at the Academy and he did one of those ‘work hard like me and one day you will be annoying too’ talks. Look, he’s come up with two sets of equations…”
Helen interrupted, “One set. He’s come up with one set of equations.”
“No, two sets,” said Mark. “People only talk about the second lot, because the first ones are pretty rubbish, but they were enough to get him a job at the Academy. His story is that he did lots and lots of work for years, and then came up with the second set.”
“Fine, so he’s written two sets of equations,” said Helen, “And one set had made him a superstar – which makes the management career path sound sane – but that doesn’t mean that he plagiarised them.”
“That’s because no one has seen his third set of equations, yet.”
“Three sets of equations? Where has this third set of equations suddenly come from?”
“I found them in his room. Do you know how long it is since Alan Droightman did something new?”
“You’re going to tell me it was his second set of equations, aren’t you.”
“Yes. About ten years ago. And it’s a joke at the Academy that he only has one lesson that he repeats word for word every year. I’ve seen his notes. The paper’s so old it’s gone yellow.”
“Yes, academics have to keep on publishing new papers, or people forget about them,” said Helen. “If they don’t, then people would say that they’re past it, or they’ve burnt out, or that they’ve got no new ideas, things like that. But that still doesn’t mean that he’s copied someone else’s work.”
“Except what I’ve found doesn’t look anything like Droightman’s work,” replied Mark, waving a sheaf of papers around. “But I have found where he’s re-writing it to look like his.”
“What do you mean? Are you saying it’s not his handwriting?”
“Oh, it’s his handwriting, at least I guess it is. But it’s… Look, you know when you copy off someone else’s homework because you don’t know how to do it?”
“No. I never cheat.”
“I have someone to do that for me.”
“Well, they’ll have to change things a bit, kind of make it into your style for you, otherwise you’ll get caught copying.”
“Obviously”, said Helen. “And you’re saying that he had a set of equations that someone else had written out, and for all that it might be made out of letters and symbols rather than numbers, he’s re-writing it his way around?”
“Exactly,” said Mark, glad that Helen had apparently grasped what he was saying.
“But that doesn’t mean that his other equations were stolen. That doesn’t prove he took his famous equations from someone else.”
“Yes, but then I found the original version of the famous ones.“
“You’re saying that he had the originals for his other equations on him?”
“If you were really paranoid about people finding something, would you leave it at home when you went away for a few days, where someone might break in and steal it?”
“So he brought them here?”
“Yes. Nothing with the original author’s name on, but showing the same trick as he’s doing now. Re-writing the equations in his own style.”
“Let me see,” said Florence, and Mark handed her some sheets of paper. A couple of minutes inspection was enough to convince her. “Yes, you’re right. I’ll have to do a more detailed analysis, but this isn’t his style at all. Yet if you look down here, you can see how he’s starting to sanitise it, to make it look more like his.”
“Well,” said Helen, “the people you need to speak to are down there now.” She pointed to a young man just a few years older than her but quite a few kilograms fatter, and a young woman who was maybe ten years or so older. “Those are the two who came with Droightman.”
“Looks like they’re going out somewhere,” observed Monty, “Mark, how’d you like to check over their rooms while I offer my condolences.”
Mark shrugged and departed.
Monty trotted down the stairs leaving Florence with the sheets of equations. Helen disappeared somewhere before he reached the bottom of the stairs.
Stepping quickly across the entrance hall, he called out, “I say! I say!”
The two people stopped and turned towards him. Reaching them, he rested both hands on the pommel of his swordstick, breathing heavily for a few seconds. Not that he was out of breath, but it didn’t do any harm for people to think that walking quickly fatigued him.
“I understand that you were colleagues of Alan Droightman. May I offer my sincere condolences.”
“Thank you,” said the young woman. “I’m Miriam Davies, and this is Rahul Anand.” Rahul nodded briefly before Miriam continued, “You said that you were conducting some preliminary enquires about Alan’s death.”
“Yes,” said Monty, “I’m afraid so. Would it be possible for you to spare a few moments? I realise that this is a difficult time.”
“I was going for a walk, and Rahul had been going to the lake for some boating, but I’m sure both activities can wait.”
Rahul held up a small paper bag. “The kitchen staff made a small snack for me. They even found some cream slices for me.” He gave a slight smile.
“Oh, well done! I’ll have to see if they’ve any left.”
“I think I had the last ones – they’re a bit of a weakness of mine, I’m afraid.”
“Yes, well, just trying to tidy up a few loose ends. As you probably guessed, it looks like Droightman had a heart attack. Would you say that Droightman was looking at all unwell earlier?”
Both Miriam and Rahul shook their heads. Now, was it his imagination, or had Rahul relaxed slightly? If so, what did it mean, if anything?
“And can you tell me your roles?” Monty asked.
“We’re both research assistants,” said Rahul. “I’ve only been working with him the past few months, but Miriam has been with him a lot longer.”
“Really? And what happens to those roles now?”
“I don’t know,” said Miriam, “I hadn’t really thought about it. I was more concerned with Alan.”
“Of course, of course. Well, don’t let me keep you any longer. I expect I might have to bother you again later, but I’ll try and avoid it.”
The pair muttered goodbyes, and Monty watched as they exited the entrance, and went their separate ways. He stood there a moment longer, wondering if he’d learnt anything. He’d have to check dates, but it would be interesting to know if the latest Droightman equations appeared at the same time as Rahul was taken on as a research assistant. Definitely something to look into.
Glancing around the entrance, he saw another hallway on the opposite side to the ballroom. Out of curiosity, he decided to explore it. Similar décor to the hall that led to the ballroom, with murals decorating the vaulted ceiling. From behind one of the doors he could hear a thudding sound, three rapid thuds followed by a heavier thud a fraction of a second later. He raised his eyebrows and smiled, before letting himself through the door.
Inside the floor was covered in heavily padded mats and hanging from one corner there was a punch bag, about a metre and a half tall, suspended from the ceiling. Helen had changed her dress for T-shirt and shorts and was working out on the bag – no doubt working off her feelings at having a prominent guest murdered at her party, concluded Monty. Around the walls there were stored a variety of weapons and trainings pads. Monty would have loved to have had his own training gym like this.
He slipped his shoes off and watched Helen working. Three punches, jab, jab, cross, followed by a kick with the ball of her left foot to where the floating rib would be on a real opponent. A standard combination, but a good one. And something you could pump a bit of aggression into, as Helen was clearly doing.
After a minute, Monty strode forward, saying, “No, no, no, no, no. Don’t ever let me see you doing that again.”
Helen stopped, and turned to him, clearly surprised that he had entered without her knowing.
“What?” she asked.
“Every time you throw that kick, you’re dropping your right-hand guard.”
“Bringing my right hand down counter-balances the kick and gives it more power.”
“Whoever told you that should be shot. If you did that with me, I’d take your head off. The power in that kick comes from turning your hip over,” said Monty. He rested his swordstick against the wall and picked up a pair of training pads, strapping them to his arms.
“You wouldn’t have time to take my head off with that kick coming in.”
“Try it,” said Monty, holding up the pads.
Helen came in hard and fast with the same combination. The three punches landed on the pads, but while the kick was still coming up, Monty clipped her round the ear with one of the pads. She fell on her side, slapping the mats with her hand to absorb the impact.
“Again,” said Monty.
Helen tried again with the same result.
“Now, try like this.”
Monty demonstrated the technique, stopping the kick a millimetre from Helen’s rib cage. Helen’s eyes widened slightly in surprise, and he permitted himself a small smile. He still had his speed, whatever act he might put on for the public.
Helen started working the combination again, as he held the pads.
“No, more hip,” said Monty. “Better. Again. Again. What was that? My granny can kick harder – again. More. Yes. Yes. I almost felt that. Again.”
Monty kept her going hard for five minutes before letting her rest. He was impressed at how long she could keep it up. Not many people had that kind of endurance. Twice she had dropped her guard, and twice he had knocked her down, but each time she got up. Perhaps he could have kept her going for longer, but the truth was he wasn’t sure that he could carry on. It could be almost as much work holding the pads as hitting them.
“When you two have quite finished,” called Florence from the door.
Monty started guiltily, and with a sheepish grin took the pads off. Helen rested her hands on her knees, breathing heavily.
“Honestly, if I leave him alone for a minute, he starts acting like a schoolboy,” said Florence. “Now, Monty, go and get washed. You’re dripping with sweat. Positively disgusting.”
He retrieved his swordstick and walked briskly to their rooms. A shower was a good opportunity to get his thoughts in order.
Now, if Mark was right about those equations, and Alan Droightman nicking them all, the question was who had he nicked them from. Would he give, say, a promising student a research position and take their work for his own? Possible. Risky, but possible. Problems with leverage and keeping them quiet, but, yes, it could be done.
In which case, Anand had turned up recently, meaning that he might be the source of the latest equations. And Miriam Davies… It would be interesting to learn when she had turned up. When was it Mark said Droightman had risen to fame? Ten years ago? Wouldn’t it be interesting if she had started working for Droightman ten years or so ago.
Monty put on a fresh blazer, picked up his swordstick, and left his rooms. It seemed that he needed to ask Miriam Davies a few questions.