Joshua looked at her face as he slipped past her and into the room, wondering if that was a joke or not. She wasn’t smiling, but she didn’t look angry either. “Thanks,” he said.
The office wasn’t quite large enough to fit a double bed in, but there was a table as long as his legs with a single chair on either side of it. Attached to the ceiling was a black, shiny hemisphere that probably housed a camera, and on the table were some coffee-rings, a half-empty cup of black coffee, and a fresh white notepad. Joshua sat on the side opposite the notepad, which had him facing the door.
“Right,” said Lieutenant Georges, sitting down opposite him. She produced a pen from the breast pocket of her jacket, but didn’t appear to be about to write anything down. She clicked it once. “You walked off leaving your visitor alone to wander around the building. Why didn’t you escort him out?”
“He was a crank!” said Joshua. “A complete waste of my time, he wouldn’t tell me why he’d written that paper, or what he’d done it for. He just kept telling me that he could help me and that I should go somewhere with him.”
Lieutenant Georges clicked her pen and looked at him. He waited, and she waited, and then he thought about what he’d said.
“Oh! Not like that,” he said. “Some place called Oakwell or Oakvale or something like that. He seemed to think that there was some mathematical stuff there. No other reason.”
The pen clicked, and then again.
“Whatever disagreement you may have had with him,” said Lieutenant Georges, sounding as though she was choosing her words, “you still left a visitor alone in the building. University policy is that all visitors are either escorted out of the building, or taken down to Security so that we can see to their departure. It is a security risk to allow unknown people, who are broadly unaccountable, to roam around the building. The university is old, and contains a lot of things whose value might not be apparent at a casual glance, but which a visitor might be able to identify, or simply be careless with. My problem here, Mr. Greene, is that you are in breach of that policy and don’t seem to be particularly concerned about it.”
The pen clicked.
“We removed your visitor from the building, and he left the university grounds shortly afterwards, so you’ll be pleased to here, I hope, that he hasn’t done anything that would cause a particular problem.”
The pen clicked again, and Joshua felt a cold sweat break out on his skin. Lieutenant Georges was staring at him now, and the pressure of her gaze was worrying.
“I’m sorry,” he said, and stopped. He was sorry, but he wasn’t sure that what he was saying really conveyed that. “I’m really sorry,” he tried. “I didn’t think –“
“Yes, well.” The pen clicked again. “That’s rather obvious, isn’t it?”
“He upset me!”
“We all get upset, Mr. Greene. That doesn’t excuse our behaviour afterwards though. You are employed by the university in an academic research post, aren’t you?” Joshua nodded. “Then surely you are paid to be clever, and to think clearly about things, no matter how upset you are? Or are you allowed to go home and not do your job because you’ve had an argument with a colleague, or because the weather’s upsetting you?”
Joshua shook his head. He felt as though he were five again and his mother was sitting him down and telling him why she was so disappointed in him. The look on Lieutenant Georges face and hers were almost identical, and he badly wanted to find something to say that would redeem himself in her eyes.
“I’m glad you understand,” said Lieutenant Georges. “I wish we’d not had to have this conversation. However, I now must remind you that when you were employed you signed a contract, and part of that contract said that you wouldn’t leave your visitors unattended in any of the university buildings.”
Joshua stared at her, the blood in his ears suddenly loud enough to almost drown her words out. Little pinpricks of light sparkled on the edges of his vision, and everything but Lieutenant Georges seemed to darken.
“You are, of course, in breach of that contract. In light of the fact that nothing actually went wrong, and given that you were upset when this happened, I suppose we can overlook it this time. And by overlook I mean only that we won’t take any action against you. This incident will be kept on file, and it will be taken into account if there are any further incidents of this nature.”
“Right,” said Joshua. His words sounded quiet in his ears, but the pinpricks of light were fading and the room seemed to be coming back into focus. “Right, thank-you. Thank-you.”
“Everyone makes mistakes,” said Lieutenant Georges, and she smiled for the first time. “We don’t even tell your line manager about the first one unless it’s serious. And everyone, and I mean everyone, has had this conversation at some point.”
“Even Dr. Hawne?” Joshua didn’t expect a reply, but the idea that she’d ever been down here being spoken to like this was awesome.
“Even Dr. Hawne,” said Lieutenant Georges. “Though she is an exceptionally quick learner.”
“Oh wow.” Joshua sat there, still feeling a little numb, wondering how much of a bullet he’d just dodged.
“Thank-you for coming to see us,” said Lieutenant Georges, putting the pen away in her pocket. “I’ll show you out.” There was just the tiniest emphasis on her last sentence, a hint of reproach.
“Actually,” said Joshua, not standing up. “I came here for a different reason.” Lieutenant Georges looked surprised. “I didn’t know you wanted to talk to me,” he said. “I’ve not been back to my office yet. I wanted to ask about Robin Hood Tower.”
“What about it?”
“Well.” Joshua opened the journal to the bookmarked page and then flicked quickly through to the end of the article. “I asked our academic secretary about this guy,” he pointed, “and she said that his stuff all got moved into Robin Hood Tower. I was wondering if I could see it?”
The pen reappeared from Lieutenant Georges pocket and clicked.
“Yes,” she said after a moment. “Given our little chat just now though, you’ll need to be supervised.”
“Who by? Dr. Hawne?”
“No. By someone from security. When did you have in mind to go and visit the tower?”
“Now?” Joshua hadn’t expected such a quick decision, but it seemed like a good idea to go straight away if the offer was available.
“Hmm. Wait here.”
Lieutenant Georges left the room and turned right. Joshua looked around again, but the room was too small for him to have missed anything on his first inspection, and he didn’t want to look under the table in case the people watching the camera images decided that he was acting suspiciously. He took his phone out, and noted that he got no signal down here, and opened up the e-book reader on it. He’d read a couple of pages of a pre-print he’d been emailed a few days earlier when Lieutenant Georges came back in holding a set of keys on a keyring with a little yellow plastic fob.
“We can go now,” she said. “I’ll be your escort.”
“Great,” said Joshua, putting his phone away.