The smell of smoke was much stronger in the air outside the buildings now, and he could hear the crackle of nearby bonfires. White wisps of smoke drifted across the paths now and then, like autumnal mists, but the warmth of the evening was a clear reminder that it was still just the end of April. He walked out of the Natural Sciences Quadrangle and along a paved path that led into towards the centre of campus. There were a number of small shops there, a tiny post-office staffed for four hours a day, and the campus cinema. It showed a lot of old films and art-films and was managed primarily by the Film Studies faculty and students for their coursework, but they did have a popular Thursday evening program when they’d show more recent and mainstream films. There was no chance of getting any of the latest releases there though, as they didn’t have the budget for it or the auditorium space for a huge audience. The residential part of campus started after the shops and spread out in a neat fan shape across what had once been grazing land, and was eventually hemmed in at the end and on the sides by the forest that had been there for longer than the university.
As Joshua crossed a wide road used by delivery lorries, he caught sight of one of the bonfires at last, a little way off to the side of the art studios. It was a tall structure with a narrow base that seemed woven together in the dancing orange light, and the flames and smoke were directed upwards by its shape. There were a couple of silhouettes moving around the base who appeared to be tending to the fire, and Joshua supposed that they were students. He paused for a moment, wondering if he wanted to go up to it and look at it, and then he decided that what he really wanted was a warm room with the curtains drawn, a hot drink, and the television turned on to something silly that would make him laugh. He crossed the road without looking back at the bonfire.
The shops came up quickly after that, and he stopped there, stepping into the little co-operative to pick up some tea-bags and a chocolate bar. His hands hovered over the brightly-coloured bags of Haribo for a moment, and then he decided that the chocolate would be enough. The girl behind the counter looked slightly familiar, and she smiled when she saw him, making him reasonably certain that she was a student around the Maths building.
When he arrived at his flat it was dark; his flatmate hadn’t arrived back yet, or had gone out already. He unlocked the front door and groped for the light-switch there without stepping inside again. When he realised what he was doing he shook his head, but he still found the light-switch and turned the light on before stepping in. The post had been picked up and put on the narrow table – more of a shelf on legs really – at the back of the shallow hall. He closed the door behind him, dropped his back next to the table and picked up the post. There were two bills and a letter addressed to Tom, his flat-mate. Nothing for Joshua.
The kitchen was a ten-foot cube that had a large fridge, a cooker and sink, and some counter-space. There was a microwave at one end of the counter, and a kettle at the other, but no dishwasher or waste-disposal unit or other such modern convenience. Tom had left the milk out on the counter, and Joshua left it there. He didn’t drink milk and thought he might be slightly lactose intolerant, so it didn’t bother him if it went off faster. He checked the fridge and pulled a couple of slices of white bread from the loaf in there, a couple of eggs from the shelf in the door, and checked the upper cupboards for spices. Finding some nutmeg that didn’t look three years old was good enough: he set about making French toast.
There was a knock at the door as he tipped the toast onto a plate, making sure to spoon the browned butter left in the pan over it.
“Have you forgotten your keys again?” he said as he opened the door, but the person on the outside wasn’t Tom, it was Mark.
“Nope, you’ve not given me a key yet,” said Mark. He grinned and held up a white plastic carrier bag. “I went by your office when I left and you were gone already. Fancy a beer?”
“Sure,” said Joshua. “I’ve just made French toast–“
“Sounds fancy, but I’ll give it a try.”
“Yeah well, when I was a kid I got beans on toast, fish fingers on toast, fried eggs on toast, or jam on toast and that was pretty much it. My mum didn’t cook much and Dad thought cooking was reheating left-overs. I only found out that other people had these big slap-up meals with turkeys and potatoes and things after I went to school and people asked me about my Christmas. The first one I remember I think we had cheese sandwiches with a bit of pickle. I didn’t like the pickle and got sent to my room for spitting it out.”
“Really?” Josh beckoned Mark in and closed the door behind him. “French toast’s not fancy, it’s just bread soaked in egg and fried up. Go in to the living room and I’ll bring it in.”
“Fridge!” Mark pointed to the plastic bag. “Beer goes in the fridge mate, or it gets warm.”
“Yeah fine, give me the bag then.”
Mark split two cans from one of the six packs and handed the bag to Joshua.
“So did you go and see security then?” he asked as Joshua brought the food in. Both cans were open and standing on the coffee table next to the couch; the magazines that had been on there had been stacked neatly at one end, and the cushions had been redistributed on the couch to make it look more homely. “Hey, this stuff looks good!” He leant over the plate and sniffed. “Smells good too!”
“Yeah, it’s really nothing, it’s quite easy,” said Joshua feeling a little embarrassed. “Did you tidy up in here?”
“Just straightened things,” said Mark. “You live in a tip. Your office shows that.”
“Where everything is, I’m sure,” said Mark. “It’s still a tip. This tastes really good by the way.” He was half-way through his piece of toast already, and Joshua was wishing that he’d known Mark was coming over; one piece wasn’t going to be enough for him either. “Anyway, security?”
“Yeah, yeah I went and saw them,” said Joshua. “Have you ever been down there?”
“Down there? What do you mean?”
“They’re in the basement. You go down these corridors and then you go down some stairs and there’s this whole basement down there that they’ve got. It’s like a proper Operation with a capital O.”
“Nah, mate. I thought they just had a room with a few monitors and a man with a uniform in.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was expecting too. But no, it’s really sophisticated. Do you want more?”
“Have you got more?” Mark looked up eagerly.
“I can make some, still got some eggs. Come on, you can watch, see how easy it is.”
While Joshua made more French toast he told Mark about his trip down to security and viewing the footage. Mark nodded, his attention closer to the frying pan than Joshua’s words.
“So no-one went into your office, but there’s still a mysterious journal in there? That’s weird. Think someone climbed in through the window?”
“I didn’t,” said Joshua. “I’d like to sleep tonight, thanks!”
“Well, you’re a bit high up anyway,” said Mark. “Sounds like our security would spot someone climbing up the side of the building pretty quickly and come out and get them down. Taser them, maybe!”
“They’ve probably hidden the tasers in the ivy,” said Joshua, grinning. “They yell at you to come down, and if you don’t the ivy just shocks you off.”
“Yeah! We should totally pay a student to try climbing up and see what happens!”
“Hah, yes!” Joshua tipped more toast onto their plates, and Mark looked around.
“Got any ketchup, mate?”
“Cupboard next to the sink.”
Back in the living room, while Mark drowned his toast in ketchup with a look of avarice on his face, Josh sat back. “Do you really think someone climbed up and got in through my window?”
“No,” said Mark. “Not even slightly. It’s weird that it’s there, but it must have been put there earlier and you just didn’t notice it until today. Your office is such a mess I reckon you could leave a elephant in there for a week before you spotted it.