Armitage - Chapter 2 - The Professor (Part 1 of 2)
Professor Jonathan Mason was head of the History Department at the University of Armitage, and was without a doubt Madeline’s favourite lecturer. She never found his classes boring and he always provoked the most stimulating of discussions. He had spent several years tutoring in England, where he was a Professor of History at Oxford University, and his reputation and credentials afforded him the opportunity to teach wherever he pleased. It was rumoured that he would replace the current Dean when Professor Roper retired, although Professor Mason had said nothing of this himself, seeming content to run the History Department and not wish for further advancement.
When Madeline arrived at the lecture hall Professor Mason was already there, standing at the podium arranging his notes, the curtains of the room drawn, ready for the slides he had prepared for the morning. He looked up and smiled as the door closed behind Madeline.
‘Ah Miss Jameson,’ he said genially. ‘So nice to see you again.’
‘Good morning Professor,’ said Madeline amiably, as she approached the stage.
‘And how are you today?’ he said, looking at her over his half moon glasses.
‘Fine thank you, and yourself?’
‘Oh you know, struggling on,’ said the professor with a wry smile. Madeline liked the professor’s sense of humour, very dry but never scathing. He would tease wayward students for such things as being late and not paying attention, but he never made anyone feel picked on.
As they were talking, more people began to filter into the lecture hall so Madeline decided to take her seat. She climbed the shallow stairs and settled down in her usual place: next the aisle, halfway up. She rested her bag on her knees, and removed a folder and ballpoint pen. She dated the next clean page and put her name in the top left corner, and then waited while the rest of the class arrived. When everyone was seated Professor Mason cleared his throat, signalling for quiet.
‘Well, I think we’re all here so let's begin, shall we?’
* * *
While Professor Mason delivered his lecture on the social and cultural facets of Victorian England, another discussion was taking place somewhere deep within Armitage. A very heated discussion in a dingy room in the city’s poorer district.
‘We can’t keep doing this, man,’ said one voice.
‘You wanna starve?’ said a second.
‘No, but you know what he’ll do if he catches us.’
‘If he catches us, I bet he don’t even know.’
‘I don’t know…’
‘Look, will you stop worrying? I’ve got everything wired, okay? We’re low on his radar, man. Real low. He don’t even come to this part of town, so how’s he gonna find out?’
‘But the things they say about him…’
‘Bullshit stories, man. Cooked up by dog killing freaks. You wanna live on dog?’
‘Then quit worrying.’
* * *
When Professor Mason had finished his lecture he laid down his notes and picked up a fresh sheet of paper from the table beside him.
‘Before you all leave I have a couple of notices,’ he said, eyeing the few people who had begun to stand up, ready to leave. ‘First off, all students are advised to take note of the new security precautions the university is implementing in light of recent events. No doubt you have all seen the posters around campus, do read them, they are there for your own safety. Secondly, those of you who have not yet informed me of your chosen research paper subject must do so no later than next week, thank you.’ People began to rise from chairs, some made their way out of the lecture hall and some proceeded down towards the podium to speak to the professor; Madeline was amongst this group. She waited patiently while other people told Professor Mason what they would be doing for their research papers and when she was at the head of the queue she was greeted with a welcoming smile.
‘So Miss Jameson, what will you be presenting then?’ His tone was warm, friendly.
‘I’ve been thinking of looking into the Jack the Ripper case, as it ties in with our discussions on Victorian England.’ For a moment it did not look like the professor had heard her, but as Madeline was about to check Professor Mason responded.
‘Really?’ he said, sounding somewhat surprised. ‘Quite the task, if you don’t mind me saying so, a lot of ambiguity and uncertainty. However, I have complete faith that you will give it your all, and I look forward to reading your findings.’
‘Thank you Professor, I hope I don’t disappoint you.’
‘I’m sure you won’t my dear,’ he smiled.
‘Well, I think I’ll go and make a start on my research,’ said Madeline, shouldering her bag.
‘Excellent,’ said the professor, slipping his files into a neat, brown folder. ‘No time like the present. Or the past, for that matter.’ Madeline smiled and made her way out of the lecture hall and headed over to the library. The morning light made her blink a little after the darkened lecture hall and as she entered the library building she smiled a greeting at the desk clerk and ascended the stairs to the second floor. She found a spare index computer and began to search for some of the titles that she would need for her research paper. The glow of the screen reflected off of her glasses as she scrolled down the page. She jotted down a few codes on a scrap piece of paper, put her reading glasses back in their case and went looking for the relevant books. She found the titles that she needed, but as she passed one of the windows on her way back to her desk something outside caught her eye.
It was that man again.
He was shuffling slowly along the building adjacent to the library, keeping very close to the wall, his body still covered in thick, worn material. He continued to sidle uneasily along the wall and then stopped. He turned towards the library building and for a second Madeline could have sworn that he was looking up at her. As she stared at the mysterious figure he raised an arm and pointed towards her.
‘Do you need any help?’ Madeline let out a yelp of surprise and dropped her books as a librarian recoiled in shock.
‘Oh God, sorry, you scared me,’ said Madeline, catching her breath.
‘No I’m sorry,’ said the librarian, bending down to pick up the books.
‘Please, let me.’ Madeline helped the librarian with the books and thanked her as she went back to her desk. Feeling embarrassed and stupid, Madeline looked out of the window again but the hooded man was definitely gone. Taking a steadying breath she carried her books back to her table and began reading some relevant chapters, taking notes where necessary.
Victorian England was one of Madeline’s favourite periods in history and the Ripper case had fascinated her with its gruesome mystery and twisted, convoluted theories. She held out no hope of shedding any definitive new light on the case but deep down she welcomed the challenge of whether she would be able to unearth any fresh or overlooked evidence concerning the brutal killings of those five prostitutes in Whitechapel, London in 1888. New evidence or not, Madeline could already tell that this was going to be an interesting research paper.
After an hour or so Madeline started to feel hungry so she decided to do something about lunch. She checked her watch, it was a little after three. She knew Abby had classes all day but Ben might be free. Fishing her phone out from her bag she composed a text message to Ben.
HI BEN, FANCY A COFFEE? – MADDIE.
SURE DO, replied Ben. WHERE R U?
OK, MEET U THERE. Madeline collected her things and headed downstairs to meet Ben. She sat in one of the lobby chairs as she waited, watching people come and go, before she saw Ben skateboard up to the library building.
‘Hi Maddie,’ he said as he entered the lobby. ‘Ready for that coffee?’
‘And something to eat, I’m starving.’
‘Cool, let’s go.’
* * *
Somewhere else in Armitage a phone was ringing.
‘Hello?’ said the person who answered.
‘Sir,’ the caller replied. ‘I have located the base of operations of the group as you asked.’
‘Excellent, I expect a full briefing upon your return.’
‘Yes sir. Do you wish me to bring them to you?’
‘No, not yet, if the intelligence you have supplied thus far is up to scratch they have become more adventurous of late and I may know where to find at least the bolder ones amongst them.’