Sleight Of Hand – Episode 03

SERGEANT GREENE peered at the map, clearly having difficulty distinguishing ancient weathering from modern mischief.

“We will,” he said carefully, “keep an eye.”

The librarian wrung his hands.

“Something is afoot,” he insisted, “and it is more than some careless young man making a silly mistake. My readers love these books, these maps, these documents.” He placed a bony hand on the sergeant’s arm. “You know that we hold the Cranby Gospels here?” he whispered.

The anguished Dr Nicholls was called away by a professor from St Antony’s College who couldn’t find a book. Ruth and Sergeant Greene wandered back towards the entrance.

“I think I could live in there very happily,” Ruth said.

He turned to her, astonished.


She stopped walking, and waved a hand to take in the lofty carved ceilings, the dense walls of books, the old, worn carpet runners, the lecterns and smooth oak desks.

“Yes,” she breathed. “Isn’t it marvellous? These venerable walls have been guarding these precious books,” she said, “since the fifteenth century.”

“And has Doctor Nicholls been here all that time?” Greene asked innocently.

Ruth pushed his shoulder in mock anger, and an electric shock passed through her. She recovered herself.

“Doctor Nicholls is a darling,” she said.

“It’s an odd choice of profession for such a little man,” Greene observed. “All that reaching and climbing. Volumes stored ten feet in the air.”

“Height is not everything,” Ruth declared.

“Some small people are perfect,” he said, obviously without thinking, and then she felt him freeze in his tracks.

“Well,” she said quickly. “I don’t suppose a crime has been committed here, so what can be done for the poor, unhappy doctor?”

“Nothing,” Terence said simply.

Neither of them spoke for a moment.

“So, no need for further communication between us,” Ruth said eventually.

“Not at present.” He took a step towards the door. “I have to return to work.”

Ruth felt forlorn. But there was nothing for it.

“I’ll stay awhile,” she said. “I do love a library.”

She watched the good-looking policeman leave, dipping his head to pass under the mediaeval lintel. She took a long breath, and looked around her to admire the Duke Humfrey’s. It was busy; summer examinations were in the offing. Young men were slumped over books, or they were talking in corners to avoid their work.

As in most good libraries, there were some comfortable chairs for study, alongside serviceable polished desks. Then there were large, intricately carved chairs almost like thrones which looked distinctly uncomfortable.

Their library back at St Hilda’s, Ruth reflected, was a wholly practical room, furnished by and for women. Women understood practicality.

When ladies were university librarians, then there would be comfort and utility everywhere! The Duke Humfrey’s was handsome, certainly, but stuffed with unnecessary furniture! And the carpet was so worn as to be perilous!

When Ruth finally left the library, she took a walk north, past Balliol College and then Trinity. It was a beautiful evening. The city bustled with town and gown. She passed a college workman with a bucket of water and a scrubbing brush. He was trying to remove a bill that had been pasted on the front wall of St John’s College.

“Good afternoon,” she said. The man turned and tugged an imaginary cap.

“That must be a tiresome job,” she said.

“It is, miss,” he said. “People will fix up these advertisements under cover of darkness. The college don’t like it.” He tapped the colourful scraps still adhering to the wall. “There’s dozens of these all over Oxford.”

Ruth walked on, and saw further examples of the bill, sometimes tiled on a wall in multiple copies.

Magic and Mystery, they read. See the amazing Lady Shokranka perform true Romany Magic to beguile the eye!

The show was to be held that night at the Headington Theatre to the east of the city. Ruth shook her head with impatience. She had no doubt that the dark beauty whose image looked out at her from the bill, with her glinting loop earrings and her black eyes, was not exactly a lady. And Ruth had absolutely no truck with magic. She tossed her head and marched on.


Used to make posts more anonymous, eg a criminal case where you don’t want to expose the actual journalist.