An Elegant Solution
by Anne Atkins Genre: Contemporary Fiction
When someone mentions the City of Cambridge you probably think of an iconic building, its four corners stretching out of the once medieval mud and into the arms of everlasting heaven, its white limestone yearning into eternity... and without even knowing exactly what ephemeral joys or permanent wonders the vision brings to mind, it s a safe bet that the one thought which doesn t occur to you is that the Chapel might not be there by Christmas. Theo (Theophilus Ambrose Fitzwilliam Wedderburn to his friends) is a Junior Research Fellow in Number Theory. Prompted by a supervisee to demonstrate how to trace the provenance of bitcoins, Theo happens across a shocking revelation, with embarrassing ramifications for the whole University. Meanwhile he is being stalked unseen by someone from his childhood. To his annoyance, Theo falls for a cheap con... and discovers a horror set not only to rock the very seat of power itself but to change the face of Cambridge and its beautifully iconic image for ever.
She woke disoriented, her gown crushed. She rummaged in her clutch bag. Twenty past three. It was disappointing to have missed any of the night, but perhaps worth it to feel so refreshed. She ran her fingers through her hair and scrunched it into place.
Suki must be enjoying herself. Charlotte straightened the bed and left it as she’d found it.
She didn’t immediately notice anything in the sitting room: it was now in darkness. She switched on the light for her makeup. Suki sat on the window seat, hunched, her head on her knees, still.
“Hello!” Charlotte said brightly. “Were you having a great time? Suks?”
She knelt on the floor next to her. “Suki? You all right? Hey . . .”
Her friend barely moved. Charlotte realised she was crying. “What is it?” Suki rocked into her arms and sobbed. Charlotte wondered how long she should hold her, whether to get tissues, how to put the kettle on. It was a few minutes before she could let go.
“I’m making you some tea. Will you be all right?” Their roles reversed, despite Suki’s whole Cambridge year ahead of her.
There were dirty mugs by the kettle, a box of teabags and a used spoon. Charlotte opened a cupboard but found only instant coffee. “I’ll be back in a moment. I’m going to find milk.” She went into the corridor, opening doors. One led to the bedroom which must belong to the other occupant of the set. The bedclothes were in disarray and she saw Suki’s pretty feather cardigan on the floor. She retrieved it. The next door was locked, but then she found a door saying ‘Gyp Room’. It was a tiny kitchen. She took milk from the fridge, then returned for sugar.
“Here we are,” she said, shutting the door carefully. She continued the chatter as she stirred tea bags and added sugar to one of them. Suki stared out of the window and went on crying.
“Come on, Suki. Take this. It’s okay: I’m just moving your skirt out of the way. You don’t want to wreck your dress, shaking your tea like that. I’ve put sugar in it.”
“I don’t take sugar.”
Suki winced at the heat. She gave the mug back. “Where were you?” “I waited for you at the ceilidh. Like we said.” “The ceilidh,” she said dully. “Have I missed it?” Tears ran down
her cheeks again.
“The caller was rubbish: you didn’t miss anything we can’t do better another time. Have another sip.” She waited. “Tell me what happened. If you want to. Do you want me to get anyone?”
“No! No, please.”
“Okay, okay.” Charlotte waited a moment. “Where did you go, after the punting?”
“I can’t remember. We went to the photo booth. There was a long queue so we came back. Then . . . I don’t know. I don’t care. I met friends, and I was introduced to someone. A Fellow. He seemed really good fun.” She started sobbing again and couldn’t go on.
“Did you . . .” Charlotte thought of the feather cardigan. “Did you go into the room along the corridor?” Suki nodded. “Did he . . . ? What happened?”
Anne Atkins is the author of several novels, most recently An Elegant Solution, a literary thriller set in Cambridge, with a dashing Aspergic hero.
Previous novels are The Lost Child, On Our Own and A Fine and Private Place, all featuring a child’s viewpoint.
She has also written several books of non-fiction. Split Image: Male and Female After God's Likeness, is a layperson’s guide to biblical teaching about the sexes. Child-Rearing for Fun: Trust Your Instincts and Enjoy Your Children gives parents the confidence to know they're getting it right, ideas to help them do it even better, and an awful lot of laughs. Agony Atkins is a compilation of her agony aunt columns in the Daily Telegraph and contains much wisdom and lots more laughs.
She is a regular contributor to Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, as well as many other radio and television programmes and most national newspapers.