“Oh, God. No” I say, barely under my breath. Hawkins Head Porter is smiling strangely. More of a macabre grin, actually.
“Prayer is the final refuge of a scoundrel” he says, without humour. “What are you doing in my Lodge?”
The Dean clears his throat and confidently launches into our carefully planned cover story. I say carefully planned cover story, thinking back it was thrown together in a rather unlikely – not to mention drunken – manner. The reason being that we never expected to have to use it. Porter was fastidious in his reconnaissance and there should have been no one else patrolling the grounds but the Night Porter, whose main duties appeared to be taking as many smoke breaks as it is possible to squeeze into an evening shift. But anyway.
“Good evening, my good man” says The Dean, adopting a slightly more silky tone than his usual bombastic style. “My name is Leonard Patterson-Smythe and I am a postgraduate from DeVille College. This young lady is a first year of yours. I am afraid to say I found her face down in the gutter on Prince’s Street having over-indulged at one of those parties the young ones are so fond of. As a scholar and a gentleman, I was escorting her back to her rooms. We were just trying to find her spare key.”
It is a perfectly reasonable sounding explanation, although the delivery could have been more convincing. I imagine it is difficult to be convincing when dressed as Zorro. That said, The Dean does seem fairly comfortable with his alter ego and is even swaggering a little. The cape is a little comical but the hat and the mask quite suit him, actually. Hawkins Head Porter appears less than impressed.
“You do look quite familiar” he says, squinting at The Dean. “If you’re a postgrad, what are you studying?”
“Law” replies The Dean, assuredly. He is a doctor* of law, after all.
“Alright then, what’s Article Three of the Human Rights Act?”
“Prohibition of torture!”
“No it isn’t”
“It bloody well is!” The Dean slips back to his more usual demeanour, hands thrust on his hips and jaw jutting defiantly. In his current state of dress, he does look rather fabulous. For my part, I am doing my best to maintain the visage of heavy intoxication and am swaying so much that I actually start to feel a little woozy. Sensing a confrontation between The Dean and Hawkins Head Porter, I reason that what we need right now is a distraction. And a way out. I can see this ending badly.
“I think I’m going to be sick” I announce.
“No you’re not,” snaps The Dean. “You’ll be fine for a moment. I tell you, Head Porter, Article Three states that no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment…”
“D’you know, I’m not so sure that you are a law graduate”
“And I am not so sure that you are a Head Porter!” The Dean is on a roll, now. Oh dear. “For instance, what are you doing here in the middle of the night? Head Porters don’t do night shifts, save for very exceptional circumstances. I put it to you, Sir, that you are an imposter!”
Brilliant. Not only have we been caught red-handed rifling through the keys, now The Dean is insulting the Head Porter of our rival College in his own Lodge.
“I will have you know, Mister Patterson-Smythe, that there are very exceptional circumstances, actually. Very exceptional indeed” Hawkins Head Porter seems to catch himself before he says something he might later regret. He takes a step closer and lowers his voice. “If you must know, we’ve had a bit of a tip-off. We, er, we might be expecting some visitors tonight. Unwelcome visitors, if you get my drift.”
The Dean and I exchange the briefest of glances. Surely he cannot be referring to us, can he? How could he have known?
“Intruders, you mean?” asks The Dean, slipping subtly back into character.
“Could be,” replies Hawkins Head Porter. “A chap gave us the nod. I thought it best that I was on duty tonight. And I was right, wasn’t I? I’ve caught you two up to no good.”
“Who told you…” I begin, but am ordered into silence by a violent wave of The Dean’s arm.
“We will be getting along directly,” says The Dean. “I will get my young friend back to her rooms at once. We are sorry to have disturbed you.”
The Dean takes my arm and makes to head towards the door, but Hawkins Head Porter holds up a hand and blocks our path.
“Not so fast,” he says. “I’m sure I’ve seen you two somewhere before. What are you up to in my Lodge?”
“I told you…” but The Dean is interrupted by the sudden crash of breaking glass.
We gather our senses and our collective gaze falls upon a good sized rock that seems to have found its way urgently through the window of the Hawkins Porters’ Lodge. Hawkins Head Porter is clearly furious and his face looks like a bunched fist.
“What the..?” He swings round and shouts an obscenity at a mysterious figure striking a heroic pose in the courtyard. “Batman?!”
To our disbelief, there is indeed the figure of the caped crusader standing before us in the courtyard. Although, it seems he has rather let himself go in recent years and is uncharacteristically making ‘V’ signs in our general direction.
“Bloody Batman has smashed my window!” Hawkins Head Porter heads towards the door as Batman continues to make suggestive hand gestures whilst making good his escape.
“Bloody hell!” exclaims The Dean.
“Bloody hell indeed, Sir” is all I can think to say.
“Come on. Let’s get out of here before he comes back.”
The Dean and I slip out of Hawkins College and back into the relative safety of Mortlock Alley. I had the presence of mind to take the master keys with me, but now feel a bit concerned that I have committed an act of theft. Along with Batman’s flagrant demonstration of criminal damage, Hawkins College have not had a good night.
Porter is waiting for us in the shadows and, as we catch our breath, several things are running through my mind.
Who has been talking to Hawkins College?
Was that really Head Porter who threw the rock through the window?
I have left my best pair of shoes in Hawkins Porters’ Lodge.
The best we can hope for is that this little episode does not come back to bite us on the backside.
*It has been pointed out to me that the real Dean from the real Old College is, in fact, a Professor of Law, not merely a humble Doctor. I am happy to make this clarification for the sake of delicate academic egos.