“We’d better not hang around ‘ere too long, if you don’t mind me saying” says Porter. He is right. It will not be too long before Hawkins College start searching for us and we are a somewhat distinctive-looking collective. Although no closer to finding the Lord Layton, we do now have a set of master keys to Hawkins College, even if I had to sacrifice my best pair of shoes in the process. I couldn’t walk in them, anyway.
“We should head back to Old College,” suggests The Dean. “We can get changed and have a bloody good drink. Not you, Porter, obviously. I meant Deputy Head Porter and my good self.” Get changed? I hadn’t thought that far ahead. Bugger.
“Obviously, Sir” replies Porter, not put out in the slightest. “I was hoping to get off soon, I, er, have somewhere to be.”
“The Detective Sergeant?” I whisper to Porter, with the very hint of a cheeky wink.
“Somewhere to be? At this hour?” Splutters The Dean. “I tell you Porter, no good deeds are done after midnight and that’s a fact.”
“It’s not good deeds he’s after, Sir” I mutter, with a smile. And if I know Detective Sergeants, good deeds will be the last thing she will be expecting. “Anyway, we shouldn’t be seen together. You run along, Porter, and The Dean and I shall make our own way back through the alleyways.”
With Porter gratefully released from his duties for the evening, The Dean and I remain vaguely in character for the short walk back to Old College. My staggering is decidedly less convincing without the aid of my ridiculous heels, but I cling to his arm anyway to maintain the pretence.
The journey to Old College is mercifully uneventful, although as we traverse Apple Tree Court I catch sight of Night Porter on his rounds. I cannot be sure if he has recognised us or not, but his gaze follows us until we reach the safety of H staircase.
Once inside The Dean’s rooms, he swiftly fills his crystal tumbler with the finest whiskey Old College has to offer. And that is pretty fine whiskey, let me tell you. He digs around and eventually locates the Arsenal mug, which has become my unfortunate receptacle for the amber liquid I seem to be imbibing far too regularly these days. I am sad to say that the quality of the scotch negates the horror of the vessel and I accept his offering gratefully.
“That didn’t go exactly to plan,” muses The Dean as he removes his Zorro mask and hat. He reaches to his throat to untie the cape but stops short. “I’ll leave the cape on, I think it rather suits me.”
“It rather does, Sir.”
“Are you remaining in costume, Deputy Head Porter?”
Without a change of clothes to hand I feel that I should most definitely remain in costume.
“Suit yourself.” The Dean finds his way to his favourite armchair and motions for me to take a seat on the ageing leather sofa that is currently housing a large collection of books. I am only small and find a space quite happily.
The conversation that follows is heartbreaking, to say the least. In any other circumstances, the arrival of Batman would be a triumph. In this case, it raises only the saddest of suspicions that Head Porter, feeling unable to participate in the raid itself, had some kind of moral obligation to mount an eleventh hour coup de grace during the assault on Hawkins College. His financial embarrassments are an open secret, yet the telephone conversation I recently overheard suggested that they have been mysteriously alleviated. Sprockett Gate being left unlocked and the switching of the heraldic symbols leaves us in a very doubtful frame of mind. Head Porter has the motive, the opportunity and the means to facilitate the theft of the Lord Layton. That, my friends, is reasonable grounds to suspect – if not believe – that he is involved.
“This is something that must be kept very much between ourselves, Deputy Head Porter” says The Dean gravely.
“Of course Sir” I reply.
“We are getting very good at keeping things between ourselves, are we not?”
My brow creases involuntarily as I struggle to comprehend his meaning. Something that is not lost on The Dean.
“That night, the other week. When you… confessed.” Ah. The night I cannot remember. Because of the whiskey. Remind me again, why I am once again drinking The Dean’s whiskey?
“I am not sure what you mean, Sir” I say, as innocently as I can possibly manage. “Could you be referring to my hitherto unknown case of anatidaephobia?”
The Dean gives me a long, hard look.
“Deputy Head Porter, you break my heart, you really do” The Dean sighs and refills his glass. “But no matter. We must confront him and we must resolve this. Before… before it is too late.”
Too late? Those are two words that are never welcome in a civilized conversation.
I press The Dean on this statement.
It appears that The Dean may well be leaving us.