It has been quite a day at the Porters’ Lodge and quite deservedly is now resolving itself within the slightly musty embrace of the scoundrels’ retreat that is The Albatross. Except that it isn’t going quite to plan as I have ended up alone the corner, accompanied only by a large bowl of cheesy chips, which are starting to go cold.
You see, the original plan was to have a careful and considered conversation with Head Porter about his recent decision to embark upon a quest for romance. From what little experience I have of his seduction technique, it seems that he has no problem attracting the attentions of the fairer sex. In fact, there have been occasions in the Lodge and again more recently at the wedding of Porter and Detective Sergeant Kirby when he has been practically beating them off with a stick. But what goes wrong, than? Invariably they vanish at some speed, never to be heard of again. Before he goes boldly forward hand in hand with Cupid, we must first tackle this little social knot of his.
Unfortunately, things started to unravel a little when we walked into The Albatross and spotted two rather attractive brunettes drinking at the bar, in an obvious state of tipsiness. Head Porter immediately offered to get the first round in and I have hardly had a glance from him since, save to deliver my requested glass of Malbec in what can only be described as a shoddy fashion.
To make matters worse, I was expecting Professor Duke over an hour ago. It seems he managed to corner The Dean for a few words about his recent reticence regarding the surprise arrival of The Master’s Wife. He promised to join us here in order that he might share the experience. I suppose it is perfectly feasible that things have overrun in that respect; trying to predict the manoeuvres of The Dean is an imperfect science. So imperfect, in fact, that it can hardly be described as a science at all. But anyway.
I am rescued from my disinterested musing in spectacular style by the sudden arrival of a highly excitable Professor VJ Duke. He somehow manages to make walking into a pub look like the grandest of entrances and immediately spots me in my solitary spot. He strides over and proceeds to enthusiastically devour the wilting cheesy chips whilst seating himself opposite.
“I’m starving, so this is just perfect, I say! Also, what are you doing here all alone, Deputy Head Porter?”
I nod over to the bar, where Head Porter has the bleary-eyed attention of the two brunettes, one of whom is giggling ferociously at whatever conversation he is offering.
“The beast,” says the Professor, removing his top hat and placing it carefully on the adjacent chair. “Look at him go! He’s perfectly filthy.” When he is satisfied that it is comfortable, he continues his assault on the bowl of chips.
“Your new hat looks marvellous, you know” I remark, this being the first time I have had a chance to observe it properly. “It certainly has character.”
“Why thanks bunches,” replies the Professor cheerfully. “But you know, it’s not a new hat, I hear. I’ve been told it’s a wicked hat, with a dastardly past. Probably been in jail at one point.”
“Yes, so I hear. But you really must expand on that, Professor.”
“I certainly shall! But not now. I must needs tell you about my meeting with Mr. Dean.”
An eruption of slurred laughter reaches us from the throng of the bar. It would appear that Head Porter is actually the funniest man on Earth. The Professor arcs an eyebrow disapprovingly and continues.
“You know what, I think Head Porter is tapping with the wrong ladies,” he says. “If someone is so unsteady on their feet, just imagine the pain that might cause down the road. Good rule: Never date someone without feet. But anyway, let me tell you about The Dean. I think The Master yelled at him rather badly regarding his place at the forefront of all the College scandals. Personally, I think it’s a good thing—a fine mark of manly beauty—to be forefront on all the scandals, but The Master really doesn’t think so, the beast.”
“So The Dean is scared of what The Master might do to him, is that it?”
“Oh come now! The Dean is never scared, don’t you know!” Professor Duke chuckles and slaps his thigh. “But the time I’d shown up, he’d had a lot of whiskey, and was really quite cranky about everything. He’s the adventuring type, see. Apparently, The Master said to him: ‘If you don’t go looking for the Music Professor, I won’t go looking for The Bursar’. So that’s that. Yo.”
That wasn’t what I was hoping for, if I’m honest.
It takes a while for the words to sink in and the implications to reach my brain. This could be quite a worry.
“Do you think he knows about The Bursar?” I ask quietly, thinking of the evil old bugger languishing in the dungeons of Chinon.
“You know, I’m really not sure,” replies the Professor. “But I’m thinking that he does know a thing or two or three about what happened to the Music Professor. And The Dean is convinced that it has something to do with the hijacking of the Choir by The Master’s Wife. It’s all such a humbling mess. Well, not humbling, but a mess.”
“In that case things are not looking promising for the poor Music Professor.”
The Professor nods. “Very true. They might cut his head off if we don’t find him! We must needs speak to the Organ Scholar at our first opportunity. He is our man on the inside. Our spy. Our main man.”
I nod in earnest agreement before finishing my wine in one large swallow. A quick chat can’t hurt. The Dean needn’t know a thing about it. I am about to suggest that we return to College at once and see if Organ Scholar is still up and about, when an almighty commotion catches us unawares.
An outraged squeal, swiftly followed by a sickening smack! of skin on skin, draws the gaze of every eye in the place. We look over to see a red-faced brunette defiantly waving a hand, whilst Head Porter stands aghast cradling his left cheek.
This does not bode well.
And it looks like the lady might be going for another swing.
Might be time to intervene.