Professor VJ Duke cuts a dramatic figure in the doorway, a most alarming countenance upon his face. It is impossible to read his temper – he might be furious, or frightened or simply suffering from trapped wind. None of these actualities are particularly palatable, I must say.
“What did he say?” asks Head Porter. The Professor huffs and takes a seat next to me at Head Porter’s desk.
“Well, here’s the thing,” the Professor replies. “The Dean says many things that I can’t repeat, or it might hurt my tongue, see. He said he doesn’t know who sent the note, but the post mark on the envelope was from France!”
Head Porter gasps and flings his fists to his mouth.
“Keep your shirt on, it’s not all that bad,” continues the Professor. “France is way over yonder. But I suppose it could mean the note was written by… The Bursar.”
“It makes sense to me,” I say, thinking of the claret-etched note. “He can’t have had a pen to hand in that dungeon.” But he still managed to get paper, an envelope and a stamp. “Even so, we mustn’t jump to conclusions. How is The Dean taking it all?”
“He is angrier than a wasp in a sock,” says Professor Duke. “He doesn’t like getting threatened by nobody. Neither would I, I must admit. He’ll probably explode, what with The Master being beastly and now this note.”
“But what has The Bursar got to do with the disappearance of the Music Professor?” I wonder aloud. “Or the hijacking of the Choir? It doesn’t make sense, even by Old College standards.”
“Well I say that if something doesn’t make sense than a person should leave it well alone,” Head Porter says. “I am sure The Dean has it all in hand and the more poking about we do, the worse we will make it, surely.”
“In my experience poking is a fine art,” I reply. “A little bit more could swing things in our favour.”
Head Porter moves to protest, but is distracted by a kerfuffle in the Lodge. We look over to see The Master’s Wife stamping a tiny sparkling foot and pointing at poor Porter with a perfectly manicured finger. The unfortunate chap seems to be on the end of quite a rollicking.
“I’d better get out there,” says Head Porter, rising to his feet. “You two stay here. Don’t touch anything.”
The very second Head Porter leaves, the Professor and I look around for things to touch and interfere with. My top-hatted companion disturbs his laptop and the dating profile pops up on the screen.
“Goodness, what’s this?”
The Professor sits himself down at Head Porter’s desk and begins inspecting the screen. A variety of expressions find themselves fighting for space on his features, helpfully accompanied by appropriate vocal outbursts. Finally, he laughs and shakes his head.
“I can’t imagine what sort of lady would reply to this! Wait, strike that, I actually can. It’s best Head Porter does his lady-shopping elsewhere, I’m thinking.”
“I just don’t think he understands women at all,” I reply, throwing up my arms in despair.
“And that’s why we must help him.” The Professor winks and returns his attentions to the screen. There is a flurry of furious typing, resolved by a loud exclamation of satisfaction from the far side of the keyboard.
I try to lean round and see what the Professor was up to but he smartly snaps shut the laptop and engages me in further discussion about the unlikely events currently facing us.
“Now, Deputy Head Porter, no snooping! It’s not nice. Here’s the thing: I am convinced that the Choir is at the heart of this matter,” says the Professor. “Which means…we must spy on the choir. Or look about them. You know, see what they’re up to.”
For once, he is making perfect sense. Just who are these talentless beauties who are going to ensure our complete humiliation at the Choir Competition? We agree to sneak along to a rehearsal just as soon as we can.
There are further ructions from within the Lodge. The Master’s Wife is squealing at a pitch that is on the verge of being audible only to dogs. Porter has his arms defiantly folded and his moustache is bristling with indignation. Head Porter has the vaguely terrified look of a man who has very much lost control of the situation.
I suppose I really should step in.