A crisp and starry night has fallen across The City. A glittering carpet of frost is forming beneath our feet as the Professor and I make our way along the darkened pavements, the occasional street lamp illuminating us like actors on our own personal stage. Despite the advancing hour, The City remains a bustling hive of interest and people rush past us unheeding, each on some personal quest of varying urgency.
Although the latest romantic exploit of Head Porter provides us with some suitable fodder for chatter, our main focus of conversation is The Dean. He must surely realise that we are all aware of the mysterious bloody note yet he has mentioned not a word about it since Professor Duke confronted him. The Dean is not a man to show a weakness so I can only surmise that the incident has rattled him somewhat.
He is a rare breed, The Dean. It would be easy to label him as an Alpha Male, but I rather think he views himself as being on the other end of the scale of such things; an Omega Man, if you like. The last man standing. A man to best all men. I think he pulls it off rather well.
The Professor, on the other hand, is more unusual still. Whilst quite clearly a man, he has the aura of something more akin to a mythical creature. If he were to grow a tail or suddenly gain the ability to fly, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
Now, one of my favourite things about The City is the sheer majestic age of the thing. When the first stones were laid over eight hundred years ago, they really took the business of building cities seriously. This is a city that was built to last. The quirky upshot of this is that many of the places here actually used to be something else. For example, the very pasta restaurant to which we are headed.
Originally a water mill, the charming stone building squats proudly atop the River, its shadow falling across the Mill Pond for several centuries, now. The proprietors have kept many of the original features – including the huge wooden wheel that once turned the mechanisms, powered by the inexhaustible waters beneath – which makes it a perfectly charming place to enjoy a meal. Not that the food here is anything special, to be quite frank, but it is plentiful and reasonably priced and the enchanting atmosphere more than makes up for it.
Just as we are about the enter, the Professor stops me.
“Now, here’s the thing: no throwing of the food, madam. If Head Porter would’ve laid down that law first and upfront, he’d have been quite fine.”
“You drive a hard bargain, Professor” I reply “But okay then. Although you must solemnly swear not to bite my nose.”
“The last time I bit a nose, it was because my hands were tied behind my back! Won’t do it, see.”
“Fair enough.” Now, to find out more about that hat…
The restaurant is toasty warm and candlelit and the Professor requests a table by the wheel.
“I like to sit by the wheel, see,” he explains to the perpetually-smiling young waitress. “It is interesting to inspect something that is almost as old as myself. Plus, wheels go round and round, sorta like I do on the inside.”
She gives him a curious look, but her serene expression of polite deference soon returns. This establishment welcomes a constant stream of all manner of City residents and no doubt a good deal of them are at least as peculiar as my top-hatted friend. As we pass by the bar, I spot a familiar figure gazing forlornly into what appears to be a glass of sweet sherry. I nudge my companion gently in the ribs.
“Goodness me! I can’t believe who we’ve spotted! Capital. How are you, my man?”
Organ Scholar looks up from his drink and gives us a weak smile.
“You look rough,” I say, wishing I had thought of something rather nicer. “The rehearsal must have been quite an ordeal for you.”
The young musician rolls his eyes and shakes his head, something approaching a laugh snorting from his nose.
“I don’t know whether to shoot the Choir, or myself.”
“Shooting is a fun thing, but let’s hold off for the minute,” Professor Duke suggests, patting him amiably on the shoulder. “We were about to eat lots…why don’t you join us? You can bring your funny little drink with you.”
“Yes, why are you drinking sherry?” I ask, genuinely mystified.
“Well, I’ve tried ordering a pint twice, now,” replies Organ Scholar “But they keep bringing me this. It’s actually not too bad.”
“It smells a bit…toad-ish,” says the Professor suspiciously. “But bring it along if you like it. We shall have this choir business figured out in no time.”