The dress rehearsal is complete and I am pleased to report that my ears remain in one piece and are not even slightly bleeding. Organ Scholar and Penelope have achieved the impossible and I mean to congratulate them on their efforts. I am also quite interested to discover exactly why Hershel has decided to join the Choir.
The Master’s Wife has sidled over to Head Porter, who looks most uncomfortable. Phone in hand, he seems to want to be somewhere else quite urgently.
I mingle among the chattering Choir, who are quite rightly congratulating themselves on a song well sung. As beautiful as they might be, it seems there is nothing quite as flattering to their faces as a hard-won accomplishment. I would go as far to say as that many of them have been inspired.
“I’ve got to tell you, you’ve done a great job,” I say to Organ Scholar and Penelope, who beam with pride and the smallest smear of smugness. “I never thought I would be able to actually listen to the Choir sing.”
“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Organ Scholar replies, a consummate perfectionist when it comes to such things. “But, aye, they’re coming along nicely.”
Penelope looks as if she might be about to add her own thoughts, when she is suddenly tugged away and into the arms of an amorous Hershel. Swooping her low across his body, he kisses her with such dramatic force I wonder if it is appropriate for me to intervene.
“We’ll have none of that in the Chapel,” Organ Scholar huffs.
Hershel releases his lady and presents us with a broad grin.
“I bet you didn’t expect to be seeing me again, Deputy Head Porter!”
“Penelope did mention that you might be back,” I reply, levelling a stern eye in his general direction. “But I certainly wasn’t expecting to find you robed-up and singing your little heart out in the College Choir.”
“Oh, he’s not allowed to sing,” says Penelope, rather breathless. “That was the primary condition of him joining.”
“Listen, I thought I told you we had to be careful about Hershel visiting College?” I say, in my very best Deputy Head Porter voice. “Serenading The Dean is not exactly what I would call ‘careful.’”
Hershel throws back his head and sends a spirited laugh echoing throughout the Chapel.
“Ah, the miserable old bugger! How is he? If he didn’t like my love notes perhaps he will like my singing better.”
“What do you mean – ‘love notes’?” If he means what I think he means, I fear I may be in danger of not only losing my temper but denying it’s existence completely.
Hershel waves a hand dismissively but his eyes bright with mischief suggest that I should not be dismissing anything.
“Just a missive or two to help pave my way back to Old College,” he says. “I thought if he found himself in need of a private investigator, I might be more welcome. I have been all over Europe investigating things, you know. What can I say, Deputy Head Porter – you’ve inspired me.”
“Wait – you’re saying that you sent those notes written in blood?”
“It wasn’t actual blood,” Hershel is sounding less sure of himself, now. “Just a very effective ink. What did he say when he saw them?” His eyes are wide with anticipation. “Was he terrified?”
“He was bloody furious!” I snap back. “What did you expect? The Dean has only two states of being – furious and asleep. He’s had Head Porter chasing around College looking for an enemy who can’t spell.”
Another burst of triumphant laughter escapes from Hershel, this time accompanied by an enthusiastic slapping of the thigh.
“This isn’t funny, Hershel!”
He straightens himself up and seems to gather himself a little.
“Oh, come on, Deputy Head Porter, please don’t be like that. I couldn’t bear it if we weren’t chums. Look, once I graduated I decided that my law degree wasn’t of use to me after all and I took a different path. Ever since that incident with those two poor chaps we found at the bottom of the gardens, I have wanted to seek out mysteries and puzzles – and solve them! So that is exactly what I set out to do. So you see, really, if it wasn’t for you we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
I cannot help but admire his innate ability to talk himself out of almost absolutely everything. Unfortunately, it is a skill that works the other way round, too.
“Your entrepreneurial ethic is commendable, dear boy,” I say, trying to remain fairly solemn. “But nonetheless if The Dean catches you in College he will go absolutely spare.”
“Actually, we think that he won’t,” Organ Scholar chimes in. “Hershel has a fool-proof plan to help us win the Choir Competition.”
“Well, if not actually win, then at least beat Hawkins College,” adds Penelope. “Which is the same as winning, really.”
“I don’t want to know!” I theatrically clasp my hands to my ears, knowing that whatever devious methods Hershel has devised will be trouble of the highest order. “I absolutely do not want to know!”
“Oh, are you sure?” asks Organ Scholar. “Professor Duke seemed to think you would be very keen. He seemed quite excited when I told him Hershel had a plan. He told us to meet him in his rooms this evening to go through everything. You mean you aren’t joining us?”
Oh, he did, did he? The Professor is naughtier than a box of naughty things. Well, I have no choice, now. If I don’t turn up who knows what these chaps will get themselves into…