The silence in the back room of the Porters’ Lodge could be eaten with a spoon. Not that I would advise that; the spoons in the Porters’ Lodge are rarely cleaned properly and I have it on good authority that this type of silence does bad things for the digestion.
The Dean glowers at us, sporting a wide legged-stance and quivering arms so tightly folded I fear a vacuum has been created somewhere within his jumper. He arches an eyebrow and focuses his laser-like gaze firmly on me. Why me?
Luckily, Professor Duke comes to my rescue.
“Now, look here for a few,” he says, fiddling with his hat. “The sudden, it looks as if you’ve stumbled upon our plot. This is something indeed. I say, you should just congratulate yourself a bit. A time for celebrating, see.”
“I just knew you were up to something!” Roars The Dean. “I can tell, you know, I can always tell. And after everything I said about not getting involved in shenanigans…”
“Give this professor a second or two and I can explain what’s up and down. You just might like it, see.”
The Dean’s eyebrow arches higher still and I glance across at the Professor. I recognise that familiar glint of nuisance in his eye. He is up to something.
“Very well, very well,” The Dean releases the vice-like fury wrapped about him and waves a hand absent-mindedly. “But be warned – if I don’t approve, the rage shall resume. Alright?”
“It’s a deal, don’t you know,” the Professor nods twice. “So: There is the considerable endeavour of a…surprise fancy dress party, yo! Yes, that’s it. What think thou?”
A moment of incomprehension flitters lightly across the face of The Dean, before giving way to what approaches for joy in his limited array of expressions. Very clever. The Dean LOVES fancy dress.
“R-really?” The Dean seems genuinely delighted. “A fancy dress party? Marvellous! Have I time to take the Zorro costume to the dry cleaners? I mean, if there is not time I shall wear it anyway, of course.”
“The party is tomorrow night,” splutters Head Porter, obviously keen to launch himself fully into the deception. “In Professor Duke’s rooms. Deputy Head Porter is going to bake a cake! Hahaha…” Maniacal laughter gives way to an uneasy squeak.
I glare at Head Porter. I am useless at baking.
“Oh! Well, in that case I ought to be letting you chaps get along with things,” The Dean says, clearly most pleased. “I shall give the Zorro outfit a bit of a nose test and see what I can get away with. As you were!”
With that, he spins on his heels and strides jauntily out of the Lodge, on the verge of whistling a merry tune, no doubt. Not that whistling is really The Dean’s style, you understand. He is more of a growler. But anyway.
The Professor and I turn immediately on Head Porter. He has the look of a man who knows he has slipped up somewhere along the line but isn’t quite sure where.
“What?” he says. “Was it the bit about the cake?”
“The cake was actually the good part, you stammering brute,” replies the Professor, exasperated. “Tomorrow night is the night before the Choir Competition, don’t you know!!”
“Oh, well, that’s alright then,” Head Porter exhales loudly with relief. “It means I only have to wear this ridiculous milkman outfit the once.”
“Yes, but it also means we now have to throw a fancy dress party on top of executing the daring plan at Hawkins College,” I point out. “And you know my cakes are always terrible. You can bake the cake.”
“Fine, fine, I’ll bake the cake.”
“Now, now, listen up,” says Professor Duke, adopting a somewhat authoritarian tone. “If we pull this all off—everything that we need to—I’ll be greatly impressed with our whole team, I must admit. After all, it’s going to be quite interesting. Lots to do; lots to go right; lots of everything, see. This is going to be an epic showdown, double-see. But we can do it, I say!”
“Quite right,” I nod, a great believer in the power of positive thinking. “The only concern is that The Dean will still be carousing when we need to stage our impressive break-in.”
“Ooo, dadblameit,” says the Professor. “That would be a problem or two. But! I’ve got an idea, the sudden.”
I feel it wise not to inquire further as to what this idea might be. Some things are best left very much un-inquired.
“We should be careful not to carouse too much ourselves,” I say, looking very much in Head Porter’s direction.
“Yes, that’s quite right. It shall only be cherry juice for you, Head Porter.” The Professor nods then turns to me. “Now, Deputy Head Porter, I think we need to have speaks. Private speaks. At once.”