Parties have always played a big part in College life, in one way or another. With copious amounts of food and drink being something of an Old College tradition, I suppose parties are an unavoidable eventuality. Disguises, too, seem to be held in fairly high regard, particularly by The Dean. So it it comes as little surprise that I now find myself at a slightly surreal fancy dress party, attended by my friends and colleagues. In fact, the only perplexity is that it hasn’t happened sooner.
And, indeed, it is rather a rowdy affair by all accounts. Professor Duke has made quite the effort; I recognise Chef’s signature canapés dotted about the place and there is some curious music playing on a battered old record player in the corner. There is no sign of the marauding Shirley creature, I am happy to note.
This calls for a drink. I select a brightly-coloured beverage from a mind-boggling selection laid out on the sideboard. I nearly took the one with a feather in it, actually, but thought better of it. Having never tried a drink with a feather in it, I feel that now is not the time to start.
The Professor himself is dressed as a nun and carrying off the look with unexpected aplomb. Far more aplomb than I can muster in my own identical disguise, at any rate. I have a life-long misgiving regarding the habit inhabiting beasts but worse than that, people keep mistaking me for the Professor and persist in asking me strange questions.
The Dean is resplendent in his much-vaunted Zorro costume, although it doesn’t look like he was able to make it to the dry cleaners after all. He resembles a Zorro who is on the verge of becoming homeless. But he still manages to cut a dashing figure, brandishing a very large whiskey like a weapon and roaring with laughter (and just plain roaring, once or twice) every few minutes. He is holding court by the umbrella stand filled with swords, Head Porter and Headmistress his enrapt audience.
Of course, it was The Dean who introduced the two – his intention that of distracting Headmistress from pestering him about his nephew’s disruptive behaviour in the classroom. It is a ruse that seems to be working splendidly. Head Porter is gamely attired in his somewhat unconvincing milkman outfit, having been utterly banned from giving his beloved Batman costume another outing. Headmistress is dressed in a leather flying jacket, goggles and bright yellow scarf amusingly arranged about a coat hanger to give the impression of being in full flight. Head Porter’s explanation of his own costume was that the theme was to dress as whatever you wanted to be when you grew up. Goodness only knows what she makes of the Professor’s childhood aspirations.
Not to mention the fact that evidently Organ Scholar also had dreams of his very own milk round. He joins me by the sideboard and starts warily sniffing at the drinks.
“‘Ow do, Professor, which one of these would you recommend?”
“I’m Deputy Head Porter.”
“Love a duck! Sorry, one nun looks very much like another to me.” Organ Scholar grabs what looks suspiciously like a sherry and swallows it down in one gulp.
“Are you drinking sherry?”
“Yes, I’ve sort of got a taste for it, for some reason. Here, I don’t suppose you know what the Professor plans to do about The Dean? He looks set to go all night and we’ve got a chapel to break into.”
I shake my head.
“No idea, I’m afraid,” I reply. “But don’t worry. I’m sure it will be something quite outstanding. Look, he’s coming over, ask him yourself.”
An inexplicable and urgent spike of dread shoots along my spine as my fellow nun approaches; knowing that beneath the terrible folds of black is the dear Professor does little to temper the prickling terror tightening my chest and throat.
“Here I come, all nun-like,” the Professor says. “I’m getting tired of being a woman, the sudden. I admit this freely. And not too many sherries, mind. There’s work to be done.”
“That’s just what I was going to ask you about,” replies Organ Scholar. “What are we going to do with The Dean? If we try to leave he will trap at least a couple of us here until dawn.”
“The man certainly knows how to party,” I concur, nodding.
“Oh, I’ve got many plans ready to put into action,” the Professor says with a smile. “You might even call me Action, The Nun. Has anyone tested the cake, by the many ways?”
Ah, yes. The cake. Head Porter has done a fairly good job of the cake, although has chosen to cover it in a bright green icing that has proved off-putting thus far. It sits on the coffee table, untouched and anti-social-looking. Still, it is a far better effort than I could manage.
Before I can offer some feeble pretext as to why I don’t want to eat any cake, a strange sound distracts me. It is a sound that is familiar, yet completely out of place.
“Is that a doorbell?” I ask.
“It’s in the key of D,” Organ Scholar declares with conviction.
“It is the doorbell…but I always thought it was B-flat,” says the Professor. “Rats and a Heifer.”
“But… who could it be?” I feel somewhat concerned. “You didn’t invite anyone else, did you?”
The doorbell sounds again.
“I don’t think I did,” he replies. “I shall go have a few looks. If I don’t return within the hour, come rescue me with knives, please.”
The Professor heads towards the door. Whoever it is had better eat some of that cake.