professor

PorterGirl: Sinister Dexter – The Fellowship

‘The Fellowship’ is a curious moniker for a body of people who spend most of their time sabotaging, back-biting and occasionally murdering each other. Officially, of course, The Fellowship are the governing body of Old College, charged with the day-to-day running of the establishment, often by forming enormous committees who fail to come to any agreement about anything at all. 

The history of The Fellowship stretches all the way back to the College’s foundation by shadowy secret society, the Order of the Lesser Dragon, in 1448. The College takes it’s name from the Order’s initials (it was very nearly called Ootled College) and this was the first and last decision unanimously agreed by The Fellowship. Since then, the clutch of academics and eccentrics occupying the top tier of the Old College hierarchy have put substantially more time and effort into clawing personal benefit from the institution than they have actually running it. They place great demands upon their bowler-hatted underlings in the Porters’ Lodge, who are obliged to offer constant deferential reverence to even the most unreasonable and, often, insane of their number.

Overseeing this well-read rabble is The Master, a respected professor of economics and a Lord of the realm, no less. With a penchant for sudoku and stalking the secret passages that snake through the College, The Master is an enigmatic and vaguely threatening presence. In The Vanishing Lord we learned that he keeps secret files and compromising photographs of most of The Fellowship, no doubt as means of persuasion should any of them consider stepping too far out of line. Although he rarely lowers himself to fraternise with the lower orders, The Master’s occasional visits to the Porters’ Lodge are always met with a mixture of dread and blind panic.

One Fellow who needs no introduction is The Dean, but if I don’t give him one the consequences do not bear contemplation. Brilliant and terrible in equal measure, The Dean considers himself above the petty sniping and bickering of his contemporaries and concentrates his considerable efforts on defending the sacred reputation of Old College. A renowned professor of law, The Dean had a previous successful career in international litigation, during the course of which he befriended the dashing and adventure-loving American, Professor Horatio Fox (‘What happens in Kuala Lumpa, stays in Kuala Lumpa’), hero of First Lady Of The Keys. Always a champion of the Porters, The Dean became especially close to Deputy Head Porter after a night of drinking whisky and he is a central figure in the haphazard investigations she undertakes. With a fondness for searching for clues, one would think that The Dean would find a kindred spirit in Detective Chief Inspector Thompson, but it is not to be. The pair enjoy a fierce rivalry, despite there being distinct similarities between the two of them.

Fellows at Old College come and go – in the cases of Professor K and Senior Bursar, by way of murder; in the case of Junior Bursar, by way of escape to Tuscany after being unveiled as their murderer. Sinister Dexter welcomes two new members to The Fellowship, the first being flash ladies man Professor Palmer. Deputy Head Porter takes an instant dislike, following a perceived slight against her hat and The Dean is not impressed when Palmer announces to anyone who will listen that he intends to take The Dean’s job for himself. The Professor’s oily manner is grudgingly tolerated, but only until he oversteps the mark with young student Penelope and finds himself in the unwelcome position of being on the wrong side of both Deputy Head Porter and The Dean.

The second new Fellow to arrive is dreaded new Bursar, Professor Dexter Sinistrov… but more about him later…

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It’s A Knockout

Now, as much as I would dearly love to see The Master’s Wife put firmly in her place by Headmistress, I fear she may be put there rather too firmly and even the students do not routinely brawl in College grounds. Something must be done.

The atmosphere is but butter to a knife as the stand-off between Head Porter’s admirers intensifies. The Master’s Wife dabs daintily at her bloodied nose with one of the sheer scarves that could laughingly be called her outfit. I am an open-minded woman but even I cannot accept that two scarves suffice as attire for a public event. She was pushing it at three, quite frankly.

“You stupid woman,” wails The Master’s Wife “Have you any idea how much this nose cost?!”

“Listen, I think we all need to calm down a bit,” I say, stepping between the bellicose pair. The Dean leans over to whisper in my ear.

“Actually, Deputy Head Porter, maybe we should let this one play out,” he murmurs. “Headmistress has got a cracking right hook. This might be interesting.”

“Check this out,” Professor Duke steps in, brandishing three large glasses filled with something very unlikely looking. “Let’s all have a drink to calm the nerves. And if you all still feel like rioting after this, then I’ll join in. Just because.”

“Great idea!” The Dean claps his hands and reaches for one of the glasses, draining the contents with great enthusiasm.

The Professor forces the remaining glasses into the hands of the warring women and smiles encouragingly.

“You won’t regret this, I’m sure. This Professor’s favorite drink, it is.”

Headmistress snatches up her drink and downs it in one. Head Porter glances at her, somewhat impressed. He has been notably reticent in these current events which – considering they revolve entirely around him – seems like very poor form to me. But it is plain to see that the wretched fellow is absolutely terrified and I cannot say I blame him, especially given the bone-crunching prowess of his lady love.

The violent proceedings are momentarily adjourned whilst the protagonists imbibe but I cannot help but worry about what might happen next. Emboldened by alcohol, surely matters can only get worse. Probably fairly quickly, in my experience. I turn to the Professor.

“Now what?” I ask.

“Oh, it gets great from here.”

I am unconvinced but within a second or two, things have taken a rather unexpected turn. And when I say things, I mean The Dean, Headmistress and The Master’s Wife. The latter hits the floor first, no doubt already diminished by her battered nose. Headmistress is the next to succumb but falls rather elegantly into the arms of Head Porter, who crumples gently with her to the floor. All eyes are now on The Dean.

“What in buggery is going on?!” he fumes, looking about himself, increasingly confused. “It looks like…” he begins to splutter and grasps at his throat. “Bugger! Poisoned..! By crikey..!”

“Poisoned by me, actually” the Professor replies. “But the effect is much the same.”

The Dean at last capitulates to the effects of the Professor’s drink and falls onto the rug like an angry sack of potatoes. Only Professor Duke, Organ Scholar, Head Porter and myself remain upright.

“Now… what the bloody hell just happened there?” Organ Scholar looks at his own drink warily.

“Well, here’s the thing,” replies the Professor, admiring his handiwork with a contented grin. “I only wanted to poison Mr. Dean, because he had to get out of the way and such. But then the ladies started fighting and I thought, ‘Why not poison them, too?’ It was great fun, and we have things to do.”

“I admire your dedication to the cause, Professor,” I say, experimentally prodding the prone Dean with my foot. “But what are we going to do with these chaps?”

“Let’s lock them up here in my rooms. They’ll be out for a bit, bits, and little bits yet.” The Professor’s reply does little to reassure me.

Well, the witching hour is long since passed and we have three unconscious persons scattered about Professor Duke’s floor, one of whom is bleeding messily from the nose. Somehow I feel this does not bode well for what is yet to come, but hey ho. In for a penny, and all that.

The Male Ego

The male ego is a fragile thing, you know. Particularly an old stag of a male ego that feels itself threatened by that of a thrusting young buck. Head Porter is not only smarting from the news that The Dean has hired someone to take over his special mission, but he has got himself all humpty over none other than Hershel being his replacement!

“I have a good mind to tell The Dean,” he huffs, sullenly stirring a stewed mug of tea. “I’d like to know what he would think if he knew the truth.”

“Oh, come on, Head Porter,” I say, trying to rally him. “You would never have worked out it was Hershel who sent the notes. And you said yourself you hadn’t really the time for it. This way, everybody’s happy. And you never know. The Dean might throw him out anyway.”

“He will if he has any sense.” Head Porter furrows his brow. “I wouldn’t put it past him to be behind our disappearing Music Professor, in fact.”

“The Dean?”

“Hershel!” Head Porter folds his arms and flusters ferociously. “Honestly, Deputy Head Porter. There is something rather flakey about that boy, I tell you.”

“Hmm! You were singing his praises the other night when it came to his marvellous plan. No such concerns then.”

“Well… that was before he stole my special job,” Head Porter wails in a hurt little voice. “But you know, I do think it is quite a good plan…”

“Goodness me! What’s this? Plan talking?! In the open? Quiet the sudden!!” Professor Duke swaggers loudly into the Lodge, several bags stuffed under his arms and in his hands. “This professor is here on top secret business, don’t you know. Now, everybody out to the back—now!”

The Professor unburdens himself of his baggage and it appears that he comes bearing disguises. Disguises for the marvellous plan. I am heartened to hear that young Hershel was wisely chosen to keep a low profile for the time being and has sent Professor Duke to unveil the finer details of the marvellous plan.

“Great! Disguises again!” Head Porter is surprisingly enthusiastic. “Mind you, I think I might be better in my Batman outfit from before, what do you think?”

“Well, I don’t know…Hershel said these were the ones, see,” replies the Professor, firmly. “And, plus, you’re not the Batman type, really. He’s too broad for you, I think. No dis, mind. You and Organ Scholar have matching outfits, which is cool: you two shall be disguised as milkmen!”

“Milkmen?” I ask, somewhat nervously. “Where do milkmen come into it all?”

“I shall say, I shall say, give me a second or two, or three,” the Professor rummages through one of the bags and pulls out two large bundles of what appear to be black cloth. He hands me one, grinning from ear to ear. “These are for you and I…”

I take the black cloth and peer at it suspiciously. Then, immediately realising what it is, I throw it away from me and emit a small squeal.

“But I can’t wear that! It’s…”

“Yup, yup!” cries the Professor. “It’s a nun disguise. You and I shall be disguised as nuns when we break into their chapel. No one is going to mess with a nun in the middle of the night. That’s just plain scary.”

“I absolutely cannot wear that outfit*”

“I know, the whole outfit is a bit girly, but look here: Lots of room for weapons, sandwiches, that dadblame itching powder. We’ll want to make sure to keep the powder separate from the food, goodness me. Look at it this way: We’re spies. Spies are always wearing big cape-like things, so they can hide better.”

“I still don’t understand why Organ Scholar and I have to be milkman,” sulks Head Porter. “I want to be Batman.”

“Okay, here’s the plan, you doodle,” the Professor continues, with quite some excitement. “Hershel shall place the call about the performance-enhancing drugs to the Hawkins Porters’ Lodge a little after three AM. Now, he’d thought that there might be another Porter on duty, seeing as it is the night before the Choir Competition, rightio? So that’s where you and Organ Scholar come in, see. You are a distraction, don’t you know. You are to go into the Lodge and bother any remaining Porters with complaints about an unsettled milk bill. He has no doubt you can keep that up for quite some time. Milk is always easy to complain about, after all. And while everyone is worrying about the milk bill, Penelope will sneak up to their keys and thieve the ones for the chapel. She will then bring the key to my good self and Deputy Head Porter—I’ll hide the key in my spy cape, that’s what I’m calling it now—and we shall continue onwards to deploy our itching powder into their choral robes. The competition is totally ours, yo!”

Well. It isn’t the absolute worst plan I have ever heard, in fairness. No, that dubious accolade may be awarded to my old friend Malcolm who once thought that trimming his toenails with a scythe might be a good idea. But I digress. I am past the point of trying to force logic upon the world of Old College so have resigned myself to this particular escapade. Head Porter is sighing dramatically whilst the Professor ostentatiously ignores him.

“What’s the matter?” I ask him.

“Bloody Hershel,” he mutters. “I can’t believe the bugger. First, he steals my special job and now he turns me into a milkman. You know I have every mind to tell The Dean.”

“You can’t tell The Dean,” I reply gently, hoping to calm him down. “This is our only chance to beat Hawkins College at the Choir Competition! And, you know, he is a changed man. And so on.”

“If things seem glummy now, worry not,” says the Professor, cheerily. “It’ll get better. Many promises. But not if you tell The Dean. If you tell Mr. Dean, things will go awful, and I’ll be forced to lop of your ears. Then things will stay glummy forever, see. So, whatever you do, don’t tell The Dean!” The Professor nods firmly.

A gust of cold air and the abrupt smack of wood on wood is all it takes to tell me that someone has entered the room. Head Porter and Professor Duke are stood stock still, both sporting expressions that look like bad taxidermy. All my littlest hairs stand on end and I don’t need to turn around to know who it is that joins us. Oh. BUGGER.

“Tell The Dean… WHAT?!”

*I suffer terribly from Sphenisciphobia. No, really.