University's organ had every single sound-effect that Bloody Stupid Johnson's inverted genius had been able to contrive. No one would have believed, before a pair of simian hands had worked on the project, that something like Doinov's romantic Prelude in G could be rescored for Whoopee Cushion and Squashed Rabbits. 'There's the overtures,' said André, 'and the ballroom scene. . .'
'At least get him a bow-tie,' said Salzella. 'No one can see him, Mr Salzella, and he hasn't really got much of a neck. . .'
'We do have standards, André.'
'Yes, Mr Salzella.'
'Since you seem to have been relieved of employment this evening, then perhaps you could help us apprehend the Ghost.'
'Certainly, Mr Salzella.'
'Fetch him a tie, then, and come with me.' A little later, left to himself, the Librarian opened his copy of the score and placed it carefully on the stand. He reached down under the seat and pulled out a large brown paper bag of peanuts. He wasn't entirely sure why André, having talked him into playing the organ this evening, had told the other man that it was because he, the Librarian, wouldn't budge. In fact, he'd got some interesting cataloguing to do and had been looking forward to it. Instead, he seemed to be here for the night, although a pound of shelled peanuts was handsome pay by any ape's standards. The human mind was a deep and abiding mystery and the Librarian was glad he didn't have one any more. He inspected the bow-tie. As André had foreseen, it presented certain problems to someone who'd been behind the door when the necks were handed out. Granny Weatherwax stopped in front of Box Eight and looked around. Mrs Plinge wasn't visible. She unlocked the door with what was probably the most expensive key in the world. 'And you behave yourself,' she said. 'Ye-ess, Gran-ny,' moaned Greebo. 'No going to the lavatory in the corners.'
'No, Gran-ny.' Granny glared at her escort. Even in a bow-tie, even with his fine moustaches waxed, he was still a cat. You just couldn't trust them to do anything except turn up for meals. The inside of the Box was rich red plush, picked out with gilt decoration. It was like a soft little private room. There were a couple of fat pillars on either side, supporting part of the weight of the balcony above. She looked over the edge and noted the drop to the Stalls below. Of course, someone could probably climb in from one of the adjacent Boxes, but that'd be in full view of the audience and would be bound to cause some comment. She peeked under the seats. She stood on a chair and felt around the ceiling, which had gilt stars on it. She inspected the carpet minutely. She smiled at what she saw. She'd been prepared to bet that she knew how the Ghost got in, and now she was certain. Greebo spat on his hand and tried ineffectually to groom his hair. 'You sit quiet and eat your fish eggs,' said Granny. 'Ye-ess, Gran-ny.'
'And watch the opera, it's good for you.'
'Evenin', Mrs Phnge!' said Nanny cheerfully. 'Ain't this excitin'? The buzz of the audience, the air of expectation, the blokes in the orchestra findin' somewhere to hide the bottles and tryin' to remember how to play. . . all the exhilaration an' drama of the operatic experience waitin' to unfold. . .'
'Oh, hello, Mrs Ogg,' said Mrs Plinge. She was polishing glasses in her tiny bar. 'Certainly very packed,' said Nanny. She looked sidelong at the old woman. 'Every seat sold, I heard.' This didn't achieve the expected reaction. 'Shall I give you a hand cleaning out Box Eight?' she went on. 'Oh, I cleaned it out last week,' said Mrs Plinge. She held a glass up to the light. 'Yes, but I heard her ladyship is very particular,' said Nanny. 'Very picky about things.'
'Mr Bucket has sold Box Eight, see,' said Nanny. She heard a faint tinkle of glass. Ah. Mrs Plinge appeared at the doorway of her nook. 'But he can't do that!'
'It's his Opera House,' said Nanny, watching Mrs Plinge carefully. 'I suppose he thinks he can.'
'It's the Ghost's Box!' Opera-goers were appearing along the corridor. 'I shouldn't think he'd mind just for one night,' said Nanny Ogg. 'The show must go on, eh? Are you all right, Mrs Plinge?'
'I think I'd just better go and-' she began, stepping forward. 'No, you have a good sit down and a rest,' said Nanny, pressing her back with gentle but irresistible force. 'But I should go and-'
'And what, Mrs Plinge? said Nanny. The old woman went pale. Granny Weatherwax could be nasty, but then nastiness was always in the window: you were aware that it might turn up on the menu. Sharpness from Nanny Ogg, though, was like being bitten by a big friendly dog. It was all the worse for being unexpected. 'I daresay you wanted to go and have a word with somebody, did you, Mrs Plinge?' said Nanny softly. 'Someone who might be a little shocked to find his Box full, perhaps? I reckon I could put a name to that someone, Mrs Plinge. Now, if-' The old woman's hand came up holding a bottle of champagne and then came down hard in an effort to launch the SS Gytha Ogg on to the seas of unconsciousness. The bottle bounced. Then Mrs Plinge leapt past and scuttled away, her polished little black boots twinkling. Nanny Ogg caught the doorframe and swayed a little while blue and purple fireworks went off behind her eyes. But there was dwarf in the Ogg ancestry, and that meant a skull you could go mining with. She stared muzzily at the bottle. 'Year of the Insulted Goat,' she mumbled. '
'S a good year.' Then consciousness gained the upper hand. She grinned as she galloped after the retreating figure. In Mrs Plinge's place she'd have done exactly the same thing, except a good deal harder. Agnes waited with the others for the curtain to go up. She was one of the crowd of fifty or so townspeople who would hear Enrico Basilica sing of his success as a master of disguise, it being a vital part of the entire process that, while the chorus would listen to expositions of the plot, and even sing along, they would suffer an instant lapse of memory afterwards so that later unmaskings would come as a surprise.
For some reason, without any word being spoken, as many people as possible seemed to have acquired very broad-brimmed hats. Those who hadn't were taking every opportunity to glance upwards. Beyond the curtain, Herr Trubelmacher launched the overture. Enrico, who had been chewing a chicken leg, carefully put the bone on a plate and nodded. The waiting stage-hand dashed off. The opera had begun. Mrs Plinge reached the bottom of the grand staircase and hung on to the banister, panting. The opera had started. There was no one around. And no sounds of pursuit, either. She straightened up, and tried to get her breath back. 'Coo-ee, Mrs Plinge!' Nanny Ogg, waving the champagne bottle like a club, was already travelling at speed when she hit the first turn in the banister, but she leaned like a professional and kept her balance as she went into the straight, and then tilted again for the next curve. . . . . .which left only the big gilt statue at the bottom. It is the fate of all banisters worth sliding down that there is something nasty waiting at the far end. But Nanny Ogg's response was superb. She swung a leg over as she hurtled downwards and pushed herself off, her nailed boots leaving grooves in the marble as she spun to a halt in front of the old woman. Mrs Plinge was lifted off her feet and carried into the shadows behind another statue. 'You don't want to try and outrun me, Mrs Plinge,' Nanny whispered, as she clamped a hand firmly over Mrs Plinge's mouth. 'You just want to wait here quietly with me. And don't go thinking I'm nice. I'm only nice compared to Esme, but so is practic'ly everyone. . .'
'Mmf!' With one hand tightly around Mrs Plinge's arm and another over her mouth, Nanny peered round the statue. She could hear the singing, far off: Nothing else happened. After a while, she started to fret. Perhaps he'd taken fright. Perhaps Mrs Plinge had left him some sort of signal. Perhaps he'd decided that the world was currently too dangerous for Ghosts, although Nanny doubted he could ever decide that. . . At this rate the first act would be over before- A door opened somewhere. A lanky figure in a black suit and a ridiculous beret crossed the foyer and went up the stairs. At the top, they saw it turn in the direction of the Boxes and disappear. 'Y'see,' said Nanny, trying to get the stiffness out of her limbs, 'the thing about Esme is, she's stupid. . .'
'. . .so she thinks that the most obvious way, d'y'see, for the Ghost to get in and out of the Box is through the door. If you can't find a secret panel, she reckons, it's because it ain't there. A secret panel that ain't there is the best kind there is, the reason bein', no bugger can find it. That's where you people all think too operatic, see? You're all cooped up in this place, listening to daft plots what don't make sense, and I reckon it does something to your minds. People can't find a trapdoor so they say, oh, deary me, what a hidden trapdoor it must be. Whereas a normal person, e.g., me and Esme, we'd say: Maybe there ain't one, then. And the best way for the Ghost to get around the place without being seen is for him to be seen and not noticed. Especially if he's got keys. People don't notice Walter. They looks the other way.' She gently released her grip. 'Now, I don't blame you, Mrs Plinge, 'cos I'd do the same for one of mine, but you'd have done better to trust Esme right at the start. She'll help you if she can.'
Nanny let Mrs Plinge go, but kept a grip on the champagne bottle, just in case. 'What if she can't?' said Mrs Plinge bitterly. 'You think Walter did those murders?'
'He's a good boy!'
'I'm sure that's the same as a “no”, isn't it?'
'They'll put him in prison!'
'If he done them murders, Esme won't let that happen,' said Nanny. Something sank into Mrs Plinge's not very alert mind. 'What do you mean, she won't let that happen?' she said. 'I mean,' said Nanny, 'that if you throw yourself on Esme's mercy, you better be damn' sure you deserve to bounce.'
'Oh, Mrs Ogg!'
'Now, don't you worry about anything,' said Nanny, perhaps a little late under the circumstances. It occurred to her that the immediate future might be a little bit easier on everyone if Mrs Plinge got some well- earned rest. She fumbled in her clothing and produced a bottle, half-full of some cloudy orange liquid. 'I'll just give you a sip of a little something to calm your nerves. . .'
'What is it?'
'It's a sort of tonic,' said Nanny. She flicked the cork out with her thumb; on the ceiling above her, the paint crinkled. 'It's made from apples. Well. . . mainly apples. . .' Walter Plinge stopped outside Box Eight and looked around. Then he removed his beret and pulled out the mask. The beret went into his pocket. He straightened up, and it looked very much as though Walter Plinge with the mask on was several inches taller. He took a key from his pocket and unlocked the door, and the figure that stepped into the Box did not move like Walter Plinge. It moved as though every nerve and muscle were under full and athletic control. The sounds of the opera filled the Box. The walls had been lined with red velvet and were hung with curtains. The chairs were high and well padded. The Ghost slipped into one of them and settled down. A figure leaned forward out of the other chair and said, 'You carrn't havve my fisssh eggs!' The Ghost leapt up. The door clicked behind him. Granny stepped out from the curtains. 'Well, well, we meet again,' she said. He backed away to the edge of the Box. 'I shouldn't think you could jump,' said Granny. 'It's a long way down.' She focused her best stare on the white mask. 'And now, Mister Ghost-' He sprang back on to the edge of the Box, saluted Granny flamboyantly, and leapt upwards. Granny blinked. Up until now the Stare had always worked. . . 'Too damn' dark,' she muttered. 'Greebo!' The bowl of caviar flew out of his nervous fingers and caused a Fortean experience somewhere in the Stalls. 'Yess, Gran-ny!'