By this time Po’s mind was quite off the problem he’d been attempting to solve and as morning approached, he went to bed and to sleep. He slept so soundly that he was not even woken by Mary Dempster coming in to tidy up his parents’ luxury apartment in Taylor Wmpey’s The Denizen. It was only when she had got his breakfast ready and tapped his bedroom door that he was roused from slumber. He was a little tired still after his night’s hard work, but a strong cup of coffee soon freshened him up and taking his laptop, he went out for his lunchtime pint. He found a quiet corner in The Masque Haunt, and there he spent the greater part of the day studying and drinking beer. On his return he looked in to see if Iris was on the late-shift in Waitrose. She was and before Po had the chance to offer her money in return for certain ‘favours’, she spoke:
‘You must not overdo it. You are paler this evening than you should be. Too late hours and too hard work isn’t good for any man! But tell me, how did you pass the night? Well, I hope? But my heart, I was glad when Mary told me this morning that you were all right and sleeping sound when she went in.’
‘Oh, I was all right,’ he answered smiling, ‘the spirits don’t worry me. Only the rats and mice; and they had a circus, I tell you, all over the place. There was one wicked looking old devil that sat up on a chair, and wouldn’t go till I took the ceremonial sword off the wall and swung it at him, and then he ran up the strange rope in the apartment. I must ask my parents about it for I’m sure there shouldn’t be a hole in the ceiling.’
‘Mercy on us,’ said Iris, ‘an old devil, and sitting on a chair! Take care, take care!’
‘How do you mean?’
‘An old devil! The old devil, perhaps. There, you needn’t laugh,’ for Po had broken into a hearty peal. ‘You young folks thinks it easy to laugh at things that makes older ones shudder. Never mind, never mind! Please God, you’ll laugh all the time. It’s what I wish for you myself!’
‘Oh, forgive me!’ said Po presently. ‘Don’t think me rude but the idea was too much for me—that Satan himself was on the chair last night! I doubt even Zhong Kui could get rid of your Christian devil!’ And at the thought he laughed again. Then he went home without even bothering to offer the silly woman a lot of money for a little bit of slap and tickle.
That evening the scampering of the rats and mice began earlier. Indeed it had been going on before Po arrived home, and only ceased whilst the freshness of his presence disturbed them. After dinner he sat by the radiator for a while and had a vape; and then began to work as before. Tonight the rats and mice disturbed him more than they had done on the previous night. How they scampered up and down and under and over! How they squeaked, and scratched, and gnawed! How the mice, getting bolder by degrees, ran across the floor with their eyes shining like tiny lamps. But to him, now doubtless accustomed to them, their eyes were not wicked. only their playfulness touched him. Now and again as they disturbed him, Po made a sound to frighten them, smiting the table with his hand or giving a fierce ‘Hsh, hsh,’ so that they fled straightway under furniture or into the fabric of the building.
And so the early part of the night wore on, and despite the noise Po got more and more immersed in his work.
All at once he stopped, as on the previous night, being overcome by a sudden sense of silence. There was not the faintest sound of gnaw, or scratch, or squeak. The silence was as of the grave. He remembered the odd occurrence of the previous night, and instinctively he looked at the chair standing close by the radiator. And then a very odd sensation thrilled through him. There, on the leather chair beside the radiator sat the same enormous rat, steadily glaring at him with baleful eyes.
Instinctively he took the nearest thing to his hand, a mug of tea, and flung it. The mug was badly aimed and the rat did not stir, so again the sword performance of the previous night was repeated; and again the rat, being closely pursued, fled up the rope. Strangely too, the departure of this rat was instantly followed by the renewal of the noise made by the general rat and mice community.
On looking at his watch Po found it was close on midnight and not sorry for the divertissement, he turned up the heating and made himself a new pot of tea, as well as taking a mug from the kitchen to replace the one he’d smashed when he’d launched it at the rat. He had got through a good spell of work and thought himself entitled to a vape. So he sat on the leather chair beside the radiator and enjoyed it. Whilst vaping he began to think that he would like to know where the rat disappeared to, for he had certain ideas for the morrow not entirely disconnected with a rat-trap. Accordingly he took a torch and placed it so he could see up into the hole the rope was run through. Then he took the top layer of stones from a large flowerpot containing an exotic plant he could not identify, and laid them out ready to throw at the vermin. Finally he lifted the strange rope and placed the end of it on his table, tying the extreme end to one leg. As he handled it he could not help noticing how pliable it was, especially for so strong a rope, and one not in use. ‘You could hang a man with it,’ he thought to himself.
Po began his work again, and though as before somewhat disturbed at first by the noise of the rats and mice, soon lost himself in his study.
Again he was called to his immediate surroundings suddenly. This time it might not have been the utter silence only which took his attention. There was a slight movement of the rope and the table moved. Without stirring, he looked to see if his pile of stones were within range and then cast his eye along the rope. As he looked he saw the great rat drop from the rope onto the leather chair and sit there glaring at him. He raised a stone in his right hand and taking careful aim, flung it at the rat. The latter sprang aside and dodged the missile. He then took another stone and a third and flung them one after the other at the rat, but each time unsuccessfully. At last as he stood poised with a stone in his hand, the rat squeaked and seemed afraid. This made Po more than ever eager to strike and the stone flew and struck the rat a resounding blow. It gave a terrified squeak, and with a look of terrible malevolence, ran up the chair-back and made a great jump to the rope and ran up it like lightning. The table rocked under the sudden strain, but it did not topple over. Po kept his eyes on the rat and saw it disappear through the hole the ceiling.
‘I shall look up the rodent’s habitation in the morning,’ said the student, as he picked up the stones on the floor. ‘I’ll ask the concierge for the key and if he won’t give it to me I shall break in.’ He returned the stones he hadn’t used to the flowerpot too. Then he noticed he’d not picked up the stone with which he’d actually hit the rat. Po took it up from the chair and looked at it. As he did so he started, and a sudden pallor overspread his face. He looked round uneasily and shivered slightly, as he murmured to himself:
‘Someone has carved the image of Christ into this stone! How odd.’ Po sat down to work again, and the rats and mice renewed their gambols. This time they did not disturb him. Somehow their presence gave him a sense of companionship. But he could not attend to his work, and after striving to master the subject on which he was engaged gave it up in despair, and went to bed as the first streak of dawn stole through the window.
He slept heavily but uneasily, and dreamed much. When Mary Dempster woke him late in the morning he was ill at ease and for a few minutes did not know exactly where he was. His first request rather annoyed the charwoman.
‘Mrs. Dempster, if I paid you double would you do nude cleaning for me?’
The offer was politely rejected. Po went to the ground floor of The Denizen and asked the concierge to put him in touch with whoever his parents had paid to furnish his flat. He wanted to know about the pictures hanging on the walls. The concierge couldn’t reach him. He got Iris’s number from Mary because the cashier seemed to know a lot about the building. Po arranged to meet her when she knocked off work at 5pm. He also asked for the key to the upstairs flat. The concierge rummaged around for it and eventually said it wasn’t where it should be and he’d look for it later.
Until late in the afternoon Po worked at his laptop in The Masque Haunt, and as one beer followed another, the cheerfulness of the previous day came back to him, and he found that his study was progressing well. He had worked out to a satisfactory conclusion all the problems which had as yet baffled him, and it was in a state of jubilation that he toddled off to Waitrose. He found Iris knocking off from her shift and in the company of a stranger. The man was introduced as Dr. Thornhill. Iris was not quite at ease, and this combined with the doctor’s plunging at once into a series of questions as they sat at a table on the pedestrian walkway outside the supermarket, made Po come to the conclusion that the man’s presence was not an accident, so he said:
‘Dr. Thornhill, I shall with pleasure answer you any question you may choose to ask me if you will answer me one question first.’
The doctor seemed surprised, but he smiled and answered at once, ‘Done! What is it?’
‘Did Iris ask you to come here and advise me?’
Dr. Thornhill for a moment was taken aback and Iris blushed and turned away. The doctor was a frank and ready man and he answered openly.
‘She did but she didn’t intend you to know it. I suppose it was my clumsy haste that made you suspect this. She told me that she did not like the idea of your being in The Denizen all by yourself and that she thought you took too much strong tea. In fact she wants me to advise you if possible to give up the tea and the very late hours. I was a keen student in my time, so I suppose I may take the liberty of a college man, and without offence, advise you not quite as a stranger.’
Po with a bright smile held out his hand. ‘I must thank you for your kindness and Iris too and your kindness deserves a return on my part. I promise to take no more strong tea—no tea at all till you let me—and I shall go to bed tonight at one o’clock at latest. Will that do?’
‘Groovy,’ said the doctor. ‘Now tell us all that you noticed in The Denizen.’
In great detail Po told them all that had happened in the last two nights. He was interrupted every now and then by some exclamation from Iris, and finally when he told of the episode of the stone with the image of Jesus on it, the cashier’s pent-up emotions found vent in a shriek. Dr. Thornhill listened with a face of growing gravity and when the narrative was complete and Iris had recovered he asked:
‘The rat always went up the rope to the upstairs flat?’
‘I suppose you know,’ said the Doctor after a pause, ‘what the rope is?’
‘Mary Mother of Christ appeared to me in a vision only this morning,’ said the Doctor slowly, ‘and she told me it is the very rope which the hangman used for all the victims of the judicial rancour of the aldermanic sheriff who once lived on the site of The Denizen!’
Here Thornhill was interrupted by another scream from Iris, and steps had to be taken for her recovery. Po looked on enviously as the good Christian doctor undid her upper garments and after removing her brassiere, massaged her pendulous breasts. While the doctor was otherwise engaged, Po grabbed the garment and slipped it into his pocket. Thinking he’d like to put on Iris’s lingerie and then pleasure himself, Po made his excuses and left.
When Iris was herself again she almost assailed the Doctor with angry questions as to what he meant by putting such horrible ideas into the poor young man’s mind. ‘He has quite enough there already to upset him,’ she added.
‘My dear Iris,’ Dr. Thornhill replied, ‘I had a distinct purpose in it! I wanted to draw his attention to the rope and to fix it there. It may be that he is in a highly overwrought state and has been studying too much, although I am bound to say that he seems as sound and healthy a young man, mentally and bodily, as ever I saw—but then the rat—and that suggestion of the devil.’
The doctor shook his head and went on. ‘I would have offered to go and stay the night with him but that I am sure would have caused offence. He may get in the night some strange fright or hallucination, and if he does I want him to pull that rope. It will remind him he’s in mortal danger. I shall be staying out tonight and keeping a watch on The Denizen. Do not be alarmed if Cripplegate gets a surprise before morning.’