11.

Alan walked away from the practice field. He was wondering what had happened to his friend last night. He was sure that their classmates were also wondering, since Firmin had been in rare form. Without Gus to harass he had lashed out at everyone else in the class, to the point that everyone had breathed a sigh of relief when he stomped out of the room after subjecting them to a surprise test.

Alan had checked by Gus's room as well as other places he knew that his friend frequented in between classes, but he hadn't seen any indication that he'd returned. When he didn't see him at lunch, Alan hired a messenger to take a note to his father so that he could inform the Viscount about the events surrounding his son. Based on his conversations with Gus, he was sure that Gus would not appreciate that, but he knew that the young man was incredibly naive. Alan would have assumed he had bedded the girl well into the morning if he wasn't so perilously uptight. Which meant that things must have gone badly, and Alan couldn't help but feel at fault for what had happened.

Alan was brooding to himself as he walked toward Ms. Parker's pub for the second time today. He didn't expect to see his friend there this time, but he didn't have any other ideas of where to look and figured he could brood over a pint as well as he did without. Which is why he was quite surprised to turn a corner and suddenly see Gustave de Chagny walking down the street whispering to the barmaid from the previous night.

Alan stood in shock staring at the pair walking down the street and wondered if he had misjudged his friend entirely. He spent a few moments trying to decide if he was angry or impressed with the man he'd spent the last several hours concerned about. Finally he decided he needed answers and before trotted over toward his friend.

Gus was engrossed in his quiet conversation and didn't notice Alan at all until he had clapped the other man on the back hard enough to make him stumble forward. He turned his full attention to Alan and seemed surprised to find his friend looking back at him. He took a few moments to compose himself, and then greeted Alan as if nothing had happened.

"Hi Alan. How was practice?"

"Hello? Where have you been? Most of our French class probably wants your head after the test we got stuck with when you were a no show."

"I was playing hooky. I had a long night," Gus said as he rubbed his eyes.

Alan looked at Lucy and couldn't help letting a grin slip onto his face. Gus seemed to realize what he was thinking and cleared his throat.

"Let me introduce Mademoiselle Lucy. This fellow here is Alan Davies."

Alan gave Lucy a slight nod of the head. She returned a passable if shallow curtsey, before replying, "Milord." Gus looked at her with a puzzled expression.

"Alan is a good fellow, but he's not nobility."

"My mistake, please forgive me sir."

Alan still had no idea what had happened in the last half a day, but two things were clear. Gus had spent some time with Lucy, and there was some tension between them. He decided that the grief he'd been subjected to for the last several hours, including the test he'd probably failed, entitled him to a little amusement.

"No offense taken young lady." Alan leaned forward and waved her over. Lucy approached cautiously and when she was close enough he put a hand by his mouth and whispered, loudly enough so that he was sure Gus could hear, "Master de Chagny is a good fellow, if a bit stuck up. Please don't think ill of him." As Gus stared flatly at him, Alan adopted a frightened look and said, "twas only good things milord, I swear. Please don't have me beaten."

Gus sighed in exasperation as Lucy stifled a laugh.

"I take it you don't mean to leave us alone for a few hours?"

Alan looked scandalized as he said, "oh no milord. What would your father say if he heard that I'd left you alone all night and then left you with some commoners in the streets."

Gus raised an eyebrow at that, and for a moment Alan thought he might've pushed his luck too far. He remembered the message he had sent to Gus's father and how his friend would probably feel about his efforts. But before Gus could dwell on it, Alan straightened up and said, "I do think I'm entitled to an explanation of what's going on though. Especially after helping you stalk this young lady for two straight nights."

Gus blushed for a moment, before stammering, "another pair of eyes can't hurt."

Lucy eyed him suspiciously as Gus ushered the group to a nearby cafe. They quickly seated themselves at a small table, and in relatively short order Gus had made a big production of ordering the cafe's finest tea along with some scones and sandwiches, and a small plate of biscuits. To her credit, Lucy was making an equally fine effort to appear entirely unimpressed with the refreshments spread out before her, even though Alan had no doubt it cost more than she made in a month.

Alan poured himself a cup of the fine black tea and added a bit of milk to it. He saw that Gus was drinking it straight. Lucy was nibbling a sandwich while eyeing the plate of biscuits to her left. He pushed the biscuits toward her, while pretending to otherwise ignore what she was doing as he again asked Gus to explain what he had been doing since they'd parted the night before.

Gus put down his tea and stared into the cup for several seconds. Finally, he looked up at Alan and began to tell him about how he had spent the previous night. He claimed to have met Lucy's music instructor, who was a surprising acquaintance of Gus's parents as well as a genius. Lucy made sure to add this second piece of information between biscuits. They had talked about the incidents, and supposedly this third person had gathered some information before sending Gus on his way. They met up again about an hour ago and claimed to be preparing to look for the mystery man tonight.

The whole thing was rubbish of course. Alan wasn't sure why his friend bothered with such a fanciful tale. The notion that a poor barmaid was taking lessons from a private music instructor was ridiculous. Although it was a nice touch that Lucy affected the wide eyed admiration for such a man. If Alan spent his days wiping tables he'd probably think anyone who could play Vivaldi with the minimum of competence was a genius too. But implying that he was also some sort of detective was clearly excessive.

Although Alan really wanted to tease Gus about his insanely elaborate fiction, he decided instead to play along with his charade. Alan wasn't Gus's father, so it wasn't his responsibility to force him out of such childish antics. He absently wondered if his friend might have some sort of Oedipus complex, crafting such an elaborate persona for a barmaid he took for a tumble. He chuckled to himself as he sipped at his tea.

"What's so funny?" Gus asked.

"Nothing. I'm just glad you two have had an opportunity to get to know each other better."

Alan gave his best innocent smile as Gus eyed him suspiciously. For her part, Lucy seemed to be ignoring them both as she stirred some milk into her tea.

"Well, anyway we're planning to go look for the local killer tonight," Gus said with a sigh. "Whether he's after me or not, clearly things aren't safe."

"Isn't this something better left to the police?"

"Who knows how long this guy has been on the loose. Clearly leaving it to the police is no better than leaving him on his own." Gus replied. Alan thought he heard Lucy snicker, but he might have just imagined it. "Lucy has done a fair bit of investigating the assailant and has a pretty good idea of his methods. He seems to only work at night, and mostly away from other people."

"So, we were planning to split up and spend some time tonight looking in a few of those places." Lucy chimed in.

"That seems dangerous, wouldn't it be safer to stick together?"

"Of course, but then we'll never see him. Kind of ruins the whole idea." Lucy said with a touch of exasperation.

Alan had to admit that she had a point. If the assailant was looking for solitary targets, then a small group of people would obviously be avoided. But he also couldn't help thinking that was probably for the best.

"All the same, shouldn't we just leave this alone for now? You've already been attacked twice now. Probably shouldn't tempt fate a third time, right?"

"It was only the one time," Gus said. "The first time was … my fault. And we've already worked it out. We know what we're expecting so if we see anything we call for help immediately. The police are on alert anyway, and if we listen for each other then we should be able to help out if any one of us runs into the guy."

"But, for your own safety, keep your hand at the level of your eye!" Lucy whispered forcefully.

"Like this?" Alan asked as he sat with his hand by his face. "Whatever for?"

"So he doesn't catch you with the Punjab Lasso."

Alan turned a bewildered expression to Gus. "What the hell does that mean?"

"Look, the important thing is to watch out for anyone suspicious and listen for either of us in case we get into trouble."

"This is completely insane."

The clouds rolled over the moon intermittently making the evening quite dark and ominous. Alan found himself wondering how he had let his friend talk him into wandering the somewhat chilly streets of Oxford for a third time. He was sure there was some strange person causing problems in the dark alleys of town, but he couldn't believe that this was the best way to handle the problem.

It also wasn't helping his studies, which were not the best to begin with, nor his Cricket playing, which he considered a much more pressing issue. Several long nights of wandering the streets had left him somewhat fatigued. Practice that afternoon had been almost as bad as French class. Alan sighed to himself at the comparison he never thought he'd have made before.

He dragged his feet across the cobblestones as he scanned the streets lazily. He had no idea how the other two had selected which areas of town to spend most of their time looking over, but he trudged along near the town mortuary and raised a hand to his mouth to stifle a yawn as he looked at the dark building.

As Alan turned a corner his thoughts wandered to the previous hours they'd spent in the cafe. After he had agreed to go along with their ridiculous plan they'd spend the rest of the time discussing routes and what to do if any of them saw anything. Gus must have skipped lunch because he devoured many of the sandwiches on hand as they had talked about where each of them would go and what to look for. Most of this information was provided by Lucy, who seemed to be really eager to track this person down.

A pale glow fell over the street as the moon broke through the cloud cover momentarily. He peered down another dimly lit alley. Even with the unobscured moonlight, Alan couldn't see more than a few yards into the alley.

The guy could be in a doorway down there, and I wouldn't even know it. Alan thought to himself ruefully. He wondered if he was expected to wander stupidly into potentially dangerous places just to play bait to some psychopath.

"But wait, I'll be safe if I keep my hand at the level of my eyes," he said sarcastically to himself as he waved his right hand by his face.

He hoped that Gus had enough wits about him to not wander into dark alleys with his hand by his face. Not only would he look insane, but he wouldn't even be able to see properly. In another hour, he was going to give up on this fool's errand and go drag his friend back so they could both get some sleep. He was fairly certain that Gus would be where they'd planned. If it were anyone else, Alan might have thought this was an elaborate prank. But that's also why, if it had been anyone else he wouldn't be walking stupidly through the dark and lonely side streets of Oxford at night.

Alan had reached the far corner of his lap and turned back toward the middle of town when he heard a distant cry. He couldn't make out the exact words of what was said, but it had sounded like a cry for help. He broke into a run and headed for where the other two were patrolling. The areas each of them were covering were not huge, but there was a lot of space all the same.

As he ran, Alan hoped to hear something again. Not only would it help him find the one who was in distress, but also it would confirm that they were still alive.