The room was very dark. Tristan Denny lay still for a while and stared at where the wall should be.
After a while, he realised that his head was throbbing gently. It was ringing, too, with an odd, jazzy rhythm, exactly the sort of thing he hated. How very peculiar.
He felt strangely warm in his bed. Very warm indeed. Perhaps he had a fever?
It occurred to him that the reason he couldn’t see anything was because his eyes were shut. He prised them open slowly.
A ray of light slammed into his eyeballs and instantly he clapped his hands over his face, shading them from the violent sun. The throbbing in his head swelled in a crescendo of pain and he uttered a faint, miserable groan.
After some time, once most of the red hot rods had been withdrawn from his skull, he peered through his fingers.
Well! How long had he been asleep? The sun was high in the sky, casting its warm rays over his face. He must have forgotten to draw the curtains.
He frowned. He always drew his curtains. He really must be ill. And that dreadful ringing was going on and on. If it hadn’t been so jazzy he might have called it a tune. But of course his brain wouldn’t invent a tune like that. And the sort of music he heard in his head shouldn't sound quite so exactly like the piano in Matty Smith's Paris flat...
A horrible suspicion crept over him. He sat up, a little too fast, and the bottom of his brain went through his skull, or so it felt. He paused for a moment, clutching the top of his head, allowing himself a moment to recover before he went and attacked that lunatic Matty Smith who, he was now certain, was deliberately torturing him in his fevered state with that abominable noise he liked to call music.
There was a yellow top hat lying neatly beside him, atop his burgundy blanket.
He picked it up, gingerly, between finger and thumb. It was a very fetching hat. Canary yellow, with a black bow and a long plume of feathers and, although he did not know much about hats or fabrics, quite probably made of silk. Really very attractive. But somehow he could not imagine wearing it himself.
He frowned again. This must be another devilish trick of Matty’s. The fellow must have been absolutely – what was that idiotic slang term? – inko? motto? spotto? Drunk, anyhow. Tristan made up his mind. He grasped the outlandish headgear firmly by its elegant brim and turned to swing his legs out of bed.
He froze again.
Top hats were one thing.
Naked women were quite another.
White hot terror seared through his brain, rendering him briefly incapable of thought. After a moment the terror retreated far enough to leave his mind filled with one horrible thought. What was he wearing? More to the point, was he wearing anything at all? He gulped, then took the plunge and peered down at himself.
He sighed and clutched in frantic relief at what had once been a crisp white shirt, now horribly crumpled. Further investigation revealed the presence of his reassuringly stout underwear. Tristan relaxed. Then he remembered that there was a naked woman in his bed. A naked woman. In his bed.
What did one do in situations like this? As so often in life, he suspected there was a rule book – but no-one had told him.
For a brief, mad moment, he thought about asking Susie. After all, this was something she must be quite familiar with – she would know what to do. Hoping vaguely to see her, he glanced around the room, but there was no-one else within. He was on his own – or, more precisely, they were on their own. Reluctantly, he looked back down at the woman sprawled beside him beneath the blankets.
Maybe it was a dancing girl of some sort, whom Matty had persuaded to play a trick on him? It was the sort of thing that young man would do. And the yellow top hat would suggest that! Yes, that must be the truth. He would go now and give the young journalist a piece of his mind! If only he could get past the woman...
Carefully he slid from beneath the blanket and began to edge past her slumbering form and, as he did so, he found himself in a position to take a closer look at the woman. He did so.
Icy white horror burned through him once more.
He leant back until his head hit the wall and covered his face with the hat, uttering a deep, heartfelt groan.
It couldn’t be. He must have been mistaken. He slid the hat a few inches to the side and peered around it.
He had not been mistaken.
He groaned again, into the silken depths of the hat.
Then he jumped and uttered a high-pitched squeal as the hat was snatched rudely from his grasp.
The piano music from the next room came to an abrupt halt.
“I think,” said Nell Wilson, leaning forward and planting the hat firmly onto his head, “you’re supposed to wear it like this.”