His hand was hovering over his rook, this time, when Baxter spoke up again.
"There! Did you hear it?"
Archie looked up wearily. King Baxter was a good friend, but he was getting old - perhaps he was hearing things.
"Archie!" Baxter was despairing, "I heard it again! the tap tap."
Archie stopped and listened, holding his breath for a moment to ensure absolute silence. The gallery returned the silence tenfold, and after ten heartbeats Archie found himself almost deafened when Baxter spoke again.
"Archie! I swear upon Almighty God's best linen that I heard a noise. I am not hearing things. Go and ask the Lady Madonna! She will back me up, I'm sure - she'll have been reading, and you know how much she hates being interrupted."
Archie levered himself out of his chair and reached for his cane. It would be easier to pacify Baxter this way, and he could do with a few minutes away from the board. He was losing this game slowly but surely, and the only consolation seemed to be that Baxter had not realised it yet.
He padded off down the corridor, listening to his footfalls echoing and wondering how any sound could have gone undetected, were it real. Turning a corner, he reached the Lady Madonna, who, as Baxter had predicted, had her nose in a book.
"Mmf?" She mumbled as he gently touched her frame with his cane.
"I am sorry to disturb you, Maddie, but I was playing chess with Baxter, and he swears blind he heard a noise. I haven't heard a thing, but he is convinced of it."
She looked at him blankly.
"He asked me to inquire of you whether you had heard anything, I know you are so easily disturbed."
She shook her head, "Sorry, Archie, I heard you coming a mile off, even in your slippers, but nothing before that." Her hair shone in the moonlight, and Archie wondered at the beauty the artist had managed to capture.
"Thanks anyway, Maddy. How's the book? Baxter was asking after you."
She blushed, "He's a scoundrel, that man. Tell him I am well, and all the better that he asked."
Archie nodded. "Well I shall leave you to it. Thank you for your help."
He padded back to the chess board. Rook to H5 was the right choice. His fingers hesitated as he noticed Baxter's pieces had moved. The King was on its side. But Baxter had been winning.
He looked up, "Baxter, you can't mean..." and realised he was talking to himself.