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By Sarah Hapgood

After leaving Sister Fleur’s village, they continued to sail, in a refreshingly tranquil fashion, up the river. For a while all signs of human habitation dropped away completely, including the burnt houses. The intense heat of August became the softer, milkier, warmth of September. The thick forests thinned out and a more watery, marshy landscape predominated.

One afternoon, Adam and Joby were enjoying a much-deserved rest in a couple of deckchairs up on the main deck, their chests bare to the caressing rays of the sun. At the far end of the deck Toppy was busily engaged in putting some pillowcases through the mangle, and Bardin was strolling about with his hands behind his back. Adam got quite a shock therefore when Hoowie suddenly appeared before him in floods of tears. It was true that Hoowie was an excitable, often irrational, person, but Adam had never seen him in floods of tears before.

“Hoowie, what on earth’s wrong?” he exclaimed, in dismay.

“I can’t take any more of it”, Hoowie cried “I just can’t!”

Adam was petrified by now. He was convinced that Hoowie had had enough of Julian. This would be dark news for everyone if this proved to be the case. Hoowie’s transformation of Julian in recent years had been little short of magical.

“Whatever it is I’m sure it’s nothing that can’t be put right”, said Adam, his heart pounding.

“It’s probably nothing”, said Joby, who had been completely unimpressed throughout this little scene “You know what a great big drama queen he can be!”

Hoowie threw himself onto Adam’s lap.

“Hoowie … dear …” said Adam “I don’t think the deck-chair will take both of us!”

Hoowie slid onto the floor and buried his face in Adam’s knees.

“It’s the heads”, he sobbed “I can’t take any more of it. I just can’t”.

“Is that all?” said Adam. The relief was overwhelming.

“I told you it’d be summat trivial”, said Joby.

“Trivial?” said Hoowie, looking up indignantly “I’ve been cleaning them constantly since we left The Village Of Stairs! Bardin doesn’t give a shit about me. He’s a hard-hearted sod. He was the same when I got shot at by that lunatic with the gun. He showed not an inch of concern for me!”

“I think that’s because he could see you were alright”, said Adam “You had no bullet-holes in you”.

“That’s just him to a t innit!” said Hoowie “Unless your fucking head’s hanging off he don’t wanna know!”

“I’m afraid that cossetting and pampering isn’t really Bardin’s style”, said Adam “You should know that by now”.

When Bengo walked into his cabin later that afternoon, he found Bardin busily writing out a list of names on the back of an old map.

“Oh no, not another action list”, Bengo groaned.

“I have been told I’m unfair”, said Bardin “Your dear Adam told me I was unfair for making Hoowie clean the heads”.

“He has been doing it for several weeks now, Bardy”, said Bengo “You’ve had your revenge on him over and over again for that little dunking you gave him”.

“I wasn’t just doing it out of revenge”, said Bardin “But to stop Hoowie turning completely into Julian’s pampered pet! If I didn’t give him these little chores to do he’d sit around all day on cushions being petted and fed sweets”.

“Bollocks”, said Bengo, in a very Joby-esque way “And if he sits on cushions sometimes, well it’s not very surprising after a session with Julian is it!”

“I might have known you’d side with him”, Bardin grumbled “Anyway, cleaning the heads isn’t THAT awful”.

“It is, Bardy”, said Bengo.

“Worse things happened to us on stage”, said Bardin, briskly “But to show that, contrary to public opinion, I AM human, I’m drawing up a rosta. EVERYBODY will take it in turn to clean the heads, and that includes me, before you start. What day of the week is it?”

“Dunno”, said Bengo, sulkily “Don’t care very much”.

“I’ll just have to assume it’s Tuesday”, said Bardin “Everybody will have half-day sessions each, and it will be in alphabetical order. I’m going to nail this to the dining-room door before supper tonight, so no one will have an excuse not to see it”.

The list certainly caused plenty of comment, and Hoowie felt vindicated. After all, some of them were raising great objections to cleaning the heads for half a day every 3 weeks or so, when he had been doing it on his tod for several weeks now.

“I should be exempt from it”, Hillyard grumbled “Considering all the other work I have to do round here”.

“Oh put a sock in it, Hillyard”, said Joby.

“There are no exceptions”, said Bardin, firmly.

“Snowy’s not on the list”, said Lonts.

“He can have my stint if he wants”, said Hillyard.

“Hygiene is going to improve right across the board round here”, said Bardin “Most importantly, it’s high time that Umbert and Digby’s clothes be given a boil wash. Disgusting”.

“I suppose the minds of religious people are usually too much on another strata to be bothered by such things”, said Adam, who was rather embarrassed by Bardin’s bluntness.

“Yeah”, Joby agreed “That’s why either me or Hillyard has to take a scrubbing-brush to Kieran occasionally”.

“But that’s awful”, exclaimed the somewhat other-worldly Digby “You’ll be able to see my underpants!”

“That is a pretty awful prospect”, said Joby.

It was a peaceful glide up the rive. With no further houses or villages to be seen, it all began to take on an other-worldly quality, helped by the weather, which continued to be absolute perfection. The Indigo-ites settled into the kind of low-key domesticity which suited them best of all. Arguing about the loo-cleaning rosta (Hoowie felt totally vindicated when he heard all the complaints from the others), eating, drinking, some energetic bouts of sexual activity, doing chores, and sometimes the clowns enjoyed themselves rehearsing old routines. Occasionally, in the evening, Bardin could be coaxed into singing for everyone up on deck.

Eventually they turned down a wide river, leading eastwards, which was hemmed in on both sides by a range of steep hills. It was there that they came across another human being for the first time since they had left behind Sister Fleur and the villagers.

A man lived in a serviceable clapboard hut on the banks of the river, and acted as a kind of lock-keeper, charging a fee for anyone who wished to carry on sailing up the river.

Bardin was furious. It felt like cold turkey. They had been sailing peacefully through some of the most beautiful countryside they had ever seen, and now they were being badgered for a fee by a jumped-up little bureaucrat in a shed.

“In all the years we’ve been travelling”, Bardin spluttered “We’ve never been charged to sail up a river before, not that I can remember anyway!”

Adam thought he had better step in before Bardin caused a diplomatic incident.

“It’s clearly the way they do things around here, old love”, he said.

“Well it’s wrong”, said Bardin, determined, as always , not to go down without a fight.

“BARDIN!” said Adam, in rebuke.

“You have to pay for everything round here”, said the official, with the grim, quiet, self-satisfied sadism that jobs-worths have always had.

“But there is nothing here!” Bardin protested.

“You still have to pay for it”, said the jobs-worth.

“The sooner we can pay him”, Adam whispered to Bardin “The sooner we can get away”.

“Not just yet”, said the jobs-worth “I have to tell them in the town that you’re here”.

“What town?” said Bardin (there wasn’t any other sign of human habitation for as far as the eye could see “And why do you have to tell them?”

“You have to tell them everything”, said the jobs-worth.

“This is starting to feel like something out of ’Alice In Wonderland’”, Adam muttered.

The jobs worth went back into his hut, and Bardin and Adam followed him. The hut served as everything for the jobs worth: bedroom, living-room, kitchen and office. One wall was taken up with an extremely complicated-looking combined radio set and telegraph machine.

“So what’s the name of your town?” said Bardin.

“Lebicca”, said the man, sitting down to operate the telegraph machine “And what do you lot call yourselves?”

“I am Captain Bardin of the Indigo Galleon”, said Bardin, with imposing grandness.

“I guess that’s what I’ll have to tell ’em then”, said the jobs worth, as though this was far from satisfactory “And are you here for business or pleasure?”

“Well it’s increasingly beginning to feel more like business”, said Adam, tartly.

“We all have to abide by rules you know”, the jobs worth snotted back.

“We are in fact here for pleasure”, said Bardin “We are travellers. We’ve never been up this way before”.

“Well the rules is, you have to hang around here until the Town gives me the go-ahead that you can move on”, said the jobs worth.

“And how long is that going to take?” asked Adam.

“How long is a piece of string?” was the infuriating answer.

He kept them waiting for days. The galleon sat seething on the river whilst the officious bureaucrat went about his daily business, thoroughly unperturbed by their presence right outside his shed.

“I don’t believe it”, said Hoowie, one morning up on deck, as pungent food smells wafted out of the interior of the hut “He’s having a fry-up in there!”

“I suppose the rotter has to eat”, said Adam.

Hoowie suddenly jumped to his feet, and began to let off a volley of abuse in the direction of the hut. With some difficulty Adam bustled him below deck.

“Scenes like that aren’t going to help our cause”, said Adam, going along to Julian’s cabin to remonstrate with him “You must try and keep Hoowie under control whilst we’re here”.

“I can’t keep him chained to the wall!” Julian protested “Anyway, I like his high spirits. He keeps puffed-up officious little twits like that on their toes, shakes them up a bit. You used to be like that at one time. A right little rebel. Not the old tea-cosy you’ve become”.

“Damn you, Julian!” Adam shouted, as he left the cabin “Damn you!”

He cannoned into Ransey in the corridor.

“Julian being his usual charming self?” he queried.

“Being stuck here is intolerable enough”, said Adam “Without him being at his most difficult into the bargain”.

“Let’s go over and see the Fat Controller again”, said Ransey.

“The Fat Controller?” said Adam.

“It’s what Joby calls our friend on the shore”, said Ransey “I don’t know where Joby got it from, but I think it quite suits him”.

“Still no answer from the Town”, was the Fat Controller’s dreary response.

“Have you tried?” Ransey snapped.

“Yes I have tried”, said the Fat Controller, indignantly “But things can’t be hurried, unless …”

He gave the age-old signal of rubbing the tips of his fingers and thumb together.

“Isn’t it depressing how some things never change?” said Adam, tartly.

Ransey was less idealistic.

“If it gets us out of here”, he said “We’ll resort to it. I’ll have to go over to the galleon … and get what is required”.

Just before he left though he walked over to the Fat Controller and said “It’s people like you who give bureaucrats a bad name!”

Bengo and Bardin were dozing in their cabin later that afternoon when Hoowie ran in, breathless with excitement.

“I thought I said that if you annoyed me again today I would break your bony hairy arse”, said Bardin.

(He said all this in one breath, which Bengo thought was most impressive).

“Yeah yeah I know”, said Hoowie “But there’s been A Development. We’re finally moving on. Ransey’s bribed the Fat Controller!”

“Bribed?!” Bardin roared.

Bengo instantly flung his leg over the lower half of Bardin’s back, to effectively pin him into place.

“Does it matter?” said Bengo “As long as we can finally get moving?”

“But why wasn’t I consulted?” Bardin complained.

“Oh shut up, Bardy”, said a nettled Bengo “Hoowie, go and give the order to start up the engines”.

“Hillyard’s already gone below to do it”, said Hoowie.

The relief at finally getting away from the Fat Controller was immense, but at the same time there was an underlying unspoken fear that they had made a wrong move in coming up this river. It simply didn’t FEEL right. They began to see signs of civilisation, such as a stone bride spanning the river overhead, and occasional solitary nomads and shepherds, but even so, the whole area had a gloomy dispirited feel. They could, of course, have turned and gone backwards, but a macabre curiosity drove them onwards.

Things could be tense at times on the galleon in these strange conditions. Adam was quite shocked one day when Farnol, who was normally so cheerful and laid-back about everything, took offence when Hoowie made a joke at him whilst it was his (Farnol’s) turn to clean the heads.

“He said it’d do me good to burn off some calories”, said Farnol, clutching his floor-mop indignantly.

“You should have just shoved your mop in his face”, said Bengo “That’s what I would have done”.

“Anyway”, said Adam “Just tell him that I like big men. They have such a wonderfully laid-back attitude to life. Far better than skinny men who run around in circles yapping at everybody all day long”.

This comment was mainly for Bardin’s benefit, who had been passing the galley door at the time.

“Oh don’t tell Bardin what’s happened, please!” Farnol beseeched them.

“Don’t tell Bardin what?” Bardin demanded to know.

“Just a moment, dear”, said Adam, who had thought of a diversion. He stepped across to the dining-room door and tore down the latrine rosta.

“What are you doing with my list?” said Bardin.

“Now this is a very nice little list”, said Adam “As lists go but …”

And he shoved it into the stove. Bardin looked like he was about to explode. Bengo stroked Bardin’s arm as though he was trying to soothe a nervous horse.

“This is all to the good, Bardin”, said Adam “Hoowie has upset Farnol whilst he was going about his duties, so I think it only fair that Hoowie be put back on solo latrine duty … for the foreseeable future”.

“But my list!” Bardin protested.

“You have to admit it was a rather clumsy and unwieldy system”, said Adam, with a total lack of repentance.

Bardin left the room in a daze. Bengo went after him to make sure he was alright.

“Hoowie was a right little sod to Farnol, Bardy”, said Bengo “There was no need for him to be bitchy about Farnol’s weight”.

“Oh God”, Bardin sighed “Will you have a word with Hoowie for me? Read him the riot act or something”.

“Me?” said Bengo, in astonishment.

“He listens to you”, said Bardin.

“No he doesn’t!” said Bengo “Hoowie lives in a parallel universe, his brain is on another strata!”

“Brain?” Bardin snapped “What brain? Look, just do me this little favour, Bengo. If he sees he’s upset you SOMETHING might penetrate that thick skull of his. It’s no good asking Julian to tell him off, he just laughs at his stupid antics”.

Hoowie called in on Bengo later that afternoon, when Bengo was alone in the galley, putting the pastry on a row of tinned meat pies. Even Hoowie noticed that there was a distinct chill in the air.

“What’s up?” he said “Bardin been having a go at you or something?”

“No, I’m narked with you”, said Bengo “You were dead tight to Farnol earlier”.

“What?” Hoowie exclaimed “That was just a joke! What’s the matter with everybody at the moment? Have they all lost their sense of humour?!”

“Joke or not”, said Bengo, carefully brushing egg over the pies “It means you’re back on latrine duty, all by yourself, and you have no sympathy from me! You can’t seem to behave yourself at the moment. First you upset the Fat Controller and now this”.

“I’m only trying to make things lighter for everybody”, said Hoowie, emotionally.

“Bardy’s right”, said Bengo “You don’t know when to draw the line with your humour. Now I’ve got to get on with these, so you’d better go somewhere else for the time being”.

“To have Benje turn on me like that”, said Hoowie, seeking refuge in his cabin “I don’t even know what it is I’ve done that’s so bad”.

“Everyone’s on edge”, said Julian, who was making tea “Probably best if you stay in here until the air clears a bit … when you’re not cleaning the heads that is!”

“And what the fuck’s got into Farnol, that’s what I want to know”, said Hoowie “I thought he could always take a joke!”

“It sounds to me like you mis-cued it that’s all”, said Julian “If you’d said something like ’that’ll give you some exercise’, I expect he wouldn’t have got upset, but as it is … probably best if you just apologise to him. Farnol’s not the sort of chap to bear a grudge, and ’I’m sorry’ is the second most effective phrase in the world”.

“What’s the first?” said Hoowie.

“’I love you’”, said Julian “Don’t brood too much on it, my dear fellow. I’m always putting my foot in it, particularly with Adam. He’s the world’s worst for taking offence. I’ve lost track of the amount of times he’s called me a heartless swine or an arrogant pig, and half the time I didn’t know what I’d said to deserve it either”.

“So if I say ’I’m sorry, right?’ to Farnol”, said Hoowie “Everything’ll be sorted out?”

“Not if you say it like that, no!” said Julian “Just say ’I’m sorry’. You don’t need to add any extra words. I’ll write it down for you if you like!”

Fortunately Hoowie was word-perfect when he came to deliver his apology. Julian was right when he had said that Farnol wasn’t he sort of man to bear a grudge (in fact he was rather embarrassed by all the fuss it had caused) and he accepted the apology graciously.

That evening there was a lively supper of tinned sausages and mash, accompanied by gin slings, in the dining-room, which quickly took on a party atmosphere. Their collection of gramophone records was dug out and some dancing went on. Hoowie watched intensely whilst Bengo and Bardin danced together. Towards the end of the evening, when everybody was dispersed all over the place, Hoowie demanded to speak to Bardin alone in his cabin.

“Alright, what’s all this about?” said Bardin, complying with his reqeust “Haven’t I had enough to put up with from you lately?”

“Why don’t you have sex with me?” said Hoowie.

“Because I don’t want to”, said Bardin, bluntly “And what’s brought all that on?”

“You’re always getting at me for the one and only damn thing I’m any good at!” said Hoowie “There’s you, can sing, dance, brilliant acrobat, brilliant clown, brilliant captain, looks neat and trim and smart, not like a tinker’s dog like me! And yet you constantly take the piss out of me for the one and only thing I can do! So why don’t you fuck me and see what all the fuss is about? I’ll do whatever you want, you just tell me”.

“No good”, said Bardin, blushing fiercely and wishing he hadn’t had so much to drink “I-I like to be taken in hand at such times”.

“I can do that”, said Hoowie, excitedly “You can be the submissive one if you want. I’ve done it that way round with Bengo at times”.

“Yes I’m sure you have”, said Bardin, shortly.

“Oh Bardin”, Hoowie tipsily flung his arms round him “I love you so much”.

“Hoowie, you love everybody”, said Bardin.

“Well don’t you then?” said Hoowie.

“Everyone on this ship, yes”, said Bardin “But this simply won’t work”.

“It will”, said Hoowie “I’ll show you, like I showed Joby, and he wasn’t keen at first”.

“You don’t have to whore yourself”, said Bardin.

“This isn’t whoring”, said Hoowie “No one’s paying me. This is ’cos I like it. Let me give you a night you won’t ever forget”.

“Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of!” said Bardin “You’re an oversexed little monkey, Hoowie”.

“I can be that too if you like!” said Hoowie.

In the early hours of the morning Bengo returned to the cabin and chucked Hoowie out of it. He was rattled to find Hoowie in his place in the bunk, and wouldn’t even let him stay to collect his clothes.

“Don’t be such a steaming little hypocrite, Bengo”, said Bardin, crossly “The amount of times you’ve had Hoowie in here, I’ve lost count!”

“Yes, but sex to us is just a continuation of our friendship”, said Bengo, pulling off his clothes impatiently “But sex is never casual to you, Bardy. I should know, it took me years to get into your pants!”

“He seduced me”, said Bardin “He took his flip-flops off, and it was the sight of his bare feet”.

“And that turned you on?” said Bengo, in disbelief “Anyway, you’ve seen his feet no end of times, they’ve never got you so aroused before!”

“Yes, but there was something about the way he kicked off his flip-flops”, said Bardin.

“So what was it like for you then?” said Bengo, still sounding like a cross-patch.

“I can’t remember much, to be honest with you”, said Bardin “He’s a very smooth operator, but he’s not as vigorous as you”.

“I guess that’s ‘cos I’m a fatty!” said Bengo.

“Bengo”, Bardin sighed “Don’t be like that. I don’t see why I should be given a hard time like this when this is just the usual sort of thing that always happens when we have a party!”

“Oh I’m sorry”, said Bengo “But i can’t get over that he probably seduced you to get back at me for giving him a hard time earlie”.

“Don’t worry about it”, said Bardin “It’ not going to stop him being on latrine duty for ages to come now is it!”

The following day Bengo had a conflict of emotions. He was jealous (even though he knew he had no right to be), but he was also concerned about Hoowie. Hoowie was someone who seemed to build his entire self-esteem around his sexual prowess. So he would have been delighted to have finally broken down Bardin’s iron-clad reserves. He would be dismayed though if he found out that Bardin could barely remember anything about it! Bengo found himself in the unique position of being jealous of Hoowie, and yet feeling sorry for him at the same time.

In the meantime, Julian had been a little annoyed at Hoowie creeping back to their cabin at the edge of sunrise, but other than that he felt the same amusement he always did at Hoowie’s antics. He felt he had better put on a veneer of being angry though.

“You’ve been in the news rather too much lately”, Julian said to him “If you don’t calm down and keep a low profile over the next few days I shall have to put you on leading-rein, so that I will always know where you are”.

For good measure he also roughly pulled down Hoowie’s pants and gave him a spanking.

Afterwards Hoowie went up on deck where he found a hungover Bengo sitting in a corner, his sunglasses on and his knees drawn up to his chest.

“Mind if I join you?” said Hoowie.

“Only if you promise not to speak”, said Bengo.

“God, you sound like Bardin!” said Hoowie, sitting down next to him.

“Well you should know!” Bengo snapped.

“I thought he was the jealous one, not you”, said Hoowie.

“Then you got that wrong didn’t you”, said Bengo “And don’t tell me I’ve got no right to be jealous, ’cos I’m sick of hearing it!”

Adam came up on deck.

“Bengo, could you come and give me a hand with the breakfasts, although I suspect everybody will only want coffee this morning“, he said “Joby’s still in bed, and I don’t feel I have the strength to go and dig him out”.

“Gladly”, said Bengo, getting to his feet. He stepped over Hoowie in an exaggerated fashion of disdain.

When they got down to the galley, they found Hillyard in there, pouring coffee beans into the grinder.

“Well nobody else looked like they were going to do it”, he said “So I thought I’d better”.

“They’re lucky to get anything this morning“, said Bengo, snottily.

“What’s got into you?” said Hillyard.

“This is my new strong and forceful personality”, said Bengo.

“I think I preferred the old one, old love”, said Adam “There are already too many strong and forceful personalities around here. We don’t need another one”.

Joby drifted into the room, not looking his best.

“Couldn’t you have had a shave first?” said Adam.

“Not the way I feel this morning”, he replied “I’d probably end up cutting me own throat!”

“You look as though you’ve been sleeping rough under a hedge”, Adam complained.

“I FEEL like I’ve been sleeping rough under a hedge!” said Joby.

“Did you know we’ve never lived in a tree-house?” said Hillyard “When we settle somewhere I could build a tree-house”.

“We’d never all fit into it”, Joby pointed out.

“A range of tree-houses”, said Hillyard, recklessly “All connected by ladders”.

“Sounds terribly ambitious, Hilly”, said Adam.

“And impractical”, said Joby.

“What would do with the animals?” said Bengo.

“Don’t”, said Joby “He’s probably got some mad scheme to teach ’em how to fly!”

“You’ve got no romance in your soul”, said Hillyard.

“Yes I have”, said Joby “But even if you did build a row of tree-houses, Kieran’d make sure we had the smallest one!”

The river gradually widened out considerably, and the oppressive steep slopes on either side fell back and became rockier. The area felt less claustrophobic, and this contributed to a more optimistic feeling on the galleon. All except for Bengo that is, who seemed determined to nurture his new air of morose disgruntlement as if it was a cherished heirloom.

“I do wish he’d snap out of it”, said Adam to Julian, when they shared a cheroot up on deck “I want the old Bengo back. I don’t know why he’s carrying on so”.

“You know”, said Julian “Because we all get on so well … or rather most of the time anyway, we forget that normal human relationships still come into play from time to time. He and Hoowie have been close friends for a long while, almost like brothers. I think he irrationally feels betrayed because Hoowie shagged his partner”.

“Oh lor”, said Adam.

“Don’t worry, I have a solution”, said Julian “If he sees Hoowie get thoroughly punished, he’s so soft-hearted that he’ll be overcome with remorse and revert back to his normal self”.

“But Hoowie already has been punished”, Adam pointed out.

“Then I’ll do it again”, said Julian “Only much more severe this time”.

Thankfully the thickest cane in Julian’s possession saw daylight very rarely. Its capacity to sting the hides off any unfortunate recipient was legendary. It spent most of its time lurking at the back of Julian’s desk, like some primeval monster in a backwoods swamp. It was regarded with even more horror than the razor strop.

This time it was dug out and used on poor old Hoowie, who afterwards lay on the bunk and howled blue murder.

“You use that evil thing on me again and I’ll run away!” he cried out “You won’t see me for dust!”

“No you won’t”, said Julian, who had taken his shirt off to perform the wicked deed and was now mopping off a light accumulation of perspiration with a towel “You need me as much as I need you and if you did disappear I’d only find you again, and then I would give you another thrashing with it, and carry you back with your raw arse exposed for all to see”.

Hoowie stared rather reflectively at the wall.

“I see that idea somewhat appeals to you”, said Julian, putting his shirt back on again “Now stay there. I’m going topside for another smoke. When I come back I’ll rub some cream into you”.

There was quite a bit of excitement up on deck, with the end of the river appearing in sight in the far distance. A narrow channel through some jutting rocks led out into a large expanse of water beyond. Bardin ran below deck to tell Bengo, and found him rolled up gloomily on their bunk.

“You self-indulgent little fart!” Bardin shouted at him in annoyance “Are you still flaunting this fat prima donna act all over the place? Well I hope it’s got you what you want! Hoowie’s been given a thrashing with the thick cane!”

Bengo sat up.

“Why?” he blinked, in confusion.

“Why do you think?” said Bardin “Because nobody can bear the sight of poor little oodlums Bengo moping all over the place, and because Adam doesn’t like your new bitter and twisted persona!”

“B-but”, Bengo protested “I never expect people to take me that seriously, not really”.

“You’re a fool”, said Bardin.

“I know”, said Bengo, miserably.

Bardin grabbed Bengo’s battered straw hat off the side table and chucked it at him.

“Now come and look at the view”, said Bardin.

“Yes Bardy”, said Bengo.

Hoowie was still lying in exactly the same position (face down) when Bengo crept down to see him a short while later.

“Whoever you are you can let yourself in”, said Hoowie, to Bengo’s timid knock on the door.

Bengo crept in looking so shamefaced that it was almost laughable. He was twisting his hat in his hands awkwardly.

“Did you want something?” Hoowie snapped “Like come to gloat perhaps?”

“Ooh”, said Bengo.

He perched himself on the edge of a nearby chair, and looked as if he had come hospital visiting.

“I had no idea Julian was going to do that to you”, he said.

“When you live with Julian you come to expect anything”, Hoowie growled.

“Did it hurt very much?” said Bengo.

“What do you fucking think!” said Hoowie.

“I was just a bit grump about it that’s all”, said Bengo “I didn’t want you after Bardy”.

“Well I’m not likely to go after him again in a hurry am I!” said Hoowie “Not if this is the result!”

“You have been naughty quite a bit lately, Hoowie”, said Bengo “Perhaps Julian just snapped. I think you do like to push your luck with him still. Do you want me to massage some cream into it for you?”

“No, better let him do it when he comes back”, said Hoowie “I feel like a dog that’s been whipped”.

“That’s how Kieran felt once”, said Bengo “When Julian thrashed him up at Wolf Castle. Even so, I’d still rather have that, however sore it makes me, than one of Bardy’s tongue-lashings”.

“Has he had a go at you?” said Hoowie.

“I think it’s more a taster of what’s to come”, said Bengo, with gloomy resignation.

At around 6 o’clock that evening they steadily approached the jutting rocks. Tamaz said they would never be able to get through such a narrow aperture, and Ransey assured him they would. Hoowie wrapped a sarong around himself and limped up on deck to have a look.

“Are you OK?” Bardin asked him.

Hoowie was rather poleaxed by such a solicitous show of concern from Bardin.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine”, he said “D-don’t be too hard on Benje, will you, Bardin? You know what he’s like. He never thinks things through properly”.

“That makes two of you then doesn’t it!” said Bardin.

“You don’t regret what happened do you, Bardin?” said Hoowie.

Bardin’s first reaction would normally have been to say that it was a bit hard to regret something that he had virtually no memory of, but he thought Hoowie had taken enough of a hard time for one day.

“Nothing to regret”, he said, and gently patted Hoowie’s bottom.

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