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By Sarah Hapgood

Bardin and the other clowns, plus Toppy, went out to the market first thing the following morning to load up the sacktruck with fresh fruit and vegetables. The house felt unnaturally quiet after they had gone, and Julian roamed it in a despondent fashion. He eventually unearthed Adam in the dining-room, getting every piece of glassware they possessed out of the sideboard. “Did you know that we haven’t got any glasses that match?” said Adam.

“Don’t fret about it”, said Julian, sitting down wearily on a hardbacked chair “That lot wouldn’t care if they drank out of a bucket! The fire’s gone out in my room, and the coal-skuttle’s empty”.

“Well I’m sure Hillyard’s around somewhere”, said Adam.

“Yes, he’s in Kieran’s room”, said Julian, sourly “They’re working on the local rag’s bumper Christmas crossword together. I told them I finished my copy yesterday and I could help them with it if they liked. I nearly got thrown bodily down the stairs for my pains! No one wants to play with Julian at the moment”.

“I’m sure that’s not true”.

“Yes it is! Even you’re too busy doing your virtuous little chores to talk to me”.

“I’m talking to you now!” Adam protested “Ransey’s right, you are feeling cut adrift since Bardin took over”.

“Let us get a couple of things perfectly clear”, said Julian, firmly “Firstly, I don’t like you gossiping with Ransey about me behind my back, and secondly, I have no quibbles at all with Bardin in charge. In fact, I think he’s doing a first-rate job. What I didn’t bargain for was feeling so useless. Being Captain made me feel worthwhile. I liked being the centre of the wheel”.

“Oh you still are, you silly old thing”, Adam perched on his knee and ruffled his hair, playfully “No one’s ignoring you or sidelining you”.

“Huh, you should’ve heard the lip Freaky gave me just now!” said Julian “I caught him thieving slabs of pecan pie out of the pantry. When I went to tell him off he said snottily that I was no longer in charge and so I couldn’t correct him”.

“The little rat!” said Adam “I hope you paddled his butt!”

“No, I couldn’t be bothered”.

“Good grief, you must be ill!”

“Well it’s just Freaky isn’t it?” said Julian “I can’t get too upset by anything he says. His speciality is winding us all up and teasing us. No wonder he gets on so well with Hoowie!”

“Even so, I shall certainly give him the brunt of my anger when I get my hands on him”, said Adam “I shall take his drawers down and use your hairbrush on him”.

“Watch out for those bloody teeth of his when you do!” Julian laughed “I shall watch, it’ll cheer me up no end. And on Christmas night he is most definitely doing to be a slave-boy”.

“You sound more like your old self already”.

“It must be your company”.

Julian led him over to the clowns’ bed. Adam protested that they should really go upstairs, but Julian said they’d get interrupted about 3 or 4 times if they did. He drew the curtains and lit the gas-lamp on the wall, and then vigorously rogered Adam whilst gently smacking his behind rhythmically at the same time. Afterwards they lay chatting, with Julian propped on his elbow and gazing down at his friend. Suddenly Adam, who had been staring intently at his face, gave a start.

“Julian!” he cried.

“Adam!” Julian cried back.

“You look so young for your age”, said Adam.

“We both do, old fruit”, said Julian “Brinslee said we must use witchcraft, so did Hawkefish”.

“B-but this is something else entirely”, said Adam “Your skin is so good”.

“I’ve always had good skin”.

“Yes, but after all our time spent in extreme climates it should be a lot rougher”, said Adam, stroking Julian’s smooth face “People who spend a lot of time under the hot sun tend to go all coarse and leathery. Look at Brigitte Bardot for instance”.

“Then stop complaining and just think yourself lucky”, said Julian “You should never grumble about good health”.

“You haven’t had any of your aches and pains since we left Port West have you?” said Adam.

“Oh that was staying at Brinslee’s house brought all that on”, said Julian “Too much booze, and too much rich food. Brinslee should take care of himself more. He has endless gastric trouble. Especially worrying in a big man like him”.

Adam leaned over him to pick up a hand-mirror from the clowns’ washstand, pressing his nuts close to Julian’s face as he did so, which caused Julian to give a squeal of delight. Adam studied his face in the mirror and then handed it to Julian, ordering him to look as well.

“I’d rather look at you”, said Julian, turning him over and inspecting his bottom “Your arse is only mildly pink. How disappointing”.

“Surprising, considering you were slapping me all the way through it!” said Adam.

“I can’t leave it just pink”, said Julian “I shall have to flip you over my knee before I banish you back to the kitchen”.

Adam laughed, and peered at him flirtatiously over his arm.

“Don’t you just love it when I talk to you that way!” said Julian “God, I adore you when you look at me like that. Reminds me of the first time we ever fooled around, at school. The day after, you appeared in my room, waiting for me. You looked all bashful and furtive, and said ‘can we do again what we did last night?’”

“What an utterly shameless little tart I was!” said Adam “Pity my father didn’t hear me, he’d have had a fatal heart-attack!”

“I spent years after looking for someone with that self-same mischievous look”, said Julian “But there’s never been anyone quite so beguiling and sexy as you. What a fool I was to mess you around the way I did”.

“Oh that’s all over now”, said Adam “It all came out in the wash, as the old saying goes”.

“You have such a sensual knack with people”.

“You’re not so bad yourself, King Cock!”

“Not like you though”, said Julian “I bet Joby wouldn’t play the under-gamekeeper for me!”

“Quite understandably, he doesn’t trust you that’s why!” Adam laughed “If anyone agreed to take on a subservient role with you there’s no knowing where it might end! It would horrify most people, the thought of having to play servant to your squire! Joby’s too shrewd to fall for that one”.

“Hah, he doesn’t know what he’s missing”, said Julian “He’d have the time of his life if he but knew it. God, what wouldn’t I give to hear him calling me Sir!”

“Even if he did”, said Adam, getting off the bed to wash himself “You can bet your bottom dollar it would be said with the ultimate in sarcasm!”

“No, because I’d tame him first”, said Julian “I would be like an old Medieval lord, returning from the Crusades with a savage peasant in tow, whom I had to break in. How about that for a fantasy, eh?”

“I preferred playing Maurice and Alec with him”, said Adam “If you want a fantasy like that, you’d better ask Mieps to join in. He’d make a good untamed savage”.

“I have a confession to make there. I’ve been trying to get round to it for a few weeks now”.

“Go on, what have you been doing this time?” Adam sighed.

“The night of the great love-in at Port West”, said Julian “Well Hillyard and I were together, but Mieps was there too, and it seemed a waste not to stick it in him as well!”

“You and Mieps?” Adam exclaimed “Oh Jules, what a lark! Did you have him as a woman? What was it like? Is a cunt very different?”

“Yes and no”, said Julian “I thought at first it’d be all baggy and loose, but he sort of attached himself around me and drew me in quite tightly. Quite a fascinating experience all in all”.

“You’ve suddenly developed heterosexual leanings”, said Adam, teasingly.

“I can’t imagine an hermaphrodite counts!” said Julian “Particularly as I had Hillyard buggering me from behind at the same time! There, aren’t you jealous you missed out?”

“Not at all”, Adam smiled, smugly “I was with Lo-Lo”.

“Grrgh! Gnashing of teeth and all that”, said Julian “Mieps was most diligent about washing my cock afterwards, so I had a good look at his at the same time, and a strange thought occurred to me. He’s the only one of us with a foreskin! It’s years since I’ve been with anyone like that. I’d forgotten what complicated things they are. But what I want to know is, how come he’s got one and Freaky hasn’t?”

“Well I can’t imagine a subtle thing like circumcision is something Ghoomers would go in for!”

“No, I mean why hasn’t Freaky got one?”

“The Ministry cut it off”, said Adam “I remember him telling me about it when I was bathing him once. It happened when he was pregnant. They were inspecting him down below, and one said ‘let’s take that ugly thing off’, and they did so”.

“The poor little bastard”.

“Tamaz said he was lucky they didn’t castrate him as well. They wanted to apparently, but he kicked and screamed so much in protest they thought he was going to damage the babies, and so they let him be”.

Tamaz meanwhile had been listening eagerly at the door to the details of Julian’s tryst with Mieps, of which he had known nothing until then. Finia had caught him at it, and had hauled him into the living-room, where they scrapped like kittens on the sofa until Adam and Julian came in and broke them up.

“What on earth were you thinking of?” said Julian, lifting up Finia, whose slim brown legs were kicking frantically out of his nightdress.

“Most unlike you to catfight, Finia”, said Adam, who was pinning down Tamaz on the sofa.

“I’ll see him off anyday”, Finia spat “The little brat was eavesdropping on you. I caught him at it”.

“Goodness, you are owed some disciplining, Freaks”, said Adam “Cheeking Julian and now this. Of course, as Bardin is now Captain …”

“As Freaky pointed out to me himself earlier”, Julian chimed.

“We should leave it to him”, said Adam.

“Don’t you dare!” Tamaz squealed.

Adam upended Tamaz over his lap and dealt him several hard smacks on his behind.

“Oh poor Tamaz”, said Lonts, drifting into the room and looking at them sorrowfully “I’m sure whatever it was he’s done he didn’t really mean it”.

Tamaz was put back on his feet again eventually, and tried to hide his face from the others. This was mainly because he didn’t want to see how confused he felt. His fierce pride was outraged, and yet at the same time he wished he had been alone with Adam, so that he could have savoured it more! Previously, he’d only ever had that sensation when being spanked by Joby.

“Joby says lunch is nearly ready”, said Lonts “He’s been complaining, Adam, about having to do it all by himself”.

“Well if he complains too much, I shall just have to whip his arse too!” said Adam, friskily.

Adam and Julian sat at opposite ends of the kitchen table, giving each other smug, lascivious looks. Joby was boot-faced as he slammed plates down in front of everyone. Tamaz was preoccupied, and gazed pensively into space as he sipped his tea. Hillyard was glaring indignantly at Julian, as though his honour had been outraged in some way. Mieps was walking around, pouring out tea, and occasionally fondling his breasts inside his shirt.

“Don’t offer to pour the milk for me!” Julian exclaimed, which made most of the others laugh.

“Have you really finished the crossword?” Hillyard asked Julian “Or is it a wind-up?”

“No, I’ve finished it”, said Julian.

“But there was over a 100 clues!” said Hillyard.

“I know, brainy old sod aren’t I?” said Julian.

“Anybody wants anything else, they can get it for themselves”, said Joby, sitting down morosely. “No grizzling, my child”, said Adam, sternly “Or I shall have to take your pants down”.

“It’s my job to discipline Joby”, said Kieran “I’m his master”.

“Not in the kitchen, old love”, said Adam “This is strictly my domain”.

“I could do it too”, said Mieps, sitting down next to Joby. “I’m sure you could!” said Joby.

“What a sexy thought for you, Joby”, said Adam “You could imagine you were being spanked by a woman!”

“He would only have to half-imagine it”, Mieps retorted.

“Of course, of course”, Adam hastened to mollify him. “I wish you’d all behave”, said Joby “The way you’re all carrying on anyone’d think it was Spring, not Christmas!”

“You keep scratching yourself, Ada”, said Julian “You haven’t got fleas have you?”

“We’ll have to bath you in that powdered stuff we sometimes use on the goats!” said Hillyard.

“It’s my sun-tan fading actually”, said Adam “It’s making my skin itch”.

There was a hullabaloo out in the yard as the clowns returned with the sack-truck. Farnol burst in through the back door and squeezed Tamaz, who was nearest.

“Hello little worm!” he bellowed, boisterously.

“Any problems?” said Adam, as the others all piled in, which made the kitchen suddenly feel very small.

“Only Hoowie being his usual charming self”, said Bardin “Suddenly bellows out so that the whole world could hear, ‘my god, I’ve just seen a totally sexless being!` Poor woman, I know she was no sex-goddess …” “She was nothing”, said Hoowie, unrepentantly “Anyway, don’t get at me. I only say what everyone thinks. I speak everybody’s minds for them”.

“You have to”, said Joby “You haven’t got one of your own!”

“Are you going down with a cold too, Bengo?” said Adam, with concern “You’d better hop into bed. We want you well for Christmas Day. It can get draughty in a short toga”.

“He’s not going to be wearing a toga”, said Julian.

“Eh?” said Joby “Why’s he getting out of it then?”

“Bardin rather fired my imagination with his tales of Bengo’s cabin-boy outfit”, said Julian “So this afternoon I’m going to go down to the theatrical costumers in town and see what they can give me in that department. Bengo will look sublime in tight breeches and a jersey”.

“I take it you want me to cut out a bum-flap for him?” Finia sighed.

“And fasten it with a juicy pink ribbon”, said Julian “He’ll look like a serving-boy from ‘120 Days Of Sodom’!”

“Aagh!” Adam suddenly cried, clapping his hand to his forehead “I haven’t sent Ransey’s lunch round to him. He’ll think we’ve forgotten him!”

“We had”, said Joby.

“I’ll take it round”, said Julian.

The others gaped at him as though he’d suddenly announced he was pregnant.

“It seems logical”, said Julian “It’s on my route. Get on with it, Ada”.

Julian had an unusually active afternoon. Ransey had looked surprisingly pleased to see him, and so Julian had shared his beer with him. Ransey had got quite frisky at the tale of Finia catfighting with Tamaz and had even caused total shock to his assistant by pecking Julian on the cheek as he left.

Much shaken himself, Julian sought refuge in the costumiers and came away with a large squashy parcel containing Bengo’s costume. On the way back home he noticed Hillyard in the fish-market getting boisterous like an overgrown schoolboy with some of the vendors. They were all chucking huge silver fish at each other and laughing manically. Julian walked in and prodded him with his cane, imperiously.

“It’s your posh boyfriend, Hillyard”, an ageing gap-toothed vendor cackled.

“My well-preserved posh boyfriend”, Hillyard boomed, clasping Julian in his arms.

“You smell like a tart’s cunt”, said Julian, recoiling from the overwhelming aroma of fish.

“He has a way with words don’t he?” Hillyard laughed.

“How would he know what a tart’s cunt smelt like?” said one old man, who looked about 200-years-old.

“Can’t imagine he’s ever been muff-diving!” cried Gap-Tooth.

“Perish the thought”, Julian flicked his tongue, disdainfully.

He steered Hillyard masterfully out of the fish-market.

“This Bengo’s costume is it?” said Hillyard, groping the parcel which Julian had given him to carry “Can I bugger him if he wears it?”

“Who knows what may happen?” said Julian “I’ll be rather inclined to have everyone play a game of forfeits and promises, like we used to do at Wolf Castle, and see what happens. What were you doing in the fish-market anyway?”

“Placing an order for Adam”, said Hillyard “To pick up tomorrow”.

“Hm, I’d better come with you in that case”, said Julian “Make sure you behave”.

It was twilight when they got home, and the house was relatively peaceful. Julian went into the dining-room, where Bengo and Bardin were lying on the bed, scanning the local newspaper through a magnifying-glass. There had been a zombie sighting on the other side of the river. A woman claimed she had seen a strange man watching her house. His skin had had a greenish tinge to it, and he didn’t appear to have any eyeballs.

“Now watch all the sightings come in thick and fast”, said Julian “And each one will be more bizarre and terrifying than the last! Was this sighting at night?”

“Two in the morning”, said Bengo.

“Good”, said Julian “When it starts appearing in daylight we’ll really worry!”

Joby slammed through the house from the kitchen. He was wearing a flour-dusted apron and a fierce expression.

“I’ve had it up to here with Adam!” he shouted, grabbing Julian by the waistcoat and pulling him about “He disappeared this morning to bonk you, and he did it again this afternoon!”

“Not with me he didn’t, I’ve been out”, said Julian.

“It was Kieran”, said Bengo “We could hear them overhead”.

“Going at it some”, said Bardin.

“They always do!” Joby screamed “It’s not fucking fair! It’s not!”

“Calm down”, said Julian, sternly, shoving him across the hall and into the living-room “And stop pulling my clothes about! Sit by the fire in there and look at the pretty Christmas tree baubles!”

He had just shut the door on him and was exchanging a longsuffering look with Hillyard, when Kieran shot down the banisters and slid off the end, landing with a hard thump on the hall floor. Bardin, clad in his long nightshirt, ran out to help him up.

“I keep forgetting there isn’t a knob on the end”, said Kieran, breathlessly.

“Like there isn’t a brain in your head!” said Julian.

“Do you know what I have as assistants?” Joby appeared again “An hermaphrodite who can’t stop playing with his own tits, and a clown whose legs are too long!”

“Mieps and Rumble”, said Bardin, as though translating for everyone else’s benefit.

“Adam’s too old to be carrying on like that!” Joby squawked.

“News to me”, said Kieran, who had lain on his back with his feet over Adam’s shoulders being very vigorously fucked “Anyway, why should you have all the fun? You’re just jealous ‘cos we missed you out!”

“Like you were jealous yesterday”, Joby prodded him “When we missed you out!”

“That’s enough!” said Bardin, in the tone of voice Bengo remembered from their stage days, when tempers had often got out of hand backstage “This is no way to carry on”.

“Jaysus, can’t we throw wobblies anymore?” said Kieran. “Yes, but don’t turn nasty with ‘em”, said Bardin.

“Ach, to me and Joby that’s just a form of communication!” said Kieran.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Joby, indignantly.

Kieran pushed him back into the living-room and went in after him, slamming the door on the others.

Adam meanwhile had been talking to Tamaz in one of the bathrooms. He had found him sitting on the edge of the bath, staring gloomily at the floor, whilst a candle guttered on the windowsill.

“I hope you’re not still brooding on our little set-to earlier”, said Adam, perching next to him “It’s all over now. All sorted”.

“You treat me like a child”, Tamaz spat.

“Only when you’re bratty”, said Adam “Other times I’m very aware that you’re not a child, believe me!”

“I wish we’d been alone”, said Tamaz.

“I see”, said Adam “Are you trying to even some score with Mieps, is that it? He’s given Julian a sample of female delights, and you want to do the same to me”.

“No”, said Tamaz “Overhearing that just made me realise a few things. I want to make love with you”.

“We all make love with each other here”, Adam smiled “Sooner or later”.

“And yet that orgy we had at the ‘Golden Compass’”, said Tamaz “You didn’t come near me”.

“As I recall, Joby rather monopolised you that evening!” said Adam “Who knows what may happen, Tamaz”.

“Are you attracted to me?” Tamaz instinctively touched his breasts.

“I have to confess your bubbies don’t do much for me”, said Adam “But I love you in yourself. And I’m very attracted to your fire and your spark, and your wonderful eyes. Why do you think I want to keep painting you, and I wouldn’t have got so physical with you earlier if I didn’t give a damn about you”.

“But none of that is sexual desire!” said Tamaz “You could just say that was love and affection”.

“Amongst us lot these days I don’t see any boundaries”, said Adam “Amongst us platonic love doesn’t seem to exist anymore”.

“It’s how you feel about Ransey”, said Tamaz.

“No I am attracted to Ransey actually, but it’s just never happened”, said Adam “And I am attracted to you. You still carry, even now, a hint of mystery and danger”.

“You would want to take me as a boy though?” said Tamaz.

“A very beautiful, untameable boy”, said Adam, softly “The sort that centuries ago destroyed artists and poets”.

Julian pushed open the door, causing a draught which put out the candle.

“Are you at it again?” he asked Adam, sharply “Come upstairs with me now. Freaky, go below and don’t sit around in bathrooms, moping”.

“You have no romance in your soul, Jules”, said Adam, following him upstairs to the top floor.

“You have more than enough for the pair of us!” said Julian “Encouraging Freaky to believe he’s the hottest thing since Michaelangelo’s David! You might have romantic notions about being destroyed by beautiful young men, but it would never have happened to me!”

“No, you’d have destroyed them!” Adam retorted.

“Ah good, someone’s sorted out the fire”, said Julian, warming his hands in front of the blaze “Nice to know that order doesn’t completely break down when I’m out of the house”.

“Oh if you’re going to be just plain naughty”, Adam turned to leave.

“Stay where you are”, said Adam “I ordered you up here …”

“That’s what you think!” Adam interrupted him “I came up of my own free will actually”.

“Mm, because you can’t resist me bossing you around”, said Julian “In fact you love it. You wouldn’t be happy any other way. It arouses you”.

He began to take off his own clothes in a leisurely manner.

“Of course I’m not stopping you leaving again”, he said.

“Then why did you ask me up here?” said Adam, in exasperation.

“Joby’s upset”, said Julian “Flew at me like a mad thing downstairs because you’ve been neglecting your duties”.

“Well I didn’t bargain on being upstairs for so long“, said Adam “I only came up for a little doze, and the next thing I knew Patsy was coming into the room”.

“Yes, I suspect that’s what’s annoyed him”, said Julian, now stripped completely. The fire was the only light in the room and it showed off his magnificent body to perfection “And we still have unfinished business from this morning”.

“You just want to punish me for having a good time behind your back”, Adam laughed “You went out, thinking I would be holed up in the kitchen like a slave, and in fact I’ve been bonking Patsy and coming onto Tamaz!”

“Just trying to make you happy, my dear”, said Julian “You’d hate it if I didn’t rein you in now and again, and I mean to wear spurs where you’re concerned over Christmas. Metaphorically-speaking of course”.

“I should hope so!” said Adam, and then he gasped as Julian picked up one of his silver-backed hairbrushes and tapped it against his hand significantly “Not that!”

“Why not?” said Julian “You’ve thrashed me with one before”.

“You deserved it, you little swine!” said Adam.

“Ah, I can see your chastisement will have to be quite thorough this evening”, said Julian “What have you got on under your trousers?”

“Thermal drawers”, said Adam “You know that, you saw them earlier”.

“Good. I was hoping you hadn’t changed”, said Julian “They’re not as sexy as the skimpy shorts you wear at the Bay, but they’ll do. Your arse’ll be quite spankeable in those”.

“I’d rather strip completely”, said Adam, fiddling with his fly buttons.

“Oh don’t worry, you’ll feel it enough”, said Julian.

“Codlik would say I was giving into your dubious naughty schoolboy fantasies”, Adam giggled “Hints of paedophilia and all that”.

“How can it be paedophilia when I’m a naughty schoolboy to?” Julian exclaimed “Anyway, don’t mention Codlik’s name when I’m getting aroused. It’s like being doused with a bucket of cold water!”

“Sorry old love”, said Adam, stepping out of his trousers and kicking them away.

“Now try and act nervous and intimidated”, said Julian “Not all eager and aroused”.

“I can’t, it’s impossible”, said Adam, feeling his cock beginning to poke out of the front of his shorts “Now for goodness sake get on with it, or I shall do a Bengo and come too soon!”

“You’re a bad, wicked boy”, said Julian, sternly “You need to be taught a lesson. I’m going to put you over my knee and give you a thorough spanking!”

Julian put the handle of the hairbrush between his teeth and pulled off Adam’s shirt, leaving him clad in only his tight flannel drawers. He prowled around, inspecting him appreciatively, tapping the hairbrush against his teeth all the while. Then he roughly lugged Adam towards a chair and tipped him over his knee, pushing him so far forward that Adam shot out his hands to support himself on the carpet. Julian dealt him many stinging blows on his behind with the hairbrush. Some were quite painful and Adam knew he’d be feeling them for some time afterwards. But he found it all so incredibly arousing that he didn’t care. He squirmed under the blows. His cock had come out of the opening of his drawers and was prepared to fire at any moment. Adam desperately tried to delay the ejaculation in order to keep the sensation going longer. But he came, squirting over Julian’s thighs. Julian tossed the hairbrush on the floor, and shoved his hand roughly between Adam’s legs, blindly groping for the remaining buttons on the pants. He tore them open and then frantically pulled the garment down to Adam’s knees, so that he could deal him a few slaps on his bare behind. He also slapped the back of his legs for good measure as though Adam was a naughty toddler.

When he was satisfied that Adam had been spanked enough, he pushed him onto the floor, grabbed his hair and forced his lips onto his cock. Adam gobbled at the large organ as though it was an ice-lolly, and greedily gulped down his sperm.

“Let’s get into bed”, said Julian.

Adam hobbled after him across the room. They clambered under the bedclothes and gave each other hearty cuddles, mock-wrestling and laughing.

“You gorgeous gorgeous creature”, Julian pecked Adam’s lips “What the hell would I do without you?”

“Discipline Hillyard?” said Adam.

“He won’t let me”, said Julian “Although God knows he deserves it plenty enough!”

“He’s obviously got a lot more sense than I have”, said Adam, stretching luxuriously against the pillows “I must be absolutely demented to let you humiliate me so much”.

“You love it, you damn well adore it”, said Julian “You want me to take you in hand, you always did. You’ve always been at your happiest when either impaled on my huge, juicy cock, or tossed across my knees and soundly spanked. We’re going to have to make the most of our new-found youth, Adam, we don’t know how long it might last. Everytime we’re alone together from now on you’ll be my fag, ready to be buggered or beaten as my whim dictates”.

“Sounds pretty much business a usual to me!” said Adam “You’re like this at the Bay too!”

“It’s usually those skimpy shorts that’s why”, said Julian “You shouldn’t wear them if you don’t want to be chastised! Mind you, those flannel knickers are pretty intoxicating too!”

“My thermal shorts actually”, Adam prodded him playfully in the chest “Flannel knickers indeed! They’re to keep my nuts warm in this gloomy winter weather”.

“And to make you feel deliciously humiliated when I’m beating you”, said Julian “That works a treat doesn’t it?”

“Yep”, said Adam.

“Don’t worry, I’ll never let you down”, said Julian “I know exactly how you tick and what you need. This Christmas will be the sexiest ever!”

“It’s a little eerie though isn’t it, what’s happening to you and me I mean”, said Adam, gazing across at the firelight.

“All down to the evil Irish goblin no doubt”, said Julian.

“No I quizzed Patsy about it earlier. He says he hasn’t done anything”.

“And you believed him?!”

“I’m not sure”, said Adam “I said if it’s not him, then it must be some hocus-pocus of Angel’s, like the time when he cured Joby’s duff eye, but Patsy just said ‘why does it have to be magic Addy, why not just Fate playing Father Christmas?’”

“I hate it when he talks in riddles like that!” said Julian “And what if Father Christmas decides to take his presents back, and we wake up one morning having aged 10 years overnight instead!”

“I guess we just have to ride with it and enjoy it whilst it lasts”, said Adam “He can’t take the good times away once they’ve happened”.

They dozed for a while, and woke up when Hillyard came into the room to change into his dressing-gown for supper. He lit the lamp, put more coal on the fire, and moved around them quietly.

“I suppose it’s too much to hope for that you used this on him?” he said to Adam, picking up the hairbrush from the floor.

“I’m sure I will again someday”, said Adam, sleepily.

“I’d use it on you, Hillyard”, said Julian, getting up and putting on his pyjamas “But you’re such a lard-boy, I doubt you’d feel it!”

“That a fact?” said Hillyard.

He skilfully got Julian under his arm and dealt him a couple of blows on his behind.

“Don’t mess with us lard-boys”, said Hillyard, calmly “We don’t take kindly to handsome bastards slagging us off”.

“But Hilly”, Adam purred “You’re very handsome yourself!”

“In a very coarse kind of way”, said Julian, tartly.

“You behave yourself”, said Hillyard “You got too excited flirting with those fish-mongers earlier, that’s your trouble. You fancied a bit of rough I think!”

“There’s rough and there’s downright moth-eaten!” said Julian.

Adam got out of bed and pulled on his underclothes.

“Do you want me to rub some cream into that for you?” said Hillyard, looking at Adam’s crimson buttocks.

“Thanks Hilly, but I’ll ask Lo-Lo to do it for me after supper”, said Adam.

Julian finished donning his pyjamas and silk dressing-gown, and then gazed at himself lovingly in the mirror.

“I am a handsome bastard indeed!” he said “Right, lock up your grandsons!”

Everyone dined in the kitchen, including Bengo, who didn’t want to be left at the front of the house alone, not with the wind and rain beating against the building and creating far too many strange noises for his liking. So he ate in the kitchen as well, looking beguiling in his long shirt, socks, and a sheepskin jacket. The handle on the back door, which led out into the yard, rattled all through the meal, as though someone was impatiently trying to get in. They assumed it was only the weather.

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