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This morning was the grand shopping expedition, when everyone, apart from Ransey who was still working, went to the market to finish getting in the supplies. They came out of the yard-doors en-masse, dragging sacktrucks and pushing wheelbarrows in which to fetch the goods.
Adam was worried about Bengo and wanted him to stay in bed, but Bengo got hysterical and said he didn’t want to stay in the house on his own.
“Anyone’d think it was haunted!” said Joby.
“You remember when the Scissor Woman came out from under the stairs?” Bengo squawked “Well what if the zombie did the same, and I was there alone?!”
Joby groaned. He walked with Lonts to the market, and had a surreal conversation with him about why Snowy didn’t wear trousers. Lonts’s reasoning being that Snowy had his fur to keep him warm. Joby replied that that didn’t stop the daft bear wearing a jacket though! Mieps walked ahead of everyone, wearing a red woollen cloak, and, unusually, smiling at everyone they met as though he was giving them his benediction.
They came to the covered fish-market first. Adam had to go in to check the order, but insisted on Lonts staying outside.
“You think I’m still a baby!” Lonts bellowed, indignantly.
“It is precisely because you aren’t a baby that I don’t want you in there!” said Adam, who had heard from Hillyard just how bawdy the fish-mongers could be.
Adam went in with Hillyard and Julian. The fish-mongers were every bit as excitable as they had been the day before, and bellowed raucously at the tall, elegant Adam, calling him “sister”, and asking him to name his price. Adam was glad when they had loaded up and left.
The main market had a carnival atmosphere, with its coloured lights, hurdy-gurdies, and a few performers from the Little Theatre earning a bit on the side by doing some street entertaining.
“Adam! Adam!” Bengo rushed over to him, excitedly “Hoowie is being a menace, he keeps making wanking gestures at everyone. You’ve got to have a go at him!”
“Why have I got to have a go at him?” said Adam “I’m not in charge”.
“No, but you’re Mummy!” Julian smirked.
“I’m sure you can deal with Hoowie, Bengo”, said Adam.
“We can’t win with him”, said Joby, after Bengo had gone back to check on Hoowie “He has hysterics if we try to leave him at home, and he has hysterics if we take him out!”
“He should be in bed”, said Adam.
“Yeah”, said Joby “Preferably strapped down and heavily-sedated!”
“Hey BONGO”, Hoowie was now saying, standing ominously near a sticky confectionary stall “Remember that bit you and Bardin used to do at the Cabaret of Horrors where you stood up real close to each other and just hit each other with custard pies?”
“Don’t go getting ideas!” Bengo yelled, and then promptly got ideas himself as he picked up a lemon meringue pie and smeared it over Hoowie’s chest.
The stall-holder, a young man with well-greased hair tortured into short spikes, gave a scream of dismay and shrieked at Bengo: “I hope you’re gonna pay for that!”
Bengo and Hoowie both looked helpless, as neither of them carried money on them.
“Well what are you gonna do about it then?” the stall-holder went on.
Bengo now looked terrified, and couldn’t think of a single worthwhile answer to give. Fortunately, Bardin, officiously clutching the horsewhip, came over and paid the stall-owner, with a bit extra for his trouble.
“I’m sorry, Bardy”, said Bengo, miserably.
“We should’ve lobbed that revolting jam roll thing at him”, said Hoowie, completely unrepentant, as ever “Save some poor bastard the trouble of eating it!”
Bardin coiled the horse-whip round Hoowie’s neck, and then passed the handle to Mieps, with instructions to keep a hold on him until they got home.
After lunch Adam and Joby had to get started on preparing the huge pot-loads of vegetables for the following day’s big meal. Adam went out first to collect the eggs from the chicken-run, and noticed as he did so that it was getting squally again, with the wind sweeping in unhindered across the marshes which surrounded the town.
“Have we got many today?” said Joby, when Adam returned to the kitchen.
“Twenty-two, not bad”, said Adam, putting the eggs in the pantry “The hens must have settled down now after all the recent travelling”.
He took off his coat, and then sat down gingerly on the opposite side of the table to Joby.
“Do you want me to fetch you a cushion?” Joby sniggered.
“I can manage, thank you”, said Adam, flicking a piece of chopped carrot at him.
“The things some people do just to get a buzz!” said Joby. “Behave, or I’ll tell Jules you’re longing to find out for youself just how good a spanker he is!” said Adam.
“Leave it out, I wouldn’t wanna give him the satisfaction!” said Joby “I can just imagine the dodgy thoughts that would be going through his head!”
“Particularly if you’ve just given one of your Citizen Joby speeches”, said Adam.
“The only way I’d ever agree to that”, said Joby “Was if I could get my revenge by chaining him up in the cellar afterwards and pretending it was a prison after a revolution, and he was awaiting execution!”
“It’s a nice thought”, said Adam “But he’d still be utterly snooty and impossible even then”.
“I’m glad you’re not like that”, said Joby “You haven’t got a snooty bone in your body”.
“It would have always been hard for me to be snooty”, said Adam “When I had a father to tell me what a low-down little turd I was! I suppose you have him to thank really”.
“Bollocks”, said Joby “I spect its’ got a lot more to do with the fact that you’re a nice person. You’re not all proud like Julian”.
“You can be rather proud yourself at times too”, Adam smiled.
Joby came round the table and sat astride Adam, kissing him on the lips.
“I can’t seem to leave you alone at the moment”, said Joby, huskily “Everytime I’m near you I get all excited and aroused. Must be this strange magic that’s infecting the air. But I don’t care, so long as it’s not Angel’s doing”.
“I can’t really believe it is”, said Adam “This is the last thing he’d want us doing! I wonder if it’s partly some legacy of Patsy’s trick with the great love-in at Port West, and partly something of Midnight Castle has got into our blood. I found a room back there, a small room behind the pantry, it must have been where one of the servants slept. I was thinking that we could use it as our own little kitchen staffs’love-nest. We could sneak into there for afternoon trysts. Rather like when I took you to Myrtle’s the other day”.
“Ooh-er!” Joby grinned, and they kissed with great passion.
“You’re always groping Joby at the moment, Adam”, said Lonts, who was carrying Snowy in one hand and an empty coal-scuttle in the other.
“You’re even dafter than I thought if you’re gonna get jealous”, said Joby “Come over here and have a beer”.
He got off Adam, who slapped his rump, and went to pour out a couple of beers.
“I hope that coal-scuttle is from the living-room”, said Adam.
“No it’s Julian’s”, said Lonts, putting it down on the floor.
“You know I don’t like you jumping at his command, Lo-Lo”, said Adam “He’ll only take advantage of you”.
“No he doesn’t”, said Lonts, sitting down at the table “And I like doing little jobs. I notice you don’t object when Joby or Hillyard or one of the clowns gets his coal in”.
“I do actually”, said Adam “Especially when he expects them to jump to it instantly, and then doesn’t give them a please or a thank you”.
“Ad, if Lonts really wants to carry buckets of coal up and down two flights of stairs then let him!” said Joby “Saves me having to do it!”
The three of them sat in companionable silence for a couple of minutes. Adam remarked that with the twilight coming on he felt as though they were living alone together in a cottage many miles from anywhere.
“You’d need me to do all the heavy jobs then”, said Lonts, triumphantly “Like getting the firewood in”.
“At least we wouldn’t have to prepare so much dinner”, Adam sighed, looking at all the pots.
“Oh I dunno”, said Joby “The way Lonts can put it away I spect we still would!”
“I would be the man of the house”, said Lonts, imposingly.
“In your dreams”, said Joby.
“Yes I would, Joby”, said Lonts “And if you misbehaved I would lock you in a cupboard, like the old sledge-maker used to do to me when I was little”.
“I don’t blame him”, said Joby “It was probably the only way he could get any peace and quiet!”
Lonts got up and began to wrestle Joby. Adam, laughing, went to separate them.
“I might have known”, said Julian, appearing in the room “It takes ages to get anything done in this house”.
“Oh belt up, you miserable old sod!” said Adam.
“I’ll go and get his coal in”, said Lonts, sighing.
“No Lo-Lo, I object …” Adam began.
“It’s o.k, Adam”, Lonts picked up the bucket and went out the back door.
“Thank you” said Julian to Lonts, selecting a raw carrot and biting into it.
“It wouldn’t hurt you to get your own damn coal in!” said Adam.
“And mess my pyjamas up?” said Julian, scandalised “I don’t think so!”
“Adam!” Lonts shot back into the kitchen, minus the coal-scuttle “There’s a man at the gate! He wants to come in!”
“Well what does he want?” said Adam “Have you asked him?”
“No!” said Lonts, seemingly appalled by the very idea.
“I bet it’s the hamper arrived, from Glynis”, said Joby.
It was. Adam and Lonts steered it through the back door, assisted by Julian, and then paid off the carrier. Once it was placed in the kitchen, the hamper was opened amidst much hilarity. Julian even picked up Joby and twirled him around, unfortunately just at the moment Kieran came into the room with Hillyard. Joby was put back on his feet in a shamefaced fashion.
“I see the hamper of dead animals has arrived”, said Kieran, fiercely.
“Shouldn’t you be in church today?” said Julian.
“Nah, I only upset the local priest when I turn up”, said Kieran “I might go to Midnight Mass later instead”.
“You will not!” said Joby “Not with that bloody zombie roaming the streets last thing at night!”
“It’s arrived!” said Tamaz, awestruck.
“Goodness Freaky, you’re a bit slow off the mark!” said Julian “It’s been in the house for almost a whole minute!”
“I was stuck on the loo”, said Tamaz, inspecting the large basket “Can I have this when you’ve emptied it?”
“What for?” said Joby.
“To see if I can hide in it”, said Tamaz.
“Hide from what?” said Joby.
“Can I have it?” said Tamaz, insistently.
“If you like”, said Adam “I must say you have a very obscure way of amusing yourself sometimes, Freaky!”
Once the contents of the basket had been thoroughly inspected, Tamaz grabbed a couple of hunks of Christmas cake and went into the dining-room to see Bengo, who was back in bed.
“Christmas cake”, said Tamaz, gruffly, climbing into the bed “Eat it quick in case old Misery-Guts comes in and starts lecturing you about your weight again!”
“Bardy won’t do that at the moment, not whilst I’ve got a cold”, said Bengo, taking his share.
Nonetheless they both gobbled the cake furtively, scattering crumbs all over the bed.
“What’s this?” said Tamaz, reaching for a hardback book which Bengo had been idling leafing through.
“It’s one of Bardy’s”, Bengo snatched it from him nervously “It’s not very interesting, it’s just all about old folklore”.
Tamaz snatched it back from him and flicked through it. He was very astute at times, and he knew Bengo had been looking at something that he didn’t want him to see. It was easy to find the proof of this. On one page was a sketch, an artist’s impression of the Gorgon, complete with very long green snakes for hair, glinting eyes, and an evil, ironic twist on her lips.
“I didn’t want you to see it”, said Bengo “I knew you’d only get upset”, and then he added desperately “I love you!”
“What if the power comes on me one day and I can’t control it?” said Tamaz, lying back against the pillows with his arm flung over his eyes “I’d have to be locked away in a windowless room and I wouldn’t be able to see any of you, except Kieran. Could you still love me then?”
“Yes, because I’d always be thinking of you”, said Bengo “Don’t talk about that, Tamaz. I couldn’t bear never being able to see your face. I-I think it’s Angel that’s putting those thoughts into your head. He’s jealous of you. Jealous ‘cos you succeeded where he failed. You mustn’t let him get inside your mind. You mustn’t”.
“Kiss me”, said Tamaz, urgently.
Bengo rolled over onto him and willingly obliged.
Kieran and Hillyard went out late afternoon to fetch Ransey from the office. They were too early in fact and idled away half-an-hour strolling down by the river, squelching in the mud that covered the wharf, and leaning on the fence for a while, gazing out across the iron-grey water. Kieran was in a thoughtful mood, and Hillyard was happy not to say very much.
By four-thirty it was completely dark and they deemed it was time to collect Ransey. A sedate Christmas drinks party was in progress at the Administration Offices.
“Do we gatecrash or not?” said Kieran, as they stood at the top of the steps which led up to the main entrance.
“It’s probably not much of a bash”, said Hillyard, with his hands thrust deep in his pockets “Why don’t we stay here for a bit longer?”
“O.K”, said Kieran.
They chatted quietly whilst watching the clouds racing across the evening sky. Unbeknown to them Ransey had been alerted to their presence by a grey-suited minion, and he suddenly appeared out of the main doors and ordered them both inside.
“We were looking at the moon through the clouds”, said Hillyard.
“Get in”, said Ransey, practically dragging Kieran through the doors “Moon through the clouds indeed! Anyone’d think we were back at the Bay!”
“The sooner we are the better, obviously”, said Kieran, flicking Ransey’s tie “This town lifestyle’s not doing you any damn good!”
“You’re turning into a real civil servant”, said Hillyard “You’ll be having wet dreams about blotting-paper and hole-punches next!”
“And you’re beginning to sound just like Julian”, said Ransey, leading them up the stairs to the first floor “You’re getting his sarcasm off to a treat!”
He escorted them through a big main office, which was full of colourless staff self-consciously clutching cups of wine and plates of peanuts. Kieran, wearing his usual scruffy garb, looked like a vagrant who had been arrested and hauled in off the streets for a public lecture on the morality of hard work and diligence. Kieran was too much a seasoned veteran at being the centre of attention to get at all self-conscious though.
“So this is how you’ve been filling your days lately?” he said, idly picking up a file in Ransey’s office and flicking through it.
“Leave that alone”, said Ransey, snatching the file off him and storing it away in the filing-cabinet “That’s Town Council Finances that is, very important and highly top secret, even you’re not allowed to look at it”.
“Ach, yer grandfather’s moustache!” said Kieran “No one can keep anything from me, not even the Town Council!”
“What are you going to do with all your Christmas cards, Ranz?” said Hillyard, who had been reading the little collection on the window-sill “Are you going to take them home?”
“No I’m not”, said Ransey, rattled “That’s the sort of thing sad gits do, take home their office cards! Anyway, what would be the point? They’d only look lost at home, seeing as we never open any of the ones that get sent there!”
“Julian doesn’t like ‘em”, said Hillyard “Says it’s depressing, getting cards from people he’s never heard of”.
“Or forgotten about, which is more likely with Julian”, said Kieran.
“And he says they make the house look even more cluttered than it is already”, said Hillyard.
“Has anything happened at home this afternoon?” said Ransey, who was beginning to tidy things away into his desk.
“Glynis’s basket of dead animals has turned up”, said Kieran.
“Oh you and your dead animals!” said Hillyard “There was cheese and fruit and booze in it too”.
“And a pair of grape-scissors which Toppy had asked her for behind our backs”, said Kieran “He wants to show us all the correct way to eat fruit apparently”.
“Should be riveting”, Ransey yawned.
“Yeah”, said Hillyard “After the excitement of a family Christmas you’ll wish you was back here!”
“No I won’t!” said Ransey, vehemently “I’d even rather live through that bloody awful nuclear winter at Wolf Castle again than come back here!”
“That wasn’t such a bad time really”, said Hillyard, reflectively “Apart from the darkness and the cold and Finia being ill”.
“And the Gorgon and the Ghoomers at large in the countryside”, said Ransey “And the feeling that we were the last human beings left on Earth!”
“I wouldn’t mind trying it again though”, said Hillyard “Think how much fun it’d be up there now with the clowns with us and Tamaz”.
“And we’d keep a hold of him this time”, said Kieran “Not let him run off like we did the morning of the Blast. Ransey, are you alright? You’ve got a funny look on your face”.
“He’s not having a heart-attack is he?” said Hillyard “I haven’t gotta give him mouth-to-mouth have I?”
“I’ve just realised”, said Ransey, in rapture “I haven’t got to come back here again. Ever! This is my last day!”
“We thought you already knew that!” said Hillyard. Ransey turned to look out of the window at the dismal wind-driven sleet pattering against the glass.
“What a beautiful evening!” he sighed.
They left the building, with Ransey chivvying everybody else home and urging them not to dawdle, or walk through the streets alone. As they themselves walked home they noticed that everyone they passed seemed nervous and ill-at-ease. One man cannoned into Hillyard and apologised with a hasty “sorry Mister!” before running on.
“Check your wallet”, said Ransey “That’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, I had mine pinched that way once back in the City”.
“Yeah, but he’d have a hard job”, said Hillyard “I left mine at home!”
Mieps watched them returning up the street from Julian’s window at the top of the house. He also looked out over the rooftops around them, and the slither of grey that was the river a short distance away. He liked to watch the different lights coming on at twilight, but like the rest of the Indigo-ites he was beginning to find town life suffocating. The constant presence of other human life around them at all times felt increasingly constraining. He had a strong feeling that this would be the last Christmas that they would spend in Toondor Lanpin.
Very late that evening Joby was dozing by the stove in the kitchen when Adam came in, clutching a canvas sack to his chest. He had spent the previous ten minutes rooting around furtively in the cellar.
“Lo-Lo’s asleep”, he said, softly.
“Hooray!” said Joby, wiping his face with his hand, drowsily.
Adam put the sack on the table and pulled out a well-stuffed Christmas stocking, which was obviously intended for Lonts.
“You’re as daft as he is”, said Joby, prodding it “You must be reliving your childhood”.
“No I never had such frivolities in my childhood”, said Adam, quietly “My father thought it only encouraged greed in children”.
“You never had a Christmas stocking?” said Joby, aghast “Not even when you was really little?”
“Not even when I was still little enough to believe in Santa Claus”, said Adam.
“The mean old Victorian bastard!” said Joby. “Yes, that’s how I often thought of him too!” said Adam, pulling another wel-lstuffed stocking out of the sack “I’ve made one up for Tamaz too, but you’ll have to smuggle it into your room”.
“He’s gonna get quite spoilt enough”, Joby grunted.
“Now who’s being a mean old Victorian bastard!” Adam exclaimed.
He pulled Joby onto him and slapped and kissed him. When Kieran came in Joby got strangely embarrassed and wriggled back onto his feet, staring intently at the draining-board.
“You make me feel like the mother-in-law!” said Kieran “I’m going to start thinking you two have a secret life you’re keeping from me”.
“No”, said Joby, defensively “Just don’t want you to start getting jealous again like you did the other day”.
“I only get jealous ‘cos I want to join in!” said Kieran, sitting on Adam’s knee “You’re always having fun without me”.
“No we’re not!” said Joby.
“Each of us gets jealous when missed out by the other two”, said Adam “I know I have enough times over the years. Joby, get the milk saucepan out and make us some cocoa”.
“The Town House – where real men live dangerously!” said Joby, opening cupboards and drawers “Why’s there a strange teddy-bear under the sink?”
“That’s the finishing-touch to Lo-Lo’s stocking”, said Adam “Pass it over”.
“What’s he gonna call this one do you think?” said Joby, handing over the small golden-coloured cuddly-toy “Yellowy? Sickly?”
“Bad Attack of Jaundice-ey?” said Kieran.
“You two are just miffed because I haven’t got you a stocking”, said Adam.
“I’m used to it”, said Kieran “None of you ever buy me presents”.
“There’s never anything you want!” Joby protested, stirring milk on the stove.
“What do you give the saintly Vanquisher who has everything?” said Adam.
“A thick ear?” said Joby.
He made the cocoa and the three of them sat close together by the stove as they drank it. They heard the bell above the small chapel by the river tolling out the fact that it was midnight and so now officially Christmas Day. Somebody was laughing and shouting drunkenly in the street, obviously not giving a toss about any zombies that might be lurking in the nearby vicinity.
“I think we’d better go up”, said Adam, looking down into the eyes of the others. Kieran’s blue and dreamy, Joby’s grey and sleepy.
They lit candles from the flame of the gas-light that was kept permanently lit above the back door and threaded their way through the darkened house, the only ones still up, everybody else conserving their energy for the following day.
“Merry Christmas”, Adam whispered at the top of the stairs, before going across the landing to the room he shared with Lonts.
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