Go back to previous chapter
Very early in the New Year the fog actually cleared and didn’t, for the time being, reappear. Even so, Codlik didn’t go home. His pilot now had flu apparently, as did (he said) everyone else in the town who would have been capable of flying an air-buggy. Out of desperation Julian asked Ransey if he could fly Codlik home. Ransey refused to do so, just in case the fog came down again whilst he was away and he couldn’t get back to them. Codlik, dangerously, showed signs of settling in, but when he stopped whining he was a fairly unobtrusive house-guest. He had toned down his criticisms of their lifestyle, because at last he had begun to admire the way they hung together so solidly, even if with their yelling and slapping ways it wasn’t quite the serene, harmonious unit that he felt in a perfect world it should have been. In that sense he still missed the point entirely. The Indigo-ites communicated with each other, and that was the secret of their success as a group, even if at times that communication became a bit violent.
Hawkefish came out of hospital on the 5th of January, in time to supervise the preparations for the Twelfth Night Revue. Bengo and Bardin paid a social call on him at the Little Theatre in the afternoon, and both autographed the plaster on his leg. As they were leaving Bardin got called back in to look over the running order of the show, and see if he felt it could be improved upon in any way. Bengo decided to go and wait outside, as he didn’t want to be set upon by any of the other clowns who may have been lying in wait nearby.
He was pacing up and down the side street outside the stage door, when he heard Mieps’s familiar hisses and spits nearby. He crept stealthily to the corner and peered round. In the lane that ran alongside the river at the bottom, and which was completely private unless someone went past in a boat, Mieps and Codlik were having a heated discussion. Bengo’s heart sank. So all this was really still going on. He felt immensely sorry for Glynis, who he remembered as being lonely during their waterfront days. He knew how he’d feel if he found out Bardin was seeing someone outside the family.
“There’s no reason for it to stop”, Codlik was saying “Even when you go back to the Bay we’ll still come and see you there”.
“Yeah, with your wife in tow”, Mieps retorted.
“Leave Glynis out of all this”, said Codlik “This is something else entirely. I’m only flesh and blood, you of all people should understand that! I’ve seen the way you still look at me”.
Bengo had seen it too, usually when Julian was safely out of the room. The way Mieps preened under Codlik’s hungry glances. It was exactly the way Tamaz behaved when he enjoyed tormenting an admirer. These Ghoomers had no damn scruples at all when it came to sex, it all boiled down to hunter and prey with them. When they secured an attraction they played with their victim the way a cat ruthlessly plays with a mouse or a bird it has just killed. Codlik though was a naïve romantic at heart, he couldn’t see any of that. Something would have to be done before Mieps tossed him in the air and then tore him to pieces.
Bengo emerged from his hiding-place, having no wish to spy on them like a voyeur. Codlik panicked when he saw him though and bolted away up the side street in a very undignified fashion.
“Don’t say a word about any of this back home”, said Mieps, warningly.
“I’ll say it alright”, said Bengo, robustly “I’ll say it all over the house if you’re not careful!”
“He told me to meet him here”, Mieps hissed “Said he wanted to speak to me alone before he went back. If you go mouthing off about this you’ll make everything difficult, I’m warning you!”
“Warning me about what?” Bengo retorted “You don’t frighten me. You can’t beat me into submission like you do Tamaz. You just try it and Bardy’ll have something to say!”
Mieps gave a sinister smile, but Bengo had seen it too many times before. It was the one Mieps always affected when he had come off worse in an argument, like a badge of face-saving pride. He turned to go back up the side street, and as he did so Bengo dealt him a swift kick in the posterior. Mieps gave a momentary pause, but he kept his dignity and walked on without looking back or saying a word.
“What was going on with you two?” said Bardin, appearing with a photograph album under his arm.
“He was having a secret assignation with Codlik”, Bengo spat.
“Oh don’t worry, I give it 6 months!” said Bardin.
“It’s not funny, Bardy”, said Bengo “Poor old Glynis. Mieps should be ashamed of himself”.
“I don’t expect he is for one minute!” said Bardin.
“You’ve got to do something”, said Bengo “You’re Captain”.
“I know, but it requires a bit of thought”, said Bardin “If it was Tamaz doing all this, I could just give him a good hiding and confiscate his frilly drawers for a few days, but Mieps is a tough old bird. Pretty bloody scary one too sometimes!”
“He doesn’t frighten me”, said Bengo “And I just told him so too”.
“You’re a marvel, Bengo The Invincible!” said Bardin, taking his arm firmly “Come on”.
“Hawkefish leant me this for a couple of days”, he said, back at the Town House “Thought you might be interested in seeing it”.
“Theatrical photo’s?” said Adam, wiping his hands on his pinny, from where he and Joby had been clearing away the lunch things “How interesting. Are there any of you and Bengo?”
“Loads”, said Bardin, as he Bengo, Adam and Joby stood round the kitchen table “Including some of us when we were little. Ully must have given them to him when he came up for the Festival here that time”.
“Show me”, said Adam, eagerly.
“That was our very first promo pic”, said Bardin, pointing out a photo of the two of them standing back to back and holding hands “Bengo was 6 and I was 7”.
“Oh aren’t you sweet!” Adam cooed, a touch predictably but sincerely nonetheless.
“You mean Bengo is”, said Bardin.
“With all those damn curls and the poncey little suit he looks like a cross between Shirley Temple and Little Lord Fauntleroy!” said Joby.
“I hated those stupid little velvet suits”, said Bardin “But Ully made us wear them for this sort of thing. We didn’t wear ‘em on stage, thank God!”
“They wouldn’t have been very practical, Bardy”, said Bengo “The jackets were too tight, they restricted our movements”.
“Why weren’t you smiling, Bardin?” said Adam “Bengo is”.
“We’d got our partnership already defined even then, that’s why”, said Bardin “It was worked out very early on. I was to be the older, serious one who was a bit of a perfectionist, and Bengo was to be the cute, loveable one who got everything wrong and exasperated me”.
“And you’ve been playing it ever since!” said Joby.
“Yeah!” said Bardin “So Ully suggested I always look very serious in photo’s, and then the contrast would come across, whereas Bengo was all cute grins, dimples and big brown eyes you see”.
“He must have induced criminal thoughts in most of your audience!” said Adam.
“That was a problem”, said Bardin, dryly “That was why I wasn’t just his partner, but his bloomin’ watchdog too! I could never let him out of my sight for an instant”.
“That wasn’t fair”, said Joby “Putting all that on you at that age”.
“Maybe, but I was always serious for my age”, said Bardin “And Ully couldn’t be everywhere at once, he needed someone he could trust and rely on to look out for Bengo”.
“Here’s one of you both on the harbour at the Village of Stairs”, said Adam.
“That’s not a promo, it’s a snapshot. Ully must have taken that himself about the same time”, said Bardin.
They were holding hands again. Bardin had a firm grip on Bengo, even though he was absorbed in looking over the sea-wall at the ocean. Bengo was staring straight at the camera, and looked like he’d just been crying.
“Looks as though he’s been grizzling about summat”, said Joby, bluntly “Some thing’s never change!”
“Judging by the way he’s standing with his legs apart, he’s probably just pissed his pants”, said Bardin “He was always doing that!”
“I was probably upset because you were squeezing my hand too tight!” said Bengo, crossly.
“Oh dear!” Adam laughed.
“Childhood photo’s are embarrassing aren’t they!” said Joby “I’m glad you can’t see the one of me sitting starkers in me Gran’s laundry basket, with a really naff red woolly bobble-hat on!”
“I would have a portrait-sized copy made”, said Adam “And put it up in the living-room!”
“Like Kieran’s mum did with the one of him after he’d been confirmed”, said Joby “Sitting there all angelic clutching a prayer-book”.
“Good grief, I bet he looked positively pornographic”, said Adam.
“Positively psychopathic more like!” said Joby “He looked like one of those kids who seem too good to be true, but are really embryonic serial-killers! All shiney-faced, with neatly-combed hair”.
“Well that must have been the first and last time that phenomenon ever happened!” said Adam.
“I’ve seen this one before”, said Joby, pointing at a more recent photo “Didn’t that used to be pinned up outside the Little Theatre?”
“That was our last promo pic”, said Bardin.
In it Bengo, wearing only a jockstrap, was posing with his arms flung rapturously in the air. Bardin, more clothed, reclined at his feet, looking up at him with a slightly disgruntled look on his face.
“Ah me oh my!” Bardin sighed, facetiously “I never got to play the sexy one. Always the bridesmaid never the bride!”
“You must have got brassed to bits with the spoilt little sod”, said Joby.
“You’ll notice I’m holding onto his ankles in that one”, said Bardin “I was determined he wasn’t going to get away from me again!”
The photo album went the rounds of everyone in the house, and absorbed them for the rest of the afternoon. In the meantime though Bengo was on tenterhooks. Neither he nor Bardin had said anything to the others about the scene between Mieps and Codlik. Bengo was waiting for Bardin’s great decision on the matter, which seemed to be a very long time in coming. In fact, Bardin gave every appearance of having forgotten about the entire incident!
As the fog still hadn’t reappeared by evening, they all decided to celebrate by going out for dinner at Myrtle’s (at long last) and then onto the Theatre to see the Twelfth Night Revue, as Bardin said it looked promising, “for once”.
Just prior to going out, Bengo, Bardin and Toppy stood in front of the mirror in the living-room and made some final adjustments to their appearance.
“You two can never look nicely understated and elegant”, Toppy grumbled.
“We’ve got our best togs on, what more do you want?” said Bardin. “You still look like clowns”, said Toppy, disparagingly.
“Well you still look like a butler, but you don’t hear us complaining!” said Bardin.
“I do not look like a butler!” Toppy squawked.
“Careful, careful”, said Bardin “You might dislodge a hair or two!”
Bengo flexed his fingers menacingly as though he was about to run them vigorously through Toppy’s immaculately-combed dark locks. Toppy gave an unholy squeal like a rabbit in torment and ran into the hall.
“He’d make a brilliant straight-man”, said Bardin “Just perfect. He feeds it to us everytime!”
“Never mind him”, Bengo hissed “What about Mieps?”
“Oh you’re not still going on about that!” Bardin cried “Now listen and learn. Codlik will be going home very soon, possibly as soon as tomorrow, and then there won’t be a problem any longer”.
“Until he comes calling on us again”, said Bengo.
“We’ll worry about then”, said Bardin.
“You’re a coward”, said Bengo “You’re bottling out ‘cos you’re afraid of Mieps, you said so yourself. Some leader you are!”
“You nasty little scrote!” said Bardin “I happen to know exactly what I’m doing”.
Broiling over with each other, they went into the hall, where Hillyard was brushing his smart military-style overcoat. From the serious expression on his face, he gave every indication that he had heard everything they had said. Bengo felt sure Bardin would have to make a stand now.
“Hillyard”, said Bardin, sombrely, causing Bengo to look keen with anticipation.
“Yeah?” said Hillyard.
“Can I have the brush to do my hat when you’ve finished?” said Bardin.
Hillyard passed the clothes-brush to him, and Bardin methodically brushed his best black hat, watched by an incredulous and over-excited Bengo.
A long table had been reserved for them in Myrtle’s dining-room. Tamaz, Joby and Kieran got in first and sat down. They watched as the others gradually drifted in. Mieps was looking crisp and elegant in a white shirt and faun-coloured trousers, like an immaculate lesbian horse-trainer. It was obvious Codlik was in torment over the bra-less nipples poking at the front of the cool white cotton. Tamaz was annoyed by this outfit. He himself had turned up in his favourite black and orange ballgown and fur coat, but next to Mieps he felt like the fairy off the Christmas tree. Also the corset of it would restrict his eating severely as the evening went on.
“So all that’s started up again”, said Kieran, quietly, catching the looks that Codlik was darting at Mieps.
“What do you expect from a bloke like that?” said Joby “The sort who leaves his 7-months-pregnant wife all on her own”.
“She’s not all on her own”, said Tamaz “She’s got a houseful of servants waiting on her! Anyway, if you feel that strongly about it why don’t you go up there and look after her yourself!”
“Leave it out!” said Joby “I’d have to take you with me to keep you out of mischief, and I can’t imagine Glynis’d be too thrilled to have you around!”
“That’s how much you know”, said Tamaz “When she’s pregnant she goes all simpering and sentimental, and starts going on about us being sisters under the skin”.
“Behave yourself!” Joby laughed and slapped Tamaz’s breasts, making them wobble like jellies.
Gradually the seating order was arranged. Adam directed Mieps to sit at one end of the table in between Tamaz and Julian. Codlik was prodded to the other end, next to Lonts, where he and Mieps wouldn’t even be able to look directly at each other, not without craning forward and drawing attention to the fact anyway.
Bengo, who was sitting directly opposite Codlik, was in a right state by this time, and knocked his fork off the table. It landed on Kieran’s lap, but Bengo, thinking it had gone on the floor dived down to look for it. Kieran tapped on his back to get him up again, and Bengo got his head caught in the tablecloth.
“Bengo, do calm down, old love”, said Adam, sympathetically.
“That boy is becoming a neurotic”, said Ransey.
“Nonsense”, said Adam.
“Adam”, Codlik whispered “Can I talk to you alone for a moment?”
“Surely it can wait?” Adam sighed, who was bored at the thought of listening to yet more of Codlik’s angst.
“It bloody well can!” said Ransey, who wasn’t having the essential ritual of eating disrupted by such trivia as Codlik’s emotional problems.
Bengo was now staring diagonally across the table at Bardin, imploring him with his eyes to do something. Although quite what Bardin was supposed to do about it in the middle of a public restaurant was anyone’s guess. Bardin ignored his stares and concentrated on drinking his beer.
“If the fog holds off again tomorrow”, said Ransey “I’m going to go to the air-strip and hire an air-buggy”.
“And fly Codlik home?” said Joby, hopefully.
“No”, said Ransey “We’ll all go on a little outing. Fly out over the area and see what we can see”.
“What’s the bloody point in that?” said Kieran “The fog’s coming up from below, I’ve said that before”.
“Never mind all that”, said Ransey “We’re going to look over the marshes, and then explore a bit to the east of here. All that’s unknown territory to us, and the zombie must be coming from somewhere”.
“Yes, down below!” said Kieran “How many more times!”
“A trip sounds a good idea”, said Bardin “We could all do with a break”.
“You can say that again!” said Joby.
“Yes but … “ Kieran began.
“But nothing!” said Joby, firmly, which effectively silenced Kieran.
“Adam, I really must speak to you”, Codlik hissed again, under cover of the various conversations going on around the table.
“Don’t hiss across Lo-Lo like that when he’s eating”, said Adam “It’s frightfully bad manners, old love”.
If he hoped this would shut Codlik up, he was mistaken. Codlik merely changed tack, and leaning backwards, hissed across the back of Lonts’s chair instead.
“This is all my fault”, said Codlik, in anguish “All this bad feeling amongst you all. I was thinking only the other day how splendidly you all pull together, and now you’re all falling apart”.
“No we are not!” said Adam “Arguments at mealtimes are hardly anything unusual with us. In fact all this is quite mild really. After all, no one’s stormed out yet!”
Lonts hooted with laughter.
“And we are certainly not going to fall apart, as you put it, because Mieps is acting like a tart!” Adam concluded.
Ransey, sitting on the other side of Codlik, had been staring at him rather fiercely.
“Don’t you want your lobster?” he suddenly barked.
“I’m rather off my food tonight”, said Codlik, feyly.
“I’ll have it then”, said Ransey, picking up Codlik’s plate.
“Let Lo-Lo have some as well”, said Adam.
At the other end of the table Julian and Bardin were engaged in conversation. Mieps, sitting next to Julian and opposite Bardin, was lugubriously pulling apart his lobster. Tamaz, determined to get his full share of being entertained, decided to stir things up a little, and suddenly announced that it was a good job Mieps was too old to get pregnant these days.
“A litter of Codlik’s!” said Julian “Perish the thought!”
“Codlik and I”, Mieps began, gravely “Haven’t had sex since the night in the castle in the rainforest”.
“No?” said Bardin “Then let’s keep it that way shall we!”
Mieps rubbed his fingers along the tablecloth as though he was about to say something of great significance. Julian and Tamaz watched him intently, waiting for his reaction, but not as intently as Bardin, who fixed him with his little round brown eyes, giving every indication of the firmness of character he possessed, which had so often earned him the respect (and the jealousy-fuelled dislike) of the people in his profession.
Calmly though, Mieps resumed eating. Tamaz let out an exclamation of relief that nearly made him pop out of his corset. After the meal was over, and everybody was congregating in the foyer prior to leaving, Mieps and Tamaz engaged in some vigorous tongue-wrestling, which was watched with appalled fascination by some of Myrtle’s more sedate female clientele.
“They’re jealous because they haven’t got a cock like us”, said Tamaz, when he came up for air “All of ‘em would like one really”.
To make more mischief he pulled up the back of his frock and wriggled his backside at them.
“You’ve got your silk drawers on, Freaky?” said Julian, slapping Tamaz’s backside “It must be a special occasion!”
The Little Theatre was a hive of mayhem when they got to it. The Revue was in full swing, with Hawkefish, his broken leg propped up on a stool, sitting at the side of the stage as Master of Ceremonies. The audience milled around as it pleased, from the stalls to the bar at the side of the auditorium, to the raised balcony where a buffet supper (included in the admission) was set out.
“It took me an age to get here”, Jonner was languidly saying to Adam at the bar “Crossing the bridge felt like an eternity”.
“What time did you set off from home?” said Adam.
“Christmas Eve probably!” Joby grunted.
“Joby really!” said Adam.
“Well it wouldn’t be very surprising would it!” said Joby “He looks like he’s had his nose pressed down near the bacofoil all Christmas!”
“You can drink now then, Adam?” said Jonner, looking at Adam’s glass of whisky.
“Yes, it was my Christmas present from Patsy”, said Adam.
“Does he work miracles now?” said Jonner.
“I’m not actually entirely sure what happened”, said Adam “But I accepted it in the spirit in which it was given”.
“The little clown seems rather sombre this evening”, said Jonner, watching Bengo mooch disconsolately down the centre aisle towards the stage.
“He’s not been well lately”, said Adam.
“I told you earlier, that boy is becoming neurotic”, said Ransey “He needs a sterner regime”.
“Good grief, you sound like Julian!” said Adam.
“No I don’t”, said Ransey “Bengo’s a physical animal. He needs constant activity and motion, otherwise he mopes. I’ve seen it all before with him. Mopes around like a dog on a chain. He wasn’t trained for idleness”.
“I didn’t know you could be trained for idleness”, said Adam “I thought it was something you had to be naturally born with, as with Julian for instance!”
“Are things not going well between you and Julian?” Jonner whispered.
“What makes you say that?” said Adam.
“The way you’ve mentioned him since you’ve been in here”, said Jonner.
“With my usual loving fondness I thought!” said Adam “It seems to be a downside of civilisation that people are forever pointing out things about us we are normally blissfully unaware of!”
“It’s easy for outsiders to get the wrong end of the stick”, said Joby “Considering we’re always fighting all the time!”
“You don’t get that in my family”, said a man on the other side of him “We’re famed down our street for our positive attitude. We never whinge, not ever. When the fog was getting everyone else down, me, my wife and kids were still all being cheerful and positive, no whingeing at all”.
“You must be on a different water-supply to the rest of us!” said Joby, caustically.
Bengo raced back up the aisle and then stopped, looking up at the balcony where the eaters were milling about.
“You’re not still hungry, Mieps?” Kieran called up from where he was standing, just below the balcony.
Mieps had a different plan from eating in mind. He picked up a cream horn from the trestle-table, and with skilful precision lobbed it at Bengo, using an over-arm bowling technique, across the heads of some of the audience, hitting him in the mouth with it.
“Brilliant shot!” Julian cried.
“Oh now that wasn’t simply fair of him to do that”, said Adam.
“Julian’s right though, what a shot!” said Joby “What aim!”
“He’s a dead man!” Bengo spluttered cream as he stormed up the aisle towards the bar.
“Don’t you mean dead hermaphrodite?” said Joby.
“That was just sheer spite on his part”, said Bengo, wiping his mouth on his sleeve “All because I kicked him in the pants earlier”.
“Well I’m not surprised he’s a little bit cross then!” said Adam, getting a firm grip on Bengo’s arm to prevent him from storming up to the gallery and starting another full-scale food fight.
“Calm down anyway”, said Joby “All’s square at the end of the day. Bardin’s sorted out Mieps. You’d have known that if you’d been paying attention at dinner, instead of sulking into your beer”.
“Bardy never tells me anything!” Bengo squawked, indignantly.
“You never calm down long enough to listen!” said Joby.
“Anyway, what’s this outraged virtue act?” said Julian “Being smacked in the mouth with a cream pie should be all in a day’s work for you!”
“My life is one long round of ritual humiliation”, said Bengo.
“Not quite, but it could be arranged”, said Joby.
“Oh there you are, Lo-Lo”, said Adam, as Lonts came though the crowd with Tamaz, closely followed by Kieran “I wondered what had happened to you”.
“Tamaz popped out of his dress again”, said Lonts “So I had to get him back in before anyone saw anything”.
“I think it’s a bit late in the day for modesty where Freaky’s concerned!” said Julian.
“Hawkefish has just been singing your praises on stage, Bengo”, said Farnol, approaching from the opposite direction with Rumble and Hoowie “Says the best entertainment’s usually to be found where you are. On-stage or off!”
“You can’t say any fairer than that can you?” said Rumble.
Hoowie was giving a malevolent chuckle.
“I feel wretched”, said Bengo.
“Oh you’re doing my head in you are!” said Joby “The way you go on when you get wound up you’re worse than Lonts!”
Lonts drew in his breath magnificently.
“You have to admire Mieps’s style”, said Julian “He patiently waits for his moment of revenge, and then executes it with deadly precision, and with maximum result”.
“I know”, Joby agreed “Most of us would have flattened the little scrote as soon as he’d done it!”
“Where’s Bardin?” Bengo snapped.
“He’s gonna give a song after the next turn”, said Farnol “So he must be up in the wings somewhere”.
“Oh good, Bardin’s got a super voice”, said Adam.
“Yeah, shame he never uses it to tell me anything!” Bengo sulked.
“Will you give it a rest!” said Joby.
“Yeah, give it a rest, Bengo”, said Farnol, tweaking Bengo’s cheeks “Or Joby might take you in hand again like he did the other night”.
“Knowing him, he’d enjoy that”, said Joby.
“Adam”, said Julian “Keep an eye on the boy”.
Lonts was being chatted up by a little man in a white linen suit and tinted spectacles.
“He wants to photograph me”, said Lonts.
“I’m sure he does!” said Adam, tugging him away.
“I’m a professional photographer”, the man began, but the Indigo-ites had moved away distrustfully, and were heading to the centre aisle to hear Bardin sing.
“I’d love to have some professional pictures done of you, Lo-Lo”, said Adam “But not by the likes of him!”
“Why not?” Lonts demanded to know.
“’Cos we doubt if he’d have any film in his camera!” said Joby.
Bardin launched into a lively jazz piece, with the backing of a drummer, saxophonist, trumpeter and clarinettist on the stage with him. Part of the lyrics involved some “skat” singing, which involved plenty of acrobatic lip-work, and Bengo knew he had picked this song to get back at Hal and his taunts about Bardin’s childhood problems with words. He felt very proud of his old friend and looked meaningfully across at Hal, who was sitting at the far left of the stage whilst all this was going on.
Halfway through the number the lights went out. The Little Theatre was run on its own generator, which could be shaky at the best of times, and for this reason everyone was well-prepared. There were already a few candle-lit footlights at the front of the stage, and Hawkefish merely struck a match on his plaster and lit a candle he kept close by him in case all this should happen. One of the band fetched a hurricane lamp and moved it onto the stage during the part where he wasn’t needed.
Backstage, Toppy discovered that the power-cut was no mere accident. He had stood briefly (and nervously) at the stage-door to get some air, as the atmosphere in the auditorium was like a kasbah with its pungent aroma of hashish rising above everyone. Going back along the corridor towards the wings he had found Zooks, of all people, tampering with the circuit board.
“You!” Toppy gasped “Angel must have brought you here!”
Zooks looked pale and emaciated, every bit as one would expect him to look after living with a household of vampires for the past two months. He was also every bit as dimwitted as ever, and panicked at Toppy addressing him. He looked around him as though trying to affect an escape, or hoping Angel would suddenly reappear and scoop him up.
Toppy quickly shed his jacket and grabbed a dress-sword from a basket of props nearby. Zooks, geared into positive action at last, grabbed another one, and they both began to fence each other in the near-dark. Zooks had a certain basic skill, which he had picked up from appearing in various swashbucklers, but Toppy, although out of practice, had been trained by Pendor, a man who had won fencing competitions in his time. Stumbling as they went, Toppy pursued him through the wings and out onto the stage, where they formed an entertaining backdop to Bardin’s second number.
The Indigo-ites were watching all this rather keenly, except Kieran, who had taken advantage of the surreal confusion to pursue his own particular prey out through the foyer and into the street. When Zooks had appeared unexpectedly on stage, Kieran knew that there was only one way he could have got into Toondor Lanpin, which meant Angel was in the nearby vicinity.
By the time Kieran caught up with him in the side street which led down to the river, Angel had shed his shapeshifting disguise of the creepy photographer, and was his usual self again. Nearby, Kieran could hear an eerie high-pitched wailing noise, and as he reached the waterfront he was confronted by the image of an old woman with matted hair, screeching like a barn-owl. She wore a necklace of small skulls, like the corpses of shrunken heads.
“Who’s she then?” Kieran snapped “Your mother?!”
“A spirit of destruction”, said Angel, casually “A little device to put the wind up you. After all, I’ve been doing my homework, and they believe in banshees where you come from don’t they?”
“If you think I’m putting up with that racket all night you’ve got another think coming!” said Kieran.
He grabbed the necklace and twisted it tightly round the old woman’s neck, cutting her off in mid-screech. The spirit dissolved into a yellowish vapour and then disappeared completely.
“I suppose you thought I was going to cower indoors like some heathen peasant”, said Kieran “Believing I was hearing an omen of me own death! How many more of these pantomime characters have you got lined up for us then?”
“I’m not causing the problems in this town”, said Angel, leaning on the sea-wall.
“You caused the power-failure in the theatre”, said Kieran “Or rather, your really impressive assistant did!”
“A bit of mischief-making to keep you on your toes and test your initiative”, said Angel “Nice to see some of you have still got some. I also had to get you to come and talk to me like this, seeing as you’ve shut me out of the house!”
“It’d better be important”, said Kieran “It hasn’t been so far!”
“Oh you’ll like this”, said Angel “I’ve been doing a bit of investigating of my own, and you’re gonna have trouble if you don’t listen to me. There’s been an upheaval down below, in the Other Place, and if you’re not careful it’s gonna slowly tear apart this whole town, and will probably engulf it completely. You need to pay it a little visit”.
“No I won’t!” Kieran exclaimed, in horror “Not again, not down there! This is another of your damn tricks, Angel. You’re the lord of misrule down there, you go down and sort it out”.
“You think I wanna go down there?” said Angel “I hate the place! That’s why I’m always knocking around up here! I never ever wanted to go down there, but I was always getting sent there! You know that old saying, ‘all Hell breaks loose’, well unless you go down there, that is exactly what’s gonna happen!”
“I have no power down there!” said Kieran, angrily.
“Kieran, the Vanquisher of Evil, the Lord of Love, has no power in Hell?” Angel opened his blue eyes wide in mock-disbelief “That’s the place where you could have the most power and you know it, where you could have the most effect, but you won’t go down there ‘cos you’re afraid!”
“Yes I’m damn well afraid!” said Kieran “Because there’s nothing for me to hang onto down there. It’s like waking up and finding yourself buried in your own coffin, you’re helpless, afraid you’ll never get out, a place where reality is everything, and where all hopes and dreams ultimately fail”. “And unless you go down there”, said Angel, triumphantly “And work some of your magic, then the whole world could eventually end up like that. Now, I don’t want that anymore than you do. It’s not in my best interests you see. What would I do with a world of decay, a race that had had its soul destroyed? There’d be nothing for me to get hold of either!”
“There has to be some other way”, said Kieran.
“Hah! Finally I’ve found your weak spot”, said Angel “You’ve been taunting me with mine ever since I can remember. Well this is yours. You don’t want to have to go to a place where all your loving philosophy fails, where it doesn’t damn well work! Where the great power of Kieran can’t reach, like it never reached me!”
“It could’ve reached you, always”, said Kieran “At the Loud House all those years ago, after that terrible fight we had, we were tender then. We were!”
“Yeah, and you know why?” Angel sneered “You were tender with me then for one reason only, ‘cos you thought you was finally getting rid of me. You were tender to me because you were relieved you were finally getting shot of me! You fucking hypocrite!”
“So what if it was partly out of relief?” Kieran retorted, emotionally “I was exhausted! In only 4 months my whole world had changed. I had lived rough, on the edge of starvation, I’d seen me closest friends put in grave danger, and then to cap it all you’d gone and beaten 7 sacks of shit out of me! I was worn out, I’d had enough! It was only natural that I was relieved that you, you who had caused it all, was finally going to disappear!”
Angel seized Kieran and lifted him bodily off his feet. With the same kind of dread and dismay that someone must feel when he knows he’s about to have a terrible accident, Kieran realised that Angel was going to plunge him into the river. The icy, dark waters engulfed him and pulled him under. Angel had a tight grip on him all the while, dragging him right down to the murky river-bed. Kieran felt his lungs swell up, and had the terrible sensation of desperately fighting for air that didn’t exist.
And then suddenly Angel released him, and Kieran clawed his way back to the surface like someone trying to climb up an invisible ladder inside a poisonous cloud. He burst out through the surface and greedily gulped in the cold night air. He trod water and gradually the air invaded his lungs once more.
Angel was nowhere to be seen. Boats bobbed on the water, silhouetted against the moon which was pouring down on the river like a celestial benediction. Shaky ribbons of light from the buildings on either side flowed out across the river, and there were still sounds of merriment coming from the theatre. The bell on top of the little chapel clanged out that it was now midnight.
Kieran swam to the side and looked for the stone steps which led down into the water. He groped his way up them, his teeth chattering and his whole body shaking, and painfully made his way back to the stage door.
Angel haunted the side streets looking for prey. He was hungry, but taking in sustenance would also help to ease the anger and disappointment he felt at how the evening had turned out. It was only after several minutes that he realised he was being followed. A clip-clop of heels against the concrete which gave a tell-tale pause whenever he did.
At first Angel simply felt annoyance, as though his satanic pride had been outraged by someone else daring to stalk him! As he turned down the alley that ran alongside the ‘Mermaid Inn’ he finally got a glimpse of his pursuer in the moonlight that filtered down between the buildings. The figure stood watching him from the steps that ran up to the main street. Its entire form was shrouded in a hooded black cloak, the face in particular had been carefully obscured by the hood pulled down at the front.
“Don’t show your face!” Angel cried “Don’t!”
He squealed and then leapt up the wall of the ‘Mermaid’, shinning up it like a fly until he reached the roof, where he bounded across the tiled tops of several buildings, screeching all the while as he did so.
Tamaz next turned up in the chapel, where the pig-snouted demons from below had found a way to get up through the catacombs. Squeaking dementedly these vile beasts were clawing their way up over the pews, talons outstretched, little bat-like wings flapping on their backs. Their eyes glowed yellow and luminous in the gloomy half-light of the chapel. Tamaz shed Mieps’s cloak which he had “borrowed”, and stood facing the creatures.
“Come on, come on!” he cooed, beckoning to them with his fingers “Come on you little wankers, come and meet your doom!”
Kieran had been taken in by the chorus-girls, who had stripped him completely in their dressing-room, put his feet in a bowl of hot water, wrapped him in blankets and poured brandy down him.
“Your trousers are ruined”, said Francine, the chief wardrobe mistress and dresser, who was picking over his heap of wet and mud-soiled clothing “So are your shoes. You won’t be wearing them again”.
“Oh well they did good service”, said Kieran, accepting a cigarette from Hortense.
“You fell in the river you say?” said Francine, sceptically “How the hell did you manage that?”
“Mixing me drinks I expect”, said Kieran, with a rueful air.
“Rather you than me”, said Hortense “I don’t like to think what gets in there!”
“Neither do I “, said Kieran “Particularly as I probably swallowed it!”
Olympe came in carrying a shirt, socks and dressing-gown that belonged to Hawkefish.
“They won’t fit you”, said Francine “Hawkefish is a big guy, but they’ll do for the time being”.
The call-boy came in to announce the imminence of the girls’ last number. As he went out, Joby came in. Kieran sucked in the cigarette and sat with it completely in his mouth.
“My old man does that”, said Francine “Makes me feel ill!”
“Yeah, and me”, said Joby “Behave yourself!”
“What’s happened with young Toppy?” said Kieran, letting out the cigarette again.
“He’s alright”, said Joby “That was a helluva show he put up. Zooks has got surface scarring, two of the girls dragged him off-stage as though he was drunk, it was hilarious!”
“I wonder what’s going to happen to him now”, said Kieran.
“Dunno”, said Joby, with a complete lack of interest.
The girls went off to perform their last routine, and Francine also tactfully went out, to leave them alone together.
“You took your time getting round here”, said Kieran, as Joby dried his feet for him and then covered them in Hawkefish’s socks.
“I thought as you was being mollycoddled by a bevy of attractive women, you wouldn’t want me interrupting too soon!” said Joby.
“Very thoughtful”, said Kieran “Still, I guess it was almost worth Angel giving me a swimming-lesson to get that!”
“I had a feeling he was involved somehow”, said Joby, helping Kieran into Hawkefish’s old dress-shirt “He’s trying to kill you now!”
“No, that was just temper”, said Kieran “He was losing the argument so he reacted like that, it’s the only way he knows. I won’t deny it wasn’t bloody scary though. We don’t appreciate how wonderful oxygen is until some miserable bastard tries to deprive us of it!”
He held out his arms where the enormous shirt-cuffs dangled far ahead of his hands.
“I’ve never noticed it before”, he said “But Hawkefish must have arms like a focking gorilla!”
“No, you’re just a piddly little git that’s all”, said Joby “Sometimes I’m amazed you don’t still have to wear kids’ sizes!”
“I’ll tell you this much”, said Kieran “If Angel needs help in Hell after this, he can sort it out his focking self! I don’t care what he threatens. It’ll keep him out of mischief for a while at any rate!”
“But what about everything that’s been going on in this town?” said Joby “If more things start coming up from below …”
“Tamaz is sorting that out for us”, said Kieran, calmly “Right as we speak in fact. I know. Me and him are on the same wavelength these days”.
“What do you mean?” said Joby, outraged “What are you up to now, you horrible little git? Where’s Tamaz gone?”
“He’ll be back this side of one o’clock, no threat”, said Kieran, patting Joby’s hands “All the legions of Hell don’t stand a chance against him”.
“You … you!” Joby was almost speechless with rage “You thoughtless bastard!”
He picked up a large powder-puff and belted Kieran round the head with it.
“Ladies, really!” Hillyard boomed, standing in the doorway “Is this any way for well-brought-up young women to behave?!”
“We’re through!” said Joby, flinging the powder-puff on the floor, whilst Kieran coughed in the swirl of face-powder “You’ve pulled one lousy trick too many! I’m going”.
“Where to?” Kieran spluttered.
“I’m not living with someone I can’t trust”, Joby tried to get out of the door but Hillyard caught him in a tight, beefy embrace.
“You try and divorce me and I’ll have to you for physical cruelty!” said Kieran “Slapping me about with a poncey powder-puff! Imagine what Julian’s going to make of that!”
“Get out of my way, Hillyard”, said Joby “I’m gonna go and find Tamaz”. “Hold onto him, Hillyard”, said Kieran “Tamaz mustn’t be interrupted. It’d be fatal”.
“Who to?” Joby squawked, indignantly.
“You, you daft pillock!” said Hillyard.
“He’s ruthless!” Joby cried, pointing at Kieran “He’d sell his own grandmother he would!”
“No one’d have her!” said Kieran.
Hillyard continued to bar the doorway so Joby paced up and down in frustration, until a few minutes later when Tamaz appeared, looking bedraggled in his ballgown, and with Mieps’s cloak on over the top.
“I’m tired”, he said “Worn out. Drained. I thought there would be no end to the little bastards. They just kept coming. I’m still not sure I got them all. They must be breeding down in the catacombs. They’ve probably been there for ages, getting steadily more and more of them, like a wasps’ nest. They’ve gradually eaten their way up through the chapel floor. Someone’s gonna have to go down there tomorrow and have a look to see if there are anymore”.
“Were they causing the fog?” said Hillyard.
“Possibly”, said Kieran “The only way we’ll know that is to see if it gets foggy now that Tamaz has done his work”.
“I’m cold too”, said Tamaz “I would have worn my fur coat, but it doesn’t have a hood. I couldn’t risk anyone seeing my face whilst I was on my way to the demons”.
Ransey was at work on the circuit-board backstage, supposedly helped by Bengo who was meant to be holding the hurricane lamp so that he could see. Bengo though was a bag of nerves. After everything that had happened recently he was nervous of dark, shadowy places, and even the familiar surroundings of the Little Theatre felt sinister in this half-light.
“Keep that lamp steady!” Ransey barked “What are you trying to do? Make me electrocute myself!”
Bengo gave a whimper, and was tremendously relieved when the generator started humming again and the lights came on, revealing the dusty backstage clutter that he was so familiar with.
“There”, said Ransey, closing the door on the circuit-box “You can relax now. We have light”.
He noticed that Bengo was sobbing silently.
“It’s all over”, said Ransey, quietly, passing over his handkerchief “Let’s go and dig the others out of the bar. It’s time to go home”.
When he and Bengo returned to the front of house, the show had finished and people were milling around in a leisurely fashion. All the other Indigo-ites, plus Codlik, were now assembled by the bar-counter, apart from Mieps, who was nowhere to be seen.
“Oh I’ve just noticed”, said Adam, in pleasant surprise “The lights are back on”.
“Oh please don’t thank me!” said Ransey “Everyone’s gratitude is underwhelming!”
“You’re developing a very sarcastic wit in your old age, Ransey”, said Adam, reprovingly.
Mieps was nowhere to be found in the theatre, which annoyed everyone. They came to the conclusion that he must be out looking for Tamaz, and left messages with several people to tell him that they’d gone home. They had barely been back in the house five minutes when the doorbell rang. Adam looked out of the living-room window, and Mieps pointed at himself and mouthed the words “It’s me”.
He came into the house with blood streaked all over the front of his white shirt, and clutching a pair of very unsightly mottled human feet.
“It’s the only way to kill a zombie”, he said, triumphantly “I remember Kieran saying that he’d picked that tip up from the witch-doctor in Husgalonghi. Cut off its feet and then it can’t walk! I did it with a sabre I found backstage at the theatre”.
“Where did you meet this creature?” said Adam, gingerly wrapping the feet in a sheet of newspaper, and taking pains to touch the cold, dead flesh as little as he could.
“On the jetty at the back of the chapel”, said Mieps “The rest of him fell into the river”.
“Jaysus, I could’ve met him whilst I was in there meself!” said Kieran.
“What are we gonna do with the feet?” said Joby, balefully.
“Keep ‘em in the kitchen overnight I suppose”, said Hillyard “And I’ll bury ‘em in the garden in the morning”.
“We will not keep them in the kitchen!” said Adam “They can go in the cellar for the time being, and stored well away from any food!”
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site