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The clowns, Tamaz, Toppy and Hoowie had taken the sloop out on their own, for a short trip up to the sand dunes and back, a journey involving a couple of nights. Whilst they were away, Adam and Lonts stayed at the old lighthouse, and the others camped in the clearing. Ransey and Finia slept in the Butlin’s Chalet, and the others put up in the round hut, which wasn’t the most comfortable place to try and stay the night.
“We must be raving mad trying to live like this”, Joby grumbled, flinging himself about at dawn “Like trying to sleep on a bed of nails. Bloody stupid if you ask me. Here’s Hillyard, one of the richest men in the world, and we live like a bunch of fucking refugees!”
Mieps propped himself up on his elbow and glared across Hillyard at Joby. “Will you give it a rest, Joby!” said Kieran “Anymore complaining out of you and I’ll take me belt to you!”
“I’m allowed to say how I feel”, said Joby.
“Not when the rest of us are asleep you’re not”, said Hillyard “Be quiet, or you’ll wake Julian up, and then we’ll never get any peace!”
“You don’t know you’re born that’s your trouble”, said Kieran “Folks back in our time would give their eye-teeth to live like this”.
“Only if they were raving mad”, said Joby.
“Oh yeah?” said Kieran “Think about it for a moment. Alarm clocks, traffic jams, having to get to work on time in some dismal office. And the weekends were no better. Neighbours drilling into your wall, eejits washing their cars all down your street, people coming to your door constantly trying to fleece you of your money…”
“Alright, alright, don’t go on”, said Joby “You’re depressing me”.
Hillyard had rolled onto his side and was now quietly humping Mieps.
“Good grief”, said Joby “Some people have got no sense of decorum!”
Adam woke up on the first floor of the old lighthouse, which he and Lonts had made into their bedroom. On the ground floor below he could hear someone moving about, and at first he thought it might be Angel. Over the past couple of weeks they hadn’t had any serious trouble from him, only aggravating pranks and mischief-making. Mild poltergeist attacks, and one irritating occasion when he had let all the hens out of their run, and the Indigo-ites had had to spend a tedious morning rounding them up, which wasn’t easy as the birds had wandered off into the forest and into the maze. Kieran’s theory was that Angel couldn’t do anything very serious here, as the mysterious magic of the place severely curtailed his power. Even so, it was a little upsetting that he had now managed to get here at all.
On this occasion though the person below was Lonts, who had gone downstairs to make the breakfast. Adam pulled on his undershorts and climbed down the crumbling staircase. He kissed Lonts’s broad back.
“You’re far too beautiful to waste your time doing chores”, said Adam, huskily.
“I want to look after you”, said Lonts, who was making coffee on the little gas stove “Now you go and wait outside whilst I sweep up in here”.
Adam drifted out onto the steps and stood looking out over the sea. Every part of the Bay was so beautiful that you could never get tired of looking at it. The beauty of the river and the coastline in particular arrested you each time. “Touching ent it? The way the daft Eskimo likes to pretend he’s normal!” came an unwelcome voice nearby.
Adam bundled Angel down the jagged steps that were hewn out of the rock.
“You don’t touch him, you don’t go anywhere near him, you vile, repellent, loathsome creature!” Adam hissed.
“How do you think he’d manage back in your time?” said Angel “Particularly without you around to mother him. I could take him there you know. Get him into the House Of Time, and who know what would then happen?”
Adam grabbed him by the throat and slammed him against the rocks. Angel was shocked by what a firm grip Adam had, and tried to claw at the fingers that were tightly coiled around his neck. Adam could feel the hair on Angel’s palms brushing against him.
“It was a joke”, Angel gasped, hoarsely “A fucking joke”.
“Anymore jokes like that and I’ll splatter what little brains you have all over these rocks!” said Adam “Do you understand me?”
“I understand”, said Angel. Adam released him, and Angel evaporated.
“You’re fucking useless”, said Caln, stamping around the courtyard of the castle in rainforest “Useless! You’re supposed to be the Devil, the Lord of Darkness, the Master of Destruction, so why the fuck can’t you just destroy fucking Kieran and have done with it?”
“You really think he’s gonna go away with Death?” said Angel, following him around the pond.
“What else can he fucking do?” said Caln “Once he was dead, that’s it, he’d be gone. We’d never have to hear anymore about him”.
“Bullshit”, said Angel “If that was the case, if it was that simple, his Church would have finished him off years ago!”
A rare gleam of pleasure came into Caln’s eye, at the thought of Kieran being executed by his Church on some trumped-up charge.
“It wouldn’t work”, Angel exclaimed “His image is too strong. If you think people give him too much attention now, you should see what’d happen if he was dead! You wouldn’t be able to get away from him. People’d be wanking off at the mouth about him forevermore!”
“Look at this fucking place”, said Caln, thumping a luxuriant wreath of exotic flowers that trailed down across the castle walls “Everything regrows overnight. It doesn’t matter how much we try to destroy everything, it always regrows! Shit, what a place! It was never like this at the Winter Palace, there we managed to foul up everything in the end … or nearly everything”, he thought bitterly of the inner sanctum behind the mirrors that Braw had preserved “We even smash the mirrors here and the next day they’re back in one piece! What kind of a fucking place is this? No wonder that little bastard wanted us to live here, and that was all your fault too. You made that fucking deal with him!”
“Would you rather be shrunk again and put in a jar then?” said Angel, sulkily.
“Whose fucking side are you on?” said Caln.
“No one’s”, said Angel “I don’t show allegiance to anyone, not unless it really suits me, and then only for a time”.
“Liar!” said Caln “There’s more to you and him than meets the eye. It wouldn’t surprise me if you were in love with him”.
“If I was I wouldn’t be who I am”, said Angel, angrily “And I wouldn’t belong in Hell. Hell is an absence of love, an inability to love”.
“You sound just like him!” Caln squawked. Angel leaned over and looked at his reflection in the pond. He winced at the hairy creature with leathery skin and wild eyes who stared back up at him.
“A long long time ago”, he said “I was very dear to him. He thought me beautiful then. That was so long ago”.
“And he’s never let you back to him since”, said Caln, spitefully “You made a mistake, and he never forgave you. He doesn’t forgive all sinners. He never forgave you. He made you what you are, and don’t you forget it. It’s his fault!”
The sloop came back from its short trip late morning. Adam and Lonts heard the engine as it approached down the coast, and ran outside the lighthouse to wave to it as it rounded the headland into the Bay.
“Look at Bengo!” Lonts cried, as Bengo shinned up the main mast and waved to them from quite a height.
“The little whatsit, he’ll break his neck”, said Adam “Honestly, he should have a few swishes of the strap across his butt!”
Tamaz, clad in only a serviceable pair of drawers, ran across the forward deck, climbed up onto the bulwark, and prepared to clamber down the rope ladder over the side. Rumble gave an exclamation and went to haul him back onboard, but Tamaz pushed his hands away and dived into the water.
“Watch the jellyfish don’t get you!” Rumble shouted after him.
Tamaz swam to the shore, and Lonts met him on the beach, giving him a very light smack on the behind for his daredevil exploit.
“I couldn’t help it”, Tamaz yodelled “I wanted to show you a grand entrance!”
The three of them collected the gas stove, the food bundle, and Adam’s sketching portfolio from the lighthouse, and then walked along the beach and up to the clearing. By the time they had reached it, the sloop had anchored at the jetty and everybody was disembarking.
“I feel like a colonial greeting a new governor”, said Adam, kissing Bardin on both cheeks.
Tamaz leapt onto Joby and coiled his slim legs round his waist.
“I’m horny, horny!” Tamaz shouted “I’ve only had clowns these past couple of days, and they’re not much cop!”
“We should’ve left him there”, Bardin muttered.
“Freaky, for someone who’s complaining of sexual deprivation”, said Adam “You seem very sexed-up and excitable after your trip”.
“He’s not sexually deprived that’s why”, said Bardin “Depraved more like”.
Farnol lay sprawled on the ground with his head in Rumble’s lap, groaning, whilst Rumble stroked his short hair.
“He’s been doing Hillyard’s job in the hold”, Bardin explained “Manning the engines”.
“Oh dear, complaining about lack of daylight and fresh air is he?” said Adam “Hillyard always does the same”.
“You wait til you hear Toppy”, said Bardin “The way he carries on you’d think we’d kept him chained to the table-leg in the galley!”
“Come on now”, said Adam “He can’t possibly moan more than Joby does”.
“Nobody moans more than Joby does”, said Kieran “If there is someone on this Earth who moans more than him, then I don’t wanna meet him, as he’s bound to be unbearable!”
Julian emerged from the bushes at the far end of the clearing, where he had been squatting over the tin-bucket that did service as a latrine. He looked preoccupied as he approached them, and not a little bad-tempered. “So you’re back then”, he said, brusquely “Good”.
Bengo, who would normally have clambered all over him in the excitement of seeing him again, hung back uncertainly.
“Are you back here properly now?” Julian asked Adam “If so you can put some coffee on”.
Julian then marched into the stone cottage.
“What’s the matter with him?” said Bardin.
“He’s probably sulking because I’ve been with Lo-Lo these past couple of days”, said Adam “I’ll go and speak to him”.
He found Julian sitting on the back doorstep of the stone cottage, smoking the stub of a cigar.
“Well this is a nice homecoming I must say”, said Adam, sitting down next to him.
“You’ve only been gone two days”, said Julian “What did you expect? Flowers and bunting?! And the same goes for the little squirts too. Anyone would think they’d sailed around the world, the way you’re all carrying on”.
“Oh dear”, said Adam, gravely “I take it you didn’t enjoy our holiday then?”
“What do you expect?” said Julian “No young people around. You in blissful seclusion with your hunky Kiskevian! The highlight of the past two days for me has been watching Ransey clipping his toenails!”
“I can’t believe that for one moment”, said Adam.
“It’s true”, said Julian “It’s not the same when you’re not around, no one else spars with me quite like you do. I try it with Hillyard and all he does is ask me if I’d like my bath now! He talks to me as if I’m some decaying geriatric in a private nursing-home!”
“That’s probably the best way to talk to you, Jules”, said Adam.
“As if you care how anyone talks to me”, said Julian.
“Don’t be silly, you are never out of my thoughts”, said Adam “I worry about you, I always did. It’s a life-long habit I got into”.
“Inevitably”, said Julian “In the early days you were the only one who did worry about me. I did get a bi concerned about you at night over there, just you and the boy. One hears such peculiar noises from the forest at times. Strange beasts”.
“We’ve had more concerns like that in daylight hours”, said Adam, and he told him about Angel’s visitation.
“Not very clever of him”, said Julian “Any old fool knows that you being permanently separated from Lonts would be the worst possible thing that could happen to you. Are you o.k?”
“Yes”, Adam sighed “It’s just a rather nasty thought that he COULD do that”.
“A rather nasty thought concerning a rather nasty person”, Julian slipped his hand under Adam’s singlet and caressed his singlet “Anyway, why are you so overdressed at the moment? Why don’t you get your tits out at least? I can’t believe you’ve been prancing around over there like this”.
“I put these on to save carrying them”, said Adam, looking down at his shorts and singlet “You missed a treat this morning honeykins, I had my white flannel shorts on”.
“Oh you tease!” Julian groaned “I have to beg and beg you to wear them, and I bet Lonts doesn’t even have to say a word, you just do it for him”.
“Now don’t get all sulky again”, said Adam “Or I shall have to give you a very sound spanking, you malicious little boy”.
“Hm, I can see it’s going to be Christmas again before I get the chance to wallop you in your white flannels”, said Julian “Soon it’ll be a case of only having my memories to rely on”.
“You do talk such utter drivel sometimes!” said Adam “Little Bengo wanted to fling himself at you just now, but you looked so bad-tempered you put him off”.
“Well in that case I’d better go back and turn on my devastating golden charm”, said Julian, grinding out the cigar-butt.
They walked back through the stone cottage and into the clearing, where everyone else was sitting around the camp-fire, murmuring to each other in low voices.
“Good grief”, said Julian “You lot look about as cheerful as a doctor’s waiting-room! What’s the matter with him?” he pointed at Farnol, who was still lying with his head in Rumble’s lap.
“He’s just a bit hot and tired after working in the hold”, said Bengo, nervously, as though he was uncertain how this information would be received.
“Is that all?” Juliann snapped “The way he was groaning I thought he was mortally wounded! Now for fuck’s sake, everybody cheer up. I don’t know what’s got into you all”.
“We’re fine”, said Ransey “It’s you who’s been a miserable old tyrant”.
“Bullshit”, said Julian “I want to see about me happy smiling faces. Nothing else will do”.
“Until the next time you’re in a bad mood”, said Ransey.
“Bengo, come over here and give me a kiss”, said Julian.
Bengo had been standing behind Ransey’s chair. Overcome with excitement he tripped over Ransey’s feet and landed in his lap. Ransey barked at him to be more careful, and Bengo, to the astonishment of everybody, burst into tears and ran into the forest.
“He’s over-excited”, Bardin sighed, getting up to follow him “He got too keyed up about seeing everyone again”.
Lonts and Tamaz volunteered to go and fetch him back, mainly so that they could have a few minutes alone together. Once they were away from the others, Tamaz told Lonts how much he loved him, and they kissed lingeringly under a tree.
“It’s at times like this I wish I was normal”, Lonts sighed “Then I could impress you by loving you like a normal person”.
“Don’t worry about it”, said Tamaz, matter-of-factly “I haven’t a clue what being normal is meant to be like!”
“With a normal brain I mean”, said Lonts.
“Not many of that lot have got normal brains either”, said Tamaz.
“No, but they have adult brains”, said Lonts “Even Bengo has an adult brain”.
“Yeah sure!” said Tamaz “Bengo’s a dog that’s been reincarnated as a clown, that’s what Bengo is!”
Bengo suddenly hurtled out of the bushes in front of them, and pushed Tamaz over.
“Serves you right for eavesdropping!” said Tamaz, as Lonts helped him back to his feet.
“Don’t start fighting you two”, said Lonts, sternly.
He took Tamaz’s hand and walked him back along the roughly-hewn path, closely followed by Bengo.
“What were you doing hiding in the bushes anyway, Bengo?” said Lonts.
“I thought I heard a noise”, said Bengo “Coming from among those trees over there. It sounded like that zombie I heard at Christmas. I got so scared I couldn’t move until I heard you two nearby”.
“The zombie was destroyed, remember?” said Tamaz “Mieps cut it’s feet off. It was probably Angel trying to spook you, and it worked too!”
“I didn’t think of that”, said Bengo.
Tamaz groaned in reply, a habit he had picked up from Joby. When they came up behind the Butlin’s Chalet, Bardin came towards them. Lonts gave Bengo another rebuke about running off, using almost the same words as Adam had on occasion used to him many years before, and then took Tamaz back to the clearing.
“Wasn’t that a bit of an excessive reaction?” said Bardin, sitting down with Bengo behind the wooden hut “Running off just because Ransey had snapped at you. You should know by now that his bark’s worse than his bite”.
“I felt such a clumsy, useless fool”, said Bengo “And don’t give me any jokes about how I should be used to that by now! I felt so useless on our trip to the sand dunes. Everyone else had a role but me. Farnol worked in the hold, Toppy was in the galley, you and Rumble did all the driving, Tamaz made himself useful up on deck. Even Hoowie did the cleaning and unblocked the loo! And yet there didn’t seem to be anything I could do”.
“Don’t you see?” said Bardin “You’re one of those people who doesn’t have to have a role! You can just be yourself and that’s enough”.
“I don’t understand”, said Bengo, stroppily.
“It’s enough that you just are you”, said Bardin “Look, I know … I know”, he tried not to laugh, as Bengo looked so funny with his scowling, bad-tempered little face “You’re not the world’s brainiest person. In fact, there are many times it doesn’t seem like you’ve got one at all!”
“I knew you’d do this”, said Bengo, crossly, as Bardin dissolved into fits of laughter “The Ballast-Brained Bengo jokes would start coming out, you …”
“No, no, listen”, said Bardin, collecting himself “Seriously, you’ve got something else, like Kieran. I mean, it’s so hard to define what makes him special, what attracts people to him and gets others so jealous”.
“People know he’s good”, said Bengo “He can be ruthless when he has to be, but there’s no malice or spite or envy in him”.
“And it’s the same with you”, said Bardin “Dammit, practically every audience we ever had fell in love with you, and anyone that didn’t was all bitter and twisted with jealousy. Christ Bengo, I couldn’t have forgiven anyone else for walking out on me the way you did!”
“You didn’t forgive me, not for ages”, Bengo pointed out ”In fact, you could barely keep a civil tonge in your head whenever you spoke to me, that practically went on right up to you joining us on the Indigo!”
“The fact remains I would be a lot worse person, I would always have been a lot worse person if you had never been around”, said Bardin “I’d be as paranoid and envious as Hal or Zooks”.
“You could never be like them”, Bengo protested “Never!”
“Because of you, you twit!” said Bardin, in exasperation “Life would have no sparkle without you. My life would have been a dismal failure without you. I’d have ended up as some boozy washed-up showbiz has-been, like one of those sad geriatric performers you see reduced to appearing in front of a miserable old man and his dog in a seedy drinking dive”.
“Bardy, that wouldn’t have happened to you”, said Bengo “In your old age you’d have turned to directing and producing”.
“What, like Ully you mean?” said Bardin, caustically “Nuff said I think!”
Bengo flung his arms round Bardin and they rolled along the ground, collecting leaves and grass on them as they went. There they lay, with Bardin grasping Bengo’s plump cheeks in the palms of his hands.
Ransey prepared lunch for everyone, and then found that Kieran had disappeared.
“He took the smallest donkey and went off into the woods”, said Lonts.
“Is all that going to start up again?” Ransey rasped “Him disappearing at mealtimes so that he gets out of eating!”
“I’ll go and look for him”, said Adam.
“He said he wasn’t to be disturbed”, said Joby, morosely.
“Really?” Adam snapped “And since when did we swear blind obedience to him! I never did that not even when we were his consorts, and he used to threaten to lock us up in the Assizes!”
“Tell him if he starts all that eating disorder stuff again I’ll thrash the living daylights out of him”, said Julian.
“That’s your answer to everything”, said Mieps.
“And who asked you to chip in you old witch?” said Julian “Sometimes I’m amazed we didn’t discover you in a cave, boiling up lost travellers in a cauldron and mating with serpents”.
“How very Homer-esque, Jules”, said Adam “You always did have a flair for the Classics!”
Kieran had tied the donkey to a tree, and then gone into some bushes nearby and thrashed out madly, as though he was trying to wrestle all the greenery. It was the only way he could think of to alleviate his frustration with Angel. The demon’s threats regarding Lonts had infuriated Kieran so much that he felt he had to let it out somehow. In years gone by he would have taken it out on himself, either by starving himself or thrashing himself.
He emerged from the bushes with his arms and legs scarred from his violent altercation with the twigs and brambles. He put his hat back on, untethered the donkey and led it gently back along the forest path. He met Adam along the way.
“I said I wasn’t to be disturbed”, said Kieran.
“Oh yes, and you think I’m going to be cowed by a scrawny little bastard like you!” said Adam “It might work on Joby, but it doesn’t work on me! What have you been doing to yourself?”
“I beat up one of the bushes”, said Kieran.
“What on earth for?” Adam exclaimed.
“I was so damn mad at Angel I had to lash out at something”, said Kieran “It scares the shit out of me, the thought that he could do that to wee Lonts, take him somewhere where we couldn’t reach him. Sometimes I think he’s so bored and desperate for attention these days, he might just do it”.
“It’s precisely because that’s such a terrible thought that we can’t afford to dwell on it too much”, said Adam.
“That’s a very English attitude if you don’t mind me saying so”, said Kieran.
“Well I can’t help that”, said Adam “It happens to be what I am. And somewhere in my dim and distant ancestry there’s some Scots pragmatism mixed in, although I’ve never felt terribly Scottish. I get turned on by canes not bagpipes, so that must make me English I suppose”.
“Don’t make me laugh”, said Kieran “I’m in a serious mood here”.
“We’d better snap you out of it before we get back to the others”, said Adam “Julian has made it clear in no uncertain terms that if you begin starving yourself again, he’ll leather you proper”.
“No he won’t”, said Kieran “I’d be a sick man, and he wouldn’t want to thrash a sick man”.
“I think he’d make an exception for you”, said Adam “I think we’d be talking belts and welts and drawing blood”.
“Sadistic swine”, said Kieran, nearly knocking his own hat off in his excitement “I’m the Vanquisher of Evil, he can’t do that to me”.
“Well it’s never stopped me, so I don’t see why it should stop him”, said Adam.
When they returned to the clearing Julian told Kieran that he wanted to see him alone on the sloop after they had eaten. Kieran took his time about answering this brusque summons, and when he finally made it to the cabin on the sloop, Julian was alone in there, writing in the logbook.
“Correct me if I’m wrong”, said Kieran “But I thought Bardin was Captain these days, not you”.
“Bardin has one disadvantage as Captain”, said Julian, closing the logbook “He’s several years younger than you. In fact, he hadn’t even been born when you first started swanning around this world casting your golden light over all and sundry”.
“Your point being?” said Kieran.
“That he’s in awe of you”, said Julian “He would never dream of taking you to task about your eating disorder”.
“I haven’t got a focking eating disorder”, said Kieran “I was a bit late for lunch that’s all!”
“Don’t try and fob me off with your bloody Irish whimsy, you little turd!” Julian suddenly threw the logbook at Kieran, who ducked.
“What did you do that for?” said Kieran, in astonishment “You’ll damage the spine, it’s getting old now. Anyway, it’s not like you to have temper rages”.
“No it’s not”, said Julian “Even as a child I wasn’t prone to tantrums. I was very much in control at all times”.
“That’s very true”, Adam whispered, who was listening outside the door with Joby.
“Perhaps it’s your renewed youth and vigour coming out”, said Kieran, picking up the logbook and tucking some loose pages back in.
“Which I owe to you”, said Julian “I owe every damn thing to you, and so I won’t have your torturing yourself now the way you have done in the past”.
“I made a promise to Joby I wouldn’t return to that”, said Kieran “I went off earlier because Angel in my system the way he was had got too much for me. It’s taken me a long time to realise just how much damage my old problem did to you all. All I was concerned about was punishing meself, because at the time I was convinced I had failed everyone and in everything. The world was such a downbeat place in those days, and I got to thinking it was all due to me. I became self-obsessed I guess. I failed to control me ego”.
“It’s always darkest before the dawn as the saying goes”, said Julian.
“You remember those days”, said Kieran, reflectively “We had lost everything when the Ghoomers over-ran Thetislog. Ransey was sexually abused by them. You lot had stuck with me and all you got for it was a gloomy terraced house in the City. Then I stupidly thought I could put things right by getting Tamaz to breed. And what a disaster that was! Gorth was killed. That demon raped Hillyard. Joby was kidnapped”.
“Nobody can rewrite history, Kieran, not even you”, said Julian “And at the risk of sounding trite, things turned out alright in the end, and believe me that is all that matters because that’s all we can control. If none of those things had happened we would never have left the City, never discovered the lost colonies of women, the world would have continued to stay in the darkness, and Freaky would either have ended up like his mother, or would now be dead, murdered by the Ministry. It’s interesting that you blame yourself for all his past sins, and not him”.
“In those days he knew no better”, said Kieran.
“He’s one of your greatest achievements”, said Julian “By humanising him, you’ve proved you can humanise anyone, even me”.
Kieran tried to kiss him, but Julian slapped the back of his legs and ordered him away.
“I want to finish the log”, he said, his voice husky with tears.
Kieran opened the door to leave, and Adam and Joby sprinted to the bottom of the quarterdeck steps, in the vain hope that it would look like they had been there all along.
“I don’t need to tell you what happened”, said Kieran, proceeding up the steps “Seeing as you’ve already heard!”
Annoyed that he had been caught out, Joby stamped round the corner to the long corridor and ran into Bengo, who was loitering there, shiftily.
“Have you been eavesdropping you little scrote?” said Joby.
“That’s an awful thing to do, Bengo”, said Adam.
“I’ve got things to say to Julian”, said Bengo, in a determined fashion.
He went into the cabin, where Julian was reattempting to write the log.
“Julian, it’s me, Bengo”, said Bengo, standing by his chair.
“Are you sure?” said Julian, laying down his pen in a resigned way and leaning back.
“I-I’ve come to say I’m not happy with you”, said Bengo “You seem to carry on as though Bardy wasn’t Captain, and it’s not right”.
“Oh don’t you start!” said Julian “Your loyalty does you credit. Mind you, we should have at least managed to din that into you if nothing else. For such an unobtrusive Captain Bardin does seem to inspire massive amounts of respect from everyone! I made a wise decision when I appointed him as my successor”.
Bengo didn’t know what to say in reply to this, and Julian took advantage of his uncertainty by picking him up in his arms and carrying him over to the bed. He laid him down like a baby and undressed him. Bengo gurgled contentedly with anticipation.
“I can’t wait to feel it inside me”, he said, tugging at Julian’s pyjama bottoms.
“Oh God, you cuddly little clown”, said Julian “You’re an old man’s tormentor, that’s what you are”.
“There is nothing in the world to beat this feeling”, Bengo stretched and sighed “It is the best feeling ever. Let’s do it again”.
“I can’t”, said Julian, lying next to him “You’ve cleaned me out, you little wretch. I shall need about three weeks to recover now. You should carry a bloody health warning!”
“But you’re young these days”, said Bengo, propping himself up on his elbow.
“I’m getting there”, said Julian “But some of mechanical apparatus hasn’t quite caught up with my renewed youthful glow yet, particularly when dealing with such an incorrigible little sexpot like you”.
“I can help you”, said Bengo, teasing Julian’s flaccid penis, which lay dribbling like a used hosepipe in the grass.
“Leave it alone”, Julian gasped “Give me at least five minutes to savour the first orgasm for crying out loud!”
“But I can help you get to the next one”, said Bengo, continuing to fondle Julian’s dick.
“There’s nothing else for it”, said Julian, collecting Bengo’s clothes from the floor and passing them to him “You’re going to have to wait outside until I’m ready”.
He picked Bengo up again and carted him to the door.
“You can spank me if it’ll help, I don’t mind”, said Bengo, as Julian set him back on his feet.
“Get away, you tease!” said Julian, pushing him out of the door.
Alone again, Julian lolloped back to the bed and collapsed onto it, groaning with satiation and fatigue. He dozed for a short while and was woken by Bardin coming into the room.
“I’m looking for Bengo”, he said “Have you seen him?”
“What do you think!” said Julian, sarcastically “Would I be lying here as a complete physical wreck if I hadn’t! That boy is a jewel. He crackles with sex. How the hell did you manage to resist him for so long? And you shared a bed with him too! You must have been made of steel”.
“I was too obsessed with career”, Bardin smiled “I didn’t know what I was missing. I’ve been making up for it ever since!”
Bengo had got dressed and then paid a visit to the tin-can in the woods. When he emerged he went down to the beach, where Farnol, Rumble and Hoowie were sitting chatting in the surf. Rumble watched him approach, with an amused expression on his face.
“Ah here he comes!” said Farnol “We heard you was gonna go and speak strong words to Julian. Is he now subdued and beaten down by your awesome oratory skills, our kid? Or did he end up giving you a vigorous rogering instead?”
“How did you know that?” said Bengo, irritably.
“Lucky guess”, said Rumble, wryly.
“He’s probably in urgent need of some anal cream now aren’t you?” said Hoowie.
Bengo jumped on Hoowie’s back, but Hoowie managed to pull him over his shoulder, as though Bengo was now bigger than a toddler. Farnol laughed, and Bengo leaned across Rumble to bite Farnol on his nipples. Farnol squealed with agony. Hoowie grabbed Bengo’s feet and bit into his ankle.
“Fuck!” Hoowie spat “He tastes of salt, sand and grass!”
Rumble, who was practically pinned under Bengo, gave the little clown several vigorous spanks on his behind. Bengo yelped with each one. Suddenly a shadow fell across them and they all started with shock.
“Shit, man!” said Farnol, looking up at Bardin “You came up so silently we thought you was Angel!”
“I wasn’t being silent”, said Bardin “Just you lot were being noisy”.
“You should take your partner severely to task”, said Farnol “He bit me on my fucking tits, man!”
“Well there’s plenty there to bite into isn’t there!” said Bardin “I’m starting to think you should borrow Tamaz’s bust-bodice!” he sat down with them “Good job we haven’t got any neighbours, I don’t know what they’d make of us”.
“They’d say ‘oh those clowns, they do have some bloody fun don’t they!’” said Farnol, rubbing his nipple.
“Usually at the expense of Bengo”, said Bardin.
Bengo sat up from his ungainly position and leaned his elbows on Rumble and Hoowie’s shoulders. He caught sight of Kieran who was walking along the edge of the forest that bordered the beach. Kieran shouted that he wanted to have a word with Bardin and Rumble in private.
Bardin walked with Kieran into the forest, his hands on his hips, like a dancer taking a breather between routines. Rumble followed on behind, wondering why on earth he had been called along as well.
“It pains me to say it”, said Kieran “But I don’t think Angel’s going to leave us alone in a hurry”.
“He’s like some dismal old has-been who doesn’t realise no one’s excited by him anymore”, said Bardin.
“Unfortunately he’s a lot more dangerous than that”, said Kieran “Angel’s led such a dreary life that he’s constantly on the lookout for new thrills, as long as they’re not sexual of course. He gets bored easily, and he’s bored now. He isn’t going to be happy with just a few pranks. He’s been getting more and more brassed off with us since the Festival in Port West last autumn”.
“You think he might try and make one of us vanish?” said Bardin.
“Let’s just say that he’s capable of it, and we should always bear that in mind”, said Kieran “That would put me completely at his mercy”.
“O.K, but what is it he wants from you?” said Bardin.
“That’s the irony of ironies”, said Kieran “What he really wants from me is love, which he’s afraid of. And that’s what frustrates him, and that’s what makes him so dangerous. I made him face that in Port West, and he must be as annoyed as shit about it! These are dark mind games, and I’m scared any of you might get caught in the cross-fire. And that’s why I wanted to talk to you, not just because you’re Captain, but because you’re the leader of the young set too, including Tamaz and Toppy. You and Rumble are the most responsible ones. You’ve got to keep a very close eye on the others from now on. I know it’s a near impossible task, Angel can get to us in our sleep even, but I’m reassured by the fact that in your recent trip to Hell, you were all aware of each other and what was going on. That gives us strength. As long as you all stay on the same wavelength you can sill unite against him”.
“That’s no problem”, said Bardin “We are all on a level all the time”.
“Keeping an eye on Tamaz isn’t easy though”, said Rumble “He slipped away from me on the sloop earlier”.
“Yes, but he’s the best weapon we’ve got in many ways”, said Kieran “He makes Evil vulnerable because they’re disturbed by him, and he got you out of Hell, remember? He knows how the place works, since I had that trip there with him. And you can’t seriously mean to tell me that a tall fella like you can’t keep him under control!”
“Now you’re having a fucking tease, you know I can’t!” said Rumble, ruefully.
“Oh dear, well you’re going to have to give it a try”, said Kieran “Joby’s locked up in the kitchens a lot of the time, and Tamaz won’t want to spend all his time with me”.
They got back to the edge of the beach, where Bengo, Farnol and Hoowie were still sitting in the surf, looking suspiciously at them. Rumble went to join them, and Bardin sat down with Kieran.
“He’s a sensible guy, in spite of what he says about himself”, said Kieran.
“Yeah, he’s sound”, said Bardin, taking off his cap and fanning himself with it.
“He was your first lover wasn’t he?” said Kieran, squinting at him “Ach now don’t blush, I think it must be nice, gives you a special understanding of each other. A bit like Adam and Julian have”.
“Depends who your first-timer was I guess”, said Bardin “It’s not cool for everyone. Who was your first?”
“Dark secret that”, Kieran smiled.
“Oh come on!” said Bardin “I’m hardly likely to know her am I?! I take it it was a ‘her’?”
“Oh yes, Adam was the first fella I ever got mixed up with”, said Kieran “And that was a long while after. I was 14, and she was a friend of me Mam’s. She was 20 years older than me, and married”.
“You naughty little devil, you!” Bardin laughed “Did she seduce you?”
“If you can call it that!” said Kieran “That doesn’t sound very gentlemanly does it! She came round one afternoon whilst me Mam was out. A right wet week she was and all to be honest. The sort who has one emotional crisis after another”.
“Usually to do with men I expect”, said Bardin.
“And because me Mam wasn’t in, she decided to use me as a sounding-board”, said Kieran “Although what good advice she thought a 14-year-old boy could give her I’ll never know! Anyway, she started teasing me about girls and everything, and said a good-looking fella like me must have ‘em queuing up. She must have known I’d never had a girlfriend in me life, but I think she wanted to hear it from me own lips. So I told her, and she went into maximum overdrive. There was no holding her then, me a 14-year-old virgin, she couldn’t believe her luck!”
“She probably had some romantic notion you would always cherish the memory of her as your first”, said Bardin.
“Mm, sadly I expect so”, said Kieran “And yet you know what it’s like at that age. Your virginity is like a noose around your neck, you just want to be rid of it. Get over that first fence. Find out for yourself what all the fuss is about”.
“Did your mother ever find out about you two?” said Bardin.
“Not as far as I know”, said Kieran “I don’t think she’d have forgiven me for making out in her living-room right under a picture of His Holiness the Pope too! It’s amazing how quick you can go from animal sex to a picture of demure respectability if you have to!”
“Yeah I know, like my first time”, said Bardin “I’d managed to get Rumble out of the room just before Bengo came home”.
“Why didn’t you tell him what had happened?” said Kieran “It’s not as if you were married in those days!”
“That evening we’d had a fight after the show, hardly anything unusual as you can imagine!” said Bardin “Bengo got hysterical and said he never wanted to see me again, and just to really get at me he went out with the other clowns. Rumble saw the state I was in and walked me home. We got talking about life, the universe and everything, and agreed to experiment, see how it went. Bengo came home a couple of hours later. The other clowns, the sadistic little shits, had got him ratted on some dodgy beer”.
“And the beer in the Village of Stairs is deeply dodgy!” said Kieran.
“He was only 13, the sods!” said Bardin “I spent the rest of the night trying to make him human again. It wasn’t exactly the time for confidences, and the next day I was so fucking angry with Hal and the others that I couldn’t think of anything but tearing them off a strip. Anyway, as is often the case, I didn’t get round to telling him for years”.
He realised he and Kieran were sitting very close. He put his arm round his thin body and kissed him lightly on the lips. That moment felt golden and eternal.
“What did Kieran mean by better say off the beer I think Bengo? What have you been telling him?” said Bengo, crossly.
“He was just pulling your leg that’s all”, said Bardin, who was washing himself in the cabin “Having a tease. We were talking over old times, I was telling him about that time when Hal and the mob got you pissed after we’d had a fight”.
“What got you talking about that?” said Bengo, suspiciously “Or do people round here only talk about what a twit Bengo is!”
“I’m gonna give you a good hiding in a minute!” Bardin exclaimed, putting toothpaste on his brush “If you really must know we were talking about how we both lost our virginity”.
“And what did you say?” said Bengo.
“What do you think!” said Bardin “That I had it away merrily with a whole platoon?! You already know all there is to know, for what it’s worth”.
“Yeah, how Rumble stuck his long cock in you”, said Bengo, sourly.
“And because we didn’t know what the fuck we were meant to be doing it went like …” Bardin gave a wry smile “Like buggery! I bet you had a cushier time with Godle didn’t you!”
“There’s no need to bring that up!” said Bengo “You don’t have anything to worry about with Godle anymore. He’s not here is he! Whereas Rumble is, and you two get cosier by the minute. Why didn’t I get invited along with Kieran?”
“Because he wanted to talk to sensible, responsible people, and that rules you out!” said Bardin.
“You and Rumble are starting to carry on like some old married couple”, said Bengo, sulkily.
“Thrice cobblers to that one I think!” said Bardin “It’s you I’m having the tortuous pointless conversation with, not him! That proves we’re married, better ‘en any certificate!”
Rumble came in and began ferreting around for something, watched fiercely by Bengo.
“If you’re looking for your tobacco pouch, Toppy put it in one of the drawers”, said Bardin. “That kid has a mania for tidying things away”, said Rumble, getting his pouch of roll-up equipment and matches out of one of the drawers in the desk. He started sorting a twist of tobacco along a paper, indicating Bengo as he did so “What’s wrong with your missus?”
“Brain-dead”, said Bardin, dismissively, which made Rumble laugh.
“Lighten up, lovely one”, said Rumble, tickling Bengo under the chin.
“Bengo”, said Bardin, firmly “Do you remember all the nice things I said to you behind the wooden hut earlier?”
“No”, said Bengo.
Bardin looked furious, as though he was about to throttle Bengo.
“Aha!” said Bengo, triumphantly “I had you going there didn’t I! You believed me! Serves you right, Bardy. It’s nice I can turn the tables on you for a change!”
Bardin was spared from having to make a reply by Joby dragging Kieran into the room by his elbow. Joby looked furious.
“Clear out of here, you lot”, he said “I wanna talk to Kieran alone. Go and have your cocktail party somewhere else”.
Once the clowns had gone, Joby stuck a chair under the doorhandle. Kieran watched him nervously.
“You shouldn’t talk to Bardin like that”, he said.
“How I spoke to Bardin is nothing compared to how I’m gonna speak to you!” said Joby “I’ve just had Lonts in the galley, in tears. He’s been brooding all day on Angel’s visit this morning, you know what he’s like. I’m not taking anymore of this, Kieran. I’ve had it up to here with Angel. I’ve never understood why you let him exist. All you do is give me a lot of high-falutin’ bollocks about how he has to. Well I’m not listening anymore. We’ve had to put up with enough of his tricks these past few months, and I’m not gonna sit around waiting for him to pull the big one. If he does manage to make one of us disappear how are you gonna feel them, eh?”
“How do you think?” Kieran cried, tears rolling down his nose and cheeks.
“I’m gonna do everything I can to destroy him”, said Joby, resolutely “If I see his revolting face again I’ll do anything. I’ll set fire to him, I’ll get Tamaz to turn him to stone. Anything! He’s had his last chance as far as I’m concerned”.
“Don’t mess with him, Joby, please”, Kieran begged.
“It’s him who’d better not mess with me!” said Joby “We’ve tried doing it your way, and I know you’re a wise bloke and you mean well, but all he’s done in return is to take the fucking piss. He thinks it’s a giggle to come round here and shake us up and I’m sick of it”.
“He’s jealous that’s why”, said Kieran “He’s never known what we have”.
“Too bad!” said Joby, but Kieran could tell he was slightly mollified.
“Just give me a few more hours at least”, said Kieran “No listen to me. Angel isn’t working alone. Someone’s helping him, and I don’t mean sad losers like Caln or Mullawa. If we’re to get anywhere with this and get it resolved, we need to find out who the brains are. It won’t be enough just to destroy Angel. Now tomorrow is Lammas, it was a big festival in pre-Christian times. It would appeal to Angel to try and pull something now to wind me up, but I doubt it’ll be as serious as making one of us disappear. Even so, he might come here again. I have an idea to keep an all-night lookout for him on deck. I’ll do that with Bardin”.
“Bardin?” said Joby “Why not me and Tamaz?”
“You’ll distract me too much”, said Kieran “And Bardin’s Captain now. I feel I haven’t done enough to get to know him”. “You were never too fussed about getting to know Julian”, said Joby.
“I could learn a lot from Adam where Julian’s concerned”, said Kieran.
“Yeah I see what you mean”, said Joby “It’s a bit hard to get any info out of Bengo. Get more sense talking to one of the donkeys!”
“But I will be careful”, said Kieran, edging up close to Joby “Trust me?”
“No”, said Joby “But since when has that had anything to do with it!”
“I got this from Rumble” said Kieran, lighting a roll-up “If Joby finds out I’ll tell him it was to keep the midges off!”
He sat down with Bardin on the steps going up to the poop-deck. Bardin arranged a blanket over them both.
“I don’t think he was too happy about us doing this”, he said.
“Ach Joby enjoys having a sense of grievance”, said Kieran “It gives him a perverse sense of enjoyment”.
“Bengo was a bit miffed too”, said Bardin “Thinks I left him out ‘cos I felt he wasn’t up to the job or something”.
“He and Joby are so much alike in some ways”, said Kieran “They both have a persecution complex as long as your arm. Joby’s right about one thing though. Angel does need to be sorted out. We can’t go on having this keep turning up and disrupting everything like he does. We’d end up basket-cases in no time at all”.
“I’d hate him to chase us away from here”, said Bardin.
“God, so would I!” said Kieran “I have a real fear of that happening. Sometimes it can be a bit bittersweet around here, you think what if it doesn’t last? What if we have to leave?”
“You feel every moment here”, said Bardin “I’m aware of everything so intensely, my own existence”.
“Us oldies used to worry that we were dragging you lot away from the world too soon”, said Kieran “You’ve had a lot less time in the outside world than we did”.
“We put a helluva lot of living into that short time”, said Bardin “Do you really think Farnol, Rumble and Hoowie want to go back to living hand-to-mouth in the Village of Stairs? You know, or you can certainly guess, some of the things that they had to do to survive. I’ve never once heard any of ‘em complain about being bored here, or moaning about missing the outside world. Not even Hoowie, and you know what a jerk he can be!”
“A lot of that jerk-talk of his is pure bravado”, said Kieran.
“Yeah, it was a survival mechanism he had to learn”, said Bardin.
Tamaz crept stealthily across the forward deck, clad in a shirt and trousers against the night-chill.
“Don’t send me back downstairs”, he said, sharply “I can’t sleep anyway. I keep tossing and turning so much I just disturb the others. You’re gonna have to let me stay”.
“We don’t have to let you do anything”, said Bardin.
“You need me in case Angel turns up”, said Tamaz “I’m the best weapon you’ve got”.
“How the blazes did you think we coped before we discovered your hidden powers?” said Kieran.
“You didn’t”, said Tamaz “You scraped by by the skin of your teeth”.
Bardin grudgingly let him stay, but on condition he didn’t say a word unless directly asked something. Tamaz sat down in the middle of them. For a few minutes they were all silent as Kieran finished his cigarettes, listening to the combined music of frogs croaking, wild ducks quacking and waves crashing on the shore.
“If Angel does manage to drive us away from here”, said Kieran, eventually “We’ll never find another place as good as this. I don’t just mean for its beauty and the convenience, but for the privacy too”.
Tamaz looked shocked by the suggestion that they could ever leave the Bay for good, and stared at Kieran open-mouthed. He was obviously longing to say something but daren’t, in case they did send him back below.
“We could always try the South Pole I guess”, Bardin quipped “I’ve heard it’s not all ice down there. There’s some brown patches occasionally too”.
“Not much!” said Kieran “And it’s a helluva long way to go on a supply-run! If things got really bad, I guess we could head out for open water. When we sailed around the world on the old Indigo, that was some of the best privacy we ever had. Shame about the psychopathic stoker on-board as well but there you go!”
“There’s always up-river”, said Bardin “The one beyond Midnight Castle I mean. We don’t know where that goes. If we could just find some way of getting the sloop down there”.
Tamaz could contain himself no longer.
“And what makes you think Angel couldn’t follow us up there too?” he exclaimed “You’re both crazy if you’re going to let him drive us away from here. That is a really limp-wristed attitude. He could make Lonts, or Bengo, disappear up there as easily as he could here”.
“Don’t say that!” Bardin raged, who couldn’t stand the thought of losing Bengo a second time “Just don’t!”
“I’m only trying to make you see sense”, said Tamaz “We can’t keep running away from that jerk. He never gets the message that we don’t want him around, so we have to stay our ground and face him down”.
“I think I’d die if anything happened to Bengo”, said Bardin, quietly.
“Nothing is going to happen to Bengo”, said Tamaz, firmly “Other than that he might eat himself to death I suppose! All those diets you keep putting him on, they never seem to work”.
“Because he’s a crafty little git that’s why”, said Bardin “And it doesn’t help that A Certain Person keeps slipping him treats behind my back!”
“It suits Bengo, being a wee bit cuddly”, said Kieran, who was pleased that the perennially-fascinating topic of Bengo’s body had distracted them from Angel. Many times in his life he had felt that the best way to deal with the Devil was to try and ignore him as much as you could.
Suddenly Lonts could be heard wailing below-deck and calling for Adam, obviously having just had a nightmare.
“That’ll wake everybody up”, said Tamaz, with grim satisfaction.
Joby came up on deck a few minutes later, carrying a lighted candle.
“This is daft”, he said “You sitting here waiting for Twat-Features to appear. And what are you doing up here, Tamaz?”
“You were the one saying you wanted Angel sorted out”, said Tamaz.
“A man with a mission you was”, said Kieran “A personal vendetta”.
“Yeah well I’ve changed me mind”, said Joby “I didn’t know it was gonna involve you lot sitting up on deck all night did I! What I meant was sort him out next time he appears, not lie in wait hoping he will!”
“But you didn’t make that clear enough”, said Kieran, facetiously.
Joby ordered them all below-deck. In the cabin the others lay sprawled along the communal bed in various stages of wakefulness. Adam was rubbing Lonts’s chest, who now lay calmly sucking his thumb with Snowy and Yellowy propped up on the pillow above his head. Kieran got in next to Hillyard, who was slumbering with one of the quilts wrapped round him. Kieran tried extracting a bit of it from him without success. “Great old walrus”, he said, slapping Hillyard’s well-padded rump.
Kieran slept longer than the others, and woke up late morning. He rubbed his face in some cold water from the pitcher on the wash-stand, and realised after several minutes that he hadn’t given Angel a thought. Their round midnight vigil may have been conspicuous for nothing happening, but it had helped to clear his head remarkably.
He was halfway up the quarterdeck steps when he realised that Angel was on the forward deck. Kieran cautiously poked his head through the aperture into the bright, hot sunshine. He could hear most of the others in the clearing. The washing-line on the deck was draped with pillowcases, towels, and a disreputable-looking collection of underwear. Angel, looking like an affront to daylight in all his seediness, was fondling a pair of Tamaz’s white drawers, putting the voluptuous lace trim to his grizzled face and rubbing it softly over his skin.
The spell was broken when Angel heard Joby approaching up the wooden steps from the galley, and so he promptly vanished on the spot.
“It was quite pathetic”, said Kieran, leaning on the bulwark with Joby a couple of minutes later “He was fondling Tamaz’s knickers”.
“The filthy sad old perve”, said Joby “There was a bloke round our way like that when I was a kid. Used to ogle my Mum when she was putting her washing out. He must’ve been sick that’s all I can say!”
“Reminded me of you when you found that silk stocking at Green Ways”, said Kieran.
“Oh cheers thanks”, said Joby.
“I’m only teasing you”, said Kieran “I don’t blame you for that at all. It was the first soft, sensual thing you’d come across in over two months. At the prison it had all been bare brick walls and rough grey blankets”.
“And a karsey with no door on it”, said Joby “We get more privacy in the bushes round here!”
“Has Adam let you out for a few minutes?” said Kieran.
“He’s not here”, said Joby “He’s gone down to the Castle with Lonts and Toppy. They’ve taken some coconuts with ‘em to feed the chickens”.
“That means we’re alone on the sloop”, said Kieran.
“Yeah, unless Angel’s down in the hold now”, said Joby “Burying his face in some horse-shite with any luck!”
Kieran took him down to the cabin and rolled him over almost immediately.
“Bit rough and ready weren’t it?” said Joby, when he was finally able to turn onto his back.
“The amount of jokes you make about the size of my dick I’m surprised you noticed!” said Kieran “Anyway, it’s the one thing that is guaranteed to keep Angel away”.
“I’m not so sure”, Joby muttered.
He had noticed that the cabin door had been pushed slightly open, and someone was peering in. Joby sprinted lightly across the room and dragged the culprit in.
“You poxy little scrote!” he roared at Bengo “I thought you was bloody Angel!” “I look nothing like Angel”, Bengo protested.
“How could I tell that?” said Joby “You was all in shadow. What are you doing spying on us anyway?”
“I wasn’t”, said Bengo “I came down to look for something”.
“What?” said Joby “Your brain?!”
“More like the chocolate biscuits in the desk drawer”, said Kieran.
“Yeah, that wouldn’t surprise me”, said Joby “Wait til Bardin hears about that! You won’t half cop it, and serves you bleedin’ well right too!”
“Let’s punish him ourselves”, said Kieran, friskily “Get his clothes off him, Joby”.
Joby pulled Bengo onto his lap and tugged off his shorts and singlet. Kieran unearthed the paddle from the chaos on Julian’s desk.
“This is always happening to me”, said Bengo, helplessly “Rumble did it to me yesterday. Bardy’ll get real mad”.
“He should be a bit quicker off the mark then shouldn’t he!” said Joby, putting him into a face-down position.
Kieran dealt Bengo some brisk, light slaps on his cheeks with the paddle.
“Can’t you put a bit more oomph into it than that?” said Julian, coming into the room with a pile of books under his arm “I’m surprised at you. I would’ve thought the nuns would have given you more idea how it’s done!”
“There were no beatings at my school”, said Kieran, loftily “It would’ve been against the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights”.
“That applied to our school too”, said Julian, sitting down in his chair and stretching out his long legs “But we didn’t let that stop us!”
Kieran came over and pulled Julian’s braces, letting them ping back against his nipples.
“You are very excitable at the moment, Tinkerbell”, said Julian.
“It’s your new-found youth you see”, said Kieran “Gets me going. These strong, musclely thighs of yours. Even Adam doesn’t quite have those”.
“He doesn’t need them. It’s not Adam’s place to be macho”, said Julian “Something he really needs to be told at times”. Kieran began to unbutton Julian’s trousers.
“What are you doing, you little wretch?” Julian exclaimed, and then smiled slyly “Are you all going to gang up on me?”
Bengo clapped his hands excitedly and jigged up and down on the balls of his feet.
“We might”, said Kieran “But first we’re going to all have a little run down through the woods to the Castle. We’re going to scare the Devil out of Paradise for the time being, by showing ourselves at our best”.
They collected the others from the clearing. Everyone took off their clothes and half-ran half-trotted half-walked down through the forest in the morning sunshine. Down at Midnight Castle Adam had finished scraping coconuts into the hens’ bowl, assisted in a very grave manner by Lonts and Toppy, like two nurses assisting a surgeon in an operating-theatre. They had just finished when the rest of the Indigo-ites emerged naked from the forest.
“You’re out of condition”, Hillyard pointed at Joby “You had to keep stopping to lean on trees. You spend too much time cooped up in the kitchen. I can see I’m gonna have to take you in hand”.
“What, so I can get a stomach like yours?” said Joby, patting Hillyard’s naked belly.
“That is pure muscle that is”, said Hillyard.
“No it ent, Hillyard”, said Joby “It’s pure fat”.
“Wasn’t all that a bit Pagan for you, Tinkerbell?” Julian was saying “All this running naked through the forest. And it’s Lammas too! The Devil is obviously having an influence on our daily lives”.
“Cobblers”, said Kieran, robustly “He would never have been able to cope with all that!”
Ransey picked up Finia, praising his “neat, streamlined body” and carried him off into the garden.
“Ever the accountant”, said Julian, caustically “He even likes his fancy pieces to be neat and tidy in form”.
“And we can’t say that about you, Jules”, said Adam, playfully knocking Julian’s large dick backwards and forwards.
“And once again, you are wearing far too many clothes”, said Julian.
Most of them went indoors to “check over the house”. Bengo was one of the group who went upstairs, and found himself in the room with the four-poster bed. He toyed with the idea of hanging around in there so that he would be available for anyone who came in. He was shaken though to hear somebody rooting around in the walk-in closet next door. He called out, and Mieps emerged. He didn’t look particularly sinister, but the sight of him coming out of the door reminded Bengo so much of his trip to Hell, and Mieps punching his way through the bathroom wall, that Bengo panicked and burst into tears.
“What’s the matter with you?” said Mieps, coming over to see him and giving him a gentle shake “Stop it”.
“I’m s-sorry, I t-thought …” Bengo stammered badly, his tongue seemed to be filling up his whole mouth “It w-was like H-Hell again”.
“Are you going to have a turn everytime you see me come into a room?” said Mieps, crossly.
“It was just like Hell”, Bengo wept “I heard you first, and then I-I saw you n-naked like that”.
Mieps pulled back the thick, embroidered coverlet on the bed and put Bengo into it, climbing in next to him. He took Bengo in a very brusque fashion, which Bengo found both daunting and exhilarating.
“I’ve been so afraid of you at times these past few months”, he said, afterwards “I thought you didn’t like me”.
“No, I just wanted to frighten you now and again”, said Mieps “I think it does you good. Otherwise you get too spoilt and indulged. Humans always seem to do that to someone who’s cute”.
“But I’m not spoilt and indulged all the time”, said Bengo “Far from it. Sometimes I think my butt gets beaten as often I used to get pies shoved at me!”
“It’s quite a life you’ve had”, said Mieps, toying with Bengo’s long hair “All that public humiliation would have made some people very bitter, but not you”.
“Bardy says I’m too daft to get bitter!” said Bengo, wryly “It wasn’t so bad really. Sometimes it could be really good fun, and it’s a nice feeling to be able to make people laugh. It also meant there was actually something I could do! I’d have been no good at anything else. It was harder for Bardy to cope with, ‘cos he should never have been a clown. I think he wanted to be a proper song-and-dance man, and he could’ve done it too, he’s got loads of talent like that. He should have been playing one of the romantic leads in big, glossy musicals. But Fate was really unkind to him there”.
“His mouth?” said Mieps.
“As Bardy puts it ‘you can’t have the dashing hero with a twisted lip!’” said Bengo “So it was very hard for him at times. Instead of singing ballads and wearing nice suits, he was having gunge poured down his trousers and having to fall on his arse! But he was still determined to be one of the best, even if he couldn’t have the career he would have wanted. And he was too. He knows all there is to know about comedy, he really worked hard at his craft”.
“And you didn’t?” said Mieps.
“Oh I just did what I was told”, said Bengo “And tried not to get it wrong too often ‘cos that upset Bardy, and he’d get real mad then”.
“I don’t know much about it”, said Mieps “But you always seemed a real natural to me. I’ve seen you on stage being funny, and you genuinely didn’t seem to know what you had done to make everyone laugh”.
“I usually didn’t!” said Bengo “Bardy said that was what made me priceless as a clown. I wasn’t waiting for the laughs all the time you see, they just happened. Sometimes it can kill a gag stone-dead if you show you’re waiting for the laugh”.
“So you see you do know a lot about it”, said Mieps.
“Only what Bardy’s told me”, said Bengo.
They got up soon after and Mieps went off down the corridor. Bengo did a few muscle-toning exercises and then stood on his hands. He was staggering about on them when Kieran strolled in eating a banana. He caught Bengo’s feet and helped him to fall back gently onto the floor. Bengo then threw himself on Kieran and smothered him in kisses.
“I love you so much”, he said, smooching all through Kieran’s hair “I’d do anything for you. Follow you anywhere”.
“And what about Bardin?” said Kieran “Is he going to get left behind?”
“No he’d follow as well”, said Bengo, with the supreme self-assurance of someone who is deeply loved.
“Well follow me down to the dining-room”, said Kieran “We’re having some lunch”.
The dining-room looked like it contained a gathering of naturists. Everyone was sitting starkers around the table. Adam was reading a book as he ate, whilst Julian and Ransey talked over him.
“Sometimes I swear you fancy Finia simply because he hasn’t got any messy dangly bits”, Julian was saying “It keeps his body nice and tidy for you”.
“I’m not going to argue with you”, said Ransey.
“That will make a change!” Adam muttered, not looking up from his book.
“Perhaps I do just get a bit tired of looking at dicks all the time”, Ransey continued “If there’s one thing we’re not short of round here it’s messy, dangly bits”.
“Including your own”, Adam looked pointedly down at Ransey’s lap.
Bengo flung himself boisterously into the chair next to Julian, grabbed himself a slice of toasted bread from the basket on the table, and crammed it into his mouth whilst ogling Bardin, who was sitting directly opposite him.
“This bread must be days old”, said Joby “It’s as tough as old boots”.
“That’s why I toasted it”, said Adam “It’s all we had down here. We won’t bake anymore here until we move back down”.
“It tastes fine to me”, said Bengo.
“Eating the doormat’d taste fine to you”, said Joby.
“It’s really not very convenient spending several days up at the sloop”, said Adam “The stove was nearly out when I checked it, and it’s a devil of a job to get it started again if it does. It took us long enough when we got back from the supply-run”.
“I know, but we can’t neglect the poor old sloop”, said Hillyard “That needs tender, loving care too”.
“I guess the only way round it”, said Bardin “Is to not go all up there together. Half of us stay down here, and the other half have a few days at the sloop”.
“But we’d never see each other”, said Lonts, in dismay.
“He means the occasional few days here and there”, Joby explained, wearily “Not all the bleedin’ time!”
“We would still meet up, Lo-Lo”, said Adam, putting his book face-down on the table “There aren’t exactly going to be boundary lines we can’t step over”.
“I hope not”, said Lonts, darkly “That’s how wars start”.
“Oh yeah, you can really imagine that can’t you!” said Joby “Armed warfare between the clowns and the rest of us!”
“Sound idea”, said Ransey “Bardin’s suggestion I mean. At least there’ll be more bed-space for a few days every month!”
After lunch they found that one of the baby goats had escaped and wandered off into the forest. The goats these days were kept in a large pen (which smelt deliciously of goats’ cheese) by the maze, with bits of old tree thrown in for them to scramble over. Often they were taken for walks on a leash. The Indigo-ites put on some clothes from the linen-room and fanned out, to search for the escaped animal.
The part of the forest directly north of the Castle was normally avoided by them, as it was dense and dark, with an uninviting atmosphere. The trees grew too close together, often blocking out the sky completely in some places. Tamaz picked up the bleating of the animal after a while, and located it in a small clearing, which also contained a run-down derelict house, that looked as though it had been gradually absorbed into the surrounding trees. The windows, which peered out gloomily through the overhanging leaves, were all broken.
“What a dump”, said Kieran, stepping cautiously into the dark hallway.
“Even we haven’t lived in places as bad as this!” said Joby.
The bottom two steps on the main staircase had been ripped out and the space filled with broken glass and upturned bits of furniture.
“Somebody’s booby-trapped it”, said Bardin “You’d fall over that in the dark”.
Adam peered into a neighbouring room and came out again rapidly.
“Everything’s covered in mouse-shit”, he said.
“There can’t be anyone still living here surely?” said Joby.
“Perhaps we should take a gander upstairs”, said Kieran, uncertainly.
“Don’t”, said Hillyard, looking up at the sagging ceiling “It’s probably not safe. Even someone your size could fall through that! In fact, we’d better get out of here before something falls on us!”
“What a terrible old house”, said Adam “I can’t believe anyone was ever happy in it”.
“Leprous”, said Kieran.
“It’s the first ugly place we’ve seen round here”, said Bengo.
“Move away, there’s broken glass everywhere”, said Bardin.
Bengo took himself and his bare feet outside, where he found Tamaz, clad in a pair of drawers and one of Kieran’s old shirts with the sleeves cut out, playing with the baby goat, now safely on a leash. Bengo had barely knelt down beside him when they heard Adam give a cry from inside the house.
Something had drawn Adam back into the room he had previously given a cursory look into. This time he had looked behind the door. On the filthy old divan the mummified corpse of a Ghoomer sat flat against the wall. It had obviously been dead for some time, although its skin, now wrinkled and grey like a piece of old fruit, was in a hideous state of preservation. The flinty little eyes staring out at the opposite wall with an intense lifelessness.
“Fucking hell”, Joby turned away “I hope you’re not gonna suggest we give it a decent burial!”
“I wouldn’t dream of getting anyone to handle that”, said Kieran.
Adam ran out of the building and met Julian, who had been in the forest with the others, coming across the clearing.
“What’s the matter?” said Julian, seeing how agitated he was “What’s in there?”
“The c-corpse of a Ghoomer”, said Adam, shakily “T-terrible”.
“Steady now”, said Julian, holding him “At least if it’s dead it can’t cause any harm”.
Back at the Castle Adam was sent to lie down in the library with a glass of brandy. Some of the others went up to the sloop to collect the rest of the animals, and their belongings. Joby sent Tamaz, Bengo and Lonts to wash up the lunch things, and then took Kieran into the dining-room for a private chat.
“I think it’s Mieps who’s the most shaken”, said Kieran “He came face-to-face with what could have happened to him”.
“Gawd yes”, said Joby “Dying alone, with no one to bury you, let alone mourn for you! All our fate hangs on a slender thread when you think about it. Look what a thin chance it was that we managed to get Lonts off that convict ship”.
“Ah, the advantages of being religious you see”, said Kieran “We don’t believe in strange quirks of Fate, but that everything is ordained. That everything has a complex, secret pattern, and often it does when you take a step back and really look at the whole picture”.
“It’s not always easy to do that”, said Joby.
Kieran found it hard to get the image of the dead Ghoomer out of his mind, particularly the lips peeled back, like a poisoned grin, exposing the bat-like teeth. He shuddered, and then jumped as two plates smashed on the floor in the next room, followed by Tamaz yodelling, merrily.
“Oh triffic”, Joby groaned, getting to his feet “Little scrotes!”
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