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By Sarah Hapgood

When the final confirmations had come through that “we is rich again”, as Farnol whimsically described it, a very pleasant time ensued. Countless new objects were bought for the house from the stores in the village, or, if unavailable there, ordered from the outside world, including new bed-linen, vintage ports and wines, and a new gramophone and stack of records. On a more practical note new furs (coats, hats, gloves, rugs and bedspreads) were ordered in the village, and the general outfitters had a enjoyably stressful time of it getting them all accommodated. When Kieran heard that demand had outstripped supply and so trappers would have to set forth afresh into the forest he got quite upset. The others got exasperated with him. Julian demanded to know where the bloody hell he thought the fur coat he had been wearing since they arrived originally came from anyway! At which Kieran made a pitiful plea as to whether they couldn’t find somewhere in the outside world that made artificial fur, such as there had been in their own time.

“Marvellous!” Julian snapped “And upset all the locals by importing fake fur, from some ludicrous place like Krindei no doubt, and ignoring the real stuff on offer here! That wouldn’t exactly be a way to make ourselves popular in the locality now would it!”

Joby told Kieran that he was in danger of getting as “bleedin’ effete as Toppy!” A heinous remark for which Kieran didn’t speak to him again for nearly two hours. He would like to have kept the silent treatment up for even longer, but there was too much going on for that. For one thing he, Kieran, Ransey and Hillyard were to drag a sledge into the village and collect the vintage ports and wines that were waiting for them at the station. As they trod through the forest on a crisp, sunny morning it was clear that the thaw was here to stay, even though it was hard to imagine it being anything other than very cold. They had the best visibility they had had since arriving to take up residence in the locality though, and for the first time they could see the little huts that were scattered around the distant mountain range, to serve as refuges for mountain-climbers, and in summer, shepherds.

When they reached the village street they saw Hanzi standing outside the front door of the First Man’s house, smoking a cigar, and looking, if possible, even more furtive than ever.

“Your boyfriend’s looking out for you, Joby!” Hillyard joked.

“Do me a favour!” said Joby.

When he saw them Hanzi dropped his cigar and ground it out on the doorstep, before beating a hasty retreat indoors. The four Indigo-ites were uninterested in Hanzi’s activities, having had their fill of peculiar brothers over the years. Up on the single station platform which served for all railroad traffic in and out of Marlsblad, there was the welcoming sight of a stack of straw-covered bottles awaiting their collection. A smoke-puffing train was cooling off on the tracks, like a great horse steaming after a particularly strenuous gallop. These days Marlsblad was the end of this particular branch-line. Any trains coming in had to eventually go straight back out again. The train which had bought their vintage beverages was now being prepared for its return journey. The handful of passengers who were going to take advantage of this journey were already assembling on the platform, including, somewhat surprisingly, the First Man, who had, by some miracle, been seated in a bath-chair and swathed in rugs. He looked startled at seeing the Indigo-ites there.

“Are you leaving us?” said Kieran, in an attempt to make conversation.

“A-a little trip to more temperate climes”, the First Man stammered, nervously “The winters here are very harsh, as you have seen, and I-I rarely can manage a whole one. B-by the end of January I am usually finding it very hard. It’s just for a few weeks, until t-the spring has finally arrived here”.

“Your good lady wife not going with you then?” said Kieran.

“She isn’t well”, said the First Man.

“Ah now I’m sorry to hear that”, said Kieran “She looked in full fitness and vigour when we saw her on Twelfth Night”.

“You can say that again!” Joby muttered.

“It’s nothing serious I hope?” said Kieran.

“Oh just a little debilitating that’s all”, said the First Man, awkwardly “Complete rest is what is needed”.

“Wouldn’t it be a good idea for her to go with you?” said Kieran, aware that he was irritating the First Man with his questioning, but at the same time reluctant to let him out of his sight until he had pursued the matter further “A change of scene, a more soothing climate …”

“She is not well enough to travel!” the First Man’s voice came out as a hysterical squeak.

“Now that does sound serious, if she’s not up to a journey”, said Kieran.

“She doesn’t want to leave Marlsblad!” and the First Man sounded decidedly final.

He then began to behave in the most extraordinary manner, squealing to be taken onto the train NOW, whether it was ready or not.

“What’s going on here?” said Ransey, tearing himself away from their new booze supplies because it appeared that Kieran was upsetting the First Man.

“He’s gone crazy on me”, said Kieran.

“What have you said to him?” Ransey barked.

“I only asked after his wife!” said Kieran.

Hillyard suggested that they all pop into the ‘Moon and Stars’ for some refreshment, before setting off back to the Old Mill-House. The ‘Moon and Stars’ doubled as a sort of station waiting-room when a train was due in or out. Most people took advantage of the warm bar or side-rooms, but some obstinate souls insisted on sitting in the foyer, as though travelling should only be undertaken as a sort of masochistic penance. There were two women in there now who obviously fitted into the latter character. They had arrived on the train, and were presumably waiting to be taken on somewhere else by another form of transport.

One of them was heavily veiled, and sat in a pensive attitude, staring at the stove. Her companion wore her fur coat pulled up around her ears, and her hat pulled down, so that the only part of her face that was plainly visible was the tip of nose. Kieran’s behaviour was about to take another turn for the bizarre. When he saw the women he walked straight up to them and stared in what can only be described as a menacing fashion at both of them. The woman in the fur coat gave a distinct hiss of alarm when she saw him, and the veiled woman muttered some incomprehensible words and twisted her fingers, in their thick velvet gloves, around each other in agitation.

Ransey could see that Kieran was distressing them and dragged him into the bar.

“What are you playing at?” he snapped at Kieran, when they were out of earshot “Are you on some mission to upset everybody you meet today?”

“You saw the way they reacted when I went up to them!” said Kieran.

“Kieran”, said Joby “Anyone’d get alarmed with you suddenly bearing down on ‘em like a manic pipe-cleaner!”

“There’s something not right about those two”, said Kieran.

“Put a sock in it!” said Joby.

“We’ll talk about this later”, said Ransey “You start coming out with inflammatory things here and you could start a riot!”

Kieran knew he was right, but conceded that Ransey was also right, in that what he had to say was best not said in public. Fortunately the tension was lifted by a spaniel which had been left tethered to a hook on the side of the bar, and who was whimpering pathetically because its owner had left the room for a few minutes. Joby said the spaniel’s likeness to Bengo was positively uncanny, particularly with the spaniel’s floppy ears passing for Bengo’s floppy hair. This joke was repeated back at the Old Mill-House and everyone found it very funny … except Bengo that is, who was already feeling somewhat sensitive because Dobley had taken him up on his kind offer of accommodation.

Lunch was got underway immediately on their return, and with the festive air generated by the arrival of the vintage booze, Kieran didn’t want to dispel it by going on with his belief that the women in the foyer of the ‘Moon and Stars’ had been vampires. Such a horrific topic, he felt, was best broached in a more mellow moment. Also, if the women had just arrived in Marlsblad, they were undoubtedly staying somewhere in the nearby vicinity, so they weren’t exactly a problem that was going to go away in the near future.

Plus Bardin and Rumble were going into Marlsblad after lunch to collect Dobley, so Bardin hardly had time at present to go into this subject in great detail. The dog-cart was brought to the door, and there was another swirl of coats, hats, gloves and boots.

“You will be quick coming home won’t you, old love?” said Adam, as Bardin demanded a peck on the cheek from Bengo on departure “Only I think there’s more snow coming in”.

“Huh!” said Tamaz “So much for the great thaw!”

“Be quiet, Freaky”, said Adam.

“Yes, don’t be long coming home”, said Kieran “Don’t leave it til dark”.

“Why not?” said Bardin, who had absolutely no intention of hanging around Marlsblad for several hours with Dobley.

“Take no notice of Kieran”, said Joby “He thinks he’s living in a Hammer film!”

“There’s something going on isn’t there, Kieran?” said Bardin.

“Nothing that can’t wait until you get back!” said Ransey.

“Are you absolutely sure you’ve got everything you need?” said Bardin, standing in the middle of Dobley’s room at the ‘Moon and Stars’, and looking with dismay at the small mountain of luggage spread around him.

“We’re all gonna have to move out of the Old Mill-House”, said Rumble “So his luggage can move in!”

“This is all I’ve got in the world”, said Dobley, fastening his last suitcase with a suspiciously shaky hand.

“ALL you’ve got in the world?!” said Bardin.

“What’s in this one?” said Rumble, picking up one battered old suitcase and shaking it vigorously, causing the contents to rattle and clatter.

“Be careful with that one!” said Dobley, rushing to take it from him “This contains my old stage props, from when I used to do me one-man show on the t.v on a Sunday night”.

“Your old stage props?” Bardin exclaimed “What do you want with them?!”

“Well I thought I’d better hang onto them”, Dobley pouted “They might come in handy again one day”.

Bardin gave a deep sigh and shot a mild look of exasperation at Rumble. On the threshold of the room Dobley gave a despairing last look at it.

“You don’t have to leave if you don’t want to”, said Bardin.

“No no I’m glad to leave”, said Dobley “There’s something I don’t like about this place”.

“It always seems a decent enough place to me”, said Rumble.

They went down the dimly-lit main stairway. In the foyer at the bottom one of the serving-maids was mopping the floor. She smiled brightly at them and wished a cheerful farewell to Dobley. (Bardin thought he’d probably look that cheerful himself if he was saying goodbye to Dobley!). On their way out of the building Dobley looked longingly through the doorway of the main bar.

“We haven’t got time for all that now”, said Bardin “I want to get home before dark”.

Outside the twilight was closing in fast, and the sky looked pregnant with snow. There was a strong feeling of gloom and negative anticipation in the air. Bardin resolutely banished sinister thoughts from his head, and put it down to the villagers’ weariness, a battle-weary feeling, after several months of harsh weather and still yet more to come. Bardin drove them at a steady but determined trot through the forest. Hillyard ran out to grab the horse when they pulled up at the Old Mill-House.

Bardin had been worried that Dobley might make too much of a grand entrance, but in the end he was simply absorbed into the heaving pulse of the building. There were too many others around for him to swamp the place with his presence. Joby meanwhile barely noticed his arrival at all. Working in the kitchen part of the room, he was aware of Kieran pacing about directly overhead. In the end he went upstairs to see what was going on.

“I can hear you pacing about”, he said “It’s like having The Lodger up above! What’s the matter with you now?”

“Those women must have gone to the Winter Palace”, said Kieran, as Joby groaned “No listen to me. Where else could they have gone? They were waiting to go on somewhere. Well there’s no train due in this place again for days, and apart from us, there is no other building out in the forest, apart from the Winter Palace. It’s no good looking like that, Joby. How are you going to feel when people start disappearing again? In fact, they already have”.

“Who?” said Joby.

“That woman who died in the bath-tub”, said Kieran.

“Yeah, exactly”, said Joby “She DIED, she didn’t disappear!”

“Lila”, said Kieran.

“She hasn’t disappeared, she’s just a bit under the weather”, said Joby.

“Why has her old man gone off if she’s ill?” said Kieran.

“Because he’s a selfish git that’s why!” said Joby “That was the impression I got the first time we met him, and I was right. Look, shall we go out to the Winter Palace tomorrow morning and have a look?”

“Are you sure about that?” said Kieran.

“No”, said Joby.

Joby came up with the idea that he and Kieran should say they were going out to practice their skiing skills. Unfortunately Lonts decided that he could come with them, as their professional instructor. Adam thought this was a “delightful” idea. A lot of skillful diplomacy was required along the lines of them wanting some time alone. Adam endorsed this, knowing how important it was when living so cheek-by-jowl to get personal space. Lonts stuck out his bottom lip, but otherwise didn’t raise any trouble.

The journey out the next day started off as more fun than fearful. They were both still trying to get the hang of moving about on ski’s, and so a lot of falling about went on.

“I’m an Irishman”, said Kieran, as Joby helped him to his feet “I’m not meant to move about on ski’s”.

“You don’t look right on ‘em that’s for sure!” said Joby.

They progressed in fits and starts towards the Winter Palace, stopping for a while outside what remained of Resz’s old hut.

“Poor sod”, said Joby “What a life he had, bloody lobotomised by the Ministry”.

“A victim of his own times”, said Kieran.

Eventually they emerged from the trees that bordered the clearing leading up to the bridge of the Winter Palace. Joby emerged first, and then instantly turned round and pushed Kieran backwards.

“Back, back!” said Joby “The door’s open!”

They both got back behind a tree, amidst a general tangling and untangling of ski’s, and then peered cautiously back. There were clear footprints on the snow that had recently fallen on the bridge. The big, forbidden double wooden doors were standing slightly open, emitting a crack of darkness from inside. Suddenly, as they watched, the doors were roughly slammed shut from within.

“Did you see who did that?” said Kieran.

“No, did you?” said Joby.

“No, I was hoping you did”, said Kieran.

“Whoever did it was standing right behind the door”, said Joby.

Kieran fumbled amongst his many layers of clothing and pulled out the crucifix that hung around his neck.

“I’d like to go up to it”, said Kieran “And hang this across the door!”

“And what good would that do?” said Joby “All that’d be would be making a grand gesture, it wouldn’t keep ‘em in!”

“Sick bastards”, Kieran muttered.

“They must be, to wanna live there!” said Joby “Reminds me of the Turd House outside Toondor Lanpin. You remember, we saw somebody standing in the doorway of that once? Come on, let’s get back to the house. I don’t wanna be out here when the sun starts setting”.

“Do you realise we can’t hear any birds out here?” said Kieran.

“Look, let’s stop standing around, I’m frozen!” said Joby.

Joby was woken up in the night by a wolf howling from out in the forest. He found Kieran was already awake next to him.

“Did it wake you?” said Kieran, softly.

“Yeah”, said Joby “When we get this new extension built I vote we have double glazing put on it!”

The wolf howled again.

“Ah listen to them”, said Joby, putting on a Bela Lugosi-style voice “The children of the night!”

“I wonder what they’re up to at the Winter Palace at the moment”, said Kieran.

“I’d rather not know, thanks!” said Joby.

“There’s something focking surreal about lying here knowing there could be a castle of vampires a couple of miles away”, said Kieran.

“A damn sight improvement on being in there with ‘em!” said Joby.

Some light relief was offered at the weekend by a film show that was to be put on in the community hall, which was housed on the ground floor of what had been the Love Suite, and which was converted into a cinema for the occasion. These film weekends were put on every few months or so, or whenever cans of new film could be bought in from the outside world. They were an especially popular entertainment with the locals during the long dark months of winter, regardless of what kind of films were put on. Any escapism was considered better than none. Kieran and Joby decided to take Lonts and Tamaz out for the evening, accompanied by Hillyard who was to drive, they were joined by Bengo and Bardin. Normally Bardin would sneer at the prospect of going to the cinema for the evening, but Adam had told him that Bengo was looking particularly tired and peaky, and needed a diversion. They arrived at the same time as most of the rest of the audience, and a chaotic time ensued finding places, and trying to figure out where to put all their outdoor clothing. In the end they piled them on the floor and stuck their feet on top of them.

“Make sure we save a place for Hillyard”, said Lonts (Hillyard was getting the horses settled at the stables of the ‘Moon and Stars’ for the evening). He chose the seat next to himself at the end of the aisle for this purpose, and glared fiercely at anyone who showed an inclination to sit there.

“Excuse me”, the man behind tapped Bardin on the shoulder.

“What?” Bardin snapped.

“Could you take off your hat please?” said the man.

Bardin sighed huffily but removed the offending headgear.

“All this fuss”, he muttered “Just for a couple of crappy films”.

“Oh shut up, Bardy”, said Bengo “I like to see what other performers are up to”.

“I’ll get everybody an ice-lolly”, said Lonts, getting back up and heading to the girl selling refreshments in the aisle.

“Oh great”, said Joby “Just what we could do with on an Arctic night like this!”

“I don’t think they’re selling mugs of tea”, Kieran smiled.

“Well they bleedin’ well should be!” Joby growled.

“Hillyard”, said Lonts, when he got back to them “You’re just in time, the first feature’s about to start”.

Hillyard took his seat, and a sucking of ice-lollies ensued. The first feature crackled onto the screen, a short film called “An Evening At The Circus”.

“Oh they’re might be ones like you in it, Bengo”, said Lonts.

“That’s all we need!” said Joby.

A glittering (if somewhat old) film-footage of trapeze-artists took place, which had Lonts absolutely enraptured, and Tamaz wishing he had costumes like that. A display of dancing horses and elephants had Lonts in a swoon of stupified wonder. The clowns’ routine that followed, involving a bit of slapstick safe-cracking, had Bardin tutting and hurumphing.

“Piffle!” was his verdict “There were dozens of sight-gags crying out to be done there and they missed them!”

When the brief closing credits rolled up, Bengo stuck the stick of his ice-lolly in his mouth and clapped vigorously, just to annoy Bardin.

“Oh blimey”, said Joby “Now we’re gonna have about three million adverts, we’ll be lucky if the next film starts this side of midnight!”

An extremely old advert showed two men in suits standing in a garage forecourt and peering down rather earnestly at a very dull-looking car.

“Isn’t it funny how cinema adverts NEVER change!” said Kieran.

“I know”, said Joby “We’ll be getting one for ‘the Bangladeshi restaurant in the High Street’ next!’”

“That’d be interesting!” Kieran laughed.

“I’m going to have to nip out for a slash”, said Hillyard, getting back to his feet.

“For crying out loud Hillyard, you’ve only just got here!” said Joby.

“It must have been that cup of tea I had before we came out”, said Hillyard.

“More likely that crafty pint he had at the ‘Moon and Stars’ just now!” Joby muttered to Kieran “I could smell it on his breath as soon as he sat down!”

“Ach you’re just jealous!” said Kieran.

“Well look who it isn’t!” said Josh, rolling drunkenly down the main aisle, clutching a bottle of beer in his grubby hand “Our Joby on a night out with the girls!”

“Oh rack off, Josh!” said Joby.

Grumbles and moans followed at Josh to sit down and be quiet. Fortunately there was nowhere for him to sit near them, so he was forced to sit several rows away. The big feature finally started, a disaster movie about a tidal-wave, obviously inspired by the catastrophe in Port West a few years ago, but filmed in Aspiriola. In spite of all the noise the film generated Bengo nodded off, and during the rare quiet moments in the movie, he could be heard softly snoring. Kieran also fancied he heard a strange rumbling noise from out in the street, and was all for getting up and investigating, but Joby practically anchored him to his chair.

Bengo woke up when the lights were raised as the closing credits rolled. He was disappointed to have slept through most of the film, and wasn’t reassured by Bardin’s caustic comment that he hadn’t missed anything. Hillyard was strangely nervy as they moved out into the foyer and got bundled back up again in their outdoor clothing. Originally the plan had been to go and have a drink at the pub afterwards, but he firmly vetoed this on the grounds that it had snowed again during the course of the evening and they should get home. He said they were all to wait in the foyer whilst he went to fetch the horse and cart, and got very snappy when they queried him.

“What’s the matter with him?” said Joby, when Hillyard had gone “He’s been a bag of nerves most of the evening”.

“Perhaps he heard the rumbling noise as well”, said Kieran.

“Rumbling noise”, Tamaz snorted, unimpressed “It was probably the drains!”

Having slept for most of the evening, Bengo found he couldn’t sleep when he got to bed. He tossed and turned, and hoped that by thumping about so much that he might “accidentally” wake Bardin up.

“Bengo, will you stop thumping about”, said Bardin, drowsily “If you need the loo go and use it!”

Now that the idea had been put into his head Bengo found that he did need to use the loo. He groped his way through the darkness to the door and out onto the landing, where he gave a squeal of alarm.

“What the fuck is it now?!” said Bardin, crossly getting out of bed.

“It’s nothing”, said Bengo, leaning against the door-frame, breathlessly “Kieran was coming up the stairs, and in the candlelight I thought he was a ghost!”

“A ghost?” said Kieran, carrying a candle on a saucer up to the landing “That’s charming!”

“Well I wasn’t expecting to see you there!” said Bengo.

“What are you doing creeping around at this time of night?” said Bardin, snapping uncharacteristically at Kieran.

“I’ve been down to use that glory-hole we call a lavatory!” said Kieran “I wasn’t expecting to go putting the wind up any clowns whilst I was about it!”

“Go and get on with it”, Bardin jabbed impatiently at Bengo “I’ll come down with you, otherwise God knows what chaos you’ll cause! I’m surprised you haven’t wet yourself!”

“I’m not a kid anymore, Bardy”, Bengo grumbled, as they went down the stairs.

“Could’ve fooled me at times!” said Bardin.

Kieran laughed and went back into the rear bedroom.

“I don’t need my hand holding to go to the loo, Bardy”, said Bengo, when they got down to the kitchen.

“Well fortunately I have no intention of coming in there with you”, said Bardin “There’s no room anyway”.

Bengo went into the cupboard housing the commode. Meanwhile Bardin found that the dogs were sniffing around the glass doors at the back of the room. Randolph even started growling, as though at something just outside them. Bardin had no intention of opening the thick velvet curtains to see what was there, and instead settled the dogs back into their baskets, using the same firm tone that he did when calming down Bengo. When Bengo emerged from the commode cupboard Bardin nearly jumped out of his skin.

“Now you’re getting all nervy now”, said Bengo.

“Come on”, said Bardin, giving a nervous glance at the curtained doorway “Let’s get back to bed”.

Hillyard’s pensive mood had continued on from the evening in the village, and it took some time to get it out of him exactly what the problem was. In the end he told Kieran that he had overheard something in the ‘Moon and Stars’, before going onto the film evening, which had upset him so much he felt physically sick.

“I had gone in for a quick pint before coming on down to join you”, he said.

“Joby thought that might have been the case”, Kieran smiled.

“You can’t get much past him can you!” said Hillyard “Anyway, because the film-show was on, the pub was practically deserted. There was only me and some old man feeding crisps to his dog in the bar. I heard a load of voices in the room behind the bar, everyone seemed to be really worked up about something”.

“Was it the staff?” said Kieran.

“Some of them, and a poaching party”, said Hillyard “I mean, we all know the ‘Moon and Stars’ relies a lot on local poachers for its fresh stuff”.

“Twas ever thus in a country place”, said Kieran “Although I can’t see who actually owns any of the land round here for them to be classed as poachers, I would’ve said it was more of a free-for-all anyway”.

“Oh it’s just a convenient shorthand term that’s all”, said Hillyard “That’s how Ransey put it once anyway. Well I didn’t think anything much of all this. I thought they was just having a set-to about money or something. Then one of the serving-maids comes running out in a right state. In fact she was in such a state she went crashing into me and didn’t notice. I sort of sidled up to the doorway a bit more to see if I could get the gist of what was going on”.

“Didn’t the old man say anything?” said Kieran “The one in the bar with his dog?”

“Deaf as a post I think”, said Hillyard “He didn’t even look up when the girl ran out. So as I said I sidles up to the door, and … and …”

“What?” said Kieran.

“One of their mates, one of the other poachers, had been found killed in the forest”, said Hillyard “He’d been missing for a couple of nights, and they’d gone out looking for him. He was found torn to pieces”.

“Torn to pieces?” Kieran exclaimed “What – mauled by a wild animal perhaps? A bear, or a wolf?”

“No, TORN!” said Hillyard “Ripped in half! As though he’d been torn in half by two people, one grabbing his upper part and the other his feet! That’s what they were saying!”

Kieran wandered into the middle of the back bedroom, where they were talking, holding his hands to his mouth.

“What the fuck could do that, Kieran?” said Hillyard “That weren’t no animal did that!”

“A demon”, said Kieran, finally removing his hands from his mouth “A demon could do that. I’m guessing, but I suspect Them at the Winter Palace have put a demon out in the forest, as a sort of guard for them, much as the vampires did with the Gorgon”.

“Then what can we do?” said Hillyard.

“A number of things”, said Kieran “But to start with I’m going to make a blessing round our immediate area here, as a sort of exclusion zone if you like”.

“Terrific”, said Joby, standing at the bottom of the stairs with Tamaz “When in doubt we do a blessing!”

“What good does he think that’s going to do?” Tamaz snorted.

“Stop being so disparaging you two”, said Adam “Absolutely anything is worth a try”.

Adam went over to the fireplace, which was flanked by Julian and Ransey in armchairs. Ransey was irritated by Kieran’s plan, and sat rustling the pages of a newspaper to show his indignation.

“What a right pair of grumpy old men you two are!” Adam scolded them “Would you rather he took no notice of what was going on?”

“If all he can come up with is a blessing”, said Julian “Then he might as well!”

“How unspeakably outrageous can you get!” said Adam “I don’t notice either of you two coming up with a plan or any sound ideas. A blessing is only the start of his plans, we have to protect ourselves first, and then we’ve got a base to start from”.

“I don’t see how wandering out into the forest mumbling a load of old hocus-pocus is protecting himself!” said Ransey.

Adam thumped his newspaper.

At noon everyone but the four time-crossers (Julian, Adam, Kieran and Joby) went into the village to fetch supplies. Meanwhile Julian once again put Kieran under house-arrest, not trusting him in the forest at large under the present circumstances. Kieran lost his temper, accused Julian and Adam of being two arrogant public-school twats who still thought they could strut around the world telling everyone what to do, and ran upstairs.

“Oh come on now, Kiel”, said Joby, when he followed him up to the back bedroom “It’s not worth all this”.

“How can you side with them?” Kieran demanded to know.

“I’m not siding with anybody, I think you’re all behaving like a bunch of jerks!” said Joby “All Julian’s trying to do though is to stop you being too impetuous. ‘Cos knowing you you’ll go rushing to that bloody Palace without being completely clued-up first, and you can’t deny that ‘cos it’s true”.

“That’s still no excuse for those two to act like a pair of iron-fisted dictators!” said Kieran.

Joby spluttered with laughter.

“Sorry”, he said “It’s just the idea of Adam being an iron-fisted dictator, more like a velvet one!”

“I despair”, said Kieran, blowing his nose noisily “An Irishman still being treated like scum by the English upper classes”.

“Oh behave yourself, Kieran!” said Joby “We’ll be getting Oliver Cromwell or the Famine next! Look, they’re hardly treating you like scum if they’re trying to stop you getting yourself in the shit are they!”

“Ach you English always stick together”, said Kieran.

“I’m really gonna thump you in a minute!” said Joby “All they’re doing is putting a restraint on you whilst we think out a plan of action, that’s all they’re doing! All we’re saying is be a bit more cagey about it, that’s all”.

“But a man has been ripped in half!” Kieran protested.

“Yeah exactly!” said Joby “So we don’t go taking stupid risks do we! Come on, you know it makes sense. Wash your face, and I’ll go down and make us some tea”.

When they both got downstairs Julian was nowhere to be seen, and Adam was perched on the edge of the kitchen table smoking a cigar.

“Oh there you are”, he said “The tea is brewing in the pot, I thought you might like some”.

“Where’s Julian gone?” said Joby.

“I’ve sent him outside to fetch some logs”, said Adam.

“How on earth did you manage that?” said Joby.

“I made it quite clear to him that it was in his best interests to do so!” said Adam “I’d suggest we all calm down a little. The others will be home soon, I don’t want them walking in in the middle of a scene”.

“Why not?” said Joby “They all cause enough of ‘em!”

Julian kicked at the back door to be let in, his arms full of logs. Joby sighed and went over to open the door. Julian dropped a log in the process of coming into the house, and ordered Joby to pick it up. Joby gave him a filthy look behind his back but complied.

“Do you want a rock cake, Patsy?” said Adam, getting out the cake tin “Or are you going to threaten us with another hunger strike?!”

Kieran looked as though he was going to burst into tears.

“Hey, there’s no need for that”, Joby rebuked Adam “That was just cruel that was”.

“I certainly had no intention of being cruel”, said Adam “I just worry about him going into periodic declines that’s all”.

“I’m not going into a decline”, Kieran mumbled.

A potentially unpleasant atmosphere was diverted by the return home of all the others, complete with a vast quantity of more shopping. Mieps’ bundle of bottle-green knitting-wool being one of the less welcome acquisitions.

“You needn’t think I’m wearing a jumper in that colour!” said Joby, when Mieps held a ball of the wool next to his face.

“It’s not going to be a jumper”, said Mieps “It’s going to be a cardigan”.

“And I’ll see you in Hell before I wear a cardigan!” said Joby “I’m not THAT old!”

“Actually I think you are, old love”, said Adam “In fact you’re probably so old you’re beyond the age of wearing a cardigan!”

Lonts hooted with laughter.

“You’ve been invited to supper tonight with Hanzi”, said Tamaz, rather accusingly, to Joby.

“What, just me?” said Joby, in dismay.

“No, he wants Adam and Kieran to go as well”, said Tamaz, sounding well-huffed “He wants the original three he says, no one else”.

“Well we don’t have to go”, said Adam.

“I think you should”, said Ransey “It might be a good way of finding out information”.

“I am not putting up with another evening of Hanzi, just so that you can get information”, said Adam.

“But it’s important!” Ransey expostulated.

“He’s got a point there”, said Bardin.

“Oh et tu, Bardin!” said Adam.

“Don’t worry”, said Hillyard “Some of us’ll be up the road in the pub if you need us”.

“Oh that’s a comfort!” said Joby.

After lunch Bardin ordered a bath to be prepared for himself in the back bedroom. Adam went up to see him whilst he was immersing himself completely in the warm water.

“Is Dobley settling in alright?” said Adam, kneeling by the side of the tub and soaping Bardin’s back “I haven’t heard much from him”.

“Think yourself lucky!” said Bardin “I’ve noticed he’s started writing jokes down on slips of paper. For God’s sake don’t ask him to read any of them out, I couldn’t stand it! I sometimes think if Bengo was allowed to have his way we’d open up a retirement home for clapped-out old clowns!”

“We used to have them in my time too”, said Adam “Retirement homes for ex-showbiz people I mean. I used to think it would be absolutely fascinating to work somewhere like that, the stories one would hear!”

“They’d probably just bore the arse off you going on about what billing they used to get, and all the backstage conspiracies there were to end their careers!” said Bardin. “Oh you’re such a gruff little thing aren’t you!” said Adam, now towelling him down, and admiring his slender body in the firelight “Positively brusque!”

He leant down and kissed Bardin’s shoulder. Like a reflex action, Bardin instinctively put his hand up to cover his twisted lip, as though trying to hide it from view. Adam wondered if he even realised he was doing it. He pulled Bardin’s hand away and kissed his lips too.

“So I’m not the token toff tonight!” said Piers, drunk as usual, and wearing what appeared to be a battered stovepipe hat “Well that does make a change I must say. In fact if anything us toffs outnumber the working class hero!”

“Piers”, Adam sighed “Try and rein it in a bit, old love, or this will be a very trying evening”.

Joby hadn’t taken any notice of the working hero jibe though, he was too busy being dismayed at the sight of the Marquis de Sade, sitting like a coiled up snake on a leather chair, and wearing dark glasses, even though it was now evening, and the living room of the First Man’s house was fairly dimly-lit.

“Well I’m only saying”, Piers continued “After all, our friend Mr de Sade is a Marquis”, pronouncing it the English way.

“That’s just one of the things he is”, Joby growled “Another is that he’s a …”

“How is Lila, Hanzi?” Adam quickly butted in.

“Still indisposed”, said Hanzi, giggling in the perpetual way he had.

The Indigo-ites noticed that he was wearing long gloves made out of thick leather. They got the impression though that this wasn’t out of any kinkiness, but to hide something. It seemed there was a lot of hiding things going on in this house. For the first time since arriving in Marlsblad before Christmas, they sensed personal danger to themselves.

“I’m going to have to use your lavatory”, said Kieran “Where is it?”

“Top of the stairs”, Hanzi sighed, as though aggrieved at having to bring such a mundane topic into the sinister conversation.

Kieran found the top of the staircase plunged in deep gloom, no lighting of any kind anywhere. He pushed open the loo door just so that he knew where to flush it before returning downstairs. Then he ventured into a room that overlooked the village street, guessing that this would most likely be the gregarious Lila’s room. Even in the gloom he could see clearly that it was a woman’s room. There was an abundance of pink lace and taffeta everywhere, mirrors on every surface, and dolls on the bed. Her clothes had been pulled out of one of the wardrobes and dumped in a heap on the bedspread. A pair of pink fluffy slippers had also been chucked there. Obviously of Lila, there was no sign. Kieran quietly withdrew from the room and closed the door. He flushed the lavatory, and then on returning to the top of the stairs was startled by a door slamming loudly from further down the upstairs corridor. Someone else was in the house, and that someone had been watching him.

The supper itself was a tense one. Hardly any conversation took place, and the food and drink was as sub-standard as it had been on the previous visit. The only thing of any note was the pudding, which was a heap of fruit (tinned at this time of year, naturally) served in individual chocolate slippers, a dish which Hanzi informed them he had called “Fruity Justine”.

“Oh of course”, said Adam, with a tone more of regret than enthusiasm in his voice “Justine was the name of one of your most famous characters, Sade”.

“A young woman continually punished for being virtuous”, said Sade, speaking for the first time that evening “I should have made her a man instead, and called her Kieran!”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Joby snapped.

Adam shot him a warning look, but Joby was already too angry. Sade had been staring at him almost constantly from behind his dark glasses throughout the meal, clearly trying to intimidate him, although for what ends was anybody’s guess. Sade muttered something in French. Joby flew out of his chair, ran round the table and dragged Sade to the floor. Joby hauled by his clothes through the dining-room doors and into the living-room. Sade yelled for help in French. Joby seized him by his ears and bashed his head continuously against the floor.

“Joby, stop!” Adam pulled him off “You’ve hurt your knuckles, stop it!”

Joby’s knuckles were bleeding, although how that had happened when the carpet was deep-pile was a mystery. Sade was holding his head and spitting and muttering. Adam pulled out a handkerchief and bound up Joby’s hand.

“I can’t help it”, said Joby, emotionally “He’s such a jerk. Just ‘cos he’s got a title he thinks he’s summat special, when all he is is a fucking low-life! He’s no different to a pervert who hangs around in dark alleys waiting to attack women!”

“Calm down, ssh”, Adam soothed him “Come on now”.

This didn’t have much effect. Joby now ran at Piers and headed him. Piers fell over backwards, and lay in a daze on the floor. Adam seized Joby round the waist and shook him firmly.

“We’re leaving”, said Adam “NOW, before you cause total chaos! Where’s Patsy?”

Good question.

Kieran had taken advantage of Joby’s unexpected diversionary tactics to grab one of the sharp knives from the dining-table, and run off to search the house. He didn’t see any point in being stealthy about this. Whoever was in the house at the present time would have heard the uproar in the living-room, and guessed that untoward things were afoot. Kieran snatched an oil-lamp from the table in the hallway and ran upstairs yelling for Lila. He ran down the dark corridor throwing open the doors as violently as he could. In the dim light of the lamp he could see that the other rooms were empty, apart from the occasional heap of old furniture and bedding which had been thrown into the middle of the floor.

Then he noticed a pair of feet disappearing through a hole in the ceiling, the entrance to the loft. Kieran stood quietly and listened to which direction they were going in. They were heading rapidly towards the left. Joby and Adam had appeared breathlessly behind him by now, Joby’s hand bleeding profusely through the handkerchief.

“Help me up”, said Kieran “Whatever it is up here has gone up into the loft”.

“Here”, said Joby, pulling a pistol from out of the holster under his jacket “Take this, and don’t hesitate to use it!”

Kieran clambered onto a chair and pulled himself up through the hatchway, with the pistol tucked into his shirt. He perched himself on the edge, and Adam handed him up the oil-lamp.

“I might have known!” Kieran exclaimed “There are no partitions between the lofts in these houses, they run all along the street!”

“Patsy, I think you should get down from there now”, said Adam.

He and Adam helped him back down again.

“What’s going on down below?” said Kieran, when he was back on his feet again.

“Piers is burbling on about fetching the Town Constable, and getting Joby done on two counts of serious assault”, said Adam.

“Ach don’t worry”, said Kieran “Hillyard can pay a hefty bail”.

“You’re a corrupt little bastard on the quiet aren’t you!” said Joby.

“It’s not going to happen anyway”, said Adam “I suspect the last thing Hanzi and our old friend Monsieur de Sade want is the authorities getting involved in their lives. Let’s get out of here before they come to us for seconds!”

They went downstairs and collected their outdoor gear from the hall. There was a murmur of agitated voices coming from the living-room. Hanzi appeared looking flushed and nervy in the doorway.

“What have you been doing upstairs?” he said, no trace of giggle in his voice for once.

“Looking for the mystery person in this house”, said Kieran.

“Get out of here!” Hanzi shrieked.

“Funny, that’s exactly what we had in mind!” said Joby.

“Now where are you going?” said Joby, as Kieran turned in at the gateway of the house on the left of the one they had just left.

“Paying a call on Hegley”, said Kieran, thumping on the front door.

“Kieran!” Hegley gasped, on opening the door “What’s going on this evening? I could hear all sorts of noises from next door. What’s happened?”

“I’m afraid we’re going to have to search your house, Hegley”, said Kieran.

As this house only had three rooms in total, one on the ground floor and two upstairs, this wasn’t expected to take much time.

“Here!” Josh met Joby and Kieran on the landing “What the hell do you think you’re playing at? You’re carrying on like the cops on a drugs bust!”

“Yeah well you’d probably know all about that!” said Joby, pushing past him into the front bedroom “Blimey, what a nice flowery little dell you’ve got in here! I bet you charm all the women into here!”

Josh’s room contained a bed with filthy sheets, a wardrobe that contained no clothes, as all his were festooned along the bed-rail, and an impressive collection of beer bottles. He used an old stone hot-water bottle as an ash-tray.

“Piers’ room isn’t much of an improvement!” said Kieran, joining him in there.

“I asked you what the hell is going on!” said Josh “How would you like it if I came into your house like this, eh?”

“Have you noticed anyone coming down through your loft-hatch this evening, Josh?” said Kieran.

“Course I bleedin’ haven’t!” said Josh.

“Anyone moving overhead?” said Kieran.

“Dunno”, said Josh.

“What do you mean, you dunno?” said Joby “Surely even you might think it was a bit weird to hear someone charging across overhead?!”

“Well for chrissake you’re always getting weird noises in this house!” said Josh “We think it’s mice”.

“This is a wee bit bigger than a mouse, Josh”, said Kieran.

“Oh there’s no point asking him anything, hopeless!” said Joby “He probably wouldn’t notice if the ceiling fell in!”

“What’s happened to your hand?” said Josh.

“Joby’s been doing a bit of the old grievous bodily this evening”, said Kieran.

Josh gave a snort of disbelief.

Out on the landing Adam positioned a chair under the loft-hatch and did the same as Kieran had done in the house next door. Hegley was clutching onto the banisters nervously.

“And just what do you think you’re gonna find up there?” said Josh.

“Nothing by the looks of things”, said Adam, shining a torch round the cavernous loft space “It’s no good Patsy. Whoever it was could have disappeared into any of the houses down this street”.

“Hey”, said Josh “I heard of a bloke doing that once. He burgled all the houses down his street, ‘cos he found out there were no walls in the loft. He’d wait until someone had gone out, and then come down through the hatchway into their house”.

“Yes, I think that was used in ‘Gaslight’ wasn’t it?” said Adam, and then sighed “Oh never mind”, when Josh looked blank.

“Sounds more like an urban myth to me!” said Joby “I’ve never heard of houses with communal loft-space before! Wouldn’t exactly be a great selling point would it!”

“Well the fact remains that’s what we’ve got here”, said Kieran.

“Would anyone like a cup of tea?” said Hegley.

Josh sniggered.

“Yeah, why not”, said Joby, glaring at him.

The evening didn’t finish in any better way than it had progressed. Piers staggered home whilst they were drinking the tea downstairs, and shouted incoherently at Joby before bursting into tears. This was so monumentally embarrassing that Adam had no choice but to escort him firmly up to his room. Once they were there Piers lay on the bed and burbled about how no one had ever loved him, not even his Mother, before falling into unconsciousness. It was a huge relief to call time on the evening’s activities soon afterwards.

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