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"These fog-banks that appear without any warning, they're what I hate most of all", said Julian, tiredly running his fingers through his hair "Doubly worrying now we're getting closer to the Peninsula, as everything's so much more rocky. If we should run aground ..."
"The ship would probably break up", said Ransey "And not only would that be very dangerous, but we'd also have nothing to live on if we ever got back to the City".
"What do you mean?"
"That we haven't any money left. We used the last substantial part of our savings to buy this glorified bath-tub, and get it fitted out with supplies in Lixix".
"Now you tell me!" Julian began to pace around his cabin "This is what we get for trusting you with all our finances!"
"Now don't get hysterical, you're making the fire smoke", said Ransey, as plumes of smoke from the small coal-fire in the grate began to waft about the room "I didn't want to mention it at the beginning of the voyage, as I didn't want to spoil it for everyone".
"You mean the rest of us might have decided not to come!" Julian retorted.
"We had to come. We had no choice. It was either that or our second winter in the City, and all the attendant problems that would've brought us", said Ransey "As long as we get the Indigo back to the City in one piece, we can sell it. We won't re-coop what we paid for it, but it'll be something".
"And that will be all we'll have", Julian sat back down in his chair "We've used up all our savings?"
"Yes. But I was offered a job at the Ministry before we left, I'm sure I could get another one. Particularly with a reference from Kieran. If not, I'll go freelance, help blokes with their income tax returns, that sort of thing".
"Don't be silly Ransey, you can hardly support all of us on your own".
"Perhaps you could go back to work too. You used to earn quite a packet at interior design. You could do it again".
"I've been off the scene for too many years".
"And Hillyard can turn his hand to most things practical".
"We'll be starting up our own agency at this rate", Julian laughed "I can just see it. No job too big or too small! You with your accountancy, me designing offices and apartments, Hillyard and Joby can mow lawns or get a paper-round, Finia can do a spot of dressmaking, we'll have Lonts modelling underwear for mail-order catalogues, and we can hire Adam and Kieran out as escorts!"
"There you are, problem solved already", said Ransey, collecting his maps together and shuffling them into order.
"If only all problems were that easy to solve", Julian sighed "We're heading into dangerous waters".
"Not turning yellow are you?"
"I have got the lives of eight people to consider, plus myself".
"We'll be cautious. I'll draw up a roster, and keep someone on lookout at all times. Men have got through these waters with a lot less going for them than we have".
"The way you're being so confident I think you should be skipper", said Julian.
"Nah, we've got used to you being in charge now", said Ransey, getting to his feet "If you've captained us through the easy part, you can captain us through the bad part too. And we all do as you tell us don't we? I'll bring you the nightwatchman roster in the morning".
"O.K, but leave Adam off it. I don't want him up there in that fog".
"Nor the baby", said Ransey "The rest of us can do it between us, say three or four hours at a stretch each".
Adam pulled the blanket over Lonts and tucked it into the side of his bunk. The weather was turning cold now, so Lonts slept in his thermal vest, but he still had a tendency to kick his covers off. Adam stroked the sleeping boy's hair and then quietly left the cabin.
The others were engaged in a noisy card-game in the saloon, and Adam left the cabin door ajar so that Lonts could hear they were nearby if he woke up suddenly. Adam picked up a flashlight from the floor and shone it over the topside door at the head of the steps. Everything appeared to be secure, so he went into the galley to make some coffee.
"Have you been watching me?" he asked, when he noticed Julian standing in the doorway.
"I needed comforting", said Julian, sitting down at the table "And I always find you comforting. When I watched you just then you reminded me of my nanny. When I was small I used to watch her as she walked around at night, checking everything".
"It must've made you feel safe".
"I used to pretend I was asleep, because then, just before she left the room, she'd stroke my forehead. God knows why she was so nice to me. I was a right little beast to her", Julian sighed "But I expect it was because she was paid to be".
"She wasn't paid to stroke your forehead when she thought you were asleep", Adam pointed out "I expect she realised what I always have. You needed a bit of love and attention".
"I've spent all my life trying to get attention", said Julian, candidly "Always wanting to be the dominant force in any group. I expect Joby would say it's because I'm an upper-class jerk who thinks he's God's gift".
"When actually it's because you had frigid parents who ignored you", said Adam "And who would only have shown an interest in you if your older brother had died".
"Yes. The spare", said Julian, ruefully "Is Lonts asleep at last?"
"Good", Julian sighed "I suddenly don't feel able to cope with any of this".
"Jules, you'll do it, I have faith in you", Adam reached across the table and squeezed his hand "Anyway you're not making all the decisions on your own. We're all here to help each other".
"Oh God, you sound like some management training course. Male-bonding, team-work, all that kind of thing".
"No. Just trying to make you feel less lonely, that's all".
"You were right the other day though. What right have I got to try and get us round one of the most treacherous sea-passages in the world? I could end up getting us all killed".
"We'll worry about that when the time comes".
"You've changed your tune!"
"Just resigned myself to the inevitable", said Adam "I'm like Joby. I get hysterical at the thought of an idea. But once I've got used to it, nothing can shake me from it".
"So what's happening now?"
"Only it knows, Your Grace".
"Well a fat lot of good that is!" said Tamaz, quivering with so much anger that his hood fell back exposing his extraordinary face "I paid you a bloody fortune to shift that creature back to the City for me, and you can't tell me what it's doing!"
Tamaz and the fat soothsayer were both staring through the bars of the cage at The Most Fearsome Creature In The World. The cage served no useful purpose at all, other than a convenient place to store the creature. Tamaz had bribed the City Circus to buy the creature, even though the Manager had loftily informed him that they were trying to move away from the old freak show aspect. Tamaz wanted the half-solid half-elemental in the City where he could keep an eye on it, and as he could hardly house it at the Ministry Headquarters, the Circus was the best cover for him.
Whenever he could Tamaz disguised himself and slipped across the City to take a look at his protege. The fat soothsayer, who now acted as the creature's unofficial guardian, often reported to Tamaz that it had been "out of it". This oblique phrase was meant to signify that the creature had astrally projected itself, and was now on the far side of the world doing some grave injury to the Captain and crew of the Indigo. All the while leaving its grotesque body lying in the sawdust at the foot of its cage.
Tamaz was only now coming round to the notion that he may have been conned. Everytime he turned up at the circus the creature was "out of it", but no one could tell him what it was up to, or even if it was succeeding in having any effect on Kieran and his merry men.
"Can't it at least tell us what's happening when he comes round?" said Tamaz.
"It cannot speak, Your Grace", said the fat soothsayer.
"So in fact there might not be anything happening at all?" Tamaz bristled.
Nevertheless the creature was a formidable sight. It's face strongly resembled a white tortoise, with thick lines that had appeared etched all over its leathery skin. In repose, as it was now, it looked like the corpse of a hideously old man.
"One must be patient, Your Grace", said the fat soothsayer "If the Indigo is far out on the high seas, it may be some time before we hear what has happened to it".
"We have no idea that this creature can project itself mentally", said Tamaz "It might have just been sleeping all this time. Well you needn't think I'm wasting anymore time on its upkeep. Destroy it".
"That could be a dangerous thing to do, Your Grace", the fat soothsayer blustered "We may well destroy it's physical body, but it's mind and spirit could live on".
"I don't wish to hear anymore of your daft witterings", Tamaz turned to leave "That creature is no more than an oversized vegetable. Destroy it I say, and stop wasting my time!"
Lonts had woken up after everyone else had gone to bed. Lying there in his bunk in the dark he felt lonely and afraid. The ship scared him at night, particularly of late. He kept having the fear that they weren't the only ones here, that something else was sharing the decks with them, like a ghost in the wallpaper.
He felt he needed comforting, and Adam was the only one who could do that. He swung himself down onto the floor of the cabin. Adam, typically a light sleeper, woke up instinctively when Lonts tugged at the edge of his blanket.
"What is it Lo-Lo?" he asked, sleepily "Do you need changing?"
"No. Can I get in with you, Adam?"
Adam smiled and pulled him gently into the bunk with him.
"Bad dreams?" Adam whispered, wrapping the blanket around him too.
"The boat's creepy at night", Lonts replied "I keep thinking that that creature Joby saw is still around here somewhere".
"Well whatever it is it didn't harm Joby, so it's probably more scared of us than we are of it. Just cuddle me, and all will seem well again".
Lonts slid his arms around Adam's body until he had enfolded him completely. His lips sought Adam's, who gave a moan of sensual pleasure.
"I always thought that the phrase to 'devour someone hungrily' was a touch corny", said Adam "But that is exactly how I feel with you".
Lonts gave a mischievous growl and then a yap. Adam laughed and reached down to undo his nappy-pins. From the other side of the cabin, Joby groaned and wrapped his pillow round his ears.
"Grim", said Kieran.
"You can say that again", said Joby "Like Hastings".
"No, I don't think it's full of druggies somehow".
"Wouldn't surprise me though. You'd have to be doped to live here".
They were both taking it in turns to stare through the telescope at what could be seen of the Brimstone Peninsula through the advancing gloom. It was early afternoon and the sun was setting already. Through the swirls of mist, which hung over the southern point like a thick cobweb, could be glimpsed a joyless patch of dense moorland and very little else. At the very tip stood the ruins of a lighthouse, which hadn't been operational for several decades now.
"That fog's coming up fast", said Ransey, standing near them "We won't make much more progress today. We'll have to anchor here and just make headway when daylight and fog allows us too".
"God, it'll take years to get round the Horn at this rate", said Joby.
"If it takes us years it takes us years", said Hillyard, ominously.
Joby gave him a look of acute disgust.
"That fog's coming in fast, Julian", Ransey called over to the said man, who was leaning on the bulwark "I hope Adam's gone below".
"Yes, I made a pot of coffee for him earlier and left it in the galley for him", said Julian.
"I thought you said we'd be able to pick up supplies here", said Joby "It doesn't look very promising to me".
"Well I don't know much about the place, other than a few brief paragraphs in some of the books in my cabin", said Julian "I thought when they said 'lush' it'd mean something more than scrubland! Still, if we can get closer over the next day or so, it might be worth sending a scouting-party ashore for a look round".
Hillyard couldn't believe what he was seeing. He was standing in the doorway of the galley, watching Adam stagger around the room. He was drunk, that much was obvious. He was giggling hysterically and clutching every edge and surface he could find. His shirt was all over the place, and his hair was obscuring his face. In the midst of his disbelief Hillyard couldn't help feeling aroused. Adam was normally more toothsome than any man his age had a right to be, but now he looked sexier than ever.
Hillyard pulled himself together. Sexy or not, Adam hadn't fallen off the wagon in years, not since the Bone-House in fact. Why he should pick now to do so was a complete mystery. Hillyard picked up the coffee-pot and poured out the small amount that was still in it. He sipped it, and found it was spiked with liberal quantities of brandy. Adam hadn't fallen off the wagon. Someone had pushed him off it.
"After my coffee too now, Hilly?" Adam shrieked, and lunged at him "Why not? You want everything else that's mine. Jules, Pats, Joby. And Lo-Lo, given half the chance".
"For fuck's sake, Adam", Hillyard grabbed him and tried to steer him towards the door.
"Where are you taking me?" Adam pouted, petulantly.
"To your cabin".
"After me now, eh?"
"Well don't let that stop you. After all, as long as I've got a pulse, why should you care?"
Adam wrestled himself free, and dived at a cardboard box on the side that contained a few more bottles of liquor. By now Kieran and Joby had joined them. Hillyard hastily explained what had happened, whilst trying to wrench the bottles from Adam's grasp.
"Julian made the coffee", said Joby "But I don't understand. Why should he spike it?"
"None of us would do that though", said Kieran.
"Well somebody did", said Hillyard.
He tried to hang onto Adam whilst the others grabbed the bottles and removed them from his grasp.
"Give them back to me, you little bastards", said Adam, pointing at Kieran and Joby, who were hanging onto the bottles like Temperance missionaries trying to save a lost soul "Pats, Joby, do as I say and no harm will come to you".
"Don't make me laugh!" said Joby "You can barely stay conscious".
"Alright, clear out of the way", said Julian "I'll get him into my cabin".
"Did you spike his coffee?" said Joby "'Cos somebody did".
"Why on earth would I want to do such a thing?" said Julian "I've seen Adam drunk enough times to know that it makes him completely unbearable. He's only been human since he gave it up".
"I can't believe any of us could've done it", said Kieran.
"You're not gonna carry him? At your age?" said Hillyard, as Julian grabbed hold of Adam, who was fading out of consciousness.
"I'm as fit as a fiddle", said Julian, as he deftly hoisted Adam over his shoulder "And I've done this more times in the past than you've had hot dinners. Gangway!"
"Jules, I can't remember what happened".
"Somebody spiked your coffee with brandy".
"B-But who? Why?"
"I don't know for sure, but my money's on Uddle. I haven't confronted him about it yet, I don't even know if he realises you have a problem".
"I-I don't think I've ever mentioned it in front of him", Adam tried to sit up, but Julian pushed him back down on his bunk "Why would he do that to me?"
"Who knows?" Julian shrugged "Perhaps he thought he'd have a better chance of getting it off with you. It would be in keeping with his sordid little mind. Don't worry. If I find out it was him, he'll be lucky if we don't use him as an anchor!"
"How embarrassing was I, Jules?"
"Oh I've seen worse. At least you didn't wet yourself this time. Although you were flinging accusations at Hillyard left, right and centre. Getting acutely paranoid about him in fact".
"Poor Hilly", Adam groaned.
"He'll live", Julian sighed "Sticks and stones, and all that. I find it hard to be sympathetic about a few words when I remember how you used to knock me about in the past whilst in your cups".
"I didn't this time, did I?"
"No, although Tinkerbell and Goofy were in danger of getting thumped at one point. Fortunately you passed out before you could do anything. Oh don't look so stricken! I'm sure they'll forgive you".
"Saw you being carted of by me. Very concerned. Situation has been explained to him. Got hysterical, thinking everyone was accusing him. Entirely in character of course. Was calmed down by Hillyard, and now Uddle's been bolted into his hole for his own safety, as I don't think he's currently top of Lonts's Christmas card list!"
Adam spent the night in Julian's cabin, and Finia took Adam's bunk in order to leave them alone. Julian knew Adam would need help getting through the next few hours.
"I'm sorry, Jules", Adam whispered. He had awoken in the small hours to find Julian sitting in the chair by the meagre remains of his coal-fire.
"Not your fault, dear heart", said Julian.
Adam climbed out of the bunk, and sat on the carpet, burying his face in Julian's knees.
"It's my fault I've got this problem", he said.
"Not entirely", said Julian, sombrely "Can't you see I'll forgive you anything, just to be sure of your company?"
"Jules, if only it could have been like this when we were younger, then ..."
"I could've been the love of your life, and not Lonts".
"There's room for you all in my heart", said Adam.
"You have a big heart", Julian smiled "It's what makes you special".
"Thank you for sitting with me like this".
"Didn't I always? Wasn't it my one redeeming feature in the old days?"
"I love you".
By sunrise Adam felt well enough to go on with the day ahead. Julian had made him a pot of coffee (unsullied by brandy) and left him to drink it in peace. Adam was still feeling fragile, and he was cradling the cup in his hands when Julian walked back into the cabin, followed by Uddle.
"Jules, what's he doing in here?" Adam nearly dropped his cup in dismay.
"Although it pains me to have this creature in my cabin, I do feel it's time we got the official investigation underway", said Julian, and he indicated for Uddle to stand to attention by the side of his desk.
"I'd rather forget the whole thing", Adam sighed.
"And spend the rest of the trip getting paranoid over every cup of coffee you drink?" said Julian "I don't think so".
"Alright, well get it over with".
"I have a very simple question to put to you, Uddle", said Julian "Did you, yesterday, spike Adam's coffee with brandy?"
"Don't understand", Uddle mumbled, shuffling his feet awkwardly.
"Well it's really very easy", said Julian "Did you open a bottle of brandy and pour a liberal quantity into the coffee-pot whilst it was standing unattended in the galley?"
"Brandy in coffee don't hurt anyone", said Uddle.
"Not unless they're a reformed alcoholic", said Julian "And I think you must be aware of Adam's little problem by now".
"I knew he don't drink", said Uddle "but I wouldn't do anything to hurt Mr Adam".
"You bloody liar!" Adam roared, slamming his coffee-cup into his saucer "How can you say that after the way you attacked me in the galley that time?"
"But you like that sort of thing", said Uddle.
"Not from you I fucking don't", said Adam.
"Give me a straight answer, Uddle", said Julian "Did you spike the coffee yesterday?"
"Yes", Uddle looked down at his feet.
"Why?" Adam bellowed "Tell me!"
"'Cos I thought it'd get you into trouble".
"That's a strange attitude from someone who's supposed to like me!"
"It was just a game", Uddle protested "I thought you'd have to be punished then, and I thought you'd like that".
"Oh God, I think I'm going to be sick!" said Adam.
"From now on Uddle, you're going to be confined to the hold, unless I give the word that you can come out", said Julian "Obviously roaming at will on the ship excites you too much".
"Get him out of here, Jules", said Adam.
"Certainly. But I think you need cheering up first", Julian picked up a paper-knife from his desk and slit through the length of string that served to hold up Uddle's trousers. The garment slid to the floor, revealing a pair of baggy pink silk knickers, which looked as though they hadn't been washed in some considerable time. The sight was so incongruous that Adam burst out laughing.
Uddle blushed with embarrassment and scrambled to collect his trousers from around his ankles. He then hurried from the cabin and back down into the hold. Julian followed him and bolted the hatch-door after him.
"I want to see Adam", said Lonts, who was standing nearby.
"You can see him later", said Julian.
"No. I want to see him now!" Lonts stamped his foot imperiously.
Julian stared at the boy, whose beautiful face showed such a perfect expression of obstinacy. The desire to take him into the saloon and roger his senseless had rarely been stronger.
"You'd better go in", said Julian, feeling as though the stuffing had been knocked out of him.
Lonts ran into the cabin and flung himself at Adam, who greeted him rapturously, as though he hadn't seen him in years.
"I missed you all night", Lonts exclaimed "Finia spent the night in your bunk. He keeps his wig on a candlestick. What's funny?"
"Nothing, I just adore you", said Adam "I'll make it up to you. We'll spend the whole day in bed together if you want".
"Oh no you won't", said Julian "I'm taking a scouting-party ashore, and that'll include Lonts".
"I see", said Adam "And from the tone of your voice I take it I'm not included?"
"You can stay here with Finia", said Julian "Kieran will stay also, act as lookout for us on deck, in case someone needs to signal us if the fog comes on again quickly".
"Patsy won't like that", said Adam "He's used to going ashore".
"Tough. He'll have to accept it", said Julian "I'm leaving him behind because he still commands a certain presence, and you may find that useful if Uddle starts giving any trouble".
"Can't I stay and look after Adam too?" said Lonts, plaintively.
"No you can't", said Julian "I can't waste a valuable pair of muscles by leaving you at home with the ladies, so you'll just have to put up with my delightful company. You are such a lucky boy!"
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