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Etyn spent the night in Uddle's old bunk. Ransey hadn't expected this. Thinking that a dose of Julian's rudeness would be more than enough for anyone, he had thought Etyn would have gone scurrying back to his rooms in town, but he hadn't bargained for Etyn's obsession. Julian's arrogant abruptness had only fuelled Etyn's desire to meet him properly.
Ransey didn't object to Etyn staying the night on the Indigo. It was a matter of supreme indifference to him what Etyn did. The little man had followed him round the town after Ransey had left his apartment, and had even sat patiently by whilst Ransey enjoyed a couple of games of chess with one of the elderly locals. He was astonished by Etyn's determination, but could only conclude that if anyone deserved a stalker it was Julian!
When Etyn opened his eyes he was astonished to find a beautiful boy staring down at him. Lonts wore a girlish silk shirt, the tails of which were hanging almost to his knees, giving him a frighteningly androgynous look.
"Hello", Etyn sat up as well as he could in the bottom bunk "It's Baby Lonts isn't it? I've read a lot about you".
"It's just Lonts actually", the boy replied, using his stock answer to this query.
"Lonts?" the overhead bunk dipped and creaked as Ransey struggled to sit up "What time is it?"
"Late", said Lonts "Julian wants us all on deck. He's furious. He says we should have left port hours ago".
"It doesn't take much to give him a sense of grievance", said Ransey, swinging a bare leg into Etyn's line of vision.
He climbed down off the bunk and followed Lonts out of the cabin, dragging his bath-robe with him. He didn't look back at Etyn, or acknowledge him any way. Etyn looked at the messy bunk opposite him. When he had come to bed last night it had been occupied by a good-looking man snoring noisily, whom Etyn recognised as the ex-President's valet. So far, it seemed as though everyone on the Indigo had been completely indifferent to Etyn's presence. He wondered how long he could keep it that way.
"Not good!" Julian roared, pacing the forward deck under the noon-day sun "Not good at all. We should've been gone from here four hours ago, and at the moment none of you are fit enough to flush a lavatory let alone steer a course across the ocean!"
"What's the hurry?" said Joby, peering out blearily from under his billed cap "Are you on the run or something?"
"I'm restless", said Julian "I've had enough of Zilligot Bay. What attractions it has have soon been exhausted in my eyes, and I'm restless to be out on the high seas again. I was hoping after all these months that some degree of seamanship might have sunk into your brains".
"For heaven's sake Jules, we know you're the Captain", said Adam "You don't have to lay it on thick for us".
"But it seems I do!" Julian exclaimed "It seems that when I make plans the rest of you see it as your divine right to completely disregard them! I made it crystal clear that I wished to leave first thing this morning, and by lunchtime all that's happened is that you lot are lying around nursing hangovers! Now either I'm in charge round here or I'm not!"
"It was just unfortunate Jules, that's all", said Adam "A fresh consignment of rum arrived yesterday, and well you know how it is".
"Only too well! And it's all your fault! You're in charge of personnel. It's your responsibility to make sure everyone is up to scratch".
"Don't have a go at Adam", said Hillyard "It's not his fault. We were the ones who overdid the boozing".
"Well you won't be able to overdo it again for a little while", said Julian "I'm putting a complete ban on alcohol consumption for the next forty-eight hours".
"What?" Joby cried.
"You heard me. Perhaps we might get some work done around here. Think of all the time you'll save because you won't be boozing".
"Can't we just have a wee hair of the dog?" said Kieran, weakly.
"You won't have time for any of that, Scrubber", said Julian "There's a backlog of laundry needs doing. Now let's all chop to it shall we? Hillyard, get down in the hold. Ransey, up to the poop-deck. Joby, down to the galley and start preparing lunch. The rest of you know your chores".
For the next half-hour Julian paced the forward deck, supervising the leaving of the Indigo from Zilligot Bay. They chugged away in the sunshine, avoiding the lobster fishermen who were casting their nets across the sparkling waters. Soon they were out on the high seas once more.
"Why aren't you doing anything, Lonts?" Julian asked, when he found the boy lying on a pile of hemp, sucking his thumb and scratching his stomach contemplatively "It's days since you did any housework. I can't remember the last time you made the beds, you can get on with that for the time being".
Julian went below, with Adam following him like an Arab's wife.
"I've got harsh words to say to you, Ada", said Julian, leading the way along the gangway on the quarterdeck.
"Oh I do hope so", said Adam, mischievously.
Etyn chose that moment to emerge from the heads, looking rather pale from the unaccustomed motion of the boat.
"What the blazes is he still doing here!" Julian exclaimed "Adam, I hope you've got a very good explanation for this".
"He's Ransey's guest, not mine", Adam protested.
"It doesn't matter, I hold you responsible".
"Damnit Jules, you can't have expected me to know he was still on-board. We've never had to check for stowaways before".
"Then it's obviously high time we started!" Julian turned to Etyn "Did you realise we are now at sea?"
Struck dumb in Julian's presence, Etyn waved his hands helplessly.
"I suppose we could turn back and deposit him", said Adam.
"I'm not wasting valuable fuel on ferrying him about", said Julian "It's his own bloody fault for being so careless".
"It's either that or waste valuable food and water on him", said Adam.
"I-I'll work my passage", said Etyn, nervously.
"Yes you certainly will", said Julian.
"Doing what?" Adam exclaimed.
"I'll think of something", said Julian "Can you cook, Etyn?"
"Yes I'm very good, even if I say so myself", Etyn preened.
"He can't be cook, that's my job!" said Adam.
"Report to the galley, Etyn", said Julian, ignoring Adam's protests "I'm sure Joby can find you a few potatoes to peel".
"Damnit Jules!" said Adam, following Julian into his cabin.
"Oh stop saying 'damnit Jules', it's getting on my nerves", said Julian, pushing the door shut behind them.
"But the galley is my place. I resent you taking it away from me. You've never complained about my cooking before".
"I'm not complaining about it now. I just had to think of something for him to do on the spur of the moment", said Julian "That waistcoat of his is going to have go go. It'll put the hens off their stroke".
"I know what your game is", said Adam "Not content with having seven people to bully, you want another one too. You've missed blind adoration since Uddle died haven't you?"
"I don't want that terrified rabbit around here anymore than you do, but I'm not wasting time acting as a taxi service for him. Now he's here he can make himself useful, and perhaps if he's Ransey's bosom chum, that'll stop our mutual friend going ga-ga over you every five minutes".
"Oh so that's it, you jealous bugger".
"I'd be careful what you say, Adam. I was not pleased by that little display you put on last night, nor not so little in your case!" Julian smiled.
"I was just trying to stop him getting at Joby".
"If you were a woman everyone would be saying you deserved to get raped. You know how tormented he is by you, and you flashing your dick at him and heavy breathing in his ear is hardly going to make him feel better".
"It was just a bit of fun".
"Ransey doesn't understand the meaning of the word 'fun'. We've already had to worry about having one sexual psychopath on this trip, I don't want another one".
"It was stupid of me", Adam admitted "If it'd been Hillyard it wouldn't have been a problem".
"When it comes to flirting and sex, Adam, Hillyard and Ransey are at opposite ends of the spectrum, and well you know it!" said Julian "Perhaps we might get lucky and Ransey will run off with Etyn at our next port of call. That'll save me a few headaches. I am constantly watching his face when you and he are in the same room. I'm terrified that one day he might harm you in some way".
"I really don't think he will, Jules. If anything he's gradually got more relaxed with me".
"That's how much you know! None of us knows in fact what's going on beneath that mousy exterior of his. Ransey's so deep you could lose the Titanic in him".
"I think you've been reading too many psychological thrillers", said Adam.
"Don't get smart with me. I've already got more than enough to punish you for".
"Oh right", Adam giggled "Do you want me to drop my shorts?"
"No, leave them on", said Julian, huskily "For the time being at least".
"Do you think that'll be enough, Joby?" asked Etyn, walking back into the galley with a bucket of potatoes, which he had been peeling up on deck.
"Yeah that'll do", said Joby, peering inside the bucket "Start cutting them into chips. And I'd take that waistcoat off if I was you, you might ruin it working in here".
"I've got plenty more at home".
"Maybe, but you haven't got 'em here, and you don't know when you're gonna see home again".
"Good point", Etyn removed his waistcoat and hung it over the back of a chair "It seems to have gone quiet in Julian's cabin. They were having quite an argument when I left".
"Nothing new", said Joby, feeling relieved that Etyn hadn't heard the selection of noises which had followed. He had wished he'd had a radio, so that he could turn it up and drown them out. Now they both appeared to have sunk into a post-whacking post-coital slumber.
"Have you got any other gear with you?" Joby asked.
"Just the clothes I stand up in I'm afraid", said Etyn "I hadn't bargained on stopping over!"
"You don't seem too concerned. I'd be quite upset in your shoes. Finding meself on a strange boat with a bunch of people I've never met before, not knowing where I'm heading. Didn't you hear us setting off?"
"Fast asleep I'm afraid", Etyn lied "I'm a very heavy sleeper, it's the bane of my life".
"But Lonts said to me just now that you were already awake when he went in to get Ransey up".
"I fell asleep again after they'd gone".
"I understand you were researching for a book back at Zilligot Bay?"
"Well won't you have to get on with it at some point?" said Joby "You must be under contract after all".
"I didn't actually have a contract", Etyn confessed "A publisher told me to go away and flesh out a detailed synopsis, and then float it to him again. It's a specialised subject, architecture. Handsome books that don't generate huge sales. Too risky to just go giving me a contract with no idea of the kind of book I was going to produce. I've been living off my savings whilst I toured round, getting ideas".
"It all sounds terrifying".
"It is rather", said Etyn, soberly "Not a life I would inflict on anyone else!"
"You must be keen on the subject to do it though. Can't say I know a lot about architecture. I've always been more interested in gardens than buildings".
Lonts walked slowly past the doorway of the galley, clutching a duster. He stared intently at Etyn as he went by.
"That boy is even more beautiful in the flesh than he is in his pictures", said Etyn "And quite a legend too. The only Kiskevian left. I bet he has some tales to tell".
"Yeah quite a few", said Joby "Having been to Kiskev though I can understand why they all went barmy. Weird place. Gave us the creeps when we were there. Be careful what you say about Kiskev in front of him though. He still gets passionate about the place. One slight word against it and you have to spend hours calming him down".
"That kind of mawkish sentimentality can be very prevalent amongst the lower orders".
"If you say so", said Joby, abruptly "Can't say I've ever felt mawkish and sentimental about my home-town, and you can't get much more lower orders than my lot".
"Ah but you had the wit and intelligence to rise above your humble origins. Some, sadly, will always float along the bottom".
"I can see you and Julian are gonna get on like a house on fire!" said Joby.
"I do hope so".
"Adam, can I ask you something?" said Joby, when he and Adam were washing up the lunch things alone together.
"Ask me what, old love?"
"What's got into you?"
"Now there's a leading question!" Adam laughed.
"I mean, I know you and Julian have always played those kind of games, but you seem to be at it worse than ever", said Joby.
"Perhaps I'm just determined to enjoy myself whilst I can", said Adam "I've got to the stage now where even looking six months ahead can frighten me. I just want to enjoy what I can, whilst I can. I know it's not your cup of tea, but we enjoy ourselves, and if there's one thing life has taught me, it's never to underestimate the importance of fun".
"I'm sorry", Joby sighed "I spose you think I'm an idiot".
"No I don't", Adam put his arm round him consolingly "I wish I'd always had you to look out for me. I think it's wonderful of you to be so concerned. But Julian doesn't hurt me".
"That's not what it sounds like!"
"Look, I'll show you", Adam unbuttoned his shorts and pulled them down, exposing his bottom to Joby "Now you can't see anything too barbaric can you? No strap marks, no knife marks. It's all very genteel and harmless. About as decadent as a mug of cocoa".
Joby had to concede that all he could see was a slight pinkning of Adam's skin.
"I didn't mean to sound disapproving", he said "As long as he's not hurting you then it's entirely your business. Just because it's not my thing ..."
"Oh no?" said Adam, playfully "We'll have to see about that won't we?"
Julian walked around the saloon tutting like a disapproving chatelaine. Lonts stood by and watched him in a rather sly fashion.
"Exactly what cleaning have you done in here, Lonts?" said Julian, turning to face him.
"A bit of dusting", said Lonts, holding up his duster as though in illustration.
"'A bit' is doing it considerable justice", Julian ran his finger along the bookcase "I do not call this satisfactory for an afternoon's work. I am not pleased".
Lonts ran across to him and flung his arms round his neck.
"But there's nothing you can do about it", said Lonts, triumphantly.
"You have to pull your weight like everyone else", said Julian, finding it hard to keep a quiver out of his voice "You know your duties. I can't go making allowances for you".
"No, but you can't be cross with me and frighten me anymore either", said Lonts, batting his long eyelashes.
"No but I can", Adam bellowed from the doorway.
Lonts gave a startled cry and stepped back, as though he'd been electrocuted.
"I wasn't meaning any harm, Adam", he protested.
"That boy is certainly aware of his own charms", said Julian, fanning himself.
"You'd better go and douse yourself with cold water, Jules", said Adam.
Julian left the saloon, hobbling with the symptoms of arousal as he did so. Adam rounded on Lonts.
"I haven't seen such blatant sexual manipulation since I was last in the 'Blue Lion'! You could teach the eunuch whores in there a thing or two, Lonts. If I'd wanted to be your pimp I'd put you on the streets and make my fortune at it!"
"I didn't mean any harm", Lonts repeated.
"You were testing your power, you mean", said Adam "You wouldn't be the first to enjoy taming someone after a sexual conquest".
"But I don't understand. It's only the sort of jokes I make with you sometimes. Like when I joke that I can always find a way of getting round you, that sort of thing".
"I realise that", Adam sighed "But Julian isn't me. I wouldn't push him too far if I was you. If you tried his patience too far that little spanking I gave you yesterday would be nothing compared to what he'd do!"
"I'm sorry, Adam", Lonts began to cry.
"Oh don't turn on the waterworks", said Adam "You've got to learn that manipulating Julian comes at a price. You have to be prepared to play his games. I don't want you getting yourself into something that'll frighten you".
Adam was suddenly aware that this conversation was remarkably similar to the one he'd had with Julian earlier that day, concerning Ransey. He sank onto the sofa and pulled Lonts down beside him.
"Julian's right", said Adam "We're too much alike, you and I".
Lonts kissed Adam's shoulder and nuzzled him affectionately.
"I've got to stop worrying about you all the time haven't I?" said Adam "Somehow I've got to let Julian take over part of the reins".
"Not yet, Adam", said Lonts "I'll do whatever you want when it's necessary. But until then I just want to be with you".
"And I am very glad you are", said Adam.
Julian had spent the next couple of hours alone in his cabin. He had prowled the room restlessly, listening to the hum of the ship's engine and the occasional footfall overhead. Adam had slipped a note under his door.
"WHEN YOUR TIME COMES TO LOOK AFTER HIM", it had said "REMEMBER THAT LO-LO NEEDS KINDNESS AND UNDERSTANDING EVEN MORE THAN HE NEEDS EXCITEMENT. ADAM".
Julian felt he could have cheerfully wrung Adam's neck for reminding him of a certain time in the future, when he would have to handle Lonts alone. He was astute enough to know that it was pointless to hide from the truth, but even so he couldn't bear to think of being without Adam. Even with a consolation prize like Lonts to try and cushion the blow, he didn't know how he could possibly survive losing Adam. It was a thought that simply didn't bear contemplation at all.
He wished Finia would come into the cabin. Finia with his calm, haughty demeanour was always a relaxing presence for Julian. They could share a nice, mundane conversation about soap powder or cleaning hairbrushes. When the door opened though it wasn't Finia, but Etyn, carrying a tray.
"I've brought you afternoon tea", he said, proudly.
"I didn't ask for any", Julian mumbled, sitting down at his desk.
"But I thought you would always take it", said Etyn, firmly setting the tray down on Julian's desk.
Julian noticed that there was a plate of fussily-cut sandwiches lying next to the teapot. The sight of the sandwiches infuriated him beyond measure. Maybe it was because food would be wasted being served up so soon after lunch, and this offended his frugal nature. Maybe it was because he believed that only people with empty lives bothered with the ritual of afternoon tea. And maybe it was because he was too damn miserable to want to be nice to someone who was trying so hard to please him.
Julian let out a strangulated roar and sent the entire tray flying. Etyn cowered against the desk as the teapot got shattered against the far wall, leaving a trail of hot brown liquid on the woodwork.
"Pick it all up!" Julian cried, pointing at the sandwiches lying all over the carpet "Every single damn one. And eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner tomorrow. Nobody wastes food on this boat, do you hear me?"
"Alright Etyn", said Adam, standing over him "I'll see to it. You get out of here, now!"
"It's all your fault, Adam!" Julian had roared, after Etyn had left "Sending me that bloody note. What are you trying to do, torture me? I'm fed up with hearing you going on about your imminent demise. It's downright selfish for one thing".
"But there's so little time, Jules!" Adam cried "I'm so frightened. I don't want to leave you all, but I can feel it creeping closer and closer like a hooded spectre".
"Then tell it to fuck off!" Julian sat on the edge of his bunk and ran his fingers through his hair.
"I wish it was that simple", Adam sat down next to him "I have to make sure Lo-Lo's going to be alright after I've gone".
"Of course he's going to be alright", Julian snapped "I'll see to it. It's myself I'm not certain about".
"Please help me, Jules. I don't want to go", said Adam, emotionally "But at the same time there's calmness inside me that was never there before. An eerie calmness. It's as if my brain has chucked out all the crud and left me with the bare essentials to see me out".
"I just don't want to believe it", Julian sobbed "I can't. Not when you're sitting there looking so disgustingly handsome and well-preserved".
"Amazing what a good sun-tan can do to a person's appearance", Adam laughed.
"How long do you think you have?" Julian could barely force the words out of his mouth. His throat felt thick with their residue.
"I'm not saying", said Adam "So don't try to guess either. But it's not as bad as it could be. It's not a question of weeks. I'm going to miss you all so much. I would love to see how you and Lo-Lo shake down together".
"Violently, if past experience is anything to go by!"
"Just remember some of the scenes I've had with him! I'm sure you can't possibly be any worse".
"I'm not as loving as you though", said Julian, helplessly "It was frozen out of me when I was too young to notice it passing".
"You are a lot warmer than you give yourself credit for", Adam hugged him "Now we've talked like this, I won't mention it again until ... well until it's necessary. It all gets very boring otherwise!"
"Is there nothing we can do to put this right?"
"I'm not going into hospital, Jules", said Adam, firmly "I'm not going to waste valuable time admiring bouquets of flowers and doing puzzle magazines, whilst waiting for my next round of medication. Whilst the suspense drives everyone else insane, as they everytime I fall asleep I'm never going to wake up again! I don't want that. I've seen it happen too many times to other people".
"I can understand that", said Julian "My Great-Uncle David felt the same as you. Didn't want any fuss. Just said 'one morning you won't see me', and that was it".
"I want to carry on with this voyage, with all of you nearby. I mean, the crazy thing is I feel quite fit. It's just occasionally my body gives me a jolt and reminds me. Let's not talk about it anymore, eh?"
"Don't you think Kieran and Joby have a right to know?"
"I need some time alone with them. Perhaps when we next put into port. We'll go ashore together, just the three of us".
"What will you tell them?"
"I might not tell them anything", Adam sighed "Perhaps I just want a final fling with just them, for old time's sake. Now let's put this subject back in its box, and leave it there for a while".
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