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The Manager of the Barn Theatre heard from Bengo that Adam had discharged himself from hospital and invited them all to one of the shows. Having had more than enough of Bengo's talents Adam was going to decline, until he saw the Manager's name on the free tickets.
Ully had been a drag queen in Cootie's circus. He had been one of the troupe who had walked into the City behind Kieran at the end of Gabriel's Terror. He had helped Kieran to prepare for his inauguration ceremony. Keen to see him again after all these years they all went to the Barn Theatre before the start of the evening show, and were greeted by Ully at the stage-door. He took them into his dressing-room, which was a tight fit with himself and the eight of them in it (Etyn wasn't invited backstage).
Sixty-year-old drag queens could be a sad sight, and Ully was no exception. Apart from his legs, which were still long and shapely, he looked about ready to slip permanently into pantomime dame mode. His kindness though was still as genuine as ever.
"You lot all still together then?" he said, re-arranging boxes and packing-cases so that they could all sit down "That's say something doesn't it?"
"Yeah. No one else'd put up with us", said Joby.
"So you're manager and compere here by all accounts?" said Adam.
"Oh no need to spare my feelings by trying to sound impressed, Adam", said Ully, good-naturedly "I'm in showbusiness's equivalent of an elephant's graveyard. Managing and compering a bunch of no-hopers in a rundown theatre in a remote village on the Equator. That's what it looks like and that's exactly what it is".
"What happened then?" said Kieran "Your career was all set to take off after we'd got rid of Gabriel".
"Oh it did for a while, but I'm afraid the demon drink got the better of me", Ully indicated a half-empty bottle of bourbon with no embarrassment "I got drunk at work one time too many, and word got around. Never work with animals or Ully. Bad reputations spread like wild-fire in this game. So I put my savings into this little venture. I thought if I came right out here I'd be spared the misery of watching others doing so much better than me, usually with half the talent. And at least here I'm in charge".
"You can get drunk if you want to and not have to worry", said Adam.
"Sometimes it enhances the show!" said Ully "Like the other night for example. I was introducing one of the acts, and the little sod whose turn it was threw a live rat at my cleavage. I hit him a hefty whack with my compere's stick and sent him into the band-pit, completely demolishing a big bass drum. The audience loved it. I think me having a problem adds to the risk factor. They don't know what I'm going to do next".
"The Cabaret of Horrors is a bit of freak show I take it?" said Julian.
"It's a series of turns focusing on the grotesque and the bizarre", said Ully, as though reading from a promotional leaflet "Plenty of tricks and slapstick. Ritual humiliation, that kind of thing. Not exactly classy and tasteful, I'm sorry to say. But it keeps the punters coming in. The poor devils seem to enjoy the audience participation bits too, although I'm always terrified something's going to badly backfire one day. The last thing I need is someone suing me for injury".
"You've got some good stuff here", said Finia, who was inspecting a make-up case the size of a large safe.
"I need all of it believe me!" said Ully "Didn't you used to be a snake-dancer, from what I remember? I could do with an act like that, to add an erotic touch to the proceedings".
"I don't perform these days", said Finia, haughtily.
"If you're thinking of doing panto at all, I could be the wicked queen", said Adam, who was holding a blue frilly frock up against him and admiring himself in a full-length mirror.
"Don't tempt me. I could do with a drag queen like you", said Ully "One that's lovely for a change and not an old boiler who's seen better days".
Lonts pulled off his shorts and t-shirt, and then tugged a black satin dress over his head. It cascaded around him in a shimmering sheath, billowing out at the bottom. Lonts jumped up and down so that he could feel the material swishing luxuriously around his ankles.
"That gown belongs to our principal boy", said Ully "He wears it in one of the acts".
"It could have been made for Lonts", said Finia, sarcastically.
"Watch out for elephants, Lonts", said Joby, earning himself a Kiskevian scowl.
"In fact we call it the catamite's frock", said Ully "Turn round, Lonts".
Lonts turned, and Ully pulled away a panel attached with velcro. It came away to expose the backs of Lonts's legs and his bottom.
"Self-explanatory really", said Julian.
"Bit draughty to wear in the street", said Joby.
"It's a gown full of tricks", said Ully "Hillyard, give a gentle tug from the front".
Hillyard pulled at the bodice, and the frock came away completely from the thin shoulder straps with remarkable ease. Lonts squealed and clapped his hands in delight. He immediately picked the gown up and re-fastened it.
"Looks like you do have a new principal boy after all", said Kieran.
"Sure fire way of getting the punters in", said Hillyard "Tear Lonts's clothes off on stage!"
They watched the show from the box at the right-hand side of the stage. Some parts of it were funny, others wince-making, and some just downright embarrassing. The clowns, including Bengo, suffered so many indignities that most of the audience could only assume they had to perform in this show or suffer starvation.
"He must be insane", said Joby, as a live rat was slipped down the front of Bengo's pants in pursuit of a lump of cheese "He must be, to keep smiling through it all".
"Just thinking of pay-day I expect", said Julian "Either that or constantly hoping some talent-scout will be sitting in the audience who'll take him to higher things".
"Oh I'm gonna visit the karsey", said Joby, irritably.
"I need to go too", said Lonts.
"Can't I go anywhere without you trotting along behind?"
"Don't be mean, Joby", said Adam "Lo-Lo can't help it".
"When he dies he should donate his bladder to medical science", said Joby, standing up "Come on then".
"They'd be quite fascinated by yours too, Joby", said Kieran.
When Joby and Lonts emerged from the facilities they could hear a terrific commotion going on in the entrance foyer. Keeping a firm grip on Lonts's wrist Joby went to the top of the stairs and looked down. It seemed as if the entire population of the village had crammed themselves into this one small space. The din was horrendous.
"Message came through an hour ago to the telegraph office", one man was yelling, buckling under the weight of a pile of newspapers "We've rushed off this special edition".
A forest of hands were reaching out and grabbing copies from him, and he didn't seem too fussed about getting paid for them.
"What is it? What's happened?" said Joby, elbowing his way down the stairs.
"The President's dead", said one man, clutching a copy of the newspaper.
"Gorth? How? What happened?"
"Heart-attack. Collapsed at a private concert at the H.Q. Died instantly".
"The poor sod", Joby muttered, and reached for the newspaper. The man let him scan the front page.
'THE PRESIDENT IS DEAD' ran the simple headline, contained within a black border. One of the many sub-headings read 'MINISTRY IN DISARRAY'.
"Why is it in disarray?" said Joby.
"He's not appointed a successor", said the man "That means that fucking Ghoomer's going to be in charge. You mark my words that'll mean blood on the streets by the end of the year. No one's going to tolerate him, not at any price".
Joby knew only too well what this would mean. Everyone would be badgering Kieran to come back.
"Let's get to him before any of this lot do", he whispered to Lonts.
He was so anxious that he ran at full-tilt back up the stairs and along the corridor. Lonts, whose legs were longer than his, still had trouble keeping up with him.
"From all the racket below I thought Mafeking had been relieved!" Julian was saying, when they finally got back to the box.
"Gorth's been murdered", said Kieran, scrunching up a newspaper that Ully had passed up to him "That's what I think anyway".
"You don't know that, Patsy", said Adam "He was nearly sixty and under a great deal of pressure. A heart-attack isn't so implausible".
"He was damn well murdered, I tell you", said Kieran, his voice thick with emotion "And I don't believe that Gorth never appointed a successor. He was far too conscientious to leave such an important issue unattended to. Somehow his will has gone missing, and no guesses for who's seen to that!"
"Shut up", Julian snapped "That bunch down there are excited enough without you screaming foul play at them".
"We need to get you out of here, Patsy", said Adam.
"Getting back to the Indigo's out of the question", said Ransey, running breathlessly back into the box "I've just had a look out the front. The quayside's swarming with people. As soon as you try getting out there you'll be mobbed. I could already hear quite a few asking for you".
"It won't be long before this lot in here stop jabbering amongst themselves and come looking for you", said Joby, anxiously.
"The Governor's House is your best bet", said Ully, who had walked in behind Ransey "If we can get you up there you'll be safe for the night. It's fortified for one thing".
"I am not going to earth", said Kieran, stubbornly "I am going back to the Indigo. If I start hiding it'll make things worse".
"Fine", said Joby "You got back there and put up with everyone swarming all over the place. We'll go to the Governor's House and get a bit of peace for the time being".
"You can't leave me to face them alone!" said Kieran.
"Then stop arguing and come with us", said Adam.
"I could distract everyone by serving free drinks in the lobby", said Ully "Bengo will get you out of the fire exit and up to the Governor's House. He knows this town like the back of his hand in the dark".
The Governor didn't turn out to greet them when they all reached his house, which was situated at the top of the highest flight of steps in the village. He was elderly and not in the best of health, and so had retired to bed early. Nonetheless he gave word to his staff to accommodate Kieran and his gang in his rambling house.
Ully had been right, the house was fortified and they instantly felt safe there. It was large, quiet and gloomy. Its rooms and corridors normally echoing around the Governor and his small selection of staff. They all retired to their rooms immediately on arriving, as though anxious not to disturb the general silence too much.
Joby was too restless to go to bed. A situation not helped by Kieran sitting up half the night in their room, plotting tactics with Ransey. Annoyed beyond measure by the entire evening's events Joby had wandered out into the corridor and sat in the windowseat overlooking the walled garden at the back of the house. He was tired, but more significantly he was angry that Kieran was still being claimed as public property after all these years.
"Shit, you startled me!" he cried, as Julian emerged out of the moonlit gloom on the landing.
"I'm sorry", said Julian, in an automatic fashion.
"What are you doing roaming about?"
"Couldn't sleep", said Julian, taking his case of cheroots out of his pocket "So I thought I'd come out here for a smoke. I didn't want to disturb Finia. What are you doing out here? Had a row with Tinkerbell?"
"Chance'd be a fine thing", Joby grunted "I don't get a moment to speak to him with Ransey in there, going on and on about what the best tactics are going to be over the next few days. I had enough of all that kind of thing when Kieran was still President. The amount of times I tried to sleep in those days and there'd be some pillock in our room jawing on about a load of rubbish".
"You seem angry with Kieran".
"I am. I shouldn't be, but I am", said Joby "We just keep running endlessly. That's all we've done since we crossed over. Chasing our own tails, thinking we're gonna get some peace in the end and we never do. And I'm angry at him because ... because of who he is I suppose. Because if means we'll never get left alone".
"How would you have it, ideally?"
"Total anonymity", said Joby, firmly "Me and him living in a couple of rooms somewhere. Perhaps a bit like the flat I had in the old life. It was a dump, but I could have been happy there with him. I spose that sounds daft to you?"
"Not at all. From what you've said it reminds me of the rooms Adam and I had when we were at college. Sometimes I think I'd give anything to go back to those days again, without me messing it up this time".
"It wouldn't work for us though", Joby sighed "It's not just the public that makes him who he is. There's something about him that'll always stop him being ordinary, however much he tries to be. He's on a different level most of the time, and he doesn't realise it".
"One can't receive the adulation he's had and not be raised above mere mortal level", said Julian "Whatever his grand claims to modesty".
"I can't hack it though", Joby felt close to tears "It never gets any easier. I wasn't cut out to partner someone like that. There's an old saying that greatness rubs off on people, reflected glory and all that, but it's never rubbed off on me. I'm still the same ill-educated hapless jerk I always was".
"The only thing that's wrong with you is lack of confidence".
"Yeah well I wasn't injected with it at birth like you were", said Joby "No one gave me instant deference when I was a kid".
"You think that's what I had, deference?" Julian laughed, bitterly "Not amongst my own family I can assure you. Unless I drew attention to myself in some dramatic way I was usually ignored".
"Yeah but you can't deny that weren't brought up to think you were something special?"
"You learn to play the game very early on, that is true. Your background gives you a sense of identity, a feeling that you belong somewhere. That can instil confidence on its own, because no one can take it away from you. I wouldn't underestimate that. I've seen too many people who wished they had it".
"It doesn't work that way with Adam though. Is that because his father wasn't titled?"
"Nothing so straightforward as that", said Julian "The real snobs would ignore his father's money anyway and concentrate on his mother's background. You get plenty like Adam from our background. They don't quite fit the mould you see. There's a wildness and and sensitivity that the aristocratic establishment doesn't trust and so inevitably fears".
"You feared it too didn't you?" said Joby "When you were young I mean?"
"I was attracted to it as well. But he can still strike terror into me sometimes, if I think there's any chance he might go off the rails at all".
"You scare him too sometimes", said Joby "He told me that once. He calls it your head prefect mode".
"Bloody good job too, or the little bitch would run rings round me", said Julian "He's like an exotic wild bird. Sometimes when I took him back to my family home, I could sense everyone tense up when he came into the room. Almost a collective groan of 'oh no what's he going to say or do next?' I think his mother used to have much the same effect!"
"Should've had Lonts there too, would really have rounded it off nicely", said Joby, and then sighed "Oh God, I'd better go and see if there's any chance at all of getting some kip tonight".
"You look as though you could do with some", said Julian "Just tell Ransey to leave if he's still there".
"If I do, you can bet your bottom dollar Kieran'll spend the rest of the night jawing in me ear about everything".
"Then tell him to shut up, and that you need your rest", said Julian "I'm always saying that to Adam. Particularly as he will insist on wittering on about everything when I'm exhausted. He usually obeys instantly".
"It's not that easy to shut Kieran up".
"I appreciate the fact that visionaries are not the easiest of people to live with ..."
"I was thinking more because he's Irish actually. He has about six words for my every two".
"But you only need two", said Julian "That's what I've been saying. And if he insists on carrying on in a loquacious vein, smother him! It might be an end to all our problems!"
Joby got back to their room to find Ransey had gone, and Kieran pacing about in a fine old temper, wreathed in cigarette smoke.
"Where the fock have you been, Joby?" he bellowed.
"Belt up, you'll wake the whole building", said Joby "It never ceases to amaze me how for such a small person you've got such a big gob!"
"You haven't answered me, where have you been?"
"With Julian. We had mad, passionate sex on the landing".
"That wouldn't surprise me in the slightest!"
"Nothing so exciting actually", Joby wearily pulled off his clothes "We had a conversation about relationships, that's all".
"I suppose you've been discussing me?"
"Why would we wanna do that? I can't think of a more boring subject at this time of night! And put that bloody fag out. I'm sick to death of being a passive smoker".
"Ransey says that tomorrow ..."
"I don't wanna hear what Ransey has to say", Joby exclaimed "Until daybreak tomorrow I don't wanna even think about anything that reminds me that you're the Vanquisher of Evil".
"But bugger all!" Joby grabbed him round the back of the neck and pulled him over to the window "See the world out there? The stars in the sky, and the trees, and the grass. You have no effect on any of them whatsoever".
"I could have. I could mow the grass and cut the trees down", said Kieran, facetiously "I'd have an effect on them then!"
"Don't get fucking smart with me", Joby cried, almost hoarse with frustration "What I'm saying is, you are not a god".
"But I've never said I was!" Kieran protested.
"You are not Superman", Joby continued "The world would get by fine without you, if only you'd let it".
"I'm quite happy to let it, but it won't let me".
"Then ignore it".
"It's not easy to do when because of them out there we're holed up in here!" said Kieran "And that wasn't my focking idea anyway. I wanted us to go back to the Indigo and carry on as normal, but oh no! I get told by the rest of you that I have to turn meself into the Prisoner of Zenda!"
"Yeah I know, I'm sorry", Joby released his grip on him in a defeated fashion.
"What I was going to say was that Ransey's going to try and think up a way of getting us to the Indigo and out of here without causing too much fuss. Nothing to do with me becoming President again whatsoever".
"And what if it really does turn out Gorth was murdered?" said Joby.
"Then I'd like to see that thick-lipped freak brought to book for it", said Kieran "But I'm not about to put meself forward as Hercule Poirot, thank you very much. Now let's get some sleep whilst there's still some night left!"
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