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"The air-buggy went back to the City after dropping him here", said Ransey, after having spent an exhausting three hours making enquiries at the local information office, who had been so astonished at being called upon to do anything they hadn't resented the late hour "So unless he does order another one, or charter a boat, he's going to be stuck in this town, with our Joby".
"And everyone will let us know if he does show signs of leaving", said Adam, trying to sound optimistic.
"That's unless he bribes someone totally bent to take him", said Kieran, despondently "Or forces them at the point of a gun. In which case he could take Joby anywhere. Anywhere in the whole focking world".
"I don't think he will", said Ransey "From what you've told me he seems pretty proud of the fact that he's got a bolt-hole here, which can only mean he's confident we won't find it. But we will. This whole town will want to help us look for Joby when they find out".
"No, don't say anything publicly", said Kieran "Some might have noticed what went on on deck this evening, but even so I want it kept as quiet as possible. We can't afford for Tamaz to get narked or panicky in any way, because then he won't hesitate to kill Joby. We can't risk that. And we have the local people to think of too. God I hope Joby's alright! He's so damn spirited he won't hesitate to give Tamaz hell, and that could be bad news for him".
"Almost makes you feel sorry for Tamaz doesn't it?" said Julian, wryly "Having Joby as a hostage!"
"One thing Joby's not short of is courage", said Kieran "But sometimes he's got too much for his own good! He doesn't always know when to sit tight".
"You don't seem very worried that Tamaz might turn Joby against you", said Toppy.
"Not a hope", said Kieran "Anyway I went through all this sort of garbage with Angel at the Loud House. Said the way to destroy me was to leave me unloved and unwanted blah-blah-blah. It's all true of course, but I know Joby too well to worry about that side of things".
"The main thing is we have to start searching the town", said Adam "There's an old saying that if you want to hold a top secret meeting, do it on a balcony overlooking a busy street. My point being that we should look somewhere fairly central and obvious to start with".
"But even if we find him what do we do then?" Lonts wailed "Tamaz might kill him as soon as we get near".
"We'll worry about that tactic later", said Ransey "The important thing is to find the location first, then we go on from there".
At first light they set about searching the buildings in the main square. Kieran had entertained high hopes of a derelict apartment block opposite the tobacconist where Julian bought his cigars, but this turned out to house only a few rats.
"Chances are more likely he's taken him to one of the old warehouse sites along the Wharf", said Julian.
The Wharf was one of the most depressing sights they had seen in a long time. Smoky black buildings lined the riverside, and the air was full of desultory clangs and thumps as the wind whistled through loose masonry, broken windows and flapping sheets of iron. A network of rusted iron steps connected the different parts of the buildings, and inside them gloomy brick corridors all seemed to busily lead nowhere.
"I have a feeling about this area", said Kieran.
"You think he's here, Pats?" said Adam.
"He's somewhere near, but at the same time I just can't seem to get a grip on it".
"Well until your tracker dog instincts start sharpening up", said Julian "We'll have to carry on relying on good old-fashioned footwork".
The last thing Joby could remember was being bundled into a rickshaw on the harbourside. Tamaz had got in next to him, and as the vehicle started moving, he had produced a needle from a pocket in his skirt.
Joby had been terrified out of his mind by the sight of this thing, recalling only too vividly what Tamaz had said about his method of killing Gorth with a poisoned hat-pin. Tamaz had grabbed his arm and jabbed the needle into it. As he had steadily become more drowsy Joby had been convinced he was dying.
He came round again slowly. His head too an age to clear, and his arm throbbed where the needle had been jammed in so roughly. As his eyesight cleared and his senses returned he became aware that he was lying on a lumpy, musty-smelling bed. To the right of him a window had been boarded over with a wooden shutter and firmly nailed into place. In the gloom he could make out a sink on the opposite wall, next to a gas-ring. A curtained doorway led into an adjourning room. The plaster was coming off the walls to expose the brickwork below. It all looked like a spectacularly dog-rough bedsit.
He sat up to get out of bed and noticed that Tamaz had scrawled the word "SLAVE" across his naked belly with cheap-red lipstick. Furiously, he tried to rub it off with the sheet, but it only smudged and made him look as though he had developed a nasty rash.
He gave up and decided to explore the rest of his surroundings. He went through the curtain and into a slightly larger room, which again sported a boarded-up window in the far wall. The only items of furniture were a revolting-looking sofa and a battered coffee-table. He ran to the door in the corner, but wasn't at all surprised to find it locked, as well as made out of reinforced wood. He hammered on it and cried out, but the silence around him was deafening.
The room was dark and cold. He couldn't find his clothes anywhere, or even anyone else's. Not so much as a bath-robe. There was a small gas-fire in one wall, but it needed coins to operate it and he certainly had none of those, let alone matches to light the gas-lamps on the wall.
He screamed in desperation, kicked the sofa, jumped on it a few times, and hurled the coffee-table against the wall. This scene did nothing to alleviate his distress, and he felt cold so he went back to bed.
There he sat huddled in the dirty old blankets for quite some time. He began to develop the very real fear that he had been walled up alive. It was just the sort of sick trick that would appeal to someone as warped as Tamaz.
Some time later, for how long he couldn't even begin to guess, he heard the rattle of keys outside the door. He ran into the next room, and found an old man walking in with a covered tray. The old man had iron-grey hair and a round, pleasant face. He looked amiability itself, except for the gun in his holster. He kicked the door shut behind him and placed the tray on the sofa.
The man looked so civilised that Joby felt absurdly embarrassed by his own nakedness and wrapped the curtain around his lower half.
"I've brought you some food, Mr Joby", said the man, genially "Don't want you starving now, do we?"
"Don't you?" said Joby, sharply.
"Well I certainly don't", said the man, in a shocked tone "I've long been an admirer of yours".
"Then why are you keeping me locked up in here?" Joby exclaimed "With no light, heating or clothes!"
"Because Tamaz says he'll kill the women of the waterfront if I don't", said the old man "And I must warn you that he says he'll do that if you attempt to escape as well".
"So he knows about the women?" said Joby, in dismay.
"Yes, and he can do it too. Dark forces you know", said the old man casually, as though remarking on the weather.
"I understand", said Joby, sombrely "I won't give you any trouble. What does he intend to do with me?"
"He hasn't said. But he's left you a little note", said the old man, and he fished a slip of paper out of his pocket "He says you can send a message by return if you like. I've got a pencil here".
The note read: "WILL BE WITH YOU SHORTLY, MY DARLING".
Joby added underneath: "CAN'T WAIT TO SEE YOU AGAIN, YOU FREAK!"
After the old man had gone he inspected the tray. It contained a plate of chicken sandwiches and small flask of coffee. He was too hungry and cold to worry about if they were doped or poisoned.
For several days this pattern persisted. He alternately sweated and froze in the darkened rooms. There were no toilet facilities, only the sink and a bucket underneath. Abe, as the old man was called, brought him some food once a day. There were no further notes from Tamaz. Abe was genial but not very forthcoming with information. He was very apologetic about Joby's predicament, and on one occasion Joby snapped that it was like having Lonts as a jailer!
The loneliness and inactivity was unbearable. It was a thousand times worse than his stint at the Henang penal colony. At least there he had had Adam and Kieran for company, and could go out onto the balcony for fresh air and daylight. He tried violently to shake off the crushing weight of gloom, the unbearable sense of being trapped, but it was hopeless. He tried not to think about the future, about whether he would see Kieran or the others again. He had great faith that they would move heaven and earth to find him, if Tamaz didn't sort them out first, and that last thought was more terrifying than any other.
He thought a great deal about the past, and there was a lot to go over. There were moments when he hated Kieran, when he blamed Kieran for everything in the whole goddamn Universe. It was through being associated with Kieran that he had suffered so many indignities in his adult life, that he had endured so much stress, fear and unhappiness. He vowed that if he did see Kieran again he would shake him by his neck until all life was extinguished from that scrawny little body.
But the truth remained that no one would ever love Joby more than Kieran did. Their relationship had steadily grown from the most unpromising beginnings to one that simply couldn't be destroyed, not ever. Tamaz was never going to succeed, Joby knew that, but God knows what he would do to try.
On the fifth day Tamaz finally appeared in the apartment, and Joby knew the ordeal was only just beginning.
He had woken up to find a lamp burning in the room, and he blinked at the unaccustomed glare. He was also slightly disorientated from having woken up to find himself sleeping at the foot-end of the bed. When he tried to sit up he found he was handcuffed to a long chain which was secured to the bed-rail. The detested word "SLAVE" had been freshly scrawled on his stomach in lipstick.
He sat up with a great rattling of chains against wood. Tamaz was standing in the curtained doorway. He had combed out his silly curls and slicked his hair back, which signified that he regarded himself as being in Male mode. It emphasised his cheekbones more than ever. He wore only a long vest which reached down to his thighs. There was the smell of frying bacon in the room, and Joby's stomach gave a growl.
"Feeling hungry?" Tamaz smirked.
Joby knew it was pointless to deny it. He felt weak with hunger. He couldn't remember if Abe had been that day or not. Particularly as he had no idea what time of day, or even which day it was.
"How have you managed to keep away?" said Joby, sarcastically.
"Busy", said Tamaz.
"The outside world no longer concerns you, Joby", said Tamaz "Here is all that need concern you now. Here and now. These two rooms. And me".
Joby couldn't be bothered to say anymore. All he wanted to do was eat that bacon. Frightening how quickly a man's priorities got reduced to such a basic level, but such is life. He hoped Tamaz wouldn't play any stupid games, and would just let him eat.
Tamaz served up bacon, egg and fried bread, and took it into the other room. Joby watched the plates disappear through the curtain with dismay. If Tamaz wanted to torture him, this would be by far and away the most effective way of doing it. He would be a gibbering wreck in no time at all. Mercifully, Tamaz came back into the room and unchained him from the bed-rail. He led him into the living-room, and they sat side-by-side on the sofa to devour the meal. Tamaz's appetite was as huge as his, and his table manners were pretty atrocious. They both licked the plates afterwards.
Once his appetite had been sated Joby felt more inclined to think deeper thoughts. And the truth of the situation was revolting. He had been reduced to eating like a pig, whilst naked and wearing handcuffs, sitting next to a demonic hermaphrodite in the seediest bedsit imaginable.
"Room for pudding?" said Tamaz.
"Depends what it is", Joby muttered.
"Bananas and whipped cream", said Tamaz, in mock surprise, as though Joby was a truculent customer in a restaurant.
Tamaz returned with two bowls of the said dessert. He put them on the coffee-table, and then resumed his seat next to Joby. Joby suddenly gave a cry of rage and, although hampered by the handcuffs, managed to push Tamaz's face into the bowl. He then sat astride his back whilst Tamaz choked and gasped for air, gagging on a surfeit of whipped cream. His hands flayed around frantically, and it was only with some difficulty that he managed to buck Joby off.
"That was stupid!" Tamaz spluttered.
"I couldn't help meself", said Joby "I've promised not to escape, but you needn't expect an easy ride of it all the same".
"Oh I see", said Tamaz, wiping cream off his face "Get bored do you? Like a bit of fun and excitement?"
"Not with you", said Joby "You're a coward for a start".
"A coward?" Tamaz spat.
"Yeah, otherwise why don't you take these cuffs off me?"
"If that's what you want".
Tamaz pulled a necklace out from under his vest, on which hung an assortment of keys. He selected the smallest one and then nuzzled up to Joby to unlock the handcuffs. Joby couldn't help but be mesmerised by some of the larger keys on the chain.
"After them are you?" said Tamaz, looking into his face intently "Thinking of slugging me out and pinching them, eh?"
"I don't imagine for one minute that it would be that easy", said Joby, dryly.
"Why don't you try?" said Tamaz "After all, what's the lives of the entire female population against one man's freedom?"
"Keep your keys", said Joby.
"Thought you might say that".
Tamaz went and stood in the middle of the room. The dingy light thrown from the gas-lamps made him look colourless and unwell. His small breasts moved gently underneath his vest, and Tamaz was aware that Joby was watching them.
"You're ugly!" Joby ran across the room and seized him by the throat "Ugly! Ugly! Ugly! You're even uglier than me and that's saying something! I hate everything about you. Your thick lips, your spiteful eyes, your turned-up nose, your greasy hair ..."
"Such passion", Tamaz purred "I'd better run for the door whilst I still can! Except you'd be missing rather a lot then wouldn't you, Joby?"
"I could break you neck. One twist is all that it would take. Break your stupid, fucking neck".
"Well you'd better hope and pray you manage to succeed, otherwise who knows what might happen?"
Joby didn't have the confidence to believe that he could manage to do such a thorough job in one take. He'd wait until Tamaz was asleep, he thought, even Tamaz had to rest occasionally. And then he'd put a pillow over that cruel little face and push down hard.
"I think you'd prefer it if I was a girl, wouldn't you?" said Tamaz.
"I'd prefer it if you didn't exist".
"Come with me".
Tamaz took Joby back into the bedroom and handcuffed him back to the bed-rail. Joby jiggled the chain irritably and taunted Tamaz once more about being a coward. Tamaz didn't listen. Instead he pulled out a suitcase from under the bed, and opened it.
"Well go on then, Cinders", Joby sneered "Do a magical transformation! I've already seen you as a woman, and I wasn't the slightest bit impressed, so you've got your work cut out".
Tamaz pulled off his vest. He then put on a white silk camisole and matching knickers. The silk caressed his nipples and made them erect, but Joby had become too used to seeing Finia in drag to be too influenced by the sight of female clothing.
"Got a little surprise for you", said Tamaz, reaching back into the suitcase "Something I know you do like. Something about you that even Kieran isn't aware of".
He pulled out a pair of black stockings, and some red frilly garters. Joby sat numbly as Tamaz unlocked him from the handcuffs.
"Strange isn't it?" said Tamaz "How they've never worked out about your stocking fetish. Quite strange when we all know that you like to carry one around with you. They all think it's just because it's a woman's stocking, but I know better".
"It's no big deal", said Joby, his mouth feeling dry "Plenty of men get turned on by silk stockings".
"But yours is a fetish, Joby. And Kieran is normally so insightful too. You'd think he'd realise wouldn't you? After all, he's caught you looking through women's underwear drawers before, and you used to like to do it as child too".
"How the fuck do you know all this?"
"It's your own fault, for dismissing us Ghoomers as stupid. You should know by now that demons can penetrate your inner layers far better than anyone else. I know everyone's weaknesses. I could have abducted any one of you lot, and done exactly the same thing to them. But yours is marginally less tedious than Kieran's religious hang-ups, or Lonts's insecurity for instance. Yours has the potential for more fun".
Tamaz handed Joby one of the silk stockings. He then sat down on the bed and stretched out his foot.
"Put my stockings on for me", he ordered.
Joby scrunched the stocking up and slotted it over Tamaz's toes.
"Do it gently", said Tamaz "I won't be at all happy if you tear it in any way".
Joby fitted the stocking over Tamaz's foot and then slowly smoothed it up his leg. Tamaz handed him one of the garters and Joby put it on him. He smoothed the stocking again, caressing the silk material. Suddenly he kissed Tamaz's silk-covered toes and even tried to cram a couple of them into his mouth.
"See", Tamaz whispered, triumphantly "It wasn't very hard to get you on-side at all".
"It's been a week now", said Kieran, sitting in the saloon on the Indigo "A whole seven days".
"Can't you pick up anything on him at all, Pats?" said Adam, plaintively.
"God knows I've tried", said Kieran "I've concentrated me mind until the cows come home, and I can't get a damn thing. It makes me wonder if Tamaz has succeeded, that I've lost Joby. I really didn't bargain for it happening, Adam. Normally me and Joby are like twins, I can pick some trace of him in me mind, but there's just nothing".
"I cannot possibly believe Joby's fallen for any of Tamaz's wiles".
"Then why haven't we found him?" Kieran exclaimed "We've searched every building in this town. Somehow they've managed to seal themselves off somewhere, and Joby's not tuning into me at all. I thought we'd have him back within twelve hours, and it's been seven days! I think I'm going to go mad if I have to live through much more of this".
"Tamaz cannot possibly undo what we've all been through these past eighteen years", said Adam "Experiences weld people together, and we three have been through too much for Tamaz to undo it all in one week".
"We don't know what Tamaz is doing to him though", Kieran protested.
"Whatever it is you'll be able to put it right, I'm certain of it".
"Adam!" Julian barked from the doorway.
"What is it, Jules?" Adam sighed, irritably.
"Come and sort your little darling out", said Julian "He and Bengo are making the most dreadful mess in the galley".
"For heavens' sake, does it matter?"
"Life goes on".
"And on and on in your case", said Adam.
"You'd better go and see to it, Addy", said Kieran "I'll be alright".
"Very well", said Adam. He got up and left the room.
"I may seem heartless", said Julian to Kieran, once they were alone "But don't get upset until you're certain. All is never as it seems".
"I can't help it", said Kieran "I miss him so much".
"I realise that".
"I don't have any kind of a life without him. It's different for you lot. You'd miss I know, but you'd all still fit in with one another. Without him I don't fit in anywhere".
"Kieran, most of the things we do are for your sake!"
"But I don't fit easily as part of the family unit, not without Joby".
"I think Adam would beg to differ there", said Julian "Listen, we're all worried about Joby, each and everyone of us, but this maudlin self-pity won't help anyone. You have to concentrate your efforts on finding him. Until that happens, nothing else is important".
"W-We're making flour bombs", said Lonts, nervously.
Adam was looking appalled at the general mayhem of burst balloons and mounds of sodden flour lying all over the galley.
"But we keep getting the mixture of flour and water wrong", said Bengo "And so the balloon's keep bursting. Sorry".
"And exactly how is this supposed to help anyone?" said Adam "Are you intending to go after Tamaz with a few custard pies and cans of silly string as well?"
"It was just an idea, Adam", said Lonts.
"And a spectacularly pointless one!" Adam exclaimed "I could do without this at the moment Lo-Lo! Now I'm going to leave the room for a few minutes, and when I come back I expect to find this place tidy again, otherwise I shall be very very cross with you!"
"Well I still think it's a good idea", said Bengo, after Adam had gone "If we can just the mixture right, I'm certain it'll work".
"Even so, we'd better tidy up", Lonts sighed.
"Can't we just give it one more try?"
"Not when he's so angry already. He'll spank me".
"Alright. We'll have a go tomorrow when he's gone visiting the neighbours", said Bengo "I really think we're onto something here, Lonts".
"Yes, but we have to find out where Joby and Tamaz are first".
"That can only be a matter of time. I think we should get Toppy on-side".
"He won't help us", said Lonts, picking up the remnants of the burst balloons "He's too much of a goody two-shoes. Why not Finia? You could persuade him to do anything".
"I'm not sure", said Bengo "I think he might go splitting to Julian. Our best bet's Toppy. He's too scared of Julian half the time to say anything to him, and we want to keep the old dears out of this don't we? It's gotta be us younger ones who rescue Joby".
"I still don't see how it's going to work, Bengo", said Lonts.
"It will. Trust me", said Bengo "Me with my gymnastic skills, and you being able to climb up anything. It'll work like a dream. We just have to find out where Joby is before any of the others do, that's all".
Hillyard had taken to haunting the bar on the Wharf every afternoon. It wasn't the most salubrious of places, but he couldn't help feeling that the Wharf was still the place that held the answers to Joby's whereabouts. The bar had long since exhausted its charms for him. He was sick of the sight of eels and mashed potato, and fed up with men creeping up to him and offering to show him where he could have a good time with Real Women, but still he was certain that if he kept his eyes and ears open he would get some small clue to Joby's location.
He and Ransey had started a book running between them as to who would discover Joby first. Both of them were spurred on by Ransey's belief that Bengo and Lonts were equally determined to be first in the gold rush. It was simply their way of coping, a way of stopping themselves panicking, although they tried to keep the betting a secret from Kieran.
"We've got to rescue him, Hillyard", Ransey had said, firmly "We can't be pipped at the post by a clown and the baby!"
Hillyard was inclined to agree, although as each day passed he was increasingly dismayed at their unanimous lack of progress. Toondor Lanpin was an intricate place, but it wasn't big, not when compared to the City for instance, and yet they hadn't caught the merest scent of Joby or Tamaz.
"He's the President!" Hillyard exclaimed "Someone must recognise him, unless he shuts himself away all the time".
"He can change appearance with hardly any effort though", said Ransey "It never ceases to amaze me what a difference a frock can make. Look how different Finia is in a shirt, trousers and cap, compared to when he's got his finery on. You wouldn't think it was the same person".
This afternoon the bar was dense with smoke as usual. Hillyard felt you could get high just sticking your head round the door. In this permanent state of fug that the entire town lived in, it was hardly surprising if Tamaz managed to prowl amongst them unnoticed.
"Even in here", said a voice.
"Sorry?" Hillyard looked up from his pint of beer.
"Even in here I go unnoticed".
Sitting opposite him was a young man in a billed cap. He looked scruffy and yet eerily familiar.
"Tamaz!" said Hillyard, softly. He felt as though he'd witnessed someone come back from the dead.
"Still looking for us?" said Tamaz, his thick lips smirking "Not doing too well are you? Give it up I say. Joby doesn't want to come home. He's having the time of his life with me. Pass that message on to the dear Vanquisher for me".
"He won't believe you. He'll want to hear it from Joby".
"What do you want me to do? Cut off his ear and send it to you? Isn't that what kidnappers are supposed to do?"
"Don't! Please don't".
"Quite fun this cat and mouse game isn't it?" said Tamaz "Brings out all my best Ghoomer instincts. Normally we're the hunters, so it makes a refreshing change to be the pursued for once".
"I don't understand what it is you want", said Hillyard "Kieran's not interested in the Presidency anymore. He's no threat to you".
"His image is", said Tamaz "And that is what has to be destroyed. No one will have anytime for the serene, beautiful blonde Vanquisher when he's an ugly, bitter and twisted old loser, will they?"
"We'll disappear again. You'll never have to put up with us again, ever! Just let us have Joby back first".
"You simply don't get it do you? It would be hopeless for you to disappear as Kieran's image would remain intact, more pristine than ever in fact. Distance lends enchantment you see".
"You seem to be going to a helluva lot of trouble".
"It's no trouble at all, I'm enjoying myself. But then I'm in control. I'm not the one who doesn't know what the hell is going on or what the outcome's going to be", said Tamaz "I invented the rules of this game, and I will be the one who wins it. I'm winning it now. Joby's my slave. You couldn't prise him away him from me now with a crowbar. Now I'm relying on you to pass those glad tidings onto Kieran".
"Tamaz, we once had something, you and I", Hillyard tried to grab his hand, but Tamaz pulled it away disdainfully.
"A quick fuck in the arse from what I recall", he snapped "Hardly something to look back on with pleasure. So long for now".
He slid silently and nimbly out of the bar. Hillyard knocked his beer over in his haste to pursue him. He finally got outside, but Tamaz was nowhere in sight. Apart from the river, there was only place he could have disappeared to so quickly, and that was a wide archway in the wall directly opposite. It led into a courtyard, which had once been used for unloading cargo. Hillyard fled into it and then stood there flummoxed. All the doorways were barred and padlocked. Tamaz couldn't possibly have got himself into any of them so quickly. There was a tangled network of iron steps, most of which were unsafe and these days didn't lead anywhere half the time.
Even so, they now had a rough locale, however adept Tamaz was at disappearing. It was SOMETHING. Hillyard ran all the way back to the Indigo, with the intention of fetching Ransey and a couple of guns. Kieran was sitting glumly on the forward deck when he got back.
"Hilly, what is it?" he stood up, excitedly "Have you heard something?"
"I've seen Tamaz", Hillyard panted "Come below, I'll tell you and Ransey together".
Bengo listened outside the cabin door and then ran into the next one. He found Lonts lying on Joby's bunk, sucking his thumb.
"Tamaz is at the Wharf", Bengo hissed "Come on, they're still talking in there. We can get a head-start".
"He can't be", said Lonts, unimpressed "We've been over the Wharf a million times".
"But Hillyard's seen him!"
"Did he see Joby?" said Lonts, sitting up.
"No, but he must be around. Now then, we'll take the flour and balloons with us. Where's Toppy?"
"Gone to Mrs Tearful's with Adam. He's a real little creep. He's being all nice and sympathetic to Adam, and making me look like a troublemaker. It's not fair".
"Never mind all that now. We'll have to manage without Toppy", said Bengo "Now come on. We have to get Joby back for Kieran's sake. We can't let Tamaz win. Think what it'll mean to Kieran when we rescue him!"
He ran to the door excitedly and then stopped short.
"Where's Julian?" he asked, grimly.
"Out shopping with Finia".
"Perfect!" Bengo cried "Operation Rescue Joby begins!"
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