Go back to previous chapter
Joby took the wheel that afternoon, as they pursued the long, empty river down towards Toondor Lanpin. At one point he found himself alone on deck, and he was uncomfortably aware of Tamaz's presence in the cage. It was only the first day, and he was already uncertain how much longer he could take the boy's baleful presence.
An hour before sunset they dropped anchor, and Hillyard took a basket of fruit down to the raft. There he found Tamaz looking rather sorry for himself. His hair was greasy and slicked back against his head, giving him a bony, foetus-like appearance. Hillyard was the only one who felt any warmth for Tamaz, in spite of his evil deeds. They had been lovers once, albeit very briefly, and Hillyard was nothing if not an incurable romantic.
"I don't know how I'm going to stick living like this for a year", said Tamaz, holding onto the bars of the cage and swinging his body restlessly "Except I suppose I shouldn't be in too much of a hurry to get back to the City. At least here I'm alive, for what it's worth".
"You'll be alive in the City", said Hillyard "Kieran outlawed the death penalty during his presidency, and I can't believe they've brought it back. There was too much killing during Gabriel's time for that. They won't execute you".
"No?" said Tamaz "And what'll I get instead? A lifetime's imprisonment that's what. You might as well save yourselves a journey and keep me here in this fucking cage".
"Don't try and escape will you?" said Hillyard, anxiously "Ransey doesn't need much of an excuse to shoot you".
"I know, I've seen him looking at me", Tamaz pouted "Evil bastard".
"Look, if you behave yourself I'll try and make things easier for you", said Hillyard.
"How?" Tamaz spat.
"I don't know yet. Make the cage more comfortable perhaps. It's not much but it's a start".
"Alright", Tamaz conceded, ungraciously. Even he realised that it would make a huge difference to have one friendly face amongst his captors.
Hillyard left the food with him, and then re-locked the cage. Tamaz looked horribly dejected at the sound of the keys in the locks, and Hillyard felt his heart leap. The boy was still very young after all, and not at all unattractive in his newly-thin state.
"You took your time", said Ransey, who was waiting for him on the forward deck "Don't start feeling sorry for him. Remember he's killed in cold blood".
"Yeah, well he's not the only one round here is he!" Hillyard exclaimed.
He took the key-ring down to Julian's cabin, and chucked it with a loud clatter onto his desk.
"For heaven's sake!" said Julian, shying back in his chair "There's no need to hurl them at me!"
"Sorry", Hillyard mumbled "But are we gonna have to keep him locked up like that all the time?"
"Yes", said Julian, firmly "He's a murderer and a rapist. He has no compunction or conscience about killing. He's not safe to be given the run of the ship. Don't start going soft on him this early in the journey".
"I'm not", Hillyard sighed "I can't help but feel sorry for him though, being stuck out there on his own".
"He didn't seem too concerned for Joby when he had him trussed up like a chicken in that god-awful room", said Julian, locking the keys in the top drawer of his desk "And don't forget how he treated him".
"I hadn't forgotten", said Hillyard "Oh take no notice of me. Ransey rubbed me up the wrong way that's all".
"Bound to at the moment. He's in a filthy mood, and I reckon it's because Monene beat him to it with the delectable Dolores", said Julian "But I've sworn a solemn oath to Finia that I won't make any wise-cracks about it in Ransey's hearing. Personally I think she had a narrow escape. I wouldn't wish Ransey as a lover on anyone, not even Tamaz".
"Adam seems to be doing alright with him at the moment", said Hillyard, mischievously.
"What do you mean by that?" said Julian, sharply.
"Very at ease in each other's company. I reckon, given time, Adam might help him over his first hurdle".
"Don't be absurd!" Julian exclaimed "Even in his drinking days Adam had more sense than that. Now clear off!"
As Hillyard went out, Joby came in, carrying Julian's supper tray, which he set down carefully on the desk.
"You look rather tired and rundown", said Julian "Tamaz getting to you?"
"Only when I can see him", said Joby "Below deck I can forget he's around".
"It'll get easier as the trip goes on", said Julian "You look as though an early night wouldn't do you any harm".
"I was gonna go and have a lie-down now, but Kieran's in our cabin, praying".
"On who?" said Julian, tartly "Kick him out of it! Cabins are for sleeping in, not ear-bashing the Almighty. It must get on your nerves sometimes".
"After all these years I'm used to it", said Joby "He doesn't bother me these days, it's only when he went peculiar up at Wolf Castle that he did that. It's not as if he's ever tried to convert me or anything. I'd get pretty narked with him if he did".
"He must realise you're a lost cause", Julian smiled.
"Between you and me the only religion I ever had any time for were the Hindu's", said Joby, reflectively "Some used to meet an old church near where I used to live, in our time. And they never seemed to keep waffling on about Do's and Don'ts, like most religions did. One old guy said that to them every place, every time and every part of life was sacred, so they felt they didn't have to make a big song and dance about sabbaths and rituals and things like that. Yeah, I always had more time for them".
"A bit different to Kieran's mob", said Julian.
"It seems to work for a lot of 'em I spose", Joby sighed "Sometimes when Kieran goes on about the beauty of the rituals I can see his point, but otherwise it always seemed too bloody complicated and long-winded for my liking".
"It's the constant harping on about the after-life that gets me", said Julian "So busy worrying about eternity, they forget the importance of now".
Joby left the cabin soon after and went across the gangway to his own. There he found Kieran putting away Joby's fob-watch, which he used to time himself with whilst he was doing his daily litany.
"Have you finished?" said Joby.
"Good, 'cos I wanna go to bed".
"Joby, is there something wrong?" asked Kieran.
"Now why on earth should you think that!" said Joby, sarcastically.
"It might be because you're been like a bear with a sore head since we left No-Name", said Kieran.
"And has it never occurred to you that that might be because we've got Tamaz attached to us like a bloody great barnacle!" said Joby "Why on earth couldn't we just kill him and have done with it? There'd be no more worries then".
"I didn't want you killing him", said Kieran "Killing's bad for the soul".
"Bollocks", said Joby "It would've done my soul the power of good, I promise you! It'd be enough not to have his smug little face watching my every move when I'm on deck. But it seems you care more about his welfare than you do mine".
"Joby, that's outrageous!" said Kieran, in a shocked voice "The idea that I could care about anyone over you is beyond belief".
"Could've fooled me at times!" Joby roared "Here I am, some poor half-blinded old git, dragged from pillar to post. You risk my life for me confronting some terrifying monster. Then you decide you're gonna rehabilitate the wanker who locked me up and abused me! I hate you sometimes, do you know that? You sit in here, all sanctimonious, grovelling to the Almighty and telling him what a pious little sod you are, and you treat me like a worm. Lower than a worm!"
"That's not true".
"And what do you think you can achieve by keeping Tamaz alive?" Joby continued "All your efforts to rehabilitate Angel never worked, did they? And we never got any thanks for it. Just no end of trouble instead".
"Angel was genuinely sick, corrupt and evil", said Kieran "He knew that himself. Nothing could save him in the end. He was a vampire in every sense of the word. He could drain the life-force from people. He tried it on me enough times. Whereas Tamaz is callous and wicked, but I believe there must be something there to be saved".
"No there isn't!" Joby exclaimed. He picked up a pillow and began to bash Kieran round the head with it "He hasn't got any feelings, don't you understand me? He's not capable of feeling anything. He has no conscience, and you're mad if you think he has. You're only stupidly feeling sorry for him because you see him sitting there in that cage, looking all pathetic. But if you was to release him, he'd be up to his old ways again in no time".
"I don't believe that's true", said Kieran, trying to protect his head from the flying pillow "I think he's tired of his ways".
"You said that about Angel!" Joby screamed "And it wasn't true. When they're bad like that they're just bad. Can't you get that into your head?"
"Are you going to stop hitting me now?" Kieran blinked from behind his arms "You don't really hate me do you?"
"Not really. Not proper hate", Joby tossed the pillow back onto the bunk "You just get seriously on my nerves sometimes that's all".
"I'm not just doing this for Tamaz, but mainly for you", said Kieran "I can't explain it properly yet, but I believe this is the best way. This is what'll make you feel better in the long-term, I know it will. Trust me".
"I can't", said Joby, stubbornly "I know you too well".
"I don't do anything without thinking of you first, you must believe that", said Kieran, soothingly "Do you really think I could insist on keeping Tamaz alive if I thought it would cause you great pain in the long-term?"
"Yes, you would".
"No I wouldn't", Kieran held onto his arm affectionately "I have great faith in you".
"Rubbish. That's just an excuse for you to treat me how you damn well like".
"This will be the best for you".
Joby suddenly pushed his nose up against Kieran's and screamed into his face.
"Do you know what I wanna do with you?" he roared "I wanna pick you up by your hair and chuck you around this room, like a baton. I wanna hit every wall with you".
"Don't do that, I might break", said Kieran "And I can't believe it'd do the cabin much good either!"
They both collapsed into laughter and held each other close.
"What did the Gorgon look like?" said Joby "Face-to-face I mean".
"Not something to forget in a hurry", said Kieran "And very much as I expected. Even so, be glad you didn't see it, because the memory of it will never leave me".
Everyone was glad to see Toondor Lanpin again, and the whole waterfront found their arrival to be highly entertaining. Tamaz sat on the floor of his cage and gave the finger to anyone who shouted at him. The Indigo managed to secure a mooring place with some difficulty, as the cage took up so much room. Once anchored, everyone split up and went about their own business. Julian had decreed they were to spend one night there, and they all agreed to meet up at the public baths later that afternoon.
Julian went off to do some shopping, flanked by Finia and Toppy, all of them looking rather smart, considering the state of the washing facilities on board the ship. Adam saw them leave after returning from paying a social call to the Tearfuls, with Lonts.
"I wonder if Toppy's got a crush on Julian", said Adam "Wouldn't it be amusing? It's the way he trots along beside him, glancing up at him every so often. Not that anything'll come of it. Toppy is far too young, and still very much a child in outlook".
"He'll grow up though won't he?" said Lonts, quietly.
"I'm afraid it does tend to happen rather quickly at his age", said Adam, slipping his arm round Lonts's waist, as they walked along the jetty "What's the matter Lo-Lo? You look rather down, old love".
"Toppy'll grow up and leave me behind", said Lonts "And then I'll go back to being the baby again. I don't think I can bear it, Adam. I'm a lot older than him, but one day he'll treat me like a child, just like everyone else does".
"Oh Lo-Lo, I'm sure he won't. Toppy's the sort that will always be shy and sensitive. I can't imagine he'll ever start lording it over you, and you'll soon sort him out if he does!"
"I try so hard, Adam", Lonts began to cry "I want so much to be like everyone else".
"But we all adore you as you are", Adam put his arms round him "You're special. You wouldn't be you if you were any different. I'm very proud of you".
"I want to be taken seriously", Lonts wept.
"Don't I then? I thought I did. I thought I took you very seriously. Your opinions mean a lot to me, and I greatly respect them. We may not always agree, but very few couples do all the time. Remember that row we heard Pats and Joby having the other night for instance?"
"Toppy's going to look down on me one day though", said Lonts "I just know it. One day he'll be talking to me like Joby does".
"I find that very hard to believe. He and Joby aren't at all alike. Anyway, Joby talks to you like that because you're his little brother. Whereas as I see it, Toppy's always going to be a little in awe you. You've seen and done things he can only try and imagine, and that'll make a big difference. I find it very hard to believe Toppy will ever think of you as the baby. The rest of us only do it because we've known you for so long, since you were that scruffy little scrap of a thing, hiding up trees and wearing grubby prison-issue jumpers!"
"Don't remind me", Lonts giggled.
"You were so tiny in those days, short and skinny. Hard to believe now!" Adam squeezed him tenderly.
A handful of the Tearfuls' children ran along the jetty, and stood shrieking outside Tamaz's cage, laughing and taunting him. Tamaz pulled the blanket across, so they began to poke their fingers through the bars at him, jumping in and out of the raft as they did so.
"Do you think we should stop them?" said Lonts "They might accidentally let him out".
"No chance", said Adam "A 400-pound gorilla couldn't smash his way out of that thing, it's the very best prison he could have. And Julian's taken the keys with him, so Tamaz can't persuade the children to go and search for them".
"What if Julian lost the keys though?"
"Oh dear, poor old Tamaz!" said Adam, facetiously "Come on, let's go and have a bath. The kids'll keep Tamaz entertained whilst we're away".
They met Kieran and Joby near the public baths. Both were eating ice-cream from the same tub.
"I bet it must make you feel really good, Joby", said Lonts "Being able to walk around out where whilst Tamaz is locked up".
"I try to think about him as little as possible", said Joby.
"I was just saying to Lo-Lo what a godsend the gorilla cage is", said Adam "It means no on has to stay behind and stand guard over him".
"I found out something weird yesterday", said Kieran "Hillyard was telling me about a conversation he'd had with Tamaz when he took him his breakfast. I always thought Gorth had been coerced into marrying him, that Tamaz had some hold over him. But apparently Gorth had wanted to. It had been his idea all along".
"Well as the old saying goes, he would say that wouldn't he!" said Adam.
"It makes sense to me", said Kieran "Gorth was a very lonely man".
"Insane if he wanted to marry that thing", said Joby.
"Makes what Tamaz did to him all the more vile", said Adam "Although what's the betting Tamaz will now make out Gorth in private was a mixture of Caligula and the Marquis de Sade, and that poor little Tamaz killed him solely in self-defence?"
"He can't try that one", said Joby, scooping up the last of the ice-cream "He as good as told me he killed him in cold blood, quite proud of it in fact".
"He's a Ghoomer, they don't have proper feelings", said Lonts.
"That's the most sensible and pithy comment I've heard on the subject", said Joby "I wish certain so-called Vanquishers had your insight, Lonts".
"Thank you, Joby", said Lonts.
After bathing they all went to see a cheap and cheerful revue in the small run-down theatre near the waterfront. The women of the town still didn't feel secure enough to appear on stage, but there were plenty in the audience, and from the laughter and cat-calls they made they weren't particularly reticent in their opinions.
They certainly had plenty of call to be derisive. The central part of the show was a musical but solemn one-act play about a young boy, a prince no less, unwilling to commit himself to a relationship. The actors looked distinctly fed-up, the dancing was like a bout of tag-wrestling, and as Julian put it, the costumes and props would have been more at home in a toddler's musical movement class.
The songs and comedy routines sandwiched on either side of the Not Nearly Short Enough play were of varying quality. Bengo jabbered indignantly throughout the comedy routines, and said the performers were all getting money under false pretences. He especially directed his venom at a man doing a comic song involving a bit of shadow-play on the white screen behind him.
"He lost his nerve halfway, you could see it happening", Bengo squawked "It had the potential to be a lot funnier than that".
"Like someone else we could mention", said Julian, tartly.
"Bengo's got a point", said Joby "He was billed outside as the man who never stops being funny. It would help if he ever started!"
"Oh lighten up", said Adam "It's hardly meant to be Shakespeare is it!"
"I've seen a few Shakespeare productions on this level", said Julian, dryly "Anyway, at least none of it involves someone falling into elephant dung or getting pissed on, unlike a certain other person's act I could mention, but I don't think my nerves could stand it!"
"I've seen worse than this", said Kieran.
"Yes, on Irish television I expect", said Julian "Particularly where you come from. They could only transmit when the wind was in the right direction couldn't they?"
"Cobblers", said Kieran "We had more avant-garde stuff than you got on English television, which was bland from what I remember".
"Depends on what you class as avant garde obviously", said Julian.
"Shut up, Jules", said Adam "We didn't come here to listen to you carping all evening. We could've all stayed at home on the Indigo if we wanted to do that".
"It wasn't me who started the carping", said Julian "It was Bengo, labouring under the tragic delusion that he could do better".
"Every man a critic", said Kieran.
"I know I could do better than this!" said Bengo.
Three rather portly-looking acrobats were tumbling around the stage, tripping over each other with monotonous regularity. If it had been meant as a comedy routine it would have been mildly entertaining, instead of just plain embarrassing.
"I'll show them how to do a proper back-flip", said Bengo, suddenly standing up and stripping off his t-shirt and shorts.
"How much has he had to drink?" said Julian.
"Don't stop him Jules, he'll probably be the best turn we're going to get tonight", said Adam.
Bengo made his way purposefully towards the stage, wolf-whistled as he went by appreciative female members of the audience.
"Merciful relief he left his jock-strap on I suppose", said Julian "Or he'd be flopping about all over the stage. Not a sight for those in the audience of a nervous disposition".
"Shades of Nijinsky dancing to Debussy, or was it Stravinsky, I can never remember", said Adam.
"Aren't you concerned about your idiot lover making an exhibition of himself, Hillyard?" said Julian.
"Eh?" said Hillyard, distantly.
"I don't think Hillyard's with us", said Kieran.
"Too busy thinking about that caged lizard we've got back home I expect", said Julian.
"I didn't realise Bengo was appearing in this show", said Hillyard, noticing the stage for the first time.
"I'd go back to sleep if I was you, Hilly", said Kieran.
Bengo certainly showed up the tired-looking acrobats. He did a succession of very athletic back-flips, and an extraordinary little dance involving a lot of quick-fire rolling and tumbling.
"Perhaps the manager will offer him a part", said Julian, hopefully "A long-term engagement".
The women screamed and hollered at the sight of Bengo's lithe, sunburnt young body leaping and somersaulting around the stage.
"He'd be an enormous attraction", said Adam "We could have done with him in Cootie's circus".
"Hillyard is singularly unimpressed", said Julian "Too busy yearning for his pet freak".
"Well it can't be much fun for him can it?" Hillyard exclaimed "Shut up in that cage on his own whilst we're out enjoying ourselves!"
"It's what he fucking deserves!" Joby hollered, causing a woman in the row in front to turn round and scowl at him "I'm going to the karsey. I can't sit here and listen to him going on about Poor Tamaz".
"Get after him, Hillyard", said Adam sternly, as Joby barged his way out of the stalls.
"I was going to", said Hillyard, following Joby.
Bengo finished his routine soon after and returned to the stalls, amidst much applause and lurid cat-calls.
"Are you going to put your clothes back on now and stop making such an exhibition of yourself?" said Julian, coolly.
"Take no notice, Bengo", said Adam "We thought you were excellent".
"Where's Hillyard?" said Bengo, pulling on his t-shirt "Did he see my act?"
"No, he took Joby to the loo's instead", said Julian, suggestively.
"Joby was a bit upset", said Adam, glaring at Julian "Nothing to do with your act, Bengo".
"Which must make a refreshing change", said Julian.
"One more word Jules, and I'm going to give you a bloody good hiding", Adam hissed.
"Can we all watch this time?" said Ransey.
"Fuck off!" Joby screamed, cowering in a corner of the otherwise empty urinals.
"No, I wanna help", said Hillyard, approaching him as though he was a dangerous animal "Don't shut me out, Joby. I know I haven't got any excuses, just me falling for lame ducks again. I'm sorry. The last thing I wanna do is upset you like this".
Hillyard reached him and held him tightly.
"What he did to you was unforgivable", he said, soothingly "I'm not so stupid that I've forgotten that".
"Everyone keeps going on about t-the rape", Joby sobbed "If it was just that I could put it out of my mind, but it was everything else. Those days that he kept me locked up alone. I didn't know where I was or anything. It was dark ... and then when he came in ... being tied up like that. Having to ask him permission to use that filthy old bucket. But do you know what the very worst thing was?"
"He made me suck his dick, before he attacked me. Have you ever been forced to do that to someone you hate, against your will?"
"No", said Hillyard, quietly "But I can understand how you must be feeling".
"Then you can understand why I don't wanna be lectured on being charitable and forgiving towards him!" said Joby, angrily.
"I would never expect that of you. I promise", said Hillyard "I was getting at Julian, not you. I just get fed up with him teasing me all the time. He's always at it lately, it gets on my nerves".
"He has that effect on people a lot", said Joby.
An elderly man came into the room and gave them a quick, embarrassed look.
"Do you fancy going for a walk or something?" Hillyard whispered.
"Yeah, and I know what the something is!"
"Well I wouldn't object! Come on, let's get out of here".
They emerged into the darkened backstage corridor that led eventually to the two hutch-like dressing-rooms.
"Tamaz ..." Joby began, awkwardly "When he was on me. He kept saying 'you've gotta enjoy it you bastard'. Except it was pretty obvious I wasn't! That got him so narked! It was about the only satisfaction I got".
"Impossible to fake it", said Hillyard.
"Only too true".
They were stopped by an enormously-fat man trying to peddle condoms, who was about to venture into the main part of the theatre. It took them some time to shake him off, convinced as he was that they were soon to have vital need of his services.
"He must have overheard us and got the wrong idea", said Joby "God, isn't life just like that at times!"
They talked for a little longer, and when they got back into the auditorium, they found that Bengo's style of audience participation had caught on, with everyone convinced they could do a far better job than the so-called professional turns. At the present time a young girl had been coaxed onto the stage to sing. She had a sweet voice, but her choice of song, plaintively entitled "Why can't we all just love one another?" was having a spirited effect on her audience, with cries of "sure, your place or mine!" being uppermost.
A small group had gathered round the condom-seller, who was having a great success with his line of novelty vibrators, including one monstrous effort, which when activated buzzed, swayed dementedly and even flashed small coloured lights.
"Any of you lot buy anything?" said Hillyard, when they rejoined their own crowd.
"Well I must confess I was sorely tempted by some aerosol spray he had", said Adam "It promises long-lasting erections you see. Thought it'd be useful for Julian. He needs all the help he can get at his age".
"Could be dodgy", said Julian "It might not go down again!"
"I see you're feeling o.k now", said Ransey.
"Are you, Jobe?" said Kieran.
"I'll have to be won't I?" said Joby "Got a good voice on her this girl, I wish everyone'd shut up and listen to her".
When they got back to the Indigo they found Tamaz in a foul mood, clinging onto the bars of his cage and shrieking that no one had given him any food since first thing that morning.
"Just open your mouth and we'll chuck it in", said Julian.
"Cheer up, Tamaz", said Adam "If you lose enough weight you can escape by squeezing through the bars!"
Whilst Hillyard fed Tamaz, Joby and Kieran walked up and down the jetty, enjoying the quietness of the late hour.
"I love you", said Kieran, suddenly.
"I know", Joby smiled "What made you come out with that then?"
"You looked so lost", said Kieran "I wanted to lighten your load a wee bit. I hope Hillyard helped earlier".
"Yeah, he did", said Joby, and he filled Kieran in on what they had talked about.
"If I could wave a magic wand and send you back to our time I would", said Kieran "I'd have done it at any time over the past seventeen years".
"I wouldn't have wanted to go if you hadn't come with me".
"Even though I ask you to suck my dick?"
"Oh Kiel, for God's sake", said Joby "It's hardly the same. I've never felt afraid with you, it's never felt sordid. I saw a film once, in our time, which showed two blokes coming down on each other. It scared the shit out of me".
"It did me, the first time I ever did it".
"But I've never felt like that with you", said Joby "It's always felt natural between us".
"That you've done all that for me", said Kieran "I'm so grateful, I love you so much. And now we've found real women again ..."
"You don't have to worry", Joby whispered, reassuringly "What you and me have got is no ordinary relationship. I think it's wonderful there are women around again, I've missed 'em, so have you, but what we've got is something else entirely".
"Still, it's nice to know there's hope back in the world isn't it?" Kieran smiled.
"That is the understatement of all time", said Joby.
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site