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By Sarah Hapgood

Kieran was sitting rigidly on a chair in the saloon, his head lowered, staring into his hands. Joby sat down on the sofa adjacent to him.

"Hey!" he reached out and slapped Kieran's knee "Are you alright, Kiel? Not feeling a bit rough are you?"

Kieran didn't answer, and Joby remembered with a sinking heart that it had been Kieran's turn to take Tamaz's food-pail down to him that morning.

"Has he said something to upset you?" said Joby, quietly "Whatever it is you don't wanna take no notice of him. He'll say anything to upset people. He has a reputation as a yob to maintain".

"I remember me Mam once saying that she sometimes found men disgusting", said Kieran, looking up.

"We ALL find men disgusting sometimes", said Joby "Even us men!"

"She said she couldn't understand why men had to be animals when it came to the bottom line".

"Oh I see. That for my benefit was it? I'm an animal?"

"We all are at heart. Each and every one of us".

"Come here", Joby held out his hand and pulled Kieran gently towards the sofa "He can't get anything over you. You should realise that".

"He claims he can", Kieran sighed "Because he's got a cunt".

"Yeah course he has", said Joby, unimpressed "He's one big cunt! he thinks I'm gonna dump you and go throwing myself over him just because of that? Someone should point out to him we have the real thing in this world now. Poor sad little git. What's gonna happen to him, do you think?"

"That's up to the Ministry", said Kieran "All we have to do is get him there".

"Come off it. You'll get the deciding vote, and you know it".

"What do you think should happen?" said Kieran "Bearing in mind what he's done, that he'll never reform, that to keep him loose could be a potential headache for the future".

"Nice try", said Joby "But you don't fool me. I know you feel the same as I do. I certainly don't want him executed".

"Even though given half-a-chance he was going to have all of us executed in Thetislog?"

"But we weren't", said Joby, bluntly "And I've never had any time for the life-for-a-life argument. It always struck me as pointless. If we were gonna kill him we should have done it in Thetislog when we got the upper-hand. If you're gonna have to kill it's far better done in hot blood than cold. Like when Etyn was shot, and that was bad enough".

"But we didn't have him killed in Thetislog because first we needed a hostage", said Kieran "And then we needed a saviour. Someone to provide us with a new generation. He didn't ask for the job or put himself up for it. We ... I decided it. Solely because I thought it was convenient. I played a game with his life, and he simply took all that was offered. The deaths of all those he killed are on my conscience. There is no way I'm going to agree to him being executed, by whichever method".

"We can't just turn him loose though", said Joby "He'd kill again as soon as it suited him, and to keep him locked up in the Assizes for good would cost a lot of money and cause a lot of resentment amongst the Ministry".

"So let's keep him in the cage for the time being", said Kieran "We're responsible for inflicting him on the world, we'll just have to take responsibility for keeping the world safe from him in the future".

"Dodgy", said Joby "Someone might take it into their head to polish him off anyway".

"Yes, like they could do if he was put in the Assizes. There is no perfect solution, but so far this is the best I can come up with. The public will see him under lock and key, and will be reassured he's not at large, and I won't have yet another death on me conscience".

Kieran's solution had a positive response from the others. Ransey was enjoying the healthy side-effects of being in love too much to want to think about shooting someone, and Julian had found Etyn's death quite upsetting enough without adding another to his conscience.

"I know you like to think of me as a right-wing fascist", he said to Kieran "But I've never been in favour of the death penalty. There is something completely abhorrent about the idea of one human being taking the life of another, and I feel even more strongly about it since I had to do it myself".

"That was a lot different", said Kieran "Joby was right about the killing in hot blood option being better. To shoot someone instinctively on the spur of the moment means they don't have the unbearable stress of knowing about it beforehand, whereas the idea of sticking someone in a condemned cell and making them wait for death is just downright cruel in the extreme".

"What I can't get over though was the fact that I shot someone who blatantly wasn't right in the head, who was disturbed", said Julian, quietly "Somehow ... well I suppose to coin a hoary old phrase, it didn't seem to be quite cricket. Not a fair contest. For that moment immediately afterwards, when they fall, and you know the situation can't be reversed ... it's just horrible".

"Then let's try our best to hope this is an end to it", said Kieran "We've got the measure of Tamaz these days. Let's hope eventually he realises this game's got to be halted at a stale-mate, for all our sakes".

"You're staying with us", said Joby, making his first trip with Tamaz's food-pail in some days "That's if the Ministry agrees of course, and as I said before, Kieran still has a lot of sway with 'em".

"Trapped in this bloody cage?" Tamaz sneered.

"Well it's better than death", said Joby "Or being locked in the high-security wing at the Assizes. They hardly ever see daylight in there, kept locked underground a lot of the time. Mind you, I suppose that'd suit you, being a Ghoomer".

"Can't I go back and find my own people?" said Tamaz, wistfully.

"Are you kidding!" Joby exclaimed.

"Most of it was Dalman's idea", Tamaz pouted "He wanted me as President, and himself as Defender of the Faith".

"And of course you were violently against that idea!" said Joby, sarcastically "Cheer up, it won't be that bad. You'll find we're all quite good company once you've got used to our funny little ways, and once we're back in civilisation we'll make the cage more comfortable for you. Proper bedding and curtains, that kind of thing".

"None of you seems to give a toss about justice", Tamaz spat "You just want to have a giant hamster to play with!"

"That's right", said Joby, cheerfully.

"We're at last off the Beyond, and have met up with the Great River", Julian recorded in his log, around the middle of June "From being all closed in, it has widened out into something the width of the Thames, only decidedly emptier and more picturesque. We have seen very little traffic as of yet, apart from a fishing dhow, which seemed to be operated by only very old men. They were greatly amused by the sight of Tamaz's cage, but I don't believe any of them recognised him, and they probably wouldn't have cared if they had.

We estimate that we are only a couple of days journey away from Krindei, which is a small (but immensely rich) area, famous for its oil-fields. For weeks I've been longing to see the back of the Beyond (!) but now we have, I feel apprehensive. It's going to be a real pain in the neck to have all the hassle of civilisation again, after being cut off from the known world for so many months. I can already hear Adam whining about "why did we have to leave Toondor Lanpin?" A question I have quietly asked myself a few times of late, particularly now we've decided to keep Tamaz as our hamster! Kieran rattles on that we needed to go back to re-integrate women into society. Quite frankly, I'm sure I'm not the only one who believes the women would be much happier staying where they are. We could have all built a world within a world there. But perhaps that's cloud-cuckoo thinking. Whether we like it or not we have to move forward, although I do sometimes want to yell "why?" (Answer: because the likes of Tamaz and his ilk would then win).

It is hard to prepare mentally for the affray ahead. For several weeks our world has revolved around very basic, simple things, such as feeding Tamaz, the perils of tropical living (if I never hear another conversation about mozzies, or the size, shape and colour of stools it will be far too soon), Joby tipping hot fat down the sink and blocking it ... Hillyard's just been in to tell me he's had the same mozzie bite on the top of his foot for months now. That he feels this news is so interesting he has to come in especially and inform me of it sums up the excitement of life on the Indigo at the moment!

And sadly, I think it's all soon to change. Civilisation is near".

"So tell us what you've heard about Krindei, Kieran", said Julian, the night before they were due to arrive in the said place "What can we expect when we get there?"

"Wealth and opulence", said Kieran "I was invited to go there once, during me President days, but I couldn't spare the time. They make a lot of money out of the oil-fields, and by all accounts they live like kings. I've heard the Governor doesn't stint himself on anything, and neither do his cronies. Where there's oil there's luxury, that's always been the way".

"What are they like as people, in themselves?" said Adam.

"Are they going to invite us in and give us lots of goodies?" said Julian "Or run us out of town?"

"The Governor, if it's the same one I remember", said Kieran "Reminded me of one of those old mid-West preachers, when he briefly came up to the City once. A good man, but a wee bit blinkered and rigid in his thoughts. Praised me to the hilt for re-introducing religion, but lambasted me for abolishing the death-penalty. That sort. As I said, he's a good man and we should get some hospitality from him, but don't start discussing politics with him, unless you're completely devoid of any liberal views, and then you should get on like a house on fire! The whole lot of 'em, the Krindei-ites, are like that. They make money easily, and so don't have much sympathy for anyone who doesn't. They're as hard as nails. They'll find any loophole they can think of not to give money to anyone else, and they'll hang you from a lamp-post if you so much as drop litter in the street".

"Sounds rather like the Isle of Man", said Julian, dryly.

"The Governor seemed rather sweet", said Adam "From the little bit I remember of him anyway. Very open and beaming sort of chap".

"Not like Brinslee is he?" said Julian, dubiously.

"No he hasn't got Brinslee's charm and buffoonery", said Kieran "Governor Cedd is polite and open, but he's definitely got the Krindei-ite hardness. Life's good them, and they don't have any patience with the rest of the world".

"Definitely the Isle of Man", said Julian.

"Just like anywhere on Earth where the living's been easy for as long as anyone can remember", said Kieran "They all get blinkered and complacent then. Little Englander syndrome".

"That's a little unfair, Patsy", said Adam.

"I would never include you in that, Adam", Kieran laughed.

"You would me though", said Julian, sourly.

"Oh Jules, what do you expect?" said Adam, fondly "You've always walked around as though you were God's gift, and nobody else was remotely important. I can just imagine you in Victorian times, marching over the hills in some far-flung outpost of the Empire, and insisting on one of the poor natives carrying your hip-bath for you!"

"Buying a young lad's services for the price of a loaf of bread", said Kieran.

"That would be right up his street!" said Adam.

"Why is it perfectly acceptable for our sort to be racially-stereotyped, and yet if we dared say a word about Tinkerbell we'd be accused of prejudice and jingoism?" Julian exclaimed.

"But you do slag me off!" Kieran spluttered "Adam and Joby were always telling moronic Irish jokes in the early years, and when I was helping peel some spuds once in the cottage, Joby said being Irish I should be an expert at it!"

"It all adds to the spice of life", said Adam "I've heard enough gay jokes in my time".

"I don't mind jokes", said Kieran "Unless they get their facts completely wrong. I still remember, not long after I'd met Joby, him cracking some witless joke about did I put on an orange sash and a bowler-hat in the summer and go marching!"

Julian draw an exaggerated intake of breath.

"Exactly", said Kieran "Thick Paddy jokes I can take, but nobody calls me a Proddy and gets away with it! I chucked his beer over him!"

Adam watched their approach into the Krindei harbour from the window of the saloon. Kieran had been right about the opulence and wealth of the place, that much was apparent already. Pleasure cruisers, yachts, motorboats, all in pristine condition jostled in the water. On the waterfront the buildings were ornate and clean, not a broken window or stained brickwork in sight. The area's wealth was also reflected in the size of the stomachs on display. Obesity was rampant, and seeing it anew after all this time was a shock to the system.

"Adam!" Julian's voice cracked into his mind as effectively as the whip he was carrying "Come along, we're all waiting".

"I hope we don't have to stay here long, Jules", said Adam, climbing down off the windowseat "I feel unwanted already".

"Don't be absurd", said Julian "We're not criminals. We have as much right to be here as anyone. It's not for long, just to try and wrangle a few supplies out of them really".

"You have got the keys to Tamaz's cage on you, haven't you?" said Adam "You're not leaving them here?"

"Credit me with some sense", Julian pulled out the keys, which he had put on a piece of string around his neck.

"Good, because we don't want to leave them here".

"Come along", Julian slapped his bottom "You're dithering about like an old woman getting ready for a day on the beach!"

There was no governor's residence as such in Krindei. Instead Governor Cedd had a luxurious suite of rooms at the main hotel. This building, situated on the waterfront, was even more swish and majestic than the Palace of Shells had been in Pepuaah.

Word had got round very quickly on the bush telegraph that the Indigo had docked, and the Vanquisher was now in town. Nothing had been heard of him since the Village of Stairs seven months before and Governor Cedd's excitement was immense. He came out onto the steps in person to greet the raggedy brigade, his enthusiasm helped by the news that the abominable Tamaz was locked up in a cage on a raft behind the Indigo.

Governor Cedd resembled in appearance a koala bear. He had a round face with a large, squashed nose, and a small tuft of hair on the top of his head. From the moment he greeted Kieran he didn't stop talking.

"You wouldn't believe the chaos that creature has wrecked in the City", he said, meaning Tamaz "The whole place was in disarray after Gorth's death, and now there's a three-man coalition in charge. Oh yes, they're gonna be real pleased to see you. I flew up there for the funeral, but I was glad to get away again, nothing but grown men wringing their hands and bemoaning your disappearance. And then the creature goes and disappears also! I was glad to get back here, I can tell you that. But then, I always feel safest here. When I get off that air-buggy I kisses the ground, because I'm so glad to be home".

He led them into the vast foyer of the hotel, which was decked out in marble, the extravagant decor complimented by nude gold statues and a fountain splashing scented water. They were taken into the largest sitting-room, which was spotted with spindly gilt chairs, arranged in little groups, and the walls were lined with mirrors.

"I hate rooms like this", said Joby, catching his reflection from several different angles "Nightmarish, like a bad LSD trip".

Plates were brought out to them, containing artistically-arranged sandwiches and cakes. The choice was phenomenal for a group who had been living on a daily diet of fruit and crackers for lunch, and eggs and tinned sausages for dinner, occasionally enhanced by fried fish. Kieran was relieved when Cedd got called away to attend to some business, and they could concentrate on the food without his incessant chatter as background noise.

All of them found it depressing to be back in a male-only town, and Adam joked as to what Lady Red would make of the hotel and its grandness, let alone what it would make of her! They all went silent soon after, and it was then, with that instinctive unanimity that people get who live together in a very small community, that they realised they had made a serious mistake in leaving Toondor Lanpin. They should have all stayed hidden whilst they had had the chance.

"It's a wee bit late to go into the regrets now", Kieran sighed "And we did promise the ladies we'd ease their passage back into the world".

"I still think they'd be better of staying where they are", said Julian.

"And we could simply take Tamaz back in the cage with us", said Adam.

"It's too late", said Kieran, sadly "And I feel I should try and protect his children somehow".

"Get them flown down there", said Ransey, biting into a miniature chocolate eclair "We'll take them back to Toondor with us".

"Lady Red might give them a home", said Adam.

"I'm sure she would, but ..." said Kieran.

"But what?" said Joby, irritably "You're always trying to find a problem!"

"Am I?" said Kieran, humbly.

"Yeah", said Joby "We could build ourselves a world down there, away from the madness of the City. Get Tamaz's kids down here and we'd all be set".

A steward came over soon after and offered them the use of one of the larger suites for the afternoon, so that they could bathe and rest.

"Bathe?" said Julian, faintly "In a real bath? With taps?"

"They're trying to tell us something obviously", said Ransey.

Adam scooped up some of the sandwiches and cake into a napkin and knotted it up, as a doggy-bag for Tamaz.

"All the stuff'll be mixed in together", said Lonts.

"Can't be helped", said Adam "Besides, it'll end up that way in his stomach!"

"Now this is what I call a real bath!" Julian bellowed, from the depths of a tub the size of a small battle-cruiser "I can lie down in this!"

"We'll be hearing about it for hours now", said Adam, in one of the adjoining bedrooms.

"Do you think I could drown him in it?" said Ransey, walking around the room with a towel round his waist.

"It might make your wedding-day a lot easier if you did", Adam laughed.

He pulled back the top covers on one of the double beds and coaxed Lonts onto it. After eating a healthy share of the cakes and sandwiches downstairs Lonts had begun to feel tired and irritable, squirming uncomfortably in one of the gilt chairs. It was time for his afternoon nap, but he was strongly resisting the idea, convinced he was going to miss something.

"Don't be stubborn, Lo-Lo", said Adam, giving him a couple of light smacks on the back of his pants "I've told you time and again it's no good resisting it when you're tired".

Lonts rolled resentfully onto his side, and Adam pulled the top covers back over him. By the time he had lowered the blinds against the blistering afternoon sunshine, Lonts was already asleep. Toppy watched sympathetically from the other side of the room.

"It must be difficult for him", he said, quietly "Frustrating".

"Yes I'm afraid it is", Adam whispered "He has so much boundless energy, and yet he needs an awful lot of rest too, and he doesn't like giving into it. Sometimes you have to force him to take the sleep he so badly needs".

"What would happen if he carried on resisting?"

"He would get more and more bad-tempered until he had an all-out tantrum, and they're not good for him, because he gets dreadful headaches afterwards".

"I can't imagine what it must be like", said Toppy, softly.

"Can't imagine what what's like?" said Julian, walking in naked and damp from the bath. He crossed to a side-table and picked out one of the cigars that lay in a box there.

"To be like Lonts", said Toppy.

"Absolute bliss I should imagine", said Julian, lighting up the cigar "You can say and do what you damn well like and no one holds you responsible for it!"

"Hardly true", said Adam "Lo-Lo always gets told off if he's been naughty".

"Yes, and there are plenty of times when you just give an amused little laugh after he's come out with something quite outrageous", said Julian.

Men's voices could be heard murmuring in the small lobby at the front of the suite, followed by a low, sex-laden chuckle that obviously belonged to Hillyard.

"He's been like a small boy in a sweet-shop since we arrived", said Adam, disapprovingly "Ogling all the stewards here as though he'd been in a convent for several months".

"What are you getting so het up about it for?" said Julian.

"Because I feel sorry for poor little Bengo that's why", Adam hissed.

"Don't waste your sympathies on him", said Julian, tersely "He was quite happy to go chasing Finia at one time. And any man who falls for Hillyard has got to be a prize fool".

"Yes I'm afraid you're right", said Adam, sadly.

"The only possible way to stay sane in a relationship with Hillyard is to treat him with complete and utter indifference", said Julian "The man's a consummate tart, I've told you that before. He should be regarded as a mere plaything, a toy. Downright hopeless to start taking him seriously!"

The afternoon passed in a low-key way. Cedd didn't come and seek them out again, and so they took advantage of the hotel barber's services before leaving. This foppish little man raved at great length about the secret ingredients in his own brand of hair lotion, and how touchingly grateful all his illustrious clients were for his trims, massages and hot towels. His pomposity should have been endearing and comical, instead it was merely tiresome, summing up as it did the whole of Krindei's vanity and self-indulgence.

As he was concluding his ministrations, the boot-boy put in an appearance and offered to clean up all their footwear. As they all only had espadrilles and canvas deck shoes they had to decline his services.

"If anyone appears offering to do our laundry, we'd better decline that too", said Ransey "Our stuff would probably fall to pieces!"

"I've got a bucket of Lonts's nappies back home", said Adam, facetiously "If they're short of something to do!"

It was a relief to get back to the Indigo. Being on a boat in the middle of nowhere for so long had left them with a limited tolerance level of crowds and big buildings. And Krindei's population of over-indulgent, pampered men was deeply depressing after the earthy vitality of Toondor Lanpin.

A pleasure cruiser, lit up like a Christmas tree, had moored close to them in the harbour, and it's carousing passengers were making an unholy din which had all the portents of going on for the rest of the night, completely shattering the nocturnal beauty of the river. The only good thing about it was they had got bored with yelling at Tamaz to show himself fairly quickly, as Tamaz had retreated behind his blankets, with absolutely no intention of parading himself for their benefit.

Hillyard had gone ashore again, and no one felt they had a strong enough stomach to ask where he was going, although he had at the last minute invited Bengo along with him. At least it enabled Ransey and Finia to have the cabin to themselves for a few hours.

Late in the evening Adam and Julian sat sprawled in the saloon with Kieran and Joby. Lonts and Toppy had gone to bed.

"I would have thought Governor Cedd would have invited you to dinner, Patsy", said Adam.

"I'm glad he didn't", said Kieran, nursing a glass of whisky "That great, gilded wedding cake of a place gets on my nerves. Anyway, for all we know Hillyard might be furthering diplomatic relations as we speak".

"Corrupting poor little Bengo more like", said Adam.

"I wish you'd stop referring to him as Poor Little Bengo", said Julian, splayed out on the sofa "The wretched man's been in showbusiness for most of his life, I doubt there's much more corrupting that can be done to him!"

"I can't help it", said Adam "He's still fairly young, and he doesn't deserve an old roue like Hillyard messing him up".

"Isn't there a patron saint of lost causes, Tinkerbell?" said Julian.

"Saint Jude", said Kieran.

"Perhaps it should be changed to Saint Adam instead", said Julian.

"Hillyard's the lost cause", said Joby "He prowls around like a bloody gay dalek, swinging his thing about and looking for someone to shove it up!"

"As long as he keeps it away from you for while when he gets back", said Kieran "I expect he'll need checking over at the doctors. Same goes for you, Julian".

"I haven't recovered from the last stint yet", said Julian "I think I'm getting too old for Hillyard's attentions".

"I've always said we should take Hillyard to a vet", said Joby "Think how much easier it would be if we didn't have to constantly worry about him having to jump us everytime we turn our backs".

"I have often wondered in the past about taking him to a therapist", said Adam "It must be something about himself that he's hiding from".

"We had all that out when we went to Hell", said Kieran "He's faced himself and yet he's still like it. It makes me afraid that one day he'll have to face it for all eternity".

"What a cheering bloody thought", Julian exclaimed.

"Take no notice of the emaciated daft scarecrow", said Joby "He's obviously had too much of the firewater. I'll get him to bed in a minute".

"The wonders of a conversation with Patsy", Adam laughed "We start off talking about Hilly's sex life and progress in no time to pondering eternity!"

"I'm surprised he hasn't driven us all mad", said Julian.

There was the sound of many glasses smashing from the so-called pleasure cruiser, accompanied by boozy cheers and the crackly din of a gramophone.

"The wonders of civilisation", Julian sighed.

"I hope they don't decide to get closer to Tamaz", said Adam "Drunken dares and all that".

"We'll set Ransey on them", said Kieran "Trespassers will be shot".

"Or locked in with Tamaz", said Julian.

Bengo returned home alone at two-fifteen in the morning. He wished he'd never gone out to start with. Hillyard had taken him to a private party being held in one of the steward's rooms at the hotel. Hillyard had made it clear that they were both free to do what they liked once they were there, in other words this was a thinly-coded message to Bengo not to get heavy. Not that this would have been Bengo's style, even if he hadn't heard all the warning tales of how Hirrid had done nothing but whinge once he thought he had his claws into Hillyard. Bengo wasn't a complainer by any means, when he was unhappy he tended to simply retreat in saddened confusion.

At first he had thought Hillyard's increasingly offhand treatment was to punish him for his short fling with Finia. Now he realised though that Hillyard wasn't capable of such games. His offhand treatment was simply because Bengo's moment had passed. He'd lost interest in him, just as he'd eventually lost interest in Hirrid, Tamaz (mercifully), and countless others, all the way back to the hapless Stombal. The only men he couldn't hurt were those who were ultimately unavailable, such as Kieran and Joby, or who had the confidence and sheer bloodymindedness not to let him, such as Julian.

Bengo's looks were clearly an asset to the party, but he wasn't in the mood to demonstrate his flips and jumps to an ogling audience and declined to give them a free show. No one too much interest in him after that, and he was reduced to hanging on the sidelines like a patient pet terrier waiting for his master.

"Everyone I've spoken to thinks you're a babe", said Hillyard, briefly blessing him with his presence.

"Quite a few seem to think you are too", said Bengo.

"You could have your pick you know. All you've gotta do is give the right signals".

"I'm going home, Hillyard", said Bengo, quietly.

"If you insist", said Hillyard, with annoyance "You don't want walking back do you?"

"I'll be alright. I expect I could out-run most men in this town anyway".

And so here he was, nearing the Indigo, feeling sick at heart. The pleasure-cruiser was still making the lives of everyone in the surrounding area a misery, and the Indigo was dwarfed by it, looking like a little dowdy sparrow next to a tail-blazing peacock.

As he got nearer he saw that someone had actually got onto the raft and was walking around the cage, prodding his hands through the blankets. Bengo knew better than to shout from a distance and give the idiot a head-start in getting away from him. Instead he walked towards him as rapidly as he could.

Suddenly Tamaz pulled down one of the blankets, and grabbed the man's fingers through the bars. The man had, like everyone else, heard a lot about Tamaz, and seen his picture in the papers. But to come eyeball to eyeball with him so abruptly in the flesh was almost as daunting as meeting Tamaz's mother.

"Feel you can take me on do you?" Tamaz hissed, squeezing the man's fingers as though they were in a vice.

"You've got my ... my arm's hurting against the bars", the drunk whined.

"But don't you want to feel my breasts?" said Tamaz "That's what you've come for isn't it?"

"Please let me go", the man wailed "I meant no harm. Everyone's been talking about you, I wanted to see for myself".

"Then look into my eyes. Straight into them, I dare you".

The man didn't have anywhere near the strength of mind to refuse him. He looked up and cried out, slumping against the bars, gasping heavily.

"Are you o.k?" Bengo jumped nimbly onto the raft and ran towards him.

"I want to ... to get off this thing", the man wheezed.

"You idiot!" Julian roared from the deck of the Indigo.

At first Bengo thought Julian was throwing his usual pleasantries at him, but then he realised it was the drunk he was addressing.

"Would you go into a zoo and stick your arm in the panther's cage, eh?" he yelled "Get back onto that floating toy-box, and leave creatures like him well alone. Go on, sod off!"

The drunk floundered about blindly for a while until he found the steel ladder on the side of the cruiser that he'd used to get down on. Julian clicked his fingers imperiously and indicated for Bengo to get onto the Indigo. Tamaz was holding onto the bars of his cage and swinging languidly.

"You can't blame me for that one", he chimed.

"I'd blame you for anything and everything", Julian spat "Now stay behind your blanket for the rest of the night, or I'll come down there with my whip. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to use it on you".

"I should be so damn lucky", said Tamaz insolently, but he picked up the blanket and began to re-arrange it anyway.

"I suppose it was inevitable some idiot would try a prank like that", said Adam, making Bengo a hot drink in the galley.

"I don't know what Tamaz did to him but the poor guy was pretty messed up", said Bengo "Are you sure it's a good idea us keeping him, if he can do things like that?"

"It's happened once", Adam "Word'll get around to leave him alone, wherever we end up. We had no trouble like that in Toondor Lanpin, and the children ragged him like crazy there. We don't know what our idiotic intruder tonight had stuffed his brain with before going down there".

"There's a lot of it about", said Bengo, sadly.

"Oh Bengo", Adam put his hands on the boy's face and lifted it up, peering into his eyes "You're such an attractive boy. You shouldn't let yourself get mixed up by a frazzled old tart like Hillyard".

"I thought you were his friend".

"I am, and I love him dearly, but it doesn't stop me from knowing that he's a frazzled old tart", said Adam "The world is littered with the burnt-out remains of his lovers. I don't want it happening to you. I think you deserve better. I hope we don't lose you because of his silliness. You're a great asset to us".

"Julian doesn't think so", Bengo began to cry, and Adam was made fully aware of how young the boy really was. His showbiz background and laid-back manner always made him seem years older than he really was. But in truth he was only twenty, barely five years older than Toppy. Hillyard was nearly eighteen years older than him, the same age difference as Adam and Kieran, and almost exactly the same ages as they had been at the start of their relationship. Hillyard had bugger all excuses for his treatment of this boy.

"For one thing don't take any notice of Julian", said Adam, gently "He always dislikes everyone he meets at first, it's almost a knee-jerk reaction. He'll come round, but it doesn't matter anyway, as the rest of us all like you. As I said, you're an attractive boy. You must have fun with relationships, whilst your body's still firm and you can pick and choose. Don't waste it all on a fat old fairy-cake like Hillyard!"

Bengo laughed and buried his head in Adam's shoulder.

"Well that's the beast bedded down and locked away for the night", said Julian, walking into the galley and chucking the cage-keys with a loud clatter onto the table "If Bengo's bawling over Hillyard tell him he's wasting his time".

"I have", said Adam, and he patted Bengo's shoulder "Go and get some shut-eye old love, before Julian can come out with anymore soothing little platitudes".

"Waste of time feeling sorry for him", said Julian, after Bengo had gone to bed "He's a clown, they have to be tragic, lonely figures. The tears behind the painted smile, and all that guff. It's almost part of the job specification".

"Maybe, but I don't see why he has to be a tragic, lonely figure when he's only twenty", said Adam.

"Should be a comic genius by the time he's thirty then", said Julian "He'll rank amongst the greats. The forty-first century's answer to Joseph Grimaldi".

"Go to bed, Jules".

"Anything you say, Ada".

And they kissed.

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