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Ransey's troubles weren't over. Throughout the rest of the night and the following day he was plagued by a series of minor ailments, none of which would have felt serious on their own, but put together he felt as though he could weep under the pain of it all. He had a headache, toothache, a sore throat, cramp in both his legs, soreness around his genitals and chronic heart-burn.
"Just the usual ailments you get after close contact with a demon right?" he joked weakly, early the following morning.
"It affects us all in different ways", said Kieran "I couldn't stop shivering after I'd seen her at Machin's house. It will pass, and we won't leave you alone at all".
He left him with Hillyard and went downstairs to order extra jugs of iced water to be sent up to Ransey's room. The heat was intolerable outside, and even with the air conditioning on in the hotel men were complaining about the stickiness. On his way back up the stairs he met Angel, who was sitting on one of the steps as though he was waiting for him.
"Going back to nursemaid old four-eyes are you?" he sneered "You'd think he'd be a bit more pleased about a visit from a naked woman".
"If you haven't got anything worthwhile to say don't speak", Kieran bellowed.
"Nice way to talk to the man who saved your life I must say".
"Now you listen to me", said Kieran, leaning over him "You had your reward when you got given a second chance at life".
Angel laughed derisively.
"And don't sneer and tell me it was all hopeless", Kieran went on "Because you had a choice Angel. You could still have done something with it, but instead you chose to pump crap into your veins".
"Yes well the world doesn't seem such a bad place when you're flying high", said Angel.
"Then it was your decision", said Kieran "But I can still help you. I know men, doctors and therapists, who could help you kick this thing. I can sort it all out for you. I can help you beat it".
"And then you'd be rid of me is that it?" said Angel "Oh no sunshine, I'll be going one day, but when I do I'll be taking you with me".
Kieran gave a moan of rage and fell on him. Angel kicked him in the stomach. Winded, Kieran crouched in a ball on the step further down.
"You have a lot to say for yourself", said Angel "But it makes no sodding difference at the end of the day, because you'll be coming with me, like I've always said you would be".
Joby found Kieran soon after.
"Did he hurt you?" he asked.
"No I'm just a bit winded that's all", Kieran cried "I'm upset because he scares me so much. He means it Joby, about taking me with him".
"He hasn't got a hope", said Joby, folding his arms round Kieran protectively "I'll kill him first".
"Don't talk like that".
"Why the hell shouldn't I?"
"Because I don't want to be visiting you in the Assizes that's why", said Kieran "Trixie used to complain they gave them nothing but coleslaw to eat in there, and I know you're not keen on it".
"We've got to do something about him though", said Joby.
"We will. An idea will come to me sooner or later", said Kieran "I'm going back up to check on Ransey again now".
"I can't just stand by and let him do things like that to Kieran", Joby said to Adam a short while later, as they sat over coffee in the bar "I just wanna run up to Angel's room and put my hands round his throat".
"Patsy's right", said Adam "That wouldn't achieve anything, and knowing Angel it might not get rid of him".
"But he's mortal now", said Joby "He can die, just like anyone else".
"Sometimes I'm not so sure", said Adam "I can't put my finger on exactly what it is, but there's something about him that tells me he's not quite as human as he now wants us to believe he is".
"You mean he might still have some of the old tricks?"
"Quite possibly", said Adam "That might be what makes him so damn pleased with himself all the time, and he's not going to let on to us in a hurry what those old tricks are. It gives him an advantage over us to keep us in the dark".
"It might just be the smack talking of course".
Adam put his head in his hands and groaned helplessly. Joby ran his hand along Adam's bare leg in a soothing gesture, and then took it suggestively up to the edge of Adam's shorts.
"You can do that as much as you like", said Adam.
"I just wanna say that I will sort it", said Joby "I'm going to get Angel one day, if I have to follow him into eternity to do it".
"I hope you don't", said Adam "I want you around to comfort me in my old age".
"But won't you have Lonts to do that?"
"Yes", said Adam, with a brightness he didn't feel. He still hadn't told anyone but Julian about the gloomy medical prognosis that had been given on Lonts "Talking of my beautiful boy, isn't it time you two made things up? You've been at daggers drawn ever since that incident at the Pig Woman's house".
"I've been trying to", said Joby "But he's determined to make me suffer for what I did. Someone should point out to him that if I hadn't been looking out for him then he might have got some of what Angel got".
"I have told him that", said Adam "The trouble is, he's been taking far too much notice of Angel's rubbish. I have an uneasy feeling Angel's been telling him that you don't want him, Lonts that is, around".
"He's dafter than I thought he was if he believes that", said Joby "Why would I not want him around?"
"Oh some nonsense about how you'd be the youngest then".
"What tossing bollocks", said Joby "For a start I wouldn't be. Finia's the youngest, and he's too streetwise to want to be the baby of the family. And I couldn't be because I'm not cute".
"Yes you are", Adam smiled.
"And I wouldn't look as good in a nappy", said Joby.
"Make it up to him Jobe. You know how easy it is for Lonts to feel insecure. Don't let Angel drive a wedge between you".
"How do I make it up to him?"
"Lonts is very susceptible to little treats", said Adam "Perhaps if you arranged a little surprise for him".
"A custard pie in his kisser?" said Joby.
"Don't you dare", said Adam, sternly "Or you'll have me to answer to".
"Talk of the devil", said Joby, as Lonts walked across the empty bar carrying an envelope "Well well if it isn't my dear little friend Lonts!"
"Yes alright, don't overdo it", said Adam.
"Hello Joby", said Lonts sombrely, as if they had just met at a funeral.
"What's in the envelope Lonts?" said Adam.
"A man gave it to me in the foyer", said Lonts.
"Yet another member of the Baby Lonts fan club was he?" said Joby.
"Not it's for Adam. He asked me to pass it onto him".
"For me?" said Adam "Who was this man?"
"He was thin with dark hair", said Lonts "He said you'd know who he was, as you'd been talking to him here last night".
"Had I?" said Adam "It must have been one of the tomato juice brigade".
He took a card out of the envelope, and as he opened it several notes of a high denomination fell out.
"Nice surprise", Joby grunted "Nobody gave us presents like that when we were hard up. Sod's law really".
"What does the card say Adam?" asked Lonts.
"Bloody cheek", said Adam "It's a down-payment".
"On what?" said Joby.
"My body apparently", said Adam "I will get the same amount again if I meet him in his room at seven o'clock".
"There's life in the old dog yet", Joby laughed.
"Oh it's not funny Joby", Adam wailed "You couldn't have imagined Queen Mary getting propositioned like this".
"Queen Mary?" said Joby "I thought that was a ship".
"She was the consort of King George the Fifth".
"Your role model was she?"
"Hardly old love", said Adam "Although I sometimes wonder if Jules is a reincarnation of her".
"And wait 'til he hears about it", said Joby.
"I'm more concerned about Patsy finding out".
"You're alright", said Joby "He's not having one of his 'clean up the family' drives at the moment. I think he's given up on them after catching me and Hillyard out last Christmas".
"Are you going to see this man Adam?" said Lonts.
"Of course I'm not", said Adam "Now would you like a bottle of cold beer?"
"No", said Lonts, sulkily.
"Good grief, a Kiskevian turning down a drink", said Joby "Your village elders will be turning in their graves!"
"What on earth is the matter now Lonts?" said Adam.
"It's not fair", Lonts blurted out "It's not fair!"
Lonts turned and ran out of the bar.
"I'd better get after him", Adam sighed.
"Adam, remember your chest", said Joby, but Adam didn't respond. Joby ran after him, remembering to scoop up the money first.
Lonts collided with Julian in the doorway, who tried to apprehend him, but Lonts ducked under his arm.
"I'll fetch him back Adam", said Julian "He's heading outside. I don't want you out in that heat, not the state you're getting yourself into".
"Don't be too hard on him Jules", Adam implored.
"I hope he beats the shit out of him", said Joby, after Julian had departed.
"I don't care. He shouldn't upset you like that".
In spite of the fact that it was now early evening the sun was still blistering over the Bandorra township. Lonts was running hysterically and aimlessly along the single dusty street, when Julian bellowed at him to stop as effectively as if he'd lassoed him. Lonts stood and waited warily whilst Julian caught up with him.
"Don't you think this habit of yours of running off everytime you imagine some slight is getting a little old hat?" said Julian.
"I was upset", Lonts blubbed "And sometimes when I'm upset I don't think".
"I appreciate that for someone of your limited brain capacity thinking is a commodity to be conserved", said Julian "But I think it would be nice if you'd consider Adam occasionally".
"But I was thinking about him at the time", said Lonts "I'm frightened someone from outside the family is going to take him away from me".
"And who might this mythical stranger be?"
"A man gave me an envelope full of money this afternoon to pass onto Adam", said Lonts "Said there'd be even more if Adam went to his room".
"Who was this man?"
"I don't know. Adam said he was one of the tomato juice brigade. Whoever they are".
"I know who he means", Julian sighed "You've got nothing to worry about. There is no way Adam's going to abandon you, and he's not likely to have his head turned by money, not when he's already got enough of his own".
"But Angel told me ..." Lonts trailed off awkwardly.
"What did Angel tell you?"
"That you wanted me put away in hospital again".
"And I assume Angel omitted to tell you that Adam is violently against that idea?"
"You can't deny you wanted me put away though".
"Maybe in the old days I did", said Julian "But not now. Look Lonts, all I want is what'll make Adam happy. And if having a demented great lump like you around makes him happy then that's perfectly fine by me".
"Oh", said Lonts "Do you like me though?"
"Most of the time", said Julian "Apart from when you cause Adam distress and then I could happily tear you limb from limb".
"Oh", said Lonts, again.
"Do you think you could possibly listen to what Adam and the rest of us tell you occasionally, instead of placing an inordinate amount of importance on what Angel says?"
"He knows how to upset me", Lonts mumbled.
"Yes, he has that effect on most of us".
A booming sound echoed from the surrounding mountains, a loud thudding noise like a giant door slamming.
"What was that Julian?" said Lonts.
"Oh there's probably a shooting-party in the hills somewhere".
"It was loud for guns".
"The ... er ... mountains magnified it", said Julian, uncertainly "Let me get you back to Adam".
The booming sound continued intermittently for the rest of the evening. To Julian's surprise no one seemed unduly concerned about it, and dismissed it as either shooting, or someone doing a bit of dynamiting in a remote mine-shaft. He could only put the lack of interest down to the hot weather, which was making everyone drowsy and lethargic. Adam announced that he was going to have an early night.
"Yes", said Julian "Now I've got your big doll back for you, you can take him up to your room to play with".
"I don't know how you put up with me Jules", said Adam.
"Neither do I", said Julian "Oh go upstairs, you hussy".
"Jules", said Adam, looking painfully serious "I know you don't have much of a deal with me. Would you have still been so interested in me if we weren't in this time, if we were back in our own era, before we crossed over?"
"Oh I see", said Julian "You think I'm such a lonely old git these days I'll hang onto you like grim death".
"No I ..."
"I've wanted you all my life Adam. Now take that snivelling Eskimo out of my sight, and don't give me anymore nonsense. My patience has already been sorely tried today, and I don't think even you would appreciate being spanked in public".
"Don't you dare", Adam laughed, and kissed him fondly.
After he had gone Julian ordered more wine, and then browsed amongst the pamphlets and local books on offer, displayed on a side-table. Apart from the usual turgid tomes describing shooting, hunting, mountain-walking and desert horse-racing, was a slim booklet entitled 'The Bandorra Legend'. The author of which was none other than the hotel manager. For that reason Julian felt it would be worth reading just to see what ruse he had come up with to lure the punters in. He had barely started though when a shadow fell across the page.
"Oh it's you", he said, addressing the man who had so badly wanted Adam to come to his room.
"It's Julian isn't it?" the man said, holding out his hand "My name's Disbe".
"Is it", Julian pulled out the envelope from the inside pocket of his jacket "This is yours I believe. I would be more careful if I were you. That's rather a lot of money to be left lying around. There are a lot of dishonest people about".
"Thank you", Disbe took the envelope and turned to leave.
"It's rather a brazen thing to do, propositioning the President's consort", said Julian "I wouldn't have thought a characterless cardboard cut-out like yourself would have it in you. One lives and learns".
Disbe had barely left the near-empty bar before Hirrid walked in, looking wretchedly dejected.
"I take it Hillyard is continuing to make your life a positive delight", Julian sighed, as Hirrid sat down opposite him on a low leather sofa.
"I-I was looking for him", Hirrid stammered, emotionally "Do you know where he is?"
"I haven't seen him for several hours", said Julian "I would suggest you go looking for him, but he could be in any building in Bandorra, so it'd be rather like looking for a needle in a haystack".
"You enjoy being cruel", Hirrid burst into tears.
"Not particularly, but sometimes people leave me no choice", said Julian.
"I overheard him earlier. Hillyard", said Hirrid "I never thought he could wound me so much. He was talking to some olive-skinned creep in the lobby".
"Ah, the delectable Mushti", said Julian.
"Hillyard originally said he would meet me at ten o'clock and we would go to the other bar in town together".
"Stood you up has he? I wouldn't worry too much. I've heard that other bar is a dreadfully seedy little dive. You're not missing anything".
"Mushti asked him to go there", Hirrid went on "I overheard them. And Hillyard replied 'yes alright then, I'm not doing anything special tonight'. How can he be so cruel?"
"He's not cruel. Just selfish", said Julian "You're better off without him".
"But I love him!"
"Then you'll carry on being miserable won't you?"
"Where the fock have you been Hirrid?" Kieran roared, standing on the steps leading down into the little alcove in which they were sitting "I know we're on holiday but that doesn't mean you're off the bloody payroll".
"I-I'm sorry", Hirrid spluttered.
"I sent you down for more towels for Ransey's room over an hour ago", Kieran went on "What the fock have you been doing all this time?"
"Looking for Hillyard I believe", said Julian.
"Is that so?" said Kieran, and Hirrid nodded weakly "Look Hirrid, Ransey's health is a bit more important to me at the moment than your love life. Now come on!"
"Oh perhaps you'd like to read this whilst you're keeping your bedside vigil", said Julian, handing Kieran the booklet he had been trying to read "I haven't read it myself. It's probably a lot of rot, but you might get some clue as to what's going on around here".
Ransey had been awake since dawn. He felt better, and so much rested that he could barely stay in bed a moment longer. Yet he knew if he went wandering off he'd only cause undue alarm, so he lay back against the pillows and scanned the booklet Kieran had left behind on the bedside table. As another blistering sun rose on the horizon Ransey grew more and more excited, so much so that he could barely stop himself from waking Kieran and Joby, who were both asleep on the sofa at the foot of his bed.
"Ransey", said Kieran, a couple of hours later "You look a lot better me ole darlin'".
"Yes yes I feel it", said Ransey, impatiently.
"You had us worried for a while", said Kieran "You took a lot longer to get over it than I did".
"Well we can't all be the Vanquisher of Evil can we?" said Ransey, sarcastically "There's no time to go into all that now. I want a meeting called in the bar as soon as possible, with everyone present. Joby, perhaps you could arrange it".
"What am I, a bloody sheepdog?" said Joby "Anyway, I haven't had a shave yet".
"You look lovely as you are", said Ransey, climbing out of bed "Go on, get on with it".
"I think I preferred it when he was ill", said Joby.
Somehow everyone was collected together within half-an-hour, even Hillyard, who by some small miracle had been found in his room, alone.
"Look, what's all this about?" said Julian, irritably.
"Ransey wants to read to us", said Kieran, with a wary edge to his voice.
"You what?" Joby exclaimed.
"He's made a discovery haven't you Ransey?" said Kieran.
"You're going to read that entire booklet to us?" said Joby.
"Can't you just give us the gist of it?" said Adam.
"Yea alright then", said Ransey "Although when I've finished what I've had to say, I think you'll be clamouring for copies of it".
"Get on with it then", said Joby.
"This book", said Ransey, waving the booklet in the air importantly "Is basically a lot of anecdotes from many respectable sources, men who have travelled in the Uncharted Area beyond Bandorra. There is a very small settlement about two days journey from here called Grup, and beyond that is a wild area. Unlike much of the Uncharted Area it is lush and green, and yet no one lives there".
"Oh tell us why and get it over with", Hillyard sighed.
"Men who have got back say it is the entrance to some kind of parallel universe. They speak of stumbling through a hole in a huge wall, and emerging into a settlement, completely unlike any in the known world. It has women in it".
"In their dreams", said Joby.
"If that was the case why did they come back?" said Julian.
"Or at least why didn't they bring the women back with them?" said Joby.
"No one knows", said Ransey "These men have been questioned on these matters and refused to answer".
"Probably because they dreamt the whole thing", said Kieran "I'm as open-minded as the next guy Ransey, but you've got to admit it's all a touch far-fetched".
"I disagree Pats", said Adam "Why should it be? Is it any different to the old legends of Atlantis in our time?"
"And they weren't far-fetched?" said Joby, incredulously.
"As someone once said, all legends have a core of truth in them", said Adam "Look at some of the things we've seen since we crossed over. They would have all been ridiculed in our time. Giant worms, the Gorgon, vampires ..."
"Yes I know", said Kieran "But if there really was a settlement of women within a few days journey of here, then surely we'd have more proof than a few anecdotes?"
"And all this is probably to cash in on the conspiracy theories concerning women", said Julian "That booklet was written by the hotel manager after all".
"I know you all think I'm mad", said Ransey "That seeing that woman demon has gone to my head, but I think it all fits in. These women sightings are nothing new. They've been going the rounds for years".
"You want us to go and look don't you Ransey?" said Kieran.
"What can we lose?" said Ransey "Even if we find nothing, we can just see it as an extension to our holiday".
"What disturbs me", said Julian "Is that these men came back and refused to go back there. There must be a lot more to it all than halcyon tales of women-populated settlements".
"We won't know any of that until we get there", said Ransey "Look come on, show a bit more enthusiasm. Think how much you'll kick yourselves if we don't go and look. You'll be wondering for the rest of your lives what we might have found there. Kieran, you've got a duty ..."
"I know", said Kieran, sharply "If there are women there, I have a duty to bring them back, for the future sake of the human race. I don't like it, I feel like I'm going out to herd up mustangs or something".
"I don't know what you're worried about Kieran", said Ransey, after the unofficial meeting had broken up "Do you think Joby'll fall in love with the first woman he sees and run off with her?"
"He'd better not", said Kieran, drawing on his cigarette in a leisurely fashion "If he does I'll go after him and drag him back by his hair".
"Then what's your concern?"
"I was thinking more of the women themselves", said Kieran "You blithely speak of bringing them back with us to kick-start the human race. Have you any idea what a monumental task that would be? Re-introducing women to a men-only world that has been starved of female companionship for longer than living memory? It's a responsibility too far for me I'm afraid. And who's to say the women would want to come? I mean, they might be quite happy where they are".
"Then at least we'll have tried", said Ransey "You can't argue with that".
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