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Bengo made friends with the old lady next door on their very first day in the house. He had been sent round there by Adam, who wanted to know if there was anybody there who could help with the intricacies of the kitchen range. The old lady, known to all somewhat improbably as Verily, sent her maid to help out, and kept Bengo to herself for a gossip over the tea-cups. Bengo was usually very popular with women, not only for his good looks, but for his humour, and his air of total harmlessness. With Verily this was no exception.
He sat and listened with patient sympathy as she explained how she had been quite a looker in her younger days (he even went over her old scrapbooks with her, and was genuinely interested), of how she and her husband had virtually led the social whirl in Nuit, in the days before they had become cut off from the world, and there had been a social life worth getting excited about.
“We were always remote here of course”, she said “It could take weeks for anyone to arrive from outside, but they still came. That was many decades ago of course. Some stayed, when they found there were women here”.
“And no one ever dropped you in it to the Ministry?” said Bengo.
“Never”, said Verily, her eyes twinkling “Why on earth should they? We were their little secret!”
She and her husband had also run their own amateur dramatics society, and this what largely what she wanted to talk to Bengo about. She was starved, simply starved, for theatre gossip. She adored it, and hadn’t heard any for an absolute age. In the end it was she who did most of the gossiping, and Bengo listened with curiosity. Unlike some performers, he was quite happy to listen to other people’s showbiz anecdotes, and never once showed the snobbery of the professional against the amateur. He was quite upset when Verily told him how she had been dropped from a leading female role in one production, because her husband wanted to give it to his mistress.
“No!” Bengo gasped “What a complete tosser! I hope you dumped him!”
“Well yes I did”, said Verily “Eventually. I kept hoping he would see sense over the wretched woman, anyone could see she was on the make, but there’s no fool like a man when he keeps his brain in his trousers!”
“I don’t expect she was any good in the part”, said Bengo, loyally.
“Unfortunately, she was a sensation!” said Verily “But I had some little satisfaction when she led him a complete dance after they were married. Although by that stage I didn’t care very much. They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but I often find that by the time it is served cold, you’ve lost your appetite for it!”
Bengo thought this was very clever, but he added that if Bardin ever did such a shoddy trick to him he would dump him on the spot, a lifetime of comic partnership notwithstanding.
“As if that was ever likely to happen!” Bardin snapped, as he was getting ready for bed later that evening “It’s very different being a clown to being an actor. WE have to be multi-talented, good at acrobatics, dancing, singing and playing musical instruments, as well as being able to make people laugh of course“.
“It helps”, said Bengo, dryly.
“And actors … “, said Bardin “Pah! All they have to do is memorise a few lines and try and get them in the right order! And some of them can‘t even manage that!”
“Oh be fair, Bardy”, said Bengo, who was already in bed, watching his partner rubbing cream into his feet at the dressing-table “I think there’s often a bit more to it than that”.
“Maybe”, said Bardin, grudgingly “But what I’m saying is it’s very unlikely that I could have put any old piece into your place and expected them to be any good. I find it incredible that you could even think such a thing!”
“I don’t really think it!” said Bengo, wishing he had never brought the subject up “I was just sympathising with her that’s all. It must have been a terrible humiliation”.
“Bloody amateurs, what do you expect!” said Bardin, going over to the windows at the back of the house and pushing them open. He had earmarked for himself and Bengo a large bedroom over the living-room, which ran the width of the house, with windows overlooking the street at the front, and the garden at the back. The back windows had a balcony as well.
“She’d love it if you came and had a chat as well”, said Bengo “She’s dying to meet you, I’ve told her so much about you”.
“Yes I bet you have!” said Bardin “And none of it remotely complimentary from the sounds of things!”
“I think she fancies Julian, taken a bit of a shine to him anyway”, said Bengo, as Bardin got into bed with him “She’s seen him from her window, thinks he’s very distinguished-looking. She said she bets he’s very cultured, and asked me what his chief interests were”.
“And what did you say?” said Bardin, cautiously.
“Oh I just sort of hedged about a bit”, said Bengo “Although I felt like saying ‘men’s arses’!”
Bardin laughed in spite of himself. There was a murmur of voices out on the landing. Julian was saying something to Adam in a very low voice.
“They’re planning an assignation”, Bengo whispered “I bet you!”
The clowns got out of bed again and stealthily crept to the door, where they listened furtively.
“We must take advantage of being off the road for a while”, Julian was saying “For this time we can have the space to live out our fantasies”.
Bardin nodded solemnly, and Bengo had trouble trying not to laugh out loud.
“Come to my room whenever I say”, Julian continued “And be my tart”.
Bengo thought they had done enough eavesdropping and that common decency should now prevail. He ushered Bardin back to the bed.
“What did you stop it for?” said Bardin “That was just getting interesting!”
“You wouldn’t want the others listening in on you sometimes!” said Bengo “The other clowns would never let you live it down!”
Julian had been right about domesticity giving them the chance to do a bit of fantasising on a daily basis. Life on the road could be exhilarating, but also didn’t leave much time or energy for indulging oneself. They had no idea how long they were planning to stay in Nuit, it could be years or merely weeks, so the Indigo-ites approached it with all the vigour and enthusiasm of a long-awaited holiday. Adam took to going into Julian’s room first thing each morning before breakfast. Inevitably this made him late appearing in the kitchen, and, even more inevitably, this got Joby seriously disgruntled. Julian said this was bliss. Early morning rollicking and getting Joby upset, talk about killing two birds with one stone!
“You could have the odd lie-in with Patsy, old love”, Adam said to him “I’m hardly in a position to object now am I?”
“And leave Bengo to run the kitchen by himself?” said Joby, in disbelief.
Adam came to the conclusion, not for the first time, that Joby rather enjoyed being a martyr, in some perverse kind of way, and left him to it.
One morning, barely as soon as anyone had sat down in the dining-room, a builder turned up to start making preparations for the new dumb-waiter to be put in. Bengo caustically remarked that what did they need a dumb waiter for when they already had one, Toppy. Toppy said this comment was an “absolute outrage”, and “beyond human endurance”. Bengo was ordered to apologise, although he found it impossible to take the smirk off his face as he did so.
Julian objected to the builders turning up so early, and was all for turning them away and ordering them to come back later. Joby was appalled by his suggestion. “You can’t do that!” he said “You know how temperamental builders are, they’ll go into a sulk and we won’t see ’em again for months!”
Needless to say the noise of this whole operation was horrendous. Kieran took a couple of the goats out for a walk round the streets, and looked quite Biblical in the process. So much so that it was easy to see yet another Kieran legend being born. The beautiful fair-haired man dreamily walking two pure white goats. Julian took advantage of the racket the builders were making to give him a severe chastisement when he got home.
“I thought he wasn’t sposed to be getting hands on you these days”, said Joby, taking up Kieran a cup of tea a short while later. Kieran was lying undressed in bed in their own room at the back, with the windows flung open onto the garden.
“You can’t get jealous of that, Joby!” said Kieran, nestled in a huge wad of pillows “It’s a vastly different experience being with him to being with you”.
“Yeah, he’s a bleedin’ professional at it!” said Joby “He’s made it his life’s work!”
“He’s pretty vigorous, there‘s no saying otherwise”, said Kieran “But he’s not as strict as you”.
“Eh?” said Joby, in astonishment “I didn’t think Genghis Khan was as strict as Julian!”
“Ah no”, said Kieran “You’re the stricter one”.
“As long as he doesn’t use that blasted strap on you again, that’s all I ask”, said Joby.
“He’s not allowed”, said Kieran “A bit of horsing around is all he’s allowed, a straightforward bog-standard spanking. All the serious stuff is up to you”.
“Great”, said Joby, sarcastically “A real privilege!”
“Julian would think so”, Kieran smiled.
Joby laughed, helped him into a sitting position, and handed him his tea.
“How are the builders getting on?” said Kieran.
“Getting on at a fair old lick, surprisingly”, said Joby, who always took the darkest possible view of builders “It’s such a racket ‘cos they’ve gotta dig out inside the walls”.
“It’ll be great for you when it’s finished”, said Kieran.
“Do you want me to set a chair up in the garden for you?” said Joby “Get some relief from all the noise”.
“Nah I’d have to put me clothes on again”, said Kieran “I’ll stay in here until lunchtime”.
Joby kissed him tenderly, and then went back downstairs. Halfway down the stairs to the main hall Julian caught up with him.
“Have you been admiring my handiwork?” he said, plainly referring to Kieran’s backside.
“No”, said Joby.
“Go on make my day”, said Julian “Tell me you’re just a little bit jealous”.
“Not one bit”, said Joby, although this wasn’t strictly true.
“Of course I didn’t define what I meant by jealous”, said Julian “You could be jealous that Kieran has had the inestimable satisfaction of having my hand on his backside”.
“Yeah right!” said Joby.
“Any time you wish to come to my room”, said Julian “And get a little of the joys of it for yourself, well you know where I am”.
“Too right!” said Joby “And I know to give it a wide berth and all!”
He muttered about Julian all the way down the narrow basement steps. Down in the kitchen he found Bengo sitting alone by the range, staring through the bars at the front forlornly.
“Blimey”, said Joby “What’s the matter, Cinders? Wouldn’t they let you go to the ball?”
Bengo stared at Joby as though Joby had suddenly taken leave of his senses.
“Adam told me to make sure it didn’t go out”, he said, pathetically.
“I don’t think he meant you had to sit there and watch it every second, mate!” said Joby.
“It’s just that Ransey’s been complaining we don’t have enough hot water”, said Bengo.
“Oh he’s always like that”, said Joby “He was like that at the Town House in Toondor Lanpin. He was obsessed with the range there as well! Where’s Adam gone?”
“Out into the garden”, said Bengo “To have a look at the fig trees”.
“I hope not”, said Joby “I hate figs!”
“Is Kieran having lunch in bed?”
“No he’ll come down. He gets narked if we insist he has too many meals on a tray, and he starts thinking he’s missing summat!”
“Perhaps a nice bit of chicken soup would be alright for him?” said Bengo.
“Hardly!” said Joby “He’s a vegetarian!”
“Oh I keep forgetting”, said Bengo “Not that Kieran’s a vegetarian, but that chicken’s a meat”.
Joby shook his head in disbelief at him.
“Unbelievable your brain sometimes!” he said “Almost as bizarre as Lonts’s!”
At lunchtime the builders went out into the overgrown arbour in the garden to get some shade for a couple of hours. The Indigo-ites had a sort of picnic lunch in the wreckage of the dining-room. Ransey inspected the new hole in the wall, and announced that he hoped they knew what they were doing.
“Mucking about with the structure like this”, he said “It could bring the entire house down”.
“It’s a bit late to be saying that now, old love”, said Adam.
“He’s always bloody complaining he is”, said Joby, bringing in a tray of dishes “He’s been going on about the hot water so much it’s beginning to feel like torture! You know, it wasn’t so long ago we were living like fugitives from a chain-gang. Water rationed, none left over for washing clothes or shaving, and now he’s moaning when we’ve got a proper bathroom!”
Joby slammed down the dishes and swept out again.
“Good heavens!” said Adam “What an extraordinary way to carry on!”
“Particularly for him!” said Hillyard.
“Yes”, said Julian “Joby delivering a lecture on counting one’s blessings, really quite a turn-up for the books!”
Adam went down into the basement and then up the stone steps into the garden, where he found Joby sitting at the top, looking like the stag at bay.
“Now really, old love”, said Adam, sitting down next to him “What on earth is all this about?”
“It aint about nothing!” said Joby.
“Well that means it must be about something”, Adam quipped “Sorry, I’m being a smart-arse I know”.
“Look it’s just that we don’t know how long we’re gonna be here”, said Joby “And I just wanna make the most of it before we have to get back on the road again, that’s all. And I can do without The Terminator complaining about everything!”
“Oh it’s just Ransey, you know what he’s like“, said Adam “Never trusts anything somebody else has done. Really it’s no good you getting yourself stressed out like this. Too much more of it and we’ll have to send you in to see Julian”.
“Yeah and that’s another thing”, said Joby “He seems to be under the impression I just can’t wait to have me bum whipped or rogered by him! He couldn’t be further from the truth”.
“Are you sure about that?” Adam smiled.
“What’s that sposed to mean?” said Joby.
“One thing in Julian’s favour is he doesn’t tend to go imposing himself where he’s really not wanted”, said Adam “And no amount of you complaining that you don’t want him is going to hide the truth now is it? We all like to put up a little resistance where Julian’s concerned, I do myself sometimes, but it doesn’t really convince him, and if we’re honest, it doesn’t us either”.
Adam was sitting very close to him, and Joby knew he only had to move his head slightly to kiss him. He was about to do this when a bellow of laughter went up from the builders at the far end of the garden.
“Wankers”, Joby muttered, pulling away.
“They weren’t laughing at us”, said Adam “They’ve got some card game on the go. You must really stop being so self-conscious”.
During the heavy siesta time after lunch nearly everything came to a standstill. Joby looked in on Kieran, who was asleep in the back bedroom. He drifted back along the landing and settled himself at the window overlooking the street. The house was almost supernaturally quiet. He could even hear the ticking of the clock in the hallway below, and the rustle of a net-curtain in a small breeze. He sat there for some time, wondering if anything was ever going to happen again. Suddenly Julian stepped stealthily out of his bedroom, grabbed Joby by the wrist and pulled him back into the room.
“You have a superb body”, he said, once Joby was divested of all his clothes, and Julian was running his hands all over it like an expert masseur “Has anyone ever told you that?”
“Yeah, Adam sometimes”, said Joby, nervously.
“You must relax”, said Julian “Why so tense? When we’ve known each other so long. It’s hardly the first time is it! What are you afraid of all the time?”
“Of knowing what I really want”, said Joby “Sometimes, I know it sounds daft, I get scared of being happy”.
“Why in God’s name?” said Julian “Is this some peculiar working-class eccentricity I don’t know about?”
“Probably”, said Joby “It wasn’t always as easy for us to get what we wanted, and we got scared of wanting it too much in case we had to live with being disappointed. It’s not like you lot, who could just go out and get what you wanted whenever you wanted it”.
“But surely experience should have long since taught you that your life hasn’t turned out like that?” said Julian “You can have what you want any time”.
He got up and poured out two large tumblers of whisky.
“You don’t have to drug me you know!” said Joby.
“You might appreciate a little anaesthetic”, said Julian “For when I shove my cock into you”.
Joby took a healthy slug of the liquid, and watched as Julian took off all his clothes. His enormous dick was already rearing up like a frisky horse pawing the air.
“You’re not like Adam, who can take any amount of rough rogering”, said Julian “I have to be more careful with you. I must always come as a shock after Kieran’s spindly little bod”.
“It’s more I have to be delicate with him!” Joby laughed.
“And yet, as he always says, he is a lot tougher than he looks”, said Julian.
He pulled three strips of white silk out of a carved wooden box. Joby finished his drink and Julian bound his wrists to the brass rail at the foot of the bed, so that Joby was crouched forward.
“No, you don’t have to do that”, said Joby, when Julian went to bind the third piece over his mouth.
“Do you want the builders rushing in here because they think I’m murdering you?!” said Julian, and he gagged Joby with it.
Julian approached him from behind as though he was trying to get a nervous racehorse into the starting-box. Joby felt his anus being saturated with a thick, sticky liquid from a jar, and then it began. The rogering was terrifying and yet exhilarating at the same time. Afterwards they lay wrapped up in the thin bedcover.
“What’s it like when you play Maurice and Alec with Adam?” asked Julian.
“Quite tender”, said Joby “I have to do a lot of the taking over there. Alec has to initiate Maurice you see. It makes quite a change for me that does. Most of the time Adam’s ordering me about, and then during that I get the chance to get heavy with him!”
“Adam likes to be very submissive in the sack”, said Julian “He can be the forceful one, but he much prefers it the other way round. That’s why I’ve managed to get away with as much as I have!”
“He said summat to that effect earlier”, said Joby.
They fell into a satisfying sleep, but were rudely woken up a short while later by the builders resuming work. The languid siesta time was over. Julian got up and poured water into a bowl at the washing-stand.
“Come over here and I’ll clean you up”, he said.
“I can do that meself”, said Joby.
“Oh don’t be so damn un-erotic!” said Julian “Come over here!”
He bent Joby over and sluiced him out with cold water. Joby then sat on a chair by the window wrapped in the bed-cover, whilst Julian made tea on the ubiquitous spirit-lamp.
“You look a picture of decadence sat there”, he said “One of my finest creations. You really should enjoy your little debaucheries more you know. You’re in a fine position. You have Kieran as your sex-slave, Adam to role-play with, Hillyard can barely keep his mitts off you, Tamaz as your pampered little poppet mistress, and me …”
“And you?” Joby queried.
“Oh you’re one of my sex-toys”, said Julian.
“Isn’t everybody!” said Joby.
“You each have your own very delicious characteristics, unique to yourselves”, said Julian “It’s what makes life so diverse, and such fun”.
“Tell me whose is what”, said Joby, taking a cup of tea “Adam”.
“My old soul-mate”, said Julian “We understand each other so well. Spiritually we’re like twins, although he’d probably never admit it. We fit together like hand-in-glove. I can also go further with him than I can with anyone else”.
“The perfect bum-boy, catamite, rent-boy, call it what you will. Sex with Hillyard is gloriously brisk and business-like. I know exactly who to go to when I just want a no-nonsense shag”.
“Mieps”, said Joby.
“Ah the old girl”, said Julian, like an old colonel recalling a legendary prostitute he had known in a distant land “The dark, exotic one. Full of thrilling depths. One ventures into dark lands with her. Have you noticed the way she looks at you when she’s getting aroused”.
“Mm”, said Joby, feeling his heart beat faster “Kieran”.
“The eccentric Irish-boy”, said Julian “The knowing innocent. Knows exactly what he’s doing and what he wants, and yet still manages to convey that he’s completely bemused by it all. Has an absolutely insatiable need to be punished, and sometimes doesn’t seem to know his own levels. Needs to be protected from his own urges at times”.
“That’s certainly true!” said Joby “The clowns”.
“Both very different”, said Julian “Bengo is an absolute delight. The vivacious little tart who doesn’t give a fig that he’s beautiful. Completely incorrigible and irrepressibly naughty. Bardin of course a different kettle of fish. Spiritually he’s like a butterfly with a broken wing”.
Joby felt his eyes brimming over.
“I never thought of it like that before”, he said “But it’s true”.
“He needs infinite care”, said Julian “So intensely vulnerable behind the scenes. I doubt I’ve felt quite so protective of anyone since I got Finia from that Sadean hellhole brothel in Husgalonghi. But there’s one person you haven’t asked about, and that is yourself”.
“OK then”, said Joby “What about me?”
“I have long had a fantasy that I want to take you away by yourself, just you and I”, said Julian “Adam knows about it, but he’s always said you would never accept it”.
“That’s probably ‘cos you’d just want me to be obedient all the time”, said Joby.
“Now and again would be nice”, said Julian “But obedience is actually quite some way down the agenda. I want to take care of you. You know what a sparkle it can give you to have someone completely in your control, you have it with Kieran”.
“He needs taking care of though”, said Joby “He’s no damn good at looking after himself!”
“You need taking care of as well”, said Julian “You’d be sitting pretty in that direction as well. You can be the controller with Kieran, and the controlled with me. Come in here and be completely pliable with me. You’ll be in good company, it’s what Adam does”.
“Yeah but I’m not as masochistic as Adam”, said Joby.
“No that’s very true”, said Julian “I have to be more gentle with you”.
“Gentle?!” Joby exclaimed, thinking of the vigorous rogering he had just had.
“Do you think honestly think that with Adam”, said Julian “I would have dosed him with whisky beforehand, and eased my passage with jelly? You’re not hardcore like he is, and I’m very aware of that. Have you ever had to worry that I would make you do something you were completely against doing, were revolted by?”
“No”, Joby confessed “Never”.
Julian lit a cigar and offered it to Joby.
“I can’t”, he said.
“Now I won’t have these knee-jerk feeble protests you keep coming out with”, said Julian “That’s one thing that’s going to have to change from now on”.
“It’s not that, Julian”, said Joby “It’s just that Kieran will smell it on me, he’s like a flamin’ police sniffer-dog sometimes! How can I try and keep him on the straight and narrow when I don’t set a good example?”
“I’ve got some mints in here”, said Julian “You can have one of those afterwards”.
“And he’ll know exactly why I’ve been sucking mints!” said Joby “I know he likes to act all dreamy but it’s downright impossible trying to get things past him!”
Julian conceded and kept the cigar to himself.
“I’d better go and look in on him”, said Joby, rousing himself from the chair.
He went over to Julian who was standing by the window, and briefly leaned his head against his shoulder. Julian kissed the top of his head. Joby had no inclination to put his clothes back on in Julian’s room. It seemed such a depressingly prosaic thing to have to do after such an extraordinary session, like getting out of a steamy session in a Jacuzzi and going into a barracks-style changing-room afterwards. Instead he kept the bed-cover wrapped round himself and crept barefoot along the landing. He met Mieps at the top of the stairs, who gave him a sly look and then kissed him so brutally on the mouth that Joby felt more like he had been bitten.
“I’m surprised I’m not bleeding!” he exclaimed, examining himself in the mirror in the room he shared with Kieran “She’s not jealous is she?”
“Excited more like”, said Kieran, lying in bed “Mieps likes to nip and take little bites sometimes. I’d take it as a positive thing if I was you. How did you get on with himself? You’ve lived to tell the tale anyhow!”
“He never ceases to surprise me”, said Joby, sitting down on the edge of the bed and examining his feet in the sunlight “Do you know he gave me a douche? Rinsed me out. I wasn’t expecting that at all!”
“He’d like that”, said Kieran “It extends his control over you. Once he stood me upside down on me head and held me like that to rub cream into me behind!”
Joby couldn’t help laughing at this absurd image.
“You don’t have to get embarrassed with me, about what you get up to with him”, said Kieran “God knows it can’t be anywhere near as bad as what I do!”
Joby shed the bed-cover and kicked it away. He climbed onto the bed and lay down next to Kieran. He began to cry, but this wasn’t out of any distress, more a welling-up of intense emotion. Kieran took charge of him.
The dumb-waiter was finished in a few days, and the builders, who had been greeted with such excited anticipation, were waved off with unspeakable relief. Tamaz decided to try out the dumb-waiter for himself, and crouched in it whilst Lonts stood in the kitchen and hauled him up to the dining-room. Adam had a fit when he found out what they were doing. Lonts protested that “the little one” (his usual endearment for Tamaz these days) had wanted it.
“That is far from a satisfactory excuse, Lo-Lo!” said Adam “Freaky could have got stuck in the walls!”
“Hooray!” said Bengo.
Adam slapped his buttocks hard twice, which made Bengo have a fit of uncontrollable giggles.
“Adam!” Julian yelled from the top of the basement steps “ADAM!”
“What is it, Julian?” Adam snapped, impatiently.
“There is a man at the front door”, Julian shouted.
“Well I’m sure you’ll know how to deal with him, old love!” said Adam.
“He’s got a basket of rabbits with him!” said Julian.
Adam galloped up the narrow steps.
“What, live ones?” he asked.
“No not live ones, you clot!” said Julian “Some peculiar little Hegley-clone has been hunting up in the hills above the town, thought you might like to buy the result”.
Adam went to the front door, where a scruffy bloke was proudly displaying a large basket choked with the corpses of dead rabbits. Adam thought he had better pay for them and whisk them away out of sight before Kieran appeared on the scene.
“I’ll come round at the end of the week”, said the hunter “See if you want a repeat order”.
“O.K”, said Adam “But please come to the side door in the basement. There are certain people in this house who don’t like the sight of meat when it’s just been freshly killed”.
“Some people are downright weird if you ask me!” said the hunter.
“I don’t suppose there’s any chance of getting some seafood at all?” said Adam, who had found it quite frustrating that here they were, in a seaside town, and yet no one seemed to provide any kind of seafood at all.
“Can’t go out there and get it”, said the hunter “Sea’s been contaminated by the demons”.
Adam remembered the strange worm they had fished out some while before, and felt he wasn’t in a position to argue with this.
“Are you sure these are alright?” said Ransey, prodding the meat disdainfully when the basket had been put down on the hall table.
“I do know about meat, Ransey”, said Adam “I have been buying it for quite some time. You stick to what you know, accounts and assassination! Now where’s Mieps? I need them to be skinned”.
A teeth-gritting racket was going on in the living-room, where Hillyard was tuning up the old piano in there. Mieps was stood watching him. She did her usual mild exasperation at the effeteness of some of the other Indigo-ites, who were quite happy to eat meat, but not to do the grisly preparation beforehand.
“Alright do your insufferable superiority act if you must”, said Adam “But come and skin them down in the back courtyard, Patsy’s not likely to see you down there”.
Kieran was in bed with Joby at that moment. Joby’s enjoyment of this rare lie-in though was ruined by the sound of two short, neat blasts on Bardin’s whistle coming from the garden, and the sound of some rickety old machinery being trundled up the garden path. Joby leapt out of bed and went over to the window, where he saw Bardin stood imposingly to one side, whilst the rest of the clowns (apart from Bengo) were moving a decayed lawn-mower, a wheelbarrow and various other instruments of gardening up to the overgrown arbour.
“I don’t believe it!” Joby cried “The clowns are gonna run amok in my garden!”
Kieran had an image of a bunch of clowns, in full motley-and-slap, complete with red noses, running around and having hysterics in the back garden. It made him laugh.
“It’s not funny, Kiel!” said Joby, trying to pull on his dressing-gown “This is a dire state of affairs this is!”
“They’re only trying to help I expect”, said Kieran “They know how busy you are in the kitchen”.
“Don’t make excuses for ‘em, Kiel”, said Joby “It’s Bardin being high-handed as usual!”
Joby thumped down the stairs, through the study at the back of the house, and out through the glass doors into the garden. Bardin watched him approach.
“All we’re going to do is give it a bit of a tidy-up”, he said “That’s all. We know you’re too busy to give it much thought”.
“Give it much thought?” said Joby “I’m always thinking about the garden! I haven’t said what I wanted doing to it yet!”
“We’re just tidying it up”, Bardin persisted “Just to make a start …”
“I don’t want that arbour touching”, said Joby “It stays”.
“I know it stays!” Bardin exclaimed, in frustration “We’re just cutting it back a bit”.
“I’m surprised the neighbours haven’t complained about that bloody whistle of yours!” said Joby.
“Now come on fellas”, said Kieran, who had lingered upstairs to get dressed first, before joining the fray.
“It’s not me”, said Bardin “It’s him, he’s being unreasonable. Making a mountain out of a molehill”.
“I know you’re only trying to help, Bardin”, said Kieran “But perhaps you really should have had a discussion with Joby first, about what his plans were”.
“I spoke to him last night as a matter of fact, after dinner”, said Bardin, triumphantly “I asked him what he had in mind for the garden, and he just grunted at me!”
Kieran knew that recently Joby had been wrapped up in his own emotions, and so hadn’t been in any fit state to make plans of supreme practicality.
“I understand”, he said “But perhaps you can talk now”.
Kieran noticed Mieps sitting at the top of the garden steps, with the basket of rabbits next to her, and another one grasped in her hand as she briskly divested it of its fur coat.
“Kieran!” Joby shouted at him “Go into the house!”
“What, and leave you two here to rip each other’s throats out?!” said Kieran.
“That ent gonna happen”, said Joby, and he turned to Bardin “I’ll go up and get dressed, and then we’re gonna talk about this properly!”
Kieran scampered after Joby back up the stairs to the first floor. At the top Joby tore off his dressing-gown and chucked it over the banisters.
“What did you do that for?” said Kieran, following Joby into their bedroom “That was a perfectly good dressing-gown!”
“I’m sick of the sight of it”, said Joby, setting out his shaving-tackle on the washstand “This afternoon I’m going out to buy a new one, summat simpler and more chic”.
“Can I come as well?” said Kieran.
“Only if you behave yourself”, said Joby “I think you’d better go and spend the morning in Julian’s room”.
“I’ll get beaten up again if I go in there!” said Kieran.
“That’s the idea!” said Joby.
Julian and Kieran were dozing on the sofa in Julian’s room. It was dark and stuffy in there. Julian had shut the window and pulled down the blinds for maximum privacy. Sade would have approved of the urge to enjoy sin behind locked doors and blind windows. Kieran was lying half on top of Julian, with his pants round his ankles. It was like cold turkey to suddenly be roused by a knock on the door.
“Whoever it is I’ll kill them”, said Julian, and then bellowed “Who is it?”
“It’s me”, said Bengo “Bengo”.
“He should know better!” Julian muttered, and Kieran gave a soft giggle.
“What is it?” said Julian, wrenching open the door “And this had better be good!”
“I-I’m sorry, Julian”, Bengo stammered “But we’ve had a message from next door. The old lady, Verily, she wants you to come round for a pre-lunch drink”.
“And you dragged me out to tell me that?” said Julian, indignantly.
“S-she’s lonely you see”, said Bengo, helplessly “And I think she’s got a bit of a crush on you”.
“She doesn’t even know me!” said Julian.
“That’s why she‘s got a crush on you!” said Kieran.
“Be quiet!” said Julian.
“It’ll only be for 20 minutes or so”, said Bengo “Adam says could you get off and do it now, as he’s not going to hold up lunch for you”.
“Go back down to the basement”, said Julian “And when you see Bardin tell him he’s to give you a damn good hiding, and that’s an order from me!”
“Will you go round there?” said Kieran, who had opened the window and lit up one of Julian’s cigars.
“Do I have a choice!” said Julian “Bengo will give me looks of acute betrayal if I don’t, and I don’t think I could stand it! What is it with the women in this town? We’ve got the demonic twins stalking Bardin, and now I’ve got Methusulah’s Mother after me!”
“They’re desperate for new blood”, said Kieran “They probably haven’t seen any strange men in decades, and they don’t come much stranger than us! Imagine what the men of this town would have been like if we’d been a party of women!”
“Yes”, Julian agreed “I’m surprised the old girl isn’t having to watch out!”
“It’d take a brave man to try it on with Mieps!” said Kieran, remembering the rabbit-skinning in the garden.
“You have some brazen audacity!” said Julian, snatching the cigar from Kieran and putting it in his own mouth “There’s poor Joby trying to set you an example. Bend over”.
Kieran touched his toes and Julian gave him a few strokes of the cane. Afterwards Julian insisted that Kieran help him to get dressed in some smarter clothes, even though Kieran insisted he was no good at “all that valeting stuff”. Looking about as respectable as it was possible Julian went downstairs and nearly tripped over Tamaz, who was sitting on the front doorstep.
“You’d better be careful”, Tamaz called after him “She might keep you in there!”
“Don’t get your hopes up!” said Julian.
It was a short but bizarre experience Julian had with Verily in her first-floor sitting-room of her big, echoey and empty house. The “little pre-lunch drink” turned out to be absinthe, which Julian freely admitted he hadn’t seen in years. Verily was much grander with Julian than she had been with Bengo. Gone were the gossipy reminiscences of a spirited old lady, and instead was a regal posture, not unlike that of a European Countess who has long since lost her ancestral estates and was now reduced to living on her name alone. She offered her hand to Julian, who refused the unspoken invitation to kiss it, and gave it a quick shake instead. Julian didn’t know how much all this grandness was the real Verily, and how much she was putting it on because she was entertaining an aristocrat. Some people could be chameleonic, he thought. With Bengo she was the retired ex-chorus-girl, with him she was the European Countess, with Kieran she would doubtless be the fervent penitent seeking absolution!
That was all true, to some extent. Verily had spent most of her life playing parts, and not just with the local amateur dramatic society. The true reason for her interest in Julian soon became known. She got out her scrapbooks to show him, but these weren’t the same ones she had shown Bengo.
“I was right about the role-playing”, Julian said to Adam, as they had a furtive and hurried conversation in the study before lunch “But it’s because she used to be into S&M!”
“Good lord!” said Adam “I’m feeling quite shaken! Did she tell you all that?”
“Didn’t need to”, said Julian “The scrapbooks spoke for themselves! She got all coy on me, ‘didn’t I use to be a hot babe?’ and all that. I didn’t know where to put myself!”
“Oh dear”, Adam giggled “The perils of small-town life! What did she want to see YOU for? Surely she wasn’t trying to start it all up again?”
“We never got round to the reasons for me being summoned like that”, said Julian “Fortunately I was able to say that I had to get back here on the stroke of one o’clock, but I can’t imagine she’s going to leave it at that! I don’t know what that little gas-bag Bengo’s been saying about us, but she seems to fully understand that I’m the chief spanker around here!”
“Perhaps she’s been listening at the walls?” Adam laughed.
“Well I’m glad you find it amusing!” said Julian “I hold Bengo responsible for all this, I hope he’s been suitably punished”.
“Bardin smacked his butt in the pantry-cum-dairy room”, said Adam.
“The pantry-cum-dairy room?” said Julian “When did we acquire one of those?”
“It’s the old servant’s bedroom”, said Adam “What Joby called the slave’s quarters. I thought nobody’s going to want to sleep down there, even though Bardin was hoping that Hoowie would, so I turned it into a pantry-cum-dairy room. It’s quite wonderful for assignations, rather like the old larder at Wolf Castle. You’ll have to come down and have a look at it sometime”.
“If that old bat next door sets her cap at me”, said Julian “You might need to hide me down there!”
Kieran had squirmed all through lunch, and afterwards asked Joby to massage some cream into his behind before they went off to the shops.
“I thought you dedicated masochists were sposed to love all that”, said Joby, taking him into their bedroom “The delicious twinge reminding one poignantly of the last session, as Adam once put it”.
“I don’t mind that”, said Kieran “But this is something else, me arse is like a furnace, and it’s all your fault!”
“MY fault?” said Joby.
“Yes”, said Kieran “You ordered me into his room, I warned you what would happen! You’re supposed to be my Master these days”.
“Yeah but you’re such a bleedin’ handful I need some help sometimes!” said Joby “I didn’t think you’d turn your nose up at the chance of some more pain!”
“The pain is just the inevitable consequences”, said Kieran, as Joby took down his trousers for him “The big thing for me is the humiliation, as it is for a lot of masochists. Anyway you’ve got a bit of a taste for it yourself, what with Julian performing enemas on you!”
“Just shut up a minute!” said Joby, bending him over and massaging cream into his behind “Blimey! There’s one thing you have to say for old Julian, he’s certainly thorough! What did you get the cane for?”
“Ach you know him”, said Kieran.
“Yeah and I know it’s only Adam he uses the cane on just for the hell of it”, said Joby “Anyone else there has to be a serious reason, so what did you do to earn it?”
“I lit up one of his cigars”, said Kieran.
“After all we’ve talked about this and all!” said Joby “I deliberately turned one down because of you, and then you go and have one!”
“Sorry”, said Kieran, staring down at the carpet penitently “I’m a crap slave aren’t I? I do want to try a bit harder, but me rebellious streak sometimes gets the better of me. You won’t give up on me will you?”
“Hardly!” said Joby “Not when I can have a good grope of your behind like this!”
Verily watched from next door as Kieran and Joby wandered off to the shops hand-in-hand. Almost immediately Julian hove into view coming towards them. He had been out looking for cigars, but had come to the conclusion that the only tobacco on offer in the town was some pretty ropey local efforts.
“Don’t look now, Julian”, said Kieran “But your girlfriend’s ogling you from her window”.
“You are still far too gobby”, said Julian “Joby obviously isn’t trying hard enough!”
“Joby is very very strict with me”, said Kieran “He makes a very good Master”.
“Look fellas”, said Joby “I don’t think we should be having this conversation so close to her house!”
“I’d suggest you get on and do your shopping”, said Julian “There’s a mist coming in, you can see it from the top of the town”.
The clothes’ shop Joby had in mind was very near the top of the town in fact, near the church. He selected a grey silk robe for himself, as identical to the one he had loved for years, and which Lonts had given away in Toondor Lanpin, and a white one for Kieran.
“Can you afford all this?” Kieran whispered to him, after Joby had sent away the assistant, who had been hovering, Toppy-like, nearby.
“Yeah”, said Joby “Hillyard gave me a nice thick wodge before I left the house”.
“Ah for services rendered I suppose!” said Kieran.
“I ent half gonna give you a good hiding when we get home!” said Joby “Stripey bum or no stripey bum!”
He paid for the goods and then stepped outside, with a squashy brown parcel under his arm, rather like a prisoner being released from the Scrubs. Kieran followed him, and they stood outside the church, looking down over the town towards the sea in the distance. A thick bank of fog could be seen moving stealthily in across the grey waves. A fog-horn moaned mournfully.
“What do they need a fog-horn for?” said Joby “There’s never any shipping around here, apart from us!”
“Perhaps it’s more to warn people to get indoors”, said Kieran, who had noticed that unnerving phenomenon, peculiar to Nuit, of everybody vanishing inside their houses whenever the weather decided to be anything other than warm and sunny.
“Come on”, said Joby “Let’s get home. This place gives me the creeps when it goes like this”.
Adam had been looking out for them from the hall window, and as soon as he saw them turn down the street and opened the front door, and pulled them in.
“I wondered where on earth you had got to”, he said “That mist is turning into a proper peasouper!”
“For God’s sake, Adam”, said Joby, able to be blasé now that they had got indoors “It’s only a bit of fog!”
“Well it feels peculiar if you ask me”, said Adam “Unnatural”.
“I read a James Herbert novel like that once”, said Joby, putting the parcel down on the hall-table “There was this strange fog, and every time it appeared the people who got caught up in it turned into homicidal maniacs”.
“Yes, that sounds like your taste in lurid fiction!” said Adam.
“It was a good book”, said Joby “I read it twice”.
“Was that the one with the big rats in the sewer?” said Kieran.
“That was a different one”, said Joby “Anyway it’s time you went upstairs. Go on!”
Kieran obediently went upstairs.
“Remarkable!” said Adam “I’m quite awestruck by you at times, old love”.
“Don’t give me that”, said Joby “He’s been giving me nothing but lip all round town”.
“Oh that’s Patsy I’m afraid”, said Adam “Still he seems nice and quiet now!”
Bengo was sent upstairs about half-an-hour later with a pot of tea for Kieran.
“Joby sent me up with this”, he said, putting it on the bedside table, and looking with concern at Kieran.
“How’s the fog doing?” said Kieran.
“Getting really thick now”, said Bengo, raising the blind a little “We can’t see to the end of the garden even. Are you alright?”
He noticed that Kieran looked as though he had been crying.
“I’m fine”, said Kieran.
Bengo helped into a comfortable sitting position, and handed him his tea.
“You’d make a good nurse”, said Kieran, appreciatively.
“No”, Bengo smiled, sitting down on the edge of the bed “I’m too clumsy really. Are you in pain?”
“Just a wee bit sore”, said Kieran, sipping his tea.
“Bardy had a go at me earlier”, said Bengo “Gave me a right telling-off”.
“Had you done something wrong?” said Kieran “Or was he just giving his vocal-chords a run?!”
“I’ve been forbidden from going round next door”, said Bengo “He says we get nothing but trouble when I do, and Julian’s really peed off with me about dropping him in it. So Bardy says I should stay away from now on. I don’t mind, except I think she’s a bit lonely”.
“Are we all forbidden from going?” said Kieran, hopefully, as he had a nagging feeling that it wouldn’t be long before she summoned him as well.
“No, just me”, said Bengo “If anything I think he’s hoping she’ll take a shine to Hoowie, and want to keep him as a pet or something. He keeps hoping some lonely old lady will take in Hoowie, and I keep telling him it’ll never happen. Anyway, Hoowie’s not interested in S&M so why would she want him?”
“You think that’s all that’s motivating her?” said Kieran.
“It seems to be”, said Bengo “Stupid old me thought she wanted Julian because he’s got a bit of class!”
“Well he’s certainly a class act when it comes to the old thrashing!” said Kieran, ruefully.
“Could I rub some cream on for you?” said Bengo.
“If you don’t mind the sight of me colourful arse”, said Kieran “It’s black and blue with nice red stripes on it!”
Bengo giggled, helplessly.
“Tell you what”, said Kieran “Why don’t you take off all your clothes whilst you’re doing it? I mean, we don’t want to get them messy now do we!”
Bengo got incredibly excited about all this, so much so that he was worried that he would ejaculate before he had even got his clothes off, let alone stick it in Kieran. He only just made it.
“I would’ve been so fed up if I hadn’t”, he said to Kieran, afterwards “It’s the bane of my life. I get too excited and then I can’t hold it in!”
Joby’s lugubrious growl could be heard out on the landing, which sent Bengo into another spin.
“Do you want me to hide you in the wardrobe?” Kieran laughed.
“I’ve always wanted to appear in a bedroom farce!” said Bengo.
“Kieran!” said Joby, trying the door-handle.
Kieran got up awkwardly and went over to the door, pulling back the bolt.
“You’ve been gone ages!” Joby snapped at Bengo “I said to you, I distinctly remember saying to you, just take the tea up and then return immediately!”
“He was giving me a massage”, said Kieran.
“Except we haven’t got round to the massage yet”, said Bengo, helplessly.
“I can do that”, said Joby, piling Bengo’s clothes into his arms and steering him towards the door “You get out there, get dressed and go back down to the kitchen”.
“Oh can’t I get dressed in here?” said Bengo “Mieps might be out on the landing, and she gets carried away if she sees me naked”.
“Serve you bleedin’ right and all!” said Joby, ruthlessly.
Bengo ran along the landing like an electric hare, and finally sought the sanctuary of his and Bardin’s room. There he got dressed as swiftly as he could. He had barely finished when there was a timid knocking at the door. Bengo gave a sigh of exasperation, but he knew at least, going by the timidity of the knock, that it couldn’t possibly be Mieps.
“What do you want?” he barked at Mutton Broth, who was looking about him furtively “Bardy isn’t in here”.
“No I know”, said Mutton Broth “That’s why I came up, I know he’s down in the living-room. I must talk to you, in confidence”.
Bengo assumed a dejected posture, and showed him into the room. He sometimes felt he was always being called upon to act as clown’s confidant. He shot the bolt on the door, and prepared himself for yet more clown’s angst.
“Will you promise not to mention this to anyone else?” said Mutton Broth, sitting down on the bed, looking every inch the hopeless case .
“No I can’t promise that!” said Bengo, impatiently “I’m useless at keeping secrets. Bardy always gets stuff out of me, he even resorts to torture sometimes!”
“O.K”, said Mutton Broth, miserably “But at least I get to tell you first, you might persuade him to be sympathetic I suppose”.
Bengo secretly thought there wasn’t a hope in hell of this, but he sat down and prepared to listen.
“It’s about my dick”, said Mutton Broth.
“What about it?” said Bengo “Have you picked up some horrible disease since we’ve been here or something?”
“How can I?” wailed Mutton Broth “I’ve never had sex!”
“Look I’ve already had all this from Shag”, said Bengo “It’s completely pathetic, the world doesn’t owe you a good screw you know! You have to go out and get it for yourself!”
“I haven’t got much of a one”, said Mutton Broth “Three inches, and that’s when it’s erect!”
“Have you all been measuring each others up in the attic?” said Bengo, caustically.
“That’s the sort of thing I’d expect Bardin to say!” said Mutton Broth “I thought you’d be kinder!”
“Well what am I supposed to say?” said Bengo “We have to make do with what we’re given. Everybody’s different, we can’t all be hung like Julian can we!”
“I saw his the other day”, said Mutton Broth, sounding as though he‘d seen something holy “He was coming out of the bathroom with no clothes on. God! Even flaccid it was … what I’d give to have one like that! Could you examine me?”
“NO!!!” said Bengo “What good would that do?”
“Well you might know a way of making it look bigger”, said Mutton Broth.
“Try stretching it”, said Bengo “No seriously, that does help sometimes”.
“Perhaps there’s something a doctor could do”, said Mutton Broth “Some kind of surgery”.
“We’re right out in the middle of the back of bloody beyond!” said Bengo “I can’t imagine there’s much call for specialised penis surgery round here!”
To his horror Mutton Broth stood up and began to undo his trousers. Bengo stared miserably at the dense mass of black pubic hair which sprouted profusely on Mutton Broth’s nether regions.
“If you have a good poke round in there”, said Mutton Broth “You should find it eventually”.
“Mutton”, Bengo exclaimed, feeling he was about to cry “I don’t want to poke around in there!”
Mutton Broth managed to coax out the top of his penis, making it look like a bald-headed old recluse emerging from dense undergrowth.
“See”, he said “What could anybody do with that?!”
Bengo was spared from having to answer this impossible question by Bardin shouting, with considerable annoyance, that he wanted to be let in.
“Why is the bolt across when I’m not in here?” he demanded to know, when Bengo opened the door.
“I was just talking to Mutton Broth”, said Bengo “He wanted a private chat”.
Bardin noticed Mutton Broth hastily stuffing his bits and pieces into his trousers.
“A private chat?” he said, dubiously.
Mutton Broth scuttled past him muttering something that sounded almost hysterical.
“Bardy!” Bengo cried, when they were alone “Sometimes you have about as much sensitivity as that bloody fog-horn out there!”
“Well what am I supposed to think?” Bardin protested “When I come in here and find him with his trousers undone!”
“He’s worried about his dick”, said Bengo.
“What there is of it!” said Bardin.
“Exactly!” said Bengo “That’s the whole point, that’s what he was getting upset about”.
“He’s lived with it so far so what’s his problem now?” said Bardin
“I think he wants to start having sex”, said Bengo “Him and Shag”.
“What?” said Bardin, with horror “With each other?!”
“I don’t think so”, said Bengo “I don’t think they’ve thought that far ahead. I just think that he thinks having a bigger dick will make him more sexually irresistible”.
“It’ll take a damn sight more than a bigger dick to manage that!” said Bardin “And what does he expect us to do about it? Go out and buy him a bigger one and screw it on for him!”
Bengo collapsed onto the bed and stared gloomily at the wall.
“They’re nothing but a worry to us”, he sighed.
“I told you that”, said Bardin, triumphantly “I told you exactly what it would be like if we asked them to come and live with us, but you wouldn’t have it. You wanted to play Lord Bountiful!”
“I felt sorry for them”, said Bengo.
“And this is exactly where it’s got you!” said Bardin “Now perhaps you’ll listen to me in future”.
“I don’t expect I’ll have any choice!” said Bengo.
Adam went down into the kitchen to find Tamaz turfing everything out of a walk-in cupboard at the foot of the stairs.
“Freaky!” said Adam “What are you doing to my kitchen?”
“I’ve found something”, said Tamaz “Look”.
He grabbed Adam’s arm and pulled him into the cupboard. He pointed at a door at the back, which was secured with a heavily-rusted bolt.
“That must go into next door”, he said.
“You often get quirky things like this with these sort of old houses”, said Adam “It was probably used for smuggling many years ago”.
“But she could get through it”, said Tamaz “Her next door, she could get through into our house”.
“Not very likely, old love”, said Adam “The bolt’s on our side! It’s no good looking at me like that, I really cannot imagine a frail little old lady hacking down a door just to get into our house!”
“She might be desperate to get at Julian”, said Tamaz.
“Nobody could possibly be THAT desperate to get at Julian!” said Adam “Except perhaps to attack him with a blunt instrument! Now get on and put all this stuff back, I’ve got the dinner to prepare”.
He went back into the kitchen and found Joby sitting at the table, browsing a gardening magazine.
“I didn’t hear you come down”, said Adam.
“No”, said Joby “Too busy yelling at Tamaz. I thought I’d better stay out of it”.
“I wasn’t yelling”, said Adam “And your protégé really does have some strange ideas sometimes!”
Bengo stumped gloomily down the stairs, with his pinny festooned over his shoulder.
“There you are!” said Joby “I sent you downstairs hours ago, you little basket! Where have you been?”
“I would have been downstairs hours ago if you’d let me get dressed in your room”, said Bengo “But no, you send me away, and then Mutton Broth gets me”.
“Gets you?” said Adam, who couldn’t imagine Mutton Broth do anything that sounded so vigorous.
“Wanted to tell me his problems”, said Bengo, morosely “Worried about his dick”.
“What’s the matter with it?” said Adam “Fallen off?!”
“Nobody’d notice if it did!” said Joby “He ent exactly hung like a stallion is he!”
“We all have to make the best of what Nature gives us”, said Adam.
“That’s alright for you to say though, Adam, you‘ve got nothing to worry about”, said Bengo “But oh God, the poor bastard! Three inches is the best he can ever manage, and that’s when it’s fully erect!”
“Blimey!” said Joby “Even Kieran can manage better ’en that!”
“I don’t think Patsy would be too pleased to hear you talking about him like that, old love”, said Adam.
“Nothing he ent heard before”, said Joby, unrepentantly “Anyway I’m paying him a compliment ... In a way”.
“I’m sure he’ll be thrilled, old love!” said Adam.
“Oh listen to that”, said Bengo, wandering around the table, listening to the fog-horn outside.
“That’ll go on all night”, said Joby, with a sort of grim satisfaction.
After dinner, at around twenty-to-ten, there came a knocking on the front door. It was an elderly man in a black fedora hat, looking rather grim of face. Behind him in the street stood a cart attached to two sturdy-looking horses. The elderly man lost no time at all in coming to the point.
“My Master is dying”, he said “He needs the Last Rites”.
Adam invited him in, and said he must excuse him for a moment, as no one had quite expected this development. He was under no illusions about what the man wanted, he wanted Kieran to come away with him and perform this solemn deed.
“Where does your Master live?” said Adam, finding something downright surreal about such an archaic mode of referring to one’s employer.
“The house on top of the cliffs”, said the old man, crisply.
“The Governor’s House?” said Joby.
“How did you get down the Emerald Steps in the horse and cart?” said Bengo.
“There is a back way above the top of the village”, said the old man, with understandable impatience.
“Of course there is”, said Adam, who had never doubted it for a moment “Please wait here a moment, whilst we fetch Patsy … I mean Kieran”.
Kieran was down in the kitchen, helping Toppy to make cocoa. Ransey followed Adam to the basement stairs, followed in turn by Joby. Ransey voiced his concerns about this strange occurrence.
“I don’t regard myself as a superstitious old fool”, said Adam “But I would feel deeply uncomfortable about refusing a dying man his last request!”
“I didn’t feel there was anything strange about the governor’s house”, said Joby, to Ransey’s unwelcome surprise “A bit grand, but not sinister”.
Joby was accompanying Kieran anyway, that went without question. Bardin too was invited along (by Kieran), and so naturally Bengo was going as well. Ransey refused to countenance any suggestion that he should stay behind, even though Julian and Adam tried to point out to him that he was hardly a suitable presence for the bedchamber of a dying man! Bardin hustled Bengo upstairs, so that they could hurriedly get dressed in their smarter clothes.
“What for?” said Bengo, when they were up in their bedroom “I don’t think he’s gonna care what we look like when we make our entrance, Bardy!”
“It’s called Showing Respect!” said Bardin.
“Well if we piss about any longer he’ll be gone anyway!“ said Bengo “Oh I can’t do this, Bardy. I’m bound to do a pratfall at a really solemn moment, or something just as daft!”
“That’ll give the old boy something to laugh at in his closing minutes then!” said Bardin.
“Come along you two”, said Adam, tapping on the door “You’re holding everybody up”.
“It’s his fault, not mine”, said Bengo, meaning Bardin “He insisted we had to change clothes”.
“Patsy’s put something smarter on as well”, said Adam “Joby said it was typical it had to take somebody dying to achieve that!”
They were met at the main doors of the governor’s house by the sassy male twin, the one who had clocked them from the doorway of a shop in town recently. This was the brother of the sad-eyed twin who had turned away Kieran and Joby when they called some time before (they assumed the governor was their father). This one made no attempt to play at grieving. Dressed in a grey silk suit and a maroon shirt he was almost supernaturally radiant, as though every day was his birthday, and there was no reason why this one should be any exception. He fairly strutted and swaggered when he showed them across the candlelit hall and up the main staircase.
Bengo and Bardin were left sitting in a small sparsely-furnished ante-room, whilst the others went through into the death-chamber. Kieran knew as soon as he approached the bed that they had got there in only the nick of time. The sad-eyed twin was stood forlornly at the foot of the bed, (Joby was surprised to find the twins were in fact two separate entities, he was beginning to think there was just one of them putting on a different act each time), a doctor was also in attendance. Kieran was surprised to find the governor, a frail old man, lying there naked, apart from a single bed-sheet, his torso was completely exposed.
“It is time now”, said Kieran, softly, taking his hand “To make your peace with God. Give me a sign that you understand”.
The Governor weakly squeezed his hand in reply.
“How will we know when It’s happened?” said Bengo, out in the ante-room.
“Oh they’ll let off a few fireworks I expect!” said Bardin.
Bengo looked gob smacked.
“I’m joking!” said Bardin “Stupid clown!”
“Will it take long?” Bengo whispered.
“I’ll go and tell him to hurry it up shall I!” said Bardin.
“Oh there’s no saying anything to you at the moment!” said Bengo, crossly “I told you it was a waste of time us coming here. We’re no use at all at times like this! Who wants clowns around when somebody’s dying!”
“That’s why we’ve been left out here!” Bardin pointed out.
There was a peculiar slithering noise from out in the corridor. It sounded like a giant caterpillar, or somebody crawling along the floor without using their arms or legs. It paused outside the door, and then shuffled on.
“This is a weird house!” said Bengo.
The old Governor departed this mortal coil with peace and dignity. The sad-eyed son immediately bolted from the room, and it was left to the strange cheerful one to offer the Indigo-ites a little light refreshment in another room. Bengo was hoping Kieran would refuse, and that they could all go home for supper, but instead they were shown into the supper room, and (thankfully) left there alone.
“Old Flashy-Pants won’t like it if he has to clear out of here now the old fella’s gone”, said Joby, after checking to make sure they were really alone, and nobody was lurking outside the door “They’ll have to make way for a new governor”.
“Unless the system’s hereditary”, said Kieran “We know so little about the town and it’s ways”.
“Yes”, said Ransey “Like why were you asked up here and not the local priest?”
“Perhaps there isn’t one”, said Bardin.
“Of course there is, Bardy”, said Bengo “There’s a church, we’ve seen it”.
“That doesn’t automatically mean there’s a priest!” said Bardin “Or do you think they pull the church down if they haven’t got some prayer-bod around, conveniently handy!”
“It gave me a weird turn when I saw his torso all exposed like that”, said Kieran “I thought they might be asking me to be a sin-eater”.
“What’s one of them?” said Joby, hoping that whatever it was it wouldn’t put him off the rather fine chicken salad they had been served.
“It’s an old Celtic legend”, said Kieran “A complete stranger would be brought in, someone unknown to the dead man, who would be asked to eat some bread and salt off the dead man’s chest, to absorb his sins”.
“That is disgusting!” said Joby.
“Oh I don’t know how much it really happened”, said Kieran “It’s the stuff of old folklore. There was a short story written about it long ago, by a Scotswoman. It turned out that the sin-eater did know the dying man after all, and had a grievance against him, some old family feud, and he ended up being driven mad by absorbing the fella’s sins, thinking he was really Judas and all that”.
“What a lot of mumbo-jumbo!” said Ransey, who was feeling quite rattled by the evening’s events.
“Bloody typical of your old tribe that is!” said Joby “Eating food off a corpse’s chest!”
“What if he had died of some infectious disease?” said Bengo.
“The sin-eater could catch something more than the sins!” said Bardin.
Kieran noticed how tired Joby and Bengo looked. They had been up working in the kitchen at seven o’clock that morning, and it was now very late. It seemed a bit much to expect them to sit up half the night holding a wake for a man they had never met and knew nothing about, not even his name. To Ransey’s intense relief Kieran finally suggested going home. Bengo ran to the door like a dog that was at last going to be let out into the garden.
“And you mean to say no one saw you out?” said Adam, the next morning, as they prepared breakfast.
“We didn’t see a soul when we left the building”, said Joby “Bleedin’ weird set-up if you ask me! We stole out of the house like a bunch of burglars, and had to walk home, fumbling our way through the fog!”
“Well I think that’s downright rude!” said Adam “After you had made the effort to turn out on a filthy night like that at a moment’s notice! Some people!”
“They did give us supper I suppose”, said Bengo, doubtfully “Bardy says some people wouldn’t have done that, so we should be grateful. Sometimes I wonder Bardy doesn’t get slapped even more than he does!”
“So do I when he comes out with things like that!” said Joby “Leaving us to walk home was the giddy limit!”
“At least that fog’s clearing at last”, said Bengo.
“Yeah”, said Joby “Who knows? The wimpy locals might even get brave enough to go back outside eventually!”
By late morning it had cleared sufficiently for Bardin to organise another clowns’ gardening team. Unfortunately this clashed with Toppy wanting to put the washing out.
“I need space to hang my washing”, he protested.
“What’s the matter with him?” said Hal.
“Toppy needs space to hang himself!” said Farnol.
“None of you appreciate what I do around here”, said Toppy, at which everybody groaned “Well it is true, who else would want to wash your bloody underwear?”
“That’s the first time I’ve ever heard you swear, Toppy”, said Bardin.
“You lot are enough to make anyone swear!” said Toppy.
“Oh stop carrying on!” said Bardin “You’re not the only one to do filthy jobs around here. I’ve never seen you unblocking the lavatory for instance”.
“Well if it comes to that, I’ve never seen you do it either!” said Toppy “That seems to be Hillyard’s job”.
“Watch out”, said Rumble “The old dame next door’s giving us an eyeful”.
Bardin looked up as surreptitiously as he could (which wasn’t very), and saw a ghostly shade standing at one of the back bedroom windows of the house next door.
“Perhaps she wants a butler”, he said to Toppy “You could go and apply, then you wouldn’t have to put up with us anymore!”
“If I wasn’t here”, said Toppy “Things would go to rack and ruin!”
“Given half a chance!” said Rumble.
Toppy finished putting the washing out and then, feeling rather upset, lugged the empty laundry basket back down into the kitchen, where he found Bengo, alone, eating leftover cold fried potatoes by the stove. He jumped up guiltily and then let out a sigh of exasperation when he saw it was only Toppy.
“You made me jump”, he said, sitting back down again “I thought you were Bardy!”
“You shouldn’t let him make you nervous like that”, said Toppy.
“That’s easy for you to say!” said Bengo “He had a go at me late last night as we were going to bed, and another this morning as we were getting up, and I STILL don’t know what he was on about!”
“I don’t know how you put up with him”, said Toppy “I’ve often thought that a lifetime of being Bardin’s partner must warrant you a medal!”
Bengo was rather taken aback at this unaccustomed praise from such an old sparring-partner.
“Oh Bardy’s alright really”, he said, when he had recovered himself “He can be quite sweet sometimes”.
“Well I never see that side of him!” said Toppy.
“Are you alright?” said Bengo “You seem a bit more emotional than usual”.
Truth to tell it was all only just catching up with Toppy. For someone who praised order and routine in life as much as he did, the previous few weeks had been a sore trial, living rough, not knowing what was going to happen next, or where they were going. His nerves had jangled. And now that they were settled, in a good-sized house that he could play in to his heart’s content, it was all swamping him.
“Perhaps you need to rest more”, said Bengo “In spite of what you may think the house won’t fall apart if you have the odd lie-down”.
“I can’t”, said Toppy “Because when I do I keep thinking of everything that has to be done”.
“But it’ll get done!” said Bengo “Anything that’s important anyway”.
Bengo knew it was nigh-on hopeless to try and persuade Toppy that an awful lot of what he considered to be important really wasn’t, but he could at least try and persuade Bardin to ease up on the ribbing for a while. Again, this wouldn’t be easy, as Bardin considered Toppy to be almost the perfect straight man. During siesta time, after lunch, Bengo took off his clothes and lay down under the eiderdown in their shaded bedroom. Bardin had gone to have a bath, and Bengo waited impatiently for his return.
“At last!” said Bardin, coming into the room draped in towels “A bath with a decent amount of hot water!”
“That’s because you gave the stove a chance to re-heat it through lunch”, said Bengo “I thought even you might have worked that one out, Bardy!”
“Alright, since when did you get so bloody smart!” said Bardin “And what was all that you were telling me earlier, to go easy on Toppy? Why are you two suddenly such good friends?”
“We’re having a rapprochment”, said Bengo, who wasn’t at all certain he had got this right.
“A what?” said Bardin.
“It’s some fancy word Adam uses sometimes”, said Bengo “I think it means a brief truce”.
“And knowing you two it’ll be very brief!” said Bardin.
“Stop suggesting he goes and moves in next door”, said Bengo “He doesn’t like it”.
“Well he asks for it sometimes!” said Bardin “You know what he’s like!”
He sat down at the dressing-table, combed his hair, and then began to slap cold cream onto hands. Bengo watched all this with growing exasperation.
“Can you take a couple of days off tomorrow?” Bardin asked “I’d like to go for a walk up above the town”.
“And you want me to come with you?” said Bengo, excitedly.
“Why did you think I asked if you could take time off?” said Bardin “I want to se what the countryside up there looks like in daylight, when it’s not blanketed by fog”.
“Ooh!” said Bengo “Oh Bardy, hurry up! Or are you going to spend all afternoon titivating yourself?!”
The next day, late morning, Bengo and Bardin set off wearing rucksacks, and trudged up the narrow streets of the town to the top of the hill on which it was largely built. By the time they reached the outskirts of the town the sun was beating down fiercely, and they were pouring with sweat. At the very top of the hill, beyond the perimeter of the town, the countryside dropped down again fairly sharply. It encircled what seemed to be an enormous crater. Wooded hills surrounded a completely barren and deserted valley. The sight of it filled Bardin with misgivings, and he decided that they should eat their ham and pickle sandwiches with their backs to it. The view they faced, overlooking the town, was much more pleasant. The higgledy-piggledy rooftops crammed all down the hillside to the sea in the far distance, which was sparkling in the sunshine, and looking deceptively refreshing.
Bengo took off his t-shirt and wiped himself over with it, before getting a clean one out of his rucksack.
“Toppy thought a spare might come in handy on a day like this”, he said.
“You two are getting very lovey-dovey at the moment!” Bardin snapped.
“If you look in your pack”, said Bengo, patiently “You’ll find he’s put a spare shirt in for you as well, so stop getting jealous!”
“Is this all to prove to us how indispensable he is?” said Bardin.
“No I think he just enjoys doing it”, said Bengo, bustling around laying out small scraps of canvas for them to sit on, and then getting out the bottles of cider.
“These’ll be like drinking tea by now”, said Bengo “But never mind”.
They sat eating their lunch and looking out over the view for a very relaxing few minutes. Bengo was watching a woman laying out her washing on the roof-tiles surrounding her garret window, when Bardin gave a cry and snatched the binoculars out of his pack. He nudged Bengo and passed them to him, pointing in the direction of the sea.
“Somebody’s actually going in it!” he said.
Bengo saw a handful of people, six in number, three men and three women, all wading into the water on the narrow strip of shingle beach. All of them were fully-clothed still, even to the extent that they hadn’t taken their shoes off.
“The silly wotsits!” said Bengo “Why don’t they take their shoes and socks off at least?”
“Perhaps they’ve forgotten how to paddle!” Bardin joked.
They were clearly feeling encumbered by their excess clothing, but still they persisted in wading into the breakers. There was something almost grimly purposeful about it all. How grimly was soon to become apparent. The small group kept wading and wading … until the water had closed over their heads. They never resurfaced.
“It must be a trick of some kind!” Bardin protested “I can’t believe … WHY?!”
The clowns rushed home as fast as they could to impart this terrible news. Adam and Julian decided to head straight to the office of the Town Constable, who was annoyingly calm about the whole thing.
“You are new here”, he said to them, from behind his desk “You don’t understand our ways”.
“You mean this sort of thing has happened before?” said Adam “People just calmly drown themselves?! Bardin was saying that they seemed to move as though they’d been hypnotised!”
“He’s a creative person”, the Constable smiled, smugly “So I will make allowances for an over-active imagination. But those people weren’t hypnotised I can assure you, they were fully aware of what they were doing”.
“That hardly makes it better!” said Adam “Has this sort of thing happened a lot?”
“Occasionally”, said the Constable “Over the years”.
“But don’t you find it disturbing?” said Adam “Has no one launched an inquiry as to why it happens?”
“As I’ve said”, said the Constable “We are not like places in the outside world. We have to have our own ways of doing things here. Mr Adam, Nuit has limited natural resources to sustain its population, and our population keeps growing, we are a … er … fertile people you might say. But we simply haven’t the means to keep supporting an ever-growing number of people. The sea is out of bounds to us, the surrounding countryside is difficult to cultivate. Sometimes ’things’ have to be done, or the town risks major famine at some point in the future, and nobody wants that!”
“Are you telling me that what happened today is some form of natural selection?” said Adam.
“Have you never thought of practising birth-control?” said Julian, more calmly.
“We don’t supply such items here”, said the Constable, stiffly.
“But you condone mass suicide though!” said Adam, angrily, and he got up and left the room. Julian followed him more sedately.
“Thanks for waiting for me”, said Julian, when he finally caught up with him in the hallway of their house “You must have ran like the wind to get back here so quickly!”
“Sorry Jules”, said Adam “I didn’t notice getting back here at all, I must have travelled in a sort of white heat. I do not understand this town. When we came here I thought it might be another Toondor Lanpin”.
“And God knows that place had plenty of little peculiarities”, said Julian “Remember the Turd House for instance?”
“But at least what the people did made sense”, said Adam “It seemed normal, whereas this place … well words fail me!”
“They’re stupid”, said Lonts.
“Lo-Lo!” Adam gasped, (he didn’t want Lonts hearing too much about the drowning) “I didn’t see you there”.
“The people here are just like the ones in Kiskev”, said Lonts “Stupid”.
“I think that’s a little harsh, old love”, said Adam.
“Stupid”, said Lonts, persistently “Would you go and set fire to yourself just because some loony person said it was good for your soul, and you‘d be going to a better place?!”
“I think I might need a little more persuading than that!” said Adam.
“Exactly!” said Lonts “Stupid. Stupid there and stupid here”.
And with that emphatic comment he proceeded into the living-room, and began to pick out a jumble of chords on the piano.
“He never ceases to amaze me!” said Julian.
Joby forbad Kieran from leaving the house, knowing all too well that he either wanted to preach against the suicides in a public place (and Joby feared he might get stoned as a consequence), or go rooting out the local parish priest, whoever or wherever he may be. Kieran got round this restriction by asking Farnol to go up to the church, and wait around there until a priest, or someone who knew where he was, appeared, and then ask him to come down to the house. Needless to say Joby wasn’t too happy about this either, and took it out on a heap of dough in the kitchen.
“Joby, old love, I would like you to make the bread without breaking the table in the process!” said Adam “Wash your hands and go and sit outside for a moment, until you’ve calmed down”.
Joby grudgingly did as he was told, and went and sat on the stone steps running up to the back garden, wishing he smoked.
“You alright?” said Hillyard, coming over to him.
“Do I look alright?” Joby snapped.
Hillyard sat down beside him.
“Sorry mate”, said Joby.
“I know you’re not gonna think this a popular suggestion”, said Hillyard “But this place needs Kieran to turn it around. It’s got sunk in on itself, too long cut off from the rest of the world. And now it’s riddled with these daft superstitions, and downright callous customs. Someone of Kieran’s charisma could turn it round. The local priest clearly isn’t up to it, he’s probably the worst of the lot, knowing what I know about priests, but Kieran could do it”.
“But he’s sposed to be on retreat, resting!” Joby protested “Withdrawing from public life and all that”.
“He’ll still get plenty of rest”, said Hillyard “We’ll see to that. After all, priests only work Sundays don’t they?!”
The priest was a very old man, and infirm, walking heavily with a stick. But he still managed to come down and see Kieran. He was weather-beaten, grey-haired, and with what Julian described as “an impressive hooter”. He had a rich voice that must have awed his congregation when he was younger and fitter. But now he sounded tired, and he looked run-down, worn out with the task of trying to deal with the spiritual needs of 50,000 people all on his own. Kieran settled him on the sofa, and offered him brandy, which was gratefully accepted.
“I can’t understand how suicide can be regarded as a means of population control!” said Kieran.
“There is no other way”, said the priest, sipping at his brandy.
“Of course there is!” said Kieran.
“You surely cannot be advocating birth-control?” said the priest.
“I have no problem with birth-control”, said Kieran, causing the priest to look rigid with tension “There is nothing worse than being an unwanted child”.
“The children should not be punished for the sins of their parents”, said the priest.
“I’m with you entirely on that one!” said Kieran “But what is the sense of putting the needs of a human who hasn’t even been CONCEIVED yet, against the feelings of a living adult being? Those people today acted like lemmings. What would happen if the town suffered food shortages? Would we see the beach lined with masses of people all ploughing their way into the sea?”
“I have only 4 months to live”, said the priest, unexpectedly.
“I’m sorry”, Kieran sat down next to him on the sofa.
“I will do my job to the best of my ability right to the end”, said the priest “But it is beyond me now to change the deep-rooted beliefs of these people. I haven’t the energy, and I certainly haven’t the time”.
Things were moving at a fast pace. Kieran seemed to take on the burdens of the old priest as naturally as breathing. First though, he felt he had to atone for the guilt of the people who had killed themselves. Joby knew, from long experience, what that would mean. Kieran would thrash himself. The thought of Kieran beating the sins out of himself all by himself was too much. He reluctantly did it for him.
“I didn’t enjoy that at all!” he said to Julian, when he returned the cane to him in his room a short while later “I felt like some pervy old Victorian headmaster who can only get his kicks this way! You could play noughts-and-crosses on his bum at the moment!”
“Perhaps we should try!” said Adam.
“I didn’t see you in here”, said Joby.
“Charming!” said Adam.
“I spose you two have been having a good laugh about it!” said Joby.
“Oh stop being so snappy and sit down”, said Adam “Julian’s made some tea”.
Joby took a spare seat.
“Cheer up little gypo boy”, said Julian, handing him a cup “You may not have enjoyed it, but you can be sure Kieran did, in his own peculiar way! You’re going to have to do more of it from now on”.
“MORE?!” said Joby “I have him across my knee every day, and fat lot of bleedin’ good it does and all!”
“ADAM!” Lonts bellowed from across the landing “ADAM!”
“Lo-Lo’s woken up from his nap”, said Adam.
“WHERE’S SNOWY?” Lonts yelled.
“Toppy’s taken Snowy downstairs to be washed”, said Adam “I’d better go and tell him”.
“Blimey”, said Joby, when Adam had gone “Toppy’s running round in circles trying to prove himself at the moment ent he!”
“He has no need to”, said Julian “Bardin wouldn’t be allowed to banish him next door. Come along, stop looking so dejected. Kieran’s not that terrible is he?”
“No”, said Joby “I shudder to think what my life would have been like if I’d never met him”.
“Not quite so eventful that’s for sure!” said Julian.
“I’d have probably had a job I hated”, said Joby “And a wife I hated. Just like me Dad”.
“Good lord!” said Julian.
“Do you ever think what you’d have been like if things hadn’t turned out the way they did?” said Joby.
“Probably got increasingly viler as I got older”, said Julian “Or that’s what Adam would tell you anyway! All the things people put up with from me when I was young and handsome and rich, would have been intolerable as I got older and more debauched. That’s the way of it, pure and simple. I did a bit of shopping earlier, retail therapy as they used to call it. I’ll show you”.
Julian got out some boxes. One contained two very large and handsome silver-backed hairbrushes.
“One for in here”, said Julian “And one for the bathroom. You could use that one whenever you wanted”.
“It’d cover Kieran’s backside!” said Joby.
“All the better!” said Julian. Out of the second box he produced a small coil of rubber tubing.
“What’s that?” said Joby “A hosepipe for a midget?!”
“It’s for you”, said Julian “You’re getting quite a taste for having enemas. So I’ve brought you a little present”. “You’ve completely corrupted me you have”, said Joby.
“Oh just enjoy it”, said Julian “Take off all your clothes”.
“Good heavens, have you only just finished?” said Adam, when he saw Joby emerging from Julian’s room some time later.
Joby followed Adam into his room, which he shared with Lonts at the front of the house. It was considerably smaller than Julian’s, or Bardin’s, and was almost completely taken up with a brass bedstead. Adam pronounced it “very cosy” though. Lonts had gone downstairs to rescue Snowy, whom he found hanging up by his ears from the washing-line.
“I feel all over the place”, said Joby, sitting down on the bed.
“It’s quite natural to feel like that after a session with Julian!” said Adam, he looked down at Joby’s shirt which was buttoned the wrong way “You’re obviously so worked up you couldn’t dress yourself properly!”
“God I do love you, Ad!” Joby suddenly blurted out.
“Well this is a red-letter day”, said Adam.
“I think it all the time”, said Joby “I’m just no good at bloody saying it!”
They both fell back onto the bed.
“To just be able to be meself”, Joby continued “It’s so wonderful! I keep dreading Josh turning up again”.
“There’s no earthly reason why he should”, said Adam “We’re a very long way from the castle on the lake, and even if he did we simply won’t let him in. You owe him absolutely nothing. If he wants to come here then he can find his own accommodation, like Brock did”.
“I wonder how he’s getting on”, said Joby.
“Well we haven’t heard anything”, said Adam “So I’ll just take it as no news is good news”.
“ADAM!” Julian shouted from the landing “Come on, I said 4 o’clock sharp I wanted to see you”.
“I’m just talking to Joby”, said Adam, as Julian appeared in the doorway.
“He should be checking up on Kieran”, said Julian, sternly.
“That’s a point”, said Joby “I’d better unlock his cage door. He’s gonna be furious I’ve kept him waiting this long”.
“Tell him it’s all part of the ongoing punishment”, said Adam.
At bedtime Bengo locked Bardin out of the marital bedchamber. Bardin’s cactus tongue had been working furiously on overtime all day. The town, with its unfathomable ways, was a major annoyance to him, the other clowns (with their unfathomable ways) were a major annoyance to him, and he took it all out on Bengo. Bengo found himself rigid with tension, and he anticipated a long night ahead of Bardin’s clacking. So he bolted the door on him, and told him he was going to have to sleep on the sofa. Adam sent Bardin protesting vociferously down the stairs, whilst he attempted to reason with Bengo.
“I don’t want to have to put up with it tonight, Adam”, said Bengo, letting Adam into the room and then firmly bolting the door again “All that drowning stuff has really upset me, and I don’t want to listen to him on top of it all. He used to do this when we were kids, keep ear-bashing me. And then when I got upset he’d say ’you have to be tougher than that, this is a hard profession’. Well I’m not in show business anymore, so I’ll be as weak and sensitive as I like!”
“I don’t think you’re being particularly either at the moment, old love”, said Adam.
He took some bedding down to Bardin in the living-room, who raged that this would destroy all his credibility as Captain. Adam said he had brought that entirely on himself, and he had better not think about going back upstairs in the middle of the night and starting another row through the door , because that would upset just about EVERYBODY.
Bardin raged silently on the sofa for a couple of hours, and then hit upon the idea of going outside and climbing up the ivy at the back of the house, using the drainpipes for extra assistance. This he managed very deftly. During his clown career he had shinned expertly up stage curtains, and clambered agily over some very complicated backdrops, so the ivy was nothing to him.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Bengo squeaked, as Bardin clambered in through the open window at the back “Get out!”
“Like hell!” Bardin hissed “How dare you lock me out, you little scumbag? After everything I’ve done for you as well. I’ve looked after you since you were six!”
“Yes”, said Bengo “So I thought I owed myself a night off!”
“By God, I’ll give you a black eye if you’re not careful!” said Bardin, tearing off his clothes impatiently.
“You do, and I’ll give you one back!” said Bengo “No I’ll make it two black eyes and a fat lip! Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb! And stop making such a row! If we wake Julian up he’ll get cross”.
“And it’ll be your bloody fault if he does!” Bardin snarled.
“SHUT UP!” said Bengo “I’ve had enough, what with seeing those people walking into the sea today and never coming out again. That’ll stay with me forever, so just shut up!”
Finia’s comment the next day was that Bengo and Bardin, the two Sagittarian clowns, had been firing their little poisoned arrows at each other. To which Adam remarked that if they kept it up he would give them a swish of his scorpion’s tail! Joby, on the excuse that they needed to get some shopping, marched Bengo down to the sea-front later that morning, and made him take a good look at the sea.
“We don’t know how long we’re gonna be living here”, said Joby “And you can’t spend the rest of our time here being scared to look at the coast, that’d be ridiculous!”
“But I’m not as tough as you, Joby”, Bengo wailed.
“Bollocks!” said Joby “You’re as tough as old boots, you must be to sort Bardin out the way you do! Now we’ve got enough problems in this town as it is. I’ve got Kieran adopting himself as spiritual advisor to 50,000 complete nutters, I don’t need you going to pieces as well!”
When the got home Bengo was summoned up to see Julian, and was given a few whacks with the strap. This at least concentrated his mind somewhat. Afterwards he went into the bedroom, and found Bardin lying in bed, looking rather emotional.
“Did he get you as well?” said Bengo “With the strap?”
“I didn’t get the strap”, said Bardin.
“I did!” said Bengo, indignantly.
“He probably thought you’d enjoy a spanking too much, even a severe one!” Bardin snapped.
“Oh Bardy”, said Bengo, crawling onto the bed “Let’s be friends. I hate it when we fall out”.
“You … you bloody started it!” Bardin spluttered “Locking me out! Banishing me to the sofa! Can you hear that noise?”
“What is it?” said Bengo.
“Ransey and Hillyard are chopping back the ivy”, said Bardin “So I can’t climb up it again! Honestly, you don’t get your great hero Joby locking Kieran out, do you!”
“No, he locks him in instead!” said Bengo.
Bengo would have been amazed (and totally bewildered) to know that at that moment, down in the kitchen, Rumble was singing his praises.
“If it wasn’t for that little fella”, he said “Bardin would have been a complete monster”.
“Well I know Bardin can be a little difficult sometimes”, said Adam.
“You can say that again!” said Joby, who was vigorously whisking up the mixture for a pudding.
“But monster is putting it a little extreme isn’t it?” said Adam.
“A monster”, said Rumble, emphatically “You didn’t see him that time when Bengo ran off with you lot. If Bardin had stayed on his own, God there’s no knowing what would have happened to him. He’d have had no life but show business, he’d have probably made his home in his dressing-room, and he’d have given everybody a hard time who came into contact with him!”
“I don’t like to think of Bardin that way”, said Adam, who had an uneasy feeling that it was all true.
“Look what a control freak Bardin is”, Rumble went on “And think what he’d be like if Bengo wasn’t around to bring him down to earth, and give him a good kick in the pants occasionally!”
“But Bengo needs Bardin to give HIM a good kick in the pants occasionally”, said Kieran, who was lustily gnawing his way through an apple at one end of the kitchen table.
“What do you want me to do with this?” said Joby, when he had finished whisking the mixture.
“Well don’t use it as an enema!” said Adam.
“That was completely bitchy and uncalled for!” said Joby.
“Sorry old love”, said Adam “I couldn’t resist”.
“And I dunno what you two are laughing at”, said Joby, to Kieran and Rumble “Not considering some of your kinky habits!”
“Me?” said Rumble “I don’t get up to anything these days”.
“Being breast-fed by Mieps?” said Joby.
“Occasionally”, said Rumble, casually.
Bengo thumped down the kitchen stairs, looking a bit woebegone.
“Did Julian give you a hard time?” said Adam, sympathetically.
“Serves you right and all!” said Joby.
“Ooh!” said Bengo.
“Take no notice of Joby”, said Kieran, chucking his apple-core into the stove “He gets carried away on the old working-class tough love bit sometimes. I’ll give him a dose of his own medicine later. I can be a pretty stern spanker on the quiet!”
The bell at the front-door jangled.
“Go and see who that is, Joby”, said Adam.
“There must be somebody closer who can do it!” Joby protested.
Adam sent him away with a swish of the tea-towel.
Up in the hallway the dogs were barking furiously. Joby yelled for Lonts to come and take them into the dining-room out of the way. He then opened the front door to find Old Flashy-Pants from the house on the cliff standing there, with a basket laden with goodies in each hand.
“A little token of our esteem”, he said, holding them out “For coming out to attend to my father the other night”.
“Oh right, thanks”, said Joby “You’d better come in I spose”.
Joby put the baskets on the hall floor, and with an “in ‘ere” conducted him into the living-room, which going by the open glass doors swinging at the back seemed to have been evacuated rather suddenly. (Joby strongly suspected Mieps had run out into the garden, like a nervous cat, when she heard the visitor being admitted).
“Can I get you anything?” Joby asked “Cuppa tea?”
The young man looked pointedly at the drinks tray, and gave what many would regard as A Winning Smile. Joby poured out two healthy-sized brandies. He felt even more like a peasant than ever, next to this immaculately-turned-out charmer. Joby by contrast was very conscious of his pinny, his untidy hair, his rolled-up sleeves, and the thought that there must be smuts from the kitchen stove lurking somewhere highly visible on his person.
“I’m Fabulous by the way”, said the young man.
Joby looked completely taken aback by this extraordinary level of self-confidence.
“No no that’s my name”, said Fabulous.
“Everybody has weird names round here”, said Joby “It must be a bit of a curse going through life with a name like that”.
“No, rather more a blessing I would say”, said Fabulous “You have to live up to a name like that, or you would never survive!”
“I think some parents should be shot!” said Joby, then he remembered the recent death of the Governor and apologised awkwardly.
“My Father had been ill for a long time”, said Fabulous “We had had plenty of time to prepare for his demise”.
Joby recalled the sad-eyed twin, and felt that there was somebody who hadn’t been prepared for it at all, and whose grieving, at this rate, looked indefinite.
“I spose the funeral will be soon”, said Joby.
“Yes I’m rather hoping Kieran will organise it”, said Fabulous “Funerals are quite an event in this town, and particularly for a Governor. And Kieran will be taking over as priest very shortly”.
“I wouldn’t say that!” said Joby “Anyway Kieran’s not a priest, not a proper one, he’s … well he’s just Kieran”.
“But Joby”, said Fabulous, staring at him intently “He has to be priest, there is no one else you see. The old man, the present priest, has been trying to get somebody to take over for some time now, but no one’s interested, and it’s not as if we can get in somebody from outside, so you see … Well that’s it. Precisely in the same way that you won’t be able to get back to where you came from”.
Joby thought back to the journey to Nuit. Strangely it wasn’t the antics of the demons that put him off doing it in reverse, but the long journey itself. The living rough, the rationing of water, the feeling of being itchily grubby all the time, and the thought of seeing Josh, Crowley and Sade again at the castle on the lake. He poured them both another brandy.
“When did all this start?” he asked “When did this town become cut off?”
“In my Grandfather’s time”, said Fabulous “My Grandfather inherited the Governorship at a very young age. He was a unique child, a child genius in many ways. He had talents and abilities that awed people. He was able to do things which terrified them, and so in the end they went in fear of him. No one dared to contradict him, or even to do anything without his knowledge. I don’t know if you have noticed that the land in the hills above here is barren and in many places diseased. The townspeople believe that he did that”.
“How?” Joby barked.
“I don’t know”, he said “Some kind of mental ability on his part”.
“It sounds to me that the townspeople just put any old superstition on what was probably some kind of perfectly natural event!” Joby snapped.
Fabulous got up and walked around the room.
“Nice place you’ve got here”, he said.
“It suits us”, said Joby “Vast improvement on travelling rough. Your place is quite special ent it”.
“Parts of it are”, said Fabulous, cryptically “Parts of it are not very nice”.
“Well I can’t imagine it’s easy there at the moment”, said Joby “With your dad having just gone and all”.
“I for one am very relieved he’s gone”, said Fabulous “He was an utter shit!”
“Y-your brother seems quite upset about it all”, said Joby, feeling rather shaken by this somewhat candid revelation.
“My brother is a sensitive, delicate fool”, said Fabulous “My parents were remarkably prescient when they called him Soft!”
Joby decided to pour them both another drink, even though he felt this would probably be a sure-fire way to get even more embarrassing family revelations!
“You have a gorgon creature living here don’t you?” said Fabulous, rejoining Joby on the sofa.
“Tamaz is alright!” said Joby, defensively “He’s never used his power to do any harm, only good. In fact for years, even when we had him prisoner in the cage, he never used it, and that tells you summat!”
“You would be wise not to let him roam the town on his own”, said Fabulous.
“Tamaz never goes out on his own”, said Joby “He doesn’t want to for a start, unless it’s to do some shopping, and then one of us is always with him. He prefers being here. He doesn’t like being stared at by ignorant gits!”
“One of the things we have to put up with in this town”, said Fabulous “Aside from the demons, is a gorgon that comes here occasionally”.
“B-but”, said Joby “I thought Tamaz was the last one!”
“Who knows how many are still lurking in remote places?” said Fabulous “But she comes occasionally, sometimes at night, and sometimes when the weather is bad”.
“So that’s why everybody shoots indoors then?” said Joby.
“Exactly”, said Fabulous “You see, unlike Tamaz, this creature cannot turn her power on and off. She is a highly dangerous creature. We don’t know where exactly she appears from, but as I said it’s always after dark or during bad weather. You may have noticed, the night my Father died, when Kelic our manservant came to fetch you, he was wearing a big black hat. That was so that he could keep the brim down over his eyes … just in case”.
“And you left us to walk home!” said Joby.
“On the contrary I was hoping you’d stay at our house until the morning”, said Fabulous “But you all snuk out before we could stop you”. “Has anybody seen this creature?” said Joby “And survived I mean”.
“I saw her once”, said Fabulous.
“Really?!” Joby exclaimed, in astonishment “What, you actually looked into her face?”
“Good God, no!” said Fabulous “It was a couple of years ago. I had been to a party in the town, and I hadn’t realised how late it was getting. Kelic came to fetch me in our pony-and-trap. A heavy sea-mist was coming down, like the one the night my Father died. We were both pretty nervous, as you can imagine. Anyway, we turned down a street a couple of blocks from here, and I could see this woman sitting on a doorstep further down. Kelic saw her first and panicked, and said ’it’s that fucking gorgon’, or words to that effect! She was staring at the ground, or well I wouldn’t be here talking to you now! We turned the cart round and headed home at high speed. The poor little pony was in a real lather of a sweat by the time we got there”.
“What did she look like?” said Joby.
“The brief bit I saw was that the skin on her arms seemed to be a strange sort of scaly texture”, said Fabulous.
“Snakes heads as well?” Joby nervously asked.
“Yes”, said Fabulous, simply “Coming out of her head”.
There were voices from close by out in the garden, Ransey and Hillyard were obviously preparing to come indoors for lunch. This broke the rather strange spell that seemed to have built up in the living-room. Fabulous took his leave.
“We need an emergency summit-meeting NOW!” said Joby.
“Are you sure you’re in a fit state for it?” said Kieran.
“Shut up, Kieran!” said Joby.
All the doors and windows which opened out onto the street were henceforth to be locked and curtained at dusk. Adam bemoaned the necessity for this, as he had hoped to sit outside the front door on these increasingly tropical summer nights, like an old lady in the Mediterranean, he said. To which Julian retorted that he would just have to be an old woman in the walled back garden instead!
“That’s what you get with heavy drinking at lunchtime”, Adam remarked to Joby, when they were sitting out in deckchairs in the back garden early that evening (before it had gone dark) “It gives you a terrible headache and makes you grumpy”.
“Especially drinking that bath-tub rotgut they make round here!” said Hillyard.
“And since when did you lot all become so bleedin’ abstemious?!” said Joby.
“When your admirer comes to see you again you’ll have to offer him tea instead”, said Adam.
“My admirer?!” said Joby.
“He’s a jealous one he is”, said Hillyard, meaning Adam “You should know that by now”.
“I merely have a lifetime’s experience behind me”, said Adam “And I know when there is a spark between two people”.
“So I don’t get any thanks for finding out all that useful information”, said Joby “Information I might add which no other useless bastard in this town has seen fit to tell us! Instead all I get is a lot of rubbish about admirers! Look, I would know if somebody fancied me”.
“No you wouldn’t!” said Hillyard, causing Kieran to laugh “You’re completely dense where all that’s concerned! ’Nobody ever fancies me, I’m too ugly and spotty!’”
“Anyway we do appreciate the information you’ve discovered, old love”, said Adam “Ransey was saying to me only just now that it was invaluable”.
“Yeah, but he don’t tell ME that does he!” said Joby “He tells you instead!”
“Oh you know what he’s like”, said Adam “He doesn’t find it easy to vocalise his inner feelings”.
“Some round here find it TOO bloody easy!” said Joby.
Across the lawn, near the arbour, Bengo was getting fed up with an interminable conversation some of the other clowns were having, about who would win in a gorgonising shoot-out between Tamaz and the creature haunting the town. Bengo had pleaded with them to be careful about talking about this sort of thing near Lonts, but (as usual, he thought, long-sufferingly) nobody was listening to him. In exasperation he got up and went indoors to find Bardin. He located his old partner sitting halfway up the stairs to the first floor. Bardin looked pensive.
“We’ve had an invite to tea tomorrow”, he said “Next door. You and me. Her maid just brought it round”.
“And that’s upset you has it?” said Bengo.
“No”, said Bardin “I thought whilst she was here I’d ask her about the suicides. She’s just like all the others in this town, so bloody matter-of-fact about it. She said that last summer, one woman found some old cans of paraffin in her shed, took them down to the quayside, poured it all over herself and set herself alight!”
“Oh Bardy!” Bengo gasped “What a terrible way to die!”
“I mean I do know what it’s like to find living intolerable”, said Bardin “I had a taste of it … after you went, but to do it in a way like that! For God’s sake, what possesses them?!”
“Bardy”, Bengo squeezed his old friend’s hand “We can’t afford to think about it too much, we really can’t. I know you’re gonna call me a stupid clown, but it’s all beyond us”.
“No you’re not a stupid clown”, said Bardin, and then, just in case he had gone overboard with the praise, added the codicil “Well not all the time anyway. You’re right, we can’t afford to think about it”.
The night was disturbed by some terrible shrieking noises from out in the streets, some distance away. They couldn’t tell whether it was a person, a gull, a cat, an owl, or the Gorgon herself. But nobody exactly felt like looking out to check. Mercifully, the following day was bright and sunny, and Bengo and Bardin went next door for their tea session with Verily. Bengo had a soft spot for Verily. He felt she was simply a lonely old woman who was in desperate need of companionship, of stimulating adult conversation. Nevertheless he was quite shaken when she greeted them wearing a dazzling gold-threaded kaftan. As she sat there on the sofa, with it billowing out around her, it must be said, that she looked like a well-made-up corpse in a sumptuous shroud. She made a tremendous fuss of Bardin, flattering him outrageously, to which Bardin could only blush and look awkward.
“You poor boys have had such terrible lives”, she said.
“Well I wouldn’t say that …”, said Bardin, stiffly.
“But I would!” said Verily “You had no mothers!”
“We’ve got Adam”, said Bengo “And Bardy was like a mother to me when we were kids, well he was certainly like an old woman most of the time anyway, still is!”
“Thank you!” Bardin snapped.
“But you had no one to wipe your tears when you grazed a knee or bashed an elbow”, said Verily, sentimentally.
“We wore knee-pads and elbow-pads, so it didn’t matter”, said Bengo.
“We have a carnival in the town at the beginning of September”, said Verily, clearly seeing that this tactic wasn’t getting her very far “It is not to commemorate anything special, it is merely a little bit of fun to take our minds off the approaching dark evenings. Everybody dresses up in fancy costume, and you would be amazed how many like to dress up as clowns”.
“They’re easy costumes to improvise I guess”, said Bardin “An old suit will do, if you make it shabby enough”.
“Oh Bardy, what a shame we didn’t keep any of our old costumes!” said Bengo.
“I doubt you would fit into any of yours!” said Bardin, determined to get him back for the old woman jibe.
“We used to have a carnival like that when we were kids, in the Village of Stairs”, said Bengo “Ours was on the First of November, the Day of the Dead. All us clowns use to wear full motley and slap, and we’d have to do a little parade through the town. We were supposed to do this really choreographed march, you know, all moving in unison, but I couldn’t help jumping up and down, I used to get really excited about it”.
“You get really excited about most things!” said Bardin, indulgently.
“My husband used to like to be a clown during the carnival, when he was a very young man”, said Verily “He was an expert juggler”.
“Farnol was our best juggler”, said Bengo “He used to juggle dinner-plates sometimes”.
Verily showed them some more of her scrapbooks, this time some fairly harmless ones, detailing just more of the old amateur dramatics days. As the clowns were leaving though they spotted an open cupboard on the landing, which contained some villainous-looking canes, some the size of billiard cues.
“I hope she doesn’t decide to make a present of them to Julian!” said Bardin, when they got outside.
On their own doorstep somebody had left various articles of food and drink.
“Toppy!” Bardin yelled, doing indoors. He unearthed Toppy in the dining-room, who was laying the table for dinner “Toppy! There’s a load of groceries sitting on the doorstep, why haven’t you bought them in? What do we keep you for?”
“But we haven’t ordered anything!” Toppy protested.
The unexpected largesse seemed a bit of a mystery, until Ransey hit upon the idea that some of the townspeople had left the stuff as an offering to Kieran, in advance of the Governor’s funeral the next day.
“But this is a house, not a temple”, Adam protested “And Patsy is flesh and blood, not a plaster ikon!”
The eerie shrieking noise was heard that night as well, this time it was much louder. The dogs barked furiously at the front door, and Bengo inexplicably got it into his head that some of the others might go outside. He ran through the house in agitation, and it took some while to reassure him that nobody had any intention of doing any such thing.
The Governor’s funeral meanwhile seemed to have been hanging over everybody like an unwanted doctor’s appointment, so when the morning of it finally dawned it was greeted with some relief that it would all soon be over. Kieran was to change into his ceremonial robes in the back room at the church, and Hillyard was to help him.
“Quite like old times this”, said Hillyard “I miss being your valet, I don’t know why you don’t still let me do it”.
“It would seem a wee bit of an indulgence for me to have a valet just for being at home now wouldn’t it!” said Kieran.
“Are you nearly ready yet?” said Adam, coming into the room “Bardin’s getting a bit agitated, he thinks if you take much longer the audience might start getting restless!”
“Tell him to calm himself down”, said Kieran “After all, it’s not as if the star of the show is going to be going anywhere fast!”
“I do hope you aren’t going to crack jokes like that during your little number”, said Adam “Soft seems to be in enough of a state as it is!”
“How’s the other one?” said Hillyard “Old Flashy-Pants?”
“Beaming all over his little face”, said Adam.
He went back into the church, where “Flashy-Pants” was now buzzing around issuing out invites to the wake afterwards, as though it was the opening night of a major show.
“Is Kieran going to be much longer?” Julian complained, sitting in a front pew “I’m gasping for a smoke!”
“I’ve tried to hurry him along”, said Adam, sitting down next to him “But you know what he’s like sometimes. I do wish Fabulous would show a bit more discretion”.
“He’s only being honest”, said Julian “Think what you’d be like if this was YOUR father’s funeral!”
“I very much doubt I would have bothered turning up in the first place!” said Adam.
“Not even to make sure the old bastard was firmly nailed into his coffin?!” said Julian.
There was a ruffle of consternation in the congregation, due to the arrival of a young woman. She was elegantly dressed in a svelte black suit, and a matching hat with a plume of black feathers attached. She was attractive, and yet painfully thin, so much so that she uncomfortably reminded Adam of the time when Kieran’s anorexia had been at its worst. This pathetic image was “enhanced” even further by a bump in her stomach, the barest sign that she was in fact in the advanced stages of pregnancy. She made her to the front pew on the opposite side of the aisle and sat next to Fabulous, who now stared ahead with dogged determination, as though anxious not to acknowledge her presence.
“Must be his wife”, Julian muttered, when the covering noise of the organ had started up.
“But then you were wrong”, said Bengo, who had leant forward from the pew behind to talk to them “He can’t be after Joby then, not if he’s married to a woman”.
“Oh you poor sweet innocent child!” said Julian “Ada, you really must explain the facts of life to him sometime!”
“Bardy did that years ago”, said Bengo “And he got me so confused I’m amazed it didn’t put me off it for life!”
Bardin reappeared from the back of the church, where he had been threatening the other clowns to behave themselves, all the way voicing the gravest misgivings about having allowed them out in the first place. In the same context, Mieps had offered to stay at home and mind Tamaz, but Tamaz had protested loudly and tearfully that “the old bitch would tie me to a table-leg!” Tamaz now sat anxiously chewing the end of a silk scarf, and had to be remonstrated with by Joby, who told him he would leave it all soggy.
Kieran burst out of the vestry, and Bengo got so carried away at his entrance that he erupted into cheers and claps. Bardin punched him on the arm, and Bengo apologised vociferously, saying that he had forgotten where he was. Soft was to deliver the eulogy to his father, but broke down into uncontrollable tears halfway through, and had to be gently led away from the pulpit. Kieran filled up the rest of the time by reminding the townspeople, gathered here present, that as they had come to honour a man’s life, they must remember that life was the most precious thing of all, and not to be disposed of lightly.
“Well that told us good and proper!” said Julian, finally having a cigar in the graveyard afterwards.
“He wasn’t getting at us, Jules”, said Adam “It was the townspeople. He wants to stop these dreadful suicides”.
“What the hell can you do with a town full of fruitcakes like this!” said Julian “Nothing! Look, I’ll go and round up the old girl, you go and get some of the others, and we’ll go and find a nice tame bar somewhere”.
“I’m afraid we can’t”, said Adam, apologetically “We’ve been invited to the Wake”.
Julian looked appalled.
“It might be a way of getting further information about this rather strange place”, said Adam, which was the only possible consolation he could think of.
The Governor’s Wake was a strange mix of drunkenness and repression. People all over the place were getting staidly tipsy. Meanwhile, a pretty girl in a pillbox hat played a full-sized harp in the black-and-white hallway, and Soft, in a side room, tinkled out a mournful tune on an elegant white grand piano. Bengo felt utter ably miserable, and desperately wanted to go home. He wandered around at a loose end, and came upon the pregnant girl in black sitting slumped on one of the hall chairs, with a bottle of wine and a glass in her lap.
“Are you sure you should be drinking that much in your condition?” he said, sitting down next to her.
“It won’t harm the baby”, she replied, with desperate firmness.
“At least let me get you some food”, said Bengo “To mop it up a bit. I don’t know much about all this, but I have heard the phrase ‘eating for two’”.
“That’s an excuse some pregnant women use to stuff their faces as much as they choose and not worry about being fat!” said the girl, bitterly.
“I don’t think you have to worry in that department at all!” said Bengo “You’re as thin as Kieran”.
“Do people go on to him about his size?” the girl snapped.
“Sometimes”, said Bengo “Joby worries about it a lot. We’re always trying to think of ways to fatten Kieran up”.
This seemed to soften the girl somehow. She held out her hand awkwardly.
“My name’s Belle”, she said.
“Bengo”, said Bengo, shaking her hand.
“I like you”, said Belle “Although why you have to be yet another good-looking queer I don’t know, and a kind one too, I can tell that”.
“I hope so”, said Bengo “Although I expect Bardy could tell you differently sometimes!”
Belle glanced over at Bardin, who was engaged in an animated conversation with Rumble and Farnol.
“He looks Difficult”, she said.
“Oh he can be that alright!” said Bengo “He puts it on sometimes because he’s afraid of the world hurting him, but he can be very sweet really, and he’s very vulnerable deep down. I just want to protect him”.
Belle sighted Tamaz, and recoiled.
“Those eyes”, she said “Doesn’t it scare you, living with a Gorgon?”
“Strangely, no”, said Bengo “Tamaz has never frightened me. He can be a pain sometimes, and then we call him Lady Tamaz when he’s like that, but he’s not scary at all. This … er .. This Gorgon that comes into the town sometimes, now that I find scary, VERY scary!”
“Yes it is”, said Belle “That’s why I don’t really like leaving this house, even though I hate it here. At least I know she’s never been sighted up here”.
“Does anybody else know where she comes from?” said Bengo.
“Up in the Dead Land”, said Belle “Above the town. Many people have travelled up there and have never returned”.
“Perhaps they simply went away?” said Bengo.
“No”, Belle shook her head “Strange shapes have been seen there, near some of the caves. We think they are gorgonised shapes. People who saw her, and were instantly petrified”.
“My God!” said Bengo.
“I have heard”, Belle continued “That she compels you to look at her, by some kind of mental willpower”.
There was a rumble of thunder in the distance, and Belle gripped her wine-glass so intensely that it was a wonder the stem didn’t snap.
“You must go home now”, she said.
“But it’s only a bit of thunder”, said Bengo.
“You must go now”, she insisted “It will get darker, and then there will be lightning flashes. You must go!”
The thunder seemed to cause the party to break up anyway, and the Governor’s Wake fizzled out. Back at their house the Indigo-ites put up the shutters at the front. Bengo came upon Ransey doing the job in his (Bengo’s) and Bardin’s room.
“Could we survive a gorgon glare?” asked Bengo “Now that we’re sort of immortal, I guess”.
“Kieran’s not certain”, said Ransey “The Gorgon is such a terrible creature of destruction that it is hard to know for certain. Put it this way, we’re not taking any chances!”
“You survived a very close encounter with one”, Bengo pointed out.
“Those were dark days”, said Ransey.
“Yes I know”, said Bengo, impatiently, feeling a touch of go-away-little-boy-and-don’t-worry-your-head-about-it being directed at him “But did you feel, in any way, that she was compelling you to look at her?”
“There was a strong element of that”, said Ransey “But my instinct for self-preservation was strong, even in those days. My logical mind doesn’t always work in my favour, but it did on that occasion. I knew that even the merest glance from her wouldn’t give me the slightest hope of surviving”.
“But she must have had some spark of humanity in her”, said Bengo “After all, when Tamaz was born, he could have been killed with just on look from his mother, a gorgonised baby. But she didn’t do that”.
“Who knows?” said Ransey “Perhaps there might have been something there, but this is dangerous thinking, Bengo. If you start thinking like that, you might go after her, as I did. Many men did, poor, misguided, lonely fools, and few ever lived to tell the tale”.
“No I wouldn’t do that”, said Bengo, with a shudder “The thought’s just too appalling for words”.
“Well I can’t bear the thought of you as some lonely block of stone somewhere!” said Ransey.
Come early evening the storm had reached the town. Julian was practising golfing shots in his shuttered room, when Joby came in bearing a fresh decanter of port.
“Adam thought you needed some more”, he said.
“Pour yourself one too”, said Julian “I see you’ve put your posh clobber back on”.
“Kieran likes it”, said Joby, pouring out the port “He thinks it make me look strict or summat!”
“He’s quite a boy isn’t he!” said Julian “And you’ll have your work cut out keeping an eye on him in the very near future”.
“I can’t exactly saw I’m thrilled about him taking over as priest here”, said Joby.
“I wasn’t just thinking of that”, said Julian “But that damned creature that haunts this town now and again. I don’t know how commonly known it is around here that Kieran could face Freaky’s mother and survive, but if it got out here then the pressure on him to go up into the Dead Lands and track her down would be immense”.
“Over my dead body!” said Joby “Anyway, just ’cos he could face Tamaz’s mother there’s no guarantee he could face THIS Gorgon!”
“You know that, and I know that”, said Julian “But ow do you reason with a town that is as riddled with superstition as this one is?!”
Kieran was given breakfast in bed the next day, and another sound thrashing by Joby. When he did finally come downstairs he had to use a walking-stick to help himself get around. The hallway was ablaze with sunshine, the front door was propped open, and he found Adam turning over a small pile of unexciting-looking post on the hall-table.
“Some thing’s never change”, said Adam “We still get too much useless junk in the mail! Are you alright, old love? You seem to be somewhat seething”.
“Where’s that buggering old tyrant, Julian?” Kieran demanded to know.
“He’s gone out riding, I shouldn’t think he’ll be long now”, said Adam “Oh dear, has he upset you? Come into the dining-room and tell me all about it. Toppy’s finished clearing up in there”.
“He’s been putting terrible thoughts into Joby’s head”, said Kieran, as Adam poured them both a cup of coffee from the pot left on the dining-table “Telling him I could go off into the Dead Lands, like some kind of one-man vigilante mob, and track down Herself! Joby’s now threatening to do a Mieps and tie me to a table-leg, and I got a ferocious beating into the bargain!”
“Well I didn’t think you’d mind that!” said Adam.
“That’s not the point!” said Kieran “The point is that he’s upset Joby, and that I can’t have!”
There was the sound of horse’s hooves in the side passage. Kieran struggled to get out of his chair again, but Adam held him down.
“Now don’t be silly”, he said “You know you can’t pick a fight with Julian, you’re half his size for a start, he always wins. And you’re not exactly in fighting condition are you?”
“I focking am!” said Kieran.
“Nonsense, you can’t even get off the chair unaided!” said Adam “Now really, think of your poor butt for a change. It does deserve SOME consideration now and again!”
Julian yelled “Toppy! Boots!” and thumped into the living-room across the hallway.
“Will you listen to him!” said Kieran “He thinks he’s still at your poncey old school!”
“Yes I’m afraid so”, said Adam.
“Joby was grinding his teeth in the night, do you know that?” said Kieran.
“Oh we’ll sort Joby out, don’t you worry”, said Adam “Now please calm down. What on earth would one of your new customers think, if they popped round for a bit of gentle Confession, and found a homicidal midget yelling the place down!”
Adam sent Kieran out to sit in a deckchair in the back garden, and went himself down to the kitchen, where he bumped into Hal, who was standing in his sweaty vest at the bottom.
“You gave me quite a turn, old love”, said Adam “I wasn’t expecting you to be standing there”.
“Brought you some flowers in from the garden”, said Hal, gruffly, holding out a bunch.
“T-that’s very thoughtful”, said Adam, taking them “Could you go and tell Bardin I will be making coffee very shortly?”
He breathed a sigh of relief when hal went back outside. Bengo emerged from the pantry, wher ehe had been patting butter into shape.
“Ooh!” he exclaimed, when he found out the identity of the bearer of the flowers “It seems Hal’s got a bit of a crush on you!”
“I wish I could be as thrilled about it as you clearly are!” said Adam.
“It’s because you’re quite feminine”, said Bengo “He’s not used to it, it’s blown him away a bit”.
“Well then why doesn’t he give them to Mieps?” said Adam.
“Just ’cos she’s got tits doesn’t make her feminine!” said Bengo “Bardy’ll be dead pleased, it’ll take some of Hal’s attentions from him”.
“Thank you!” said Adam “But I’m not here solely to take on Bardin’s rejected admirers!”
Joby gave Kieran a bath after lunch, another hiding, and then sent him to bed. Adam felt very sorry for poor Kieran, and took him up a glass of sherry.
“Verily sent it round”, he said “I think it’s been sitting in her cellar for quite a while, so I expect it’s good stuff”.
“Where’s Joby?” said Kieran, as Adam helped him to sit up.
“I ordered him to scrub the table”, said Adam “I said it was quite befitting for an old scrubber like him! Really, he’s getting worse than Julian for being smack-happy”.
“I get the impression he’s a wee bit worried about me”, said Kieran, ruefully “I’m not going to take off into the Dead Lands on me own, so there’s no need for him to be. Anyway, I’m not complaining. This is the second chance I’ve had to be alone with you today”.
“Yes we don’t make enough time for this do we?” said Adam “And I’m not having to restrain you this time. Fortunately, you’re a lot easier to restrain than Lo-Lo!” “He’s a big lad and no mistake”, said Kieran.
“Yes, and he seems even bigger when he’s in a rage!” said Adam “Patsy, you will promise me that you won’t go off on a whim without telling me?”
Kieran drained his glass and slammed it down impatiently.
“Why does everybody seem to think that all I’m going to do is worry the bejaysus out of them!” said Kieran.
“I just wanted to make sure”, said Adam.
Kieran struggled to get out of bed. He looked a pitiful sight, his thin, naked body bruised and battered. Adam helped him into his purple robe.
“And perhaps you should ease up a bit”, he said “I mean, we all have our little pleasures …”
“Exactly!” said Kieran “I don’t go around telling everyone else when they’ve had enough do I!”
“Yes, but you need to know your level, as the old druggies used to say”, said Adam “You don’t see me limping around with a stick do you, or needing help to get dressed”.
“I know”, Kieran sighed “But Joby’s looking after me so well, and it’s exactly what I need. And after all, it was you who got me started off on this caper!”
“You are an impossible boy”, said Adam, kissing the top of Kieran’s head “I’ll help you get dressed. Then we’ll go downstairs and watch Joby working. He’ll like that!”
They only got as far as the hallway though, because Kelic had turned up with a grim message from Soft, who was clearly now flexing his somewhat feeble muscles as joint-Governor of Nuit.
“On what grounds?” Adam demanded to know, when he had read the missive “We are leasing this house from the Town Council”.
“Who are ruled by the Governor, or in this case, Governors”, said Kelic.
“Then I shall go and see him”, said Adam, briskly untying his pinny “Right now, and you shall take me”.
Kieran made a noise of agreement.
“No, you are staying here”, said Adam, firmly, and then addressed most of the others who had crammed into the hallway, alerted that Something Was Up “And that applies to the rest of you as well”.
“I insist upon coming”, said Bardin.
“Oh very well”, said Adam “But no one else. We’ll have a better chance of trying to get some sense out of him if we don’t all turn up mob-handed”.
“Why on earth has he started chucking his weight around?” said Adam, once he and Bardin were loaded on the cart and heading up to the Governor’s House “He seems such a meek little thing, afraid of his own shadow”.
“That sort are the worst when they’re suddenly given a bit of the spotlight”, said Bardin “They’re not used to it you see, nobody normally notices them, so it goes right to their heads”.
It was only with much insistence that they got into see Soft, who was perched back at the white piano. If it wasn’t for a change of clothes it would have seemed as though he had been glued there since the Wake. Bardin had been right in his brisk summary of the type of man Soft was. He was clearly a little man (not only in size, but in intellect and emotional stature as well) who was determined he was going to try and appear big, hard and uncompromising.
“You hare a household of deviants”, he said.
“We are a loving household”, Bardin protested.
“You exchange slaps and whippings in place of kisses and caresses”, said Soft.
“No we don’t!” said Bardin.
“Whatever you have heard is clearly wrong”, said Adam.
“I am determined to root out deviancy in this town”, said Soft “There has been too much of it in the past. I want to encourage loving relationships between men and women”.
“Well we’re not stopping you!” said Adam.
“I don’t want to let my imagination dwell upon the things you do”, Soft continued, remorselessly “Suffice it to say that it is wrong, utterly wrong”.
“You haven’t heard the last of this”, said Adam “Not by a long way. Come along, Bardin”.
When he and Bardin returned outside they were surprised to see Kelic still waiting for them, as they had been fully expecting to have to walk home.
“Hop on”, he said, simply.
By this simple gesture he was quietly showing that he didn’t agree with the joint-Governor’s eviction notice.
“It must be all my fault”, said Kieran.
“I knew you’d do this!” said Joby “I knew somehow you’d take all the guilt on yerself! Go on then, how is it your fault?”
“Word must have got round about my habits”, said Kieran, who was sitting on the inside ledge of their bedroom window.
“Kieran”, said Joby “You’re not exactly the only one in this house who has kinky habits! And from everything I’ve seen and heard since we’ve been here, we’re no the only ones in this town! Look at her next door!”
“Well that’s the trouble isn’t it?” said Kieran “That’s clearly what’s grieving him”.
“He’s got some bloody big hang-ups, that’s for sure!” said Joby “Anyway, I’m gonna go up there and talk to old Flashy-Pants. The others thought it’d be a good idea. Now don’t look like that, Kiel. This ent no time to go getting jealous”.
“You admit there is something there then?” said Kieran, apprehensively.
“On his side perhaps”, said Joby “Not on mine. Can I trust you to behave yourself whilst I’m out?”
Just to be on the safe side Joby removed all belts, paddles and hairbrushes from the room before he left, just in case Kieran got it into his head to have a go at punishing himself.
Up at the Governor’s House Fabulous greeted him straightaway, and then prowled with a swagger into a room on the ground floor that was clearly his own private den. Unlike the minimalist elegance of what they had seen of the rest of the house, this room was cluttered, mainly with overstuffed chairs and sofas, and an assortment of books, games, bottles of intoxicating liqueur, and morbid pictures of naked women looking distressed. It was like the room of an eccentric old Victorian bachelor who had got mentally stuck at the age of 14. This was reinforced even further when Fabulous took out a box of snuff and began to shovel some of it up his nose.
“Never seen a young bloke take snuff before”, said Joby.
“You’re not partial I take it?” said Fabulous “Prefer brandy?”
“Why I’m here”, he said, sitting down on one of the fat chairs “Is we’ve had an eviction notice from your brother. Dunno is you know anything about that?”
“Haven’t heard, no”, said Fabulous “We may rule jointly now, but we only send messages to each other through the servants”.
“Seems a strange way to carry on”, said Joby, blithely forgetting his less-than-idyllic relationship with his own brother.
“Soft has some fixation about cleaning up the town’s morals”, said Fabulus “I would just disregard it if I were you”.
“Well that’s easy for you to say innit!” said Joby “You’re not the one who’s been given a bloody eviction notice!”
“He won’t get anywhere with that”, said Fabulous “All edicts have to be jointly signed by us both. If I don’t sign you don’t get evicted, simple as that. Soft is nervous of Kieran. He doesn’t want him to be priest here”.
“Finally we’re agreed on summat then”, said Joby “’Cos neither do I!”
“Soft wants a priest like the old one”, said Fabulous “Someone who will just do his job and not rock any boats. He regards Kieran as a potential trouble-maker”.
“He wouldn’t be the first one to think that!” Joby gave a gruff laugh “Not by a long way! I don’t want Kieran to be a priest either. The whole point of this trip was that we were sposed to be here on retreat, so he could get rest and peace and quiet. It ent exactly turned out that way so far!”
“We have a house, up in the hills above the town”, said Fabulous “It’s an old hunting-box my ancestors used to use, back in the days when there was anything up there worth hunting. It hasn’t been lived in for many years, but it’s commodious, and it might make a peaceful retreat house”.
“Yeah, complete with Gorgon in the garden!” said Joby “Look sorry mate, I didn’t mean to sound ungrateful, it’s generous of you, but you’ve gotta admit, that area ent exactly appealing now is it!”
“Not since my Grandfather ruined it, no”, said Fabulous, bitterly “It’s a strange legend, the Gorgon, isn’t it? The idea that a woman can destroy you completely with just one glance. You see similar stuff all through Nature. There is a breed of spider apparently where the female cannibalises the head of the male whilst he’s making love to her”.
“Nice”, Joby glanced warily around at the pictures of naked distressed women “You don’t wanna become too obsessed with these old legends you know”.
“But the spider one isn’t a legend, it’s a fact of Nature”, said Fabulous “There is another insect where the male copulates with the female in flight, and as soon as he comes inside her he plummets to his death, leaving his cock stuck in her”.
“Makes you glad we weren’t born insects really don’t it!” said Joby.
“And the really macabre thing is”, said Fabulous “That the males of that species actively seek out the female, even though knowing full well that she will be his doom”.
“Ent that always the way!” said Joby.
“Not for you it’s not”, said Fabulous.
“I ent exactly had a normal life”, said Joby “And Kieran’s no ordinary partner”.
“If you were alone”, said Fabulous “With no partner at all. Would you seek out a creature like the Gorgon?”
“Who knows?” said Joby “When men get desperate they can be capable of anything. I sometimes think we’re far more victims of Nature than women are. They seem to be able to rise above whatever Nature puts upon ’em easier than we can”.
Joby recalled Belle, Fabulous’s pregnant but clearly anorexic wife, and added hastily “Of course, that ent always the way. Many of ‘em have serious problems too. Look, time’s getting on, I’d better be ambling”.
“Yes, one mustn’t take chances around here”, said Fabulous.
It was now the height of summer. The days were mercifully long and vivid with sunshine. Sometimes, during the hot mellow period after lunch, Bengo and Farnol would go and sit in the window of the attic room, looking out over the nearby streets, and gossiping lazily about all and sundry. Today they were sharing a bowl of popcorn and discussing the old hunting-lodge Fabulous had mentioned.
“You know if it wasn’t for that blasted creature I’d like to go up there and have a look at it”, said Farnol.
“I agree, she’s a pain that thing”, said Bengo, as though the Gorgon was simply some bossy big sister, who existed solely to put the mockers on everybody else’s enjoyment.
“I bet it’s a fascinating place”, said Farnol.
“The only problem is, she probably lives in it!” said Bengo.
Bardin could be heard yelling for him on the floor below.
“Shall I go and shout down to him that you’re up here?” said Farnol.
“He knows exactly where I am”, said Bengo “He’s just letting his gob off as usual!”
Bardin could be heard coming up the stairs and across the landing.
“Hello Bardin”, said Farnol, heartily “Would you like some popcorn?”
“If I eat that I won’t want my dinner”, said Bardin, piously.
“Dinner’s hours away!” said Farnol.
“Well Bardy has to watch his weight you see”, said Bengo, sarcastically, eyeing up Bardin’s whip-thin body “After all, he’s piling it on a bit isn’t he!”
“Very funny!” Bardin snapped, pulling up a chair and then perching on it cross-legged.
“We were talking about the hunting-lodge”, said Bengo “Saying how it would be quite nice to go and see it”.
“Are you two even more dim-witted than I originally thought?” said Bardin “Do I need to remind you what is up there?”
“Of course we know, man!” said Farnol “But it fascinates us all the same”.
“Remember what Belle said?” said Bardin “The Gorgon COMPELS people to look at her, and that’s exactly what is happening here. You will be compelled to go up into the Dead Lands”.
“That’s complete cobblers, Bardy”, said Bengo “The thought of going anywhere near that creature scares the complete crap out of me. I’m a coward”.
“So am I”, said Farnol, proudly.
“I’m very glad to hear it!” said Bardin “Anyway, I expect the hunting-lodge is falling down by now. No one’s been near it in decades. In fact, for all we know, SHE might be living in it!”
“Cripes”, said Bengo, scooping up a handful of popcorn.
There was a timid knock on the door, and Mutton Broth sidled in, sheepishly as usual.
“The landscaper’s arrived”, he said.
“The what?” Bardin exclaimed.
“Oh … um …”, Farnol coughed, apologetically “Rumble saw an advert for a landscape gardener in a shop window, and he thought he’d hire him, to sorta sort out our back garden”.
“Fuck, Joby’ll be furious!” said Bengo “Why did he do it?”
“He was trying to help”, said Farnol, in embarrassment.
Joby had been in bed with Kieran when he heard the commotion outside.
“That’s it, that’s the last straw!” said Joby, frantically gathering up his clothes “Bloody Bardin, I’ll kill him! He’s done this!”
“Joby!” Kieran shouted “JOBY! Sit down! I’ll go and deal with it”.
“You?” said Joby, dubiously.
“Yes, me”, said Kieran “You’re liable to do yourself an injury the way you’re carrying on!”
“I’ve put the kettle on, Joby”, said Bengo, walking nervously across the pantry “And set out the tea-cups. Oh poor you, you’ve been crying”.
“No I haven’t!” Joby roared “What’s going on out there now?”
“Nothing much as far as I can see”, said Bengo “Kieran’s showing the landscaper round the garden, and doing a lot of exclaiming. I’ve never seen Kieran talking about gardening before, it’s quite fascinating. Oh please don’t worry, I’m sure they won’t do anything without checking with you first”.
“Here, got a treat for you”, said Hillyard, ambling into the room “I thought to meself, what’ll cheer up old Jobe, so I went out and bought a shortbread man”.
Joby gave a grunt, which presumably was meant to pass for ‘thanks’.
“I’ll go and put it on a plate for you, Joby”, said Bengo, taking away the paper bag containing the shortbread man.
“Now ent it a bit daft getting yourself all worked up like this?” said Hillyard, soothingly, as though talking to a fractious horse.
“It ent fair, Hillyard!” said Joby “I’ve been longing to work on that garden, but I never have the time!”
“Make time”, said Hillyard “Look at me, I work hard, but I always take time out for other things”.
“You don’t have Adam on your back morning, noon and night!” Joby protested “All you get is Julian coming out shouting every now and again, and then he gets bored and goes back indoors again. But Adam, he’s relentless he is, relentless!”
“I’ll have a word with him for you”, said Hillyard “He just requires special handling that one, it’s always the same with these thoroughbreds”.
There was the tap of Kieran’s walking-stick on the kitchen steps, and then he came into the pantry.
“How’s it going?” said Hillyard.
“Well I’ve managed to tone him down on the old water-features”, said Kieran “He wanted to dot them all over the garden, it makes a soothing, tranquil noise apparently. I said that many water feature’s will just make everybody think we’ve got problems with our overflow. I don’t know about soothing tranquil noise, what he had in mind would be more like a raging torrent! I suggested perhaps just a nice bird-bath”.
“I hope he isn’t gonna dig up the lawn”, said Joby “And I don’t want flamin’ potted evergreens all over the place, or clipping hedges into stupid shapes”.
“It’s all in order”, said Kieran “I think you’ll like what I’ve come up with”.
“I dunno how Rumble’s gonna have the nerve to show his face around here after all this”, said Joby.
“He was trying to help”, said Kieran “He knew the garden was getting you down a bit, and he knew if he mentioned it to you you’d have a fit”.
“And you did!” said Hillyard.
“Joby, are you having yet another mood?” said Adam, standing in the doorway.
“Now listen, Ad”, said Hillyard, taking Adam by the elbow and steering him back into the kitchen, followed by Kieran and Joby “You’re going to have to let Jobe have a bit of time in the garden, it’s only fair”.
“Damn fairness!” said Adam “I need my assistant. Not only is he a first-rate cook, as long as it’s not anything too exotic, he also is very good at keeping Bengo up to scratch”.
“Well I’ll try a bit harder”, said Bengo, pathetically.
“And you ent exactly backwards in coming forwards when it comes to laying on a firm hand!” said Hillyard to Adam “You’ve even been known to do it to Julian now and again!”
“I don’t know why you’re all carrying on like this about the garden”, said Tamaz, who was loitering near the bottom of the steps “The doorway in the scullery is much more important”.
“Oh you and that blasted doorway, Freaky!” said Adam “Anyone would think it was the portals of doom the way you carry on!”
“It is”, said Hillyard “And we’re on the doom side!”
Kieran suddenly gave a screech.
“Kieran?” said Joby.
“Patsy?” said Adam.
“We’re alright!” he exclaimed, not making any sense to anyone at all “Jayz, I’m such an eejit!”
Lonts had heard the commotion from above, and came down the steps.
“Kieran, I think you should go and have a lie down”, said Joby “You sound like you’re having a brainstorm”. “We’re immortal!” said Kieran “Don’t you see what that means?”
“Of course we do, old love”, said Adam “And we’re all very grateful …”
“The Gorgon can only kill MORTALS”, said Kieran “That’s been the point of the legend ever since it first began. It is when any MORTAL looks upon her face he shall be turned to stone”.
“Well you didn’t seem terribly assured about this particular Gorgon”, Adam pointed out.
“Because I didn’t want to take any chances with you lot”, said Kieran “But you’re immortal now so it doesn’t matter”.
“Does that mean that you’ve always been immortal, Kieran?” said Lonts “Because you’ve always been able to look at a gorgon”.
“Not always”, said Kieran “I’m not sure that I could the first time round in Marlsblad, all those years ago”.
“It seems you’ve been very vague about everything!” said Tamaz.
“You know what this means don’t you?” said Hillyard “Joby, go up to the Governor’s House and tell Flashy-Pants we’ll take the hunting-lodge”.
A rare smile crossed Joby’s face.
“Why does Joby have to go?” said Kieran.
“Oh for fuck’s sake, Kieran!” said Joby “I’m not gonna be paying him the rent in kind!”
Hillyard took Joby up to the cliff-top house in their own horse-and-cart. He then waited outside whilst Joby was admitted once more into Fabulous’s inner sanctum.
“You’re very welcome to it”, said Fabulous “Although I can’t guarantee what state it’s going to be in. Can I ask though what’s changed your mind?”
“Kieran’s remembered summat important”, said Joby, dryly “It seems we can face the Gorgon after all. Don’t mean I still won’t be a nervous wreck is she appears though!”
“But it might mean you could track her down and destroy her?” said Fabulous.
“Summat like that”, said Joby.
“It would lift an enormous burden from this town if you could”, said Fabulous “And I do think it’s best if Kieran retreated for a while. Soft is becoming even more impossible about his moral reforms. I’ll try to put on a restraining hand as much as I can”.
“We’ve seen it all before”, said Joby “Time and again, from Father Gabriel onwards. He’s not the first one who’s tried to imply Kieran’s some kind of arch-pervert. Crazy really, ‘cos all Kieran wants is to have his bum smacked!”
“Is that all?” said Fabulous.
“Yeah”, Joby guffawed “Not exactly eating babies is it! Sorry mate, that was in bad taste. I forgot your missus was pregnant”.
“It’s o.k”, said Fabulous “I shall miss our little chats like this”.
“Oh we’ll still be coming into town a lot”, said Joby “After all, no one’s gonna want to deliver to us are they!”
“No, and I won’t be able to call in on you”, said Fabulous “Which will be a shame. I’d like to see what you’re going to do to the old house. But that really is a terrible area. I hope Kieran is right, and you’ll be safe”.
“I spect so”, said Joby.
“Why does Kieran like being slapped?” asked Fabulous.
“He’s had a heck of a lot of responsibilities in his life”, said Joby “Not just when he was President, but always. People wanting him to do this and that, everybody always wanting a slice of him, so I guess he likes somebody else to take charge for a change. To have somebody else draw the line in the sand, it makes sense really”.
Joby suddenly grabbed one of Fabulous’s hands. The nails were bitten down to the quick, making his fingers look like that of a 13-year-old girl.
“You wanna try and kick that habit if you can”, said Joby.
Fabulous suddenly lunged across the fat sofa at him and kissed him. Joby eventually managed to gently push him off.
“You didn’t resist me, not really”, said Fabulous.
“Come on now”, said Joby, getting up and walking around the room “We’ve both got big responsibilities, you know that. Fuck, your wife’s gonna have a baby at any moment! Now whatever problems you two have got, it’s not he baby’s fault is it! The poor little bugger didn’t ask to be born! You’ve gotta get your head sorted out for the kid’s sake”.
“Does Kieran kiss you like that?” said Fabulous.
“Nobody kisses like Kieran”, said Joby “He’s summat else entirely. Well you did ask!”
“I can’t imagine he’s got a lot of passion”, said Fabulous “Those spiritual type don’t”.
“He’s got plenty!” said Joby “More ’en he knows what to do with sometimes!”
“I need a friend, Joby”, said Fabulous “Someone who understands me, and you do. We can work this out. We have plenty of time. I’ll sort the keys out for the house, and send them down to you in the next couple of days”.
“Something happened, I’m sure of it”, Hillyard whispered, in Adam’s room “He came out of that house in a right grot. Really bit my head off just ’cos I was having a chat with the gardener’s assistant!”
“Yes well I expect he thought you were up to your old tricks again”, Adam smiled.
“Nothing to what he’s been up to I expect!” said Hillyard “He had guilt written all over him. You’re going to have to talk to him”.
“Why didn’t you?” said Adam “If you’re so certain you know what’s happened!”
“Hang about, I can hear him coming out of the bathroom”, said Hillyard “I’ll call him in”.
Joby was ushered briskly into the room, and then Hillyard departed again.
“What’s he been telling you?” said Joby.
“What happened up there, Joby?” said Adam “Come on, out with it. You know I’ll find out eventually, I always do”.
“Fabs tried to kiss me”, said Joby.
“TRIED to kiss you?” said Adam, dubiously.
“Yeah well alright, he succeeded!” said Joby, sitting in the window “I really don’t need it, Ad. Life’s complicated enough at the moment, without all this as well”.
“These things don’t happen neatly to order, Joby”, Adam sighed “You should know that by now. Some people to out hungrily looking for attention, and don’t get a sniff of it from one year’s end to the next. And others, already with complications as you put it, have even more poured into their laps. What I have learnt is it’s no good trying to run from these things. For a long time I resisted having a full relationship with Lo-Lo, and I also resisted caring for Julian the second time round, because of what had happened during the first. But really one can’t. One has to be honest with oneself”.
“So what are you saying?” Joby exclaimed.
“I’m saying enjoy it”, said Adam “But keep Fabulous firmly in his place, you can’t afford for it to get serious. Treat it as one of life’s interesting little diversions”.
“I’m obviously not as sophisticated as you”, Joby growled.
“Oh hang it, it’s got nothing to do with sophistication!” said Adam “It’s more being philosophical and pragmatic. I strongly suspect Fabulous sees you as some pillar of commonsense he can lean on”.
“He couldn’t be more wrong then if he tried!” said Joby.
“For all his poise and swagger he seems to be a young man whose life has been quite devoid of love”, said Adam “Perhaps he’s never had someone to talk frankly with about his needs before. He’s latched onto you for the duration and you’ll just have to accept it”.
“But what about Kieran?” said Joby “He’s terrified of being abandoned, it’s his worst fear”.
“But you’re not going to do that”, said Adam.
“Never in a million years”, said Joby “I couldn’t live without Kieran, it’s as simple as that”.
“So what’s the problem?” said Adam.
“Convincing Kieran of that!” said Joby “Hey, where’s Bardin been, all togged up like that?”
He had noticed Bardin outside returning to the house, in his best clothes.
“Verily invited him round for tea”, said Adam.
“What? Just him?” said Joby.
“Bengo, something awful’s happened”, said Bardin, standing in front of Bengo in their bedroom, like a penitent on trial.
“What’s happened?” said Bengo, in a husky voice, who was sitting down and looking up at him, nervously.
“Verily’s made a pass at me”, said Bardin.
“Is that all?” Bengo squawked, impatiently “I thought with all this melodrama something terrible had happened, AGAIN!”
“Aren’t you even a bit concerned?” Bardin snapped.
“No”, said Bengo “Not unless you’ve added fancying old ladies to your list of weirdnesses!”
“Well thank you very much!” said Bardin, pulling off his jacket, cravat and fob-watch, and tossing them onto the dressing-table.
“Hey, be careful!” said Bengo, rushing to rescue these articles “You’ve constantly lectured me about the absolute importance of looking after costumes and props, and then you go chucking things about like this! Now are you gonna tell me exactly what happened?”
“I’m not sure I want to if you’re going to laugh about it”, said Bardin, sulkily.
“BARDIN!” Bengo shouted, in exasperation “I’m your partner, I have a right to know”.
“Shame you didn’t think about that before you insisted I went round there!” said Bardin “Giving me all that bleeding heart, oh-she’s-so-lonely stuff. She’s a fucking maniac! If she was a man she’d be called a beast! She had me pinned down on the sofa, I could hardly breathe, it was like something out of a nightmare!”
“Oh Bardy I’m sorry”, said Bengo, contritely “Why couldn’t she have picked on Julian? He’d have given her what-for!”
“That’s probably why!” said Bardin “She wanted a victim, one who couldn’t struggle too much! That’s probably why there’s that bolted door in the cellar, to keep her out! Perhaps whoever lived here before had trouble with her!”
“She would have been a lot younger and fitter then as well”, said Bengo “I’ll go round and have words with her”.
“No you won’t”, said Bardin “Just leave it alone. We’ll be away from here soon anyway, so it won’t matter”.
An agonised cry went up from the bathroom along the landing.
“Now what?” Bardin tore open the bedroom door and thundered along to it, followed by Bengo. Toppy was in the bathroom, doing some heavy-duty cleaning work, whilst still managing to wear a spotless apron. The mysterious ability Toppy had to do hard graft and yet remain completely unsullied in any way had always aggravated the clowns. He was standing there, holding up a thick skein of matted hair which he had dredged out of the plug-hole in the sink.
“Is that it?” said Bardin “Is that what you were shrieking about?”
“It’s awful, disgusting!” Toppy complained.
Bengo laughed so much he had to sit down on the loo and throw his apron over his head.
“Bengo!” said Bardin With everything else that’s going on in this town, you get worked up about a bit of hair down the plug-hole, you are completely insane! Bengo, go and wait out on the landing!”
Bengo dragged himself, laughing helplessly, out onto the landing. Through the open doorway nearest the bathroom he saw a naked Joby lying on his front, and being given a massage by Hillyard. Bengo was admiring the sight of Joby’s smooth, white, firm little buttocks when Hillyard gently ushered him back out of the room and shut the door on him.
Kieran went seeking Hillyard out a short while later. He found him alone in the room he shared with Julian and Mieps, standing at the window and aimlessly kicking at the skirting-board with his foot.
“It’s unusual to come in here and not find old Julian about”, said Kieran.
“He’s out in the garden if you want him”, said Hillyard.
“No I wanted to speak to you”, said Kieran, sitting down and rotting through Julian’s cigar-box “The canny old bugger’s hidden all his best ones I see”.
“He’s getting obsessed with how many he’s got left”, said Hillyard “Even though I’ve done a stock-stake for him and he’s got loads, particularly if he cuts down a bit”.
“You’re good to him”, said Kieran, lighting up a stub.
“Oh old Julian’s alright”, said Hillyard “If you play fair and square with him, he’ll play fair and square back. It’s people who play daft games who get him wild”.
“Like Joby you mean”, said Kieran.
“What’s he been saying to you?” said Hillyard.
“Only that whilst you were massaging him, you seemed to be trying to wring his neck!” said Kieran.
“He exaggerates, as usual”, said Hillyard “Anyway, don’t you feel like doing at the moment?”
“I don’t feel too bad about it all at the moment”, said Kieran “Fabs is hardly the first one to get a crush on Joby!”
“No”, said Hillyard, dryly “I seem to have had one for centuries! At least he’s handling this one better than he handled me all those years ago!”
“Oh he’s still got himself into a bit of tizzy”, said Kieran “I think he’s quite angry about it all. He’s said some nice things to me just now. How, all he wanted on this trip, and forever more, was to look after me”.
“That’s true”, said Hillyard “He really does feel that”.
“But unfortunately”, said Kieran “And this is me talking now, we can’t always pick and choose who we get attracted to”.
“Has he admitted that he’s attracted to him then?” said Hillyard.
“Ach come on!” said Kieran “When would Joby ever admit that! I had a go at him just now. Said he was a typical focking man. Afraid of his own feelings, and never admitting them to anybody! And then he started getting all English and emotional, and saying how none of it was fair, and he hadn’t asked for any of this”.
“But how do YOU feel?” said Hillyard.
“I’m having to be the practical one”, said Kieran “I take the view that when get up to the old hunting-lodge Fabs won’t be able to drop in on us, and I don’t expect Adam’ll be letting Joby out on day release to come into town too often. Sometimes with these things, no contact is usually the best way … until, that is, Fabs moves in with us”.
“But he can’t!” said Hillyard “There’s the Gorgon, and he’s got responsibilities, a baby on the way”.
“That’s not always a factor now is it?” said Kieran, pointedly referring to Hillyard’s two children by Glynis, whom he hadn’t seen in years.
“Do you think I’m an arsehole, ‘cos of all that?” said Hillyard, sombrely.
“Hillyard, I could never think you were an arsehole!” said Kieran “I’m merely saying that sometimes these things happen”.
“Do you think my kids feel about me the way you felt about your father?” said Hillyard.
“I have some confidence that Glynis wouldn’t allow that to happen”, said Kieran “And this is a different situation. They all knew the set-up with us, and, more importantly, you’ve never hated them, or blamed them for getting in the way. Now, if you want to talk about arseholes, my Father was a prime example!”
“I don’t like to think I’ve ever caused that kind of grief”, said Hillyard “Perhaps I’ve always hid from the truth, I don’t know, I guess we all do to some extent. But I always said to myself, well Glynis always wanted children, and I gave ‘em to her. To be honest, she never struck me as wanting a man around full-time. And if we’d stayed together we might have ended up resenting each other, and that’a a horrible thought”.
“It is indeed”, said Kieran “Remember this, they’ve all got immortality too. I made sure of that. And eternity’s a very long time. We’ll all meet up in another part of the forest sometime”.
“All this song-and-dance over Fabulous kissing Joby”, snapped Bardin, at his end of the dining-table “I get molested by an old witch, and no one’s giving a thought to that are they!”
“Oh Bardy, you sound like such a brat at the moment!” said Bengo “You’re overwrought, I shall have to send you straight to bed after supper”.
“Good”, said Rumble “Give the rest of us some peace and quiet at last!”
Bardin had been so agitated whilst eating that he had been inadvertently flicking soup everywhere, much to Bengo’s protestations.
“Wasn’t there some old sketch once?” said Rumble Where we had to do one of a bloke in a restaurant who couldn’t find his mouth. Who used to play him?”
“Well it can’t have been Bardy”, said Bengo “He’d have no trouble finding his!”
Bardin’s agitation continued into the night. At one point he woke Bengo up, convinced there was a big spider in the room. Bengo had to put on all the lights, and then go round the room pulling out furniture, to convince him there was nothing there.
“It’s her, from next door, I know it is”, Bardin whimpered.
“She’s turned herself into a big spider?” said Bengo, with as much patience as he could muster “Bardy, it was only a bad dream. They’re not very nice I know, but that’s all it was. Perhaps you dreamt about a big spider, as a sort of symbol of Verily, you know, predatory female and all that”.
Bardin felt quite reassured by this explanation.
“Sometimes you talk a lot of sense”, he said.
“I have my moments”, said Bengo “But I think you’ve been under a lot of strain, Bardy. I think you perhaps need to go and see a doctor”.
Bardin violently resisted this idea, but when he appeared at breakfast looking hollow-eyed with fatigue and strain, Adam said he would march him there himself, and got quite frighteningly stern when Bardin protested. Bardin was afraid of Adam when he got domineering, and had to reluctantly submit.
“What’ll he do to me?” said Bardin, when he and Adam found themselves sitting alone in the doctor’s waiting-room.
“I shall just tell him you’re suffering from stress and lack of sleep”, said Adam “I suspect he’ll prescribe you some kind of nerve tonic, something to pep you up a bit”.
“You won’t tell him about the old bag?” said Bardin “I don’t want anybody on the Outside knowing about that”.
“There’s no reason to tell him any of that”, said Adam.
“That damn spider was so real”, said Bardin “It was the size of a stool, and I could hear it’s legs moving across the carpet”.
“It sounds like a classic bad dream to me”, said Adam “There must be some Freudian significance to it. You think of Verily as being like some great poisonous spider waiting to trap people in her web”.
“It doesn’t help thinking that she could be only on the other side of the wall to us”, said Bardin.
“Then you’ll change bedrooms when we get back”, said Adam “Move you away from the party wall. If you swap with Ransey and Finia next to us, I can’t imagine they will object to having a much larger room, you’ll be as far away from it as you can get, without actually being out in the side passage, and I will be able to keep an eye on you better there”.
After the assignation with the doctor, Adam and Bardin went to a pavement café in a neighbouring back street for a cup of coffee. It was peaceful here, so much so that they could hear a clock chiming in a nearby house. On each table was a leaflet advertising the imminent September Festival, bearing a colourful picture of an impossibly cheery-looking clown.
“I thought we might stay on for this”, said Adam, reading the leaflet “It sounds quite fun. Why don’t you and the other clowns take part?”
“Trouble is, I don’t feel in the mood for jumping around cutting capers in the street at the moment”, said Bardin “Bengo will want to do it though. He’ll probably get ridiculously excited about the whole thing!”
In fact Bengo began practising old dance movements all over the house. Hal caustically remarked that he was clearly missing show business, which got Bengo cross.
“I like doing one-offs like this”, he said “But I’m not going back to being forced to perform twice a day!”
The change of bedroom had a positive effect on Bardin. He slept better, and as a consequence, seemed more mellow. Early one morning he came back from the bathroom to find Bengo singing and dancing an old song he used to perform when he was very little.
“I always thought you were quite sweet when you did that one”, said Bardin, unexpectedly. “Nauseating more like!” said Bengo “I’m surprised we didn’t have to hand out sick-bags to the audience!”
“No, you were good”, said Bardin.
Bengo was quite overcome by this unexpected largesse of praise.
“Bardy’s being quite nice to me at the moment”, he said to Joby down in the kitchen.
“Don’t worry, it won’t last”, said Joby “What are you gonnna do at this Festival then? Not another custard-pie fight I hope!”
“Not if I’ve got anything to do with it!” said Bengo “No, I thought just a bit of really light-hearted gambolling in the street. Some jumping around, a spot of juggling, and cutting capers, that sort of thing. All good clean family entertainment. No Cabaret humour, none of Farnol’s filthy jokes or obscene glove-puppets. Just a little of ’here I am again!’ that kind of thing. God knows, this town needs it!”
Bengo was completely taken up with the idea of bringing light-relief to Nuit. Also, since moving into Ransey’s old room, he hadn’t had to worry about Bardin so much, and discreet questioning of Ransey had confirmed that no big spiders, phantom or otherwise, had appeared to torment him and Finia. All was not entirely soft-focus contentment in Bengo’s world though. One thing that did concern him was the eventual fate of the Gorgon, when they finally encountered her.
“Will she have to be killed, Bardy?” he asked his partner, as they lay in bed listening to the dawn-chorus one morning “Have her head chopped off, like Tamaz’s mother?”
“Yes”, said Bardin, simply “She’s too dangerous to live”.
“Well couldn’t we just lock her up somewhere?” said Bengo.
“Don’t you think a living death would be crueller in the long run?” said Bardin.
“I suppose so”, said Bengo “But Tamaz can control his power, so perhaps she just needs to learn to control hers”.
“Look, stop brooding on all this”, said Bardin “You know you can’t cope with it, you never can cope with anything that’s only got a negative outcome”.
“Who can?!” said Bengo.
“Yes, but it does your head in”, said Bardin.
“Does MY head in?” Bengo exclaimed “I’m not the one who had to go to the doctors for a nerve tonic! Oh I’m sorry, Bardy, that was completely uncalled-for”.
“Yes it was!” said Bardin “Try and get some time off later this morning. We’ll go out to the shops and try and get some ideas for our costumes”.
When Bengo had mobilised himself though, Bardin took him out to the back street café where he had gone with Adam.
“It’s quiet here, and such a sun-trap”, said Bardin, after he had given their order to the waiter “Don’t expect much though, the coffee’s foul. It’s some kind of old coffee essence from a tin. God knows how old it is!”
“It’s quite a problem for them isn’t it?” said Bengo “Worrying about things running out and not getting replaced”.
“Well it wouldn’t be if they’d hung onto their telegraph office, like the one we had in Toondor Lanpin!” said Bardin “They could have had stuff air-lifted in then”.
“Oh, like Glynis used to do for us sometimes when we were at the Bay?” said Bengo. He then dropped his voice to a whisper “Perhaps one of the previous governors put the mockers on it”.
“Mm, I think Joby needs a few more cosy chats with Fabulous”, said Bardin.
“He won’t like that suggestion!” said Bengo, who clearly didn’t think much of it himself.
“Maybe not”, said Bardin “But Fabulous is usually falling over himself to give Joby information, so he’ll just have to put up with it! I wonder if there’s anywhere in town we could get a squirty flower for the Festival?”
“A squirty flower?” said Bengo ”You want a gag as old as that?! You’ll be suggesting the old wet fish down the trousers next!”
“I think in this town it’d be easier to get the squirty flower!” said Bardin.
The waiter came back with their tinned coffee, just as Fabulous hove into view round the street corner. Bengo watched him approach with dismay. The waiter meanwhile went into a sort of tail-spin at this unexpected visitation. One of the joint-governors was calling in at his café!
“What are you doing here?” Bengo asked Fabulous, somewhat bluntly, annoyed that Fabulous should be allowed to roam around the town on his own, willy-nilly.
“I needed a watch fixing”, said Fabulous “So I’ve taken it to the jewellers round here”.
“Can’t you get somebody to do that for you?” said Bengo, sounding quite cross.
“I see, I’m not allowed out now I’m Governor”, said Fabulous “Is that it?”
“JOINT-Governor”, said Bengo.
Bardin was giving Bengo strange looks, at first uncertain what was driving this hostility. Then he surmised that Bengo was jealous of Fabulous’s intimate meetings with Joby.
“We’ve got to be off in a minute”, said Bardin “We’re picking out our costumes for the September Festival”.
To Bengo’s extreme annoyance Fabulous wanted to come with them, saying it would be a “lark”. Bengo made a caustic remark that surely he must have a lot of work to do, now that he was JOINT-Governor. Fabulous wisely turned a deaf ear to this remark.
“Seems a strange way to carry on when you’re JOINT-Governor”, said Bengo.
“Will you put a sock in it!” Bardin hissed at him.
Fortunately Bengo forgot Fabulous’s presence when they got into the fancy-dress-and-party-outfitter’s shop. Bengo was enraptured by all the gorgeous, outrageous costumes on display, and his enthusiasm was infectious. The shop was busy with people all seemingly doing the same thing. It was clear that the September Festival was one of, not THE, social highlight of the year.
“Oh now this is it, Bardy, this should be our theme”, said Bengo, as he and his partner tried on spangly waistcoats and satin trousers.
“Big, floppy cravats to go with it”, said Bardin “With enormous, exaggerated bows”.
“And proper clowns shoes”, said Bengo, spying out a rack of them at the back of the shop “Oh if only we could dress like this all the time”.
“I don’t think you’d find it very practical in the kitchen!” said Bardin.
They were so wrapped up in choosing the costumes and paying for them, that they were back out in the street before they realised they had left Fabulous in the shop, and had to go back in for him. Fabulous then announced he wanted to take them out for lunch, and he had a private dining-club he could take them to.
“What’s a private dining-club?” said Bardin.
“Not open to the public”, said Fabulous “You have to be recommended by a friend, or pay a large subscription”.
“Why not just go to a restaurant?” said a vexed Bengo.
Fabulous once again turned a deaf ear. He led them back to the quiet street where they had had coffee, and then down a narrow stone tunnel and into a small square, bordered on all sides by tall, forbidding-looking houses, which seemed to be conspiring together to block out the sky. The private dining-club was in a basement, reached by a steep set of area steps. Fabulous rang an old-fashioned brass bell-pull, and they were ushered in. They passed the dining-area on their way to the bar. The dining-area was windowless, and lit by dingy low-wattage bulbs. People sat around talking in hushed, low voices. It was a cheerless, grimly purposeful establishment, not helped by a feeling that I looked none too clean, and in dire need of redecorating.
“What’s so special about this place then?” said Bengo, when they had fallen into squashy black sofa’s in the bar, which had one small frosted window high up in the wall above them, at street-level.
“The food”, said Fabulous “You can get meals here you can’t get anywhere else in town”.
“Such as?” said Bardin, warily, a myriad of gruesome images crossing his mind.
“Delicacies”, said Fabulous “Wild animals caught up in the hills to the west of here, not the Dead Lands needless to say, and seafood”.
“SEAFOOD?!” Bengo exclaimed “B-but I didn’t think you could get that ANYWHERE around here!”
“Hang on, hang on”, said Bardin “I thought the sea was strictly out of bounds, the demons and all that”.
“We have some young men in the town, Desperadoes if you like”, said Fabulous “Who will risk everything to bring us these rarities”.
“Why?” said Bengo “Why risk life and limb just so that people can shovel seafood down their gullets?!”
“As you must have discovered by now”, said Fabulous “Life in this town is treated as a wild gamble”.
“People certainly seem to be a bit cavalier with it!” said Bardin.
“But if they go to all that trouble why don’t they just sell it to the ordinary restaurants?” said Bengo.
“Go to all that trouble, as you put it, just for any old customer?” said Fabulous “Someone whose palette may be completely undiscerning, who may not appreciate the fineness being offered to them? I think not”.
Bengo struggled to think of an adequate response to this.
“According to Ransey”, said Bardin, instead “The Ministry used to have shops like this in the City, that were only open to the elite, or those in the know. Things were always well-stocked there, even if they were scarce elsewhere”.
“B-but”, said Bengo “Those suicides that happen are because everyone’s worried there won’t be enough to go round, and yet people ARE prepared to go and get this extra stuff!”
Bardin had a feeling that he should make some kind of a grand-stand at this point, a fit of moral umbrage, and walk out. But his intensely pragmatic theatrical training argued that if Fabulous wanted to be a snooty jerk, they might as well get a decent meal out of him in the meantime.
Oysters and crab salad were served up to them. Fabulous had never had oysters before in his entire life, and the clowns took pleasure in showing him how to eat them.
“They might be a rich man’s delicacy in many parts of the world”, said Bardin “But where we come from they’re as common as muck, they were sold on street corners”.
“I had my very first beer whilst eating oysters”, said Bengo.
The crab was clearly also causing problems for some of the other diners. One man even tried eating it with the shell on. Bengo showed them how to crack the pincers with the special instruments provided.
“Must have made you feel good to get one over on Flashy-Pants like that”, said Joby, when Bengo told him all about it when he got home.
“Some consolation I suppose”, said Bengo “He’s so smarmy and sophisticated, not a hair out of place. He makes me feel like a really cloddish, stupid, clumsy clown by comparison”.
“Just remember he bites his nails!” said Joby.
“I think Bardin has made far too much of that incident”, said Ransey, when he, Julian and Adam were in the living-room after supper.
“Why should you complain?” said Julian “You’ve got the biggest bedroom in the house out of it!”
“I am not mercenary-minded”, said Ransey.
“Of course you are !” said Julian “You’re a bloody accountant!”
“Bardin is a very sensitive little boy”, Adam began.
“There you go”, said Ransey “Talking about him as though he’s a child! How on earth do you think that that helps?”
“I don’t know”, said Adam “But it’s either that or we all go around being all boorish, thick-skinned and male! And I don’t want you two to start wittering on about how he’s not manly enough to be Captain!”
“I wouldn’t do that”, said Ransey “I think he does a good job. He manages to keep the other bloody clowns in order most of the time, and anyone who can do that is worthy of respect! And he doesn’t have to resort to corporal punishment every five minutes, unlike some I could mention!”
“Oh get you!” said Julian.
“Oh damn it you two!” Adam suddenly erupted “Some of us round here have to be sensitive and gentle …”
“Yes, and then you get Hal having a crush on you”, Julian sniggered.
“Shut up, just shut up!” said Adam, and as he tore out of the room yelled “Bloody men!”
“We weren’t that bad were we?” said Ransey, in bewilderment.
“I’ll go and see to him”, said Julian.
“What’s all this about?” said Julian, when he went into Adam’s room and found him lying all emotional on the bed “You’re carrying on like a great big girl. Anymore of this and I’ll have to put you over my knee!”
“I told you to shut up!” said Adam.
“Yes, you always do”, said Julian “And I rarely listen! I know what’s the matter with you”.
“If you say ’not enough sex’ I will really thump you!” said Adam.
“No it’s this damn town”, said Julian “It’s one damn thing after another, nothing’s ever straightforward. You’ll find it easier when we get up to the hunting-lodge”.
“Maybe”, said Adam “Although it hardly sounds like Midnight Castle you know”.
“We can explore the countryside in peace”, said Julian “We’ve got locked into this town. But there’s the whole forest to the west, and the coastline to explore. And I’ve had an idea about the sea. When I was in Italy once I saw some kind of sea-blessing ceremony, some old fishermen’s ritual I think, all very Catholic and built round the Virgin Mary. Kieran probably knows something about it”.
“I don’t know if they did that sort of thing in Ireland”, said Adam “It sounds very Italian”.
“It doesn’t matter a damn what they did in Ireland!” said Julian, impatiently “What I mean is that Kieran’s hocus-pocus seems to work on demons, it’s even been know to have an effect on Angel at times”.
“It’s been quite successful against him”, said Adam.
“Exactly!” said Julian “We’ll get him down there to do his magic show, and that might help to clear the waters a bit. As usual, we should have thought of it before, but better late than never”.
“What I don’t understand”, said Adam “Is that they supplied seafood at Flashy’s private dining-club. Now I know it’s all down to the Desperadoes, but even so, I thought the demons were supposed to have poisoned the water, made the fish inedible. I do hope the clowns don’t go down with food poisoning. I know we can’t die now, but it would still be quite nasty for them whilst it lasted”.
“Adam, you are the giddy limit!” said Julian “What today’s little lunchtime outing proved is that there is largely nothing wrong with the fish around here. I know we saw the odd deformed one when we were out at sea, but clearly the mass of it is fine. Likewise there is plenty of meat in the forest. Somebody around here has got this whole town so riddled with superstition and daft ideas that they’ve got the entire place running to their liking, and that includes keeping the goodies for themselves and their own kind. Well we’re going to smash that. And we’ve got plenty of time to do it in”.
At first Kieran rebelled against doing a sea-blessing on the grounds that it all sounded too pagan, at which Joby had a fit and exclaimed “pagan?!! Well you as a bleedin’ Catholic should know all about that! Bells, smells, and worshipping a plaster goddess!” Kieran decided not to speak to Joby for the whole afternoon, to which Julian retorted that his must be nothing short of a miracle, Kieran staying silent for so long.
What swung Kieran round was the clowns’ enthusiasm. The whole thing, particularly when they heard that flowers were to be chucked onto the water, appealed to their theatricality. Bengo sound it would all be “quite magical”. Then the old priest announced that he would be lending his whole-hearted support, as he desperately wanted to see some kind of change in the town before his time was up, and They could no longer get at him, as he had nothing to lose.
The sea-blessing was very moving, carried out in a tinny sunshine. A lot of the townspeople who had gathered to watch it were bemused and uncertain, but nobody protested. Afterwards though, Joby was summoned up to see Fabulous, who met him discreetly in the flower garden at the back of the Governor’s House.
“I take it Softy’s heard about it?” said Joby “And chucked his rattle out of the pram?!”
“I know you want to stay for the September Festival”, said Fabulous “But I would strongly urge you not to stay much beyond that. I fear for your safety”.
“Well what about yours then?” said Joby “I think you’re in more danger than me. You’re what’s standing in the way of Soft having absolute power”.
“He has a lot of my grandfather in him”, said Fabulous “Perhaps I should have seen the signs, but up until now Soft has always been such a wimp”.
“Tell me more about your grandfather”, said Joby, as they both sat on the edge of a small fountain “What motivated him?”
“He hated beauty”, said Fabulous “In any form whatsoever. Not just people, but plants, flowers, noises, everything”.
“He sounds insane”, said Joby.
“Yes he was”, said Fabulous “I have no idea why he became that way, I suspect in-breeding. But suffice it to say he caused a lot of damage. The Dead Lands were once a stunning area, so I’ve heard. And now, well you shall see for yourselves soon”.
“Does he have any connection with the Gorgon?” said Joby “After all, the original legend of her was that she was a beautiful woman, who was cursed by one of the gods to be so ugly that nobody could look at her without turning to stone”.
“And also I’ve heard she had lovely, golden hair which was turned into snakes’ heads”, said Fabulous “I honestly don’t know. My Grandfather did many appalling things. He carried out experiments on plants, animals … and people. The sole purpose was to make them as grotesque as possible”.
“Somebody should have killed him”, said Joby, bluntly.
“They did, in the end”, said Fabulous “He was smothered with a pillow in his sleep. We never knew for certain who had done it, but we expect it was one of his body servants. They were the only ones who had access to him in his private rooms. But no one was charged. No one had the stomach or the inclination to go apportioning blame”.
“That’s summat anyway!” said Joby.
“He was also a stern moralist”, said Fabulous “Although I strongly suspect that was just an excuse to carry out his experiments in the form of ‘punishments’. Soft has inherited all that. Do you want to hear one of the worst parts of the whole sorry saga?”
“I’m not sure!” said Joby.
“My own Grandmother was one of his victims”, said Fabulous “My Grandfather suspected her of having an affair with one of the servants. He had no proof, and I believe it was all in his mind, but he said he would do what they used to do with the nuns long ago who transgressed. He bricked her up alive”.
“In that house?” said Joby, glancing at that beautiful yet terrible place.
“Nobody got her out I take it?” said Joby.
“Her bones are still in there somewhere”, said Fabulous “Nobody knows where. I have tried looking, but so many parts of that house are truly terrible, that we’ve had them sealed off”.
“You say he hated beauty”, said Joby “And yet this garden is beautiful, the bits of the house we’ve seen are beautiful …”
“One of the few things my parents got right was to change as much of this house as they could, once he had died”, said Fabulous “Apparently this garden was full of poisoned trees twisted into grotesque shapes, and he had the flower-beds dug up, and scattered with the bones of people and animals, bones bleached white by the sun”.
“Bloody hellfire!” said Joby.
A frantic giggling broke out from behind the hedge where they were sitting.
“Take no notice”, said Fabulous “It sounds like my cousins”.
“More of your nutty family?” said Joby, understandably sounding quite jaundiced by this time.
The giggling came combined with a manic sort of tut-tutting kissy-type noise, like a pair of excitable kangaroos. Joby went through a black iron gate in the hedge, and found the two red-haired twins sitting on a bench there. The twins that had caused them so much trouble when they first came to Nuit. Only now they looked appalling. Like Belle they had suffered dramatic weight loss over a short period of time, and looked almost skeletal in the face. They were clearly also deranged, constantly giggling and tutting, and fluttering their tiny hands about like babies.
“What’s happened to ‘em?” said Joby.
“They are like this most of the time now”, said Fabulous “Once in a blue moon they have periods of normality, but they are getting increasingly rare”.
Joby couldn’t take anymore of this impossible household. He pushed past Fabulous, and ran out of the garden. Fabulous tried to pursued him, but Joby yelled at him to stay back. Joby practically ran back down to the town. He turned in at the bar where Bengo and Bardin had been served by the Joby-clone. As seemed to be the norm, there were no other customers in the place, and Joby took his solitary seat at the bar, and ordered a cold beer. When he came he drank it down and greedily ordered another. All the while he was watched with inscrutable detachment by his doppelganger behind the bar.
“What’s that noise out the back?” Joby asked, eventually, referring to a hammering and tearing noise coming from the back room.
“My brother’s working on his hobby”, said the barman “He’s a taxidermist”.
“Well he would be wouldn’t he!” Joby felt like he was going to laugh hysterically at any moment “What’s he stuff? Humans?!”
“Birds, mostly”, said the barman.
“His name’s not Norman Bates is it?” Joby exclaimed “Oh forget it!”
“I’m gonna end up as bonkers as they all are if I stay here any longer!” said Joby, when he was finally in the sanctuary of his own room “I’ve never known such an insane place!”
“Ach I’m sure you have”, said Kieran “You’ve been to Killarney! Anyway, drink this up, Adam’s made you some beef-tea”.
“Beef-tea?” said Joby “Blimey, now I’m a character in a Victorian novel! I tell you, I’m never going up there again to that madhouse”.
“I understand that”, said Kieran “But don’t close off your line of communication with Fabs, you’re getting some valuable information out of him”.
“Yeah”, said Joby “And most of it I wish hadn’t heard!”
Bardin was trying to distract Bengo by getting their costumes assembled in their room, but Bengo was slumped in a chair, absently stroking one of the dogs.
“Oh c’mon!” said Bardin “One minute you’re jumping around like a two-year-old where this Festival’s concerned, the next you’re a grumpy old man! I thought that was my role!”
“I don’t give a damn about this Festival anymore”, said Bengo.
“Well that’s not a very professional attitude is it!” said Bardin.
“I’m not a professional anymore”, said Bengo “I’ve retired!”
Bardin looked so utterly dejected and disappointed, that Bengo was quite overcome, and he rushed to comfort him.
“Oh Bardy, I’m so sorry”, he said “I hadn’t realised you were quietly looking forward to it”.
“You never do stop to ask me do you!” said Bardin.
“Ooh”, said Bengo, wretchedly.
Finia called in on them on his way to the bathroom.
“Is that what you’re gonna wear?” he said, looking at the clothes laid out on the bed “Why don’t you go in drag, Bardin?”
“What?” Bardin exclaimed “OUTSIDE?!”
“Oh yes, Bardy, you’d like that”, said Bengo “I expect a lot of blokes will be dressing up in women’s clothes, so it won’t matter”.
“And you’ll look better than most”, said Finia “You’re so slender, and you won’t even have to wear a wig”.
“Oh do it, Bardy”, Bengo cajoled “It’ll give us something look back on, when we’re stuck all winter up in the Dead Lands”.
When the day of the September Festival dawned Julian watched the preparations in the street from his bedroom window, as the bunting and the fairy-lights went up. The house meanwhile was a hive of activity. Not only was everyone getting ready, but there was also last-minute packing up to be done, in readiness for the move up to the Dead Lands.
“You haven’t exactly gone mad with dressing-up”, said Julian, when Adam came in in casual gear.
“You know I hate getting all clobbered up”, said Adam “I leave that to everyone else”.
“Mm, including Bardin in his fairy-frock!” said Julian.
“Now that’s exactly why I’ve come in to see you”, said Adam “I don’t want any bitchy remarks directed at him this evening. What he’s doing is very brave”.
“What’s brave about putting a dress on?!” said Julian “And where does he get all this cross-dressing mania from? It’s not from me, it must be you. You like wearing a skirt in hot weather, must be your Scots ancestry coming out”.
“It is a sarong, not a skirt”, said Adam “It has long been accepted as masculine attire. Men used to wear them a lot in hot countries during old Empire days”.
“No wonder we lost it!” said Julian.
“You are in grave danger of sounding like an old bore!” said Adam.
Bengo came in, wearing his improvised clown’s outfit.
“And how do you feel about Bardin in a frock?” said Julian.
“Oh I quite like Bardy in drag”, said Bengo “He’s so much easier to deal with. He goes all soft and gentle, and we don’t get much of his cactus tongue at all!”
Bengo followed Adam out onto the landing and then across into his (Adam’s) room. Lonts was downstairs, singing in a very loud and very deep voice, and had left the room in turmoil after getting ready for the Festival. Adam began to tidy it up.
“Is Julian cross about Bardy wearing a frock?” said Bengo.
“Take no notice of him”, said Adam “Julian is simply bewildered when men get in touch with their feminine side. He thinks everybody should be all macho all the time, even when collecting teapots! Are you alright, old love? You look as though you’ve got something on your mind”.
“It’s the other clowns”, said Bengo.
“It usually is!” Adam smiled.
“We were all talking upstairs earlier”, said Bengo “And somebody mentioned what had happened to Fabulous’s grandmother, and said what if Soft tried to do that to Kieran? After all, Kieran can’t be killed, but he could be got out of the way by …”
“Don’t, it’s too appalling for words”, said Adam, who saw a distinct possibility of Soft trying to enact this macabre scheme “We’re leaving first thing in the morning, and not a moment too soon!”
Kieran had picked up on the strong, apprehensive atmosphere unwittingly generated by the clowns’ conversation. Kieran had never been short of courage, and he was notorious for being reckless with his own safety, (a fact which had been a constant source of grievance for Ransey), but this time his nerve failed. He almost swooned at the thought of that terrible fate, and felt as helpless as a sick kitten. It was as if he had a direct line to Fabulous’s grandmother, and could feel her panic and the shortness of her breath, as her precious air-supply relentlessly ebbed away.
“Blimey”, said Joby “What are you going as? Witchfinder-General?!”
He was referring to a large, jewelled crucifix Kieran had bought at the jewellers in town. Kieran couldn’t reply, he frantically gasped for breath. Joby got him onto the bed, and slowly managed to calm him down.
“What happened?” said Joby, when Kieran’s breathing was more regular “Panic-attack?”
“Sort of”, said Kieran “The clowns have been talking. I wasn’t there, but I picked up on it, their fear was so strong it was almost tangible. Soft could do to me what was done to his grandmother. Me nerve failed”.
“I’m not surprised!” said Joby.
“That terrible house”, said Kieran “It’s like a black hole. People have disappeared into it and never come out”.
“Fabulous once said there were parts of it that aren’t very nice”, said Joby “That’s a pretty big understatement!”
“And nobody knows where she was put”, said Kieran “The grandmother. She’s never been found. Who knows what the hell else is in that rats’ maze?! Sorry, I seem to be losing it a wee bit”.
“No I know how you feel”, said Joby “Seeing the twins gave me enough of a shock”.
“They used to be ballet dancers you know”, said Kieran “Verily told Bengo during one of their old conversations. They performed in some shows here, quite good by all accounts”.
“But that couldn’t have been that long ago!” said Joby “They ent exactly old! Fuck, this bloody town. What it does to people! Look at Bardin. We’ve seen him show courage out on the high seas, cope with trauma, put on an entire show from scratch in hardly any time at all, but 5 minutes in this town, and he’s having to get a bloody nerve tonic from the doctors!”
The streets were filled with floats, jugglers, fire-eaters, people in fancy dress, people banging big drums as though they were trying to flush out evil spirits, plus more congenial musicians such as flute-players and trumpet-blowers. Even this immense festive display came tinged with Nuit’s own flavour of intense desperation to it. It was all too wild-eyed and frantic for comfort. As though the people were desperately, through noise and colour, trying to halt the relentless encroachment of the imminent dark nights.
Kieran couldn’t shake off his feeling of panic. He slipped away from the others and did the Irishman’s time-honoured therapy: he got drunk. Seriously drunk, in a very short space of time. He disappeared down a quiet side street, which was being bypassed by the revellers, and slipped into a bar which was barely bigger than a hole in the wall. Bardin eventually found him there, the only customer.
“Bardin, you look like a bride, so you do!” said Kieran “Seriously, you shouldn’t walk around the back streets like that on your own, there are some evil bastards in this town”.
“Don’t you worry about me, I’ve got this”, said Bardin, showing the little pearl-handled pistol tucked down the front of his dress “It’s you who should be more careful. You’re going to have one helluva hangover in the morning”.
“That’s the morning’s problem”, said Kieran.
Bardin managed to prise Kieran away from the bar, back to the house and upstairs.
“Would you like breasts, Bardin?” asked Kieran, as Bardin undressed him “I’m sure I could give you breasts”.
“I’ll have to think about that”, said Bardin “It’s a big step. I don’t think you should be making wild promises at the moment. You’re going to be very ill on the journey tomorrow. I wish you’d thought about that”.
“I’ll be fine”, said Kieran.
“I don’t think you will be somehow”, Bardin laughed.
“Kiss me”, said Kieran “You know you’ve always wanted to have smeared lipstick”.
Bardin washed his face afterwards, and then went downstairs to stand at the front door, to look out for any of the others who might be looking for Kieran. He was relieved when Joby and Hillyard came up the road.
“You don’t have to tell me”, said Joby to Bardin “He’s rat-arsed ent he!”
“Hey, do you remember that stopover we had years and years ago on the way down to Lixix?” said Hillyard “He got so drunk we had to carry him into the hut!”
“Don’t remind me”, said Joby “The little bastard!”
“He’s safe in bed anyway”, said Bardin, leading the way into the living-room “Come and have a drink”.
He poured out three large brandies.
“Thoughtless, that’s what Kieran is, thoughtless”, said Joby.
“He’s not the only one!” said a rather cross Bengo, storming into the room and whipping off his cravat and waistcoat “What kind of a fucking comedy partner leaves me stranded out there working the fucking crowd all on his own. When I turn round he’s fucking disappeared!”
“You should know how to improvise by now!” said Bardin “Stop swearing and have a drink. I was on an errand of mercy. Rescuing Kieran from the clutches of unscrupulous barmen”.
“Is he alright?” said Bengo.
“Hopefully not!” said Joby.
“Joby! Joby!” came a distressed Irish voice from upstairs.
“I thought he was unconscious”, said Bardin.
“No such luck!” said Joby.
He bounded up the stairs two at a time, and was just in time to put the bowl from the wash-stand in front of Kieran.
“You take advantage you do, you really take advantage”, said Joby “You behave completely thoughtlessly, and then expect me to help you out! Typical!”
“Ach, you can get your own back”, said Kieran, eventually.
“I won’t need to punish you”, said Joby “The condition you’ll be in when we’re travelling tomorrow will be punishment enough! Worse ’en anything I could do!”
He took the basin back to the table, covered it with a towel, and then gave Kieran a ringing slap on the rear.
A few hours later Bardin became convinced the big spider was around again. Adam heard his distress in the next room and went into him. Although it was nearly 3 o’clock in the morning there was still a cacophony going on out in the streets, with the incessant drum-banging persisting relentlessly. The townspeople evidently assumed the Gorgon wouldn’t show her face this evening. Adam directed Bengo to get a glass of water from the bathroom.
“It was there on the mantelpiece”, said Bardin “Watching me”.
(Adam wondered how anyone could actually tell if a spider was watching them!).
“But there’s nothing there, Bardy”, said Bengo, running his hand along the empty mantelpiece “Nothing at all”.
“Have you taken your nerve tonic?” asked Adam.
“I-I forgot yesterday”, said Bardin “There was so much going on”.
“You know the doctor said for you to take it three times a day after meals”, said Adam “Bengo, I want you to stand over him from now on and make sure he does”.
“Really, Bardy!” said Bengo, in exasperation “If it was me who had to take it you’d be forcing it down me!”
“We have got a very long day tomorrow”, said Adam “Not only have we got to get all packed up, and then the journey itself, but there is bound to be a horrendous amount of work to do when we get there!”
“We’ve left the town, we’re on rough ground”, said Kieran, pulling himself into a sitting position in the back of the wagon.
Ransey, driving this particular wagon, didn’t answer. Kieran pulled back the canvas and cooed out to him.
“Oh Ransey, are you fed up with your Kieran?”
“Just lie down and get some rest”, said Ransey, tersely.
“Rest?” said Kieran “With saucepans and tins falling on me every 5 minutes?!”
Kieran grabbed his sun-hat, and deftly climbed out onto the box next to Ransey.
“You don’t have to worry about me”, said Kieran, when Ransey protested “I’m ambidextrous. Ach c’mon now, I’m sorry for last night, I really am”.
“That doesn’t make it right!” said Ransey “I’m not a violent man, but today I actually think a thrashing with a riding-crop could be just the thing you need!”
“Oh dear, you are out of sorts with me aren’t you”, said Kieran, in a humble voice.
“Why did you do it?” said Ransey “You broke the major cardinal rule I have always laid down to you: you do not disappear without any warning, and not tell anyone where you’re going!”
“I panicked”, said Kieran “Big time. The thought of being walled-up for all eternity. I panicked so much I could scarcely breathe”.
“And I suppose it never occurred to you that by your foolish actions last night”, said Ransey “You could have played right into Soft’s hands! It would have been ideal for him. You spirited away in a crowd, to disappear into that house …”
“Please …” Kieran begged, tearfully.
Ransey decided to ease up on him. The lecture had shot home after all.
“I would have still found you”, he said, in an effort to reassure him “Even if I had to pull the damn place apart stone by stone. But it wouldn’t have been very pleasant for you whilst you were waiting!”
They stopped for a break at a fork in the track, which would bear them off to the right, according to Fabulous’s instructions, and take them to the old hunting-lodge. This was a chance to stretch their legs and give the animals a brief rest. Kieran took a bottle of cold tea, the chief beverage of the day, and went to stand on the precipice overlooking the core of the Dead Lands.
“Bit bleak ent it?” said Joby, coming over to join him.
“Sure is”, said Kieran, looking out over the stunted, blackened trees, the dried-up ravine, and numerous large boulders scattered about, all leading up to the caves in the far distance. It looked like the surface of a decaying planet.
“Hillyard said Ransey gave you a right telling-off”, said Joby “Still it’s done now. Once he’s got it off his chest he doesn’t tend to go on and on, not like Adam!”
“I deserved it I know”, said Kieran.
Bardin had been standing a short distance away, eyeing up the view through binoculars. Suddenly he bolted towards them.
“Take a look!” he cried, handing the binoculars to Joby “Look at the boulders. It thought it was odd there were so many of them, and more of them the closer you get to the caves”.
“Well”, said Joby, lowering the binoculars again “At least we know SHE’S definitely been around here!”
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