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By Sarah Hapgood

“What are you doing standing on the table?” said Bardin, carrying a tray of covered dishes into his cabin on the galleon “Our guests are going to be here at any moment!”

“The oil-lamp’s smoking, Bardy”, said Bengo “I think we should take it down”.

“And have everybody sitting in the dark?!” said Bardin “Stupid clown!”

Bengo got down off the table, and fell onto the floor.

“Can’t you stop being a clown for five minutes?” said Bardin.

“No”, said Bengo “And neither can you, so stop pretending otherwise! Ooh think about it, Bardy. This is our first dinner-party as a married couple”.

“It can’t be”, said Bardin “We’ve been married for eons”.

“It is”, said Bengo “It is, well at least I think so anyway. Just us two hosting it, unless you count that little one we did up at Wolf Castle. But this is different, because this is our very own room. Isn’t that amazing?”

“Yes I suppose it is”, said Bardin, adjusting his gold waistcoat, and then adjusting Bengo’s “At least we’ve got room to do that in here. Not like that matchbox room we had on the old barge”.

There was a brisk knocking on the door.

“It’s them!” said Bengo, as though their visitors were bailiffs not dinner-party guests.

“Well let them in, you twit!” said Bardin, pouring our four glasses of port.

“We’re here”, said Joby, standing outside the door with Kieran.

“It’s been a helluva journey getting here!” Kieran quipped, as they had just travelled from the other end of the boat.

“Come in, come in!” said Bengo, yanking them into the room.

“You’ve got it very nice in here”, said Joby, looking around him at the palatial Captain’s Cabin.

“I know”, said Bengo, enthusiastically “I can’t get over it. This is all ours, and it’s comfortable too! We’ve got a rug, and tables and chairs”.

“All mod cons then!” said Joby, taking a glass of port.

“And our own little bunk bed, where we can pull the curtain around us”, said Bengo “And be there all in the peace and quiet”.

“Apart from the creaking of Bardin’s shorts!” said Joby.

“Yes, why do you do that, Bardin?” said Kieran.

“It gives him his Captain’s posture”, said Bengo.

Joby tried to stifle a guffaw, and failed.

“Yes alright!” said Bardin “If we’re going to poke fun at each other’s underwear, it should be borne in mind that nobody here has got much to be proud of in that department. At least mine look respectable!”

“So do mine!” said Kieran “Can’t say the same about Joby’s mind!”

“Well this dinner-party conversation’s got off to a sophisticated start ent it!” said Joby “Who keeps it so tidy and polished in here? Not you surely?” he said to Bengo.

“Toppy does it”, said Bengo, sourly “He’s ALWAYS in here. I ask you, what sane person gets so excited about doing a bit of dusting! What a complete nut!”

“I can’t exactly leave it to you can I!” said Bardin.

“I have real work to do”, said Bengo “Not poncing around with a feather duster! And when he’s not in here, I’ve got Shag and Mutton Broth doing little chores, because they adore Captain Bardin so much! Sometimes I could vomit!”

“You don’t mind fried fish tonight, Kieran?” said Bardin, indicating that it was time they all sat down around the table.

“No he doesn’t”, said Joby.

“No I don’t”, said Kieran, sarcastically.

“He has no choice”, said Joby “When we’re right out on the ocean like this, he can’t keep living off tinned vegetables. And oily fish is good for you, valuable source of vitamins”.

“It’s really strange being right out here on the water like this isn’t it?” said Bengo “I love it. It feels like we’re really remote from anywhere”.

“Bengo”, said Bardin, pausing as he was dishing up the fried fish “We ARE really remote from anywhere! Ignoramus!”

“I know, Bardy”, said Bengo “I was just saying that’s all”.

“Sometimes I wonder if this ocean really exists”, said Joby “I mean, when we left Wolf Castle all that time ago I thought we would be travelling down further into the hinterland, and suddenly all this bloody water appears, and it’s never stopped appearing!”

“You should know this world by now, Joby”, said Kieran “It changes all the time. It’s in a permanent state of flux”.

“That’s why it’s so bloody hard to find a map that’s accurate!” said Bardin “The ones we’ve got are virtually worthless now we’ve left the environs of Wooded Hill. All we do is keep travelling, and hope that one day we get somewhere!”

There was a knocking on the door, and Hoowie came in, carrying his pet white hamster on his shoulder. This wee small creature had been given to him as a parting-gift by Juanita at the inn just before they left Wooded Hill. Hoowie had taken to walking around with it either stuffed in his trouser pockets, or on his shoulder. Either annoyed Bardin.

“What?” said Bardin.

“Blimey, it’s Long John Silver!” said Joby.

“There’s a fog coming down”, said Hoowie.

“So what?” said Bardin.

“Well you told me to come and tell you if anything happened!” said Hoowie.

“Yes”, said Bardin “I meant if we saw land, not the bloody weather!”

“I think it’s important”, said Hoowie “What if something ran into us?”

“Thames dredger?” said Joby, facetiously “Cross-channel ferry?!”

“We haven’t seen a single vessel since we left the harbour at Wooded Hill!” said Bardin “This is hardly a busy shipping lane is it! You should know the drill when it comes to foggy weather by now. Light some lamps up on deck, and keep them burning in prominent positions until it dissipates, just in any remotest chance something might come near us!”

Bengo didn’t often feel sorry for Hoowie, but he always felt sorry for anybody caught on the end of a tongue-lashing from Bardin, having endured enough of them himself.

“I’m glad you told us, Hoowie”, said Bengo, earning a look of utter astonishment from Bardin “It’s important to know when it gets foggy at sea”.

Hoowie grunted as a sign of appreciation, cast a withering glance at Bardin, and left the cabin. Bengo was rather pleased, he had momentarily made Bardin speechless, and he often strived for this. Unfortunately it had created somewhat of an atmosphere, and Joby had to resort to praising Bardin’s frying of the mackerel.

“Did you smoke it?” he asked.

“Wrapped in paper over the grill”, Bardin grunted “I’ll go and get us some better port than this”.

He left to go over the corridor to the galley.

“Well you’ve turned him into a happy bunny I must say !” said Joby to Bengo.

“I had to say something, Joby”, said Bengo, wretchedly “Bardy can destroy people with his tongue!”

“Some people, yes”, said Joby “But not Hoowie! A direct hit from a nuclear warhead wouldn’t destroy Hoowie!”

“Right, I found this in one of the cupboards when I was cooking earlier”, said Bardin, carrying in a bottle of port of a more superior vintage to the one already on offer.

“Oh b-but Bardy”, Bengo protested.

“What now?” Bardin snapped.

“That’s the really good stuff”, said Bengo “Adam won’t like us just helping ourselves to it like this”.

“I think it’s about time we really established who is Captain around here”, said Bardin, opening the bottle and pouring out 4 generous measures “What is the bloody point of me being in charge if I can’t entertain my guests with some of the better booze we’ve got on board. I should not have to ask permission of the cook first”.

Joby spluttered at Adam being referred to as “the cook”.

“Oh Bardy!” said Bengo, in exasperation “What’s got into you? You seem to be on some kind of a death wish!”

“It’s this boat, it’s gone to his head”, said Joby “He’s never been in charge of such a sumptuous vessel before, the poor old sloop couldn’t cut it much by comparison could it”.

“Ah”, said Kieran “A touch of the old red carpet fever. It’ll pass”.

“Do you want any of this or not?” said Bardin.

A frenzied chorus of acquiescence broke out, followed by a brisk rapping on the door. Bardin gave a sigh, and went to answer it.

“Oh hello old love”, came Adam’s voice, from out in the corridor “Awfully sorry to disturb you like this”.

With great deftness of hand, borne out of age-old practice, Kieran and Joby hid the bottle of vintage port under the table.

“But this fog is really thick”, Adam continued “I just thought I’d better tell you that we’re going to keep an eye on it for the rest of the night, sort of little vigils, like we’ve done before”.

“Yes O.K”, said Bardin, awkwardly.

“I’ve come down to make some coffee for everyone”, said Adam “Would you like me to clear your plates whilst I’m here?”

Without waiting for a reply Adam came into the cabin, and began to clear the table. Bengo looked petrified, and Kieran and Joby were wearing expressions of completely implausible innocence.

“Did you enjoy the fish?” said Adam.

“I think so”, Bardin croaked.

“Well have fun”, said Adam, and he took the plates from the room.

“Blimey, that was close!” said Joby, when he was certain Adam was out of earshot.

“You weren’t so big and brave then were you Bardy!” said Bengo, crossly “Honestly, you deserve to be put across my knee!”

“Well it’s high time the entertainment started!” said Joby.

“He caught me off-guard that’s all”, said Bardin “And it didn’t help that you sat there looking terrified, you had ‘guilt’ written all over you! In the morning you will see some changes around here, there will be a very clear line of authority”.

“Yes”, Bengo rasped “Julian, then Adam, then you! The way it’s always been in other words!”

“Ah now give the lad a chance”, Kieran laughed, rescuing the vintage port and refilling their glasses “It never does any harm to have Adam and Julian put in their places once in a while”.

“That’s true”, said Joby “We have to keep a firm hand on them, otherwise they’ll think they can strut around doing whatever they want. Stop being such a brown-noser, Bengo!”

“I’m not”, said Bengo “But Bardy also needs to be kept in his place, or before you know it he’ll be demanding that he has a gold star put on our cabin door! We know somebody who did that once, and Ully suspended him from work for an entire season!”

“Bit harsh weren’t it?” said Joby “He could’ve just said ‘no, you can’t‘”.

“He had to do it that way”, said Bengo “No one performer could be bigger than the show, that was the golden rule. He also wanted his name put over that of the Cabaret, and that just wasn’t on”.

“Yes, but I never did that!” said Bardin “I am a professional. All I ask is that I shouldn’t have to ask Adam’s permission what I serve up in my cabin!”

“Sounds reasonable”, said Kieran.

“Kieran, stop mixing it!” said Joby.

“I’m not”, said Kieran.

“You are”, said Joby “Anything to start a fight, that’s you!”

“I’d just like to see Bardin putting Adam and Julian under martial law!” Kieran chortled.

“You don’t think I can do it, do you?” said Bardin.

“I do actually”, said Kieran “I think you could do it brilliantly, and I can’t wait to see you do it. They won’t know what’s hit them!”

Joby spent the rest of the night with Bengo on the loveseat in the cabin, whilst Kieran shared the bunk with Bardin. They were woken up very early by Hillyard coming into the room, and banging on the bottom of a saucepan with a wooden spoon.

“For fuck’s sake, Hillyard!” said Joby “You’re a fucking sadist!”

“No”, said Hillyard “Adam sent me in to get you up, it’s time for you to start work. He says he’s not doing the breakfasts all on his own”.

“Oh diddums!” said Joby.

“How’s the fog, Hillyard?” said Bengo, as though asking after a sick, elderly relative who hadn’t been expected to live out the night.

“Still here”, said Hillyard “It’s got denser if anything, looks like we’re becalmed”.

“Brilliant”, Joby grunted, unenthusiastically “What’s the betting Lonts says we could be stuck in it for ever and ever!”

“He already has!” Hillyard laughed.

Occasionally Bardin ordered the engines to be started, and they moved very cautiously through the gloom, with lamps posted at strategic intervals around the bulwarks. It was like wading through thick treacle, and was an intensely frustrating experience. To add insult to injury, with any sun so ruthlessly blocked out, the temperatures - which had had the chilly edge of early spring - plummeted to what felt like Arctic levels.

“Isn’t there any book on this damn boat that isn’t pornographic!” said Ransey, turning out the bookcase in the big cabin, in a quest to find something to read.

“Well there are a few books on animal husbandry”, said Julian, lounging with his feet propped up on the desk “Plus there’s the First Aid manual knocking around somewhere!”

“Very funny!” said Ransey.

“How long is this fog supposed to last?” Mieps snapped, knitting what looked like a particularly abrasive dishcloth.

“Have no idea, old girl”, said Julian, flippantly “Not privy to that kind of inside information!”

Ransey suddenly burst out of the room, and nearly collided with Adam who was coming out of the heads.

“Hello, old love”, said Adam “Are you alright? You look a little tense”.

Ransey grabbed his arm and pulled him down the corridor which ran below the main deck, towards the area which housed the galley and the Captain’s cabin.

“Adam”, said Ransey “Something has to be done about Julian. What’s so bloody funny?”

“I’m sorry”, Adam gulped “I’m not laughing at you, dear. But for most of my life I’ve had people come up to me in desperation, and say Something’s Got To Be Done About Julian! Well I’m open to suggestions!”

“Why does he arrange it so that everything revolves around him?” said Ransey “That cabin is supposed to be for all our use, a sort of general mess room”.

“Well it’s certainly in a mess most of the time!” said Adam.

“And he sits in there holding court”, Ransey continued “Sitting there, as though he’s granted the rest of us a concession to go in there, and polluting the air with those filthy cigars!”

“Oh this is just a touch of cabin fever that’s all”, said Adam “It’s whilst this damn fog’s got us all trapped here. When it clears you’ll be able to use the decks more”.

“So will he!” said Ransey.

“But at least his cigar won’t bother you so much up there!” said Adam “Come into the galley. We’ll find a quiet little corner for you. If Julian comes in I’ll throw him out!”

Adam flung open the galley door, and found it completely devoid of human life. His heart sank. He knew that Ransey and Julian would see this as further evidence that Adam was a soft touch, was not proper management material. As soon as he slipped out of the galley for a moment, Joby and Bengo ran off.

Joby had gone down into the hold to speak to Kieran and Hillyard, and Bengo had gone over to his cabin to let off steam at Bardin, because Fabulous had been calling him names. Bengo sat slumped in a chair, relating his woes, whilst Toppy, pristine as ever in his green apron, flicked round him with a feather duster. “He keeps calling me Pongo”, Bengo complained “It’s not right”.

“For crying out loud, Bengo!” said Bardin, wearing his bath-robe, and dousing his own feet in talcum powder “Surely you can take a bit of name-calling!”

“Anyway, you call him Flashy-Pants”, said Toppy.

“Nobody asked you”, Bengo snapped “Get on with your work! Then he said I had a silly name, well what the hell is Fabulous if it’s not a silly name!”

“The more you carry on like this”, said Bardin “The worse he’ll get”.

“Can’t you put him on a charge, Bardy?” said Bengo, pathetically.

“Oh yes, what a brilliant idea!” said Bardin “And have everybody think that poor little Bengo can’t take a bit of ragging! The other clowns will never let you forget that one! You’re getting soft you are”.

“I’M soft?!” said Bengo “You be careful with that talcum powder now!”

Adam yelled for Bengo from out in the corridor. Bengo reluctantly got to his feet, and slouched out of the room.

“Really I am very surprised at you, Bengo”, said Adam, when Bengo had related his woes to him in the galley “After all the humiliating things you’ve had done to you over the course of your lifetime, I would have thought that a bit of name-calling was very small beer by comparison”.

“You should hear what Julian calls me sometimes”, said Ransey, which was rather a silly thing to say as Bengo had heard it plenty of times “Rat’s Teeth, Rancid, Old Four-Eyes”.

“Yes, but it’s Fabulous doing it”, said Bengo, miserably “He IRRITATES me so much!”

Bardin opened the galley door, shouted “tea!” somewhat abruptly, and then went out again.

“Well we really can’t have too much of that sort of thing, you know”, said Adam.

“Please can I go and kick him in the pants, Adam?” said Bengo “He needs it”.

“Be my guest, old love”, said Adam “But come back straight afterwards. Joby seems to have taken up permanent residence in the hold!”

Bengo performed his deed with great finesse, helped by the fact that Bardin was standing in his cabin with his back to the door when he came in.

“Now I shall bring you your tea”, said Bengo, grandly “But next time you say ‘please’ and ‘thank you‘, like any civilised person”.

“You sanctimonious little rat-bag!” said Bardin.

“More name-calling?” said Bengo, airily “I am getting very blasé about it by now!”

Bardin called a meeting in the dining-room early that evening. The galleon, unlike their previous vessels, the tugboat and the sloop, actually ran to a dining-room. With a bit of a squeeze everybody could get around the long table. It would have been very cosy, if it wasn’t for the ominous presence of the fog pressing on the windows.

“I’m not happy about moving the galleon in this kind of visibility”, said Bardin “We could all too easily run aground on something, so what I suggest is that in the morning, if we’re still fog-bound, I’ll take the skiff out, with a small party, and we’ll see how far it extends”.

Bengo looked wretched. He desperately wanted to be in the skiff party, but thought that after the pants-kicking incident earlier Bardin would leave him out of it from spite.

“I suppose I’m not invited?” said Bengo, as they left the dining-room.

“Yes you are”, said Bardin, tersely.

This news filled Bengo with untold joy, and he was (to use Adam’s phrasing) “cock-a-hoop” for the rest of the evening. At bedtime, when they returned to their cabin, he even took to impersonating Tamaz’s yodel, and danced a jig on the spot.

“Calm down!” said Bardin “You always get way too excited! Ah look, Toppy’s put our hot-water bottles in the bunk. Say what you like about him, but he does know how to look after things”.

“I suppose it goes some way to making up for him being an interfering old busybody!” said Bengo.

“Oh Bengo come on”, said Bardin “He had a point earlier. You have been calling Fabulous names. I wouldn’t think much of him if he didn’t give it back in some way”.

“Yes but Pongo, I mean!” said Bengo “It makes me sound like a dog!”

“You are, sweet boy!” Bardin teased.

They turned down the lamps, and got into their bunk, pulling the curtain across to shut themselves in. They had barely settled down, when they heard a high-pitched noise in the distance. It sounded like a radio that had got stuck on a particularly annoying frequency.

“It sounds like a woman”, said Bengo “She’s shouting something”.

If it was a woman she sounded like she was ranting in a high-pitched squeal.

“It might be somebody calling for help”, said Bardin “We’d better go upstairs and have a look”.

They threw on some outdoor clothing, grabbed a couple of lamps and ran up the steps to the main deck. They called and waved with the lamps, but the strange and eerie shrieking noise gradually receded until it vanished into the distance.

“I think it’s gone”, said Bengo “Whatever it was”.

“Everybody thinks they’re so damn cute and sweet all the time”, said Fabulous, whose turn it was to let off steam about Bengo and Bardin in the galley the next day. (Bengo was elsewhere getting ready for the skiff expedition) “But they can say some really unkind, really cruel things”.

“I know they can”, said Adam “And it’s at times like that that they need a good, firm slap. But most of the time they don’t mean any harm, and I’m afraid I do think they’re rather sweet, like a couple of soft, cuddly toys”.

“Soft in the head cuddly toys”, said Joby.

“It’s Julian who can say cruel things”, said Ransey, who was on his second day of sounding like a stuck record.

“And he too needs a good slap when he does”, said Adam “Otherwise he just carries on saying what he damn well likes”.

“We’re going now”, said Bardin, coming into the galley with his outdoor clobber on “I’m taking Kieran and Tamaz with me as well. And Joby, I’d like you to come”.

“I don’t expect I’m allowed to come”, said Joby, sourly “Not with Bengo being out”.

“Oh for goodness sake, go”, said Adam “You’re going to be no bloody use to me in here, sitting around grizzling about how deprived you are of a good time!”

Bardin appeared soon after, swathed in all his outdoor gear.

“Now I’m going to be taking my whistle with me”, he said.

“Great”, said Joby, unenthusiastically.

“So I can use it if we need help at all”, Bardin continued “So I don’t want everybody disappearing below deck to have a row, or you won’t hear us!”

“We will try and bear that in mind, old love”, said Adam “Although if you and Bengo are going out, I should imagine the opportunities for anybody here having a row will be vastly diminished!”

Tamaz knelt at the front of the skiff, looking like a heavily-clothed ship’s figurehead. Joby and Bengo rowed cautiously through the fog, whilst Bardin and Kieran lit the way with the lamps.

“It’s thinning up ahead”, said Bardin “I knew it would, we only had to find out how far it extended”.

They emerged from the strange fog-bank, and found themselves on the edge of a thawing ice pack, which slowly splintered and melted all the way to the distant horizon. The light was dim and eerie, and the whole scene was distinctly unnerving.

“At least it’s melting though”, said Bardin “Which is good news for us, as we’re not an ice-cutter. Let’s go back to the boat and tell the others”.

“This is such a dreary little room, Jules”, said Adam, sitting on a battered love seat in a tiny, narrow room below the main deck.

“I know”, said Julian, bringing in a bottle of brandy and two glasses “But it’s the only damn part of the whole ship where we can have a private conversation in peace!”

“Do you ever bring Joby in here?” Adam asked.

“No, ‘it’s too bleedin’ cold’”, said Julian “As he said to me. So that was the end of that little idea! I don’t see very much of Joby at the moment. We can’t go in his cabin, as it’s sacred to Kieran, and the mad Irish pixie is never out of it anyway!”

“Oh that’s not fair, Jules”, said Adam “Patsy spends a lot of time in the hold helping Hillyard out with the animals”.

“What was all that shouting down your end earlier?”

“Bengo left his boots just inside the doorway of the outdoor clothing storeroom. Toppy tripped over them, fell flat on is face, and you know what a terrific hullabaloo he always makes about things! Why on earth he couldn‘t look where he was going I don‘t know!”

“Bengo can’t seem to avoid upsetting people at the moment”, said Julian.

“It’s such a shame”, said Adam “He’s such a pathetically well-meaning little fellow. He’s like a little dog who wags his tail too boisterously and knocks all the coffee cups off the table!”

“How’s your new assistant shaping up?” said Julian, somewhat waspishly.

“Oh Ransey’s an absolute dream”, said Adam “A joy to work with. I never have to ask him to do anything twice, and he’s extremely methodical and well-organised. The galley has never looked so tidy! I’m seriously thinking of sacking the others, and taking him on full-time instead”.

“You are the biggest winder-upper I’ve ever met!” Julian snapped “You know you don’t mean a bloody word of it!”

“Well I wouldn’t be so sure about that”, said Adam “I’ve really enjoyed the serene atmosphere in the galley these past couple of days. It was very noticeable when Joby and Bengo went out in the skiff. There was no squabbling and sulking, no accidents …”

“And just what the bloody hell would Joby and Bengo do all day without any work to do?” said Julian.

“Oh I’m sure Bardin could find little tasks for Bengo to do”, said Adam.

“Now I’m certain you’re taking the piss!” said Julian “Have some mercy on the rest of us! Bardin would be chucking his weight around, shouting, and blowing that damn whistle even more than he does now! And Bengo would get through several nervous breakdowns in the course of one day!”

“You exaggerate, dear”, said Adam “Those two worked together for years”.

“And from what I’ve heard from the other clowns it was one endlessly nerve-wracking experience!” said Julian “And what about Joby? He and Kieran would just spend all day in bed!”

“Jealous are you?” said Adam.

“Well you certainly damn well would be!” said Julian “In no time at all you’d be marching in there, whipping the covers off them and demanding they get up! Don’t talk such utter drivel, Ada! I’ve never heard you come out with anything quite so daft, and that is saying something!”

“It certainly got you going didn’t it, old love!” said Adam “I almost believed myself just then!”

“All that rubbish about Ransey …” said Julian.

“Actually I do think he’s a dream to work with, he creates a very salubrious atmosphere”, said Adam “And he does give me an excuse to get rid of the others if they drive me too much up the wall”.

“Why do you keep scratching yourself?”

“I’ve got red marks all over my arms and legs”, said Adam.

“Your flesh isn’t getting enough exposure to fresh air that’s why”, said Julian.

“Hardly surprising in these temperatures is it!” said Adam.

“ADAM!” Lonts shouted from out in the corridor.

He flung the door open and it slapped against the wall.

“We’re coming out of the fog”, Lonts announced from the threshold “Come up and have a look!”

Adam and Julian took the glasses and the brandy bottle up onto the main deck, where Bardin was standing, holding a rather more respectable mug of strong black tea. He made Adam feel like he and Julian were two depraved swinging aristocrats confronted with a pillar of lower-class industry and integrity. It was rather silly really for Adam to feel like this as he worked very hard all day every day, with very little in the way of respite, but it rankled.

“I’m surprised at you, Adam”, said Ransey, when they were both working alone in the galley a short while later “I expect that kind of rubbish from Julian, but not you. I swear it gets to him that Bardin’s made such a good job out of being Captain”.

“Oh that’s not very fair to Jules, Ransey”, said Adam “He’s very proud of Bardin you know”.

“Yes I do know”, said Ransey “But what I’m saying is that I think he wishes Bardin had leaned on him a bit more, not been so self-reliant”.

“I see what you mean”, said Adam “Trouble is, Bardin learnt to be self-reliant at a very early age. He is impressive isn’t it? Quite looks the part up there, with his duffel-coat and everything. He did make me feel very effete by comparison”.

“Sort of rubbish I get from Hillyard sometimes”, Ransey snorted “All this ‘I work with my hands’ stuff, I don’t know what he thinks what part of my anatomy I work with!”

“I never realised that”, Adam laughed “Hillyard does get a bit like that sometimes doesn’t he? All that ’I’m the only one around here who does any real work’. He drives Joby mad with that”.

Raised voices were heard out in the corridor, and Joby and Julian came into the galley, gabbling together at once.

“Talk fucking sense!” Joby was saying.

“Good heavens, what’s happened now?” said Adam.

“Julian’s convinced Kieran’s anorexia has come back”, said Joby.

“What on earth makes you think that, Jules?” said Adam.

“Just because he’s been a bit off his food the past couple of days”, Joby answered “Kiel’s got a cold that’s all. And there was Julian trying to pull him off his bunk to give him a good hiding!”

“I warned Kieran I would do that if any of that eating disorder nonsense came back again”, said Julian.

“But it hasn’t come back again!” Adam protested “Anyway Patsy promised us faithfully he would never go down that line again”.

“That’s what I’ve just been saying!” said Joby.

“And you believed him?” said Julian, caustically.

“Oh Jules, really!” said Adam “What a thing to say!”

“I stand by what I said”, said Julian, imperiously, before slamming out of the room.

“Is there no part of this boat safe from him?” said Ransey.

“Doesn’t appear to be, old love”, said Adam “Is Patsy alright, Joby?”

“Yeah”, said Joby “He fought Julian off by clouting him with his Bible. Nice to see some good use being made of it for a change!”

Hoowie had been one of the small party doing part of the night-watch duty up on the main deck that coming night, and he had the honour to be the first one to sight land. He ran downstairs and around the living quarters of the galleon, alerting everybody. Joby was furious, and said “the bloody land isn’t gonna go away is it!”

When daylight came (what there was of it), Bardin organised a substantial skiff party to go ashore, consisting of himself, Bengo, Julian, Ransey, Hillyard, Mieps, Tamaz, Adam, Lonts, and Joby, leaving the others on board to mind the boat. Kieran rebelled, and insisted on coming as well, even though Bardin had left him out because of his heavy cold. No amount of reasoning would shake Kieran when he was in this mood, his stubbornness could rival Lonts’s when he was like this.

“Can’t you do something?” said Ransey, whispering with Joby outside his cabin door, whilst Kieran slammed drawers inside the room, getting his clothes together “I thought you had him completely under your thumb these days”.

“Only when it suits him!” said Joby.

“But look at that time you locked him in his room at Wolf Castle!” said Ransey, who had been immensely impressed with this brilliant solution to keeping Kieran out of harm’s way.

“He only went along with that ’cos he wanted to”, said Joby “He’s still in charge really. Of everything. Bardin’s a good Captain, and Julian’s a good den-father, but it’s really Kieran we all revolve around, you know that”.

“But I thought you were finally getting him tamed!” said Ransey.

“Yeah, as I said, when it suits him!” said Joby “And this isn’t one of those times!”

“Ridiculous!” said Ransey.

“You can’t fight it, mate”, said Joby “You’ve known that ever since you jacked in your career and went across the desert to find Kieran”.

“JOBY!” Kieran shouted “Go and get me outdoor things!”

Joby sighed, and to Ransey’s great annoyance, meekly went down the passageway to the oilskins store. Ransey went into Kieran’s cabin.

“Has he done that?” said Kieran.

“Yes, and I wish he hadn’t!” said Ransey “You are a total spoilt brat sometimes, do you know that?”

“What, me?” said Kieran, opening his blue eyes wide “No I’m not. It’s just that Joby knows there’s no point arguing when I’ve got me mind made up like this. Everyone’s carrying on as though I’ve got bubonic plague!”

“No, that’s just wishful thinking!” said Ransey.

With that he pulled up the back of Kieran’s nightshirt, and whacked him across the backside.

“HELP!” Kieran yelled “JOBY!”

Joby didn’t pick up much speed on his way back along the passageway.

“Ransey hit me”, said Kieran, when Joby finally reached their cabin again.

“Oh yeah”, said Joby, with a show of supreme indifference.

They were coming up to mountainous land mass of considerable size, with one much smaller islet stuck out in the sea, like the official gateway. There was a building with many small towers perched on top of it, and it was clear to see that this was - or more likely had been - the watchtower for the big island. The whole scene was bathed in the peculiar half-light which had been synonymous with the area ever since they had emerged from the fog. It seemed to be a twilight world, literally.

Up on the main deck Hoowie was watching the skiff being got ready, with a disgruntled look on his face.

“It was me who first saw the place”, he was saying “I think I should be allowed to come”.

“There isn’t room for one more”, said Bardin.

“Well why can’t he stay behind then?” said Hoowie, pointing at Bengo “He won’t be any use to anyone!”

“There is no need to get like that!” said Bardin.

“Let him come, Bardin”, said Lonts “It’s only fair”.

“How can he come?” said Joby “Do we have him water-skiing behind us or summat?!”

“He can sit on somebody’s lap”, said Lonts.

“Well volunteered that man!” said Bardin.

“S’alright”, said Joby, who felt that not even Lonts in one his most irritating Lets-Be-Fair moods deserved to have Hoowie sitting on him “Kieran can sit on me”.

Adam was giving last-minute instructions to Farnol, who he was leaving in charge of the galley.

“Adam, for pity’s sake get a move on!” said Julian, impatiently “This is feeling more like a charabanc outing than an exploratory party!”

“Things are pretty much as normal then!” said Joby.

The skiff was moored at the only accessible spot on the islet, not far from some seaweed-choked steps leading up to a narrow courtyard. The bottom of the steps had a rusty portcullis hanging over them, which, fortunately for the Indigo-ites, was up. They went up the steps, and found the main double doors to the small castle-cum-watchtower facing them across the courtyard. The smell of seaweed was overpowering.

Hillyard broke open the doors, and Adam, Joby, Kieran and Bardin stood in the hallway inside, feeling rather at a loss. A fireplace gaped at them, depressingly. The whole building felt spine chillingly cold, and the walls were running with damp.

“There’s a kitchen through here”, said Hillyard, standing in a doorway to the left “You can use this, Ad”.

“Over my dead body!” said Adam, following him through.

The kitchen was roomy, with a substantial fireplace, and a huge wooden trestle table down the middle. But the whole place felt too depressing for words.

“Somebody might still live here”, said Adam “They might return at any moment”.

“Just popped out to the shops have they?” said Joby, sarcastically.

“Yeah, don’t talk out of your nipple-rings, Adam”, said Hillyard, sounding too much like Julian for Adam’s comfort “Nobody’s lived here for years!”

A door on the far side of the kitchen led into a pantry, which also housed the mechanism for operating the portcullis. Hillyard went into raptures about this.

“This is the sort of place where you find new delights round every corner”, he said “Think what fun it is to explore”.

“That still doesn’t mean I actually want to live in it!” Adam snapped.

A forbiddingly dark passageway led from the back of the hallway, down past a dining-room, and into a grim living-room, containing a dilapidated sofa and armchairs in front of a fireplace.

“He can’t possibly be serious about us living here”, Adam whispered to Joby “It would be like living in the Wooky Hole Caves!”

“All I know is he’s doing my head in”, said Joby “He sounds like a bloody over-enthusiastic estate agent!”

“I am not, I AM NOT, swapping the galleon for this blasted hole!” said Adam “It’s riddled with damp for one thing, and looks as though it’s haunted to boot”.

“Kieran should be able to tell if it is”, said Joby “I’ve set him into his tracker dog mood”.

Another narrow staircase led from the passageway, splinting into two halfway up, with one continuing up to another courtyard, and the other going to a landing, from which 6 bedrooms opened. To Adam’s complete dismay Julian had already earmarked the largest one for himself.

“Jules, please, be reasonable, this is a hell-hole!” said Adam “It’s not fit for human habitation!”

“Exactly!” said Julian “Be just right for our lot! I thought you’d feel right at home here, Ada. Reminds me of that crumbling Scottish castle which was your ancestral home, and you used to go and stay there often enough”.

“I was so desperate to get away from you at times, I would have stayed in a sewer!” said Adam.

“Kieran’s found a room for you, Joby”, said Lonts, following him into ’Julian’s room’.

“Oh fuck”, said Joby “What’s the betting it’s the size of a shoebox, has a poxy little window, and looks like a prison cell!”

With great reluctance Joby went across the landing. As he neared his doom, or rather the bedroom that Kieran had chosen for him, he could hear that he had an ally in Bengo. The little clown was rebelling vociferously at the room that Bardin had chosen for them.

“No, no, no, Bardy!” he cried “I’m not leaving our lovely cabin on the galleon to come in here. It’s depressing, it’s cold, and it’s horrible!”

“It’ll just be for the time being”, said Bardin.

“What do you mean, for the time being?” said Bengo.

“It gives us a good vantage point to give us our bearings from”, said Bardin “A nice safe one, where we can look out over the bigger island, and see if there are any dangers we need to be aware of”.

“Like what?” said Bengo, crossly “Dinosaurs?!”

“King Kong?” said Joby “Certainly looks like the island where he lived!”

“We can look out from here, and still live on the galleon”, said Bengo “It’s a stupid idea, Bardy. We spent ages looking forward to having the galleon, and then you want to abandon it, and come and live HERE, of all places! It doesn’t make any sense, YOU don’t make any sense!”

Bengo stamped angrily from the room, leaving Bardin to blush and look at Joby in embarrassment.

“He’s got a point you know”, said Joby, feeling he might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. He wasn’t going to go down without a fight himself, if he could possibly help it “The galleon’s brilliant. It’s comfortable, roomy, HEALTHY, and I can hear the water lapping against the sides”.

“You can hear the water here”, said Bardin, trying to open the window which was stuck fast “All we have to do is to get the windows to open”.

Joby gave a gasp of exasperation and went into the room which Kieran had chosen. This was bigger than he had expected, but in every other way lived right down to expectations.

“I’m not staying here either”, he said, getting some inspiration from Bengo’s outburst “Our cabin might be small, but at least it doesn’t feel like a tomb, and this does”.

He slipped down the narrow steps on his way down from the landing, which only added to his determination that there wasn’t a hope in hell that he would make his home in this godforsaken place. He found Adam out in the first courtyard, pacing up and down in agitation. The view all around them was excessively dreary. The sea choked with its melting ice-packs, and the large main island, with its craggy mountains, and mist-choked forests, looking highly unwelcoming.

“You, me and Bengo can do a little bit of solidarity here you know”, said Adam “They can live in this place if they like, but all their galley staff will be over on the boat. If they want anybody to cook for them, then they’ll have to get Hillyard to do it”.

“Hillyard?!” said Joby “I wouldn’t even serve his cooking to a politician!”

“Good”, said Adam “Just bear that in mind. Because that’s what they’ll have to put up with if they want to live over here! We will be sensibly over on the galleon!”

Kieran had followed Joby back over to the galleon. In the oilskins store Joby stripped him of his outdoor clothing, and then ordered him to go to the cabin and get back into the bed.

“If you don’t go down with bloody double-pneumonia after prancing around in that damp-ridden pest-hole it’ll be a bloody miracle!” said Joby “I’ll bring you along a hot water bottle in a moment”.

“Have you come to your senses at long last?” said Ransey, who had also been divesting himself of his outdoor clothing, and listening with great approval to Joby’s lecture at the same time “All that giving Kieran his own way stuff earlier was making me feel quite ill!”

“What I meant was that there was no point arguing with Kieran when he’s being stubborn”, Joby explained “That doesn’t mean to say that I’m gonna agree with him that I’m gonna do it all as well! I don’t understand what the great appeal of that place is. It’s about as comfortable and welcoming as dossing down in a box of rats!”

“I think they see it as a good place to have a look out over the bigger island”, said Ransey “It was a watch-tower at one time. There’s the remains of an old beacon in the upper courtyard”.

“Yeah but even so”, said Joby “That doesn’t mean we actually have to live in the damn place does it! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment with The Whacker. That and the cold should keep him in bed out of the way for a while!”

“I’m not doing it, Jules”, said Adam, standing in the big main cabin after having had a bath there late that afternoon “And that’s it. Nothing you can say or do will persuade me to change my mind”.

“The room I’ve earmarked for myself has got a four-poster bed you know”, Julian leered.

“I don’t care if it’s got hot and cold running naked dancing boys, I’m not living there!” said Adam.

Julian pushed him into the corner by the fireplace, and began to run his hands aggressively round his neck and shoulders, tugging down Adam’s dressing-gown as he did so.

“If you don’t come over there”, said Julian “You won’t get any of this”.

Adam pushed him backwards, and tore off his dressing-gown, revealing himself in all his glory.

“And if you go and live there”, he said “You won’t get any of this either! A little thought for you to dwell upon!”

“He had me caught in a cleft-stick”, said Julian, standing up on deck with Hillyard a short while later. Julian was smoking a cigar in agitation “He’ll have me changing my mind in no time”.

“He’ll come round, won’t he?” said Hillyard, uncertainly.

“No he won’t”, said Julian “Not when he’s like that. And I can’t persuade him. He’s got one over on me”.

“I thought you were supposed to have the upper hand”, said Hillyard.

“Hillyard”, said Julian “Adam can talk dirty more effectively than anyone else I’ve ever known. And to make it worse, he means every word of it, he’s not a coquette, he means what he says. His intensity is dangerous and exciting, all at the same time. It’s not like when we were younger, when for the sake of my own sanity I could get away from him and fool around with someone else. He’s got me exactly where he wants me”.

“Yeah but you can still fool around with someone else!” said Hillyard.

“Oh I know that, old chap”, said Julian “But I need him more than he needs me these days”.

“Don’t be daft, he needs you as well”, said Hillyard “You’re the only one of all of us who can give him a good hiding!”

“There is some consolation in that”, Julian laughed, and he turned to look at the castle on the rock “Shame. That room I had my eye on could be made tremendously sexy. Imagine being in there with a gale howling all around us”.

“There’s no reason why we can’t do that as well”, said Hillyard “We can’t let them beat us on this”.

Kieran had spent the afternoon feeling sorry for himself, alleviated a little only by Adam coming in to rub some cream into his very sore bottom, and then meeting Bengo coming out of the heads, and asking him to come into the cabin and dance for him. Bengo, as always, had been delighted to do this. Having finished his hoofing duties, he made up his mind to be even more hard on Bardin, at least until his partner saw sense over living in the castle on the rock. As such, when dinner was served in the big dining-room, Adam had to go round a few of the Indigo-ites and whisper to them not to tease Bardin too much, as he was a in a fragile mental state.

As such, everybody watched with rapt attention when Bardin came into the room to take his place at one end of the long table. Bardin looked like somebody suffering the after-effects of shock, or a bad dose of flu. Really, all that had happened was that Bengo occasionally appeared in his presence to deliver another devastating slice of character assassination.

“Now you don’t need your whistle in here”, said Adam, gently removing it from him.

“Aren’t you up to having your food?” Tamaz asked Bardin, hopefully.

“I can still eat, thank you!” Bardin snapped “I haven’t been stopped from doing that as well!”

As soon as he had sat down, Bardin banged his knife on the table, and everybody stopped what they were doing to look at him.

“I am aware that our trip to the castle on the rock is causing some controversy”, he said, stubbornly refusing to look at Bengo, who was loitering nearby with a dish of vegetables “So I am going to call a vote. Democracy in action. We are going to have a vote here and now as to who thinks we should set up a temporary home on the rock, and who wishes to stay here”.

Bardin had a strong suspicion he was going to be voted down, and he was, but at least he felt as though he had done the right thing. Another thing that consoled him was that he felt that this wasn’t going to be the end of the matter.

“You shouldn’t have come into the dining-room for dinner”, said Hillyard, helping Kieran back into bed “I could’ve brought you something in here. You’ve had enough moving about for one day in your condition”.

“And miss the rare sight round here of democracy in action?” Kieran quipped, climbing gingerly back into his bunk “You can be sure Julian wouldn’t have thought of doing that!”

“And Bardin must have known he was going to lose as well”, said Hillyard “Got no bloody spirit of enterprise in ‘em that lot! We could really turn that place into something special, but no, they won’t have it”.

Hillyard noticed The Whacker lying on the wash-stand, where Joby had left it.

“If I had my way”, he said “I’d chuck that bloody thing overboard!”

“No point”, said Kieran “Julian’s got one even more lethal hidden in his desk. He uses it on Adam”.

“Just for once, I’m not sorry to hear that!” said Hillyard.

“Anyway”, said Kieran “I can’t complain just because I get a heavy-duty hiding”.

“Joby and Julian are bloomin’ well suited if you ask me”, said Hillyard “A couple of heavy-handed old sadists together!”

Julian hadn’t been alone with Joby for some time, and was noticing this omission badly. Late that evening he waylaid Joby as he came out of the heads, and took him into the main cabin, which was blessedly empty, as everybody else (apart from Kieran) was playing skittles in the dining-room.

“You’ve been avoiding me”, said Julian, bolting the door and pushing Joby gently up against the wall.

“No I haven’t”, said Joby “It’s just that we’re always so busy in the galley, and I also have to look after Kieran. It doesn’t leave me much spare time”.

“I already know all that”, said Julian “But I still feel you’re avoiding me. Come on, confess it”.

“Well I …”, Joby looked shamefacedly down at his feet “I didn’t want you to get bored with me”.

“Do we have to have this again?” said Julian “I only get bored with you when you start wallowing in your bloody angst again!”

He walloped Joby, and left him smarting.

“Alright”, said Julian, afterwards “Don’t start snivelling”.

“I wasn’t!” said Joby.

“Otherwise the others will think you can dish it out, but can’t take it back”, Julian continued, fetching the brandy decanter and two glasses, and bringing them over to the fireplace.

“I don’t ever notice you taking it back if it comes to that!” said Joby, rubbing his behind. As always, he had really quite enjoyed being bent over and vigorously spanked by Julian, even if when Julian was cross, as he had been, it did hurt somewhat. When in a relationship with Julian, being spanked was as natural as holding hands and kissing would be with anybody else.

“Oh it happens occasionally”, said Julian, sitting down on the sofa “Adam gets sufficiently fed up with me to give me a dose of my own”.

“Yeah, but it doesn’t happen often enough if you ask me!” said Joby, sitting down next to him.

“Often enough actually!” said Julian “A little bit of Adam’s chastisement goes a long way, as you must well know by now!”

Julian folded him in a huge hug and kissed him long and lingeringly. Joby moaned, but with pleasure for a change.

“Cute little arse”, Julian whispered “My Moon Child. With your cheeks all cooked I can squirt some of my own juices into you”.

There was a very loud banging on the door, and Hillyard’s and Ransey’s voice demanding to be let in.

“Oh for fuck’s sake sod off!” Julian erupted, in frustration.

“NO!” they shouted back “It’s late, we want to come in!”

“There’s no bloody privacy round here”, Joby grumbled.

“No there’s not”, said Julian, who suddenly had a glimmer of hope that this might be a way of bringing Joby round to the idea of living in the castle on the rock for a while.

“Julian reaches the parts where poor old Kieran cannot reach”, said Kieran, as he and Hillyard were waiting to use the heads early the next morning.

“Don’t be daft”, said Hillyard “It was me and Ransey wanting to come in when Joby was coming to the boil that’s changing his mind”.

“How can a scrawny little Irishman compete with a public school Adonis with a 12-inch dick!” said Kieran.

“Will you behave!” said Hillyard.

“You’re supposed to get jealous as well”, Kieran pointed out.

“And I do, sometimes”, said Hillyard “But I have to admit Joby’s been good for Julian. He seems to have mellowed him a bit. You don’t get Julian stamping around and bellowing anywhere near as much as we did”.

As if right on cue Julian burst out of the main cabin, and began shouting for some hot water to be brought to him immediately.

“You were saying?” said Kieran, when Julian had gone back in again.

“Well sometimes it works”, said Hillyard.

There was no faulting Joby’s nursing of Kieran that day (not that there ever was usually). He washed him, brushed him, kept him supplied with hot water bottles and cups of tea, and took him his meals on a tray.

“Julian won’t like all this attention you’re giving me”, said Kieran.

“I don’t expect he’s noticed”, said Joby, tidying up the cabin “I don’t know what’s got into you at the moment, carrying on like this”.

“I keep having images of you two setting up home together”, said Kieran “Can’t get them out of me head”.

“What, a nice little Victorian terraced house somewhere?!” said Joby, sarcastically “You do talk a lot of bollocks sometimes, Kiel! Anyway, even if we did, we’d have to find room for you”.

“Oh I’m sure you could me a little corner by the kitchen fire”, said Kieran, whimsically.

Joby gave a guffaw of laughter.

“You are completely bonkers sometimes!” he said “And it would mean me doing all the chuffin’ work. You two are such lazy old arses”.

“I’d make the tea”, said Kieran “And be the whipping-boy for when you couldn’t take anymore”.

“If I get too many sessions like yesterday, that might be more oftener than you think!” said Joby.

Suddenly the ship’s engines started up.

“We’re on the move”, said Joby, in astonishment.

“What’s got into Bardin?” said Kieran.

“Bengo probably”, said Joby.

This was fairly accurate, although for a change not in a literal sense. Bengo had taken in Bardin’s morning coffee earlier that day, and found Bardin sit in a sulky fug in the middle of their cabin, surrounded by the dogs, who divided their time, when on-board ship, between here, the main cabin and the forward deck.

“You just have to accept it, Bardy”, said Bengo “You lost the vote. Now is the time to move on”.

“It’s not as simple as that”, Bardin snapped.

“Look, I don’t understand”, said Bengo “What is so bloody fascinating about that damp-ridden old hell-hole?”

“I thought it could be another Midnight Castle”, Bardin whimpered.

“That is just plain stupid, Bardin”, said Bengo, sternly “It’s nothing like Midnight Castle. There’s no beach, no bloody sunshine AT ALL, no forest. Just rock and gloom, and fucking damp coming down the walls! Now get that stupid idea out of your head! That is my very last word on the subject”.

This was all very magnificent on Bengo’s part. Unfortunately this tour-de-force performance was rather undermined by the button on his breeches choosing this moment to give way, (it was usually in a very precarious condition), and his breeches slithering to his ankles. This convulsed Bardin into fits of laughter, and he decided to move the galleon on further up the coast of the main island, as a sign of gratitude to Bengo for lifting his spirits. Something that was much needed in this peculiar twilight land they were in.

The anti-castle faction on-board the galleon were delighted by Bengo’s miracle-working. Bengo himself was rather less than impressed.

“I always wondered what it would be like to be a serious actor”, he complained in the galley, whilst Toppy knelt beside him, trying to sew the recalcitrant button back onto his breeches “No I know what it would be like for me. I would just be finishing wowing the audience with a stirring speech, not a sound to be heard in the house, the audience all holding their breaths with awe, and then I’d go and drop me bloody trousers!”

“I’m sure you were absolutely magnificent, old love”, said Adam “Very Dame Sybil Thorndike”.

“Dame Bengo!” Joby laughed.

“I think it’s one of the most romantic things I’ve ever heard”, said Adam.

“What, Bengo losing his trousers?” said Joby.

“No”, said Adam “Bardin ordering the boat foreword, it’s all rather lovely”.

The strange screaming and shouting started up again, and this time it wasn’t confined to the night-time. Bardin, Julian, and Lonts stood on the forward deck that afternoon listening to various disturbing wails and shrieks coming from the big island.

“We travel all the time”, said Bardin “Twenty-four hours a day. If we stay any longer in this area we’ll all go barmy”.

“It’s the island of lost souls!” Kieran shouted, from the top of the quarterdeck steps. He was clearly feverish, and stood there in only his nightshirt and bed-socks, wrapped in a blanket.

“Kieran, you’re crazy!” said Bardin, referring to Kieran’s inadequate attire, not his exclamation.

Julian picked Kieran up, and carried him kicking back below. This time Julian insisted that Kieran had to have his foot tied to the bottom of the bunk, whilst he still insisted on acting like a madman. For once nobody argued with him, and Kieran was secured with part of a rolled-up torn bed sheet.


“Is Kieran still delirious, Bardy?” said Bengo, lying on their bunk.

“No, he seems to be coming round”, said Bardin, folding up another map which had proved less than informative “Joby says he’s still very feverish, but he’s not spouting gobbledygook anymore. I think it’s because we’re coming out of this godforsaken area gradually, it’s having less and less impact”.

“Yes, thank God for having the engines on all the time”, said Bengo “We can’t hear those awful voices when we’re down here”.

Adam came in, carrying a tray with two plates of omelette on it.

“I thought you’d like to eat in here with Bengo this evening, Bardin”, said Adam.

“You must have so much work to do at the moment, Adam”, said Bengo “With me being out of action, and Joby having to nurse Kieran”.

“Yes I’ve been thinking about that”, said Bardin, which caused Adam to look at him warily “You need an extra pair of hands in the galley”.

“I can assure I can cope for the duration, Bardin”, said Adam, who jealously guarded his domain of the galley, and didn’t take at all kindly to ’helpful advice’ concerning it “Toppy gives me a hand when he can”.

“But that’s the point!” said Bardin “When he can, and that’s not often with all his other duties”.

“Well he’ll just have to cut down on your starching and dusting for the time being”, said Adam, which caused Bengo to hoot with laughter “Ransey helps me too”.

“Ransey is needed up on deck, with our 24-hour rota going on”, said Bardin “No, I thought Fabulous could be drafted in as a galley-hand”.

“Absolutely not!” said Adam, fiercely “The last thing I need is a lazy, pampered useless brat under my feet!”

“But you’ve said yourself he needs to find his niche around here”, said Bardin “To stop acting like an outsider”.

“Not in my galley!” said Adam.

“As Captain my authority over-rides yours”, said Bardin, which had Bengo gasping in horror “He will report for duty with you at 7 o’clock tomorrow morning, that is my final word on the matter”.

Bengo watched apprehensively, uncertain whether Adam was going to clout Bardin with the tray or the contents of his supper-plate. In the end Adam, (with remarkable self-control), contented himself with slamming the cabin-door.

“Bardy!” Bengo exclaimed, breathlessly “I don’t know what gets into you sometimes! You don’t talk like that to Adam!”

“You may not, as you’re a member of his staff”, said Bardin “But I do not come under his jurisdiction, and as I keep saying, it is high time he realised that!”

Adam went down to the other end of the boat to check up on Kieran, who was pleading with Joby to let his foot be released from its improvised harness.

“It’s to stop you throwing yourself out of the bunk”, said Joby.

“But I’m not delirious anymore!” Kieran protested.

“No but you still can’t be trusted not to act like a nutter”, said Joby “And if appearing up on deck in sub-zero temperatures wearing only a nightshirt and a pair of bed-socks isn’t acting like a nutter I don’t know what is!”

“But I can’t turn over onto me side!” said Kieran.

“It’s just for a little while longer, Patsy”, said Adam.

“The sheer focking indignity of it!” said Kieran.

“I thought you would have liked that!” Joby retorted.

Adam left them to it, and went into the big cabin, where he was thankful to find Julian alone.

“Something has to be done about Bardin”, said Adam, as Julian sorted out drinks for them “I cannot have him riding roughshod over my authority in this way”.

“He’s only trying to help, in his bulldozer way”, said Julian “Talk about the road to Hell is paved with good intentions!”

“I will decide what goes on in the galley”, said Adam, thumping his chest aggressively “Me, and only me!”

“It seems to me there is a monumental clash of ego’s going on here”, said Julian.

“I’m not taking that from you, you of all people!” said Adam.

“Oh shut up, and drink your whisky!” said Julian.

Bardin flung open the door and announced “the loo is blocked up again, you’ll need to use the plunger if you do a big one”, and walked out again.

“BARDIN!” shouted Julian “Get back in here!”

Bardin came in rather more sheepishly. Julian led him into the middle of the room as though he was a stage-director leading him to a specific spot.

“We all need to have a little chat”, said Julian.

“A little chat?” said Bardin, nervously.

“Yes”, said Julian “Now I agree with you, about putting Fabulous in the galley …”

Adam immediately grabbed the decanter and slopped more whisky into his glass, spilling a little of it in his anger.

“But you didn’t handle it very well”, said Julian “Now I know that the sledgehammer approach is what is needed when dealing with the other clowns, but with us ‘civilians’ I think you’ll find that a little more tact and diplomacy is what is required. You should have discussed it with Adam first”.

“But he wouldn’t have listened!” Bardin squawked “He would have just shouted me down!”

“He does have a point there”, said Julian to Adam, removing the decanter from out of his range “You are not a reasonable person to talk to sometimes, Adam”.

“I am extremely reasonable!” said Adam “When people are reasonable with me!”

Bardin sat down tiredly on a nearby chair, and looked wretched.

“There’s been so much to do lately”, he said, emotionally “Just trying to get out of this dreadful area, and then Bengo being sick … it’s all been so much. I’ve been running around like a tit-in-a-trance just trying to keep things under control. And I don’t think Adam’s being fair. He wouldn’t have given you all this trouble if you’d still been Captain, Julian”.

“Oh wouldn’t he just!” said Julian “You don’t know the half of it, my boy! He would have swung punches at me, you’ve got off lightly!”

“Oh now really, Jules, that isn’t fair at all!” said Adam.

“It happens to be true though”, said Julian.

“I’m going to go up on deck for a while”, said Adam “To get some fresh air”.

Bardin looked wretched after he had gone.

“Stop worrying”, said Julian, sitting down beside him.

“But Adam’s the sort of bloke who can take offence for life!” said Bardin.

“Eternity is a very long time”, said Julian “Even for him! You wait til Bengo’s back on his feet again, he’ll soon sort him out. I’ll go and have a word with him tomorrow”.

“But Bengo’s terrified of Adam as well!” said Bardin.

“We’ll find a way of making it work”, said Julian “Just bear with Adam at the moment. This area has got to him as well, and Tinkerbell being ill will have worried him inordinately”.

“It’s very quiet over there”, said Bengo, after breakfast the next morning.

Julian had come in to see him as promised. Bengo was still laid up, but he had been listening out for noises from the galley, convinced that Fabulous wouldn’t be able to get through his first shift without Adam murdering him.

“You must be getting quite bored in here”, said Julian “After all, it’s not as if you’re a bookworm”.

“I’m not used to being still for so long it’s true”, said Bengo “But it’s not so bad. The dogs keep me company, and Farnol comes in for a chat quite a bit, although he always scuttles off when Bardy appears. Tamaz came to see me, but he got bored when he found we didn’t keep any nibbles in here!”

“Do you think you might be up to helping with the dinner tonight?” said Julian.

“I would love to”, said Bengo.

“You’d be doing me a very great favour”, said Julian “I’ve got a little task for you. I want you to turn up for work in one of your masterly, decisive moods”.

“What? With Adam?” Bengo exclaimed.

“He’s always very impressed with you when you’re like that”, said Julian.

“Yes, but that’s when I’m sorting out Bardy!” said Bengo “Not him! I couldn’t!”

“You could”, said Julian “Come on, just think of it as an acting job. You’ll be playing a serious role for a change. I thought every clown wanted to have a bash at serious acting sometimes. You’re to go in there and act as though you strongly disapprove of the way he didn’t accept Bardin’s Captainly authority”.

“If I’m lucky he might fall about laughing I suppose!” said Bengo, doubtfully.

“You can do it”, said Julian “It’ll be an interesting challenge. Bengo if you don’t, we’ll have Adam fuming for an inordinate length of time”.

“Wouldn’t it be better if you sorted him out, Julian?” said Bengo.

“I have great difficulty reaching Adam when he’s like that”, said Julian “I only seem to make things worse! Kieran could do it, but he’s still not the full ticket, and Joby wouldn’t appreciate me giving him even more stress. No I’m afraid it has to be you, The Indigo’s Goodwill Ambassador!”

“Oh shit!” said Bengo.

The big island, The Island Of Lost Souls, as Kieran had called it, had been finally left behind, and they were back out on the open sea. The light was gradually improving, and the permanent twilight they had known up until then was receding.

“It’s not going to work, Jules”, said Adam, having a cigar with Julian on the forward deck a couple of hours later. He was referring to Fabulous being his new galley-assistant “Not only is he fundamentally lazy, but he’s an insufferable snob to boot”.

“Well so’s Toppy, but you work with him alright”, Julian pointed out.

“Toppy is a diligent worker”, said Adam “He takes a pride in doing a job to the best of his ability. I know it’s a bit of a joke at times, but I appreciate it, particularly up against the likes of Fabulous! If I have to hear one more time about how he used to eat in the best restaurants in Nuit”.

“Yes all one of them from what I recall!” said Julian “Fabulous needs some corners knocking off him”.

“Good grief”, said Adam “If everything he’s been through in the last few years hasn’t knocked the corners off him, I don’t know what will!”

“Some people have great trouble learning”, said Julian “Look at Piers. They’re obtuse. Perhaps our methods have been a bit too subtle”.

“That’s not a charge that’s levelled at us too often!” Adam joked.

“I’ve got an idea”, said Julian.

“Oh lor, another one?” Adam sighed, who even so was still blissfully unaware of the advent of Bengo that evening.

“I know, I’m firing on all cylinders today!” said Julian “Fabulous isn’t used to feeling vulnerable and insecure that’s his trouble”.

“He damn well should!” said Adam “He was scared witless at one time that the people of Nuit were going to tear him limb from limb!”

“Yes, but he doesn’t seem to have learnt from that”, said Julian “We have to make him feel insecure and vulnerable again”.

“What do you suggest?” said Adam, sarcastically “Maroon him on a floating ice-pack?!”

“Not quite as drastic as that”, said Julian “We’ll put him on the graveyard shift up here tomorrow morning, the 3 a.m to 6 a.m slot, everybody hates that one. And he’ll do it ALONE. Three hours of that should see some of the stuffing knocked out of him”.

“Don’t we have to clear it with Bardin first?” Adam snarled.

“Such remarks aren’t worthy of you, Adam!” said Julian, and departed back below-deck.

“Oh Bengo, how nice it is to see you again!” said Adam, when Bengo presented himself for duty early that evening. Fabulous had been signed off the dinner slot (much to Adam’s relief) and told to get an early night, ready for the 3 a.m shift later.

“Hello Adam”, said Bengo, as formally as he knew how.

“I have missed you in here”, said Adam, kissing him “And you’ll be a lovely antidote to Joby when he reappears, and we have a backlog of his moaning and grumbling to clear!”

Bengo wanted to cry. He could never resist Adam’s kisses and hugs, but he had to remind himself that he didn’t want a permanent rift opening up between Adam and Bardin, which was what could happen if drastic measures weren’t taken.

“What do you want me to do?” said Bengo, stiffly.

“Are you sure you’re up to working, old love?” said Adam “You still don’t seem quite yourself you know”.

“I’m fine”, said Bengo, swallowing hard “But things have to be said”.

“Oh dear, do they?” said Adam, who knew at once what he was referring to “Not you as well, Bengo! I’ve already had enough ear-bashing from Julian! I know you’re very loyal to Bardin, but you must see my point of view. He has this entire boat to be bossy in, all I ask is that he leaves this little corner of it to me. It’s surely not unreasonable for a chef to want control over his own kitchen!”

“And if Bardy hadn’t done anything, you might have accused him of not showing any interest in your staffing shortages!” said Bengo, with a flash of inspiration “He was only trying to help, Adam, and he’s right, you wouldn’t have listened to him”.

“Even so”, said Adam “The way he did it was exceptionally heavy-handed”.

“Then you could have boxed his ears or something!” said Bengo “That’s what Julian would have done!”

“It wouldn’t have made any bloody difference!” said Adam “I’d have still ended up with bloody Fabulous in here! And I’m sorry, but I can’t live in that unsettled way, not knowing what latest ‘brilliant’ idea The Boss is going to come up with, just to disrupt everything! I like an ordered working life”.

“I know, and Bardy is like that”, Bengo sighed, flopping down on a stool “He drives ME mad sometimes, constantly interfering in things. He’s always been like that, we’re never allowed to draw breath for one minute. No resting on our laurels, it’s onto the next big idea! Why do you think I punch him sometimes, or kick him in the pants, or whack him with a tray?!”

“I will be much less censorious when you do that in future!” Adam smiled.

“It doesn’t change anything, but it does make me feel a helluva lot better!” said Bengo “Oh Adam, you’ve got to ease up on him. He’s walking around all the time at the moment, looking like he’s about to cry! I can’t bear seeing that dear little face like that! It does me in!”

Bengo would have needed reminding of his goodwill towards Bardin in the middle hours of the night. He woke up to find Bardin stumbling around their cabin, ransacking his clothes for his fob-watch.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Bengo squawked.

“I want to know the time”, said Bardin (which was logical at least) “I specifically asked to be called at a quarter-to-three, and it feels significantly later than that”.

“What the hell do you want to be called at a quarter-to-three for?” said Bengo “You’re not on 3 a.m duty”.

“No but I want to make sure that Fabulous is up there in time, on time”, said Bardin, finally retrieving his fob-watch, he held it close to the fire to check the time “There! What did I tell you! It’s twenty-past-three!”

“So what?” said Bengo, crossly.

“So I wasn’t called like I requested, that’s so what!” said Bardin.

“Look Bardy, everybody had enough of you yesterday”, said Bengo “You don’t seriously think, in your wildest dreams, that they’re gonna be getting you up in the middle of the night so that you can plague them then as well!”

He leaned over the bunk and grabbed Bardin’s nightshirt, pulling him back towards him. Bardin was trying to fight him off when Adam walked in, wearing his heavy-duty dressing-gown, and carrying a tray of cocoa.

“Hello clowns”, he said “I thought you’d like a little night-time drink”.

“Why wasn’t I called on time?” said Bardin “I specifically said a quarter-to-three”.

“Oh just smack him, Adam”, said Bengo, flopping back against his pillows “I don’t mind”.

“Fabulous was up on deck on the stroke of 3 a.m”, said Adam, putting the tray down on the table “You need have no fear of that, old love. I didn’t think a few minutes here and there would matter when it came to calling you”.

“That is symptomatic of the sloppy thinking that goes on around here”, said Bardin “Who’s driving?”

“Mieps”, said Adam “She was specifically chosen because we didn’t want somebody who would chatter away to Fabulous for 3 hours, and not give him the isolation and vulnerability that he is supposed to be learning. In Julian’s words ‘the old girl doesn’t engage in mindless chit-chat’. Now I suggest you drink your cocoa and get back into bed”.

Before leaving the room though he dealt Bardin several hard slaps on his behind.

“Serves you damn well right and all”, said Bengo “You’ve been asking for that all day!”

“Do you mind!” said Bardin, feeling sorry for himself “That hurt!”

“I don’t expect you could feel anything through all that starch”, said Bengo, getting up to fetch his cocoa.

“Can we stop the relentless jibes about my underwear!” said Bardin “I could make some comments about those unsightly flannel things that you wear!”

“They keep my essentials warm”, said Bengo.

“Does that include your brain?!” said Bardin “After all it’s located in that region isn’t it!”

“At least I have got one!” said Bengo, magisterially, and took his cocoa back to bed.

Adam reported to Julian at daybreak that he wasn’t sure if Fabulous’s stint had really knocked the corners off him, as Fabulous still seemed as arrogant and cocksure as ever. “But he did say it had been the longest 3 hours of his life”, said Adam “And I honestly think it’s made him feel more part of the team”.

“Ugh!” said Julian “You sound like you’re spouting some form of corporate management speak!”

“Sorry, old love”, said Adam “But you know what I mean. I think he’s quite enjoyed it. I think he just needs to be given more things to do”.

When Joby was satisfied, later that morning, that Kieran seemed to be over his delirium, he decided to cut his foot loose from the harness.

“The knot’s too tight though”, said Joby “I’ll have to saw it with the razor”.

“You’ll probably end up cutting me focking foot off!” said Kieran.

“I’ll slit your fucking throat if you don’t stop complaining!” said Joby, getting to work.

“Hey, it’s quite quiet around here”, said Kieran.

“I spect Bengo and Bardin are having a nap”, said Joby.

“No, hang on”, said Kieran “The engine’s have stopped. Go and find out what’s going on”.

“Why don’t you go and find out what’s going on!” said Joby.

“Because me focking foot’s still tied to the bed-post!” said Kieran.

Still clutching the cut-throat razor, Joby went out into the corridor, which was empty. He went into the big cabin, and found Julian doing an inventory on his cigar-box. He looked up hopefully when Joby came in.

“No I can’t stop”, said Joby “We were just wandering why the engine’s have stopped”.

“I’ll go and find out”, said Julian.

Joby was still trying to release Kieran, when Julian returned.

“Land has been sighted”, he said “On the horizon. And it’s been several hours since we heard those ghastly voices, so Bardin has ordered a stop for a little while, just to try and get our bearings”.

“Joby, hurry up”, said Kieran “I want to go and see the land”.

“Why don’t you try having a bit of patience?” said Julian, caustically.

“Well you don’t normally have any!” said Kieran.

“We’re are going to moor out here overnight”, said Bardin, calling a meeting of everybody in the dining-room “I want to see if any lights appear before we go any further”.

“What are you talking about, Bardy?” said Bengo, in exasperation “What lights?”

“Aurora Borealis?” said Ransey.

“No”, Bardin snapped “Normal lights that you would expect to see on land at night-time, lights of civilisation. If we do, then we head there in the morning”.

“And if we don’t?” said Bengo, who thought this was an incredibly pointless meeting to have.

“We still proceed, but with much more in the way of caution”, said Bardin “Let’s just hope those damn voices don’t start up again”.

He left the room, with Bengo scampering after him. Hoowie, who had been doing a lot of watch-duty of late, collapsed tiredly into a chair by the fire. Normally Hoowie was like a hyper-active child, with a surplus amount of energy at his disposal, but for once he was genuinely tired. Very recently too his position within the group had changed. For many years now Hoowie had been the baby of the family, the problem child. This was a position that had been shared by a few of the Indigo-ites over the years. In the very early days it had been Lonts who had been The Baby. Then when they had first taken charge of Tamaz it had been him. (Curiously Toppy, who before Hoowie came on the scene had been the youngest, had never been regarded as the baby, although this could be because, as Bengo would put it, Toppy was “a bit of an old woman”). Since he had been taken in by them Hoowie had been their little brat. An off-the-wall child prone to opening his mouth at the wrong times, and taking all his clothes off in public.

Steadily, and very painfully, Fabulous had been absorbed into the group though, and it was clear what his position was now. He was the new problem child, the brat prince. Imperious, spoilt, still not having learnt the best way to handle people, and with everyone else desperately trying to think of the best way to knock him into shape. Fabulous had the brat’s true knack of saying exactly the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time. And all done with the effortless ease, and complete lack of conscience, of the true brat. Of course this situation was far from ideal, but at least it meant he now had a position within the family, instead of that-boring-outsider-we’ve-got-to-put-up-with-for-God- knows-how-long.

“One good thing if it is civilisation”, said Hoowie, chucking the remark over his shoulder for anyone to catch it “We can get some more beer in. We’re getting dangerously low”.

“And cigars”, said Adam “If we don’t get some more soon Julian will be absolutely unbearable”.

“Looks like I’d better find a bank when we get there”, said Hillyard.

It was civilisation, of a kind. To everyone’s utter shock it turned out to be Krindei. But not the Krindei that most of them remembered. Krindei had always been the sun-bleached fleshpot of the North. Money-makers gathered in Krindei, it was their natural stamping-ground. The world’s richest horse-races had been held in Krindei, it held the biggest casino’s, the biggest yachts. The Indigo-ites had never felt at home in Krindei, fun though it could be. The mammoth monuments to Mammon had left Kieran cold, and on one of the rare occasions when he was invited to a special dinner there, they had served him up what looked like half a cow on a plate. But he wished no harm to the place, he was quite happy to let them go their own way.

Of course tales of something strange afoot had been coming out of Krindei for many years now. Nobody seemed to be able to put their finger on what it was, but clearly Krindei was going through troubled times. In recent years the tales had been getting more and more garbled. Even so, the Indigo-ites weren’t prepared for the Krindei that they now saw. The city wasn’t blanketed in the perpetual twilight that they had just left behind them, but the daylight was weak, and the place was a far cry from the scorching whiteness that some of them remembered. The mountains that surrounded the City now seemed to be pressing in on it in a threatening manner, not simply serving as a magnificent backdrop as they had once done.

The buildings along the waterfront had a decaying air, and many sported broken windows. Like most places Krindei had always had its share of beggars, but even the beggars in Krindei used to have a fairly well-fed look to them. (Mainly because of the rich pickings at the back doors of the glitzy restaurants). Now the beggars look diseased, emaciated, and a distressing amount of them sported amputated limbs, festering skin, and decayed stumps for teeth.

“What the hell has happened here?” said Bardin, returning to the galleon after a quick recce round the waterfront, and Toppy helped him off with his outdoor clothes in his cabin.

“The prosperity has gone”, said Toppy, bleakly.

“It’s not just that”, said Bardin “Everyone’s walking around as though they’ve had the stuffing knocked out of them, they’re all sort of cowed and hunched, as if they’re bracing themselves for another attack of some kind”.

“But the prosperity going will have done that”, said Toppy “A place as rich as this once was would find it very hard to fall so far into the gutter”.

“And Dobley’s around here somewhere”, said Bengo, as though this was the biggest curse of the lot.

“No he’s up in the mountains somewhere”, said Bardin “Up in that sanatorium, or nuthouse, or whatever it is”.

“But we’ll still have to go and see him now we’re here won’t we?” said Bengo, miserably.

“Yes, we’ll take him a bunch of grapes!” said Bardin, sarcastically “If you don’t tell him we’re here, I’m certainly not going to!”

“He’s bound to find out, Bardy”, Bengo complained “It’ll be big news Kieran turning up here”.

“It might not reach the mountains”, said Bardin.

“It will”, said Bengo “If we don’t want it to!”

Bardin put no restrictions on shore-leave, so he was quite surprised when nobody chose to go out that evening. Instead, all the other clowns stocked up with crates of beer from a gloomy warehouse on the waterfront, and took them back to the galleon.

“You’d think they’d be itching for a chance to get their land-legs back!” said Bardin, in exasperation, as he and Bengo tried to sleep in their cabin, which was next door to the dining-room, where the rave-up was being held.

“It’s not the most cheerful town to go out in at the moment, Bardy”, said Bengo.

“Damnit! This is hopeless!” said Bardin.

“Oh that does it”, Bengo sighed, and climbed over him “We might as well go and join them. If you’re not going to fall asleep, or be naughty with me, then I don’t see any point in lying here listening to you complaining!”

Bengo put on a fleece coat over his nightshirt, and headed to the dining-room. Bardin sulkily followed him. A raucous sing-song which had been in progress stopped suddenly when they walked into the dining-room, as if a hand had suddenly whipped the needle off a record-player.

“Bardin!” cried Rumble, clearly inebriated “Where’s your pink nightie? Give the boys a treat!”

“You leave his nightdress out of it!” said Bengo, punching him in the shoulder, and then grabbing a bottle of beer.

“Does he always put it on when you’re alone together?” said Hal.

(Mutton Broth and Shag meanwhile had been stricken with terror at this act of lesse-majestie, and dreaded what Bardin’s reaction would be).

“You’ll never get a chance to find out will you!” Bengo retorted.

“Don’t take offence”, said Hal “We’re just a bit disappointed he’s turned up in his nightshirt that’s all, I mean he’s not even trying there is he!”

“We’re paying him compliments”, said Rumble.

“Doesn’t bloody sound like it!” said Bengo.

“Well we are”, said Rumble “He’s always had the best figure out of all of us, he used to make a splendid lady-boy in our productions”.

“Yes”, said Hal, going into what appeared to be a contemplative nostalgic reverie.

“Alright, that’s enough!” said Bardin, sitting down at the end of the long table, and putting his feet up on it.

“He’d look even better now his mouth’s been fixed”, Hal continued, regardless.

“I’ll fix yours in a minute!” said Bardin.

“Me and the lads have been talking”, said Hal, after a chorus of “Oohs!” “And we was thinking we’d better call in and see old Dobley whilst we’re here”.

“This is beginning to feel like a bloody conspiracy!” said Bengo.

“Just what do you want to see him for?” said Bardin “We’ll trek all the way up there, and he’ll spend the entire time whingeing on about what a hard time he’s had, and how nobody understands him. It scarcely seems worth the effort!”

“Yeah but that’s the trouble you see”, said Hal “We’re having all this fun, and he’s not had any”.

“That is scarcely our fault!” said Bardin “We tried to take him in, but he couldn’t be trusted to behave like a civilised human being! He tried to attack Tamaz!”

“But we won’t take The Little One with us”, said Hal.

“I’ll think about it”, Bardin rasped, which the other clowns took as a positive sign that Bardin had caved in.

“Oh come on”, said Bengo, miserably “Let’s have another song for God’s sake”.

“Sing that song about the donkey with his heavy load you used to sing when we was kids, Bengo”, said Farnol.

“I’m not singing that one, it’s a kid’s song”, said Bengo “Anyway I can’t remember the words”.

“I bet you can”, Bardin teased “The amount of times you had to sing it it must be ingrained in your memory!”

Bengo refused, and they took part in another communal sing-song instead, which was broken up by the other Indigo-ites half an hour after midnight, out of sheer desperation.

“If there’s one thing I can’t stand”, said Bardin, as he and Bengo returned to their cabin, both a little on the tipsy side “It’s when Hal gets sickly sentimental. I know it doesn’t happen very often, thank God! But when it does he’s unbearable, I can almost hear the bloody violins screeching away in the background!”

“But you didn’t have to give in to their stupid idea, Bardy”, said Bengo.

“I had no choice!” Bardin squawked, aggressively chucking more logs onto the fire “They would have kept on and on and on until I gave in. It would have been a form of torture! I wonder how long it’ll take us to travel up to where this nuthouse is?”

Bengo picked up one of the maps from the table, tried to scrutinise it, and then gave up, tossing the map onto the floor.

“I can’t even make any sense out of those when I’m sober”, he said “Let alone when I’m like this!”

“I think it’s only just outside the City”, said Bardin “Up in one of the mountains nearby. It can’t be too far up, it wouldn’t be practical. Oh well, another job for the morning. We’ll probably have to hire another truck or something”.

“Oh Hillyard will love that!” said Bengo, excitedly.

“I’m glad somebody’s going to get something out of this!” said Bardin, waspishly.

“Poor Bardy”, said Bengo “It’s been a very stressful time lately hasn’t it? Why don’t you give me a good spanking, I haven’t had one for ages”.

“You’ve been ill that’s why”, said Bardin.

“Then it’s high time I was thoroughly chastised”, said Bengo “And you’re my Educator, you always have been”.

“Where on earth did you get that word from?” said Bardin “It’s got 4 syllables in it!”

“Reading one of Julian’s porn books when I was laid up”, said Bengo “The proper term for a Spanker apparently is an Educator”.

“I think I prefer Spanker!” said Bardin “I hope you’ve got your flannel bloomers on?”

Bengo pulled his nightshirt up to his waist, exposing his choicest underwear.

“You’re not complaining about them now are you!” he giggled.

“I’m off shopping”, said Julian, meeting Adam in the outdoor-clothing storeroom after breakfast the next morning “Where are you off?”

“I’m taking Shag to the opticians”, said Adam “Providing we can find one in this depressing place!”

“What does he need glasses for?” said Julian “I’ve never seen him read anything!”

“I think he’s getting dreadfully short-sighted, Jules”, said Adam “He keeps walking into the furniture and into the doors. He seems to misjudge the size of things”.

“I thought that was all part of being a clown!” said Julian.

Adam heard Bardin’s voice out in the corridor and went out to speak to him.

“I really can’t have all the clowns coming with me today”, said Adam “They seem to all want to come and watch Shag having his spectacles fitted”.

“Pathetic isn’t it!” said Bardin “If you can take Mutton Broth with you I’d be grateful, as he and Shag seemed joined at the hip these days. I’ve got another job for the others. Hoowie desperately needs some new clothes, his are falling to bits, so they can go and get him kitted out. Meanwhile Bengo and me are going truck-hunting”.

Hillyard was also coming with them, which ordinarily would have miffed Bardin a bit. But, as was often the case after a bit of chastising, Bengo was in one of his adoring moods. At times like this he trotted along beside Bardin like a faithful hound, and Bardin knew that Hillyard could never be an “Educator” like he could. Before leaving the galleon Bardin gave final orders to the other clowns about Hoowie’s proposed new wardrobe.

“No buying things that are outrageous and impractical”, he said “His new clothes have to be hardwearing and above all us, practical”.

“You wear what you damn well like!” Hoowie pointed out.

“My clothes are practical”, said Bardin.

“The pink nightie isn’t”, Hoowie mumbled.

“Well if you want one, you buy one!” Bardin trumped him by saying.

Krindei was bringing back slightly mixed memories for Hillyard, and by and large they were unpleasant. It was typical of Hillyard that when he was reminded of the assault by The Wang Man it wasn’t himself and what had happened to him that caused him distress, but that he had taken Bengo to that dreadful party and exposed him to such awful people. When they had selected a bottle-green truck at a used car lot, he sat in the front of it with Bengo, whilst Bardin messed around at the back blithering on about spare wheels with the seller.

“None of that matters, Hillyard”, said Bengo, sitting in the passenger seat “It was so long ago, and so much has happened since then it’s crazy. Blimey, Bardy hadn’t even joined us then!”

“And you were so young”, said Hillyard “I can picture you still, so young and so out of your depth with those bloody people, and I exposed you to all that”.

“It was a strange time”, said Bengo “Take no notice. Don’t forget we’d been at sea for a long time, and it had been very stressful, capturing Tamaz and Joby being kidnapped and everything. I’ve never blamed you for anything”.

Hillyard looked dangerously as though he was going to cry.

“I let you down”, he said “I never did deserve you”.

“Ooh!” said Bengo, concerned both for Hillyard, who he didn’t want to see upset like this, and concerned also that Bardin would reappear at any moment, whippet-like and interrogatory.

“Look”, said Bengo, softly “Can you drive this home yourself? And I’ll walk Bardy home, ‘cos otherwise he’ll know something’s up, and he won’t shut up until he finds out”.

“But he’ll probably carry on like that at home as well!” said Hillyard.

“No he won’t”, said Bengo “I’ll have kicked him into shape by then!”

“Of course I would never have let you go to that damn party in the first place!” said Bardin, as he and Bengo walked back down the length of the long central thoroughfare of the city, one that seemed like a mere carcass of it’s former self “Haven’t I constantly warned you about people like that?”

“Yes, but what’s done is done”, said Bengo “And I don’t want you getting all fierce with Hillyard. If you want to get jealous just yap at me, I’m used to it!”

They passed a girl standing in the shadows of a doorway. At first she looked at them hopefully, and then changed her mind and resumed her despondent pose.

“She looks so young”, Bengo whispered.

“They often are”, Bardin sighed.

He went back and pressed some notes into her hand, and then they carried on walking down the street.

“I don’t suppose there’s any hope she’ll spend it on food!” said Bardin.

“Did you ever go to one of them, Bardy?”

“No I bloody didn’t! What do you take me for!”

“I just wondered”, said Bengo “You had those chorus-girls”.

“And they won’t thank you for comparing them to tarts!” said Bardin “And you vastly over-play all that, as usual. It wasn’t so much about sex, I just wanted company a lot of the time”.

“Were you that lonely then?” said Bengo, with infuriating innocence.

“YES!” said Bardin “After you’d pissed off and left me like that!”

“Oh Bardy!” said Bengo, emotionally “If only I knew then what I know now, I’d have kidnapped you and taken you with me, but we’d reached such a rock-bottom hadn’t we, and I didn’t see any way out of it”.

“Yes, and that was all because of bloody sex as well!” said Bardin.

“I really wish you’d told me everything that had happened to you”, said Bengo “I would have understood then, I would have been very tender with you, my little baby”.

“I know”, said Bardin, quietly “But I didn’t think you’d have been able to cope with it, you still can’t cope with evil, you know that”.

“But it doesn’t help if people go around deliberately keeping things from me!” said Bengo “Oh Bardy! If we only had that time over again, I’d make it all so different!”

“That’s not important”, said Bardin, blinking back the tears “What’s important is the here and now”.

They passed a couple of old men playing chess on the pavement, and then came to a stop in front of a shop-window. Hoowie was standing in full view of the street, being helped into a pair of skin-tight brightly-coloured trousers by Farnol and Rumble.

“I don’t believe it!” said Bardin, as Bengo let out a whoop of laughter “I suppose he thinks that’s what I meant by practical and hard-wearing clothing!”

“We’ve got practical and hard-wearing clothing”, said Hal, inside the shop, indicating a heap of brown parcels lying on a chair nearby.

“I wanted a pair of trousers like you’ve got”, said Hoowie, now out of the shop window and in the shop itself “I thought why should old Bardin get to wear all the flashy stuff, and we all have to dress down all the time”.

“I’m not wearing flashy stuff now am I!” said Bardin, indicating his corderoy trousers and duffle-coat.

“No but you will when we get to warmer climes”, said Hoowie.

“If we ever do!” said Rumble.

“Yeah, I thought old Bardin will go into his tight trousers, and his see-through trousers, and his skimpy little vests”, said Hoowie, causing Bengo to collapse onto the floor and howl with laughter “And generally prance around like a rent-boy on a meat-rack, and there’ll be me, in rags as usual!”

“You don’t wear rags!” said Bardin “Stop feeling sorry for yourself! And you look like you’re going to split those trousers at any moment!”

“It’ll make a change from me doing it!” said Bengo.

“We’ve got him a pair of specs rather like Ransey’s”, said Adam, talking to Julian in the big cabin on the galleon, referring to his little expedition to the opticians with Shag “Lo-Lo says they make Shag look intelligent”.

“Miracle spectacles are they!” said Julian “I’ve been busy too, I’ve bought up a tobacconists”.

“Oh Jules talk sense”, said Adam “You know absolutely nothing about shop-keeping!”

“Not literally, you fool!” said Julian, showing him his newly-replenished cigar-box “I’ve practically brought up their entire stock, the desk drawers are stuffed to the gills with them. Here come on, you can have one”.

They both lit up, and inhaled deeply.

“Not bad at all”, said Adam, coming up for air.

“There was a fellow in there when I was there”, said Julian “Lit one up as soon as he’d bought it. Didn’t take the band off!”

“The rotter!” said Adam.

“Exactly!” said Julian “Hope he’s not the chap Hillyard’s bought his new truck from, you can never trust a man who doesn’t remove the band from his cigar!”

Joby and Kieran could be heard outside the door, going into their cabin.

“Hey, get them in here”, said Julian “I’m going to give them a dressing-down”.

“Why, what have they done?” said Adam.

“I saw them leaving the City Hall”, said Julian “After I’d expressly told Kieran not to go sticking his nose in whilst he was here and all!”

Adam summoned them into the big cabin, and Julian did a bit of bellowing.

“I wanted to know what had gone on here”, said Kieran “None of this feels right, this isn’t just a place that’s gone down the pan, there’s something else as well”.

“They didn’t tell us anything anyway”, said Joby “We was practically turned out onto the street!”

“I could have told you that was going to happen!” said Julian “The powers-that-be aren’t going to open up to us are they, they never do! If you want to know what’s what go round the bars and do a bit of eavesdropping, I’m sure that won’t be too difficult for you!”

“But you should see the look of that place”, said Kieran “There was grass growing out of the steps!”

“I don’t care if there was marijuana growing out of the steps!” said Julian “You don’t go in there causing trouble!”

Kieran flew at Julian, grabbing him by his waistcoat. Julian let out a roar and dealt him several hard slaps on his behind. When Kieran had righted himself he flounced out of the room.

“Julian had a right to be annoyed, Patsy”, said Adam, when he had followed Joby and Kieran into their cabin a few minutes later “You hurt his nipple!”

“Oh dear!” Joby laughed.

“I don’t know what gets into you sometimes I really don’t”, Adam continued “You will try and take Julian on in a fight, and you never can win. You’re half his size! You want your cake and eat it that’s your trouble. One minute it’s jolly little Kieran, no side to him at all, one of the troops, and the next you’re throwing a prize tantrum because you can’t have your own way! You’re still Mrs Flannery’s spoilt, precious little boy at heart”.

“Me Mam didn’t spoil me”, said Kieran.

“Yes she did”, said Joby “She had pictures of you all over her living-room! It used to give me the creeps having all these pictures of a miniature Kieran glaring down at me!”

“I bet he looked adorable”, said Adam, softening.

“He looked bloody scary I know that much!” said Joby.

“Julian’s uneasy at the clowns planning to all go off into the mountains”, said Adam “And I can’t say I’m looking forward to it too much, I shall miss them dreadfully around here”.

“It’ll certainly be a lot quieter!” said Joby.

“Why don’t we all go then?” said Kieran, pouring out some water into the washing-bowl and splashing some onto his face.

“But what happens to the galleon then?” said Joby.

“It’ll be alright”, said Kieran, far too casually for Joby’s liking “We’ll have the new truck, and the wagons”.

“Bardin might not like it”, said Adam “He might see it as us being too possessive, not giving them enough lee-way”.

“Ask him then”, said Kieran “He’s out in a bar somewhere nearby, let’s go and find him”.

The three of them ran Bengo and Bardin to earth in one of the largest of the waterfront bars. It was also very empty. The barman, two men standing at the bar, and the two clowns seemed to rattle around in the place like a few stray loose peas in a can. A pianola was playing by itself in a corner. Like everything else in Krindei, the bar had clearly once known better days, and the signed photographs of the rich and famous which decorated the walls all over was testament to that.

“Bardy and me were just seeing how many of these we’ve met”, said Bengo “Quite a few”.

“A lot are dead now of course”, said Bardin, soberly.

“Like most of the city, or so it seems!” said Joby.

“We were just wondering how many of the old crowd at The Little Theatre in Toondor Lanpin have probably passed over now”, said Bardin “Like Hawkefish, and Hortense, and Olympe”.

“That was always going to be the downside of living forever”, Adam sighed, removing his outdoor clothing and sitting down.

“I’ll get some more beers”, said Bengo, grabbing the tray and going over to the bar.

“I think we should try and head back to Toondor Lanpin sometime”, said Adam “It’s many years since we’ve been there. It’ll make a nice change for Hillyard to see his kids!”

“I can’t imagine they wanna see Hillyard!” said Joby.

“Of course they do”, said Adam “Everybody wants to see Hillyard!”

“He was getting a bit upset earlier”, said Bardin “Bengo tried to keep it from me, but I know they must have been talking in the truck”.

“This place does carry very mixed memories”, said Adam “It’s still a terrific shock to the system, seeing it like this. Like seeing a beautiful, glamorous woman again after many years, and finding she’s turned into a penniless old hag”.

“Good way of putting it”, said Joby.

“Bardy”, said Bengo, returning to the table with a tray full of beers “Can I have some more money for the pianola?”

“Oh for God’s sake!” Bardin pulled out a wad of change “Don’t shovel it all in there!”

Bengo gave a tut and went over to the machine.

“Sometimes I absolutely marvel that I’ve been looking after him since he was 6!” said Bardin “It’s truly amazing how he’s never grown up!”

“Finia was telling me once that Sagittarian men never do grow up”, said Adam.

“I have”, said Bardin, stiffly “I had to grow up at a very early age”.

Adam recalled many of Bardin’s more hilarious tantrums, and fits of petulant pique, and decided he’d better reserve the right to comment.

“Everybody it seems has suddenly got an urge to see Dobley”, Bardin was now saying.

“Well I wouldn’t say that, old love”, said Adam, who couldn’t care less if he never clapped eyes on Dobley ever again “It’s more that … well we don’t really want you to go without us”.

“Pathetic isn’t it!” Joby mumbled into his beer.

“Take no notice of him”, said Adam “I know damn well he’ll be like a bear with a sore head all the time that Bengo would be out of the galley”.

“I thought as much”, said Bardin “So I suggest that we all go”.

“I said that earlier”, said Kieran.

“And as I said earlier as well”, said Joby “We are not leaving the galleon on its own”.

“Somebody can stay behind to mind the boat”, said Bardin “And look after the hens and the goats, and Bessie [one of the horses], she won’t be able to cope with the mountain temperatures with her rheumatism”.

“I’ll mind the boat”, said Joby, stubbornly.

“Like hell you will!” said Kieran.

“I shall decide in the morning who stays”, said Bardin “But it won’t be one person, that wouldn’t be fair, a couple can stay”.

There was bright sunshine in the morning, which helped to raise the temperatures somewhat. After breakfast, Joby sat slouched in one of the deckchairs up on deck. Suddenly Kieran appeared in his line of vision.

“Are you alright?” said Joby, sitting up.

“Julian’s had another blast at me”, said Kieran, looking rather sorry for himself “Gave me a helluva hiding”.

“Right I’m gonna have a word with him”, said Joby, heaving himself from his deckchair “You sit there, it’s nice and soft”.

“Joby, you don’t have to do this”, said Kieran “It’s me he’s having a go at, not you”.

“Leave this to me!” said Joby.

He found Julian, alone in the big cabin, shaving in his underpants.

“I could have cut myself”, Julian complained “You bursting in like that!”

“Serve you damn well right if you did!” said Joby.

“Oh I see”, said Julian, rinsing his razor “Kieran’s been spouting off to you has he? I might have guessed as such! And you’re being the avenging angel, as always”.

“You don’t have to keep beating him, Julian”, said Joby.

“But it seems I do, old fruit. The little fart won’t do as he’s told otherwise, not unless he’s chastised so much he can barely move anyway!” said Julian “Before you took over in that department, I used to regularly thrash him everyday. So I don’t know why he’s bleating, it’s hardly anything new for him!”

“Julian”, said Joby, in a quieter tone “Promise me you won’t ever use the strap on him again, like you did at Wolf Castle that time”.

“I promise”, said Julian “One session of that was quite enough. But I will continue to tan his backside when he gives us trouble, so don’t expect otherwise. You don’t look too well you know”.

“Thanks”, said Joby “Everybody keeps telling me that at the moment!”

“Because it’s true”, said Julian, dressing himself in a leisurely fashion “You’ve lost weight, and you look as if you’ve been sleeping rough in a forest for several weeks. I’m going to take you out today. Get you scrubbed up a bit, and then some lunch. Do you a power of good”.

After a hair-trimming, a professional shave, and a hot towel pressed round his face, Joby began to look and feel more human again. Julian then took him clothes shopping, and finally they wound up in what had once been one of Krindei’s premier restaurants. These days the place was practically deserted, and the big red velvet banques, grouped in intimate little circles, yawned empty.

“At least we shouldn’t have any trouble getting served here”, said Julian.

After they had sat down he decided on oysters to start.

“There is an R in the month isn’t there?” Julian asked.

“I think so”, said Joby, struggling to remember which month it was exactly “It can’t be May yet surely?”

“Oysters to start then”, said Julian “And then the crab salad. Don’t look so worried, one thing I am still certain about with Krindei, is that the sea food should still be alright”.

“I’m gonna be feeling quite mellow by the time this afternoon’s over”, said Joby, after they had downed the oysters, and were now cracking open the crab.

“Kieran won’t recognise you”, said Julian “One thing you must understand, Joby. I beat him today because not once lately has he considered you at all. He refused to behave when he was ill, and he’s still refusing to behave now he’s well!”

“Yeah well that’s just Kieran innit!” said Joby “He’s high maintenance”.

“It doesn’t seem to occur to him how lucky he is to have somebody as longsuffering as you as his sidekick”, said Julian.

“Oh c’mon, be fair, Julian”, said Joby “He’s had a lot to put up with from me as well you know! He’s been far more tolerant than a lot of people would have been at times. And you’re wrong when you say he never considers me, he does. He shows a lot of thought and concern when I’m under the weather for instance. I can’t imagine life without Kieran”.

“Well just occasionally you’ll have to put up with me trying to get you for myself”, said Julian “I know it’s not going to work, but it still won’t stop me trying”.

“That’s why you wanna keep trying!” said Joby “If I was handed to you on a plate you’d probably be really disappointed! Adam’s sometimes said in the past that you always want what you can’t have”.

“Take no notice of Adam”, said Julian “His grievance is that I can’t be as flamboyantly intense as he is about everything, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have intense feelings, because I do”.

“Would you have Adam if he was handed to you on a plate?” said Joby “All to yourself like?”

“Yes”, said Julian “I know how to cope with him now, I didn’t when I was younger. He was how you said about Kieran, high maintenance. Adam wants total devotion from those he’s with, well I couldn’t give it in those days, such things scared me, but I can give it now”.

“There’s no way on earth you could be completely faithful to just one person!” Joby laughed “It’s not in your nature!”

“Oh I could be faithful”, said Julian “If the circumstances demanded it. I couldn’t stop flirting, it’s true. I enjoy it, it’s second nature to me. The problem when we were younger was that Adam couldn’t see that that was all it was. To him flirting is a deadly serious thing, the starter dish before you inevitably move onto the main course. He doesn’t see it as a thing to be enjoyed in its own right. So in the old days he put his own values onto me, and thought that I was intending to bed everybody I was flirting with. Of course in the end it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Things got so tense between us that I did end up bedding them”.

“Poor old Ad”, said Joby “Not that I don’t have any sympathy for you as well”.

“I should damn well hope so!” Julian smiled.

“But he always seems more flaky somehow”, said Joby.

“He’s also very tough”, said Julian “Don’t make any mistake about that. It’s just that love to him is a very painful thing, whereas I just want to enjoy it!” He paused to take a swig of ice-cold beer, and then asked “What do you think would have happened to Kieran if you two hadn’t got together?”

“Probably carried on being married to Amy”, said Joby, although these days he didn’t believe that anymore.

“From all I’ve heard of that young lady I very much doubt it!” said Julian, as though reading his thoughts.

Joby grunted in reply. He knew now that Kieran was too gentle, too all-round mystical to hold somebody like Amy, who had had a very full-on gimme-it-right-now attitude towards sex.

“Let’s not go down that road”, said Joby “I don’t like to think of Kieran being unhappy”.

“He would have been a lost soul without you, Joby”, said Julian.

“Life’s never easy for extraordinary people like him”, said Joby.

“And they don’t come much more extraordinary!” said Julian.

When they returned to the galleon late that afternoon, Joby found Kieran napping in their cabin.

“I hadn’t realised I had dozed off”, said Kieran, sleepily “Have you been shopping?”

He couldn’t help but notice that Joby was looking considerably better. Joby rarely looked what is called “well-groomed“, but this afternoon he came close, and his new white shirt suited him.

“Got a few things”, said Joby, dumping some squashy brown paper parcels on the bunk “Here, have a look at this. You’re gonna have to wear these, I can’t”.

He fished out a crimson silk shirt, and matching crimson cord trousers. Joby almost never wore bright colours. In fact, Joby was always spectacularly indifferent to clothes as a rule. He wore whatever was comfortable and suited to the purpose, and he would argue that most of the time his clothes were obscured by a large canvas pinny anyway. The idea of him suddenly swanking around in this colourful outfit was downright bizarre.

“What did you buy them for?” Kieran laughed.

“I didn’t”, said Joby “Julian did”.

“Ach he’s determined to turn you into his little rent-boy isn’t he!” said Kieran.

“That’s enough of that!” Joby gave Kieran’s hair a gentle tug “You can have ’em”.

“I’m not wearing them!” said Kieran “I shudder to think what I would look like! A dockyard doxy no doubt! Anyway, I’m a blonde, red clothes would look better on you”.

“Tell you what”, said Joby “You have the shirt, I’ll have the trousers. They’ll fit me better, and it won’t matter if the shirt’s a bit baggy on you”.

“Hillyard will be mad with the old jealousy”, said Kieran “This is normally the sort of flamboyant clothes he likes”.

“He wouldn’t be able to fit into ’em!” said Joby “God, I’d look a right fruit in that get-up!”

“Did you have a good time?” said Kieran.

“As much as anybody can in this town at the moment”, said Joby

“This is what I should be doing for you isn’t it?” said Kieran “Taking you out shopping and to a nice meal, not dragging you round strange places trying to get you into trouble”.

“I’ll take you out for lunch tomorrow”, said Joby “How’s about that?”

“Adam won’t let you have two days off on the trot”, said Kieran.

“If Adam complains I’ll suggest he comes with us”, said Joby.

The following day did not get off to a good start. The sun disappeared for one thing, and they were left with the damp and dismal cold gloom that they had seen rather too much of lately. Bardin was in a tizzy because he still couldn’t decide who should stay behind to mind the galleon, and the phrase “all this for bloody Dobley” was heard more and more. Hoowie didn’t help matters by announcing that he had a dream, extremely realistic, about Bengo going off in a car with a strange woman. This had the potential to cause so much extra tension that Julian called him in for a chastising session.

“Serves you right and all”, said Bengo, when Hoowie appeared in the galley as they were preparing breakfast “What on earth were you thinking of?”

“I was only telling you about my dream”, Hoowie complained “Everybody’s always talking about their dreams. I didn’t think this one would matter, as it’s not likely to happen. What woman’s gonna want to take you off in her car?”

“Quite a few I should imagine”, said Adam “He’s very cute!”

“I only mentioned it ‘cos it felt very real”, said Hoowie.

“Yeah, so you said before”, said Bengo, unimpressed.

“You was getting in the back seat”, said Hoowie “And you had your old bag with you”.

“Oh well if I had Bardy with me it’s not a problem!” said Bengo, which made Joby laugh.

“I still got fucking beaten up for it though”, Hoowie protested “He used a fucking paddle. Look!”

He proceeded to yank down the back of his trousers.

“Not in here, old love”, said Adam “It’s dreadfully unhygienic. Anyway, as far as I can see, you’re barely even pink. What on earth are you complaining about?”

“It’s the principle of the thing!” said Hoowie.

“Oh blimey”, said Joby.

“You don’t even make this much fuss when Bardy straps you!” said Bengo to Hoowie.

“Yeah well that’s dignified innit”, said Hoowie.

“Is it?” said Joby, in astonishment.

“I’ll put some cream on it for you after breakfast”, said Bengo.

“I had a funny dream recently”, said Joby “Where I tried to drink wine from a glass stuck between me toes”.

“Did you manage it?” said Adam.

“No”, said Joby “The glass broke. I wonder what the Freudian significance of that is?”

“Something sexual I expect”, Adam sighed “It always is!”

“Is Bardin gonna come in here?” said Hoowie, when he followed Bengo into his cabin later.

“He might”, said Bengo, rummaging around in a drawer of the washstand for the cream “It’s his cabin as well”.

“Can’t we put a chair under the door-handle?” said Hoowie.

“No!” said Bengo “He’ll think we’re up to something! I wish you’d stop making such a fuss. I’ve had more spankings than you’ve had hot dinners”.

“Yeah but you’re kinky”, said Hoowie.

“Well you’re not exactly normal!” said Bengo “Come on, drop your trousers”.

“Do I have to?” said Hoowie.

“How the fuck am I sposed to rub cream into your arse if you’ve still got your trousers on, you great twerp?” said Bengo.

Hoowie cast another nervous look at the door, and dropped his trousers and pants. Bengo bent him over and gave a giggle.

“Your arse is so hairy”, he said “Just like the rest of you”.

Hoowie let out a series of yelps and shrieks as the cold cream was slapped onto his bare flesh.

“God, you are such a baby!” said Bengo.

“Hey Bengo”, said Hoowie “Can we have a little fool around when you’ve done?”

“No, I haven’t got time”, said Bengo.

“You’re always making excuses”.

“It’s not an excuse, it happens to be the truth! Adam wants me to grind up a load of coffee beans. You’ll have to find somebody else to prey upon”.

“That’s all very well”, said Hoowie “But nobody else hits the spot quite like you do. I can’t see you without wanting to get you into a corner. Perhaps that’s why I had that dream. Because I’m terrified of you running away”.

“Yeah like that’s really gonna happen!” said Bengo.

“Oh go on”, said Hoowie, now in a very wheedling tone of voice “You know I never let you down. I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll even smack your arse if you want me to”.

Bengo thought all this was truly hilarious, and was having trouble applying the cream because he was laughing so much. Playfully, he jabbed his finger at the top of Hoowie’s arsehole, causing Hoowie to yelp again.

“That never fails to hit the spot either!” said Bengo.

“You’re not really gonna go and grind the coffee-beans are you?” said Hoowie, as Bengo began to wash his hands.

“Yes I am”, said Bengo “Some of us have jobs to do around here”.

“Can’t we make a date for later?” said Hoowie.

“I don’t know what’s gonna happen later!” said Bengo.

“Bengo”, said Bardin, poking his head round the door “I’m just off for a chat with Julian. Hoowie, I’d find something useful to do if I was you, Julian’s not best pleased with you at the moment”.

“I’m not best pleased with him!” said Hoowie “The swine!”

“Rumble and Farnol have offered to stay behind and mind the galleon”, said Bardin, seated by the fire in the big cabin, whilst Julian made tea on his samovar “I guess it’s the only way, though I’m not happy with it. Bengo’s going to miss Farnol something rotten, and I find Rumble useful to help me keep the other clowns in order”.

“From what I see you manage pretty well by yourself”, said Julian, who seemed to be able to manage the feat of looking elegant even in an old plaid dressing-gown “Anyway, I can help you with one of them. I’ll take Hoowie off your hands for you”.

“What are you going to do with him?” said Bardin, in alarm, who had images of Julian offering up Hoowie for sale in the market place.

“I shall simply take him under my wing”, said Julian “Ever since he’s joined us, all those long years ago, he’s been allowed virtually to run around like a loose cannon amongst us, causing trouble”.

“He’s got too much energy that’s his trouble”, said Bardin “It’s a manic form of energy sometimes. He says and does things that most other people would rein back from”.

“Under my strict guidance he will find an outlet for that manic energy”, said Julian.

“B-but what do you want to be bothered with Hoowie for?” said Bardin, who found it all utterly incredible.

“I think I need a little project”, said Julian “With Spring allegedly coming on and all, it‘s a time for taking on new tasks. And everyone I would like to be obsessed with seems to be wrapped up in somebody else. The old girl is getting closer and closer to Ransey these days, I don’t like it but there’s not much I can do about it. She finds him restful, and he admires her practicality and her economy with words”.

“I guess it’s a virtue that’s in short supply round here!” said Bardin, ruefully.

“Joby is in complete thrall to Kieran”, Julian continued “Adam has all his little boys around him, and Hillyard is too busy … well being Hillyard I guess. Hoowie would be a challenge, an interesting challenge”.

“Well I’ve never thought of him that way before!” said Bardin “But Julian, are you sure you know what you’re doing? I mean, this is HOOWIE we’re talking about!”

“He has his attractions”, said Julian.

“I suppose he can be quite sexy”, said Bardin “In a very offbeat sort of way. Bengo’s always got him in his trousers, or so it feels like sometimes. But you’re a man of class and taste and sophistication”.

“Very kind of you to say so, dear boy”, said Julian.

“And Hoowie’s a guttersnipe!” said Bardin “He doesn’t even look human half the time!”

“It’s quite a little fantasy of mine”, said Julian “To take a primitive creature and tame it”.

“You’re not going to zombify him are you?” said Bardin “I mean, I know he can be an almighty pain in the arse at times, but I think I would find a completely docile Hoowie a bit disturbing!”

“I can’t imagine that happening either”, said Julian “Although he might appear a bit cowed and shell-shocked at times I expect. He won’t know what’s hit him with me zooming in on him. But completely docile? Not very likely is it!”

“Well I’m not going to argue with you”, Bardin sighed “It’ll be nice to get him out of our cabin, he’s been pestering Bengo a lot lately. It’s getting on my nerves. It’s starting to feel like we’ve got a lodger!”

Bardin left the cabin soon after and went to find Hoowie, whom Julian wanted to see, to announce his new plans for him.

“I’m going to take you under my wing, my boy”, said Julian, when Hoowie appeared in his cabin, looking understandably suspicious “You’ve not had the full benefit of my guidance before, but you’re going to get it now”.

“If having the full benefit of your guidance is anything like what I had this morning”, said Hoowie “Then I don’t want it!”

“I don’t care”, said Julian “You’re still going to get it! We’ll start off by having a little tidy-up I think. Remove some of that excess fuzz from around your face”.

“I like looking like this”, said Hoowie “It’s cool”.

“No it’s just scruffy”, said Julian “I’ve never really gone in for The Wild Man Of Borneo look”.

Julian began sharpening his razor on the strop. It was the sight of the strop that brought Hoowie momentarily to heel. Even though, for once, it was being used for its proper purpose.

“You’re a funny looking creature”, said Julian, mixing up the shaving-cream “Got quite piercing little eyes on the quiet haven’t you? I never normally seem properly, hidden behind all that hair. No wonder with your looks that I’ve thought you’re a lunatic at times!”

“I used to do modelling I’ll have you know”, said Hoowie, proudly.

“You were an artist’s model”, said Julian “Handsome good looks aren’t necessarily a prerequisite there. If anything, the weirder the better. And I suspect it was your long, lean body that fascinated them”.

Hoowie stood rigid with nerves whilst Julian set to work de-fuzzing his face.

“You’re not gonna cut my hair are you?” he asked, when Julian had finally finished.

“No I rather like long hair”, said Julian “Although it probably needs tidying up a bit. I’ll take you out to the barbers later, like I did with Joby. He found it very relaxing, so hopefully it might calm you down a bit. I shall keep you close by me when we’re travelling into the mountains. I now think of you as my investment, so I will want to keep you where I can see at all times”.

“Here”, said Hoowie “What’s Mieps gonna think about all this? She’s got a filthy temper on her when she’s jealous she has!”

“Mieps will be fine”, said Julian “She’s often said you need more discipline. And anyway, she’ll be too busy canoodling with Ransey I expect to notice!”

“Oh dear”, Hoowie gave a snort of laughter “I think you’re the jealous one!”

Julian kissed him fiercely on the mouth. Hoowie was more taken aback by this than anything else. It was rare for anyone to aggressively volunteer a kiss for Hoowie, normally he had to scratch around for them like a pig looking for truffles.

“I-I”, Hoowie stammered, when he came up for air “I’ve never been able to get enough sex”.

“That’s why you’ve got so much manic energy, as Bardin put it”, said Julian.

“It’s murder for me sometimes”, said Hoowie “Living so closely with everybody, everyone sleeping in the same bed. But I’m always made to feel like a sex-pest, ’go away Hoowie, not now’, or ’we’ll get back to you when we’re desperate’, and it’s ten times worse with Bengo! I just wanna throw myself at him all the time, and he doesn’t care, the little swine!”

“You’ve got an addiction”, said Julian “And we need to do something about it, don’t we?”

Bengo, the little swine, was sitting outside a quayside bar with Farnol, having a sentimental last beer together, before the great expedition tomorrow. They had been joined by Mutton Broth, who was engrossed in a magazine which seemed to be showcasing the more extreme examples of male genitalia.

“I think old Julian might have met his match with our Hoowie”, Farnol was saying.

“Well if anyone can get Hoowie to calm down a bit it might be Julian”, said Bengo.

“Yes but this is Hoowie we’re talking about!” said Farnol “Just when Julian thinks he’s got him tamed Hoowie will be tearing all his clothes off and swinging from the nearest lamp-post, you know what he’s like!”

“There’s a man in here”, said Mutton Broth “Whose balls are 22 inches in circumference”.

“Oh don’t be silly!” said Bengo “His balls are nearly 2 feet wide?!”

“Yes, look”, Mutton Broth showed him a picture of a man who looked as though he had some monstrous tumour growing out of his pelvis. Above the huge sacks sat an even more revolting penis, which looked like yet another evil tumour growing out of the first one.

“That is disgusting!” said Bengo “How the fuck can he possibly have an erection with all that?”

“He doesn’t”, said Mutton Broth “It’s impossible, but he says that doesn’t bother him, as he gets all the sexual kicks he needs just by having all that”.

“He’s barmy!” said Bengo.

“I hope you’re not wanting one like that, Mutton?” said Farnol.

“Oh don’t get him onto his dick for Christ’s sake!” said Bengo “It’s his favourite topic of conversation!”

Fortunately they were diverted by Julian striding along one of the duck-boards, with his hand clamped round Hoowie’s wrist, who he was dragging along behind him like a shopping-trolley.

“Hoowie looks a bit emotional”, said Farnol.

“So much for calming him down then!” said Bengo.

The barbers was packed with men all listening to a horse-race on the shop radio. Those that weren’t thus engaged were sat in a row in front of the mirrors, all waiting to be serviced. Hoowie was at the far end of this row, whilst Julian leaned negligently against the edge of a mirror, smoking a cigar. Hoowie looked rather nervous, as though he was about to have his head cut off. This wasn’t due to being in the barbers though, but something else entirely.

“It’s cruel what you’re doing”, he suddenly said.

“What?” said Julian “Taking you out for a couple of hours?”

“After a few days of all this”, Hoowie went on “You’ll suddenly get sick of it, and I’ll be dumped, like a dog being sent to the vets to be put to sleep!”

“Can we stop all this inferiority complex?” said Julian “It is rather tedious, and when have you ever known me to dump anybody, eh?”

This was true, Hoowie couldn’t think of anyone Julian had wilfully got sick of and dumped. He was still pondering on this when Mutton Broth excitedly came in, pursued by Bengo.

“Julian!” Mutton Broth cried “You could be in this magazine!”

He thrust the magazine into Julian’s face.

“I have no earthly wish to be in that magazine!” said Julian.

“But the man with the world’s biggest dick is in there”, said Mutton Broth “And his is 13-and-a-half inches, that’s only one-and-a-half inches bigger than yours!”

“Bengo”, Julian sighed “Take him away”.

“That’s what I’m trying to do!” said Bengo.

“And tell Bardin that Mutton’s reading matter needs to be more strictly policed”, said Julian “He’s spending far too much time between the covers of prurient rags like that!”

Bengo managed to haul a protesting Mutton Broth back out of the shop again, all the while whispering “Bardy won’t be pleased to hear about this you know”.

“Thirteen-and-a-half inches as the world’s biggest?” Julian snorted “We are living in lean times indeed!”

“Mine’s not far off that”, said Hoowie, in wonderment.

“Thank God we’re hitting the road tomorrow!” said Julian, blissfully unaware he was sounding rather like Ransey “It might improve our level of conversation!”


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