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“Come on, open up! We’ve been travelling all bloody day!” shouted Bardin.
A little turret window up above, to the right of the top of the main doors, was flung open, and Dobley stuck his head out.
“Bardin!” he cried “What are you doing up here?”
“Never mind all that now”, Bardin snapped “Let us in, it’s freezing out here, and it’s going dark!”
“Be right down”, said Dobley.
It took an age for Dobley to get down to the front door, but then this building did seem a bit on the huge side, so allowances had to be made, Bardin grudgingly thought. Dobley opened a small door which was cut into the bigger double ones, and looked out. He saw the clowns, (sadly, minus Farnol and Rumble) plus Hillyard, facing him, with the bottle-green truck behind them (Hillyard had been driving).
“What are you all doing up here?” Dobley asked again, although he did look gratifyingly pleased to see them.
“There’s more of us to come”, said Bardin, slipping through the little door, and imperiously beckoning the others to follow him in “But they’re travelling by horse and wagon, so they’ll be a while yet”.
“We’ll keep an ear out for them”, said Dobley.
They all assembled just inside the main doors, finding themselves in a vast entrance passageway, which stretched away into a dark shadowy region at the back. Several doorways and twisting staircases could be glimpsed along the side of this corridor. A more grander staircase, made out of big blocks of stone, curled upwards on their right. Dobley must have come down this one to let them in. Above their heads the ceiling was raftered, and clearly the passageway was the height of the entire building, effectively cutting it in two.
“Quite a place you’ve got here”, said Bardin, dryly.
“It’s so good to see you!” said Dobley, who looked old and frail, and not a little shaky, even though he hadn’t touched alcohol for quite some time, having been successfully weaned off it. He wore a woolly hat and a scarf, and fingerless mittens, which was quite understandable, as the place was icy.
“And little Bengo”, said Dobley, sounding like a sentimental old man “Still beautiful as ever, eh?”
Bengo wasn’t impressed by this sudden show of chummy-ness. In the past Dobley had made very little effort to conceal his dislike and jealousy of Bengo, and Bengo wasn’t about to suddenly wrap his arms around him in reconciliation, not without a bit more proof that times had changed first. He stared back at Dobley stonily.
“Is there anywhere we can sit down?” said Bardin, pointedly, as it looked as though Dobley might keep them here all night, whilst he busily enthused at them.
“We can go in the Governor’s old room”, said Dobley “It hasn’t been used since … well not for a while”.
Bardin cast a suspicious look round at everyone else, as though to confirm that they were all thinking what he was thinking, that this situation was certainly as odd as they had expected. Dobley led them down the corridor, their footsteps echoing on the stone floor. The building was as silent as the grave. So far nobody else had appeared. The Governor’s Old Room was large and square, with a sizeable desk in the middle of it, and filing-cabinets around the walls. The fireplace was empty though, and looked as though it had been for quite some while. If at all possible, this room seemed even colder than the corridor.
“Where’s the Governor?” said Bardin, conscious of his breath wafting in the icy air.
“He’s been gone … a while”, said Dobley, lighting a candle in a bracket on the wall, which made the room seem even more dismal.
“Dobley”, said Bardin, with forced patience “You must have SOMEWHERE in this great old mausoleum that won’t give us instant frostbite!”
“Somewhere perhaps where the temperature might be a degree or so above freezing might help!” said Hillyard.
“But they can go down to the kitchen”, said a rather fey female voice from behind them, in the doorway.
They turned to see a woman, aged perhaps in her 40s, although it was hard to tell. She must have once been extraordinarily pretty, in a rather delicate, china shepherdess sort of way, with tumbling blonde hair, blue eyes, and a waif-like figure. But, for some God-only-knows what reason, her face and body had been ravaged by some barbarous plastic surgery. She had had so many face-lifts that opening her mouth to speak looked like a considerable strain. In fact, the eccentric soft feyness of her voice may have been due to this. The Indigo-ites were later to discover that she also had a rather peculiar little flute-y laugh, as though she wanted to let rip in a belly laugh, but was physically restrained from doing so. Her whole face looked like a grotesque rubber mask, one that you wanted to rip off and release the woman underneath. She moved stiffly and awkwardly, so it could be safely assumed that her body had suffered the same terrible atrocities with the surgeon’s knife. Dobley introduced her as his friend, Althea. The term “friend” in this context might have led you to assume they were lovers as well, but it was hard to imagine Althea being up to the job, not without shattering into tiny little pieces in the process.
No amount of butchery could alter the fact though that Althea was possessed of a endearingly gentle charm, and she made the Indigo-ites feel at home in a way that didn’t exactly come naturally to Dobley! After she had been introduced to them all, she took them across the corridor, and down a flight of steps into the lower regions of the Castle (it was hard to think of it as anything else). Their way was lit by flaming wall sconces, and these seemed to be the main source of lighting in the Castle.
“You have to be careful you don’t catch your hair on these!” Althea joked, and she gave her little flute-y laugh.
At the bottom of the steps was a large pair of iron gates, which led through into the cavernous kitchen. Down the centre of it was a long table flanked by benches.
“We all used to eat in here together”, said Dobley “It was all part of the rehab process”.
Thanks to the large, black stove it was markedly warmer down here, and the Indigo-ites began the wonderful process of ridding themselves of their cumbersome outer garments.
“How many of you are here?” said Bardin “And where are all the staff?”
“There aren’t any staff left here”, said Dobley, sadly, whilst Althea busied herself setting a large kettle of water on the top of the stove “Everyone went gradually. We didn’t always see the going of them”.
“How long has all this been going on?” said Bardin.
“A long time now”, said Dobley “There’s only me and Althea left, that we know of”.
“That you know of?” said Bengo.
“This is a big place, little one”, said Althea “And we haven’t been in the hospital for a very long while”.
“The hospital?” Bardin queried.
“Yeah, the hospital part of the sanatorium”, said Dobley “Some people didn’t just come here to be rehabbed, they needed medical treatment, surgery. The hospital’s on the other side of the big metal door at the end of the corridor upstairs. You’ll see it as you walk around I expect. We’ve kept it locked up for a long time. It was giving us bad vibes”.
“I see”, said Bardin, although he didn’t see at all. Everything was completely baffling.
“So you mean to tell me you and Althea have been rattling around this great old barn of a place all on your own?” said Hillyard.
“It is our home”, said Althea, simply “The outside world is not always a very kind place, Mr Hillyard. Dobley, we must give these people some supper. They must be very hungry after all their travelling”.
“Well perhaps we should wait for the others to turn up”, said Bardin, even though he was ravenous.
“But we will feed them as well”, said Althea, and she laughed again, as though it was hilariously absurd of them to think otherwise “We have plenty of food. There are big food stores here”.
“Nothing much in the way of fresh stuff I’m afraid”, said Dobley, getting all his pots, pans and utensils together on the kitchen table. He was clearly the main cook around here, a fact which the clowns found incredible “We’ve been living out of tins and bottles and jars. But we make our own bread, and we get fresh water out of our own well. That’s underground, on the other side of the Castle. We’ll show you how it works tomorrow perhaps. I take it you are staying with us for a while?”
“Oh I do hope so”, said Althea, and she looked wretched at the thought of them leaving.
“Well as long as we’re not inconveniencing you at all”, said Bardin, feeling awkward. The whole situation felt surreal, as though they were normal guests arriving for a stay at a normal house, which certainly wasn’t the situation at all!
Althea gave her flute-y laugh in response. She was certainly a woman prone to laughing.
“You don’t know how good it is to see you”, said Dobley, and to the clowns’ collective horror, it looked as though he might be about to burst into tears. Fortunately he wiped his eyes, and continued with his cooking.
The rest of the evening continued in a maelstrom of the other Indigo-ites eventually turning up, which meant stabling had to be found for the horses, and accommodation for everybody. The horses were taken round to a side courtyard, surrounded by three sides by a higgledy-piggledy maze of doorways, balconies, and little dark slit-like windows. This was clearly the very old part of the Castle, and the rest, including the mysterious hospital, had been built onto it.
Most of the Indigo-ites were allocated an old dormitory, which was where Dobley had shouted down to them when they arrived. The double row of iron bedsteads might not have looked the most cheerful of accommodation, but at least it could accommodate them. Bengo and Bardin were given the Old Governor’s bedroom, which was so large it came on two levels, and Julian and Hoowie had a smaller room, whitewashed room, just across the first-floor corridor from them. Bengo took his and Bardin’s bags upstairs, and was irritated to find Toppy busy at work in the bedroom, making up the four-poster bed. Bengo very abruptly showed him the door.
“I wanted to make sure it was all done properly for The Captain”, said Toppy, officiously.
“I do know how to make a bed up, thank you very much!” said Bengo “I have been doing it all my life!”
“What’s going on here?” said Bardin, coming in as Toppy was flouncing out “Have you been upsetting him again?”
“He upsets me actually!” said Bengo, aggressively shaking out a double sheet “It drives me mad how every time I come into our cabin, or our bedroom, I find him pissing about in it!”
“He’s only trying to help”, said Bardin “He would have finished that bed by now, if you hadn’t stopped him. As it is, we’ve now got to do it ourselves”.
A narrow little door, which was tucked away near the bed, and which had been locked, was heard opening. Althea emerged, carrying a hurricane lamp.
“Where did you spring from?” said Bardin.
“Oh this Castle has so many little hidden parts”, said Althea, fluting again “I wanted to show you this. It is part of the back staircase, and takes you right down to the kitchen”.
The clowns followed her back through the door. They went up a small flight of very narrow wooden steps, and along a claustrophobically narrow corridor, completely windowless.
“This is quite fun”, said Bengo “Reminds me of being backstage!”
“Complete with dust!” said Bardin, sneezing.
Althea led them out to the top of a winding staircase, which twisted downwards for as far as they could see.
“You just follow that”, she said “And you will come down to the kitchen. It is a very convenient short-cut”.
“If you can have a short-cut in this great barn of a place!” said Bengo.
Joby and Hillyard stood at the entrance to the first-floor ward, and looked down the rows of grim little iron bedsteads.
“Well we’ve stayed in worse places”, said Hillyard.
Joby gave him a look which clearly said they had stayed in better places as well. Two of the beds were already made up, which suggested that this was where Dobley and Althea slept as well. This was a surprise as the Indigo-ites would have expected them to pick The Old Governor’s room, or the one which Julian and Hoowie were now in.
“Is she sleeping in with us?” said Joby.
Hillyard gave an exaggerated sharp intake of breath.
“Oh Joby”, Adam purred, coming into the room “You are still so wonderfully old-fashioned at times!”
“Prehistoric I would have said!” said Hillyard.
“Just don’t seem right that’s all”, said Joby, awkwardly “We’re gonna have to get undressed in front of her”.
“Yes I know, the poor woman!” said Adam “Well I for one am quite glad she’s going to be in here, otherwise it would feel too much like the school dorm for comfort! I would be constantly expecting Julian to appear wanting to raid the place for contraband!”
“Nah, he’s too busy tucked up with his new toy”, said Hillyard.
“Now don’t start getting jealous, Hilly”, said Adam “Not now, when we’ve got so much else to deal with”.
“Hey!” said Tamaz, pulling Adam’s sleeve “That Person is going to be in here with us you know”.
“Do you mean Dobley?” said Adam “Don’t worry, old love, we won’t let him anywhere near you. And anyway, Dobley doesn’t look as though he’s capable of getting up to his old tricks. He looks so damn frail and trembling all the time”.
“Even so”, said Joby “We’ll move our beds closer together. Where the hell’s Kieran got to?”
Whilst this conversation was going on Kieran had been leaning over some iron railings at the bottom of the main staircase. The flight carried on descending further than the ground floor, down into the nether regions.
“That is where our well is situated”, said Althea, coming up behind him, still clutching the hurricane lamp “I will show you in the morning. Oh, you have no idea how nice it is to have the Castle full of people again”.
“It must have given you the creeps being here on your own, you and Dobley that is”, said Kieran, following her up the staircase, their shadows thrown gigantically against the stone wall “I mean this place gives a whole new meaning to the word ’gothic’!”
Althea gave her fluting laugh in reply. Sometimes when she laughed it seemed as though she wasn’t ever going to stop, and this was one of those times.
“Tell me what happened to you”, said Kieran, catching her elbow and speaking to her softly “Were you in an accident was that it? Or a fire perhaps? And you had to have all that surgery?”
“There was no accident, you lovely man”, said Althea, in her own inimitable way “I was a dancer, an exotic dancer. Mother Nature is not kind when She makes us advance through life. I no longer had looked as I had when I was a young girl. We are not all blessed as you have been”.
This was said entirely without any rancour of any kind, which only made it feel worse somehow.
“But you could have moved on and done something else”, said Kieran.
“I wanted to be lovely”, she said “It was all I had”.
“But you’ve never left this place since?” said Kieran.
“The world is even less kind than Mother Nature”, said Althea “When my first operation went badly wrong, they said they would do corrective surgery to put it right. But it never seemed to quite work somehow. And as time went on, this became my home. People were kind here, thoughtful. They looked after me, and apart from some men I have occasionally known, I have never been looked after”.
The night passed entirely without incident, in the sense that everybody survived it in one piece anyway. But there was no denying that the Castle was an unnerving place, not helped by the bitter coldness which penetrated very brick, stone, stick of furniture, and item of clothing in the place. First thing in the morning Bengo went in to see Hoowie, and found him lying alone in bed.
“Julian’s gone to find a proper loo”, said Hoowie, still sounding punch-drunk, as he had ever since Julian had taken him ‘under his wing’ “I thought, he’ll be lucky in this place!”
“There must be one somewhere”, said Bengo “If it used to be a hospital. You can’t have a hospital without proper loo’s I would have thought”.
Hoowie flung open the bedcovers to let him in, and Bengo removed his long fleece coat before climbing in next to him.
“We’ve gotta get this place sorted you know”, said Bengo, as he tried to warm himself up “Get some proper fires lit for a start. I don’t know how they’ve been managing just with that stove in the kitchen!”
“Both a couple of right wuzzies if you ask me”, said Hoowie “I mean, have you had a good look at HER?”
“Adam’s told us we mustn’t poke fun at her”, said Bengo, as though Adam was about to spring vengefully from the brickwork.
“He’s not in here now is he?” said Hoowie “So we can say what we like. I swear she looks like she’s made out of plastic, and not very good plastic at that! Perhaps you’d better be careful with these fires you wanna light, she might start melting if she stands too close to ’em!”
“Poor thing”, said Bengo “Whoever did all that to her should have been done for butchery! How are you getting on with Julian anyway?”
“I think Bardin’s a right bastard for abandoning me like this”, said Hoowie “He doesn’t seem to care what happens to me. I thought there were laws against selling people into sex slavery!”
“Oh come off it!” Bengo laughed “You’re hardly a sex slave!”
“Wanna bet?” said Hoowie.
“Julian’s alright”, said Bengo “If I want to get round him I just sit on his knee and kiss him all over his face”.
“Yeah, you might be able to do that!” said Hoowie “You’re all sweet and sickeningly cute! It don’t work with me though does it! According to him, I look like a mad-eyed weirdo!”
“You’ll find Julian alright over time”, said Bengo “At least Bardy won’t have a go at you whilst Julian’s got control”.
“I find Bardin easier”, said Hoowie, practically pouting “All he does is point out my faults”.
“Yes, he’s very good at that”, said Bengo.
Julian and Bardin had found a set of proper lavatories, if they could be called that. There were two loo’s joined together by one wooden seat, like a bizarre sort of love-seat for chronically incontinent lovers. They were flushed by pulling up an iron handle, at which the bottom of them dropped away entirely to reveal the open countryside at the bottom of a steep drop in the mountain.
“I hope not many people walk around down there!” said Bardin, when they had finished.
“It’s virtually an old-fashioned garderobe”, said Julian “You’ll probably find we’ve got one hidden away in our rooms if we look”.
“Not exactly sanitary is it!” said Bardin “Toppy will have 40 fits when he finds out. How are you coping with Hoowie? I hope he isn’t being too much trouble”.
“Fascinating creature”, said Julian “Positively feral-like at times”.
“Oh Hoowie’s always been a nutter”, said Bardin, casually, as they walked back along one of the first-floor corridors “He’d have probably ended up in a place like this if we hadn’t taken him in. He would never have been able to hold down a job for very long. Back at the Cabaret we used to give him a job now and again, but I think the longest he never lasted at any one time was about a week! I remember Ully fired him once when he found he had climbed up into the flies”.
“I thought Bengo was always doing that kind of thing”, said Julian.
“Yes but Bengo used to do it just to go and have a sulk, or a fit of the weepies”, said Bardin “But Hoowie decided he’d go way up there and see how long he could hang off one of the lighting beams, with his hands I should add not by his neck! Ully decided he was too much of a risk to keep on. Risks were entirely for on-stage, not elsewhere! Looking back, I think we should have turned him into an escapologist, that might have given him an outlet for his manic energy”.
Back in The Old Governor’s Room, Toppy was dusting the mantelpiece, a sight which Bardin found almost as bizarre as the bottomless toilet.
“Only you would start dusting in a place like this!” said Bardin “Where’s Fatty?”
“Gone to see Hoowie”, said Toppy “Do you have to call him back over?”
“Yes, he’ll just get in the way over there”, said Bardin “I don’t want him undoing all Julian’s good work”.
Bardin went to the door and yelled for Bengo to get his arse back over the corridor.
“All he does is moan about me being in here”, Toppy grumbled.
“Ignore him”, said Bardin, and he went over to a door in the corner of the room. He opened it to find a tiny triangular room, barely bigger than a cupboard. In the floor was a hole. This was their garderobe, to be used like an old-fashioned French toilet, whereby you placed your feet on either side of the hole, and then did what was required.
“How revolting!” said Toppy “How on earth do the ladies manage with such a thing?”
“You’ll have to ask Althea”, said Bardin.
“Oh I couldn’t!” said Topy “It’s so primitive! How long do we have to stay in this utterly primitive place, Bardin?”
“I don’t know”, Bardin sighed “Until we find out what’s happened I suppose”.
Food looked like it was going to be a dismal affair at the Castle. The night before they had suppered off tinned corn beef, tinned new potatoes, and a weird sort of sprout vegetable, which had been grown in The Old Governor’s private garden, and of which there seemed to be (sadly) an inexhaustible supply. For breakfast porridge was the order of the day, made with powdered milk, and accompanied by black coffee (to save on the powdered milk). It was washed up afterwards with great relief, and Joby and Kieran stood on the huge dressers in the kitchen to put the plates and dishes away again. Bengo sat at the foot of the back stairs, having a conversation with Althea. He was enjoying himself telling her about The Bay and Midnight Castle, and their life there.
“It sounds heavenly”, said Althea “But why did you leave?”
“Weird things started happening there”, said Bengo “I mean, you get used to weird things happening at The Bay, but these were too much, so we decided to leave and let things cool for a while”.
“How long ago was that?” said Althea.
“I don’t know, ages, years”, said Bengo “We seem to have been gone from there a long time. A very long time”.
He suddenly sprang to his feet, and galloped up the other staircase. Althea watched him with amazement, she had never seen anyone run so nimbly up those treacherous stone steps before. The Indigo-ites always carried a hand-bell around with them wherever they went, for use to summon everybody when it was needed. At the Castle it was kept on the desk in The Old Governor’s office. Bengo flew up there, clambered up on the desk, and rang it madly.
“I’ve had an idea”, he said, breathlessly, when the others had finally all assembled there.
“YOU?!” said Tamaz, witheringly.
“Yes me, bozo!” said Bengo “Why don’t we all go back to The Bay and see how it is?”
“You’ve summoned us all up here for THAT?” said Toppy.
“Well what’s wrong with it?” said Bengo, in exasperation “I know it’s not folding towels, so to you it’s not gonna be very exciting, but I think it’s a brilliant idea. We only meant to leave for a while to give the area a chance to cool down a bit, and we’ve been gone for YEARS!”
In annoyance he went to clamber down off the desk, and fell off instead. Bardin went to help him up.
“I’m so annoyed, Bardy”, said Bengo, crossly “Anyone’d think I’d suggested something awful!”
“It’s a great idea”, said Bardin “You’ve just got to give people a chance to come round to it. But in the meantime, we’ve got to get to the bottom of this place”.
“Why?” said Bengo “We can take Dobley and Althea with us. Dobley could go and live with the monks, it’d do him good!”
“We can’t just leave this place, not knowing what’s happened here”, said Bardin, patiently “Just in case whatever has happened here has to be contained in some way”.
Kieran and Joby occupied themselves that morning trying to find another entrance into the hospital, other than the big, impenetrable steel door at the end of the ground-floor corridor. They had precious little luck inside the Castle, and went out into the side courtyard, where the stables were. Julian and Hillyard were sorting out the horses, and Lonts was sitting by the pump, smoking one of his pipes.
“Where do you think you two are going?” said Julian.
Joby explained about their mission.
“Have you noticed summat about this courtyard?” he added “There are no doors and windows on the ground floor! Reminds me of Marlsblad in the old days, when they had no windows on the ground floor ’cos of The Gorgon”.
“Some of the fireplaces upstairs are boarded up as well”, said Kieran “Like in the days of the green slime which the vampires came from”.
“Are there Gorgons and Vampires around here then?” said Lonts.
“Now see what you’ve done!” said Julian “You’ll get the boy all anxious”.
“I’m not a baby, Julian!” said Lonts “I’m just interested that’s all”.
“We all need to calm down a bit”, said Julian.
“I wasn’t getting excited!” said Joby.
“You would be far better employed quizzing Dobley and Althea about what they know”, said Julian.
“Those two?” said Joby “Right pair of lunatics! Be lucky if we get any sense out of them!”
The absence of the ground floor doors and windows in the courtyard was perturbing Joby. Quite naturally he saw this as significant in some way. Hillyard suggested that this might simply be relic from the old days, the Dark Ages, when many remote buildings may have been constructed in this way. Kieran added that as this place had been sanatorium, they may have kept the building like this for security reasons. Joby was annoyed that nobody was taking his gut instincts seriously, and went to have a sulk in The Old Governor’s Office, where Hal had got a very smoky fire going in the grate.
“Oh Joby”, said Adam, appearing in the doorway “Do come and join us, old love. Patsy and I are examining the steel door”.
“It’s all your fault”, said Joby, going over to him.
“What is?” Adam snapped.
“That we all end up having to listen to Julian all the time”, said Joby “It’s all because of you and the fact that you get turned on by him being all strong and masterful”. “Well sometimes I do, admittedly”, said Adam, whimsically “Other times I find it a confounded nuisance!”
“This door doesn’t make any sense!” said Kieran, standing in front of the big steel door, when Adam and Joby joined him.
“It fits in well around here then!” said Joby.
“There’s no way it can be operated”, said Kieran “There’s no lock, no handle of any kind, no mechanism for operating it as far as I can see”, he gave a stamp on the floor “It’s not even like one of the old sliding, electronic doors we used to get”.
“Electricity?” said Joby, dubiously “Around here?!”
“Yes there isn’t any”, said Adam “I thought at least they might have their own generator, this was supposed to be a top-notch sanatorium after all. I can only deduce that this door was operated only on the hospital side”.
“Why would they do that?” said Joby.
“Security, as Patsy said earlier”, said Adam.
“But then it would make more sense to have the mechanism on this side”, said Joby “To shut the loonies in. It doesn’t make any sense this way”.
“We have to find a way in there”, said Kieran “Even if it means we have to start knocking holes in the walls to get in!”
“I keep getting the unnerving feeling that somebody sealed themselves in on the other side”, said Adam “Why would they do that?”
“Some kind of mass insanity up here?” said Joby “People disappearing, topping ’emselves, shutting themselves up in there. Let’s get away from this door anyway. I keep expecting it to suddenly slide open and have Leatherface standing there, clutching a bloodstained meat-cleaver!”
Bardin was rifling through some of the files in The Old Governor’s Office, and had come across Althea’s. There was a small photograph of her at the front, which must have been how she had looked when she was first admitted. A pleasingly pretty woman in her 40s, the only signs of ageing being, so far as Bardin could see, was some slight coarsening of the features that often happens to women at that age.
“Just because she lost the bloom of youth”, Bardin said to Hal, who was still trying to stop the fire from smoking “Doesn’t mean she had to subject herself to what she did!”
“Some of ’em don’t know where to stop though, that’s the trouble”, said Hal, pausing to look at the photograph over Bardin’s shoulder “It becomes an addiction for ’em”.
“Bloody dancers!” said Bardin, in exasperation “I swear they’re the worst of the lot when it comes to being obsessed with their looks!”
“What did she want to carry on shimmying about for anyway?” said Hal “I would’ve thought she’d have had enough of it by then!”
“It was all she knew probably”, Bardin sighed, despondently.
Bengo came into the room carrying a pot of coffee. Unfortunately he tripped over a basket of logs Hal had left in his path, and smashed it up. Something snapped in Bardin. Something that had been gnawing away at him ever since he had arrived at the Castle. It was a bitter frustration, borne out of all the inexplicable mysteries to the place, of Althea turning herself into a grotesque freak, of a knowledge that for all that he appeared to be much better on the surface, Dobley still gave the distinct impression that he hungered desperately for an audience, and wouldn’t be fully alive again until he got one, and the worst of the lot, that whatever had happened here at the Castle was probably also responsible for the drastic decline in Krindei’s fortunes. The problems seemed insurmountable, and Bardin was angry at Bengo for having put thoughts of The Bay and Midnight Castle in his head, those places now seemed further away and more elusive than ever.
“Fuck you!” Bengo retorted “You’re not talking to me like that!”
He turned to leave the room, and Bardin pursued him. When he refused to stop yapping at Bengo, Bengo slapped him round the face. Bardin slapped him back, and this whole violent exchange looked as though it could go on for quite some time.
“Stop it at once!” said Adam, storming up the corridor towards them, and he pulled them apart as though they were a pair of scrapping kittens “What do you think you’re doing?”
“It’s alright, Adam”, said Bengo “It’s only clowns-slapping, it doesn’t mean anything”.
“Slap a clown today!” Joby quipped.
“If it doesn’t mean anything why is there a big red mark on your face?!” said Adam “What a ridiculous way to carry on!”
“I’d better clear this up I suppose”, said Hal, surveying the wreckage of the coffee-pot.
Suddenly a sound that could only be likened to that of an enormous sigh went right through the building. A groan of deep pain. It was as if the entire building was giving vent to some bitter frustration.
“Jayz!” said Kieran.
“What the fuck was that?” said Joby.
“Oh God, it reminds me of those weird screams we used to hear in the middle of the night at The Big House”, said Bengo.
“I’d better resurrect an old law of ours”, said Bardin “No one is to be alone at any time”.
“Have you heard anything like it before?” said Bengo, sitting at one end of the kitchen table with Althea. They were alone in the cavernous kitchen, apart from Dobley, who was busy getting the stove cranked up for preparing a main meal.
“Not as loud as that”, said Althea.
“But then we’ve only heard it at night before”, said Dobley “When we’ve been in the dormitory. It must be stronger in this part of the Castle”.
“It gave me the creeps”, Bengo shuddered.
Adam came down the kitchen stairs, followed by Joby, Kieran and Lonts.
“I don’t want any of you hanging about by the steel door”, Adam was saying “Unless I’m there”.
“What difference does it make if you’re there or not?” said Joby.
“Just do as I say, Joby, and stop arguing”, said Adam.
“I’ve just had a thought”, said Lonts.
“Lightbulb appears above his head!” said Joby.
“Perhaps this Castle is alive”, said Lonts “Perhaps it swallows people”.
“We can always rely on you to come up with some comforting thought can‘t we!” said Joby.
“Well I must admit I do feel rather like Jonah in the belly of the whale when I’m up in the main corridor!” said Adam.
Julian came down the steps, and was admonished by Adam for being on his own.
“I have been on my own from the top of the stairs to the bottom”, said Julian “What the bloody hell can happen to me in 13 steps!”
“To you? Nothing”, said Joby “This house has probably got more sense than to mess with YOU!”
“I would like to believe that was a compliment you were paying me”, said Julian “But somehow I doubt it!”
Bengo had been hastily trying to rearrange his long, tumbling locks over the mark on his face, but not quickly enough or discreetly enough to throw Julian off the scent.
“Yes I heard about your little set-to with Bardin”, said Julian “If you two don’t both calm down a bit I’ll whip your backsides for you!”
“Ooh!” said Bengo, emotionally.
Althea gave a little protest that this was a bit unfair.
“Madam”, said Julian “When you have got to know us a little better you will realise that such drastic measures are entirely necessary when it comes to keeping discipline and order!”
At this moment Bengo was wearing one of his most forlorn puppy-dog expressions, never did anyone look less in need of discipline and order! Julian was firing on all cylinders though, and this time moved onto Dobley, who was preparing to open several catering-sized tins of vegetable soup.
“Didn’t we bring any of our own food with us?” he asked Adam.
“Well yes now you come to mention it I stored a couple of extra hampers in one of the wagons”, said Adam.
“Why the fuck didn’t you mention this before?” said Julian “Do I have to be the only one with any commonsense around here?!”
“Now really Jules, there’s no need for that”, said Adam.
“There is every need, how could you forget that?” Julian demanded to know.
“W-well I got rather over-taken by events”, said Adam “I mean this place sort of knocks you out when you first come to it, you tend to forget little incidentals”.
“Little incidentals?!” said Julian “I don’t call forgetting two hampers whilst we all live on prison food a little incidental!”
“I won’t have you knocking Dobley’s efforts”, Adam began, but Julian wasn’t listening.
Imperiously he flicked his fingers at Bengo and Kieran to follow him upstairs to collect the hampers.
“I’m sorry about that, old love”, said Adam to Althea “Try not to be too alarmed. Julian’s bark is far worse than his bite”.
“No it ent”, said Joby “His bite’s pretty bleedin’ awful as well!”
“He is getting every bit as batty as his mother”, said Julian, now up in the courtyard, talking to Hillyard “Can’t remember anything from one damn minute to the next. A 1000 years of bewildered nitwits in his blood!”
“Yeah, it’s called having true class!” said Hillyard, knowing full well that this would wind Julian up “I’m surprised Lonts didn’t blow up at you talking to Adam like that”.
“Nobody got a chance”, said Kieran “We couldn’t get a focking word in edgeways!”
“I brought you up here for a reason”, said Julian “Help Hillyard to get the hampers out”.
“I can do it myself”, said Hillyard “They’ll flatten Kieran”.
“Look at all this”, said Julian, undoing the lid of the first hamper “Half of this stuff is perishables. We could have been living off tinned bloody muck whilst this lot rotted away out here!”
“Julian, will you put a sock in it!” said Hillyard “No harm’s been done in the end”.
He and Bengo carried one of the hampers round to the front entrance of the Castle.
“Don’t look at me like that”, said Julian, now he was alone with Kieran “I had every right to be angry. Adam can be such a scatterbrain sometimes. His head’s up in the clouds all the time!”
“You’ve been unsettled by Bengo’s suggestion of going back to The Bay”, said Kieran.
“Of course I’m bloody unsettled by it!” said Julian “It’s left me with a hankering which I’ve managed to bury these past few years, but it’s all been ripped out into the open again …”
“Julian, you don’t have to justify your feelings to me”, said Kieran “I’m an Irishman, I know what the hankering for your spiritual home is like. You think I don’t have these feelings as well?”
“You think we should try going back as well?” said Julian “Once we’ve got all this mess up here sorted out I mean”.
“Yes I do”, said Kieran.
“If Midnight Castle is still out of bounds”, said Julian “Then we’ve got the galleon to live on”.
He gave a start. For one awful moment Kieran thought he had had a spasm.
“Christ, my nerves are on edge!” said Julian, trying to calm down again “I thought I saw something … up there”.
He pointed up at one of the windows on the north side of the courtyard.
“What was it?” said Kieran, turning round to look.
“Well I thought it was a face”, said Julian “But don’t ask me to give a description of it, it was just this pale sort of blur, just there for a fraction of a second. Gone now”.
“Are you sure you’re going to be alright, Julian?” said Kieran.
“I will be fine!” said Julian “Just because I don’t feel like giving you a Confessional in the middle of this freezing cold courtyard does not mean I’m going off my head!”
“I think it would be a great idea if you’d go and sort see old Julian on his own sometime”, said Kieran, now following Joby up the main staircase in the dormitory part of the Castle.
“Oh I see”, said Joby, reaching the top and turning round to face him “You want me to prostitute meself to keep Julian on an even keel, is that it?”
“That is a very negative way of looking at it if you don’t mind me saying so!” said Kieran.
Joby mumbled something, and went over to the door which faced the dormitory door, on the opposite side of the landing. He opened it, (with some difficulty), and found that it led into a dreary little junk room, crammed with discarded bits of furniture, and lit only by a narrow stained glass window which overlooked the courtyard.
“What did you want to come in here for?” said Kieran.
“This is the only other room on this floor and in this part of the Castle”, said Joby, in bafflement “Don’t that strike you as a bit peculiar?”
“Not really”, said Kieran “The whole layout of this Castle is peculiar”.
“It strikes me”, said Joby “That this part has been deliberately sealed off from the rest of it, that we can see out there”.
“But we already know that”, said Kieran.
He noticed that the fireplace was boarded up in here as well, and unceremoniously kicked his foot through the rotten boarding.
“What are you doing?” Joby squawked “This is being a bit reckless, Kiel!”
“There’s no green slime behind this one”, said Kieran “I don’t think it was boarded up for that reason”.
“I hope you’re right”, said Joby.
Kieran pulled away the remains of the flimsy boarding, and uncovered a grate stuffed with old film canisters. Between them they pulled the metal containers out, getting themselves liberally coated with soot in the process.
“Well well well”, said Kieran, wiping one of them the best he could with a nearby dust-sheet “It’s our old friends Silling Productions”.
“What were they doing in the fireplace?” said Joby.
“Best place for them!” said Kieran.
Down in the kitchen, Adam managed to wrench the lid off one of the containers, with the intention of holding up one of the tapes to the light to see what was on them, but the tapes crumpled to dust in his hands.
“This one’s called ‘Friday Street’”, said Joby, reading the writing on the edge of the lid “Which doesn’t give us any clues whatsoever”.
“What do you know about these, Dobley?” Bardin asked, brusquely.
“I don’t know anything about them”, said Dobley, who was in the middle of preparing supper “I’ve never seen film canisters around here before. We weren’t allowed to have anything like that. No films, no books, no newspapers, no television. We weren’t supposed to have any stimulus from the outside world whatsoever. It was all part of the rehab process”.
“I don’t mean all that”, said Bardin “I mean the Silling Productions part of it. You were involved with them”.
For a moment it looked as though Dobley’s new-found sang-froid had deserted him, and he looked dangerously close to losing his temper.
“Please don’t take offence, old love”, said Adam “What Bardin means, in his rather sledgehammer way of putting things, is that you know more about those people than we do”.
“Look, I only went to a few of their parties”, said Dobley “Sometimes people talk as though I was mixed up in all that film business, but I wasn’t. What would I wanna make porn films for? I’m a comedian!”
“Some of the films weren’t straightforward pornography”, said Bardin “There was The Last Page stuff for instance”.
“The Last Page stuff?” said Althea.
Bardin explained how he had once wandered into the offices of Silling Productions at Magnolia Cove, and come across a catalogue of their output. The last page was devoted to films that weren’t their usual stock-in trade.
“I don’t really know how to describe them”, said Bardin “All I know is that that stuff was a helluva lot darker than even the more extreme of the porn stuff. Just reading the list of it gave me the creeps, and I can’t tell you why. It was all gut instinct”.
“You think that ’Friday Street’ was one of those darker films?” said Althea.
“It sounds like a soap opera!” said Joby.
“I bet it wasn’t!” Bardin grunted “We can only come to a couple of conclusions from all this. That somebody up here was on the Silling Productions mailing-list, and they hid their little vice behind the board in the fireplace. Or that this Castle was used to film some of it in”.
“Which is a rather more darker theory”, said Adam.
“Yes”, said Bardin “But it might be getting us somewhere nearer to solving the puzzle”.
Bengo was woken up in the middle of the night by something scuffling outside the door nearest their bed. This door was the one which Althea had shown them to lead onto the back stairs. Bengo’s heart went into palpitations, and he dug Bardin roughly in the ribs.
“Oh what the fuck are you playing at now?” said Bardin “I was in a really nice deep sleep there! If you need to use the loo, use the pot under the bed!”
“No, Bardy, listen!” Bengo hissed “There’s someone outside the door”.
“It’s probably one of the others”, said Bardin.
“Why would they skulk around out there?” said Bengo “They’d come in”.
This was true. Bardin pulled his revolver out from under his pillow, and ordered Bengo to fetch their coats.
“And you carry the lamp”, said Bardin, after turning it up.
By the time they had opened the door, the scuffling had moved away to the staircase.
“Whoever it is”, Bardin whispered to his partner “They’re heading down to the kitchen”.
“Be careful, Bardy”, said Bengo.
“No I thought we’d be wildly irresponsible, just for a change!” said Bardin, sarcastically “Of course we’re going to be bloody careful!”
As they approached the first twist in the staircase they could see a faint glow coming from the bottom of it, which meant that somebody was in the kitchen. The staircase was a long one, connecting three floors of the building, and tonight it felt endless. At the bottom they had to turn a corner to go into the kitchen, and Bardin remembered all Ransey’s instructions about how to stalk into a room, whilst carrying a gun, in this situation.
The kitchen though was empty when they got into it. But somebody had clearly been there. A pot of strawberry jam was open on the table, with a large spoon stuck into it. Half a loaf had been grabbed out of one of the china bread-jars, and the heal of it wrenched off. A search of the kitchen revealed that there was nobody hiding there.
“First things first”, said Bardin “In the morning we have to rule out that no one out of our lot, or Dobley and Althea, was nipping down here for a midnight snack. After that, we can only come to a conclusion I’ve been starting to suspect all day … that there’s somebody else in this Castle we haven’t seen yet”.
“And they’ve been sneaking down here in the night to get food?” said Bengo.
“That’s about the size of it”, said Bardin.
“But how did they get out of here so quickly when they heard us coming?” said Bengo “We would have seen them going up the other staircase”.
“I bet you any money you like that this Castle is riddled with concealed passages and stairways”, said Bardin “Somebody who knows it well would have no trouble at all getting out of sight quickly”.
“That face at the window that Julian saw?” said Bengo “So they must be in the other part of the Castle that we haven’t found a way into yet. They have an advantage over us”.
“Oh no they don’t”, said Bardin “If they’re taking the risk of sneaking down here at night, then it means they haven’t got much in the way of supplies themselves. We’ll let them have tonight. But from tomorrow I’m putting a guard on this place at all times. Whoever, whatever, it is the bastard clearly needs to eat, and we’ll smoke them out that way”.
After breakfast the next morning Bardin called a meeting of everybody in the Old Governor’s Office, to put into place a night-time watch-duty rosta for the kitchen area, and also to ascertain if anybody had been roaming about the Castle in the middle of the night. For some reason Bardin got it into his head to single out Kieran for scrutiny on this one.
“Why the fock would I be wandering around late at night stuffing meself with bread and jam?” said Kieran, in annoyance.
“Take no notice, Patsy”, said Adam, as he and Joby joined Kieran in drifting out into the corridor a couple of minutes later “Bardin gets these strange little fixations in his head sometimes”.
“He probably still thinks you’ve got an eating disorder!” said Joby. “I don’t think that kind of remark is very helpful, Joby!” said Adam.
Kieran’s eyes were practically popping out of his head in annoyance. That, combined with the fact that he hadn’t combed his hair yet that morning, made him look more like some sort of mad wood-sprite than ever.
Bengo had picked up on the atmosphere coming from Kieran’s direction, and decided that he would take Bardin down to the kitchen and tell him off in front of Kieran, Joby and Adam.
“You deserve to be put across my knee, you really do”, said Bengo.
“Oh that’s it, embarrass me in front of them!” said Bardin, who was secretly rather excited by this thought.
“Come off it, you’ve had far more embarrassing things than that done to you”, said Bengo “A pie in the face is far more embarrassing than a spanking any day”.
“I don’t think there’s much in it actually!” said Bardin.
“No need to get embarrassed, Bardin”, said Kieran, having calmed down by now “I’m hardly in a position to get all smug and superior when it comes to the old chastisement department now am I!”
“Oh blimey, here we go”, Joby groaned “Nobody’s had it worse than you!”
“I bet Adam has”, said Bengo “What’s the worst beating you’ve ever had, Adam?”
“Probably the one I’m going to get next I expect”, said Adam “The way Julian feels about me at the moment!”
At this present moment Julian was feeling rather sorry for himself. He had gone up to the Dorm to find Hillyard, and was now sitting on the edge of his bed, looking rather forlorn.
“I don’t know what’s happening to me at the moment”, Julian confessed “I’m seriously starting to wonder if I’m losing my marbles. It happened to my Mother you know, in her old age, and I don’t know much about these things, but I do wonder if it’s genetic”.
“Don’t be daft”, said Hillyard “You’re not losing your marbles. I haven’t noticed you getting forgetful, you’re still on the ball. You’re just exhausted that’s all. I wonder if you’ve quite recovered from what happened back at the Castle in Wooded Hill. You were kidnapped, and you had to look after Joby as well”.
“Oh but it’s rather fun looking after Joby!” Julian smiled.
“Then we had a pretty stressful time of it going through the Lost Souls area”, said Hillyard “And then we wind up here. You haven’t had much chance to draw breath. With the benefit of glorious hindsight perhaps we should’ve stayed a bit longer at the cottage in Wooded Hill, given you a bit more time to recover from the kidnapping”.
“With Bardin chomping at the bit wanting to get off?” said Julian “We just have to accept that about voyages, they never turn out quite how you expected them to”.
After this conversation Julian went down to the Old Governor’s Office, and raided the filing-cabinets. He was looking for a floor-plan of the Castle, of which he was certain there must be one somewhere, but so far he hadn’t had much luck. Adam came in whilst he was in the midst of doing this.
“Oh it’s you”, said Julian, indifferently.
“Yes, the man of your dreams is here”, Adam quipped, which at least forced a smile out of Julian “You’ve made a bit of a mess in here, old love”.
“Oh well let’s make some more”, said Julian, chucking a few more files on the floor “Join in, it’s fun!”
Adam bent down to rake the fireplace more into life.
“Christ”, said Julian “Your arse will be the death of me one of these days!”
“Not possible, old love”, said Adam “Not since Patsy worked his miracle”.
“Had an idea”, said Julian.
“Everybody seems to be having a lot of those round here!” said Adam, sounding a little vexed.
“You and I do guard duty in the kitchen tonight”, said Julian.
“Won’t that mess up Bardin’s rosta?” said Adam.
“Even more reason to do it!” said Julian.
“Oh Jules, you are a little demon!” said Adam.
“Are you objecting to spending a little time alone with me?” said Julian.
“Of course not”, said Adam.
“Good”, said Julian “Because I’m starting to get just a little bit annoyed with all this mystery and enigma that’s going on around here. And I object most strongly to annoying gits creeping around this Castle in the middle of the night, nicking our food. You and I are going to nail the little bastard, whoever he, she, it is”.
There was the sound of horrendous scraping and banging coming from out in the corridor.
“Now what’s going on?” said Julian.
“Bardin’s having a couple of the spare Dorm beds moved down here”, said Adam “He wants to sleep down here”.
“What on earth for?” said Julian.
“Presumably so that if anyone comes through the big metal door in the middle of the night”, said Adam “He will hear them”.
“I should think that if anyone comes through that thing in the middle of the night we’ll ALL hear them!” said Julian “Does Bengo know about this?”
There was a sort of exasperated squawking noise joining in the tumult.
“I think he does now!” said Adam.
“This is a really stupid idea, Bardy”, said Bengo, following his partner into the room “Julian, can’t you give him a really REALLY hard spanking? One so that he won’t sit down for about a month!”
“With the greatest of pleasure, little fellow”, said Julian “The only trouble is, I don’t think it will make the slightest bit of difference! This appears to be your new bedroom!”
Julian decided to add some fuel to the flames by announcing his plan of him and Adam doing guard duty in the kitchen.
“Just what is the point of me being Captain?” Bardin shrieked, stamping his foot “You over-ride my decisions at every turn!”
“Nonsense”, said Adam “We’re trying to help. And we never lose sight of you being Captain, but first and foremost you are our little boy”.
“You treat me like a fucking kid!” said Bardin.
“Well you’re acting remarkably like one at the moment!” said Julian.
Bardin threw himself into the chair behind the desk, and sat there slumped, gripping the arm-rests with his fingers.
“I think I’d better go and make us some tea”, said Adam “No offence was intended, old love”.
He went over to kiss Bardin, who was doing a very good impression of a porcupine with all its needles extended. Julian left the room after Adam, and Bengo threw out everybody else as well. Once they were alone, he stroked Bardin’s forehead, who responded by trying to shake him off, with no success.
“It’ll all turn out for the best, Bardy”, said Bengo.
“I would like to believe that was true!” said Bardin.
“Is it true that you’re sleeping down here tonight?” said Toppy, coming into the room and looking rather disgruntled.
“Yes!” snapped Bardin “Sorry if that upsets your dusting ritual!”
The Old Governor’s Office had a horrible feel about it during daylight hours, and in the middle of the night it was positively repellent. Bengo lay wide-awake in the bed next to Bardin’s, in front of the fireplace, listening to the wind howling through the window. They had kept a small lamp burning on the table, but it did little to add any cheer to the place. By some miracle, Bardin was asleep, and his breathing was soft and steady. These days he didn’t toss and turn, and get plagued with bad dreams, as he had done for so many years. Bengo quite liked looking at him when he was asleep. He looked childlike and tranquil, having a brief respite from having to stamp around shouting and whistling, trying to keep his ramshackle crew of clowns in order.
Bengo sat up, startled, as the door slid open, and a tall shadow fell across the opening. His heart was hammering, until he saw that it was Adam, carrying a bull’s-eye lantern.
“We just thought you’d better know, old love”, said Adam, softly “We’ve heard our Intruder on the back stairs”.
“Did you see them?” said Bengo.
“No”, said Adam “They must have noticed our light burning and turned tail. Julian suggested I come and get you two, and then we go and explore the back staircase thoroughly. There must be a hidden entrance on it that they’re slipping through”.
“OK”, said Bengo “But do we have to wake Bardy up? He’s looking so peaceful at the moment”.
“Well I don’t think he’d be too pleased if we didn’t, old love!” Adam smiled.
“There’s a light coming from up ahead”, said Julian, after they had passed, in single file, by Bengo and Bardin’s old room, and up some very narrow twisting steps. He was in front, Bardin behind, then Bengo, and finally Adam.
They followed the light, and came upon an aperture which was situated very high up in the wall of the main hallway below. It was the size of a narrow doorway, and directly opposite it was another one, facing them in the wall across the way. The dim light they had seen came from the burning wall-torches that illuminated the ground-floor corridor.
“Why didn’t we see this from below?” said Bardin.
“Too high up I expect”, said Adam “It would be buried in the shadows up here. We do seem to be practically right under the rafters here”.
“There must have been some kind of bridge or walkway here once upon a time”, said Julian, indicating the remains of a wooden hand-rail sticking out of the wall “Which connected the two doorways”.
“Good job we didn’t go falling arse-over-tit”, said Bardin, looking at the sheer drop below them.
“The fact remains”, said Bengo “That whoever we’re chasing couldn’t have escaped this way, not unless they can fly or something!”
“Or are remarkably agile at jumping across great widths”, said Adam.
“Listen, I’ve known some brilliant acrobats and stuntsmen in my time”, said Bardin “But nobody who could manage that!”
“Let’s try some old tricks”, said Julian, and he began to knock on the walls nearest them. These walls seemed to be made out of only partition hardboard, and one panel was thinner than the rest.
“Here we go”, he said, and he kicked the panel in. When he had done enough damage he and Bardin managed to pull away enough of the remains of the makeshift door to make a sizeable hole to get through.
“This was their doorway”, said Adam, examining the remains “There’s a handle only on the other side, and a padlock”.
A blast of spine chillingly cold air wafted down a flight of very narrow steps towards them.
“I think, gentleman”, said Julian “You’ll find this takes us up onto the leads, onto the roof. I don’t suggest we explore it at this time of night, wait for daylight”.
“So whoever it is is escaping across the roof”, said Bengo “And into the other part of the Castle”.
“Lo-Lo used to do that”, said Adam, unexpectedly.
“Where?” said Julian.
“Back in Marlsblad, the first time round”, said Adam “He escaped by climbing over the roof of the ’Moon and Stars’, but he was only a poor, frightened little boy in those days …”
“Yes, alright!” said Julian “This isn’t the time or the place for a sentimental trip down memory lane! Let’s get back down to the warm”.
“Bardy”, said Bengo, as he and his partner sat wrapped in a blanket before the fire in the Old Governor’s Office at around 3 A.M “Do we have to go and look for whoever it is tomorrow morning?”
“Of course we do!” said Bardin “Now don’t go going all cowardy-custard on me, Bengo”.
“I’m not!” said Bengo “It’s just that I don’t see any point in pursuing them. Althea and Dobley are safe, so why don’t we just take them and leave? Let whoever it is have the run of the place, that’s clearly what they want!”
“And what if whoever-it-is is Evil?” said Bardin “What if whoever-it-is could cause nothing but trouble if they had the run of the place?”
“Let them!” said Bengo, gesturing around the gloomy, cavernous pile “They can have a ball for all I care!”
“And what if they didn’t stop here?” said Bardin “What if they left the Castle and went down to Krindei to wreck havoc?”
“The way that place is at the moment”, said Bengo, caustically “They’d probably improve it!”
“That is a very irresponsible way to talk!” said Bardin, sternly “And anyway, you’re forgetting another factor. What if whoever-it-is is in trouble, what if they’re totally innocent and need help?”
“Oh fuck!” said Bengo, despondently.
Due to their interrupted night’s sleep they were still dozing next morning, when Tamaz let out a shrieking yodel from the main corridor. He ran into the Old Governor’s Office, and rang the hand-bell over the clowns.
“What now?” Bardin snapped.
“Wake up!” said Tamaz “The metal door is open!”
Bardin scrambled out of bed, dragged on his trousers, and grabbed his pistol. He ran out of the room, pursuing Tamaz along the main corridor, towards the big metal door which had slid open slightly, showing a pitch-black interior. As he neared it though the door clanged shut.
“Fuck!” said Bardin, throwing himself against it “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”
“This wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t stopped to put your trousers on”, Tamaz pointed out.
“Listen Dingbat!” said Bardin “I could’ve run down here stark-naked and they’d have still slammed the door. They had no intention of letting us in!”
“You wouldn’t have known it was open at all if I hadn’t come and told you”, said Tamaz, in injured tones.
“Yes, yes, OK”, Bardin sighed “I’m very glad you came and told me”.
“What do we do now?” said Bengo, who had caught up with them.
“A two-pronged attack”, said Bardin “One lot to go in through one of the windows overlooking the courtyard, and the other up over the leads. But first, we need to find some bloody ladders!”
A couple of outhouses in the courtyard were broken into, and whilst this operation was in progress, Bardin was pestered by Mutton Both, who wanted to tell him something.
“Can’t it wait?” said Bardin.
“No it can’t”, said Mutton Broth “I thought you’d want to know. I woke up in the night and heard a noise”.
“It was probably us beating down the door to the roof”, said Bardin.
“This was a machine noise”, said Mutton Broth.
“A machine?” said Bardin “What kind of a machine?”
“It was in the distance, quite faint”, said Mutton Broth “A sort of humming noise, very steady, like a generator”.
“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” Bardin squawked.
“Because you were asleep, and then Tamaz noticing the metal door, and you trying to get in it …” Mutton Broth bleated “I haven’t had a chance!”
“OK OK”, said Bardin.
He stopped suddenly and fixed his gaze on the bonnet of the truck.
“There might be a way …” he breathed.
Hillyard was instantly on the defensive.
“What do you mean?” he said.
“We could use the truck to bash in the metal door”, said Bardin.
“Don’t be silly, Bardy”, said Bengo, crossly “That door is solid. We’d end up completely wrecking the truck, and not making a dent in the door!”
“We put something on the front of it”, said Bardin “Like a ram-raider”.
“Over my dead body!” said Hillyard, as though Bardin had suggested driving the truck over a cliff.
“We’re not gonna get far with this ladder”, said Hal, pulling a decrepit old ladder out of one of the outhouses. It was practically falling to bits “Even if it could reach the upper windows, it’s not safe for anybody to climb up it!”
“Then there’s only one alternative”, said Bardin “We go up over the roof”.
Bengo groaned, something he had been doing rather a lot of late.
“It’s not fair, I tells you”, said Hillyard, now sitting down in the kitchen. Dobley was starting to prepare lunch nearby, whilst Althea watched, and Adam was hovering over Hillyard with a bottle of brandy.
“Now don’t get yourself worked up, old love”, he said.
“Worked up?!” said Hillyard “Why does every truck I have to get, and get attached to, have to end up getting smashed up? WHY?! I tell you, those clowns think every bloody thing they do they think is a comedy sketch! I can just imagine how trying to smash the door in, and smashing the truck instead, would have ’em all rolling in the aisles!”
“Yeah, I think they might have done that one once”, said Dobley, which Adam didn’t think was a terribly helpful contribution to make.
“See what I mean!” said Hillyard “Why don’t we all go and live in a three-ring circus and have done with it!”
Adam took a healthy swig straight from the bottle.
“You wanna be careful”, said Dobley “What with your old problem and everything”.
Adam counted ten under his breath very slowly. Bengo suddenly came galloping down the kitchen steps, tripped over, and fell the last few. Althea gasped, urging him to be careful.
“Don’t worry”, said Adam “He’s very good at pratfalls”.
Which was true, Bengo was completely unscathed. He ran over to Hillyard, and began to stroke his hair, and kiss the top of his head.
“Do you think that’s a good idea, Bengo?” said Adam, nervously, because where Bengo was, Bardin usually wasn’t far away.
“I don’t care what Bardy says”, said Bengo “He’s done nothing but get on people’s nerves these past few days. And I’ve told him what I think of his daft plan as well. Silly old fool!”
“Oh dear”, said Adam “Perhaps I’d better go and speak to him”.
“Yeah, and tell him I’m sick of having vehicles wrecked!” said Hillyard “Cars, trucks, boats, I keep losing the whole lot!”
“You really WANT to go and speak to Bardy?” said Bengo, in astonishment.
“I think it’s probably for the best”, said Adam.
Adam fetched his coat and walked out of the main doors of the Castle. He found Bardin standing on the other side of the mountain track, slightly higher up, so that he could get a good vantage point of the Castle rooftops. Bardin watched him approaching, somewhat warily.
“Bengo’s been having a go at you, hasn’t he?” he said.
“Bengo’s never had a go at me in his life!” said Adam “He’s one of the few people I’ve ever known who hasn’t!”
“I mean, he’s asked you to talk to me”, said Bardin “Probably he’s said you were to talk some sense into me”.
“Well now you mention it, it’s not such a bad idea”, said Adam.
“I’m sorry, but there must be some way into the other part of the Castle through the roof”, said Bardin “I know I sound obsessive, but I can’t help it. How else are they doing it?”
“And if there is, then we will find it, eventually”, said Adam “But please promise us, you won’t go haring through the big metal door again”.
“I would have been alright”, said Bardin, dismissively “I would have had Tamaz with me”.
“And can you imagine how worried Lo-Lo would have been if you had dragged him in with you, and the door had slammed behind you both?” said Adam.
“Oh so that’s what all this is about”, said Bardin, snidely “Just to make sure we don’t worry Lonts!”
Adam pulled Bardin’s cap down over his nose, and strode back towards the Castle.
Bardin spent all afternoon exploring the roof-tops, along with several of the others, and using the decrepit old ladder as a means to try and get some grip on the slippery pitched surfaces. Not a trace of a doorway, or hatchway, or even a skylight, could they find, other than the one that they had come up through.
“The only other way is the chimneys”, said Adam.
“How could they have come up through those?” said Hillyard.
“Well some chimneys like these big tall ones used to have metal ladders inside them”, said Adam “I presume it was for the chimney-sweeps to get access, or for clearing blockages, that kind of thing”.
“So we have to look for a chimney with a ladder inside it”, said Bardin, and he suddenly looked frighteningly optimistic. They had something to go on at long last.
The others though rebelled at the thought of going clambering around inside strange chimneys, not when there was darkness coming on. This forbidding, cheerless job would have to wait until daylight hours tomorrow. Bardin was disgruntled about this, but he really had no choice but to go along with it. To try and cheer him up Dobley had made steak-and-kidney pudding for everyone’s dinner, using tinned stewing steak.
“Of course there’s also another way of getting clues”, said Bardin, like a relentless detective “After supper, some of us go back outside, and look to see if there’s any smoke coming out of any of the chimneys that aren’t ours”.
“That won’t tell us anything!” said Bengo, waspishly “Other than that they’re trying to get warm, just as the same as we are!”
“I hope you’re not suggesting we go climbing down a chimney that somebody’s lit a fire in?” said Hal.
“Do I look stupid?” Bardin exclaimed.
“No, but you sound it!” said Bengo “We’re not going to be able to see wisps of smoke at this time of the evening anyway. It’s pitch black out there, Bardy!”
Bardin lapsed into a sort of depressed brown study.
“You’ll have to decide who is doing watch-duty tonight”, said Ransey.
“It’s all go innit!” said Joby.
“I hate having to carry this thing around with me”, said Bardin, taking out his gun and placing it on the desk in the Old Governor’s Office.
“I know, they’re not very nice”, said Bengo “I always feel nervous around them, even when they’re not loaded! Bardy …”
“Don’t say it!” said Bardin “I know what you’re going to say, because you’re starting to say it every night at around this time, ‘do we have to stay here much longer?’ You’re starting to sound like a whiny little kid!”
“I can’t help it”, said Bengo “I’m gonna keep saying it until you give in! And what did you have to go and put Fabulous on watch-duty with Ransey for? I bet it was sheer spite! You know Ransey can’t stand him”.
“As we’re stuck with him”, said Bardin “He’s going to have to learn to put up with him”.
“Well I don’t think it’s fair”, said Bengo “Fabulous is enough to bore the pants off anybody, but particularly an intelligent man like Ransey. Sometimes I wonder we don’t have a mutiny, some of the daft decisions you make!”
Ransey wasn’t quite in mutiny mode. He would always support Bardin as Captain, (partly to ensure that Julian never took the job over again), but he did get quietly exasperated with his decisions sometimes. Ransey had never really warmed to Fabulous, he thought the young man was trouble. Although Ransey was clever enough not to visit the sins of the fathers upon their offspring, he was also aware that Fabulous had some very bad blood in him indeed, and so he never entirely let his guard slip around him.
“Do you know why cockerels attack men sometimes?” Fabulous was saying, as they played a desolate game of cards at the kitchen table “It’s if they think the hens are showing too much affection for whoever is the chicken-farmer, and the cockerel will attack him with the little spurs on the back of his leg”.
“Fascinating”, said Ransey.
“You can learn a lot from animals”, said Fabulous.
“Right”, said Ransey.
Even Fabulous cottoned on that he wasn’t getting very far with this conversation and shut up. Ransey seemed completely preoccupied with the back stairs. At one point, to alleviate the boredom, he suggested to Fabulous that they take a walk up and down them. At the top, in the tiny narrow little passageway which led to the Old Governor’s bedroom, Ransey suddenly grabbed Fabulous’s arm.
“What is it?” said the younger man.
“I had a feeling the rooftop wasn’t the only possible exit route up here”, said Ransey “Look at this”.
In the middle of the corridor were four steps. A dim light was showing up through the cracks in the wood below their feet.
“I bet you any money you like that these steps are moveable”, Ransey whispered “Come on, let’s get back downstairs”.
Back in the kitchen, Ransey told Fabulous to go and summon Bardin.
“He’ll want to be in on this”, said Ransey “I’ll sort the lamps and some tools out down here”.
“He told us never to be alone”, said Fabulous.
“Nothing’s going to happen to you going up the kitchen stairs and across the corridor!” said Ransey, shortly.
Oh famous last words! When he reached the main ground-floor corridor, Fabulous found that the big metal door was standing slightly open again, and this time, there appeared to be somebody standing in the darkness just beyond the threshold. Fabulous approached warily.
“Who’s there?” he called out.
As he got nearer he noticed that it was a girl … of sorts. She looked haggard and half-starved, there seemed to be a surplus of hair on her arms, and her naked feet were bleeding, and bound up in filthy old bandages.
“Who are you?” said Fabulous.
The girl bared her lips, to reveal a gruesome set of teeth, blackened little stumps.
“Can I come over?” she asked.
“Tell me who you are first”, said Fabulous, who had very bad vibes about her.
“I want to come over”, she said, aggressively “I can’t come, unless you invite me”.
“That’s crazy!” said Fabulous “Who are you?”
“You will never be free of me!” said the girl, in a petulant voice, and she slammed the metal door.
“You did exactly the right thing, old love”, said Adam, when everybody was congregated in the Old Governor’s Office a short time later “Good heavens, it all sends shivers down me!”
“Wasn’t it usually vampires who had to ask to be invited in first?” said Joby.
“She wasn’t so much a vampire, as a ghoul”, said Fabulous.
Kieran had been sitting with his elbows propped up on the desk.
“The vampires we’ve encountered since we’ve been in this time tend to be ghouls”, he said “There’s certainly nothing romantic about them!”
“Althea”, said Adam, turning to the woman who was sitting at the bottom of Bengo’s bed “I think you should tell us all you know about the old hospital”.
“I have already told you everything I know, Adam”, said Althea “People started disappearing, usually when Dobley and I were asleep, or outside. And then one day the big door shut, and we couldn’t get it open again”.
“But you must have spent time in there”, said Adam “When you were having all your operations. Did you notice anything amiss then, anything at all? Or even just some gossip that struck you as strange? Please think very carefully” .
“There was a very strange tale about a staircase”, said Althea “One that went down and down into the earth, and was said to be bottomless”.
“Who told you that one?” said Joby.
“It was a sort of legend about the building”, said Althea “No one knows where it comes from, it was just one of those stories that has always seemed to be around”.
“I take it no one had actually SEEN this mysterious staircase?” said Julian.
“No one sees it and lives”, Althea intoned.
“How terribly convenient!” said Julian, which made Althea sort of collapse into herself.
“You didn’t have to be that sharp with her, Jules”, said Adam, down in the kitchen “I thought you were always supposed to be charming with women. It’s only with us lot that you’re a complete bastard!”
“I don’t trust her”, said Julian “She’s as sly as a cat. Moves like one too. I never hear her coming, and then I look up and she’s standing in some doorway, staring at me”.
“Perhaps she fancies you!” Adam snorted.
Julian slapped Adam’s leg sharply with a wooden spoon he had been toying with.
“I think she’s concealing things from us”, he went on “I think there’s an awful lot she could be telling us that she isn’t”.
“Well we’ll find out for ourselves very soon”, said Adam, as the others finished sorting out tools and lamps on the kitchen table.
“We decided who’s going on this search-party then?” said Hillyard.
“Yes”, said Adam “Myself, Jules, you, Ransey, Bengo, Bardin, Lo-Lo, Patsy, Joby and Freaky”.
“Blimey”, said Joby “You make us sound like The Dirty Dozen, as written by Beatrix Potter!”
“Oh don’t you start being a smart-aleck as well!” said Adam.
The selected 10 (not a dozen) went up the back stairs, and set to work bashing in the movable steps in the middle of the narrow passageway. Once they had cleared a large enough hole, Bardin went down first, carrying a lamp. The hidden steps were very steep and very narrow, but perfectly passable as long as you did it with care. They corkscrewed down through the centre of the Castle. At the bottom Bardin kicked open a flimsy wooden door, and they emerged into the old hospital.
The air in here was stagnant, and the whole place was forbiddingly dark and cold. A more serviceable flight of steps was in the centre of the small lobby area that they found themselves in, going to an upper floor, and to the right of them was the big metal door.
“Let’s see if we can get that open first”, said Bardin, after sneezing several times into a handkerchief, because of all the damp and dust circulating around in the atmosphere “Open this place up a bit”.
“Then the others can join us”, said Lonts.
“No, they stay where they are”, said Bardin “There’s no point in everybody being in here”.
“Fucking hell”, said Hillyard, as he and Lonts set to work trying to wrench down the big handle on their side of the door “That female ghoul or whatever she was Fabulous saw must have muscles like a weight-lifter!”
The door ground open arthritically, and they found themselves facing the main ground-floor corridor in the Castle from a different perspective, for a change.
“You’d think everybody would have appeared instantly”, said Bengo “Hearing the door open like that”.
“Coo-ee!” Bardin trilled out “Curtain up!”
The ones they had left behind ambled out of the Old Governor’s Office, and expressed suitable surprise at seeing their friends standing there.
“You got it open then?” said Hal, stating the bleedin’ obvious.
Althea appeared, gave a cry of alarm when she saw the door was open, and scuttled away down the kitchen steps.
“What’s the matter with her?” said Joby.
“Didn’t I tell you!” said Julian, triumphantly “There is something very odd about that creature”.
“I do wish you wouldn’t call her a creature, Jules”, said Adam “It would hurt her feelings terribly”.
“Well she looks like a bloody creature”, said Julian, unrepentantly “And she shouldn’t hurl herself down the stairs like that. She could have an accident, and we’d end up picking up bits of her from all over the place!”
“Like Meryl Streep in ‘Death Becomes Her’”, said Joby.
“Quite”, said Julian.
“Are we going to get on and explore this place or not?” said Tamaz, impatiently.
The door nearest to them led into a grim, and very basic, sort of operating-theatre. Even more unnerving than the cold, cheerless room itself, was a vast array of glass bottles and specimen jars arranged on shelves all around the walls, which appeared to contain human body parts.
“I don’t think I wanna look too closely at them!” said Joby.
“Hey”, said Ransey, pointing up at a naked light-bulb hanging above the operating-bed in the middle of the room “Is that electric light? They must have had their own generator on this side of the Castle”.
“Perhaps that’s the noise Mutton Broth has been hearing in the middle of the night”, said Bengo, excitedly.
“I can’t imagine it’s still working after all this time”, said Adam, as Ransey went over to the light-switch.
“We can still but try”, said Ransey, flicking the light-switch.
There was a loud rattling and cranking noise, like an ancient boiler gearing itself up. The light-bulb eventually flickered into life.
“You don’t get anything in life if you don’t try”, said Ransey to Adam, in a rather lecturing way.
“I’ll try and bear that in mind, old love”, Adam replied.
There was the sound of a woman whimpering and crying in anguish coming from up above. The Indigo-ites exchanged one look between the lot of them, and then galloped up the stairs in the lobby area. At the top was a small stub of a corridor. On one side was a hospital ward containing 4 empty beds, on the other was what presumably had once been a private room, containing one bed. A woman in a filthy, torn nightgown was standing on the bed, with her arm flung across her face. She was making the most pitiful weeping sounds.
“I think we’ve found the mouse who’s been at our food”, said Adam, to the others.
He went to approach her gently, but the woman gave such a cry that he was halted in his tracks.
“We’re not going to hurt you”, he said “We want to help if we can”.
“NO!” she screamed, still keeping her arm across her face.
She had very long red hair which hung down to below her waist. It must have once been her crowning glory, but now it was matted, and clearly hadn’t been washed, trimmed or combed in some considerable time. Adam knelt on the bed near her, and tried to reach up to pull her arm down from her face. He managed to do so, but the woman kept up such an earsplitting wailing that he felt as though he’d forcibly extracted one of her teeth without anaesthetic.
Her face wasn’t old by any means, but it looked as though it had been ravaged by some terrible disease like smallpox, or as though insects had been nipping at it in her sleep.
“If you come with us”, said Adam, standing up again, as the felt that she wouldn’t find him so threatening that way “We can help you”.
The woman gave a cry that scarcely seemed human.
“Let us help you”, said Adam “Please”.
Suddenly, to his horror, she pushed open the window that was above her bed, and jumped out. Her scream rang through the air for what seemed like an age. It was some while before anybody spoke. Eventually Bardin went to the window and looked out. He could barely make out her body in the dim dawn light, lying broken on the rocks some way below them.
“What the fuck did she do that for?!” said Joby.
“She was insane”, said Julian “Didn’t you see her eyes? The poor thing had gone out of her mind”.
“There’s nothing more we can do here”, said Adam, turning to leave.
“And are we gonna leave it just like that?” said Joby.
“What do you suggest then?” Adam snapped “We clear up her breadcrumbs? Make her bed? There’s nothing, absolutely NOTHING that we can do!”
Joby went out onto the landing. Bengo was sitting at the top of the stairs, Kieran was leaning against the wall nearest him.
“I spose he’s right”, said Joby “What can we achieve by staying here?”
“Hadn’t we better see if there’s anymore around like her?” said Bengo, who suddenly looked very pale and exhausted.
“Yeah, I spose that’s a good point”, said Joby “Let’s just hope no more go jumping out of windows on us! Kiel, are you gonna be alright?”
“She was insane wasn’t she?” said Kieran.
“Well she certainly didn’t look as if she was in her right mind!” said Joby.
“I wonder how long she had been living like this?” said Bengo.
“I don’t know”, said Julian “But what I am very suspicious about is that those two prize ding-bats, Althea and Dobley, never saw fit to inform us of her existence!”
“The sun’s coming up”, said Hillyard, standing at the window “The clouds look purple, it’s really strange”.
“I wonder if that staircase Althea mentioned really exists”, said Bengo “The one that goes downwards”.
“Down to Tartarus”, Kieran intoned “Further down into the Earth, than Heaven is higher in the sky. Tartarus, hemmed in by 3 layers of night, a dark and wretched pit”.
“Sounds a right laugh!” said Joby.
The building let out another of its strange growls or sighs, an unsettling noise that seemed to sweep through it like a lugubrious groan of pain.
“Come on”, said Bardin “Let’s get on with this”.
They searched all the remaining rooms in the hospital that they could find. The most depressing room by far (apart from the morgue) was the main dormitory, a long room with bare yellow-painted brick walls. This colour, combined with the dim overhead light bulbs, gave the room a sickly, jaundiced look. They pulled out the beds and searched under them, in case anybody was hiding, and they turned out all the cupboards.
“No wonder she went out of her mind”, said Hillyard to Julian, as they searched a small office which led off the operating-theatre “Scrabbling around in here on her own!”
“Did this make her go off her mind?” said Julian “Or was she like that to start with? Had whatever they had done to her here caused her to lose it? You saw the state of her face”.
Adam strolled past the doorway with his hands in his jacket pockets.
“ADAM!” Julian yelled.
“Yes dear?” Adam paused on the threshold.
“Round up all the others”, said Julian “We’re leaving this pest-hole. There’s nothing more we can do here”.
“I don’t think Bardin …” Adam began.
“Never mind what Bardin wants”, said Julian “As Father Superior my authority over-rides his”.
“I know, but I do wish you wouldn’t do this, Jules”, said Adam “It’s really not fair on him”.
“Listen”, said Julian “When we get back to the galley, and we set off on our voyage back round the world to the Bay …”
Hillyard let out an excited gasp.
“Bardin can be as bossy and insufferable as he likes”, said Julian “I won’t interfere at all”.
“I find that very hard to believe!” said Adam.
“But I don’t see any earthly point in us staying here”, Julian went on “Can you?”
“I don’t want to stay in this ghastly place any longer than I absolutely have to”, said Adam “But what about the female ghoul that Fabulous saw?”
“I don’t believe that she is coming from inside the Castle”, said Julian “She’s getting in from the outside”.
“Or up the big staircase”, said Hillyard.
“Bollocks to the big staircase”, said Julian “Have you seen any sign of one whilst we’ve been searching this place? And even if there is, she’s welcome to it. She can clearly get into this part of the Castle, I presume that’s because whatever grim things they did here has made it very welcoming to Evil, but she can’t get beyond that metal door. Adam, just go and tell the others. Hillyard, I’m sure you can’t wait to get back in the truck again!”
“Do you want to take any of this with you, old love?” said Adam to Dobley, down in the kitchen “We cooks can get very sentimental about our tools”.
“Adam”, said Dobley, whose hands were shaking even more than usual “What’s gonna happen to me and Althea when we get back to Krindei?”
“Well that’s entirely up to you two”, said Adam “You’re not prisoners, you can do whatever you want. You can stay with us if you like, or if that idea’s too awful to contemplate (and I can fully understand that) then I’m sure Hillyard will help you to find somewhere to live in the town”.
“But you don’t understand”, Dobley complained “We can’t live on the outside. We’ve been here too long”.
“Dobley”, said Adam “Surely whatever can happen on the outside is preferable to living in this dreadful place a single moment longer. We are not leaving either of you here. You must get that idea out of your heads right now. It’s unthinkable”.
“But what’ll happen to this place?” said Dobley.
“I shall go and see the Governor of Krindei”, said Adam “First things first, there has to be a public inquiry into what has gone on up here. There are all number of questions that need answering. What were they using those body parts for that we found in the operating-theatre? Why were they chronically disfiguring people who had come here for treatment? And what the hell has happened to everybody?!”
“They’ll want to question me and Althea”, said Dobley, nervously.
“Yes I expect they will”, said Adam “But you will have our support. You won’t be left to face them on your own”.
“Can you imagine what it’s gonna do to Althea, having to face everybody?” said Dobley.
“Althea is a very valuable witness”, said Adam “To put it bluntly, old love, she is living proof of what they were doing to people up here”.
“You’ll be making a sacrifice of her!” Dobley protested.
“That’s overly-dramatic talk which won’t help anybody! She is going to have to have courage”, said Adam “It is as simple as that. Try not to be too long packing up, old love, we’ll be wanting to leave soon. Joby, give Dobley a hand packing up”.
“I know he means well really”, said Dobley to Joby, after Adam had left the kitchen “But that sounded a bit hard, saying she had to have courage just like that”.
“He knows what he’s talking about”, said Joby “If he sounds hard it’s because he’s had to have courage all his life. He’s been put through it enough times for being himself. He doesn’t expect people to be wussies, Dobley”.
Bardin was trying his best to sulk on the journey back down the mountain, if only to assert his Captainly authority, but his heart wasn’t in it for a change. Deep down he was as ecstatic as any of them at leaving the bloody Castle. He sat at the front of the trucked, sandwiched between Bengo and Hillyard, and listening to them shout over the din of the engine at each other.
“Cheer up, Bardin”, said Hillyard “You wait til you see the galleon again!”
“He’s alright”, said Bengo “Take no notice of him, Hillyard. He’s just got some silly idea in his head that he’s gotta show he’s displeased. It’s rubbish!”
The temperatures soared as they returned down the mountain road to Krindei. Spring had happened whilst they had been away, and the sunshine was intoxicating. Krindei was still looking shabby and shop-soiled, like some once-beautiful old tart that had been slapped around by life a bit too much. Hillyard honked the horn on the truck as they approached the harbour, to alert Rumble and Farnol, who were still in bed.
Julian, Hoowie and Adam piled out of the back of the back of the truck, followed hesitantly by Dobley and Althea. The others would take much longer to arrive, as they were all following in the wagons. The first thing Julian saw was a peacock trailing its feathers around the main deck.
“That wasn’t there when we left”, he said.
“I think we might have noticed it, Jules”, said Adam.
“Have they been on a buying-spree whilst we’ve been incarcerated up there?” said Julian, striding along the gang-plank.
Farnol, (finally alerted), greeted him at the bottom of the quarterdeck steps in his dressing-gown. Once he had ascertained that everybody was all still in one piece, he couldn’t stop going into eulogies at seeing them again.
“Never mind all that”, said Julian “Where did that damn bird come from? I hate peacocks, they’re messy, they make the most appalling noise, and it’ll frighten the hens. What possessed you to go and buy the damn thing?”
“But we didn’t!” Farnol protested “It was a present. From the Governor”.
“Not the only one either”, said Rumble, who suddenly had a strong feeling that Julian wasn’t going to be too impressed with the rest of it either “He seems to have a bit of a thing about peacocks”.
“There is more than one?” said Julian, ominously.
“You’d better come in and have a look”, said Rumble, and he stood back to let Julian pass into the big main cabin.
The big cabin had had some kind of an interior make-over. An emerald green carpet had been laid on the floor, with matching curtains and bedspreads. All embossed with a peacock logo.
“All presents from the Governor”, said Farnol, apologetically.
“It’s pretty good stuff”, said Rumble “Velvet, and … er … gold thread design”. “It’s certainly rather overpowering”, said Adam “He’s clearly never heard the old maxim of ‘Less Is More‘!”
“You accepted all this?” said Julian.
“Well they sort of came in one morning, and fixed it all up”, said Farnol.
“It seemed a bit ungrateful to refuse it”, said Rumble.
“This is the only room that’s like this”, said Farnol, hastily “They didn’t touch the rest of the galleon at all!”
“Thank heavens for small mercies!” said Julian.
“I think I’ll pop along to the galley”, said Adam “It will be so nice to have decent food again”.
“Didn’t you get any up there then?” said Farnol.
“Only what we had taken with us in the hampers”, said Adam.
“And which you nearly forgot about!” said Julian.
“Don’t worry, old love”, said Adam “I’m sure you’ll have your revenge now we’re nearly home”.
The rest of the day was taken up with settling back into the galleon again, making up beds for Dobley and Althea in the dining-room, greeting the others when they arrived in the wagons, and Julian threatening to strip the big cabin of its new décor, and dump it into Bengo and Bardin’s cabin instead. At which Toppy nearly had a nervous breakdown, and got himself into such a state generally, that even Julian had to back down.
Towards early evening Julian and Adam were summoned to see the Governor of Krindei (word having got round presumably that the Indigo-ites had returned). It was a beautiful evening, and Adam felt like refusing. He wanted to spend the first evening back from the Castle on the galleon, but he was reminded by the others that it had been his idea that there would have to be a public inquiry into what had happened at the Castle, so he had no choice but to go.
“Why on earth do they never ask to see Patsy?” said Adam, as the horse-drawn taxi they had ordered pulled up outside the crumbling government house.
“Because they find him a pain in the neck!” said Julian “They’re afraid he’ll march in and tell them all their sins, in graphic detail”.
“But he never does that!” said Adam “Or at least only to his Church, and they usually deserve it!”
The Government House of Krindei certainly looked a mere shadow of how they had remembered it from previous visits. Grass was growing out of the sun-bleached entrance steps, and the front hall that they were asked in was literally falling to pieces around them. There was a gaping hole high up in the ceiling, and dust and mud lay everywhere.
“This is quite distressing”, said Adam “I know Krindei was always too big for its boots, and needed a salutary lesson perhaps, but this is too much! To see a place go down as badly as this!”
“Makes you wonder why he decided to give away his bloody old furnishings to us doesn’t it!” said Julian.
“Do you know”, said Adam “You are beginning to sound exactly like Joby sometimes, it’s quite unnerving! You even said ‘bollocks’ the other day”.
“I’ve said that before”, said Julian.
“Even so”, said Adam “It’s going to be quite unnerving having two Joby’s around!”
“Bollocks”, said Julian.
A dour footman reappeared and directed them to a door at the back of the hallway. This led out onto a stone balcony overlooking the sea. Even Krindei’s new degradations couldn’t distract from the sheer beauty of the sun sinking dramatically into the sea. The Governor was shockingly young. He looked little more than a boy of 15, although it was largely his physical frailty, and his waif-like figure, which gave that illusion. He was sitting at a tapestry frame, and mice could be heard scuttling around his feet. Thick cobwebs and ropes of dust hung from the ceiling of the balcony.
When he bounded forward to kiss Adam on both his cheeks, he moved like a human spider, rather reminiscent of the Child-Catcher in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”. Julian he ignored completely, which Julian found rather amusing. Sherry was summoned, and three glasses appeared on a tray, which flummoxed Julian, who was expecting to get left out again.
“You wanted to see us, old love”, said Adam, who didn’t see that there was any point in idle chit-chat.
“Oh just to welcome you home from the hills as it were”, said the Governor.
“Oh yes about that”, said Adam, as the dour footman brought out a chair to plant his posterior on “I would like to see an investigation into what has happened up at the sanatorium”.
“I don’t quite follow you”, said the Governor.
“Well there are a number of things really”, said Adam “It’s not just that dozens of people seem to have disappeared without trace, but we found human body-parts up there, and it’s quite clear to me that some people were experimented on. We have a woman living with us …”
“Ah yes, Althea”, said the Governor “She went up there to have extensive surgery done to her. I’m afraid you must accept, Adam, that sometimes surgery can go wrong. She went there entirely of her own volition, nothing was done to her without her consent …”
“I don’t necessarily think that’s true”, said Adam “I don’t think that Althea would have consented to many of the things that were done to her”.
“Has she said that to you?” said the Governor, sharply.
“Althea doesn’t find any of this easy to talk about”, said Adam, aware that when it came to Hard Facts And Evidence he was on shaky ground.
“Some people are vain, Adam”, said the Governor “They want a quick-fix solution, they want to look young again. Althea was one of those. It might appal you that some people want a complete change to their bodies, but I can assure you that it goes on rather a lot. Krindei has always attracted such people. If it didn’t turn out as she expected, I’m afraid she’s got to be an adult about it, and accept it”.
“But the people who disappeared!” Adam protested “What about them? And damnit man, we saw a woman with her face practically eaten away! Are you seriously telling me that that was an operation that went wrong as well?!”
“Such is life”, said the Governor.
“But doesn’t it bother you what it happening in this city?” said Adam “The way it has gone down so badly is appalling …”
The Governor beckoned Adam over. Adam went over to him with some considerable reluctance. The tapestry frame was turned to face him. On it was what appeared to be some kind of death’s head mask. A skeletal face framed by a black helmet.
“So what was all that about?” said Julian, as he followed Adam out of the building “Why did you suddenly decide to up-sticks? One minute I’m sitting there contemplating my cigar, and the next it’s ’Julian’ snapped at me like I was a bloody gun-dog being brought to heel!”
“Oh behave”, said Adam, wearily “It won’t do you any harm to be given a dose of your own medicine for a change”.
They found Hillyard sitting in the bottle-green truck at the foot of the steps. He said he had been worried about them, and had come to fetch them home.
“More likely you wanted an excuse to get the truck out twice in one day!” said Julian.
“You two haven’t had a good evening then?” said Hillyard.
“I need to think!” Adam snapped, and he lapsed into a brooding silence.
Adam did not spend a good night. And what little sleep he did have he was rudely awakened out of at dawn by Bardin ringing the hand-bell in the dining-room.
“I’ll stuff that damn thing down his ruddy throat!” said Julian.
Toppy burst into the cabin, and said that it was vitally important that the Captain see everyone in the dining-room Right Now.
“Shaddup!” said Bardin, banging on the dining-table to try and restore order to the chaos “At Noon today, and not a moment later, we will be pulling up anchor and leaving this place”.
A stunned silence was followed by cheers, and the rest of the clowns burst into song.
“Shaddup!” said Bardin, again “I’m giving you all over 6 hours to get whatever things you need in the town, and then we leave. Nobody not on this boat at 12 Noon precisely will get left behind, and I am emphatic in that!”
He swept out of the room, followed by Bengo, who was clearly delirious with joy.
“You’re not going to go all wet blanket on us, are you, Ada?” said Julian, noticing that Adam wasn’t joining in with all the jollification.
“No, I’m glad we are leaving”, said Adam “I just wish it was with a rather more decisive outcome around here that’s all”.
After breakfast, Joby went in search of Kieran, and found him in their cabin, changing the sheets on their bunk.
“What’s got into you?” said Joby.
“Captain’s orders”, said Kieran “He said our sheets are starting to smell. Can’t say I can smell anything about them, but that’s what comes of being just across the corridor from the latrine! It blocks everything else out!” “Yeah, but you don’t have to do it right now”, said Joby “After twelve o’clock. Why don’t you come out for a drink now?”
“I don’t feel like it”, said Kieran “We can have a drink here to celebrate, when we finally lift anchor. I’ve had enough of Krindei”.
“So have I”, said Joby, sitting down on a hard-backed chair nearby “There’s nothing we can do though. There’s no way the Governor is gonna agree to a public inquiry, and even if it happened, it’d probably put Althea through the mill for nothing. This place is so corrupt that it’s no wonder it’s gone down the pan the way it has!”
“And I think he’s done it on purpose”, said Kieran.
“Who? The Governor?” said Joby “Why would he do that? I can imagine him ruining the place out of sheer incompetence, or out of some twisted idealism, like Pol Pot in Cambodia. But why would he deliberately do it?”
“Because he’s insane”, said Kieran “Like Caligula. Some theories have it that Caligula deliberately tried to wreck the Roman Empire, out of some mad anarchy within himself. Perhaps this feller is the same”.
“Then he should be put away”, said Joby “Or killed”.
“Hm, yes”, said Kieran.
Joby leapt up out of his chair, and grabbed Kieran in his arms, shaking him gently.
“Tell me what’s going on!” Joby demanded.
“Ransey and Hillyard have gone to the Governor’s House now”, said Kieran “He will be put to death”.
“Kieran!” said Joby “I don’t understand, what’s suddenly brought all this on?”
“It’s not sudden”, said Kieran “Finding those old film-tapes up at the Castle was an invaluable clue to us. Another link with our old friends Silling Productions. The gist of it is that I believe the Governor was very actively involved with them. Remember how Dobley came here when he was first publicly disgraced? He was put up at a luxury hotel in this town, at their expense. For a long time Krindei has held most of the money and the power in this world. Silling Productions had some fiendishly rich and influential people amongst its back-room and board-room staff”.
“Yeah but …” said Joby “Are you trying to tell me that whatever happened up at that hospital was just part of some Silling Productions blockbuster?”
“Strange as it may seem, yes”, said Kieran “We’re constantly coming across entrances to Hell on our adventures.. The Loud House was built over one, and so was the sanatorium. I have no idea if that was on purpose or not, but whatever, the Silling Productions team suddenly saw its advantage. Sex, torture, carnage, in a mountain-top hospital, that’ll have ’em queuing round the block … or at least paying an obscene amount of money for private viewings I should say!”
“Sade would have liked it”, Joby mumbled.
“Ah yes, our old friend, Monsieur de Sade”, said Kieran, finally putting the pillows back on the bunk “He’s what gave me the clue, him and the tapestry Adam saw the Governor working on”.
“The death’s head?” said Joby.
“From what I vaguely recall”, said Kieran “In ’Juliette’ one character comes up with the idea of deliberately starting a famine to wipe out half the population of France, for no other reason than to give themselves a wee bit of amusement. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if the powers-that-be in Krindei weren’t well acquainted with Sade’s work”.
“Well he did work on Silling Productions”, said Joby “Until we caught up with him”.
“The Marquis de Sade”, said Kieran “The ultimate anarchist, and his works, the ultimate in anarchy. Depraved, nihilistic, hate-filled. Monuments to pointless death and destruction. I haven’t had a chance to tell you any of this before. I didn’t want to upset you anyway. Me and Ransey had a quick discussion, finally putting all the pieces together, after Bardin had summoned us this morning. And that’s another thing, I think Bardin knows it’s imperative we get out of here”.
“We’ll be in danger when the death of the Governor gets out?” said Joby.
“Oh not from the people of Krindei”, said Kieran “Apart from a few deluded souls perhaps. But the forces behind Silling Productions are still very much around, and they will be after us”.
“Knowing that lot they’ll work the death of the Governor into one of their films!” said Joby “Another exciting instalment in the ongoing death and destruction of Krindei. Never short of ideas are they!”
“There’s more truth in what you’re saying than perhaps you realise”, said Kieran “But the ultimate kick for them would be OUR destruction”.
“They can’t destroy us”, said Joby “You’ve seen to that”.
“No”, said Kieran “But we can be tortured, we can feel pain, we can watch each other being tortured. Think what grist to the mill all that would be for their little masterpieces! It would be the summit of their ambitions. Their ultimate fock-fest. We’re now in very big danger, and we have to get out of here”.
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