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Joby could feel many hands crawling all over him and grabbing at his body. But this was far from a pleasant sensation, as the hands belonged to zombies. Mottled, bloodied hands groping at his flesh, not in sensual pleasure, but trying to tear out bits of it to eat.
“Fuck off!” he cried, on waking up.
Kieran sleepily put his hand on Joby’s crotch. Joby fully woke up, and realised they were in the four-poster bed in the room over the hall. There was the obligatory hammering going on over the river.
“Bad dream?” said Kieran.
“Sometimes I wish I’d never watched so many old films when I was younger”, said Joby “That one was straight out of ‘Day of the Dead’! I hope that one doesn’t start becoming real like ‘Maurice’ did!”
“We’ve had zombies for real”, said Kieran.
“Don’t remind me”, Joby groaned.
He realised Lonts was lurking behind the door and ordered him to come into the room, telling him off for eavesdropping.
“Will you play polar bears with me after lunch, Joby?” said Lonts “You said you would”.
“When?” Joby snapped “When did I say that?”
“Three days ago”, said Lonts “I asked you, and you said come back on Thursday afternoon”.
“That was a joke!” said Joby “I might’ve known you’d take it seriously! You’re not getting anything out of me until I’ve had something to eat”.
“And then you’ll get indigestion”, said Kieran.
“Be quiet”, said Joby.
“I’ll go and get the library ready for us”, said Lonts.
“Great”, said Joby.
At the other end of the corridor Bardin woke up in the other four-poster bed, hearing Rumble and Farnol good-naturedly squabbling over by the wash-stand. On the communal bed Mieps and Tamaz were playing a rather vigorous hand-slapping patty-cake game.
“What’s the time?” Bardin shouted at the other clowns.
Rumble and Farnol instantly adopted mock-salutes and hailed His Captainship.
“About noon, Your Excellency”, said Farnol.
“Have you been on the cough mixture?” said Bardin, getting out of bed and reaching for his clothes.
“We’re here to hang on to your every word”, said Farnol.
Bardin didn’t reply to this outrageous bit of flannelling. Instead he pulled back the bedclothes and slapped Bengo’s rump, ordering him to get up.
“Go away, Bardy”, said Bengo, sleepily pulling the covers back up again.
He might have known it would be to no avail. Bardin was in an arse-kicking mood. Literally so. He kicked Bengo’s on the way across the great hall, and then kicked Toppy’s in the dining-room, for being too slow and fussy serving up their meal. Naturally Toppy wasn’t as longsuffering about this as Bengo the professional clown was. He went into the kitchen where Kieran and Joby were eating, with Adam and Lonts for company, and set to work aggressively polishing some items of silver on the dresser.
“Bardin hasn’t got Julian’s class that’s the trouble”, he said.
“Oh Toppy, don’t be such a confounded little snob”, said Adam “Bardin’s a clown, he’s rather more earthy than Jules that’s all”.
“Oh I dunno”, said Joby “Julian can be pretty earthy when he has a mind to it”.
“Bardin may be a clown”, said Toppy “But I am not!”
“That’s a matter of opinion”, Joby muttered.
“The way you’re polishing that silver, Toppy”, said Kieran “I keep expecting a genii to appear and grant you three wishes!”
“One of them would be that the clowns would all turn into toads”, said Toppy.
“Ribbitt!” said Joby.
Bardin poked his head round the door and ordered Toppy to bring in more coffee.
“That was chief toad”, said Joby, when Bardin had gone again.
“Toppy”, said Adam, when Toppy showed no sign of moving “Do as they ask. Bardin’s under a lot of strain at the moment”.
So much so in fact that Mieps and Tamaz had abandoned the dining-room as soon as they had eaten, leaving the clowns to ponder the unwelcome fact that they might have to pursue their mysterious watchers in the woods at some point. Rumble, Farnol and Bardin had begun to joke that life might be easier if they returned to the stage. It was only a joke but it still got Bengo upset. Unlike the other three, he sometimes felt as though he was torn between two families, both of whom he loved very much, and whom he knew it would be impossible to choose between. He had spent most of his life with the clowns, they had always been like brothers, and yet he also had vivid memories of living on the old Indigo as the only clown, before Bardin and the others had joined them.
It was inevitable that there were times when he felt apart from the other three. They had become very tightknit after his sudden departure to live with Kieran. But being the youngest of the four, he had always felt a bit separate from them anyway. The age gaps were minimal, he was two years younger than Rumble, one year younger than Bardin, and only nine months younger than Farnol, but when they were children these gaps had seemed much bigger, and he had never shaken off the image of the spoilt brat, the baby of the bunch. Being the only cute one had reinforced it. There was also a strong element of distrust in his relationship with Rumble, and there always had been. Rumble was the epitome of reliability and steadfastness. The performer who when told to something would simply say “right” and do it. Whereas Bengo was capricious and temperamental, he threw tantrums if he didn’t like a direction, and vigorously questioned ones he didn’t understand. The normally so laid-back Rumble had often felt exasperated with him, and Bengo had sensed this every time. Of course, Bengo being Bengo, he wasn’t so quick to pick up on the many times when Rumble had defended him against Bardin’s bossiness, or the other clowns’ cruel bullying. Rumble simply loved Bengo very much, but had never envied Bardin having to partner him!
“You can’t leave”, Bengo jumped to his feet “You can’t just leave because of all this!”
As he flounced out of the room into the hall, he heard Rumble say rather laconically “is he bolting on us again?!” Although he knew it was only a joke, Bengo still felt wounded by this remark. Bardin assured the others he would sort it out, and found Bengo sobbing his heart out on the bench in the porch. A huge pang of pity swept over him for his excitable little friend, who only wanted to live at the Bay and have fun. He sat down next to him and made soothing noises.
“Hush now, daft puppy”, he said, stroking Bengo’s arm “We were just joking that’s all. Twits that we are”.
“Rumble doesn’t like me really does he, Bardy?” said Bengo “He’s never forgiven me for running off, not deep down”.
“Bengo, Rumble’s not that kind of person”, said Bardin “He doesn’t hold grudges. He loves you, but to be honest I don’t think he’s ever really quite trusted you. You’re so hot-headed!”
“You three are so in with each other sometimes”, said Bengo “I feel excluded”.
“When you joined Kieran they looked after me”, said Bardin “I had no one else. Ully was a drunk, hopeless, and the other clowns hated me. I leaned on those two a lot. It was like you’d died you see, for them as well as me. As though our kid brother had suddenly died on us. We gave each other strength, but we don’t hold it against you, not anymore. It’s just that you are the youngest, and so we perhaps leave you out when we don’t mean to”.
Farnol coughed discreetly from the doorway and looked suitably apologetic.
“Rumble wanted to know if our kid was in the river yet”, he said.
“No, but a bath would do us all good”, said Bardin “We stink”.
“You sound like a critic!” said Rumble, appearing behind his friend.
A long and rather drowsy bath was taken by the four of them in the large bath upstairs. After it they all felt sleepy and went along to the main bedroom. They lay side-by-side on the four-poster with just the bed-cover lightly draped round them like a flag on a coffin, and fell into a deep sleep.
“You have to rush across the river”, said Lonts “If you don’t I shall have to come up on you and crush you to death”.
“It would be a mercy killing!” said Joby, lying breathlessly on the library floor “Lonts, I don’t think I can take anymore. I’m all out of puff. Oh God, what a mess I must look”.
“Don’t worry about it, Joby”, said Lonts “You always look untidy”.
“Oh cheers thanks!” said Joby “Tidy up in here. I’m gonna go and get some tea”.
“You must have a sixth sense when it comes to tea-making”, said Adam, who was pouring out tea when Joby walked into the kitchen.
Hoowie was standing nearby shovelling a portion of rhubarb crumble into his mouth.
“It’s the human cement-mixer!” said Joby.
“Hey, you stand right in front of me”, said Hoowie “And slap my cheeks …”
“And I get a face-full of mashed rhubarb”, said Joby “I already know that trick. It was one of my brother’s favourites. Go and try it out on one of the clowns instead”.
“I have a feeling they’re probably already aware of it too!” said Adam.
“I’m gonna finish this outside”, said Hoowie.
“Yeah, good idea”, said Joby “Best place for you!”
Hoowie stepped outside the back door.
“Isn’t it time we had him committed?” said Joby. “He seems to have been very low-key lately”, said Adam “Either he’s calmed down, or he’s been overshadowed by the rest of you!”
He had barely said this when they heard Hoowie making peculiar noises outside. Joby went out to find him with his pants down mooning at a couple of embarrassed-looking monks in the forest. Joby dragged him indoors.
“They were goggling at me”, said Hoowie “So I thought I’d give ‘em a show”.
“Why would they wanna goggle at you?” said Joby “You have to be the ugliest git who ever lived!”
“More likely they were trying to get a glimpse of Patsy I expect”, said Adam.
“Sounds more like it”, said Joby.
The dining-room door was flung open and Toppy stood there, naked apart from an old velvet maroon curtain held round his waist. Toppy was a good-looking young man so the effect was quite striking.
“You could draw me like this”, he said to Adam “And not just sketch Bengo all the time”.
“I don’t sketch Bengo all the time!” Adam protested, but Toppy swished round and walked out again.
“What was that all about?” said Joby.
“He was alright earlier wasn’t he?” said Adam “He was in here polishing the silver and complaining about the clowns, his usual antic. I’d better go after him”.
Hillyard was in the great hall, playing a gentle tune on the piano, perfectly in keeping with the beautiful sunlit evening.
“I haven’t seen him in here”, he said.
“He must have gone up the dining-room staircase then”, said Adam, going on to explain about Toppy’s appearance in the kitchen.
“Don’t worry about it”, said Hillyard “We’ve all been under stain lately, and he probably just felt like getting a bit of attention”.
A volley of wolf-whistles broke out from upstairs, obviously from where Toppy had reached the main bedroom. The clowns had woken up.
“There will be no more night-watches”, said Bardin, when everyone had gathered round the dining-room table for dinner “Tonight we just shut the house up and go to bed. There’s a limit to human endurance”.
“And inhuman”, said Tamaz.
“Yeah”, said Bardin “Whatever”.
Someone hammered on the front door.
“I don’t fucking believe it!” Bardin slammed his knife and fork down and then slammed out of the room as well. Concerned for his friend, Bengo rushed out after him.
A monk was handing Bardin a sheet of paper at the door. They’d had a long wireless message from Governor Brinslee, and had taken it down for the Indigo-ites.
“He’s in Aspiriola”, said Bardin, returning to the dining-room with Bengo, still concerned, following on behind “Trying to rustle up a disaster fund for Port West”.
“He don’t have to do that”, said Hillyard “I can go up there on the next supply-run and give him some loot”.
“He’s convinced he’s got a better idea”, Bardin sighed “He wants to put on a benefit show in Aspiriola, thinks it’ll be good for the morale of the survivors, to see all that being done for them”.
“And he wants you to join in?” said Joby.
“Worse”, said Bardin “He wants me to organise it! And I quote ‘I remember the fun we all had at the Festival in Port West two years ago. It would be nice to do something like that again. It would remind people of better times’”.
“Didn’t we go through enough agony then?” said Rumble “Now we have to do it all again!”
“I still think it’d be easier if I just gave him a backhander”, said Hillyard.
“Yes, you don’t have to go, Bardin”, said Adam.
“And how’s it gonna look if we refuse?” said Bardin “It’s gonna reflect badly on Kieran. His own people can’t be bothered to help out an old friend in a time of crisis blah-blah-blah”.
“Nobody has to do anything they don’t want just to worry about my infamy”, said Kieran.
“We would never have had any of this trouble if we’d moved to a distant island”, said Ransey.
Mieps, sitting opposite him, hissed and slapped the table in annoyance. Ransey looked surprisingly chastened.
“None of you have heard the worst yet”, said Bardin “The clowns in the Village of Stairs have already offered their support”.
Bengo looked horrified.
“We have to work with them again?” he whispered.
“Looks like it”, said Bardin.
“Oh I get it”, said Julian “This is now a point of honour isn’t it? You can’t possibly allow your old friends to get any kind of moral highground over you”.
“It’s not that at all”, said Bardin, who objected to those clowns being referred to as his friends.
“Sounds like it to me”, said Joby.
The whole idea was shelved for the rest of the evening, if only because Bengo was convinced he was going to have nightmares at the thought of working with Hal and Co again. They all went to the library and played an improvised game of ‘Twister’, using cardboard circles and a pair of dice.
Jonner was dismayed when Adam went over the river the next morning to tell everyone that they would all soon be going to Aspiriola. This was only made possible by the monks offering to look after the animals whilst they were gone.
“We’re going to travel overland by truck”, said Adam, sitting with Jonner on the main deck of the monks’ yacht “We’ve estimated we can shave several hours off the journey that way”.
“But why can’t you just send the younger half?” said Jonner “It’s them who are required for the charity show isn’t it?”
“It doesn’t feel right sending them alone this time”, said Adam “And Brinslee’s an old friend of ours. I think he would be disappointed if we old fogey’s didn’t go as well. He must feel dreadfully alone in the world at present. But don’t worry, we’ll only be gone a week at the outset I should imagine”.
Meanwhile the clowns had decided to “jazz up” the truck, and had taken it behind the stables to daub it with every pot of paint they could find. The finished result when they grandly unveiled it at the end of the day was eyecatching to say the least.
“It looks like a hippies’ passion-wagon!” said Joby, looking at it with unbridled horror “It’s gonna be dead embarrassing turning up in that!”
“As though we’re going to an old rock concert”, said Adam.
“Have you seen what they’ve done to my truck?” Hillyard stamped over to them in indignation “The little bastards!”
“We couldn’t miss it”, said Joby “You could sell ice-creams from that! We’ll get you a white coat, Hillyard, you could be Mr Whippy!”
Bengo got quite concerned for Hillyard and walked up and down with him in front of the Castle trying to console him.
“No I’m alright”, said Hillyard “I can’t stay angry with you for long at all”.
He was looking down at Bengo’s little brown face and felt instantly helpless. Bengo kissed him full on the lips. Hillyard suddenly broke off and looked appalled over Bengo’s shoulder.
“Oh what is it?” said Bengo “It’s not Angel is it?”
“No, worse”, said Hillyard “Bardin’s watching us from the porch”.
“Fuck!” said Bengo.
He looked round behind him and found Bardin staring at them, very irritably indeed.
“I’d … I’d better go to him”, said Bengo, sounding as though he was about to ascend the scaffold.
Bardin didn’t mince words. In fact, he didn’t use any. He dragged Bengo into the great hall and beat the pants off him instead. Julian got exasperated with Hillyard’s guilt over this and had a go at him later.
“Stop beating yourself up”, he said “All it means is Bardin will look very cross for a while. Bengo will whimper a lot and say ‘I’m sorry Bardy’. Bardin will grudgingly forgive him, eventually, and Bengo will wag his tail in ecstatic gratitude”.
Which was exactly what happened. Mainly because Bardin was in one of his frighteningly professional moods, driven by the enormity of all the preparations he had to make. So he had set about chastising Bengo as though it was simply another daily task that had to be performed. Late in the evening another message had arrived from Brinslee, which Adam read out to everyone as they got ready for bed.
“He’s glad to hear we’re coming overland”, he said “As the town is very busy at the moment, and he fears we wouldn’t have enough privacy on the sloop. As it is he says we must stay with him at the old governor’s house”.
“Oh great”, said Joby “That old dump! The house that time forgot!”
“It’s gloomy, but it’s private”, said Adam “Perhaps it’ll be just what we need. And the governor’s family aren’t there anymore”.
“That’s about all it’s got going for it!” said Joby.
Bardin spent a restless night, keyed up with all that was to happen. At around 3 a.m he had to concede with himself that he was desperately curious to know what, if anything, could be lurking outside. The only trouble was that he was firmly wedged in the communal bed, in between Bengo and Hoowie. He couldn’t get out without waking everybody up.
“Do you think It’s out there?” said Hoowie, into Bardin’s left ear “The Perple Fing”.
“Be quiet, you’ll wake everyone up”, Bardin hissed “Anyway, we’re getting away from it for a few days so it doesn’t matter”.
“You hope, it might follow us”, Hoowie walked his fingers up Bardin’s arm.
“Not if you’re with us it won’t!” said Bardin.
The journey to Aspiriola in fact passed with great uneventfulness, so the town when it burst on them a day later came as even more of a colourful shock than they’d expected. Because they were so conspicuous in their luridly-painted truck, everyone in the streets flocked round and followed them through the mayhem like the pied piper.
It took an age for Hillyard to steer the truck to the part of the town where the old governor’s house was situated. Ransey, Bengo and Bardin, sitting at the front next to him, were disturbed by the mass of over-excited people. By contrast, the shady private grounds of the Governor’s House were a gloomy haven of peace and privacy. That is, until Brinslee burst out of the main door to greet them.
Big, boisterous Brinslee was looking his age. He was now an old man, and in spite of his usual boundless energy he looked tired. It was especially noticeable now to the Indigo-ites, as they had all mysteriously regained their youth. Brinslee was shaken but delighted by their supernatural good luck.
He hovered round them all as they spilled out of the truck, bestowing warm greetings on one and all. Brinslee had at times over the years wanted to make first Finia and then Bardin his consorts. Julian was so busy trying to keep Finia out of his grasp that Brinslee lifted Bardin out of the truck instead.
“Look at him, look at him!” Brinslee cried, clutching Bardin (who was looking numb with terror) in his grasp “Isn’t he lovely and slim?”
“Put Bardin down, Brinslee”, Julian barked “He belongs to us”.
“Make sure I am never alone with him”, Bardin whispered urgently to Adam as they walked into the house.
“I should think there’s very little chance of you being alone with him, old love”, said Adam “Not with us all here. And Bengo will keep an eye on you”.
“Bengo?” Bardin exclaimed “He can’t even keep an eye on himself, let alone on anyone else!”
Brinslee explained that it was only him and them staying in the house. The staff weren’t living in, as they were all local. As such, they could pick whatever rooms they wanted to sleep in. Bengo was among those who ran upstairs in excitement to choose a room. Bardin toiled after him, carrying both their bags, which he dumped in the room where he found Bengo jumping around on the bed.
“How many of us are to sleep in this?” Bengo asked.
“Just us two”, said Bardin, dropping the bags on the floor.
“What, the whole room?” said Bengo.
“Yeah, the whole room”, Bardin pushed open a nearby door “Looks like we’ve got our own bathroom too”.
The house also had electricity, which was a source of wonderment on its own, and it did achieve some small effort in brightening up the dark, old-fashioned rooms. Not everyone was happy with the accommodation. Kieran and Joby were the last upstairs, and as a consequence found themselves relegated to a tiny, austere room with two hard single beds.
“It’s a dump, a fucking broom cupboard!” said Joby “It hasn’t even got a proper window that we can see out of!” he pointed at the round frosted glass above his bed “It’s not right that we’ve ended up with this”.
“It’s only for a few days”, said Kieran. He sat on his bed and a spring went twang.
“Bound to appeal to you”, said Joby “It goes with your hair-shirt mentality”.
“We could always go and sleep in the truck”, said Kieran.
“I’m not sleeping in here”, said Tamaz, appearing in the doorway “I suppose because I’m half-Ghoomer you think I can put up with it! I’m going to sleep with Adam and Lonts instead”.
He turned and flounced out of the room.
“A tiny bit of luxury turns everybody into monsters!” said Kieran.
“I’m gonna go and find the khazi”, said Joby.
When he did find it he wasn’t very impressed.
“What kind of a house is this?” he squawked at Adam, who had also sought out the main bathroom “There’s no fucking bog roll in here”.
“Surely there must be”, said Adam, looking round him.
“There’s not even a loo-roll holder”, said Joby.
“I think we’re supposed to use the bidet”, said Adam, and he sat astride it to demonstrate.
“Even when you’ve had a dump?” said Joby.
“Then we sit the other way round”, said Adam.
“That’s disgusting!” said Joby “I’m gonna go out and buy some loo-roll first thing”.
He looked in at Bengo and Bardin’s room on the way back to his own.
“I hope Brinslee comes to get you in the middle of the night!” he said.
The evening was a short one. Worn out with travelling the Indigo-ites seemed to be barely able to stay awake long enough to eat. Brinslee didn’t mind. It was only the start of the trip after all.
“What the hell did we eat this evening?” said Joby, when both he and Kieran woke up with stomach pains at nearly two o’clock in the morning “Is Brinslee trying to poison us?”
“There was a lot of peppers and lemongrass in it”, said Kieran “I think we’re just not used to exotic spicy food anymore”.
Joby rolled off his bed of nails and knelt on the floor by Kieran’s bed.
“I’m glad you’ve got it as well”, he said.
“Thanks!” said Kieran.
“No well otherwise I’d think I had appendix trouble or summat”, said Joby “Will you come with me to the bathroom?”
“Are you frightened Brinslee might be out in the corridor?” said Kieran.
“He’d have anything!” said Joby, helping Kieran out of bed “He was goggling at Mieps over dinner. Julian got really rattled”.
“At least these days I think Mieps’ll behave himself”, said Kieran.
“He’d bloody better!” said Joby.
They fumbled their way along the dark corridor and burst into the bathroom to find Hillyard in pride of place on the loo.
“I’m gonna be ages”, he grunted.
“We’ll use the clowns’ loo”, said Joby, leading Kieran back out into the corridor “Serve the little bastards right if we wake ‘em up too!”
He seemed pretty determined they would manage this, putting on the overhead light in Bardin and Bengo’s bedroom and in the bathroom too. Bengo pulled his pillow over his head. Bardin, already plagued by bad indigestion, and the thought of facing their rival clowns later that day, got quite bad-tempered.
Kieran and Joby left eventually, although deliberately forgetting to turn the lights out behind them. Bardin got out of bed to do this.
“This is about as relaxing as being back at Sade’s place”, he said, getting back into bed “You could try showing some interest in what I’m saying! You’ve got about as much life in you lately as Jonner when he’s spaced-out!”
“You punished me the other day for being too excitable!” Bengo protested.
“That’s because I don’t like you getting excitable with Hillyard”, said Bardin “But you can with me!”
“I’m nervous”, said Bengo “Seeing all those people in the street earlier reminded me that we’ve got to perform in front of a large audience. I don’t think I can do it. I’ll get stage fright, let you down. I’m not used to it anymore. And Hal and all that mob will have it in for me, they always do”.
“Because they’ll be jealous bastards that’s why”, said Bardin “You’ll steel every sketch you’re in and that fucking annoys them. I’ve told you all this loads of times before. And you won’t let me down. I’ve always been very proud to have you as a partner”.
“Oh Bardy!” said Bengo.
“This bed’s in a right mess”, said Bardin “The sheets are all over the place. We’re gonna have to get out and remake it”.
Bengo reluctantly obeyed him, and they straightened out the bed in the dark before climbing back in.
“Bardy”, said Bengo, when they had settled down again “I want to go home”.
“Now listen”, said Bardin, propping himself up on his elbow “It’s for a good cause, and we only have to do it once”.
“You’ve said that before”, said Bengo “We must have had more comebacks than anyone else in the history of showbusiness!”
“I shouldn’t think so for one minute!” said Bardin “Some people have made a whole career out of comebacks! How many times have we heard ‘his final show’, only to find the bastard’s back a few months later! There are some people who think they can give it up and then find they can’t”.
“Not me”, said Bengo “I wouldn’t care if I never appeared in front of a set of footlights ever again”.
“Nor would I, but we’re here now and that’s that”, said Bardin.
“I think you just want the satisfaction of wiping the grin off Hal’s face when you walk into the theatre later today”, said Bengo.
“He must know we’ve arrived by now”, said Bardin “We didn’t exactly make a low-key entrance did we! Now go to sleep. We’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow”.
Bengo sighed and punched his pillow.
He went down to breakfast a few hours later in a state of gloomy resignation. Even the sight of everybody around the long table didn’t lift his spirits. Normally he would have run round kissing everyone, instead he sat down in an empty space next to Ransey (who was engulfed in a copy of the local paper), and waited dejectedly whilst Bardin fetched him a plate of scrambled eggs from the sideboard.
The Indigo-ites had the dining-room to themselves, Brinslee having gone out early on some mysterious (and slightly unnerving) errand to “drum up support” for their fund-raising show.
“Are you alright?” said Joby, looking across the table at Bengo, who was picking at his food.
“He’s homesick”, said Bardin.
“We’re not here for long”, said Ransey “So you might as well enjoy it”.
Bengo suddenly fled from the table in anguish. He had barely reached the door when Julian shouted in the kind of parade-ground tone of voice none of them argued with.
“Come back here, sit down and eat your breakfast!”
Bengo slunk nervously back to the table, giving Julian a wide-berth as he did so.
“Don’t look at me like that”, said Julian, when Bengo raised his brown eyes towards him over his scrambled egg.
Bardin squeezed Bengo’s shoulder reassuringly.
“Don’t indulge him”, said Ransey, scrupulously folding the newspaper “It only makes him even more of an hysteric. He needs a sterner regime”.
“He’ll be getting plenty of that over the next couple of days”, said Bardin “We’ve got to put together an entire show from scratch for tomorrow night”.
“You’ll never manage it if you constantly bicker all the time”, said Ransey.
“Bengo’ll be a total pro once he’s there”, said Bardin “We can rely on him, unlike Tamaz”.
“Just because I didn’t want to be in your stupid show”, said Tamaz.
“Leaving us without a clown’s sweetheart”, said Bardin “We’re gonna have to make do with Farnol in drag instead”.
“Farnol’s very amusing in drag”, said Adam.
“Yes, but he won’t make the audience drool”, said Bardin.
“What a revolting thought!” said Ransey.
“I may not be a snake-hipped teen idol”, said Farnol “Not these days anyway …”
“You never were!” said Bardin “You’re porky as an adult and you were porky as a kid too!”
“Don’t upset him and all”, said Joby “Or you’ll be down to three clowns. Three of you against The Others”.
“Why aren’t you taking Hoowie along?” said Adam.
“We might find a use for him”, said Bardin “We’ll send for him if we do”.
“I don’t know how the rest of us are going to amuse ourselves whilst we’re waiting for you to put on this show”, said Toppy.
“You’ve got the whole town to play in”, said Bardin “It’s only us who have to work”.
“What are you planning to do today, Patsy?” said Adam.
“I thought I’d go to church”, said Kieran, which effectively caused a deathly, appalled hush to fall over the entire table.
“Why?” Joby barked.
“Because whilst we’re here I’d like to take part in a proper church service”, said Kieran, shrugging casually.
“Bullshit!” Julian bellowed from the head of the table “You want to cause trouble, that’s what you want to do”.
“I promise you I’ll behave”, said Kieran.
“You needn’t think for one minute that I’m going to believe that!” said Julian.
“Patsy, would you like me to come with you?” said Adam “I’ll wear something respectable”.
“Have you got anything respectable?” said Joby.
Bardin gave a start when he saw the time and hurried the other clowns off to work. They went to the theatre in a hired horse and cart, and were alarmed when they got there to find a surprisingly large Press contingent gathered outside.
“I bet you this is Brinslee’s doing”, said Rumble.
He knew he and Farnol would have no trouble getting into the theatre. It was Bengo and Bardin they had come to see. The married clowns. Which made them a novelty act on its own.
“Is it difficult combining this kind of work with your relationship?” asked one of the Press.
“We’ve always worked together”, said Bengo “Always. Apart from when I … when I …”
“Ran off”, said Bardin, curtly steering him into the building and slamming the main doors behind them.
“I’m sorry, Bardy”, said Bengo “I get harassed and then I say the first thing that comes into my head”.
“Alright, alright, let’s go and do battle”, said Bardin.
The other clowns were reasonably well-behaved, at first. They sat through Bardin’s ideas for the order of play in a state of armed truce. Then Hal, who couldn’t seem to exist without being spiteful, began making jibes about Bengo, encouraged by their ideas for one sketch, in which Bengo’s role was that of Bewildered Visitor. Bardin flounced out of the back of the theatre to get some fresh air.
When Bengo followed him, he found his partner sitting on the fire-escape, and weeping quite soundly.
“I can’t cope with him”, Bardin sobbed “He’s so full of hate”.
“What did you say to me in the middle of the night?” said Bengo “It’s only for one performance. And one days somebody’ll shoot him, with any luck!”
“I’ll be in in a minute, I want to wash my face first”, said Bardin.
By the time he rejoined the others he found that Bengo had got everyone organised sorting out the props basket.
“I think you should take over as director”, said Bardin.
“Only if I can kick Hal out first!” said Bengo.
Whilst the clowns were working hard, the other Indigo-ites had spent a very leisurely day. Kieran and Adam had gone to church, and the visit passed entirely without incident. Joby took Lonts to buy a large pack of toilet roll. Julian went for a ride along the seafront with Hillyard and Mieps. Toppy and Hoowie made chocolate brownies in the pantry. Finia listened to Ransey fuming about Kieran’s irresponsibility in going to church, and wished he’d gone out with Julian instead.
By the time the clowns returned home to the old Governor’s House at dusk, the main meal had been eaten, and cold cuts had been left in the dining-room for them.
“We’re here”, said the driver, pulling the carriage up outside the house “We’re here!”
The clowns had all fallen asleep on the journey home. Hillyard came out of the house and picked Bengo out of the carriage, carrying him as though he was a baby chimp.
“I’d better take him”, said Julian, taking Bengo from him “Snake-hips won’t like to wake up and see you holding him”.
“One day I’m gonna have strong words with him”, said Hillyard “It’s crazy how jealous he gets of me”.
“All part of his sweet charm, old fruit”, said Julian.
Rumble came into the hall and promptly began to eat a newspaper which Mieps had put down on the table.
“There’s real food in the dining-room, old love”, said Adam.
“I’m rehearsing”, said Rumble “I have to eat a newspaper in tomorrow night’s show”.
“The whole thing?” said Adam “Surely that can’t be good for you, all that newsprint squelching around in your stomach”.
“Would you like me to order an extra copy for the morning?” said Brinslee.
“Don’t encourage him, Brinslee, it can’t possibly be good for him”, said Adam “Go and eat some real food, Rumble”.
“Hey you!” Bardin shouted at Hoowie, who was walking past in a chocolate-stained t-shirt “Be down here at eight-thirty sharp in the morning. There’s be no more old woman’s activities for you. We want you in the show”.
“I’m not sure about that”, said Hoowie “I might have other plans”.
“Like what?” said Bardin “Toppy’s got you crocheting cushion covers next has he? Whatever it is forget it. With five clowns instead of four it’ll give us more scope to do sketches on our own. Don’t worry, you won’t have to do anything too demanding. We know our limitations!”
Kieran was lying naked on his bed reading, when Joby came up later. Having just had a bath, Kieran had lain his towel to dry over the foot of the bed.
“This room’s like a monk’s cell”, said Joby, undressing “Or being in the nick. And there’s everybody else out there probably thinking that with Hillyard’s money we must be living in the lap of luxury!”
“It’s not for long”, said Kieran.
“I never thought that with all that money at our disposal we’d be travelling around in a beat-up old truck and sleeping in this dump!” said Joby.
“The others are doing alright”, said Kieran.
“Thanks, that makes me feel a lot better!” said Joby.
“I just heard Bardin saying that he find sit weird saying goodnight to everyone BEFORE he goes to the bedroom”, said Kieran.
“If we operated on a fair basis it’d be someone else’s turn to sleep in here tonight”, said Joby “Shall I turn the light off now?”
“Sure”, Kieran dropped his book on the floor. He spoke again when Joby had got into his own bed “Can I come in with you? Is there enough room?”
“You hardly take up a lot of space!” said Joby “Come on over”.
“I can’t get used to us being in separate beds”, said Kieran, crossing the room in the dark “Even at Henang we slept in the same one”.
“Yeah, must to Adam’s frustration!” said Joby, moving over to accommodate him.
“I’m glad I’m not one of the clowns”, said Kieran “They must be a bag of nerves at the moment”.
“I hope so”, said Joby “As soon as they’ve gone off to work tomorrow I suggest we move our stuff into Bengo and Bardin’s room. They can have this one”.
“That wouldn’t be very fair”, said Kieran.
“Oh yes it would”, said Joby “As far as I see it anyway!”
“Packed house isn’t it”, said Brinslee, rubbing his hands with great satisfaction. “That’s exactly what I was afraid of”, said Ransey, hovering around the front of the theatre box, scrutinising the crowd milling around below.
“I wish you would relax!” said Julian.
“I’m not here to relax”, said Ransey, and he gave a start when Kieran went to sit on one of the chairs at the front of the box “At the back, not there”.
“If I sit at the back I won’t be able to see a bloody thing”, said Kieran “Shorties at the front, you longpigs at the back, that’s how it should be”.
“You’ll be a sitting duck there”, said Ransey.
“Quack quack!” said Kieran.
Adam, who could see the point of view of both of them, decided to take a picnic basket round to the clowns backstage, to keep them going through the evening. Lonts and Toppy went with him.
The dressing-rooms were being run on the same principle as the Gaza Strip. The Cabaret of Horrors clowns in one, Bardin and the other Indigo clowns next door, on the strict understanding that they weren’t to crossover at all, or trouble would undoubtedly ensue.
Adam was rather dismayed to find Bengo looking like something out of a paedophile’s wet dream, dressed up as a schoolboy in short trousers, scruffy shirt, cap, and oversized freckles pained across his nose.
“Do all your sketches have to be in such appallingly bad taste?” said Adam.
“Bad taste?” said Bardin, who was in the process of rubbing foundation cream all over his face “We’ve cleaned that sketch up no end! We’ve had to. The Chief Constable’s given us a list of rules we have to abide by. If we break any of them he’ll shut us down immediately and cart us all off to the night-court”.
“Well for goodness sake abide by it then!” said Adam “I don’t want to have to bail you out of the pound here yet again, and certainly not with Bengo dressed like that!”
“Show him the finishing-touch, Bengo”, said Farnol, who was looking even more disturbing in an oversized pink padded bra.
Bengo opened his mouth. He had put a piece of black chewing-gum over one of his front teeth, to look as though it was missing.
“Very effective”, said Adam, who had also noticed that Farnol was wearing purple nail-varnish “And you’d better clean that off before you come home or Julian will have a fit”.
“If Tamaz had joined in, Farnol wouldn’t have had to do all that”, said Bardin.
A shout broke out next door, like a rugby team psyching itself up before a match, of “ENERGY! EN-E-R-GY!”
“Wankers”, Bardin muttered, dabbing his face liberally with a powder-puff “They think they’re intimidating us”.
“Shag! Shag!” Hal shouted, causing Adam to look alarmed.
“That’s the name of one of ‘em”, said Bardin.
“He’s called Shag?” said Adam.
“’Fraid so”, Bardin sighed.
The first couple of sketches passed off smoothly. Then Bardin gave a solo singing spot which moved various members of the audience, including an old man sitting directly below the Indigo-ites, who dabbed at his eyes with a handkerchief.
“And now ladies and gentlemen”, said Bardin, at the close of his number “I know this is going to come as a terrible letdown to you all after my singing, but here are the clowns from the Village of Stairs, again!”
“I bet that wasn’t scripted”, Julian muttered.
“What on earth came over him?” said Adam.
“I don’t know”, said Julian “But I would be very surprised if the stage wasn’t a bloodbath by the end of the evening!”
Fortunately Bardin left the stage on the opposite side to the one the other clowns entered, so the “bloodbath” was avoided for the duration of the next sketch. It was over all too quickly, and the next one involved both sets of clowns. This was supposed to be a relatively low-key routine, involving verbal wordplay for a change, rather than just slapstick. Bardin found himself being screened by Shag, who had placed himself in such a way at the front of the stage that Bardin couldn’t be seen properly by the audience. That he had done this on purpose was confirmed when Bardin took a step to one side and Shag matched him exactly.
Worse was to come, when Shag broke one of the cardinal rules of the stage, and wilfully pinched one of Bardin’s lines. Bardin was furious, so much so that he aimed a kick at Shag’s backside. He had honestly intended this to be light and unobtrusive, unfortunately he was steam-powered by anger, and it came out a lot more violently than he had planned. Shag tumbled over the edge of the stage and into the band-pit, landing on the drum-kit and completely ripping the insides out of the biggest drum. The drummer was beside himself with fury and tossed his entire set of cymbals onto the stage in a fit of petulance, where they caused such a horrendous clatter that even the most skilful of comedians would have had a hard job distracting the audience from it! It was decided to bring down the curtain on this particular sketch immediately.
“A fucking disaster!” a puce-faced Hal had to be physically restrained backstage from punching Bardin “Are you trying to wreck the whole fucking evening? Are you?”
“It’s not wrecked”, said Bengo, who was as annoyed with Bardin as the others were, but would still support him against them “It can be salvaged”.
“You can go and fucking salvage it then!” said Hal.
“We were due on next anyway”, said Bengo, frogmarching Bardin away.
The fact that the next routine was to feature only Bengo and Bardin helped to save the show from stuttering to an ignominious halt. Many in the audience had turned up just to see those two perform together, on a now all-too-rare public appearance.
“I’ll show Bardy how to fucking ad-lib”, Bengo muttered to himself in the wings “I’ll give him an ad-libbing lesson he’ll never forget!”
The whole routine turned into an ‘ad-lib’, and in a perverse way showed their chemistry together, and how even when they were blazing with animosity towards one another, they were on exactly the same wavelength of creativity.
Bengo clouted Bardin with a custard pie that had been originally intended for himself (which of course added to the satisfaction). Bardin deftly picked him up under his arm and walloped his behind. Once on his feet again Bengo stormed purposefully into the wings to look for more gooey objects. Briefly left to his own devices on the stage Bardin performed a short tap-dance. Bengo reappeared bearing another custard pie. A very deft tussle ensued as Bardin tried to get it off him, and Bengo passed it round behind his back. (How it never ended up splattered on the floor surprised him as much as the audience). Bardin got it from him and this time it was Bengo’s turn to get a face-full.
They took several bows together at the close of the routine. And then, to the general relief of all performers, it was time for the interval.
“That was meant for you, that first pie”, said Bardin, as they both wiped themselves with towels when they got to the wings “That was what we agreed in rehearsal”.
“No, it was what you agreed actually”, said Bengo “I get sick of it always being me. I thought it would be nicer if your ugly mug got plastered with it for a change”.
“Oh yeah?” said Bardin “Well I’m surprised you didn’t start eating the one I gave you, Fatty!”
They both went “blah!” and stuck their tongues out at each other. Then, giggling, Bengo swished Bardin’s behind with the towel all the way back down the corridor to the dressing-rooms. Shag was laying in wait for them.
“You could’ve broken my fucking back!” he roared at Bardin.
“Yeah well I obviously didn’t”, said Bardin “Anyway, I didn’t kick you that hard. I think you threw yourself off the stage deliberately”.
“Oh sure!” said Shag “I threw myself into the fucking band-pit. I do it all the fucking time don’t you know!”
“That wouldn’t surprise me”, Bardin muttered “Anything to get attention”.
“Hal’s in our dressing-room”, said Bengo, having peaked through the door “I think Rumble’s signed a peace-treaty with him!”
“That’s all we need!” said Bardin “We’ll be lucky if any of us gets out alive now!”
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