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It rained that evening, one of those intense tropical storms that seems to hurl itself violently against the ground but leaves nothing but steam behind. Hillyard and Ransey set up a large tarpaulin on strategically-placed poles around the clearing, with a hole cut in the middle to let the smoke from the fire out.
As it was a warm, muggy evening this was all quite pleasant really, in spite of the rain. Hillyard played the piano in one corner. Julian and Ransey sat on the sofa which had been rescued from the Castle library, with Bengo perched on the back of it. Everyone was drinking Hillyard’s homemade beer out of plastic beakers.
Bengo was looking boot-faced. He was jealous and annoyed that Mieps, who had originally angered Bardin so much earlier with his solo trip into the forest, had seemingly got away with it. Even Julian seemed to be taking a casual view of it! Julian though had come to understand Mieps very well since their Christmas Day wedding. He knew that the desecration of the grave had upset Mieps. Not only that but Mieps had felt more vulnerable alone in the forest than he cared to admit. Julian didn’t say anything to anyone, but he quietly predicted in his own mind that that would be the last of Mieps’s solo shows of bravado.
“Hello old girl”, he said, when Mieps came over to join them “The little fellow here is getting quite jealous of your hold on Bardin”.
“He’s a fool”, said Mieps.
“Don’t you two start fighting”, said Ransey “You’re always crossing swords with each other”.
Mieps pushed Bengo off the back of the sofa before sitting down between Julian and Ransey. Bengo scrambled to his feet and came round to the front of the sofa.
“He nearly made me spill all my beer”, said Bengo, holding out the bit of beer that was left swilling around the bottom of his beaker.
“Well drink the rest of it then”, said Julian, pulling Bengo onto his knee by his vest “Don’t go getting any ideas about chucking it over any of us”.
There were the sounds of subdued merriment carrying over from the monks’ settlement. The clink of glasses and the odd shriek of laughter.
“Sounds like the neighbours are having a party”, said Ransey.
“It’ll end in tears”, said Julian.
On the other side of the clearing Tamaz wandered about pensively, chewing the ends of his fur-stole. Kieran, Joby and Bardin were lolling on the floor.
“Come and sit down”, said Joby “You look all tense”.
“You’re easily got round aren’t you?” said Tamaz, disdainfully prodding Bardin with his foot “If some of us had gone alone into the forest you’d have flayed us, but Mieps just gives you a blow-job and you’re all soft and simpering”.
“Well if you want to try it on me”, said Bardin, holding out the front of his trousers suggestively “Or would you prefer to carry on eating your rats-tails?!”
“Bengo’s real pissed off about it”, said Tamaz, now joining in the lolling.
“No need to worry”, said Bardin “Bengo will be putty in my hands later”.
Hoowie came over, with the stone.
“God, he’s getting like that old biddy who was in ‘Twin Peaks’”, said Joby “The one who carried of log of wood around with her everywhere and claimed it passed her messages!”
“I feel the vibes it gives me”, said Hoowie, sitting down with it.
Kieran looked concerned but at the moment couldn’t think of an appropriate thing to say. Bengo staggered around the camp-fire, at one point falling against the piano and setting off a discordant jangling notes.
“It’s Hillyard’s beer”, said Joby “I swear he puts anti-freeze in it! Just to give it a kick like”.
“Mieps pushed me off the back of the sofa”, said Bengo “I could have broken my arms and legs”.
“No you couldn’t”, said Bardin “Even when you’re drunk you should know how to fall properly”.
“Mieps is a savage”, said Tamaz.
“At least he doesn’t walk around with a dead animal around his neck!” said Kieran.
“Chewing on its feet”, said Bardin.
A drunken scream went up from the monks’ field, followed by a shout, a shriek of laughter, and a smashing of glasses.
“Sounds like it’s going into meltdown that party”, said Joby.
“Perhaps we should get off to bed before the police arrive!” Kieran joked.
Bardin certainly felt that it was time Bengo went to bed. He helped him half-unconscious onto the sloop, and then got him undressed and into bed.
“Are you sure you don’t need to use the heads?” Bardin asked “Only once that door’s bolted you’ll inconvenience everybody if you want to get up again”.
“I don’t see why”, said Bengo “I’m not a kid, Bardy, I’ll be alright”.
He awoke a couple of hours later with the irritating certainty that he need to use the heads. Bardin was asleep next to him, but Bengo was very unconfident that he could get out and back again without him realising.
From outside he could hear the same old cackling coming from the monks’ settlement, where the party was obviously still going on, or at least Nola’s part in it was. Julian turned over in bed noisily and muttered something to Ransey.
“Is it Nola?” said Ransey.
“Bloody woman needs a cattle-prod up her arse!” said Julian “That’d give her something to shriek about! And where do you think you’re going?” he barked at Bengo, who had slipped out of bed.
“The h-heads”, Bengo stammered “I won’t be long”.
Bengo didn’t like being outside the cabin on his own in the middle of the night. There were too many inexplicable noises for his liking. He hurried his peeing as fast as he could, and then pulled the chain, hoping that it would flush more quietly than normal. It didn’t. He opened the door of the heads and gave a nervous start when he saw Bardin standing there with his arms folded.
“Don’t say anything now, Bardy”, Bengo pleaded “Leave it til the morning”.
“Get back in there”, Bardin pointed towards the cabin.
“You wouldn’t have known if Julian hadn’t shouted anyway”, said Bengo, patting Bardin’s bottom in a suggestive manner.
“Stop that”, said Bardin, who knew with a cast-iron certainty that it would get him aroused.
He climbed back into bed with an expanding boner. Bengo dived under the covers, pulled open the front of Bardin’s shorts and let the stiffening organ out of its lair. Joby groaned and rolled over to face in the opposite direction.
“That’s it, I can’t stand anymore”, said Ransey, getting out of bed “I’m gonna go out to her. I can’t listen to that cackle for the rest of the night. Enough to drive you insane. It’s a form of torture you know, depriving somebody of sleep”.
“Put some clothes on first, old love”, said Adam.
“No let him go as he is”, said Julian “It might stun her into silence!”
“Is that Nola still laughing out there?” said Kieran.
“Yeah”, Joby grunted “Someone’s finally pulled the giggle chord and now they can’t shut her up!”
“Absolutely ridiculous to go traipsing all over the countryside at this time of the night”, said Adam.
“Actually she sounds quite nearby”, said Kieran.
In fact Ransey found Nola crouching on the wooden jetty that led out to the sloop. She presented a disturbing sight in the darkness, crouched on all fours, cackling madly, and quite alone. It takes a lot of courage to approach someone who is plainly ‘non compos mentis’, and this was no exception.
Ransey climbed down onto the jetty and held out a warning hand to her, uncertain whether she was going to run away, leap at him, or jump into the water.
“Calm down now”, said Ransey, crouching down so that he was on her level “Easy”.
His words had no effect. When he was within range Nola flew at him and bit him on the lower leg. Ransey let out a howl of pain, and Nola fled back towards the monks’ field, shrieking.
“The old cat”, said Ransey, back in the cabin as Finia applied antiseptic to his leg.
“Could Nola give you rabies, Ransey?” asked Lonts.
“Oh Lo-Lo really!” Adam exclaimed “Nola hasn’t got rabies”.
“She could have”, said Lonts “I saw a dog with rabies once, back in Kiskev. He was all foaming at the mouth. He had to be shot”.
“Nola wasn’t foaming at the mouth”, Ransey winced “Although it wouldn’t have surprised me if she had been!”
“And if she’d had rabies you wouldn’t have found her so near the water”, said Joby “Rabies victims can’t stand the sight of water”.
“It’s just teeth-marks”, said Finia “She hasn’t broken the skin”.
“Perhaps she’s a werewolf”, said Lonts “Can you get lady werewolfs Adam?”
“I really have no idea”, Adam sighed “I think it’s rather more likely that the monks have been brewing up some dodgy moonshine, and that’s the effect it’s had on her”.
“If it’s anything like Hillyard’s beer that wouldn’t surprise me at all!” said Joby.
Kieran went over to the monks’ field first thing in the morning, accompanied by Bardin and Hillyard. Tamaz got it into his head that he wanted to go as well, but Kieran most emphatically told him to stay at home.
After the three had gone Julian was suspicious that he couldn’t find Tamaz anywhere in the clearing or on the sloop, and went looking for him. He found him hiding in a small dry ditch on the edge of the monks’ field and took him forcibly back to the sloop, where Julian gave him a hiding. It was a fairly light paddling (by Julian’s standards), but Tamaz hissed, spat and waved his little fists around in protest at this undignified treatment.
“Stop making such silly noises”, said Julian, afterwards “You sound like a set of old pipes wheezing”.
“I should have been allowed to go as well”, said Tamaz “Who do you think you are by stopping me!”
“You know who I am!” said Julian “Don’t be so impatient anyway. You’re bound to hear all about it when the others get back. It’s just that his is a delicate issue of diplomacy between two neighbouring states, and we can’t have you messing it up”.
“Coffee anyone?” said Adam, carrying a couple of cups into the room.
“Don’t we get any biscuits?” said Tamaz.
“Freaky, you really are the most horrid little brat sometimes?” said Adam “Go along to the galley. Bengo will give you one. A biscuit that is”.
“Are the Three Musketeers still over there?” said Julian, when Tamaz had gone.
“Mm, Joby’s strangely nervous about it all”, said Adam “He’s gone up on the forward deck to look out for Patsy’s return. I did try and joke with him about Drake playing bowls but it didn’t work”.
“There’s nothing really to be nervous about”, said Julian “It just requires a bit of diplomacy along the lines of ‘can you please keep your nutcases locked up at night, particularly after they’ve been boozing!’”
Kieran had been granted an audience in the spacious tent which the Arch-Pater used as his daytime quarters. It was like visiting a Roman general during a lull on the battlefield. Kieran was flanked by Bardin and Hillyard, clutching tea-cups rather self-consciously. The Arch-Pater sat majestically in his carved armchair, with Brother Jerome standing behind him, looking like a particularly vicious tax inspector.
The Arch-Pater was burning incense in a copper-bowl, and the fumes of it were threatening to choke them all out of the tent. Kieran got more and more exasperated with trying to speak against these pungent fumes.
“What the fock are you burning in there?” he cried, when driven beyond endurance “Your underpants?!”
“Jerome”, said the Arch-Pater, giving a brief wave of dismissal with his hand.
Brother Jerome picked up the copper bowl and carried it outside, returning again almost immediately, as though frightened of missing something. His behaviour to the three Indigo-ites was starting to feel very disconcerting.
“So let me assess what you’ve been saying”, said the Arch-Pater, after a few minutes “Nola got drunk last night and came over to the clearing and disturbed you”.
“She bit Ransey”, said Kieran, rattled that the monks were making out they were over-reacting to a very minor event.
“On the leg”, said Bardin “Below the knee”.
“That is not normal behaviour”, said Kieran “We’re concerned about her. Perhaps you could tell us how she is this morning”.
“Asleep I should imagine”, the Arch-Pater gave a feeble laugh “It is still very early you know”.
“Could Sister Amalia tell us how she is?” said Kieran “Being the only other woman on the site …”
“Sister Amalia and Nola do not get on”, said the Arch-Pater, in the same bland, amiable tones, as though he and Kieran were diplomats fencing around exchanging dutiful pleasantries.
“Could we see Nola?” said Kieran “We won’t wake her if she’s asleep, we’ll just look”.
“Don’t you believe she’s here?” Brother Jerome barked.
“After last night’s activities you can’t blame us for being concerned!” said Kieran.
They were shown Nola’s sleeping quarters, one of a row of wooden huts that were the size of beach-huts. Nola was lying in her own, sleeping very deeply, even emitting the odd little snore. Kieran noticed that she was still dressed, but that someone had gone to the trouble of removing her shoes and covering her with a thin blanket. He ascertained from one of the other monks that it was Brother Ignatius who had seen her to bed, and hunted him down to question him, beyond caring by now how much more he upset Brother Jerome. (He regarded the Arch-Pater as an exhausted old man in Brother Jerome’s thrall).
“She was almost falling down when she got back here”, said Brother Ignatius, who was standing outside the kitchen area, swathed in a large apron “She was mumbling something, but I couldn’t make out what it was. I thought I’d better get her into her quarters before she passed out. She only just made it and all. She’s been out like a light ever since”.
“Keep checking up on her for me will you?” said Kieran, before they left “She was very out of it last night”.
“It must have been one of the few pleasures he gets, seeing her to bed”, said Bardin, as they re-crossed the field.
“Ach do me a favour”, said Kieran “I suspect it’s you he’d rather be putting to bed somehow!”
“This is what we get when we leave diplomatic behaviour up to him!” said Julian, sitting on the poop-deck with Adam and Joby later that morning “He accuses our neighbours of murdering Nola and disposing of the body!”
“He didn’t actually accuse them of that, Jules”, said Adam “Patsy can’t help his evangelical behaviour, he’s pure of heart”.
“And simple of mind!” said Julian “Didn’t he learn anything in all his years of the Presidency? Brother Jerome is increasingly not to be trusted, but Tinkerbell deliberately goes and sets himself against him!”
“That’s just Patsy’s way I’m afraid”, Adam sighed.
“I’m going back below”, said Joby, who had been listening to this conversation in ominous silence throughout.
Kieran met up with him in the long corridor below deck and followed him all the way along it.
“You’re mad at me”, said Kieran “You think I shouldn’t have done it, gone over there I mean”.
“Look, just leave me alone for the time being”, said Joby, going into the heads. He shut the door and then almost immediately opened it again, because Kieran was still standing there “Can’t a man even have a crap in peace round here!”
When he emerged again Kieran had gone, but Hoowie had been loitering around, with his stone. He dropped it when Joby walked out of the heads at him, narrowly missing both their feet. Joby snatched it up first and went aloft with it angrily. Hoowie followed on behind, waving his arms in distress like a mad Old Testament-style prophet. Joby chucked the offending stone over the side into the river, and announced that if Hoowie wanted it so badly he could jump over and get it.
“We’ll get you another bloody stone if it means that much to you”, said Bardin, in exasperation “We’ll go and find one in the forest”.
“No no!” Hoowie wailed “That one was special”.
“No it wasn’t”, said Farnol “You picked it out of the undergrowth behind the wooden hut. I remember you doing it. Had me totally perplexed you did”.
“I had bonded with it”, said Hoowie.
“Well now you can go and bond with it over the side!” said Joby “Not Davy Jones’s Locker, but Hoowie the Halfwit’s Stone!”
Joby suddenly made jerking movements as though he was having a fit. He was flung against the bulwark and reared up against it as though an invisible force was trying to manhandle him over the side. He had the presence of mind to yell “Josh!” very loudly, and the disturbance ceased. Joby pulled up his t-shirt to reveal red marks on his stomach from where Josh’s hands had pressed forcefully against him.
“Joby”, Kieran pushed his way though the throng and led him away “I’ve got to get you away from here”.
“Don’t be daft, Kieran”, said Joby, now in the galley, nursing a cup of tea that Bengo had just made “It doesn’t matter where we go, Josh had proved he can follow us. I SAW him in Aspiriola for chrissakes!”
“But he’s tried to kill you this time”, said Kieran.
Bengo paused in his scrubbing of the draining-board and cast an anguished look at Joby.
“No he hasn’t”, said Joby “If Josh was interested in killing me he’d have done it by now!”
Bardin was pacing up and down the cabin with his hands on his hips. Julian was trying to write his log-book, but had to give up.
“Come on, you’re allowed to say it you know”, said Julian, flinging his pen down “It’s not sacrilege to criticise Kieran. He ballsed it up over there this morning. You go over there on a routine mission to keep Nola out of our hair, and not only has he accused them of murdering her, but he’s persuaded the hapless Brother Ignatius to ignore his own superiors and act as a treacherous go-between!”
“But Patsy …” Adam began, the third person in the room.
“Don’t say anymore, Adam”, Julian sighed “Kieran is like Lonts where you’re concerned, you won’t hear a word of criticism against them”.
“I guess I’ve had to be defensive about them”, said Adam “There have always been plenty of people who have been out to get at them. That doesn’t mean I’m blind to Patsy’s faults. I know how hot-headed he can be. He sees things too clearly, that’s the trouble, he doesn’t like deception at all. One can understand that”.
“Hm”, said Julian “One can also appreciate it causes a lot of bloody problems at times!”
“What the fuck are we going to do?” said Bardin, slapping his forehead in a rather theatrical gesture of despair “It’s getting out of control. Should we move on from here?”
“At the moment I don’t see that it would make any difference where we went”, said Julian “But in some ways life has become simpler. We know now that we always have to live on a boat”.
“It is more practical”, said Adam “We can all fit on a vessel. To find a house that would easily accommodate all 16 of us would not be easy”.
“We can sort out the Kieran problem at least”, said Julian “Ground the little bastard. Stop him from going over to the Monks’ Field. For the time being we can confine him to the clearing and the sloop”.
“Put him under house arrest?” said Bardin “What if he wants to go down to the beach?”
“He can go”, said Julian “But not on his own”.
“Come up topside for a chat you said”, said Joby, now sitting back in his deckchair on the poop-deck “This is the quietest I’ve ever known yer!”
Kieran had been staring into space for some while, his feet caught up underneath his and his vest stretched over his knees.
“Are you sulking ‘cos of Julian getting high-handed?” Joby continued.
“No, that doesn’t bother me”, said Kieran “It’s not as if he’s locked me in the cabin now is it, and perhaps it might keep me out of trouble”.
“I doubt it”, said Joby.
“I thought he was gonna clip me ear actually”, said Kieran “I was only pulling his leg when I said Bardin was the only one who had authority round here! Have you been thinking about Josh?”
“A bit”, said Joby “He doesn’t scare me, I’m even getting used to it in a way”, (although he cast a wary eye round him as he spoke, as if Josh was about to leap out at him again) “But it all just seems a bit pointless really. I mean, if we’re gonna have to put up with him, I wish he’d say summat, like what happened to our dad and our gran. Other than that I don’t see any point to him being here really”.
“Perhaps Angel knows why”, said Kieran “I wish I’d had the presence of mind to ask him when he was here last. But he spooked me. What a useless eejit I’m being at the moment!”
Joby squeezed his hand. Bengo approached tentatively up the poop-deck steps, casting nervous looks at Bardin, who was lounging in a deckchair further along the forward deck, his feet up on the bulwark and his cap pulled down over his eyes.
“Joby”, Bengo whispered “Can you come below? Only Adam’s still in the cabin with Julian, and I think I’ve blocked the sink”.
“Blocked the sink?” Joby loudly exclaimed.
“No, ssh please”, said Bengo, giving another terrified look at Bardin, who was still dozing, oblivious to the unfolding crisis of the blocked sink “Don’t let Bardy hear. He’ll shout at me, tell me how stupid I am”.
“Well what have you been putting down it?” said Joby.
“Scouring powder”, said Bengo.
“You go raving mad with that stuff”, said Joby “I’ve told you before about using too much of it. It’s not as if we can easily go out and busy some more just when we feel like it. And it shouldn’t have taken you all this time just to clean the sink anyway!”
“Oh please come and look”, said Bengo “I’ll do anything you want”.
Kieran followed them down the galley steps.
“You don’t have to come down as well”, said Joby.
“I think you should be in company as much as possible at the moment”, said Kieran “Not be left alone”.
“Chance’d be a fine thing!” said Joby “I can’t even go to the karsey in private round here! Anyway, so far Josh has been attacking me in company so I dunno what difference it makes really. What have you put all that down there for? Haven’t you got the brains you were born with?”
“The top fell off”, said Bengo “And it all fell out”.
“Alright, get a bowl to put it all in”, said Joby “Don’t use the goats’ food bucket, or the poor sod’s will end up swallowing scouring-powder! It’s frightening what’d happen if you was left entirely to your own devices round here”.
“You won’t tell Bardy will you?” said Bengo “And not Toppy either?”
“Toppy?” said Joby “Why has he gotta be kept in the dark as well?”
“Because he’ll tell Bardy”, said Bengo “He’ll revel in it”.
“Well he has to revel in summat I spose”, said Joby “Make a change from revelling in furniture polish, which is what he normally does!”
“This could have happened to anyone couldn’t it?” said Bengo.
“No actually”, said Joby “It could only have happened to you!”
Bengo started when he heard footsteps at the top of the galley stairs, but relaxed when he saw it was Ransey, who was coming down to tell Kieran that Brother Ignatius had come over to see him. Nola had woken up.
“When she woke up I told her I had a nice surprise for her”, he said “To cheer her up in case she felt embarrassed, after everything that had happened last night. I had picked her a big bowl of strawberries from the forest. When I brought them into her cubicle she said ‘is that it? Is that the surprise?’ in a very off way I must say”.
“Ah, so she’s back to her old self again then”, said Kierna.
“Tell her to take her teeth out before she goes on another bender!” said Joby.
“Would you like to come over and see her?” said Brother Ignatius to Kieran.
“I would love it dearly”, said Kieran, giving absolutely no hint of insincerity, apart from to those that knew him! “But I’ve been grounded you see. Forbidden to leave here”.
“Oh I see”, said Brother Ignatius “Perhaps she could come over here to see you instead?”
Joby gave a noticeable shudder.
“She came over here last night”, Lonts boomed “And bit Ransey!”
“He’s been going on about it ever since!” said Hillyard.
“I’m sure she’d rather not bother herself”, said Kieran.
Brother Ignatius tried to think of everything he could to delay returning to the Monks’ Field. He even took off his spectacles and gave them a vigorous polish.
Bardin went below-deck where he found Bengo lounging at the galley-table, eating a biscuit and reading a thoroughly dog-eared comic that had been passed round everybody on the sloop, and which Bengo himself had read several times already.
“Put the kettle on and make everyone a coffee, Bengo”, said Bardin.
“Has Brother Ignatius gone home?” said Bengo, beginning to sort out cups and fiddle with the coffee-grinder.
“I thought he was never going to leave”, said Bardin “I swear, given half a chance, he’d move in over here”.
“He would”, said Bengo “He thinks some of the older monks aren’t close enough to Kieran, in their hearts I mean. They’ve got too mundane. He loves Kieran like we do, he wants to be here”.
“Well he can’t”, said Bardin, shaking the crumbs out of the comic “There’s no room in the bed for one more”.
“He could sleep on the floor”, said Bengo.
“No he couldn’t!” said Bardin “Because it wouldn’t stop at him. Before we know it we’d have Jonner and Codlik and Nola and Brinslee over here. They’d all have to sleep up on deck. The boat would sink! Particularly with Brinslee on here!”
“But think what it’s like for him, Bardy. Brother Ignatius I mean”, said Bengo, getting quite emotional “Having to go back over there, when his heart’s here. I don’t suppose you can imagine what it would be like to be separate from us”.
“Yes I can!” said Bardin “Stupid clown!”
Bengo giggled at this old insult from his childhood, and resumed the coffee-grinding. Suddenly he stopped and perched himself on Bardin’s knee, kissing the side of his face.
“Stop that”, said Bardin “You’re only trying to get round me”.
“I’m giving you a cuddle that’s all”, said Bengo.
“You’re a great pudding!” Bardin squeezed Bengo’s plump thigh “A little podgy poofter-pudding”.
“Any coffee on the go in here?” said Rumble.
“About midnight at the current rate of progress!” said Bardin.
“Yesterday he said he’d help me”, said Hillyard, taking a pause in his labours. He, Farnol and Hoowie were building an extension to the goats’ run. Ransey, the object of Hillyard’s grumbling, was reading in the clearing, his leg propped up on a stool in front of him “Anyone’d think he had gangrene the ways he’s carrying on!”
“We’d have to amputate it if he did”, said Kieran, who was standing nearby with Joby.
“Good, pass me the hacksaw”, said Hillyard “I’ll do it for him!”
“Hoowie seems to be working o.k”, said Kieran, glancing across at Hoowie, who was on the far side of the run with Farnol.
“Yeah, I thought he might be more mopey, but he’s doing alright”, said Hillyard “He must’ve snapped out of all that bother with the stone”.
“I should have chucked it over the side a lot sooner”, said Joby.
“Oh no watch out”, said Hillyard “Here comes Nola”.
“Eh?” said Joby, who couldn’t see anyone.
Ransey gave a start of alarm and looked around him sharply. When he realised that Hillyard was joking, he sat down again with a disgruntled look.
“Serves him right”, said Hillyard “Mind you, that Nola is weird. I’ve never known a woman like her before. Have you?”
“Yeah”, said Joby “She was the sort I usually ended up with!”
“Well I spose you’re a bit like that yourself”, said Hillyard “But that doesn’t stop me fancying you!”
“Nola had better watch out then”, said Kieran.
“No, she carries too much baggage”, said Hillyard “’And I can’t forget the trouble she’s caused you. I mean, I know Joby’s been trouble at times …”
“Particularly when he was younger”, said Kieran.
“Have you two quite finished?” said Joby.
“I dunno what it is about you, Gorgeous”, said Hillyard “But you have a power over me. Must be ‘cos you’re a man, it makes you simpler to understand”.
“No it just makes us simpler, full-stop!” said Kieran “I guess women have always had it harder than us so it makes ‘em more complex”.
“I would have said they’ve always had it easier than us actually”, said Joby “I know they get periods and pregnancy and all that, but how many women have you ever heard of who work down a sewer? Or who have to come out and unblock drains and other really shitty filthy jobs like that?”
“Women didn’t get the vote in Britain until 1918”, said Kieran.
“A lot of men didn’t get it either until the end of the 19th century!” Joby retorted “And you never hear things like ‘men first in the lifeboats’, ‘you must never hit a man’, ‘a man’s body is his own to do that what likes with’. Half your trouble is guilt, because of what the Catholic Church did to women”.
“The worst parts of the Catholic Church weren’t exactly easy on men either!” said Kieran.
“There you are then!” said Joby.
“Tamaz could settle this one”, said Hillyard, as Tamaz sashayed over to them “If there was a magic pill, Tamaz, that could turn you into one sex, which would you choose to be, man or woman?”
“Neither”, said Tamaz “I like being an hermaphrodite. It gives me more freedom of choice”, and then he added ominously “And more power”.
“Power of what?” said Hillyard.
“Don’t ask”, said Joby.
The next couple of days passed remarkably free of interruptions, either from the Monks’ Field or from Josh. At the end of the afternoon, when the worst heat of the day had passed, Joby would go out and water his vegetable garden. As this was up against the boundary between their territory and the monks, he often overheard things. Nothing so far of any note, other than that Brother Jerome always sounded tense.
One evening Brinslee slipped over to see him and they had what Joby felt was a rather furtive conversation sitting behind the Butlin’s Chalet. It was a harmless enough talk, but Brinslee kept looking anxiously towards the Monks’ Field, as though he hadn’t asked permission to go over the wall.
The following night Joby heard Brother Jerome telling off one of the younger monks. What he had done wasn’t clear, but he emotionally protested his innocence. To which a tired and hysterical-sounding Brother Jerome screamed back “show some respect when you’re talking to me!”
Joby remembered back in his own time overhearing a father talking to his small son in exactly the same way, using exactly the same words. He had thought then “you don’t deserve any respect if you carry on like that”, and he thought the same now.
Feeling depressed he went onto the sloop to get some brandy from the cabin. He found Julian in there, supposedly working on his log-book, but instead hurriedly stuffing an erotic novel underneath it. Joby suppressed a smile and made for the brandy decanter which today was on the wash-stand. Normally Joby took a great delight in listing all Julian’s faults, but today he felt nothing but affection for the depraved, curmudgeonly old snob.
“What are you doing in here, you snivelling guttersnipe?” said Julian.
“This isn’t your office you know”, said Joby “It’s a communal room. I don’t need an excuse to come in here”.
Julian stood up and slid his braces off his shoulders for more ease of movement.
“No, none of that!” said Joby.
But to no avail. Julian slid down Joby’s drawstring cotton trousers with practised ease, and then gave a dismayed sigh at the sight of Joby’s second-hand underwear. He got those down too, and went to work on his arse.
“I wish you’d take Joby in hand about his underwear”, said Julian, sitting on the poop-deck with Adam after supper “It really is the most grisly sight”.
“At least it’s clean”, said Adam, who had been trying to read a book.
“That’s about the only thing you can say in it’s favour!” said Julian “Is it some kind of anarchist working-class anti-establishment stand on his part, that he won’t wear underpants that aren’t at least third-hand?!”
“I’ve given up long since trying to reform Joby’s dress sense”, said Adam “He seems quite happy to look as shop-soiled as possible. It’s a shame, because when he’s scrubbed up and stuffed into something elegant he really looks quite striking”.
“As you say, at least he keeps himself clean”, Julian sighed “One must be grateful for small mercies I suppose. He’s not like Bardin. Bardin is fanatical about the pristine condition of his underwear”.
“I know”, said Adam “Toppy spends almost as long ironing Bardin’s knickers as he does Freaky’s! It must be Bardin’s stage-training, keeping props and costumes in good order, that sort of thing”.
“Hey”, Joby came up the steps of the poop-deck and nudged Adam “Lonts is getting all grizzly and tired down below. You’d better go and get him bedded down in his straw for the night”.
“And just for that comment you can sit and keep Julian company until I come back”, said Adam, setting off to attend to Lonts.
Joby sat down in Adam’s deck-chair and thumbed through the book he had abandoned. Julian ran his hands over his own body in an appreciate manner. Joby watched him.
“Just think”, said Julian “If you’d never crossed over you would only have known a fraction of the sexual pleasures you get now”.
“I’ve never argued with that”, said Joby “It must be nice though to have always had the confidence to go out and get what you want”.
“I learnt at a very early age that if I didn’t go out and get my own pleasures, no one else was interested in providing it for me”, said Julian “My natural arrogance comes from no attention being paid to me in my childhood, not too much as you used to think. My father for instance wouldn’t have noticed if I’d set his bed on fire! At a push he might have if he’d been lying in it at the time, but that’s open to debate!”
“Sounds like my dad!” said Joby.
“We have a lot in common, you and I”, said Julian “Both second sons of indifferent parents”.
“I think you had it easier”, said Joby “With Piers I mean. You were the bullier, not the bullied. Why did you bully him? Did you hate him?”
“No”, said Julian “Most of the time I was just irritated by him. He was so wet he made Codlik look like Genghis Khan! I really wanted him to stay out of my way. I didn’t like reminding that, solely because of order of birth, that that little drip got more attention than I did”.
“Oh”, said Joby “That can’t be why Josh had it in for me though. I think he was just a sadist somehow!”
“Joby?” Adam had come into the galley and noticed that the door to the food-store was ajar. The light was very dim down here at this time of the day, with currently no lamp lit in the room, and Adam could only make out a shape standing in the doorway. Something about it made him think it was Joby.
“You know Patsy said you weren’t to be on your own”, said Adam “Joby?”
The face came into view around the food-hold door. Adam had never seen Joby wear a leer like that, not even when at his most drunk. It was unspeakably cunning. Adam gave a stifled cry of dismay.
“What is it?” said Kieran “What’s in there?”
“He must have gone”, said Adam, looking up “Or you’d be able to sense him”.
“He?” said Kieran “Josh has been here?”
“I’ve actually seen him”, said Adam “I thought it was Joby at first”.
“There was a vague family resemblance”, said Kieran “I always found it hard to believe they were of the same blood though. I’m going to try and do an exorcism. I don’t have much optimism that it’ll work though!”
Joby slammed across the clearing and into the Butlin’s Chalet whilst Kieran was busy trying to exorcise the sloop. Hillyard came after him. They both in turn slammed the door so hard that they had to stand for a moment in apprehension as the building shuddered around them.
“Look, getting into a strop ent gonna help is it?” said Hillyard, as Joby threw himself onto the mattress “The amount I’ve had to put up with from you over the years! Insulting me, giving me the run-around”.
“Well what are you doing in here now then?” said Joby.
“I’m trying to tell you what Kieran said when I bumped into him just now”, said Hillyard “We’re gonna get away from here for a bit”.
“I don’t wanna get away from here”, said Joby “I don’t see what difference it’d make. Josh’d only follow me”.
“Yeah, but Kieran thinks a change of scene might do you good”, said Hillyard “Just for a few days. A supply-run”.
“I don’t wanna go to Toondor Lanpin or Aspiriola”, said Joby “Everybody’ll watch me. There goes Mr Joby, the man haunted by his own brother! Every shop and bar I go in will suddenly suffer some poltergeist activity I expect. I’ll be a walking curse!”
“We’re going to the Village of Stairs actually”, said Hillyard “That place is full of so many weirdo’s they won’t notice you!”
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