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By Sarah Hapgood

“Oh God, it’s the living dead”, said Bengo, looking at the line of rather tired, hungry-looking men outside the main doors of the theatre.

Another sea-mist was coming down, and the lamplight shining from the glass doors was the only illumination in the street. Some of the more seasoned showbiz veterans were clutching brochures and portfolios, once glossy but now dog-eared, which illustrated their moments of glory, some from as far back as twenty years before.

“Do I have to line up with all them?” said Maria, nervously clutching her sea-green satin wrap around her “I’ll be the only woman in the queue”.

“You’d better get used to that”, said Bardin “You’ll probably be the only woman in the entire show!”

“They’re still a bit short of women in this town”, said Rumble, he and Farnol making up the rest of Maria’s quartet of chaperones.

“Can’t we just walk in through the doors?” said Maria “They’ll want what I’ve got, no one else here has got it!”

Having realised by now the extent of Maria’s determination, Bardin sighed, and he and the others clowns walked her through the glass doors and into the foyer.

“You lot aren’t coming back to us are you?” said the elderly doorman.

“No, we’re just escorting a friend of ours”, said Bardin.

“He’ll have to get in the queue with the others”, said the doorman.

“HE?!” Maria exclaimed “Do you need your eyes testing or something?”

She slipped off the wrap to expose her sequinned glory.

“He’s so old he probably thought you were Ully come back!” said Rumble.

“Alright”, said the doorman “I guess they might be interested to see you”.

“Oh this doesn’t feel right, Bardy”, said Bengo “Us jumping the queue like this”.

“WE are not jumping the queue, you dingbat!” said Bardin “We’re not the ones auditioning are we!”

“He’s programmed”, said Rumble “That’s the trouble”.

“He certainly is!” said Bardin.

“And who was the only who programmed me then!” said Bengo.

“Hey, this isn’t your hermaphrodite friend is it?” said the doorman.

“Tamaz?” said Bardin.

“No I know what he looks like”, said the doorman “I mean the other one, the Ghoomer you picked up”.

“Mieps?!” Bardin exclaimed.

“What a sight for sore eyes that would be”, Farnol chortled “Mieps in a blue sequinned dress!”

A little man staggered past them wearing a straitjacket festooned with several leather belts.

“There’s always one isn’t there!” said Bardin.

The four clowns sat in the back of the darkened auditorium, well away from the three world-weary men with clipboards halfway down the tiers of seats. On stage a wannabe comedian was using a bored stage-hand as a stand-in for a member of the audience, in a dismal question and answer session.

“He’s about as funny as herpes!” Bardin whispered.

“Which means they’ll take him on”, said Farnol “They like to use audience participation, it keeps the punters out of mischief I guess!”

“Will Maria get taken on, Bardy?” said Bengo.

“More than likely”, said Bardin “She’s a woman, she’s young, she’s blonde, she’s shapely, and she’s not a bad little hoofer. But I don’t think she’ll get the star billing she’s expecting. Chances are she’ll be used to fill up the stage, like set-dressing. I hope she can put up with that”.

“And what are you going to do for us this evening?” said one of the clipboard men when Maria’s turn came.

“Now there’s a leading question!” said Farnol.

“I shall dance”, said Maria.

She had the sense and the experience to keep her dance routine vigorous and short.

“What else can you do?” she was asked at the end of it, a question that could disconcert some people, implying that what they had done so far was unsatisfactory, but Maria kept her head, and listed all the styles of dancing she could do.

“She keeps time to the music well”, said Rumble.

“Picks up her feet”, said Bardin “Unless some of ‘em”.

This was praise indeed. Bardin, unlike most clowns who did juggling or acrobatics as part of their audition, had tap-danced in his. The word had quickly got round backstage, “you should see this little guy dance!” Bengo, barely more than a tot, had sneaked into the wings to catch a glimpse of this new talent. “Off with you, little fella, you’re not supposed to be here whilst auditions are on”, said one of the stage-hands, scooping him up and carrying him away. Bengo had been impressed by this fierce-looking boy with the nimble feet, but had no idea at all he would become his life-partner.

“Why did you take her up there?” said Evie, once they had somehow returned Maria back to the ‘Butterfly Queen’ “It’s all your fault this has happened”.

“Our fault?” said Bardin “How typical of a woman to put all the blame on us! She insisted on going up to the Cabaret. If we hadn’t gone with her she would have gone by herself, and then how would she have got home!”

It wasn’t entirely clear what had happened. Maria had suddenly developed a nose-bleed on stage. When Bardin and the others had got behind the scenes to her they found her in a wretched state, bleeding and obviously very bewildered. She had no recollection of the afternoon’s events at all. The last thing she could remember was washing her stockings after lunch and then sitting down with a cup of tea. She had no recollection whatsoever of putting on one of her dancing-frocks, doing her hair, going over to the sloop, or even up to the Cabaret of Horrors.

“I’ve never wanted to go up there!” she cried, looking like the victim of a pub brawl with her bloody nose, running mascara and tousled hair.

“You’re not as insane as I thought then!” said Farnol.

“Shut up, Farnol”, said Bardin.

“And I’ve never had a nose-bleed in my life before, ever!” said Maria.

“No she hasn’t”, said Evie.

“You two need to get away from here”, said Bardin “Go to Toondor Lanpin if you don’t want to go back to Aspiriola. It’s a tedious journey, but I’ll write you a letter of recommendation to the Little Theatre. Not that you’ll need it, certainly not where Hawkefish is concerned”.

“We can’t leave here”, said Evie “We’re making a life for ourselves here. We’ve both got good jobs we enjoy and …”

“I know”, said Bardin “But you’re not safe here. Maria certainly isn’t. Something’s been fucking with her mind ever since you came here”.

“All those weird dreams I’ve had since we came here”, said Maria “I keep getting ones about being in prison. At least I think it’s a prison. I’m locked up in this big house, with loads of other people. I’m trying to get out”.

“That disturbs me even more!” said Bardin “It was you who heard the horrible voice just before we arrived, remember? And now today, something took over your mind and body for several hours! It must have dug into your subconscious. Are you a very ambitious person deep down?”

“A bit”, said Maria “I wouldn’t object to being famous at all, and we’d both like to earn a good living”.

“Our parents never had anything”, said Evie “We don’t want to end up like them”.

“But I’ve never wanted to work at the Cabaret”, said Maria “I’m a dancer, I wanted to stay entirely freelance. And I don’t want to be a clown’s stooge”.

“I don’t blame you!” said Bardin.

“B-but why would this thing, whatever it is”, said Bengo “Want Maria to go up there?”

“Perhaps just to experiment”, said Bardin “See what it could get away with. Flexing it’s psychic muscles as it were. After all, now it’s proved that it can take her over for several hours at a time and get her to do a whole load of things she’s not aware of”.

“But weren’t you suspicious at all?” said Maria “Didn’t you think I was acting strangely?”

“No”, said Bardin “I’ve met plenty of people in showbusiness who are so desperate to get on that they’ll do anything. I just thought perhaps you were more ambitious and determined than we’d realised”.

“I shall wash my face”, said Maria, getting up and going into the tiny galley compartment of the boat.

Evie also got up to make some tea, and soon the boat was filled with the comforting domestic noise of the gas stove hissing.

“Will you sit down!” Rumble snapped at Bardin, who was pacing about “It feels like you’re doing sentry-duty!”

Maria was struggling to take her dress off under her dressing-gown, and getting into such a muddle that Bengo rushed over to help her.

“That’s another thing”, said Maria “How did I get this dress on all by myself? I’ve never been able to get it on without help. I can’t do the back up by myself, can I Evie?”

Evie concurred. Bardin resumed pacing.

The following morning the sloop was moved into dry dock, so that the shipwrights could replace the propeller without having work underwater. Joby and Lonts took the goats for a walk whilst all this movement was in progress.

“Hey!” said Joby, when he caught the billy-goat munching contentedly from a crate of apples in the market-place “Keep an eye on him for God’s sake!”

“He was hungry, Joby”, said Lonts, tugging the billy away.

“He’s always hungry”, said Joby “He’s like you, he’ll eat anything! We’re lucky that bloke didn’t see us, or we’d have ended up paying for those apples!”

“Perhaps we should”, said Lonts “Is this what’s called a moral dilemma?”

“A very small, really insignificant one”, said Joby “I dunno where you get your ideas from some of the time!”

“Joby look!” said Lonts “Hoowie’s gone mad again!”

Hoowie was causing a sensation by strolling completely butt-naked (apart from a thin pair of cotton socks) through the market-place. He was taking all the exclamations and startled cries and indignant stares like an athlete enjoying his lap of honour.

“You take the goats”, said Joby to Lonts “I’d better go and restrain him”.

“Wouldn’t it be better if you took the goats and I restrained him?” said Lonts.

“Go on then”, said Joby “God, I dread to think what Bardin’s gonna say about this!”

Bardin had had a stressful morning as it was. The shipwrights had not only started making a horrendous noise on the bottom of the boat, but had told the Indigo-ites that they should not “jump around” at all as this would make things difficult for them.

Nagged by Bengo, Bardin had then gone over to the ‘Butterfly Queen’ to see how Maria was. Maria was still sleeping, so Evie had taken him up on deck and promptly made a pass at him. Bardin had been completely astounded by this, and responded with his usual gruffness, as though dealing with a spirited chorus-girl.

When Adam went for a stroll along the boardwalks later that morning (to get away from the shipwrights) Evie had stopped him and told him in injured tones all that had happened.

“Bardin doesn’t possess many courtly gallantries I’m afraid”, said Adam “But then again, surely you know he’s married to Bengo?”

“Yes, but Bengo’s a guy”, said Evie “I didn’t think that counted, as a proper relationship I mean”.

“You’re a very silly woman”, said Adam.

“It don’t feel very Christmassy does it?” said Joby, drinking tea in the galley with Kieran whilst a lot of thumping and banging went on below their feet “In fact it feels more like August Bank Holiday Monday!”

“It’s not raining”, said Kieran “Or at least not yet anyway! I suppose you’d rather have your nuts roasting over an open fire whilst a blizzard rages outside! Ach c’mon, we’ve got two days before Christmas yet. Anything could happen”.

“Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of!” said Joby.

Adam came into the room and slammed the door, causing Joby to jump out of his skin.

“Strewth!” he said “If I don’t have a bleedin’ heart-attack by Boxing Day it’ll be a bleedin’ miracle!”

“Can you squeeze out another cup for me, Patsy?” said Adam.

“A small one perhaps”, said Kieran.

“Hitting the hard stuff a bit early aren’t you?” aid Joby.

“It just goes to show how wrong you can be about people”, said Adam “I thought Evie was sensible, and then she astounds me with her foolishness”.

“Oh not all that stuff about Bardin again?” said Joby.

“Has she no regard for little Bengo’s feelings?” said Adam.

“Probably not”, said Joby “Women are completely unscrupulous when it comes to sex. You being a lifelong queer means you’ve had a very sheltered life”.

“I only wish I had!” said Adam “It sounds quite delightful!”

Hoowie had been thrashed by Bardin with the razor-strop.

“I’ve told you time and again not to go exposing yourself in civilisation”, said Bardin, afterwards “When we’re in the middle of nowhere or at the Bay, you can inflict your nudity on us to your heart’s content, but not here”.

“Huh, you call this place civilisation!” said Hoowie.

“It’s what it calls itself that we have to remember”, said Bardin.

“So much for you proudly saying that all clowns are anarchists at heart!” said Hoowie “You’re a conformist really”.

“You’ve heard the things Lonts has said about what they get up to in mental hospitals”, said Bardin “Do you really want me to go over it all again? Put your pants on, I’ve seen quite enough of your hairy arse for one day!”

Hoowie, now subdued, got dressed.

“Go up on deck and ask Toppy to give you something to do”, said Bardin “And don’t you dare leave this boat again, not without checking it with me personally first”.

Hoowie shuffled out and Bengo came in.

“Did you have to beat him with that thing, Bardy?” said Bengo, as Bardin returned the strop to its hook on the wall “Wasn’t that a bit harsh?”

“Not at all”, said Bardin “Anyway, we’ve had far worse done to us. He has to learn, Bengo”.

“I know”, Bengo sighed “But he doesn’t mean any harm”.

“I know that and you know that”, said Bardin “But all the so-called civilised people out there don’t know that! Now stop hassling me about it. I’ve got to go down below and see how the shipwrights are getting on”.

“You don’t have to do that”, said Bengo, concerned that Bardin was getting too fanatical about everything “Ransey’s keeping an eye on it all. If you insist on it, can I come too?”

Bengo found it very exciting going down through the bowels of the boat and emerging out of a hole in the bottom to appear on the ground of the dry-dock. Ransey was having a break, drinking cold tea out of a bottle.

“I remember seeing you at the Cabaret”, said one of the shipwrights to Bengo I laughed so much I got a stitch! Bardin kicked you in the pants and you fell right on your arse. It was hilarious”.

“You enjoyed that did you?” Bengo mumbled.

“Bengo was always best at pratfalls”, said Bardin.

“Yes well we can’t all be great singers and dancers can we!” said Bengo.

“Put your hands in your pockets and don’t touch anything”, said Ransey “This is not the place to have hysterics”.

“Too many barnacles about!” said the shipwright who had praised Bengo. He found this so funny he nearly choked on his cold tea.

“Have you seen my cigar-trimmer?” said Julian, rifling through the drawers in his desk “I bet Toppy’s tidied it away somewhere so that I can’t get at it”.

“Freaky might have put it into his jewellery-box”, said Adam, who had come into the cabin with the latest copy of the local newspaper “He finds it quite pretty”.

“Little wretch”, said Julian, reaching for the penknife instead “Don’t tell me you’ve actually found something to read in that rag?”

“No, that’s the problem”, said Adam “There’s absolutely nothing about all the weird things that have been happening these past few weeks. It’s all adverts and bland gossip. I’m amazed, and starting to suspect that there’s some kind of news cover-up going on”.

“It wouldn’t be the first time”, said Julian “I remember Ransey saying that it happened all the time in the days of the Ministry. The press seemed to live in a parallel universe to everyone else!”

“Yes, but those days should have gone”, said Adam.

“Not even an ad from the Marquis de Sade offering French lessons?” said Julian.

“Jules!” said Adam.

“I keep wondering”, said Julian “As we’re here for the time being, whether we like it or not, if you and I shouldn’t go along and have a butchers at this guy. See what he’s up to”.

“I suppose we should keep an eye on the loathsome little beast”, said Adam.

“Quite”, said Julian “Don’t want him abducting any of our lot again and taken them back through time with him”.

“Don’t say that!” said Adam “It’s a horrid thought. Shall we go alone?”

“Might as well”, said Julian “He hasn’t seen us, and even if he has we’re still an unknown quantity to him. Gives us a small advantage at least”.

Tamaz finished eavesdropping on this conversation and then hurtled down through the boat and shot out of the hole at the bottom.

“Tamaz!” Bengo yelped.

Ransey brusquely picked Tamaz up and tried to stuff him back up through the hole.

“No, put me down”, said Tamaz “I have to speak to Bardin”.

Bardin took the news of Adam and Julian’s plan rather badly.

“This seems to be the area the others described”, said Adam, rooting in his pockets to pay off the rickshaw driver “Fig Tree Court”.

“Not bad for this town”, said Julian, once they were standing outside the entrance to the apartment block “He does himself proud. Wonder where he gets his 40th century money from?”

“I expect Angel keeps him equipped with an inexhaustible supply”, said Adam “Or whoever it is that’s taking care of him”.

They strolled into the quadrangle which was completely deserted, baking whitely in the noon-day heat. Only the marks made in the dust by rickshaws and carriages gave any indication of recent human habitation, that is until Sade flung open his window and let loose a volley of high-speed French invective.

He had been shaving in his room when he had seen the two tall blonde men walking through the gates as though they had a perfect right to be there. He hollered and dabbed at the shaving-cream on his face with a fine linen towel at the same time.

“How the blazes does he know who we are?” said Julian.

“I’m sure he must be well aware of who we all are by now”, said Adam.

“So much for me hoping we could spy on him incognito!” said Julian “My French is decidedly rusty, but I get the distinct impression he hasn’t put the kettle on for us!”

“We’d better not get any closer”, said Adam, putting a gentle restraining hand on Julian’s arm “In case he decides to chuck the contents of his chamber-pot over us! It’s the sort of dastardly trick he would do”.

“What’s he getting so bloody agitated about?” said Julian, and then bellowed up at Sade “Come down here and say that you little Gallic worm!”

“Jules, don’t”, said Adam.

“I’m not afraid of him!” said Julian “He’s probably about a foot shorter than us! The French were always weedy”.

“We didn’t come here to have a fight”, Adam hissed “I refuse to go brawling with a French man in the street, it would be a very undignified spectacle”.

“We’re not in the street”, said Julian, looking around him “Anyway, there’s no one else around”, he then raised his voice again “I expect he’s only used to beating up women anyway!”

“I am an ex-Cavalry officer you dog!” said Sade, now in English “I served my country with distinction and honours, which is more than you probably did. You are sodomists!”

“I’m not taking that from him, of all people!” said Julian “He’s gone down in history famous for it! They don’t burn people for it anymore you know, Citizen Sade!”

“Marquis de Sade to you”, Sade spat.

“Ooh get you!” said Julian.

“My family goes back many centuries”, said Sade.

“Oh here we go”, said Julian “Yes, but it’s French aristocracy so it doesn’t really count you know”.

“And you, Sir”, Sade pointed at Adam “Have you no sense of public decency?”

He was referring to Adam’s traditional outfit of shorts and singlet.

“You’re the one who’s bawling obscenities in the street, old love”, said Adam.

“What are you both doing here?” Sade demanded “Can a man not be allowed to live his life in peace and privacy?”

“We’ll stay out of your way if you promise to stay out of ours”, said Julian.

“Because of what happened with our younger people”, said Adam “When they were abducted to your Chateau last year, we feel we have a right to know what you’re doing here now”.

A mini-dust cloud was whipped up as Bardin was carried vigorously into the court by a man driving a pony and trap. Bardin chucked money at the driver and leapt nimbly out of the cart as though he was jumping out of a cake.

“How dare you!” he cried “How dare you do this to me! Get home at once!”

“Really Bardin, I don’t think there’s any call to be so brusque”, said Adam.

Bardin met the gaze of Sade, who was staring down at him from his window. Julian felt an acute pang of jealousy. He became fixated on the image of Bengo and Bardin spending the night in Sade’s room at the Chateau. He turned and left the courtyard in a mental fugue.

They found the pony and trap which Bardin had hired hadn’t moved very far. In fact the driver was letting his pony drink from a water-trough in the middle of the street. They re-hired it. Because of lack of room on it Bardin had to sit on Adam’s knee on the return journey, which meant that it was difficult to sustain a lecturing posture. Julian meanwhile continued to look dangerously pinched.

At the market-place he abruptly abandoned them and told them he would rejoin them back at the sloop. He wandered the market-place by himself, stopping to buy a newspaper because he had heard the vendor shouting “poisoning at the soup kitchen!” It was a measure of how bizarre everything had become in the town that when he read of a man who was dangerously ill after eating a bowl of soup at one of Father Levka’s homeless shelters, Julian took it as yet another dreadful inevitability.

As he returned to the sloop he worked out that even if they paid the shipwrights treble what they were currently paying them, they wouldn’t be able to leave the town until after Christmas.

“Is everyone aboard?” he asked Rumble, who met him at the entrance to the sloop “Good, then pull up the gangplank after me”.

“You heard what the man said”, Rumble said to Farnol.

Julian walked past Bardin on the forward deck and went below. He found Ransey and Mieps in the cabin.

“What’s going on now?” said Ransey “You and Adam disappear, then Bardin disappears, and then comes home again in a foul temper”.

“Take that up to him”, Julian shoved the newspaper at Ransey “And see what he makes of it”.

Ransey blinked uncomprehendingly, but left the room with the paper.

“What’s happening now?” asked Mieps.

“God alone knows”, Julian sighed “For the first time in my life I feel as though I have no control at all over my feelings”.

“You must fight it”, said Mieps.

“I know”, said Julian “I know”.

He caught sight of Bengo hovering in the doorway.

“Get in here!” he roared.

When Bengo got near him Julian upended him over his knee and spanked him.

“You are not going to Sade”, said Julian “I won’t let you go”.

“Julian, that’s crazy”, Bengo sobbed “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard”.

“Is that what you think?” said Bardin, walking into the room “Is that what all this is about?”

“It must have all been very intimate”, said Julian, letting Bengo get back onto his feet “That night in Sade’s room, the three of you”.

“You know exactly what happened then”, said Bardin “We told you it all, we left nothing out”.

“Even if we’d wanted to, you can’t get really close to Sade”, Bengo cried “The only one who ever managed that was Madame. Julian, why have you stopped trusting us?”

“I haven’t”, said Julian, and he gathered them both to him. They sobbed in each other’s arms. Mieps tutted and left the room to go up on deck.

“We told you everything that went on that night, everything”, Bengo repeated.

“I know, but it’s the thought of the three of you all sleeping together in his bed”, said Julian “Oh forgive me, I’m being such a ridiculous old fool”.

“Anyway, Sade preferred women, mostly”, said Bengo “And there are women in this town now, so why would he want to bother with us?”

“That’s true”, said Bardin, who had rested his head on Julian’s shoulder “If there had been women at his Chateau when we were there we’d have all been banished to the kitchens I expect, except Tamaz, for added spice. He only wasted his time on the rest of us because we were all that was on offer!”

“Oh what a domestic little scene”, said Julian, going up to the main deck, followed by Bengo and Bardin, where he found everyone else sitting around, mostly doing nothing “A quiet afternoon at home with the family!”

“I see you’re back to your old self, Jules”, said Adam, who was in the process of fleshing out a sketch “We’ve abandoned the Greta Garbo pose for no have we?”

“Cover your tits up, you outrageous old hussy”, Julian barked at Mieps, who was leaning over the back of Ransey’s deckchair with his breasts unfettered at the front of his pyjama jacket.

“Did you know that Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love, was sometimes portrayed as an hermaphrodite?” said Adam.

“Sure!” said Joby.

“She was”, said Adam “In the very old Cypriot artwork of her she was sometimes shown with a beard”.

“Ugh!” said Joby.

“Another illusion shattered”, said Kieran, who seemed to be trying to stick his feet behind his ears in a yoga pose.

“What’s wrong with hermaphrodites?” said Tamaz, going over to perch on Joby’s knee.

“Nothing”, said Joby “Have you found your jewellery-box yet?”

“I knew where it was all the time”, said Tamaz “I only hid it in the hold whilst Maria-With-The Hips was on-board. She’s like a magpie, she has an eye for anything shiny”.

“I bet she’s an amateur compared to you!” said Ransey, folding up the newspaper rather briskly “I don’t know what to make of the soup-kitchen poisoning at all”.

“We’ve got too used to seeing evil in everything”, said Julian “It could of course have just been dodgy ingredients and preparation”.

“I keep wondering if tomorrow I should go and see the old man in hospital”, said Kieran “The one who was poisoned”.

“He doesn’t need you preying on him, you Irish fiend”, said Julian “It’s just a simple case of food-poisoning. He’ll be as right as ninepence tomorrow … after he’s had his stomach pumped of course”.

“I’m gonna go down below and collect the eggs”, said Joby “Has the hatch been closed in the bottom of the boat?”

“Of course it has!” said Ransey “I’ve checked it myself, twice”.

“Don’t come in here and stress me out”, said Joby, walking around the chicken-pen in the hold, carrying a basket “It has an effect on the chickens, and then they get put off their lay”.

“I can’t leave you in here on your own”, said Kieran.

“Why not?” said Joby “Even Josh couldn’t annoy me as much as you do at the moment!”

“I was just throwing out ideas”, said Kieran “Trying to appease me Catholic conscience I guess”.

“Sometimes I know what I’d like to do with your Catholic conscience!” said Joby, accidentally breaking an egg in his hand “Now look what you’ve made me do!”

Kieran hastily pulled out a rather grubby hankie to attend to him.

“Leave it”, said Joby, wiping his hand on his canvas apron instead “You’re a saint do you know that? A bleedin’ saint! Which makes you a right pain in the arse to live with sometimes!”

“I’ll make it up to you”, said Kieran “As it’s Christmas tomorrow I’ll come along and give you a hand in the kitchen”.

“We don’t need any help thank you”, said Joby “Anyway, there’s nothing you can do”.

“The washing-up?” said Kieran.

“We have Toppy to do that”, said Joby.

“Give Toppy a rest”, said Kieran.

“He’s not allowed to have a rest”, said Joby “It’s bad for him”.

“Tell you what”, said Kieran “I’ll go out first thing soon and buy you a Christmas present. I’ll need to go the bank first of course”.

“Oh great, I won’t hold me breath then!” said Joby “It’d take an archaeologist to get into your bank account!”

Kieran was determined to get Joby a Christmas present, whether Joby liked the idea or not. He was slightly disconcerted at first though when Julian insisted on escorting him, in order to “keep a very close eye on him”.

“Anyone would think you didn’t trust me to stay out of trouble”, said Kieran.

“I don’t”, said Julian “Not in the slightest!”

As they did battle with the bank, Kieran got the impression that Julian needed to keep himself occupied. The main source of his agitation this time was Hoowie, who wasn’t safe at large in civilisation.

“You’re quite tolerant of our Hoowie on the quiet aren’t you?” said Kieran.

“Let’s just say we had plenty like him where I come from!” said Julian.

“Hoowie as an aristocrat?” Kieran laughed “What an idea!”

“This town is volatile at the moment”, said Julian “I’ve already noticed people standing around in little clusters whispering, a sure sign of some kind of imminent mob disorder. Hoowie is just the sort of irresponsible nincompoop that they might use as a scapegoat”.

“Bardin’s tried everything to keep him under control”, said Kieran.

“I know”, said Julian “But Bardin cannot possibly be everywhere at once, and at the moment Hoowie needs watching like a hawk”.

They emerged into the street, where Kieran led Julian over to a shop window, and pointed at a very ornate man’s dressing-case which was for sale.

“That’s what I thought I’d get for Joby”, said Kieran “What’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing, my grandfather had one very similar”, said Julian “But I fear it might be wasted on Joby. He’s hardly finikity about his appearance is he! Sometimes I swear he doesn’t know what even a comb is!”

Undaunted, Kieran went into the shop and asked to see the case.

“See”, he said, holding out two silver-plated flasks to Julian “Hair pomade”.

“Lovely”, said Julian “It’ll help to combat the smell of chip-fat! Kieran, I cannot seriously imagine Joby putting on hair pomade! He’d be too frightened we might all start thinking he’s a poof!”

“That he would!” said Kieran, and asked for the dressing-case to be gift-wrapped.

“Ah now what’s going on out here?” said Julian, going over to the shop-window.

A shuttered carriage had rolled up outside, and no other than the Marquis de Sade decanted from it, looking a vision in a peacock-blue coat, white cravat, red satin breeches, and silk stockings.

“Good God”, said Julian “If he’s wearing those clothes for a bet he’s won!”

“That must have been the height of fashion in 1774”, said Kieran.

Sade was now helping a woman to emerge from the carriage. A middle-aged woman with a face attractive yet hard, as though she had never smiled in her life. She was no less sumptuously attired in a long white silk gown, and a plume of ostrich feathers in her hair.

“That’s not his missus!” said Kieran.

“The Marquis de Sade has a bit on the side?” said Julian “Well I never, it’s always the one you least expect isn’t it!”

“You sarcastic bugger”, said Kieran “I hope they’re not coming in here”.

They watched as Sade and his lady-friend went past the shop without noticing them. The carriage bowled off up the street in a leisurely fashion, the driver obscured from view.

“What are we hiding from them for?” Julian suddenly exclaimed.

“I don’t know, I was copying you!” said Kieran.

They collected Joby’s gift-wrapped present and left the shop. There was no sign of Sade and the lady in the street. The only way they could have disappeared from view so quickly was to have gone up a nearby side alley.

“It looks suitably salubrious for them!” said Julian.

It was starting to rain very finely, so Julian put up the black umbrella he had come out equipped with, and they both huddled under it as they ambled back up the street.

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