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By Sarah Hapgood

“It’s not right, I won’t stand for it you know”, said Toppy “Who do they think they are carrying on as though it was only themselves they had to consider?”

“What’s the matter with you now?” said Joby, who was helping him to sweep out the back kitchen of their newly-acquired licenced premises “You’re even worse than normal!”

“The clowns have said they want to call this place ‘The Four Clowns Tavern’”, said Toppy.

“So what’s the problem?” said Joby “Are you frightened the punters’ll think you’re one of the four clowns?!”

“I liked Lo-Lo’s suggestion”, said Adam “’The Indigo Tavern’. Nice and simple, but evocative at the same time”.

“Not bad”, said Joby “Better ‘en ‘Kieran’s Gin Palace’. I needn’t tell you whose idea that was! The clue is in the title!”

Bengo came in from the back yard, where he had been sorting out the goats. The Indigo-ites had been delighted to find that the inn came with a small orchard of fruit trees, in which they could let their animals graze.

“It’s so beautiful out there”, said Bengo.

Toppy tutted and made an elaborate show of sweeping round Bengo’s feet. Adam sent Bengo through into the main bar with Bardin’s morning coffee. Bengo found his old friend seated up at the main counter, irritably rifling through a newspaper.

“Look at this, fucking hopeless!” said Bardin “It’s weeks old!”

“So what?” said Bengo “Stuck right down here it doesn’t surprise me”.

“And the television’s not much better”, Bardin went on “Every time I switch it on there’s some idiot baking a cake! Don’t they have news programmes anymore? We need to know what Codlik’s doing”.

“No we don’t!” said Bengo “Why can’t you just concentrate on our opening party tonight?”

“Oh yeah, great”, said Bardin “What’s the betting we all out-number the customers!”

“Bardin!” Bengo shouted “If you don’t lighten up I won’t spend the night with you upstairs!”

The bar came with a small bedroom and a bathroom upstairs. Their joy at finding themselves possessed of a proper bathroom for the first time since leaving Midnight Castle, was short-lived however when they found that the previous landlord had only used the antiquated claw-footed bath-tub as a glorified store-room for some of his bottles. Still, the lavatory was just about functional, which was a relief as the one outside in the yard was simply a small shed built round a hole in the ground. Bengo and Bardin had decided to spend their opening night in the landlord’s old bedroom, as a kind of offbeat second honeymoon. All the others would be, as usual, on the sloop moored just across the road in the harbour.

“You have to”, said Bardin, narrowing his eyes like a nasty little boy about to be thwarted of a treat “You agreed”.

“I can easily un-agree it”, said Bengo “Any mention of Codlik is bound to make my cock shrivel up quicker than anything!”

“O.K!” Bardin shouted back “Message received and understood!”

At the tail-end of the day Bardin, now upstairs, was having trouble removing his clothes. Bengo was already undressed and reclining in bed, nursing a bottle of fizzy wine which the time-crossers resolutely referred to as “Champagne”.

“If you don’t hurry up I’ll be unconscious”, said Bengo.

“Can’t you see I’m having trouble, you halfwit?” said Bardin.

“I may be a halfwit”, said Bengo “But at least I can undress myself!”

Bardin was trying to take off his trousers, hampered by the fact that he should have removed his shoes first. He now had his trousers round his ankles and saw no logical way of getting them off any further.

“You two alright in here?” said Joby, giving a brief tap on the door before coming in. He held out the hand-bell they used for summoning each other on the sloop “Adam thought you could use this”.

“What are we supposed to do with that?” Bardin exclaimed.

“Ring it out of the window in case you need any help in the night”, said Joby “We should be able to hear you over across on the sloop”.

“Bardy needs help now”, said Bengo “He’s hopeless. I’m not”.

As if to illustrate how unhopeless he was he pulled at his own dick as though it was a chest-expander.

“Don’t do that!” said Joby, putting the hand-bell on the bedside table “It makes me feel queasy, as if it’s gonna snap off!”

Joby undressed Bardin and, much to Bardin’s annoyance, helped him into bed. He then left the lovebirds alone, warning them in parting to be careful of the lamp.

“We don’t want this place burned down as soon as we’ve opened it!” he said.

“I think it all went well, Bardy”, said Bengo, referring to their opening-night party “The punters seemed to enjoy it, particularly the skittles out the back”.

“Were there punters there as well?!” said Bardin “They seemed to get swamped by us. They must’ve been the quiet ones who look their age!”

He downed a glass of the ‘Champagne’ as though it was a rather perfunctory foreplay, and then climbed all over Bengo.

About 4 hours later, after they had both slept for a while, Bengo found he needed to relieve himself. Fortunately there was a chamberpot under the bed, and he clambered out to look for it, accidentally knocking away the discarded champagne bottle a he did so.

“I want it after you”, said Bardin.

When he’d finished Bengo went as though to pass the pot over the bed to Bardin.

“Not that way! You’ll drop it, knowing you”, Bardin barked “Slide it under the bed, over to my side”.

“This takes me back to when we were kids”, Bengo giggled.

“Yeah”, said Bardin, as he splashed away “And it was always over your side then and all!”

He shook his cock, put the po back under the bed, and climbed back in next to Bengo, knocking the hand-bell off the bedside table as he did so.

“I hope that didn’t disturb anyone”, said Bengo, who had images of it being heard all over the town.

“Oh probably only the demons under the floorboards of the skittle-alley!” said Bardin “That was a joke, don’t look so alarmed! Although knowing the things that usually happen to us I wouldn’t be surprised if it was true!”

When they both woke up again it was fully daylight, and there were muffled thumping sounds coming from below as their fellow Indigo-ites got the premises ready for the day.

“Put something on”, said Bardin, when Bengo jumped out of bed “We’re in civilisation now you know”.

Bengo grudgingly put on his shirt. He emptied the po into the ancient loo next door, and then went down the stairs, which led directly into the main bar. A few particularly keen customers had already appeared, and gazed at Bengo in mute astonishment.

Mieps, who had been helping Hillyard to sort out some glasses behind the bar, hissed at Bengo to get out of sight.

“Really Bengo”, said Adam, with some amusement, when Bengo was unceremoniously showed into the kitchen “You’ll go getting this place a bad name!”

“You’ll kill of what few customers we’ve got!” said Joby.

“It covers all my bits”, said Bengo, plucking at his shirt “Mieps over-reacted. And if anyone’s gonna over-excite the punters it’ll be him!”

“Hey!” Bardin came into the kitchen, be-shirted and be-trousered, albeit in a rather morning-after-the-party-ish way, and holding out Bengo’s trousers “Stop being such a prick-tease. Our customers are too old for all that!”

“I think you should both go over to the sloop and get washed and shaved”, said Adam.

Rumbe came through the back door, banging on a small drum that he and Farnol had unearthed in the outhouse attached to the skittle alley. He jabbed Bengo in the backside with one of the drum-sticks.

“Put your trousers on, Bengo!” said Bardin.

“I thought we could use this to drum up custom in the town”, said Rumble.

“That was pathetic!” said Bardin “Come along, Bengo”.

“Oh dear, I think someone’s got a hangover”, said Adam, after Bengo and Bardin had left.

“I’m not surprised”, said Joby “The amount he put away last night we could’ve floated the sloop on it! I’m amazed we didn’t have to carry him upstairs!”

“Well you’re in your element aren’t you?” said Julian, on the forward deck of the sloop. Ransey was sitting next to him, perusing the bar’s ledgers “Accountant of a small business in a small town, right up your street”.

“It’s not going to work, ribbing me this morning, so give up now”, said Ransey “I could put up with this way of life for quite some time. I’ve had more than enough excitement, this suits me fine. Not that if a certain person has his way we’ll be able to enjoy it for long”.

It was just as he said this that Bardin had come up the quarterdeck steps, with his leather cap pulled down over his eyes, and Julian thought that Ransey was referring to him.

“Not him, the Big C”, said Ransey “Bardin’s no problem. We’ll take him round the Horn one day if he’s go this heart set on it”.

“Oh yes, that’ll make a nice little outing won’t it!” said Julian.

“No, it’s Codlik who’s the problem”, Ransey continued.

“Codlik is always the bloody problem!” said Julian “My only comfort where he’s concerned at the moment is that he’s probably never heard of Zilligot Bay!”

“He’ll hear of it one day though”, said Ransey “When it leaks out that we’re here”.

Banishing this unpleasant thought to the back of his mind, Ransey went across the road to the bar. He found Mieps cornered in the entrance passage, pressed up against the wall by the old man of the lupins. Ransey sent the old man into the bar before Mieps could clout him.

“We do have some problems with you, don’t we?” said Ransey to Mieps “It’s alright, I’m only teasing”.

“Go and tease someone else”, Mieps hissed, and pushed past Hillyard to get out into the back yard.

“You upsetting our resident sex-kitten?” said Hillyard to Ransey.

“Seriously, this might be a problem”, said Ransey “Some of these old men … perhaps we should try and keep Mieps and Taamz out of sight as much as possible”.

“That wouldn’t be bleedin’ fair would it!” said Hillyard “It’s not their fault these old men are desperate! And if we hide ‘em away that’ll only exacerbate it. Whereas if they see ‘em around everyday they’ll eventually get used to it, and it won’t be so difficult for any women to come to this town then in future. God, I thought you was supposed to be intelligent! Anyway, I think we should be more worried about Bengo prancing through the bar without his trousers on!”

“Look, I have got work of my own to do you know”, said Joby, who had been told to lean across a board Hillyard was sawing up in the back yard, to steady it “Adam’ll come out wondering where I’ve got to. I only came out to use the karsey! Couldn’t you get one of the others to do this?”

“No, you’ve got the sexiest arse”, said Hillyard “They feel like two firm fluffy peaches in a sack”.

“Behave yourself!” said Joby “I dunno about our customers being sex-starved old men, some of us ent much of an improvement!”

He looked up and saw Mieps watching them from the back door which led to the main passage. He wore a rather formidable expression on his face. Tamaz stood behind him looking scruffy and nonplussed.

“This looks like trouble”, Joby nudged Hillyard, as Mieps walked rapidly over to them, as though he was about to fling a punch.

“So Tamaz and I are only the warm-up for the main event are we?” said Mieps.

“What?” said Hillyard.

“What you said to Ransey earlier”, said Mieps “We are here simply to make things easier for ‘real’ women. That seemed to be what you said”.

Hillyard continued to look baffled, and Mieps shut himself in the outside loo, in a rather temperamental fashion.

“Tamaz!” Joby shouted.

“I haven’t said anything”, said Tamaz.

“I find that hard to believe!” said Joby.

“He’s just acting all crazy that’s all”, said Tamaz.

“Must be his hormones”, Hillyard chuckled.

“Yeah well you’d better sort it out”, said Joby “Tamaz, have you had a wash today?”

Tamaz shrugged, as though the question was one of life’s great imponderables.

Joby took him into the kitchen and washed him at the pump over the sink.

“Look, I tried to calm him down if anything”, said Tamaz, referring to Mieps “When I found him he was threatening to go and hide in that glory-hole of a cellar here. And what’s the betting I would have been the one who was sent down there to get him out, as none of you lot have got the eyesight to see down there as good as us!”

“Put your shirt back on”, said Joby, when he’d finished drying Tamaz off.

“What’s the matter, old girl?” said Julian, coming upon Mieps in the upstairs bedroom a while later “Have you got a headache?”

Mieps gave a moan and rolled over on the bed.

“Hillyard’s practically in tears downstairs”, said Julian, sitting on the bed “He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to have done. And I can’t get any sense out of anyone else. I tried asking Freaky but he just kept saying you’d gone crazy and none of it was his fault”.

“I wish I was more like Tamaz”, Mieps mumbled.

“God forbid!” said Julian “Haven’t we got enough to cope with with one of them!”

“He’s at ease with his female side”, said Mieps “I never am. Before I joined up with you lot I simply suppressed it. But now, ever since, I’ve been afraid of it. It gives me a power I’m scared of, and yet at the same time I enjoy it. Until I’m reminded that I’m not a whole woman that is”.

“We all have aspects of us we’re not at ease with”, said Julian “With Bardin it’s his lip, Lonts gets frustrated when his brain doesn’t process things as it ought. Hillyard meant nothing against your or Tamaz by what he said. You are like women, but you’re not women”.

“That suits you doesn’t it?” said Mieps “Joby once said most men want a man in a woman’s body, you want a woman in a man’s body. You’ve got that with Adam, but I …”

“I don’t know what you signify, my old darling”, said Julian “Other than perhaps that in you I sense a kindred spirit. Someone who’s experienced great loneliness, and who he knows it takes a lot for other people to accept him. We’re all gruff on the outside and vulnerable underneath … oh for God’s sake come in, Hillyard. Don’t linger out on the landing like Old Marley’s Ghost!”

Hillyard mooched into the room with his hands in his pockets, looking wretched.

“And take that wounded puppy look off your face!” said Julian “It only works when Bengo does it. On a great lumbering thing like you it looks absurd!”

Hillyard whipped out a white handkerchief and blew his nose noisily on it.

“On the mend now are we?” said Julian “Jolly good”.

The only customers in the bar downstairs at this hour of the afternoon were the ubiquitous geriatric chess-players in the corner. The four clowns were sitting up at the bar counter watching the clockwork television. The programme on offer showed a portly cabaret singer in Krindei, showing the film crew round his palatial dressing-room backstage.

“I hardly use any of this really”, he was saying, conducting them round rooms so large they could have comfortably housed all the Indigo-ites “This sink I don’t use, nor the hairdryer, and this …” he led them into a blue-tiled shower-unit that could have done service to the entire cast of the Cabaret of Horrors at the same time “I have NEVER used this. All I use is my little table here to reply to my fan mail on, and the little kettle on which to make my cups of tea”.

“Prat!” Bardin grunted.

Next the film-crew were in the rather more modest dressing-room belonging to two clowns who performed in the circus down the road from the cabaret singer’s glitzy show.

“Looks a bit more familiar somehow”, said Rumble, smoking his roll-up “Cardboard partition walls that vibrated in a storm …”

“Or when Farnol farted!” said Bardin.

“At least you two got your own room”, said Farnol.

“It weren’t nothing special though”, said Bardin “Barely room to swing a cat”.

“You had use of your own mirror”, said Farnol “Whenever we was hired at the Cabaret we had to do our make-up on the fire-escape outside! We could never get near the damn mirror in our room”.

“Oh don’t start raking over all that!” said Bardin.

“There are big advantages in being a clown”, one of the men on the screen was saying, which had the 4 Indigo clowns nodding sagely in approval “No other performer would get away with chucking a bucket of water over his audience, but people look at a clown and they sorta expect it really”.

The television went on the blink, flickering dismally into a blank screen.

“I don’t believe it!” Bardin exclaimed “We finally find something worth watching and it packs up on us!”

“Somebody didn’t wind it up properly”, said Bengo.

“Oh we’re very wise AFTER the event aren’t we!” said Bardin.

Farnol went round the back of it and fiddled with the required knobs.

“Have we got anything now?” he asked, after an interminable while.

“You’d hear it if we had!” said Bardin.

Eventually the screen whirred back into life, only this time showing a man peeling onions and talking about “the beautiful little crescent moon shapes they form”. Bardin snarled and Rumble roared with laughter.

“Have you lazy little buggers got nothing to do?” said Julian, coming down the stairs into the bar, followed by Mieps and Hillyard “Prepare three brandy-and-sodas for us”.

“I’ll do it”, said Rumble, moving behind the bar.

Bengo noticed Mieps adjusting his bosom under his shirt. Bengo took two empty plastic bowels from the counter-top, stuffed them down the front of his pinny and began to mince around the room. Mieps tipped him upside down and swept the floor with his long hair.

“Bengo, could you come back into the kitchen and do some work now please”, said Adam, standing in the doorway which connected the two rooms.

“My falsies have fallen out!” said Bengo, when he’s been put upright.

Bardin picked up the bowls and held them speculatively over his own chest.

“You should’ve done drag, man”, said Farnol “You’ve got the best figure for it”.

“And the lousiest face!” said Bardin “I’d be alright until I turned round, and then you’d hear all the punters groaning with dismay!”

One of the chess-players shuffled over to the bar to get their glasses refilled.

“Rumble, do them first”, said Julian “Punters get priority”.

“Do tidy your hair, Bengo”, said Adam, in the kitchen “It doesn’t look very good like that when one is preparing food, old love”.

“Looks like a bleedin’ bird’s nest”, said Joby.

He pulled Bengo over to the window and raked a comb through the little clown’s long, unruly locks. Bengo protested loudly by yelling “ow!” at frequent intervals.

“Pack it in”, said Joby “You’re worse than Lonts or Tamaz!”

“I wish I was one of them right at this moment”, said Bengo, looking outside where Lonts, Tamaz and Toppy were chasing each other round the orchard.

Hoowie came in from milking the goats with Brother Iggy.

“There’s a clown in here!” he said, holding the milk-pail as though to chuck it over Bengo.

“Oh no you don’t”, said Adam, taking the bucket from him “We need that”.

“We’re not doing too badly”, said Ransey, putting the last of the takings into the cash-box after closing-time.

“Our customers aren’t exactly flamboyant big-spenders”, said Julian, sitting up at the bar-counter with him and Adam “But they tend to come in for several hours each day and spend slowly but steadily in that time”.

“Good, because you never know”, said Ransey “We might need it, if Codlik freezes Hillyard’s assets”.

“That could be nasty!” said Julian.

“Oh don’t be silly, Ransey”, said Adam “Codlik hasn’t got that kind of power anymore”.

“He could have”, said Ransey “If he can prove we’re outlaws”.

“Outlaws don’t tend to run bars in obscure seaside towns”, said Adam.

“They did back in the old days”, said Julian “On the Costa del Crime and all that jazz”.

“You’d still have my money”, said Kierna, who was sweeping the floor.

“No we wouldn’t”, said Ransey “You’re the biggest outlaw of all of us a far as he’s concerned!”

“Ah yes, I’d forgotten that”, said Kieran.

Bardin came through from the kitchen, followed by Bengo.

“I’ll take this over to the sloop shall I”, said Bardin, deftly appropriating the cash-box “Come along, Bengo”.

“You’re going to have to be more on the ball than that!” said Julian to Ransey.

An inhuman scream rang out from the grounds at the back of the inn.

“Mieps!” said Julian.

Adam and Joby found him behind the skittle-alley with his left foot caught inside a man-trap. Mieps was squealing pitifully, like a cat who’d got his tail caught in a door.

“Shit!” said Joby, holding the lamp over him “Who’s put that there? We haven’t seen that before”.

“Stop wittering and help me to prise it open”, said Adam “O.K, my poor baby”, he said to Mieps “We’ll get you out”.

“If not, we can always get Hillyard over with the hacksaw”, said Joby, putting down the lamp and strenuously prising open the jaws of the lethal device “To get this off I mean, not cut off your foot!”

“Ssh, ssh”, Adam stroked Mieps’s hair “He’s just trying to reassure you, in his own unique way!”

Once the device was removed, Adam took off his neckerchief, which he wore in the kitchen to stop the sweat rolling down him, and bound it round Mieps’s ankle to staunch the blood. He then picked him up in his arms.

“I think you’ve putting on a bit of weight, old love”, said Adam “Joby, bring that vile thing with you. First thing tomorrow, we’re going to have to scour the area in case there are anymore of them around here”.

“Finia’s said that you should be fine as long as we keep the wound clean”, said Adam, spoon-feeding Mieps soup the following afternoon “It’s quite shocking that there’s no longer a doctor in this town, let alone a hospital. I remember Patsy taking Joby to the hold hospital here many years ago when he was beaten up by Uddle the stoker, and now there’s nothing”.

“No call for it I suppose”, said Mieps, sounding very weak “Not just for a bunch of old men who are going to die anyway”.

“Doubtless that is how the powers-that-be regard it!” said Adam “Although I would have thought there was every call myself. And you lost so much blood it was very worrying. You could have probably done with a transfusion really”.

“How?” said Mieps “There’s no one with my blood, not even Tamaz! More importantly, I swear someone put that horrible thing there only yesterday. I’d never seen it before”.

“I can’t believe any of the locals did it”, said Adam “One of our customers. There would be no point”.

“It could be someone from up in the hills”, said Mieps “We don’t know who or what’s hidden away up there”.

Over the road in the bar some of the others were putting up Christmas decorations.

“It feels like only five minutes since the last bleedin’ Christmas!” said Joby, who was sitting up at the bar with Kieran.

“You say that every year”, said Kieran, who was trying to read the newspaper.

“We have been on the run for a whole year now, do you realise that?” said Joby “This time last year, we were getting ready to leave the Village of Stairs. A whole year!”

“We’re not doing much running at the moment are we?” said Kieran “We’re sitting here!”

“What’s been your favourite Christmas, Joby?” said Lonts.

“I dunno, there have been so many”, said Joby “Probably for best setting it had to be Wolf Castle, before the Blast. That was the most Christmassy place”.

“We had the dogs then”, said Lonts, as though this had been the main reason for the Christmassy atmosphere.

Julian took the newspaper from Kieran.

“There’s nothing in it”, said Kieran.

“I’ll decide that for myself!” said Julian.

“I can’t do anything under these conditions”, said Toppy, stamping over to the bar.

“What’s the matter our kid?” said Kieran.

“The clowns at a rough guess”, said Joby.

Ransey was at this moment yanking Bengo off a small table he was precariously standing on with Bardin, to pin up a paperchain.

“What’s the matter with him now?” said Bardin, still standing on the table, now arms akimbo “We’re not stopping you doing anything. What is it you want to do?”

“I want to pin some crepe paper around one of the mirrors”, said Toppy “But every time I try to do so one of you lot gets in the way”.

“O.K o.k”, said Bardin, stepping down from the table “Right, everybody stand back, well back, so that Toppy can pin up his crepe paper!”

The four clowns stood gravely to one side, as though they were taking part in a sombre wreath-laying ceremony. Toppy refused to do anything though until all the clowns had physically left the bar.

“Who does he think he is?” said Farnol, as the four of them now sat on the edge of the quayside eating ice-lollies, their feet dangling in the water and their shoes lined up behind them “Chucking us all out as though we’re a bunch of drunks!”

“We do wind him up a bit”, said Rumble “I know he’s a brilliant stooge, but perhaps we should ease up on him, as it’s nearly Christmas”.

“Perhaps we should try not to be clowns so much”, said Bengo “Try and be normal people round him for a while”.

“There is no way you could manage that!” said Bardin “You were born a clown, it’s in your very marrow. You couldn’t possibly act any other way. You never have!”

“I could try”, said Bengo “He’s always saying I look exactly like a clown, well perhaps if I altered my appearance a bit, looked a bit more serious. I could cut my hair …”

“No!” Bardin barked.

“I’m thinking of cutting mine”, said Rumble “It’s getting on my nerves. I thought of asking Finia to do it. Not cut it really short, but sort of in a bob like Mieps has his”.

“Oh, wanna look like Mieps now do we?” said Bardin.

“No, I can’t see me with tits somehow!” said Rumble.

“Stop trying to wind him up, Bardy”, Bengo sighed.

“You see! We can’t help ourselves”, said Farnol “We simply have to cause mischief. We can’t resist sending things up. Even if we was to go back in there and lavish Toppy’s efforts with sincere praise, he’d still think we was taking the piss”.

“Probably because we would be!” said Rumble.

Bardin was passing into a rare mellow mood. He was enjoying the sun on his back, his feet dangling in the warm ocean water. All Christmasses he had experienced since joining the Indigo-ites made up for the dismal ones they had endured as children. Trotting out three shows a day and then going home to their austere room. He remembered, when they were small, waking up in the night to hear the landlord moving about on the other side of their door. This had got him so agitated that the following day it was him who threw a tantrum, not Bengo for a change. They had been having a trial fitting for their “promo outfits”. These were smart, dinky little costumes they wore for photo-shoots and advertising stunts. Blue velvet jackets, white frilly shirts, black and white checked trousers, and black patent leather shoes. Bardin thought they looked like a box of luxury chocolate liqueurs in them. He had taken off the velvet jacket and jumped up and down on it, much to the distress of the wardrobe-master.

Bengo had found it all very funny, until he saw how upset the wardrobe-master was, and had calmed Bardin down.

“One day we’ll be big stars, Bardy”, he had said, when the wardrobe-master had gone outside to calm down “And then we can get a whole house of our own, move out of those awful lodgings. Perhaps we could pay someone to come in and clean it for us too”.

And so began a new private game between them, which they played when their lodgings (or more usually their perverted landlord) really got them down: designing their own house. They continued this into their teens. Bardin stopped it out of pique when Bengo began seeing Godle, convinced now that Bengo wouldn’t be living with him forever, as they’d planned.

After lunch Bengo told Joby about some of the stunts Godle had done at Christmas-time to rake in the crowds to the Cabaret of Horrors. It helped to make the task of scouring out the frying-pans that bit easier, and Bardin was safely occupied elsewhere.

“Godle would go round the bars touting for business for the Cabaret”, said Bengo “He would do mad stunts like carrying a billiard table on his back or eating wine-glasses”.

“What, real ones?” said Joby “Made out of actual glass?”

“Yes, ones the customers had been drinking out of”, said Bengo.

“And you had sex with this guy?” Joby exclaimed “I think I’d rather have shot meself!”

“No he was very gentle … offstage”, said Bengo “He had to be, he knew how easy it would be for him to hurt someone, without meaning to. Of course if Bardin hadn’t had such a silly hang-up about sex with me, none of that would’ve happened”.

“Oh I understand him”, said Joby “When you’ve convinced yourself you’re ugly you don’t really think anyone wants to have sex with you, not unless they’re desperate anyway!”

“Bengo”, said Lonts, coming through from the bar “Bardin wants to see you outside, alone. He says it’s really important”.

“I’ve got some bad news for you”, said Bardin, taking his partner gently by the arm and leading him over to the sea-wall “I’ve just been reading the paper”.

“Is it Codlik?” said Bengo, looking thoroughly alarmed “What’s he threatening to do to us now?”

“No it’s not Codlik”, said Bardin “It’s nothing relating to Kieran”.

“Then what, Bardy?” said Bengo “Tell me! You’re scaring me!”

“Godle’s dead”, said Bardin “It was on the showbiz page, the others don’t seem to read that, so I’m the only one who’s read it so far”.

“Where?” said Bengo “How?”

“Aspiriola”, said Bardin “Still doing those stupid bare-knuckle fights, as he was when we saw him last year. He should have given it up long ago. He didn’t have eternal youth like us. He was an old crock. Anyway, someone got carried away with him. Internal bleeding”.

“He couldn’t have given it up”, said Bengo “It was all he ever knew. And he would have wanted to die with his boots on as it were”.

“Stupid poxy few lines, that’s all he got”, said Bardin, angrily brushing away tears “I bet when that poncey cabaret singer we saw on the telly finally cops it he’ll get a full-page obit, and the stupid lines they always come out, like ‘the world of showbusiness is in mourning tonight’, that sort of crap”.

“At least Godle get a mention”, said Bengo “Plenty don’t get anything, they’re just forgotten. Don’t upset yourself, Bardy. Godle had the life that he wanted. Just because we didn’t understand it doesn’t make it not so”.

“You’re so much calmer than me at times like this”, said Bardin.

“Because I just get a bit sad”, said Bengo “Whereas you get so angry. It’s funny really, I was talking about Godle when Lonts came in to say you wanted to see me. I was telling Joby about some of those really crazy publicity stunts he used to do, particularly in the run-up to the Christmas shows. I couldn’t tell you I‘d been doing that if he was still alive”.

“I was a fool”, Bardin spat “I was screwed up, I screwed you up, and got so scared that I’d end up doing the one thing I dreaded most, driving you to him. And all the time he was the really lonely one”.

“Except when he was performing”, said Bengo “A born show-off, like the rest of us. He used to love seeing all those hard-nuts jumping up in the audience, thinking they could take him on, and then watching them limping back again when they found it wasn’t as easy as they’d thought!”

“Until he took on one too many, when he was past it”, said Bardin “Those who live by the sword die by the sword”.

“That’s right”, said Bengo.

They held hands and walked back to the bar in the afternoon sunshine.

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