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By Sarah Hapgood

Brother Iggy had taken advantage of a wet afternoon at the Indigo Tavern to try and demonstrate to the clowns how his performing skills were coming along. He had urged Bardin to be brutally honest. Bardin knew Brother Iggy really wanted him to be anything but that!

Farnol made himself scarce, and went over to the sloop to help Hillyard, Ransey and Kieran to clean out the hold. Rumble occupied himself in a crossword puzzle.

Bardin drew the line firmly at a shaggy dog story with accompanying funny faces.

“It sounds tedious before you’ve even started”, said Bardin “And you haven’t got the kind of face that makes people laugh on sight. Not like Bengo for instance”.

“Yours more like!” Bengo snapped “You look very funny, particularly when you’re being peevish!”

Brother Iggy did a sketch instead involving a rubber goose he had acquired at a junk-shop in the village. Even with wishing to be charitable, that act was still diabolical. Bengo watched with dismay as Brother Iggy poured water down its beak and stamped on its neck.

“Look, rubber birds aren’t funny”, said Bardin, rescuing the bird from him “They only work in a sketch if you roast it in a tray, or boil it in a pot, or you hit someone with it, like this”.

He clouted Bengo round both ears with the rubber goose. Bengo was furious. He grabbed the goose from his partner and proceeded to belabour him with it. They were fortunately halted by a screech of brakes outside. Julian had inexplicably (and much to everybody’s consternation) gone off for a cycle ride. This was unusual at the best of times. In the pouring rain it was downright bizarre.

Bengo and Bardin ran into the kitchen, where Julian was now bringing the bike through the back door.

“Don’t bring it in here!” said Adam “This is a kitchen, it’s where food is prepared”.

“Thank you, but I do know what a kitchen is”, said Julian, propping the bike against the wall.

“Could’ve fooled me!” said Joby.

Julian began to strip off his wet clothes. He ordered Bengo to run over to the sloop and fetch him a change of clothing and a proper towel. Adam pressed an umbrella on him before he left. Joby watched in fascination as Julian peeled off his layers. Julian leered at him.

“Stop that!” said Adam “I won’t have my kitchen turned into a men’s public convenience!”

“You’ve been up to the old church haven’t you?” said Bardin, standing arms akimbo “Without telling any of us”.

“There was no problem”, said Julian “I had no intention of going inside. In this filthy weather the roof would have probably collapsed on me! There’s nothing to report, much. Bunnykins has been removed from the door and thrown into the bushes. No sign of the knife anywhere”.

“What if you had met … something?” said Bardin.

“It would have run a mile!” said Joby.

“I didn’t, anyway I was armed”, Julian tossed a revolver onto the table.

Bardin officiously took it and removed the bullets. Bengo returned with Julian’s change of clothing.

“You took your bloody time!” said Julian.

“Mieps was trying to quiz me on where you’d been”, said Bengo “When I told him I couldn’t stop he began chucking things at me to slow me down. Trying to get out of the cabin was like running an obstacle race! I’ll be glad when he’s on his feet again, it’ll get rid of some of his surplus energy”.

“Put the umbrella in the sink, Bengo”, said Adam.

Kieran was in hot pursuit. He tried to get into the room without taking his umbrella down, and wrecked it in the process.

“You’ve been up to the old church”, he pointed accusingly at Julian.

“Yes, but I didn’t inhale!” said Julian, who was now getting dressed again.

“You’ve busted this”, said Joby, examining Kieran’s umbrella.

“We can straighten it out”, said Kieran.

“No we can’t”, said Joby “It’s as skew-whiff as you are!”

Kieran tossed the umbrella outside the door into the yard. He then went and stood over Julian like a menacing angel.

“Don’t say another word”, said Julian “I’ve done my duty and that’s all there is to it. I went up to see for myself because I felt it was only right that I should. I did not take any stupid risks, such as going inside the building, I was armed, and I had the bike for a quick getaway if needs be! That is all I have to say. Now I’m going upstairs for a drink”.

“Eh?” said Joby.

Julian went upstairs to the bathroom, where a considerable quantity of imported bottle beer (flown in under the previous landlord’s name to avert suspicion) was kept stored in the bath-tub. Adam followed him up there.

“You might need this”, he said, handing him a bottle-opener.

“We should keep one up here”, said Julian “Hanging on a piece of string on the back of the door”.

When Kieran stealthily crept up after them, he was immediately despatched to find some string. Julian drank his beer and then went down to the bar, where some of the customers were grouped around the clockwork television in the corner, watching horse-racing from Krindei.

“It’s not as if they can put any bets on”, said Rumble, who was now behind the bar “But they get pretty excited about it all the same”.

“Poor old sods”, said Julian “What a life they’ve had down here, forgotten by the rest of the world. If only we end up as lucky!”

Joby carried in a tray of newly-washed glasses and set them down on the counter.

“They just need polishing”, he said to Rumble. He cast a lugubrious look at Julian before going back into the kitchen.

“Does he have to look at me like that?” Julian asked Kieran, who was sorting out some string from the odds and ends under the bar-counter.

“Like what?” said Kieran.

“As though he’s an undertaker measuring me up for my coffin!” said Julian.

“Ach, that’s just his way”, said Kieran.

“Well it’s a bloody annoying one!” said Julian.

He went over to a bench and sat down with a glass of brandy and a cigar. Kieran followed him.

“I just wanted to say that I liked what you did earlier”, said Kieran “When you put it like that I support what you did”.

“Is that it?” Julian snapped “I bet no other man in the world gets as much fuss as this made for just riding a bike up and down a deserted street! Now you’ve got that off your scrawny little chest, leave me in peace. Go and watch the racing. An Irishman shouldn’t need any persuading to do that!”

Kieran went back into the kitchen instead, where he found Joby mashing up herbs with a pestle.

“Next time you see Julian”, said Kieran, grabbing Joby’s chin gently but firmly “Would you give him one of your beautiful smiles, just for me?”

Joby gave a smile that could better be described as sinister rather than beautiful. Bengo sniggered. When he caught Joby glaring at him he hastily changed it to a cough, and concentrated solemnly on chopping carrots.

A loud honking noise came from outside, which signalled the arrival of the fruit and veg truck, which delivered to them from a farm up in the hills.

Adam complained that it was a day late, and then marshalled Bengo into a waterproof jacket, and himself grabbed the kitchen umbrella. When they got outside the truck was reversing up the short track at the side of the building. A tall, heavily-built man jumped out of the passenger side of the driver’s cab, and came round to let down the tail-flap at the back. Adam decided to walk round to the driver’s side to ask why it hadn’t been delivered the day before.

Within a very short space of time a lot of things happened. The tall man picked up Bengo, who immediately realised that this was no simple bit of robust horsing-around and so he kicked and punched indiscriminately. Because of his drenched waterproof he was slippery and difficult to handle, but he was still bundled onto the back of the truck, amongst some potato sacks.

Kieran had gone to stand in the kitchen doorway to watch the unloading. As soon as he saw what had happened, he grabbed the big knife Bengo had been chopping with an ran towards the truck, which had started to move off.

Bengo’s abductor was momentarily distracted by Kieran and for the briefest of moments he couldn’t seem to move. This briefest of moments was what saved Bengo. He jumped out of the moving truck and executed a nimble head-over-heels on the path. Meanwhile, Bardin had emerged from the building, carrying a rifle which was kept under the bar-counter. He fired at the truck, which thundered away, with the tall man clinging to the side of it.

“That was a brilliant bit of movement”, said Joby “He could’ve been a stuntman he could. Anyone else doing it would’ve broken their necks!”

“Standard clown’s acrobatics really”, said Bengo, who was now sitting on one of the high stools in the bar, having his cut and grazed knees attended to by Finia “I could’ve done with some knee-pads on though!”

Mieps was carried into the bar by Hillyard, as Bardin had ordered everyone to assemble there, and no one should be left alone on the sloop after what had just happened.

“No one’s gonna want to abduct Mieps”, Tamaz complained, eating from a packet of potato crisps.

“I don’t rate their chances if they try it!” said Joby.

“Somebody must’ve seen that old t.v programme about us”, said Bardin “And got the hots for Bengo. There are a lot of sick bastards in the world, and no I don’t mean you have to be sick to fancy Bengo!”

“But that programme’s years old”, said Bengo “Even perverts must’ve realised I’ve grown up since that was made!”

“They probably don’t care”, said Bardin “They probably sit up in the hills somewhere, bored and frustrated, and desperate for anything to stimulate their senses”.

“Even me!” said Bengo.

“I wonder what’s happened to our real fruit and veg suppliers”, Lonts speculated.

At this stage it was a question impossible to answer.

“What the hell are you lot still doing here?” said Julian, the following morning. He had found Adam, Joby, Bengo and Bardin gossiping at the foot of the quarterdeck steps, all holding their waterproofs, and the big kitchen umbrella.

“We were just getting ready to go across the road, Jules”, said Adam. “We’ll be lucky if we eat breakfast by sundown at this rate!” said Julian “Things cannot afford to go to pot you know”.

“What’s he got that thing out for?” Joby mumbled to Adam.

Julian had been walking round below deck carrying the hook-handled cane under his arm. He swiped Joby across the behind with it as Joby prepared to go up the steps. Joby gave an exclamation, and Adam pushed him onwards.

“Ignore him”, said Adam “Anything else he’ll take as a sign of encouragement!”

They walked briskly through the rain to the tavern, which hadn’t yet been opened up for the day. Up the side track they went and round to the back kitchen entrance, where they found the door had been hacked in with a blunt instrument, and two headless chickens had been smeared over it and then thrown contemptuously onto the kitchen floor. Blood and feathers were everywhere.

“Maniacs!” Joby cried “The fucking shitty bastards! Why?!”

The rest of the building was checked for damage, but seemed to be free of any. It was as if whoever had done it had exhausted their passion on the kitchen door. A check of the hen-house also revealed that whoever had done it had used their own feathered sacrifices. All the Indigo-ites’ hens were present and in one piece.

“And meanwhile we haven’t got a back door!” said Joby, who was lying on The Landlord’s Bed with an upset stomach “Lonts ripped out the remaining bits and said when it dried out we can use it as firewood! Kieran, what are you doing in there?”

Kieran came in from the bathroom, and handed Joby a glass.

“Drink that quickly before it loses its fizz”, he said “It’ll settle your stomach”.

Joby obeyed, whilst wincing.

“I don’t understand it”, he said, when he had drained the glass “Do you understand what makes people do some things?”

“Boredom mainly I expect”, said Kieran “A lack of fulfilment, a severe sense of inadequacy, wanting to be noticed, and intense bitterness. The usual recipe for evil”.

“Was it the ones who tried to kidnap Bengo, or the ones who’ve been messing about up at the church?” said Joby “Or are they all one and the same?”

“That seems most likely”, said Kieran “Butchered animals, desecrated graves, and trying to abduct an innocent, i.e Bengo, it all sounds like a sad bunch of Satanic gits to me. We thwarted them getting Bengo yesterday, and that enraged them”.

“So they vandalised our door and cut the heads off some chickens?” said Joby “Sick sods. I bet Josh is one of ‘em!”

“I’m not ruling anything out”, said Kieran.

Hillyard came upstairs.

“We’re gonna go out, take the truck, and get a new door made up from the timber-yard”, he said “I think you should both come. Kieran needs to be seen, and as for you, a bit of fresh air’ll put the colour back in your cheeks. It’s actually stopped raining for a moment”.

“The way you drive’ll take all the colour out of me cheeks more like!” said Joby.

Adam, Julian, Finia and Toppy were staying behind to mind the tavern. The others all took handfuls of bread and cheese as breakfast and went out to the truck. Mieps hobbled over with a walking-stick and insisted on coming as well, so Hillyard had to laboriously lift him into the passenger seat.

“Your arse ent half getting flabby”, he said, after Mieps had effectively sat on his head in the process.

“It’s all that sitting around on it he’s been doing lately!” said Tamaz.

“Tamaz!” said Joby.

The trip to the timber-yard had started of in deliberate high spirits, and ended in horror. They had all been having a laugh at Bardin’s expense, as he was always at his most unintentionally amusing when being The Organiser. When they went to select a piece of wood for the back door, Hillyard offered to sort through the pile, as such strenuous physical exertion seemed way beyond the geriatric yard-owner.

Tamaz saw the hand sticking out of the pile first. The wood was hauled away feverishly, and the butt-naked hermaphrodite corpse of the enigmatic customer they had dubbed The Vampire Of Zilligot Bay was uncovered. He had been strangled, which was obvious from the marks on his neck and his tongue protruding from his mouth. He had also been completely drained of blood. The one they had half-seriously thought of as being a vampire had himself been vampirised.

On seeing it all exposed Tamaz turned and ran out of the yard.

“I’m not hungry”, said Tamaz, lying on The Landlord’s Bed later that afternoon.

“Blimey, you aren’t feeling yourself are yer!” said Joby, sitting down on the bed, balancing a bowl of chicken soup in his hand “Get some of this down you, it’ll make you feel better”.

“What are they all doing out there?” said Tamaz, referring to the cacophony of noises coming up from the back yard.

“Sorting out the new door mainly”, said Joby.

“What have they done with … him?” asked Tamaz.

“He’s in one of the sheds”, said Joby “Wrapped in some tarpaulin. We’re gonna bury him after dark near the chicken-run. It’s the best we can do in a town that has no undertaker, no priest, and no doctor. And Kieran won’t have him buried in the churchyard, not now it’s been thoroughly desecrated. He says he’ll be better off in a garden than up there”.

“I think he was one of my children”, said Tamaz “I think he came here to see me out of curiosity, and when I served him he bottled out, as you would put it. I must have scared him, my power that is. And now someone’s murdered him. Do you remember when they were born?”

“Yes, yes I do”, said Joby “Me, Kieran and Hillyard ran over to the Min. HQ to see it all for ourselves. There you were …”

“All bloated and fat”, said Tamaz.

“All full of babies”, said Joby “Everyone else in a right state. It was like being in a town full of expectant fathers!”

“They were the great hope for the future weren’t they?” said Tamaz “At least until the world realised it could be normal again, and then they weren’t wanted anymore. They were embarrassing freaks, like me”.

“It doesn’t matter what the rest of the world thinks”, said Joby “We all love you and that’s all that matters at the end of the day”.

“But that it should come to this, Joby”, said Tamaz “To end up like … that. I know the others will think I’ve got a cheek, making out I care when I haven’t given a thought to them for years”.

“They won’t think that at all”, said Joby “They’ll be worried about you, you should know ‘em better ‘en that, Tamaz”.

“Do you think the same ones did him who tried to get Bengo yesterday?” said Tamaz.

“That’s what has to be worked out”, said Joby “And don’t you go disappearing off after ‘em on impulse. I have enough to worry about with the thought that Kieran might go doing that!”

“It’s getting dark and stormy out there again”, said Tamaz, after Joby had finished spoon-feeding him the chicken soup “The sunny bit didn’t last long. Some of the customers have been saying that they don’t normally get so much rough weather down here”.

“And I spose they’re reading all sorts of things into that now!” said Joby “Right, now are you gonna lie here and have a little kip?”

“No I don’t want to stay up here alone”, said Tamaz “I’ll come down to the kitchen with you and sit by the stove. I won’t get in the way”.

“Where have all our customers gone?” said Adam, joining Julian in the corner of the bar for a brandy.

“I think we’re being boycotted at the moment”, said Julian “You can’t blame them. Attempted abductions, vandalism by Satanists, and burying a Ghoomer in the back yard doesn’t exactly make for the relaxed, jolly atmosphere we’re striving for here! Don’t worry, they’ll be back. There’s nowhere else for them to go”.

“I’ve got something else to add to the pile”, said Adam “Freaky thinks the Ghoomer may have been one of his children”.

“Good God!” said Julian “Is he alright?”

“Oh you know Freaky”, said Adam “He’s a very resilient little chap. He’s a bit quieter than normal, and Joby’s worried he might get it into his head to go after the killers, but otherwise he’s being very rational about it all. Toppy meanwhile is getting himself in a tizz, because he’s not sure what the correct protocol for dealing with a bereaved parent is, and he doesn’t want to upset Freaky any further”.

“If Toppy keeps that up”, said Julian “Tell him I’ll set the clowns on him!”

After an afternoon of controlled chaos, in which the new back door was fixed into place, the Ghoomer was buried in the back yard, and Bardin thought (though he couldn’t be sure) that he might have seen Angel on the road leading up to the old church (the driving rain made visibility very poor indeed). Bardin had then gone upstairs for a feverish lie-down, nursed by Bengo, and fortified by brandy-and-cream cocktails bought up to him by Joby.

The result of all this was that Bardin decided to call a family pow-wow in the bar that evening, which they had to themselves. The myriad little tables were dragged into the centre of the room, and Bardin seated himself at the head of it, complete with paper and pencils, to take notes. Julian nicknamed this gathering the “extra-ordinary general meeting of the Zilligot Bay Amateur Dramatics Society”. Kieran joined in the joke and suggested someone should take the minutes, but baulked at the idea of it being him who undertook the task.

“I have called us together like this”, Bardin began “To discuss our future, and where we all go from here”.

Lonts, who up til now had been slumped bored in his chair, dully knocking Snowy’s head against the edge of the table, suddenly sat up and looked highly fierce and apprehensive. Bardin, who was sitting adjacent to him, quailed at his expression.

“What do you mean, our future?” Lonts boomed.

“He doesn’t mean we’re going to split up, Lo-Lo”, said Adam.

“N-no, not at all”, Bardin stammered “I meant do we stay here and sit this all out, or do we set off round the Horn. I never for one moment thought of us splitting up”.

“Why didn’t you say so then!” said Lonts “I’m lighting my pipe”.

He proceeded to do so, and wreathed Bardin in smoke, much to his (Bardin’s) discomfort.

“Finding the body of the … er … victim earlier”, Bardin coughed, now discomforted by talking about Tamaz’s deceased offspring, as well as Lonts’s pipe “Proves what we are up against, and what these people are capable of doing”.

“We had worked that one out for ourselves”, said Tamaz.

“We’d be better of with one of the goats chairing the meeting!” said Toppy.

Bengo gave him a look of Lonts-like ferocity.

“Toppy, perhaps you could go and make some tea for us all, old love”, said Adam.

“I’m not going into the kitchen alone”, Toppy protested “What if They abducted me?”

“They couldn’t be THAT desperate surely?!” said Bengo.

“I’ll go with him”, said Rumble, as the others hooted with laughter.

“I hope I get next to him in bed tonight”, said Bengo, once the tea-makers had left the room “As soon as he’s nodded off I’ll give him a good kick and wake him up again!”

Bardin thumped on the table in an imposing manner.

“We have two choices open to us”, he said “We either stay here and sit it all out, or we go off round the Horn”.

“There’s another option”, said Ransey “We can take the truck up into the hills and see what‘s happened to our fruit and veg suppliers, because whatever we decide to do we’re going to need more food”.

This was such a good suggestion that Bardin was annoyed he hadn’t thought of it himself.

“We’ll do that tomorrow then”, he mumbled “As long as the weather’s not too foul”.

He shuffled together his notepaper (so far unsullied by any notes) and adjourned the meeting.

“Don’t sulk, Bardy”, said Bengo, joining him in the corner “Or I’ll have to put you over my knee!”

“I am not sulking!” Bardin snapped.

They sipped their tea together and looked outside at the stormy scene.

“This reminds me of so many monsoon afternoons when we were kids”, said Bengo “We’d lie on the bed and read each other funny stories. Then I’d doze off and you’d wake me up saying ‘c’mon Bengo, we’ve got to go to work, you’ve just got time to have a wash first’”.

“Perhaps if we can survive a childhood in showbusiness”, said Bardin “We can survive anything!”

It was unanimously decided to bring all the animals over to the sloop and shut them in the hold for the night. There was understandable nervousness about leaving them outside after the attack of the headless chickens.

Bardin and Adam were alone in the cabin whilst all this was going on, perusing the maps of the hills above Zilligot Bay, although Bardin seemed more curious about the maritime maps of the Horn. He traced the jagged extreme south coast of the land mass with his finger.

“I wonder when was the last time anyone did a proper map of that region”, he said “Probably centuries ago. You lot must have been the only ones to go round it in decades”.

“And that was all some considerable time ago now”, said Adam.

“The very ends of the earth”, said Bardin “I’m nervous enough about going up into the hills tomorrow, let alone there! I feel as I used to the night before an important show, when everything had to be got exactly right or …” he drew his finger across his throat in a cutting gesture.

“Well you had Bengo to help you then”, said Adam “And you’ve got him to help you now”.

“He was no help then!” said Bardin “He was just this podgy little thing with a filthy temper! Whenever I tried to put him right, all I got was ‘Bardy, you beast!’” He jumped when he realised Bengo had come into the room “What are you creeping about for?”

“I wasn’t”, said Bengo “I walked in normally. It’s just you couldn’t hear me above all that racket out there”.

(He could have been referring to the storm outside, or the work in the hold, either would have been applicable).

“Couldn’t you have spoken as you came in?” said Bardin.

“Oh, do I have lines in this sketch then?” Bengo joked.

A baby goat bleated its way into the room, pursued by Lonts and Tamaz.

“Get her out of here”, said Bardin “Or we’ll be knee-deep in goat-shit before we know it!”

“It’s all his fault”, said Tamaz, pointing at Bengo “He left the door open”.

Lonts scooped the kid up into his arms and backed out of the cabin. Tamaz followed him, glaring at Bengo as he went.

“Oh the stress of it all!” said Bardin.

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