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By Sarah Hapgood

“So are you gonna finally tell me what it was all about?” said Joby, lying with Kieran in a wooded copse at the edge of Magnolia Cove.

“Lixix was infested with demons”, said Kieran “They had penetrated underground, and the best way to cleanse anything like that is with fire, so that’s why I asked you to help me dynamite the catacombs, and so forth”.

“It’s that word ‘cleanse’ I don’t like”, said Joby “Smacks of that village in Vietnam which was ‘cleansed’ by the Americans, ‘for it’s own good’”.

“Like hell it is!” said Kieran “We haven’t killed anyone or raped anyone. Most of the population of Lixix has fled up here, and a better time they’ll have of it too, with no demons mussing up the place! How can you say it’s like that?”

“Alright, alright, keep your vest on!” said Joby “I’m just getting it all in shape in me head that’s all”.

“You’re still a wee bit stressed”, said Kieran “Can’t you even relax here?”

“No I keep thinking we’re being watched”, said Joby.

“We’ll go home then”, said Kieran.

“No that ent very relaxing either”, said Joby “You’ve got no hope of finding a quiet corner there! When’s Piers gonna leave us do you think?”

“Is he getting to you?” said Kieran.

“When he’s not preening himself in the mirror he’s moaning”, said Joby “Went on this morning that he couldn’t believe we haven’t got a vacuum cleaner”.

“We haven’t got any electricity to run it on!” said Kieran “What’s he fashing himself about that for?”

“I think he was scared by the way Lonts was using the carpet-sweeper!” said Joby “Mind you, the way he carries on with it I’m surprised we’ve got any carpet left!”

“He gets a wee bit keen does Lonts”, said Kieran.

“And then the cheek of it”, said Joby “Piers goes out to lunch, all by himself!”

“Did you want to have lunch with Piers then?” Kieran exclaimed.

“No, but he could have done the decent thing and asked!”, said Joby “We put him up, give him bed and board and sanctuary, and the bugger won’t offer to take us out!”

“He couldn’t ask all of us, it’d cost him a fortune”, said Kieran “And perhaps he felt if he asked only one or two it’d look a bit iffy, so it was safer to ask no one”.

“Stop being so fucking saintly and understanding!” said Joby.

“Well you’re beginning to sound like Julian!” said Kieran “He thinks Piers should never be seen or heard at any time, and then moans ‘cos Piers isn’t showering him with gratitude all the time!”

“Look Kieran”, said Joby “You haven’t got a clue what it’s like to have to put up with a brother”.

“I’ve got you”, said Kieran “You’re like a brother to me”.

“Hardly, at the moment!” said Joby, indicating his hand which he had stuffed inside Kieran’s shirt.

“We have a special relationship!” said Kieran. “If Joby’s being that curmudgeonly at the moment”, said Julian “I don’t know why you don’t just give him a good smack!”

He and Adam were walking two of the goats along the prom.

“I can’t, Jules”, said Adam “He’s been under a lot of strain lately”.

“Haven’t we all!” said Julian “You’re too damn soft with him that’s your trouble”.

“He takes life so hard sometimes”, Adam sighed.

“Don’t I know it!” said Julian “I’ve given him endless talking-to’s and all to no avail”.

“Well hail fellows!” came an unwelcome cry.

Piers was waving from one of the open horse-drawn carriages that ferried people the length of the prom.

“Oh God, I think I’m going to cry!” muttered Julian.

Piers paid off his driver and clambered out of the carriage. He had consumed a substantial amount of champagne and was feeling very hale and hearty as a consequence.

“How was your lunch, Piers?” said Adam, when Piers had caught up with them.

“I found this absolutely splendid place”, said Piers “They had girl dancers in there. One wore this tiny little dress all made out of tassels and they swung everywhere when she shimmied. It was enormous fun. There seem to be tons of jolly places in this town”.

“Yes, you could do far worse than to settle here”, said Adam.

“I suppose I must look for somewhere soon”, said Piers, falling into step with them “I’m jolly grateful for you putting me up and all, but your scene isn’t really my scene is it? Not that there’s any harm in your lifestyle, but you all do tend to live rather in each other’s pockets”.

“It suits us”, said Adam “We like it that way”.

“Of course”, said Piers “But I’m sure I’m cramping your style as much as you’re cramping mine”.

Julian gave a moan as though he was suffering a sharp rheumatic pain in his back. Adam didn’t know whether to laugh or commiserate with him. By this point even the goats seemed to have lost their zest for life. They had stopped trying to eat the metal railings and had fall into a rather hunched, careworn way of walking. Piers tended to have that effect.

“One of the girls reminded me of the Hon Olivia Barrington”, said Piers “She had a twin sister called Lydia. They both modelled for the grouse-shooter’s calendar one year. You must remember them, Julian?”

“No”, said Julian.

Adam stifled a laugh.

“I’m utterly surprised”, Piers continued, unabashed “They were absolutely splendid girls. Very stylish”.

“I can’t imagine so if they modelled for the grouse-shooter’s calendar!” said Julian “No one appeared on that without a cloth-cap on!”

Adam’s laugh burst out at last. It finally occurred to Piers that he was being laughed at and he fell into a sulky silence.

“I didn’t think he was too bad when he first moved in”, said Hillyard, who was spreading new hay around the hold when they returned. He was talking to Adam. “But he’s really getting to me now and all. He never stops moaning!”

“Well Joby moans a lot too”, said Adam, playing Devil’s Advocate “But you don’t have any problem with him”.

“That’s different”, said Hillyard “I don’t know why, it just is. Joby ent vain for one thing like Piers is. I mean Piers can’t walk past a mirror without staring in it, as though he can’t get over how gorgeous he is. And he spends hours titivating his hair, and it don’t look any different when he’s finished to when he started!”

“Oh dear”, said Adam “You really don’t like him do you?”

“I’m disappointed in you, Ad, I really am”, said Hillyard “I thought you had sound judgement. So if you said Piers was alright I assumed he must be”.

“The reason I’ve always been fair about him in the past”, said Adam “Was because he was concerned about me in the old days, when Julian was giving me a hard time. At the risk of sounding pathetic, not many people were kind to me then so I was grateful when somebody was. And Piers can be sweet and kind, he is fair to others on the whole. We’re simply not seeing the best of him at the moment, and I don’t know why”.

“Fair enough”, Hillyard grunted.

“Could you go and give Julian one of your nice little massages?” said Adam “He’s very tensed up at the moment”.

“Oi!” Joby yelled, standing in the doorway of the food-hold “What do you think you’re doing?”

Piers didn’t deign to reply. He pushed past Joby as though he was pretending he was invisible, carrying a bottle of red wine under each arm.

“You can’t just march off with them!” Joby exclaimed.

“O.K Joby, don’t worry, I’ll sort this out”, said Adam “Why don’t you go up on deck for a few minutes?”

Joby did so, muttering all the while.

“Didn’t you get enough to drink at lunchtime, Piers?” said Adam, deftly removing the bottles from him.

“A lot of fuss about nothing!” said Piers “Why does everything have to be so rule-bound around here?”

“I wasn’t aware that it was!” said Adam “But we can’t just have people helping themselves from the larder at any time, it would be anarchy. We’d never know what we had and what we didn’t. Keeping tabs is vital when we’re at sea, or short of money, as we are now”.

Without another word Piers strode along to the cabin, where Julian was being massaged. He pulled his bag out of a cupboard and began to stuff his belongings into it. Julian had rarely seen Piers quite so animated.

“Going somewhere?” he asked.

“I’m getting off this boat”, said Piers “I’m leaving”.

“You’d better tell us where you’re going”, Julian sighed “Just in case anything happens”.

“I met new friends at lunchtime”, said Pier “They are having a little house-party and asked me if I’d care to join them. I suppose you want to know where and what kind of house-party”.

“Not particularly”, said Julian “Just send me your permanent address, when you get one”.

“That was all a bit heavy wasn’t it?” said Hillyard, once Piers had left.

“Brotherly love”, said Julian.

“Tell you what, you need cheering up”, said Hillyard “I’ll get Bengo in here”.

Bengo’s ministrations obviously did the trick, because in a fit of rare benevolence Julian ordered Ransey to open up one of the cash-boxes and give the four clowns a bit of loot to go out on. The other clowns joked that they were obviously now reduced to living off “Bengo’s immoral earnings”.

“He always was a little tart!” said Bardin, as they headed along the prom towards the pier.

“What are we going to do this evening then?” said Farnol.

“Go and see a show!” said Bengo.

“Too much like a busman’s holiday”, said Bardin.

“Oh c’mon Bardy”, said Bengo “You know how much you enjoy slagging off other performers!”

“Let’s have some proper drinks”, said Rumble “Ones we don’t get very often, you know, like cocktails”. “Real cocktails?” said Farnol “Sea-salt round the rim, cherry on a stick, dead worm at the bottom of the glass, that sort of thing?”

“We’ve only got enough money for one round”, said Bardin “Those things don’t come cheap you know”.

“So we make sure we enjoy it then”, said Rumble.

“This is gonna be a very short evening!” Bengo pouted, and then exclaimed “Hey look!”

Julian was escorting Joby into a sea-food restaurant. Joby wore a heavily-resigned expression on his face, like a man being taken into a cop-shop to “help the police with their enquiries”.

“Good”, said Rumble “So we know we’ve got somewhere to go to later when our money runs out!”

Julian had selected Joby as his dining-companion because he felt he needed the sympathetic company of someone who also knew what it was like to be tormented by an unwanted brother. When they finally sat down to their oysters and ice-cold beer though they both found they didn’t particularly want to talk about Piers or Josh.

“I’m surprised you didn’t ask Mieps out for a little dinner ‘a deux’”, said Joby.

“He wouldn’t like it”, said Julian “He’s o.k when he’s out with us en-masse, but just the two of us he’d feel conspicuous. People stare so much and it unnerves him, even with me for protection! I would have asked Hillyard along, but he seemed to mysteriously disappear a couple of hours ago. Do you know where he is?”

Joby looked around him furtively before leaning across the table and whispering “he’s gone poaching”.

“He’s what?” Julian barked.

“He’s met up with this little hairy geezer who lives somewhere out in the woods”, said Joby “He likes to brag that he never pays for a meal if he can help it”.

“I’m sure he does!” said Julian.

“Hillyard says we might end up living off the land permanently”, said Joby “And if so we need to know all the resources there is. He says this fella knows things even he or Mieps have never heard of. Of course he says that he’s hoping one day that he and Ransey’ll be able to put into operation their plan to get his money back, his and Kieran’s that is”.

“Oh yes, and that’s another thing”, said Julian “What is this rather suspect-sounding plan of theirs?”

“I don’t know”, said Joby “No honestly, I don’t know anymore than you do”.

“I wouldn’t put it past those two to be planning a mail-van robbery!” said Julian “I’m going to give Hillyard one hell of a thick ear when I get my hands on him!”

“Well let’s wait and see what he comes home with tonight first”, said Joby.

“A police-escort most likely!” said Julian.

The noise level in the restaurant rose markedly when the four clowns breezed in, invigorated by cocktails. Bengo plumped himself down on Julian’s knee.

“You crazy dollop”, said Julian “Go and find yourself a chair”.

More chairs, oysters and ice-cold beer were summoned, and duly delivered. A waiter walked past, carrying a very succulent dish in his hand.

“That looks gorgeous”, said Bengo “What is it?”

“Lobster thermidor”, said Julian “And no, you can’t have it, it’s the most expensive item on the menu!”

“I suppose we have to expect this now we’re poor again”, said Bengo.

“Oh God, it’s little orphan Annie!” said Julian.

“Where do you think your brother’s gone, Julian?” said Bardin.

“Don’t worry about him, dear boy”, said Julian “He’s probably at some grisly swingers’ house-party, being pursued by fat middle-aged women with peroxide hair and tattoos! I just hope and pray he doesn’t feel the need to tell us all about it when he returns!”

“What exactly am I supposed to do with it?” said Adam, looking at the giant fungus that Hillyard had bought home from his nocturnal ramblings in the fields. It was a puffball mushroom, the size of a very large pumpkin.

“I was thinking along the lines of a few rabbits or something”, Adam continued “This takes up almost the whole of the kitchen table!”

“Exactly, so there’ll be plenty to go round”, said Hillyard “It’s dead easy to cook. Hegley’s given me a recipe for it. You scoop a bit out, fill it with something, and then bake it in the oven for a while”.

“I hope the actual recipe is a bit more informative than that!” said Adam.

“It’s dead tasty I tell yer”, said Hillyard “My mate Hegley the poacher said you can almost feel yourself getting high on it”.

“I think we can do without that at the moment!” said Adam “Where did you get it from?”

“A field up beyond the woods here”, said Hillyard “There was a whole ring of ‘em, quite magical to look at really, with the moonlight and everything. There’s an old ruin nearby that he said we might like to live in”.

“I don’t want to live in an old ruin!” said Adam “I’m quite happy with the sloop, thank you very much”.

“You can still have the sloop”, said Hillyard “We can take it up there by river. Come with me in the morning and I’ll show you. You don’t ever get the chance to have a good dose of exercise and fresh air much. It’ll do you good”.

“Alright I’ll come and look at it”, said Adam “As a little trip out, but that’s all!”

He and Hillyard took two of the horses and rode into the countryside the following morning. They went along an old towpath which ran alongside an abandoned river. In the old days, before the Quake in the City, this river had been used as a trading-route between the City and Magnolia Cove. Since the destruction of the City though the river rarely knew much traffic, apart from ducks and geese.

The old ruin Hillyard had found was a substantial house built near the river. The lower storey was still almost intact, and a surprising amount of the upper floors were too. The house was surrounded by a vast expanse of overgrown fields. “When was it last lived in?” said Adam, as they left the horses tethered outside and went into the entrance hall.

“About 50 years ago”, said Hillyard.

“It’s in pretty good condition, considering”, said Adam “Look at that staircase, it’s magnificent”.

A carved wooden staircase swept down, covering the entire back wall of the hall.

“I knew you’d like it”, said Hillyard “I don’t know how much of it we can actually use, probably not the kitchen I should think, and the bedrooms might be dodgy, but we’ve got the sloop for all that. I know it’s not Midnight Castle, but nothing ever could be”.

“You seem to have it all worked out”, said Adam, as they crossed the hall and went out onto a back terrace.

“We need a place of sanctuary for a while”, said Hillyard “Too much happened in Lixix, Kieran drew too much attention to himself”.

“That’s putting it mildly!” said Adam.

“This is the best place we’re gonna get for a while”, said Hillyard “We might have to sit it out here for years, decades …”

“Centuries?” said Adam, not remotely jesting.

“We all like Magnolia Cove”, said Hillyard.

“And this place is pretty idyllic”, said Adam “Almost too good to be true”.

“We’ll send Kieran all over it just in case”, said Hillyard “See if he picks up anything. I hope he doesn’t”.

“So do I”, said Adam.

They called in at Hillyard’s new-found poacher pal’s house on the way home. Adam was pleasantly surprised. He had been expecting an even more uncivilised version of Josh. Instead, Hegley was a boisterous, amiable man who simply wanted to live in the wilds. In many ways he reminded Adam of Bengo, only with much more confidence in himself.

Hegley treated them to black tea outside his one-roomed cottage, preparing it on an open-air stove, over which was suspended a large sheet of tarpaulin, in case of sudden downpours. He rashly invited them all over to see him one evening, but Adam said that he couldn’t possibly be expected to entertain all of them, and invited him to them instead.

“I lived in a commune for a while”, said Hegley “But I couldn’t stand all the bitching that went on. It was terrible. Nobody could leave the room without somebody else backbiting them. People began to leave because it got so bad. And the smaller the group became the worse the bitching got. Everyone was consumed with paranoia by the time I’d had enough and gone”.

“Thankfully things aren’t like that with us”, said Adam “We get the odd bit of bitching …”

“Mostly from Toppy!” said Hillyard.

“But we’re remarkably civilised in that department really”, said Adam “Any petty grievances get let out pretty quickly. None of us are really capable of keeping it in, and we know each other well enough to know when someone’s got a grudge”.

“I think the problem with us was lack of group chemistry”, said Hegley “It was very sad really, not at all what anyone was expecting when we joined. Nobody bonded. Very sad. At the best it was a very strained tolerance, and that can’t sustain itself for long”.

The move to the ruined house was done with the minimum of fuss. The sloop was taken up river and moored at a convenient place. Most of their living would still be on-board because, as Hillyard has said, the facilities at the house had long since fallen into disuse. Actual cooking was still done in the galley, although the old kitchen at the house could be used as an overflow storage area, and sometimes the kitchen crew did preparation in there as simply a change of scene.

The only really safe and habitable part of the house was the great hall, and the big room at the west end of the house, which much have once been used as a library, going by the amount of empty bookcases arrayed around the walls. The Indigo-ites were slowly trying to make this room habitable, and Julian was already treating it as his own private domain.

Like all the Indigo-ites Julian was delighted with their ramshackle new house, even though (as everyone agreed) it wasn’t a patch on Midnight Castle. But they had privacy and seclusion once more, they had the river, and Hillyard even talked about turning some of the surrounding fields into hay.

Julian’s joy manifested itself into him becoming even more spank-happy than usual. Few were safe from his firm-handed attentions. And on the third day at the house Kieran was getting the brunt of it. Julian was “sorting him out”, when Piers made a most unwelcome reappearance.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Julian exclaimed, as Piers stood in the library doorway, his bag in his hand.

“I need somewhere to stay whilst I arrange permanent accommodation”, said Piers, who was far more embarrassed than Kieran “Because of the refugee problem rooms are a premium in town. It will only be for a short while”.

Kieran gave up on there being anymore hanky-panky that afternoon. He silently gathered up his clothes and went to find Joby. Julian was furious at this interruption, and sought consolation in the brandy decanter.

“Nice to know you’ve got friends who share your tastes”, said Piers.

“Oh shut up!” said Julian, taking a slug of the brandy “He’s a Catholic, he craves punishment, the more severe the better usually. And he likes me to play the stern father with him. We all fulfil each other’s needs here. If you don’t like it you’d be better off sleeping rough on the prom!”

“Is it true what I’ve just heard?” said Hillyard, storming through the back door into the kitchen.

“The wheel’s been invented?” said Joby, who was soaking his feet in a bowl of water.

Kieran was kneeling on a chair, eating from a dish of plums.

“That gormless twerp’s turned up again hasn’t he?” said Hillyard.

“None of us are happy about it, Hillyard”, said Kieran “Julian and was just getting into our stride when he appeared”.

“Like the original bad penny”, said Joby.

“Yeah”, said Hillyard “And if we’re not careful he’ll be here to fucking stay!”

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