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By Sarah Hapgood

It was almost accurate to say that Piers began treating the newly-named Indigo Towers as a hotel, but not entirely. At a hotel he would have had to pay to turn up and moan about everything, whereas here he got it all for free.

Most weekends he took himself off to whatever venue his band of swingers were haunting, and on the Sunday evening he came back. As far as the others could gather the swinging weekends consisted of a tasteful nibble of various smoked cheeses, grapes and bits of salmon, and then everyone (wearing eye-masks to protect their identity (!)) went upstairs and dispersed themselves round the bedrooms for a bit of heavy breathing and laboured moaning and groaning. The Indigo-ites felt Piers must be rather good at the latter by now, as he certainly got enough practice at it!

Most of his conversation at Indigo Towers though consisted of him telling them what was wrong with their lifestyle. How could they live in this backwater (this was usually accompanied by sweeping hand gestures meant to signify utter disdain), and how could Kieran settle for all this when he had known so much. And how could a man who had known the ultimate power in the world suffer himself to be spanked for kicks. Piers found Joby’s terse remarks that “That’s just Kieran innit” and “You must have met that sort at your parties by now” wholly unsatisfactory.

Adam began to suspect that all this needling on Piers’s part was a direct result of conversational probing he must be getting from his new-found circle of friends. He strongly (and accurately) suspected that they were fascinated by Piers’s week-time accommodation, and would certainly want to hear more about the communal bed, and Julian’s habit of spanking anyone within reach, and probably even Tamaz’s underwear! Adam felt this was probably all relatively harmless so far, just a bit of salacious gossip to pep along a group whose sensual tastes would soon become jaded if they kept it up in this mind-numbingly routine way. At the same time he felt he’d better be alert for if it developed any further. The last thing he or any of them wanted was a bunch of intoxicated swings all descending on Indigo Towers one evening, looking for fresh victims.

It got so that Sunday evenings began to be dreaded, as they signified The Return of Piers. On one in question Hillyard and Joby sat in the kitchen and consoled themselves with bottles of cider. Julian was alone in the library, making a rash effort to drink himself into oblivion, and the others were all outside. Hegley had come across the fields to be sociable, and a makeshift party was in progress.

“It’s deep twilight now”, said Joby “He’ll be here soon”.

“You make him sound like a vampire!” said Hillyard.

“He is a pissing vampire!” said Joby “Sucking us dry and leaving us all washed out and demoralised”.

“For gawd’s sake!” said Hillyard “Come and sit on my knee and have a cuddle”.

Joby padded round the table and plonked himself on Hillyard’s knee. Julian rang the hand-bell in the library.

“Can’t you go?” said Joby.

“You’re house-staff”, said Hillyard.

“Great”, Joby grunted.

“What?!” he bellowed, appearing in the library a couple of minutes later.

“Don’t come in here in that surly manner”, said Julian.

“It’s too hot to be messed about”, said Joby “And haven’t you had enough to drink?”

“I want to be unconscious when that whingeing windbag of a brother of mine reappears”, said Julian.

“Julian, he ent worth it!” said Joby.

“Remember how you got when Josh was haunting you, back at Midnight Castle?” said Julian “You even took up knife-throwing at one point from what I recall! And you haven’t had Josh move in with you, permanently! All that rubbish about him getting a place of his own, there is precious little accommodation in town at the moment, thanks to the result of your partner’s antics in Lixix. So it seems I’m stuck with him. I have an absolute right to get drunk!”

Joby went to take the glass off him, but Julian wrestled him onto the sofa. Joby had no idea what Julian had done with the glass because before he knew it Julian had undone Joby’s trousers and got them down to his knees.

“What gloriously seedy underwear you have!” said Julian.

“Kieran’ll get narked if he catches me like this”, Joby panted “He rations the amount of time I’m allowed to spend alone with you”.

“Kieran has absolutely no right to complain”, said Julian “If he does I’ll smack his bony little bottom!”

Piers arrived home.

“Goddamnit!” Julian clambered to his feet and hurled a pile of books at him. Piers fled the library.

He ran straight over to the sloop and blithered out his distress to Adam, who was sitting on the poop-deck with Lonts. Adam wasn’t remotely worried about Piers’s feelings, but he was concerned about how drunk Julian and Joby were getting. He and Lonts went over to the house to sort them out.

“This is an absolutely sordid little scene”, said Adam, as Joby hung onto him with one hand and tried to pull his trousers back on with the other “You should both of you be utterly ashamed”.

“Shall I take Joby over to bed, Adam?” said Lonts.

“I think that’s an excellent idea, Lo-Lo”, said Adam.

Lonts picked up a protesting Joby, who shrieked that he wasn’t Snowy, and carried him out of the room.

“Julian, I’m going to say this as firmly as possible”, said Adam, collecting the stray books from the floor.

“Oh goody!” said Julian, who was still lying on the sofa.

“I’m being serious!” said Adam “The younger ones are all getting very worried about you. Yes, Piers can be a pain in the neck, but he’s not worth this behaviour on your part”.

“I can never get away from him!” said Julian “He’s always following me around like a bloody limpit, incapable of operating by himself! And the endless boring bloody whining and moaning …”

“He annoys me too!” said Adam “He moaned the other day that our pillows weren’t soft enough! Even Toppy said he was too fussy! But I don’t try and drink myself into oblivion do I!”

“Hell, I’m not going to be lectured on boozing by you!” said Julian.

“I know damn well you’d have plenty to say if it was me in this magnificent state!” said Adam.

“It’s his arrogance I hate more than anything”, said Julian “That smug belief that he’s something special. A typical product of a ludicrously expensive education. How I loathe them!”

“I’m also a product of that ludicrously expensive education”, said Adam.

“You’re different”, said Julian “You’ve been well-bloodied by life for one thing, and you’ve had the courage to rise beyond it”.

“Anyway”, said Adam, sitting on the arm of the sofa “Many would say you have that arrogant belief too”.

“No I just like to see how much I can get away with!” said Julian.

“Hm”, said Adam “Well for once I’m drawing up boundaries for you, it’s time you went to bed!”

“Feeling rough this morning are we?” said Ransey.

It was the morning after the night before, and Ransey had been scribbling sums in a pocket-sized account book when Julian appeared on the forward deck, looking shaky behind his dark glasses.

“I’ll live”, Julian growled, sipping from a cup of black coffee.

“Good”, said Ransey, slapping the notebook shut “Because it was touch and go last night you know”.

“Rubbish”, said Julian “I’m not the old bag of bones being barely held together by sticky tape!”

“I’ve felt a lot better since we left Lixix”, said Ransey.

“You’ve still left Rumble in charge of your revolver though”, said Julian.

“He can for the time being”, said Ransey “I’ve got too many other fish to fry”.

“Such as?” Julian barked.

“Keeping an eye on our dwindling resources, that’s all”, said Ransey, tapping the accounts book with a deceptive air of innocence.

Hillyard came onto the boat, carrying a horse’s bridle over one shoulder. He looked uncharacteristically tense. Over at the house a pale face was peering out of the library window. Julian got the distinct impression that Hillyard and Piers had had Words.

“I tell you”, said Hillyard to Julian “Either he goes or I go!”

“Don’t you dare come out with threats like that!” said Julian, his inner insecurity coming to the fore “If you dare say that again I’ll take the razor-strop to your lardy arse, is that understood?”

Hillyard actually blushed, which Ransey found quite fascinating to watch, and mumbled something about “only letting off a bit of steam”, before vanishing below.

“I’ll give him letting off steam!” said Julian.

“If there’s one thing I’ve always known about Hillyard”, said Ransey “It’s that there’s no way he’ll leave us”.

“Even so”, said Julian “I don’t want him coming out with things like that”.

“I didn’t see Hillyard for the rest of the morning”, Julian wrote in his log-book that afternoon “He and Kieran were below-deck, sorting out the animals. He must have had a good old chinwag about me with the demented Irishman though, because Kieran said to me just before lunch that I wasn’t to worry, as Joby had threatened to leave him many times. I said it still wasn’t a nice thing to do, even in a fit of anger. Kieran said insecurity could be a terrible thing and he knew all about it. I said message received and understood, and could we now drop the subject.

Bardin’s fishing-party returned from up-river, where they’d had a productive morning. I went over to the house where he and Mieps were in the kitchen, storing the fish. (We could do with one of those salmon-drying rooms you used to get at old Scottish houses). Insecurity seemed to be their main topic of conversation too! Bardin quite rightly admires Mieps for having coped with living alone on the marshes for so long. Mieps said the loneliness had been unbearable at times, and that was why, when we appeared, he had been so desperate to take Tamaz from us.

They could both see I was tense, and it doesn’t take Kieran’s psychic powers to see that Piers is at the root of it! Bardin said Bengo had often got him that way when they were tots”.

(“He could be a real showbiz brat”, Bardin had said “The most appalling tantrums. Ully found me crying outside his office one day because I couldn’t stand it anymore. He persuaded me to be patient with Bengo, and gave me a present that one of our sponsors had donated. It was a pair of carved wooden ducks that you pulled along on a string, one each for me and Bengo. I found them a bit childish but Bengo loved them, and insisted we walked them all round the back of the theatre. At the next show he tried really hard to master some cardboard swords we had to use in a mock-fight. He tried really painfully hard to get it right, even though he kept tripping over his!”)

“I always feel calmer after having one of Bardin’s anecdotes”, Julian wrote “There are times when he really is what Adam has called the thoughtful clown. Sadly he doesn’t have any answers for the ongoing Piers problem, but at least I was able to forget about it for a few minutes. I also had a good snog with Mieps, as a sort of pre-lunch appetiser! It seems to be coming increasingly ridiculous for us to refer to the old girl as ‘he’, as he gets more female in many ways. An unconventional, dyke-ish woman, but certainly not the rough masculine half-savage we all first knew. I think we’ll have to work the ‘she’ in gradually!

Piers didn’t show up for lunch on deck, which angered me as it’s rude and an insult to Adam’s cooking. I wasn’t going to ruin my own appetite by running over to confront the silly fool though, and left it til afterwards. I found him mooning around in the library. It bores me intensely to recount another of our pointless and interminable conversations. Suffice it to say he doesn’t do himself any favours, and seems to have a complete inability to step outside himself and see how other people relate to him. Which was one of our dear mother’s most unappealing characteristics.

I tried to find out some more about his new friends, like … who are they? What do they do when they’re not going to orgies? Do they live in Magnolia Cove? He told me remarkably little, and it leads me to believe that Piers the dimwit probably doesn’t know himself! He’s the sort of naïve twit who gets taken in by religious cults! He trustingly accepts what people give him and never asks questions about it.

My over-riding concern at the moment is that the timing of all this is most dangerous for us. Fine, if these people are just suburban swingers, and nothing else. But if there’s something more sinister to them (which in my bones is what I’m starting to feel) then we have a potential, albeit rather stupid, fifth-columnist in our midst. The idea of anyone using Piers as an interloper would be laughable if it didn’t have an uneasy ring of truth to it!”

“Joby, I think we need to turn Mieps”, Kieran whispered.

Like a lot of them, Mieps had been drinking heavily that evening. Now, in the middle of the night, he was in a drunken sleep, lying in an uncomfortable position on his back, his mouth open in a rictus grimace, gargling.

“The pissed old tart”, Joby groaned, as he and Kieran got out of bed and gently moved Mieps onto his side. Kieran made a ridge out of his pillows and put them down the side so that he could roll back over again.

“Now I’m gonna have to put up with him gargling into me ear all night”, said Joby, when they’d finished.

“It’s a lot safer this way”, said Kieran “He had far too much this evening”.

“That bloody cider punch the clowns made is to blame”, said Joby “It was fucking lethal!”

“Where’s Piers?” said Kieran.

Piers slept on a mattress on the floor, near to where Brother Iggy still slept in the armchair. The mattress was empty.

“Karsey I expect”, said Joby.

“He’s been gone a long time”, said Kieran “And I didn’t hear him get up and go”.

Kieran sensed something was wrong and insisted on searching the boat. Piers wasn’t found. Then the house was searched. Piers wasn’t found. Things now began to look very worrying. Bardin ordered that a proper search-party be organised, as they would have to go out into the surrounding countryside.

In the end it was Hegley who found Piers. He had been woken up by strange noises out in the woods, and was convinced a wild animal was trying to get to his chickens. He had gone out with his shotgun, and found Piers sprawled and whimpering at the bottom of a tree. He was wearing only his pyjama bottoms, and wailed that he had no idea how he had got there. He had woken up to find himself there, being tormented by a very frightening and sinister man. It took most of the rest of the night to get Piers into anything like a coherent state.

“Anything at all you can tell us will be a help”, said Adam, feeling like a police officer.

It was now about 8 o’clock in the morning, and he was alone with Piers in the library, gently trying to pump information out of him.

“He kept ramming his face into mine”, said Piers “It was as if he was trying to see past my eyes and into my mind. It sounds weird, but that’s what it felt like. His eyes were so piercing and so cold. A-and when he wasn’t doing that, he sort of sat back on his haunches and mumbled things”.

“What kind of things?” said Adam.

“I couldn’t hear some of it”, said Piers “But occasionally it was ‘what more do you want?’ It didn’t make sense to me, as I’ve never seen him before in my life, let alone ever asked him for anything! And sometimes he got really angry and yelled it, ‘what more do you want, boy?’ It’s a while since I’ve been called ‘boy’! And then he’d mumble that he didn’t get it, ‘what is it with you, boy?’ he’d said. God, it was a nightmare! And as it all went on, and he got angrier and I guess more frustrated because I wasn’t telling him whatever it was he wanted to hear, and I got really scared then. Because I suddenly realised that this man could do anything. I got a very real feeling he wanted to tear me to pieces, literally, and that he was capable of doing it too, and that he’d done it before!”

Piers went off into a fresh jag of crying. Adam soothed him, but at the same time urged him to say if more of the information was vital.

“You say he had very piercing eyes”, said Adam.

“And horrible breath”, said Piers “It stank! When he pressed his face up close to me I thought I was going to be sick, it was so foul”.

“Piers, we need to get Kieran in here”, said Adam “He has to hear all this, and he can help you”.

“He can’t help me!” Piers wailed “I was taken in my sleep last night! I might never have been found again! He can’t help me!”

Adam went to the door and called over Hoowie, who had been ordered to sit halfway down the corridor outside, to act as on-the-spot errand-boy in case Adam needed him. Adam sent him to fetch Kieran.

“He’s going to really go into a spin when he hears the truth”, said Kieran. He was now the one alone with Adam in the library. Piers had been taken over to the sloop for a belated breakfast.

“It’ll do his head in”, Kieran continued “’Piers, you may need to sit down me old darlin’, but it was the Devil himself who abducted you last night!’”

“But what does Angel want with Piers?” said Adam.

“Because it’s as Julian said yesterday”, said Kieran, now pacing the room with his hands on the small of his back “Piers has probably got himself mixed up in a crowd who are way beyond him, and they’re using him. When Angel asked him what more he wanted it was probably because this lot have been giving Piers a good time, and in return they want him as a go-between”.

“Only Piers not being terribly bright hasn’t realised this yet”, said Adam “But I wouldn’t have thought Angel would be mixed up in a gang. He’s such a loner”.

“It never fails you see”, said Kieran “Some eejit or bunch of eejits thinks ‘hey let’s go for gold and bring on the Devil!’ And they probably think they’ll have the Devil as some kind of demonic pet, to play with an use. And all the time it’ll be him using them. Why don’t people ever focking learn!”

“We should follow him next time he goes on one of his weekend jaunts”, said Bardin, over in the cabin on the sloop “Trail him, and hope he doesn’t notice us”.

“This is Piers we’re talking about”, said Julian “He wouldn’t notice if he was being followed by an armoured tank and a full complement of Nazi storm-troopers!”

“Even so, we need someone inconspicuous to trail him”, said Ransey, who had an idea as to where Bardin’s train of thought was going “Which rules out the clowns as an undercover team. You don’t exactly all blend into the background!”

“And who else do you suggest them?” snapped Bardin “Mieps and Tamaz?! I mean, they really blend into the crowd don’t they!”

“I was thinking more along the lines of me and Hillyard actually”, said Ransey “Hillyard’s used to stealth work when he goes hunting, and I’m such a boring-looking bugger nobody notices me!”

“And even more importantly”, said Julian “You’ve been trained in shadowing human prey”.

“I don’t know why I bother being Captain at all!” said Bardin.

“For the sole reason that it keeps you out of trouble my dear!” said Julian.

Bengo had been quietly distributing cups of coffee around the room whilst all this was going on.

“I tell you what we could do though, Bardy”, he suddenly said “We could be the decoy team. We make a big point of going into town on Friday night, so Piers will only notice us doing that, and so he won’t notice that he’s being shadowed, hopefully!”

“That wasn’t a bad idea, Bengo”, said Bardin “I suppose!”

“You do think this is a good idea don’t you?” said Hillyard, early on the Friday evening, the day of the great surveillance operation.

“Yes I do”, said Kieran “I only wish I could join in!”

“You and Mieps both”, said Hillyard “But you’re both too conspicuous, people stare at you both when you’re out, and that’s no good when we’re supposed to be undercover!”

“Why are you uneasy then?” said Kieran.

“Oh Joby’s been quite offhand about it all”, said Hillyard.

“Joby’s offhand about everything!” said Kieran “Don’t let it bother you”.

Joby came into the cabin soon after, and announced that everything was ready and waiting outside.

“It would be nice if we had a bit more support on the home-front!” Hillyard stormed in passing.

“What was that all about?” Joby asked, after he had gone.

“Stage-fright, that’s all”, said Kieran.

“Hysterical old fairy!” said Joby.

Kieran retaliated by biting Joby on the buttocks as they went up the quarterdeck steps.

It wasn’t often that Piers’s unquenchable arrogance could be worked to anyone else’s advantage, but it was on this particular evening. Hegley owned a small dog-cart with a dilapidated canvas awning, which was to be used for the surveillance operation.

Piers, as he normally did, had hired a cart from town to transport him to his chosen destination, and the clowns had cadged a lift, and then intended to conceal Ransey, Hillyard and Hegley, following on behind at a discreet distance, by their presence at the back of the cart. Like a lot of people, Piers found the clowns en-masse to be formidable presence, and didn’t like catching their collective eye if he could help it.

The short journey was thus spent in comparative silence, until Bengo, forgetting Bardin’s strict instructions that he and Farnol weren’t to say ANYTHING, asked Piers he and his friends always met a the same place. Piers felt there couldn’t be anything wrong in answering a question put by the dimmest of the clowns, and answered yes, they did always meet at the same place.

This was invaluable information, and a considerable scoop for the clowns, who looked forward to lording it over the others (particularly Toppy) with this golden nugget of fact. They departed from Piers at the prom in Magnolia Cove, and Piers completed his journey being tailed only by Hegley, Hillyard and Ransey.

They successfully tailed him to a rutted muddy lane at the north of the town. It would have been highly conspicuous to have followed him along it in the dog-cart, so they left Hegley at the turning and followed on foot. The muddy track led eventually to an abandoned house by an impressive set of wrought-iron gates. The abandoned house had obviously been the lodge house at one time, but any lodge-keeper had long since departed.

By the time Ransey and Hillyrd had got to the gates Piers had disappeared inside, and the gates had been re-padlocked behind him. The two Indigo-ites discreetly peered through the bars. Some distance along the driveway (surprisingly well-kept, considering the neglected wilderness which had led them there) was a very substantial L-shaped house, almost completely covered in ivy. Many of the lower windows were shuttered, but the house didn’t appear abandoned by any means, even though there was no sign of life outside it.

“Not exactly the average suburban town house Julian had in mind”, said Hillyard, a couple of hours later.

“That was just Julian’s snobbery coming out”, said Ransey “He thinks anyone else who’s depraved, apart from him of course, is vulgar!”

“It means there’s money behind all this, and lots of it”, said Hillyard “I’d lay any wager you like this isn’t just a case of weekend kinky high-jinks, with money of that kind there’s power involved too”.

They had met up with the clowns in an underground cellar bar. Through the choking smoky atmosphere, Hegley could be vaguely glimpsed attempting to sing on the stage at the far end. It was one of those places where the customers were encouraged to warble along with the resident band, if they were so inclined. Like a lot of them what Hegley lacked in talent he made up for in enthusiasm.

“He’s not bad is he, Bardy?” said Bengo “For an amateur I mean of course”.

“Bengo”, Bardin sighed “You always say that about any idiot who misguidedly gets up on stage”.

“Well I know how much courage it takes to get up and make a fool of yourself in front of loads of people”, said Bengo “Not for you of course though, for you it comes naturally!”

Bardin gulped down a mouthful of beer and then slammed the glass back on the table. Hegley returned from his act looking rather breathless and red in the face.

“I love this place”, he panted “Anyone at all can get up and perform in here”.

Bardin grunted.

Up on stage a man climbed up who was seemingly dressed as a pantomime dame.

“Oh fuck that’s all I need!” said Bardin “A fucking drag-act!”

The pantomime dame was bragging that he could fit anything, anything at all, into his mouth, which somewhat predictably led to cries of “wooh!” He then stuck his whole fist into his mouth, and someone in the crowd cried “I feel sick!”

“Right that’s it, I’m leaving”, said Bardin “It feels like we’re back at the Cabaret of Horrors! Come along, Bengo”.

Over the following week The Other Brother began to cause problems for the Indigo-ites. Josh had been haunting various bars in the town, and in his cups would tell anyone who listened that his brother, the partner of the saintly Vanquisher of Evil, had turned him away in his hour of need, and refused him so much as a crust to chew on. The local paper naturally picked up on this, but Josh had never been very adept at presenting himself in a good light, and didn’t come across well as a sympathetic figure. Nevertheless, yet again, this wasn’t exactly what the Indigo-ites had in mind when keeping a low profile!

“This is all because I wouldn’t let him have one of our biscuits!” said Joby, peeling potatoes in the galley “How petty-minded, spiteful and childish can you get! If he was here now I’d wring his poxy ugly neck!”

“Do calm down, old love”, said Adam “It’s rapidly becoming last week’s news”.

“Yeah, until the Global News Agency gets wind of it”, said Joby “That’ll really open up a can of worms that will!”

“Joby!” Kieran yelled from out in the passageway “Joby!”

“Oh now what?” Joby sighed.

Kieran burst into the room, hot and sweaty from his morning’s exertions tending to the animals.

“Julian tells me he’s taking you to spend the night at a pub near where Piers hangs out”, said Kieran “So you can ‘pick up any useful gossip’. More like he wants to get you to himself for a whole night. He’s been trying long enough!”

“This is all news to me”, said Joby “He hasn’t said anything to me at all about it. Anyway, it’d be a waste of time. I can’t imagine any of Piers’s crowd ever go down the pub. Why should they, when they’ve got everything they need at home! And they’d have to put their clothes on first!”

“It’s not a bad idea though”, said Adam “If it’s near to the house then people will gossip and speculate about it. Pubs are often the best source of local information there is, I remember Sherlock Holmes saying that”.

“You go there with him then”, said Joby “Julian that is, not Sherlock Holmes”.

“No”, said Adam “I don’t feel up to a night alone with Julian at the moment”.

“I suppose I can’t go, I’m too conspicuous”, said Kieran.

“I still don’t see why it has to be me though”, said Joby.

“Ach it’s because you’re his little grey-eyed boy!” cooed Kieran “He can’t keep his great aristocratic mitts off you!”

“Pack it in, both of you”, said Adam “All this fuss over a night at a pub. No one’s mentioned the money involved have they!”

“So why did you ask me along particularly?” said Joby, now drinking champagne in the bar of the ‘Blue Dial’ the following weekend “Why not Hillyard, for example?”

“Hillyard’s a fine man”, said Julian “But it’s not him who is afflicted with a brother problem at the moment. Both ours are causing everyone a great deal of worry and concern, and sadly I believe that it is our responsibility to sort it out”.

“Is that how you explained it to Kieran?” said Joby “He’s been in a bit of a state of armed truce with me these past few days”.

“He gets jealous”, said Julian “He never has liked you being alone with me, and a whole night of it will really annoy him. It won’t do him any harm. You’ve had to live most of your life in his shadow. A little turning of the tables keeps him on his toes once in a while”.

“Even so, this is a lot of loot we’re spending”, said Joby “Steak, champers …”

“We are not quite as broke as Ransey would have us believe”, said Julian “Most of the time we spend remarkably little, we’ve got too used to being self-sufficient to ever be truly extravagant. Anyway, I didn’t tap him for much. I sold one of my silver hairbrushes in town”.

“You didn’t?” Joby exclaimed “You’ve had them for as long as I can remember!”

“What do I need two hairbrushes for?” said Julian “I rarely used the other one anyway. I also used a bit of it to send a case of wine to the sloop, so that should shut most of them up. Apart from Ransey of course, he’ll still moan about the deplorable, irresponsible waste of money”.

“Money doesn’t bother me most of the time”, said Joby “But I’d hate to be poor like we were at Cockroach Mansions that awful winter. I really wouldn’t wanna live like that again”.

“Hopefully we won’t have to”, said Julian “If we get a bad winter here we’ll simply sail down to somewhere tropical. It’s much easier to be dirt-poor in a hot climate than in a cold one”.

“You can say that again!” said Joby.

After eating, and polishing off the bottle of fizz, they went outside to “take the air”. The night was humid and sultry, August in Magnolia Cove, and as the daytime street noises had died down they could now clearly hear the sea in the distance.

Casually they strolled up the street. No one was about at the edge of the town, and so they walked unhindered up the mud track that led to the house which Piers had once again disappeared into. The darkness of evening was coming on fast, but they kept to the extreme edge of the track, keen not to be seen by anyone.

There was the glimmer of lights in the house, discerned through the locked gates. Even the windows that were shuttered had a glow of candlelight behind them.

“This place gets more and more intriguing”, said Julian.

“It’s so quiet here”, said Joby “I think I was expecting music and people laughing”.

“Oh I think this lot take their pleasures too intensely and seriously for all that”, said Julian “That’s the impression I get anyway”.

A volley of barking broke out round the side of the house.

“Shit, guard-dogs, I might have known!” said Joby.

He and Julian flattened themselves against the wall which bordered the southern end of the estate.

“They must be kept chained up”, said Julian “I can’t hear them getting any closer”. A murmur of male voices was heard from the grounds. One of them asking the other if he had a flashlight.

“You check the gates”, he continued “I’ll look along the wall”. Julian and Joby froze themselves into position. Close tot hem on one side was someone checking the padlock on the gates, behind them, on the other side of the boundary wall, his colleague was checking for footmarks on the ground.

“I don’t think it was anything”, he said, after what seemed like an age and a great deal of laboured breathing “Just the dogs being jumpy. We’d better do a circuit round the pond just in case though. There’s been some talk about that in town, which ent good”.

There was a tramping of feet on the gravel. Wherever “the pond” was, it must be further away on the estate. Julian and Joby lingered, in case the footsteps had just been a sound effects ruse to trap them, and didn’t move away until they were absolutely sure they were alone again.

“Here you are, get that down you”, said Julian, handing Joby his hip-flask. They were safely back in their room at the inn. Joby gulped liberally from the flask. “Attaboy!” said Julian.

“What was all that about a pond?” said Joby, wiping his mouth.

“Obviously some vital gossip we haven’t heard”, said Julian, opening the window a bit further. A storm was slowly advancing towards them in the distance.

“You don’t think they dispose of people in it do you?” said Joby.

“Don’t let your imagination run riot”, said Julian “You’ve read too many cheap thrillers and horror novels”.

“Only the ones I can get past Kieran”, said Joby “And then when he confiscates ‘em he reads ‘em himself!”

“A perfect priest is our Kieran!” said Julian.

There was a sudden and annoying hullabaloo as a late customer checked into the room next door to them. There was much thumping of luggage being dropped on the wooden floor, heavy footsteps, and the landlord obsequiously asking if there was anything further he required. A deep voice murmured something unintelligible, the clatter of a key dropped on a table, and the door shut. The guest then began to undress and unpack with a great deal of noise.

“Brilliant, that’s all we need”, said Joby “A fucking thoughtless noisy bastard in the next room!”

The thoughtless noisy bastard took an age to get bedded down for the night, and even at one point tried to open the locked door which communicated with their own. In the middle of the night, and with the storm now almost directly overhead, Joby woke up to hear a bizarre squealing noise coming from the next room.

“Fuck, Julian”, Joby whispered, nudging the tall man lying next to him in the sturdy wooden bed “Can you hear that? What’s he got in there?”

“It sounds like a pig”, Julian muttered.

“There are some fucking pervy bastards about!” said Joby, irritably thumping his pillow.

The high-pitched squealing turned into a high-pitched whimpering noise.

“Christ, if that’s actually a woman in there”, said Joby “I dread to think what she looks like!”

“You can imagine him waking up in the morning”, said Julian “And saying ‘my God, how did I sleep with that?!’”

They both used the covering sound of the thunderclaps to laugh themselves silly.

“Hang on a minute”, Joby whispered.

He got out of bed and tried to see through the keyhole of the door into the next room.

“Anything?” said Julian, when Joby had got back into bed.

“Not really”, said Joby “He’s still got his lamp lit, but that’s about all I could tell”.

As might be expected after sharing the night with Julian, Joby was woken up by a slap on the behind the following morning.

“Come along lazy-bones”, said Julian, now pouring out the coffee which had just been brought in “You want to see your skinny friend again today don’t you?”

“I bet he gives me a hard time and all”, said Joby, rubbing his face “I don’t believe it, the thunder’s still rolling around!”

“It’s eased off a bit though”, said Julian “But it’ll probably keep creeping around for the rest of the day”.

Joby listened at the door he had spied through during the night.

“He seems to have finally settled down though”, he said, taking a bowl of coffee from Julian “I won’t miss him tonight, that’s for sure! He reminded me why I hate staying in hotels!”

“At least we didn’t have another one overhead as well”, said Julian “I’ve certainly been in that situation before! Anyway, thank you for a most enjoyable little trip. No, don’t look at me like that! I wanted to praise you for once. It’s times like this that I can see why you’ve made such a good sidekick to Kieran all these years”.

“I’m starting to think you’re about to ask another favour of me!” said Joby.

“Very possibly I might, at some time in the near future”, said Julian “After all our brothers are still at large and causing mischief. In the meantime though, let’s go and get some sea-air”.

They checked out of the ‘Blue Dial’ with unspoken gratitude and relief, feeling like prisoners being processed back out into the free world. They walked down to the sea-front and let the delicious early morning cool breezes blow away the bizarre absurdity of the night.

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