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By Sarah Hapgood

The local television industry couldn’t get enough of Bardin’s rude man act, and now wanted him to appear as a judge on a televised talent contest. As an added bonus they asked Bengo to appear as well. It was clear that they were hoping for a hard man/soft man act, or as Bengo put it “they want me to be nice to the contestants, in case they’re feeling suicidal after Bardy’s finished with them!” Bengo thought it was sheer insanity for anyone to ask Bardin to judge a talent contest, and agreed to appear himself solely so that he could rein in Bardin’s cactus tongue.

Adam, Hillyard, Lonts and Tamaz went along to sit in the audience. Before the show was to start, Lonts took Tamaz to buy him some sweets, as Tamaz seemed nervous about being out.

“I thought Jules might have come as well”, said Adam.

“Don’t talk to me about Julian!” said Hillyard “I’m glad of a few hours away from him! What’s the matter with him at the moment? He’s like a bear with a sore head”.

“He’s a typical man that’s all”, said Adam, thumbing through the programme “He can’t cope with emotion. He gets jealous when he thinks of Bengo and Bardin being alone with Sade, and he’s jealous of Crowley slobbering over Patsy the other night”.

“Oh that explains a lot”, said Hillyard “He keeps referring to Kieran at the moment as ‘the little tart’, I wondered what that was all about”.

“He’s actually had a go at me for not getting jealous enough, which is a first I can tell you!” said Adam “I said there’s no need, I have absolutely no intention of letting Patsy be alone with the old fart. But he is proving useful to us at the moment, and Patsy is wise to keep him on side. And as it’s clear dear Uncle Aleister is infatuated with him, well Patsy should us all his considerable charm on him. If I thought there was the remotest chance of him being at risk I wouldn’t allow it, but these are exceptional times, and we should sup with a long spoon if we’re to stop anymore Brother Iggy’s happening”.

“Use a rat to catch a rat”, said Hillyard “That’s what all this feels like at the moment! I’m not surprised Julian’s feeling upset really. He’s a sensitive bloke, more than people realise”.

Adam slapped him on the head with his programme.

“What was that for?” Hillyard exclaimed.

“I just felt like it that’s all!” said Adam.

“Where the fuck’s she got to?” Bardin snarled, sitting in the make-up room with Bengo, awaiting the imminent arrival of the make-up girl “We’ll be late starting transmission at this rate”.

“I’m sure they’ve got it all under control, Bardy”, said Bengo “She’s got others to do besides us. Anyway, I don’t know why we can’t do our own make-up, we always have before”.

“Because this is television, you idiot!” said Bardin “Different make-up is required to clown’s make-up!”

“I know that!” Bengo snapped “What’s the matter with you this evening? You’re worse than ever!”

“I don’t like doing television”, said Bardin, staring gloomily at himself in the large mirror on the wall “I’m too ugly for it”.

“Plenty of ugly people go on television!” aid Bengo “And what’s the difference between this and going on stage?”

“A lot”, said Bardin “On stage there’s distance between us and the audience. Whereas with this they get to see you up-close, warts and all”.

“Well if they’re not bothered I don’t see why should be”, said Bengo “You’ve just got a bit of stage-fright that’s all. Click your fingers, or take deep breaths, or would you like me to give you a cuddle?”

“How can you be so calm?” said Bardin, as they hugged “When I think of some of the hysterics you used to get!”

“Oh this is easy”, said Bengo “Nothing awful’s gonna happen to me out there, but on stage it always did! Unless they’re to surprise us with a custard pie, for old time’s sake perhaps, then this should be a doddle”.

“It’ll be me who gets the pie if they do”, said Bardin “I’m Mr Angry after all”.

“Ssh Bardy, listen”, said Bengo.

A voice mumbling in agitation drew closer along the corridor outside. The two clowns ducked down so that they couldn’t be seen in the mirror. The voice belonged to the compere of the show, a comedian much-loved in the town for his brash but well-meaning humour. He didn’t sound very humorous a the moment though.

“I’m not letting one night of stupidity destroy a career it’s taken me 20 years to build up!” he hissed “I thought this sort of thing wasn’t supposed to get out! What’s the point of having a manager if he doesn’t manage things!”

The manager mumbled something back.

“I wish I’d never gone to that bloody party!” the compere screamed, slamming the door of his dressing-room.

The clowns emerged from their hiding-place.

“Don’t tell me he’s caught up in it all as well”, Bengo whispered.

“Normally I’d say don’t jump to conclusions”, said Bardin “But it’s getting hard not to round here!”

As far as the audience was concerned Bardin was disappointingly subdued throughout the show. He was more concerned with watching the compere than the acts he had introduced. Not that the comedian gave much away. He was nothing if not professional, and his amiable lad-about-town demeanour revealed nothing of whatever it was he was so scared of revealing. He teased the judges and the audience, and put a consoling arm round the contestants who scored badly, all as if everything was as it should be in the world of light entertainment.

Bardin’s only ascerbic comments on the show itself he reserved for when they got home, when he said that no one should be made to sit through nearly 3 hours of such tripe, and whoever thought of it should be taken out and shot, or “even worse, made to watch it!” When Adam tried diplomatically to say that the audience had seemed to enjoy it, Bardin caustically remarked that “if we’d put Snowy up on stage they’d have cheered him I expect, the planks!”

“Are you still in bed you lazy little sod?” said Julian, coming into the cabin the next morning where Bardin was lying alone in bed.

Julian had been out riding and stamped into the room in his long boots. He threw himself onto his chair and stretched out a leg.

“Come and help me off with my boots”, he said.

“That’s normally Toppy’s job”, said Bardin.

“Bardin!” Julian barked, in the tone of voice that the clowns knew not to argue with.

Bardin got out of bed and pulled off Julian’s boots.

“I suppose now you’re a great t.v star you feel you’re too superior to perform menial tasks”, said Julian.

“Whereas you don’t need any excuse to feel superior!” said Bardin.

Julian upended him over his knees and spanked his bottom. Bengo came in with Julian’s morning coffee on a tray.

“No I can’t stop for that now”, said Julian, putting Bardin back on his feet and preparing to leave the room “Let Bardin have it. He obviously needs the injection of energy more than I do. I’m going fishing with the others up-river”.

“He has got a lot of energy this morning”, said Bengo, when Julian had gone.

“Adrenalin”, said Bardin “It must be an old primitive survival thingy. We’re all going to need it in the near future, tons of it”.

“I was wondering what had happened to you”, said Joby, who had gone looking for Tamaz round the outside of Indigo Towers “Has summat upset you?”

Tamaz had been collecting windfall apples in a bucket.

“Your brother’s been shouting names at me through the door”, said Tamaz.

“Oh ignore him”, said Joby “Stupid old tosser! No one should ever take any notice of anything he says!”

“And I’m upset because you haven’t asked me to go on the walk in the woods with you tonight”, Tamaz exclaimed “It’s not fair, Joby. You’re taking Mieps with you, and he’s not as mobile as me!”

“We haven’t decided anything really yet”, said Joby “Kieran’s gone off up-river with the others to think about it”.

“Mieps made out it was all decided”, said Tamaz “And he said if I was awkward about it he’d lock me in the hold, the old bitch!”

“Hey, that’s quite enough of that!” said Joby, giving him a very light slap on his rump “Take those apples down to Adam, he’s waiting for ‘em. I’ll go and have a word with Mieps”.

Whom he found up on the forward deck eating grapes. Joby was about to talk to him when he espied a figure walking slowly up the lane towards them, carrying a heavy suitcase.

“I don’t believe it!” Joby cried “I don’t fucking believe it, it’s fucking Codlik!”

Joby ran down the gang-plank and hurtled towards the figure. He barely had time to notice that Codlik had also regained his long-lost youth, before violently knocking him to the ground.

“Joby …” Codlik lay panting on the grass verge “Let me explain …”

“There aren’t enough years left in eternity for you to explain yourself to me!” said Joby, kicking him in the leg “And anyway I’m gonna knock your fucking head off!”

Mieps limped over, leaning on his stick. When he reached Codlik he whacked him round the head with it. Codlik screamed with pain, and yelled that he could go deaf after an assault like that.

“That’ll be the least of your worries by the time we’ve finished with you!” said Joby.

“JOBY!” Ransey yelled, walking up the lane.

“What are you doing here?” said Joby “You’re sposed to be at work”.

“A rumour reached us at the bank”, Ransey panted, having walked briskly all the way from the town “That Codlik had landed at the airstrip. I could hardly carrying on doing balance-sheets knowing he was probably heading here, could I! Mind you, I wasn’t expecting him to be alone”.

“I am quite alone”, Codlik wheezed.

“We’ve only got your word for that”, said Joby.

“I am not a liar”, said Codlik.

“You what?” said Joby “You told the whole world Kieran was dead!”

“And the whole world had more sense than to believe him!” said Ransey “Get up, Codlik. You don’t need any help. I can see you’re not an old man these days”.

“I’ve always hated you, you cunt!” Joby yelled at Codlik.

“Go and fetch Adam”, said Ransey to Joby.

“He won’t wanna meet Adam, I can tell you that for free”, said Joby “Adam’s threatened to kill him if he meets him again, and I for one won’t stop him either!”

“Adam wouldn’t do that”, said Ransey.

“Yes he would”, said Josh, who had appeared at the side of the house “He once did time for GBH”.

“And you can get back in your fucking hole as well!” said Joby.

“Well what’s going on out here?” said Josh “It sounds like a riot”.

“Perhaps for once in your life”, said Ransey to Josh “You could do something useful. Go and find Kieran”.

“Not exactly the most salubrious of settings for us to meet again”, said Codlik, standing facing Kieran in the hold.

“Would you rather I go back in me coffin then?” said Kieran.

“I had to do what I did”, said Codlik, who was alone with Kieran “After you left the Bay things were getting very flaky. Some of the monks took your leaving very hard. They wanted to follow you. Some threatened to kill themselves. We feared another Kiskev”.

Kieran felt faint. He knew he had a potent public image, but that people would kill themselves over him shocked him deeply.

“But why did you tell everyone I was dead?” he asked.

“We wanted the world to move on”, said Codlik “We felt it was unhealthy the way your iconic image still obsessed so many people”.

“So now I’m a nuisance to the modern world?” said Kieran “Why did you have me dying alone in Aspiriola?”

“If we had said you had been killed in an accident”, said Codlik “It would have generated countless conspiracy theories. By making you die peacefully in your sleep we thought was a way round that. And we had you die alone … well for no other reason than to try and dent your popularity. Are you o.k?”

“Have you any idea what it’s like watching your own funeral on television?” said Kieran “So why are you here now?”

“I’m aware of the evil that is still going on all over the world”, said Codlik “I read about Lixix being destroyed by fire, and I knew you must have done that, and I was impressed by how few casualties there were. The Church I felt was doing nothing to combat the evil that is at large. They sit around and talk, and that is all. And the monks continue to try and kill themselves. Rumours have been going around the Bay for a long time that your ghost has been seen there. I saw you myself”.

“You saw my ‘ghost’?” Kieran exclaimed “I’m not dead so how the blazes can I have a ghots?!”

“It took some time for me to realise that it wasn’t actually you”, said Codlik “And then I realised the Devil was playing tricks on us”.

“He tends to like doing that!” said Kieran.

“I put it to the Church what was happening”, said Codlik “And they wouldn’t listen. They said in some ways it was good, as sightings of your spectre would confirm you were dead! I was pretty astonished by that, as you can imagine. The likes of the Arch-Pater and Brother Jerome seem to hate you more than they’re interested in combating evil. And then I remembered that you are the only one who has successfully fought the Devil”.

“Could you send Joby in to me please?” said Kieran.

“Are you gonna believe everything he says?” said Joby, when Codlik had left them alone together.

“What choice do I have?” said Kieran “I get tired of seeing plots and conspiracies everywhere. Just for once I want to believe what someone says upfront”.

“He’s just being a born politician at the moment if you ask me”, said Joby “After all, it must be lesson no.1 at politician school mustn’t it? ‘How to shift the blame onto someone else’!”

“I guess I think we need to concentrate on the immediate job at hand at the present time”, said Kieran “There are pressing concerns in this town that need to be addressed, and Codlik will just have to wait for a while”.

“I am not the person you think I am!” Hillyard announced grandly from the doorway.

“Now he tells us!” said Joby.

“What’s the matter, Hillyard?” said Kieran.

“What’s the matter?” said Hillyard, striding over to him “I’ll tell you what’s the matter! I’m not having that man staying with us, not after everything he’s done! If you think I’m going to put up with that then you don’t realise I have my breaking-point, just like everybody else!”

“Calm down”, said Kieran “He’s not going to be staying here”.

“He’s got his fucking suitcase with him!” Hillyard protested.

“No, I mean he’s not staying on the sloop”, said Kieran “He can go over to the house with Josh”.

“A fitting punishment!” said Joby.

“I’m going to see how the others are coping with him”, said Kieran, leaving the hold.

“And what’s going on about this walk in the woods tonight?” Hillyard asked Joby “Is it still going ahead?”

“Don’t ask me!” said Joby “Codlik turning up unexpectedly like that has thrown everything haywire, but I expect we’ll still be doing it. Kieran doesn’t wanna waste anymore time”.

It turned out that everybody wanted to go on the walk in the woods, mainly because everybody wanted to get away from Codlik for the evening! Taking 16 people on a furtive mission though wasn’t a very practical idea, and so Kieran conferred with Bardin and they narrowed it down to 7, themselves, Joby, Hillyard, Mieps, Tamaz, and Bengo. The latter choice caused some surprise at home, but Bengo had made such a fuss about Bardin going without him, even at one point kicking the quarterdeck steps, than Bardin relented and let him come.

To mollify Ransey, Bardin appointed him head of the back-up team. The idea being that if there was no sign of their return by midnight, Ransey was to lead out another contingent to see what was going on. In the meantime, he was to keep an eye on Codlik, who Ransey referred to as “a blithering idiot”.

The investigating team of 7 set off in the truck, which had been got out of mothballs for the occasion. Joby protested that the truck, with its lurid paintwork, was far too conspicuous for an undercover job. “Sade’ll wonder why there’s an ice-cream van parked outside his gates!” he said. Hillyard said the truck would not go anywhere within sight of the house, and if anyone saw it going into the woods they might just assume they were poachers. And in any case the truck was far more practical for making a quick getaway than the hay-cart!

It was a dark, blustery night, with hardly any moon, in many ways perfect for the job in hand. As they bumped along the rugged tracks that criss-crossed the large amount of woodland in the area, Kieran noted that Joby, to his surprise, seemed to be enjoying himself.

“Reminds me of being a kid”, said Joby, who was sandwiched in the front with Kieran and Bengo, plus Hillyard, who was driving “When we’d go out on dark nights like this and get up to no good somewhere, like the park”.

“Remember we’re packing ammo this time though”, said Kieran, who was wearing a holster round his chest.

“You are anyway”, said Joby.

“How did your target-practise with Toppy go, Kieran?” said Bengo.

“You make it sound like I used Toppy for target-practise!” said Kieran.

“Just wishful thinking!” said Bardin.

“As if he needs it anyway!” said Joby “You’re a crack-shot on the quiet, Kiel”.

“I was a bit rusty though”, said Kieran.

Hillyard was driving with glee, enjoying the thrill of crashing through the trees.

“You girls alright in the back there?” he shouted over his shoulder.

“Does that include Bardin?” said Tamaz, who was sat between Bardin and Mieps.

The ones in the front giggled as surreptitiously as they could.

“Let’s try and take all this a bit more seriously shall we?” said Bardin.

“Gawd, we should have left him at home with Codlik!” said Joby.

“Oh no, he’s Captain you see!” said Bengo “He has to come”.

“Look, I didn’t have to bring you you know”, said Bardin, jabbing him in the shoulder “It was much against my better judgement, and everybody elses!”

Bengo sighed and rolled his eyes.

“Don’t drive too far, Hillyard”, said Kieran “We’d better get out somewhere round here”.

Hillyard stopped the truck, and for a moment they all sat listening to the ting-ting of the engine cooling down.

“Well don’t all rush to get out at once!” said Hillyard.

Bardin pulled open the back door and climbed out. He stood there expectantly, waiting for the others to do the same.

“This is staring to remind me of ‘The Blair Witch Project’!” said Joby.

“Ach don’t worry, we’re not going to go anywhere near any derelict houses!” said Kieran.

They all tramped through the undergrowth and in a short while reached the perimeter fence surrounding the house. In the distance it was lit up like a large, oblong Christmas tree. Kieran and Joby got out wire-cutters and began to snip away at the fence. They were watched with studious concentration by the others.

Suddenly there was a muffled squeal nearby and the sound of somebody being dragged through the undergrowth. Bardin quickly scanned a torch round all of them.

“Shit!” he exclaimed “They’ve got Mieps!”

“Right, plan B”, said Kieran “We go in by the front gates”.

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