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By Sarah Hapgood

… was so-called because when you stood on the balcony on the top floor on a clear night you could feel as though you were hanging amongst the stars. Not that Mieps, when he regained consciousness, was able to appreciate such poetic imagery. He was in a room underground for one thing, and he was doped and in a straitjacket for another.

Blurred faces kept peering into his in a rather aggressive manner. He tried to move his legs, and although, unlike his arms, they were free of restraint, they felt like lead, as though it would take an eternity to raise one above the other. He was sitting sprawled on the floor, his back against a bleak, institutional-style white-bricked wall.

Some men in the room had insulted him, calling him a Ghoomer freak. One even spat at him, and Mieps felt the intolerable frustration of not being able to wipe it off. Suddenly a different figure pushed through them. He was small but bloated in appearance, with big, fishlike eyes, his hair tied back in a velvet ribbon, and he was draped in a flamboyant dressing-gown. He grabbed Mieps’s crotch and murmured approvingly. Unlike the other men, he evidently didn’t find Mieps distasteful.

“Take him to my room”, he instructed the others.

Another man ran into the room, which appeared to be some kind of underground lodge or guard-room. He was breathless and excitable, and squealed that there were more intruders at the main gates. Mieps knew, even in his befuddled state, that this meant the others had come for him. He gave a smile, which hurt. His face felt bruised. Someone had evidently enjoyed roughing him up after his abduction.

“You won’t be smiling by the time he’s finished with you!” said one man, after Sade had gone.

Mieps was bundled onto a hospital-style gurney and wheeled from the room. The drugs were beginning to wear off and he felt alarm as he was pushed at high speed down an underground tunnel. Electric lamps on the walls overhead flashed past, dazzling him. Somewhere in the distance he could hear someone crying. By the time they reached an antiquated lift with an iron gate at the far end he felt very afraid.

Up in the lift to the top of the house, and into a large echo-ey room with a high raftered ceiling. A fire, the only source of light in the room was at one end, and the other was dominated by a huge four-poster bed. Mieps was wheeled into the centre of the room and unceremoniously left there. But he wasn’t alone. On a wall nearby a young, attractive girl was shackled to it with iron manacles. She was naked, and Mieps could see bruising on her thighs and lash-marks on her belly. Mieps had suspicion that this was Clarissa. The young girl was eyeing him as warily as he had at first regarded her.

Mieps recklessly hurled himself from the gurney, and Clarissa gave a cry of alarm as she heard him land with a violent smack onto the stone floor. Mieps felt one side of his go numb, but he tried to right himself and wriggled across the floor like a worm. He was trying to get to the window, hidden by thick red velvet drapes.

“That’s no good”, Clarissa spoke “The windows up here are all bricked up”.

“Are you o.k?” Mieps pulled himself into a sitting position near her.

“I heard gun-shots just now”, said Clarissa “From the grounds. What’s going on?”

“Gun-shots?” Mieps exclaimed “I must get downstairs”.

“Do you think you’d be much use to anyone like that?” said Clarissa “I’d help you get the wretched thing off, but … well I’m even more trussed up than you are!”

“Were you put in this too?” Mieps asked, indicating the vile straitjacket.

Clarissa nodded. Mieps looked above her at the elaborate pulley-style contraption which linked the chains that bound Clarissa to a hook in the ceiling. It was obviously designed so that she could be taken from the wall and hung suspended in the middle of the room.

“How did you get here?” said Mieps.

“I don’t know”, said Clarissa “I woke up and found myself here”.

“You seem very calm”, said Mieps, a thought flashing across his mind that she might be quite happy with this uncomfortable arrangement. Her next comment dispelled this assumption.

“They keep me pumped full of drugs”, she said “I haven’t felt anything but numb since I’ve been here. With some of things that happen I guess I should be grateful for that really! It makes me feel like an outside looking on, watching it all happen to someone else. If I’m kept here too long I’ll forget how to feel at all”.

At the main gates outside Kieran shot the man who came to accost him in the legs. The others hacked off the padlock binding the gates and ventured into the grounds. Tamaz and Bengo took some doped meat with them that had been brought along and went in search of the guard-dogs. They found them still locked up in an old lion-pit at the side of the house, but they pushed the meat down through the bars anyway. The guard-dogs would be the only ones at Starhanger who got any rest that night!

They rejoined Kieran and the others, and they all went up the wide stone steps that led up to the main doors, which were rather unsociably locked and barred against them. Hillyard and Bardin attacked the wood with the kind of heavy-duty mallets normally used for breaking up concrete. The wood splintered and the doors yielded, and they next found themselves in a large entrance hall with a marble floor, and high-backed wooden chairs set elegantly around the sides.

“He does himself proud here doesn’t here!” said Joby.

They went through a set of double doors at the far end and were now in the hallway containing the main staircase.

“They have electric light”, said Hillyard, flicking a brass light-switch.

“It must be on their own generator”, said Kieran.

The lighting felt strange, as though they were underwater.

“Blimey, he’s even got a lift!” said Joby, pointing into one corner.

They all went into it and pulled the iron gate across. There were only two buttons, one saying ‘Top Floor’, and the other ‘Basement’.

“Let’s go to the top first”, said Kieran, activating the system “And work our way down”.

“Mieps could be dead!” Tamaz suddenly wailed.

“No”, said Kieran “That won’t be the case. If I know anything at all about Sade, he wants him as a plaything”.

Out of the lift and now under the raftered roof. They emerged straight from the lift and into the bedroom now housing Mieps and Clarissa. Every one of the Indigo-ites gave a whoop and ran across the room.

“What’s he done to you?” said Hillyard, spinning Mieps and fumbling at the mess of buckles on the back of the straitjacket.

“You’re Clarissa I believe?” said Kieran, as the others searched the room, emptying drawers and trinket-boxes looking for the key to the manacles.

“It’s no good”, said Clarissa “He keeps one key on him”.

“He would, the awkward little shit!” said Joby.

“His wife has the other one”, said Clarissa.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get you out of all that”, said Hillyard “Even if I have to find a hack-saw and saw you out!”

A hidden door in a corner opened and Madame de Sade emerged unwittingly into the room.

“It’s Missus!” said Bengo.

Madame de Sade gave a delighted gasp when she saw Bengo, her “little pet”, and a horrified one when she saw Kieran, her religious conscience. She tried to back out of the room again, but Kieran grabbed her by the elbow and dragged her back into the room.

“I was wrong about your husband, Madame”, he said “I didn’t think he was truly evil, but I’m fast having my doubts. I’ve been a blind fool, and I haven’t got much time to put things right”.

“He’s not evil, I know he’s not”, said Madame “He’s just stubborn and wilful and irresponsible and …”

She sounded more and more like a doting mother refusing to accept that her adored son had any real faults. Renee-Pelagie was a devout, kind-hearted woman. But she had turned a blind eye to her husband abducting young girls, and had even helped him to escape from police custody in her time. He was the dazzling light in her life, next to whom most other people seemed pale and vapid. She didn’t want to share his wild sexual tastes, and so was tolerant to an extraordinary degree of him indulging them with others. She was happy to be regarded by the world as a silly idiot for his sake.

Kieran noticed she was wearing a ring of keys round her waist, chatelaine-style, and demanded she handed them over. She did so, and tremulously pointed out he key to Clarissa’s manacles. Clarissa was released from her bondage, like a naked Madonna being taken down from her niche in church. Hillyard helped her on with his coat.

“Can we go now?” he asked Kieran “We’ve got Mieps and Clarissa, let’s get off”.

“No, we can’t leave it at this”, said Kieran “I want to know what else is in this house. I’m going to over the whole of it”.

“I had a nasty feeling you was gonna say that!” said Joby.

“Look at those marks cut into the mantelpiece”, said Bengo “He had those at the Chateau as well. It’s meant to be the amount of strokes of the birch or something”.

“He likes to be whipped more than he does the whipping!” Madame de Sade protested.

“He’s gonna be in Heaven when we get hold of him then!” said Hillyard.

They went back down to the ground floor. Kieran, normally the epitome of a sort of gentle roguish charm, was brusque and rude to Madame de Sade, which surprised Joby. But Kieran was playing a part. He felt they had to keep Madame de Sade co-operating with them, and as a religiously devout, 18th-century French Catholic middle-class woman, she lived in awe of priests, and she regarded Kieran as a priest. Women of Madame de Sade’s background at that time wouldn’t even have gone to the theatre without asking permission of her Confessor first. She expected Kieran to be stern and fearsome, and for the moment he was prepared to oblige her.

On the ground floor they found a large room containing 4 young people (two men, two women) drugged and chained to beds. Chamber-pots (some full) were dotted about the floor. These young people were so spaced-out they could barely focus their eyes on the unexpected intruders, let alone appreciate that they were being rescued.

“Will you look at this!” Kieran tugged at a length of chain which was fastened to an iron ring embedded in the wall “Joby, can you yank that out?”

“Yank that out?!” Joby exclaimed “Who do you think I am, King Kong!”

“Fair enough”, said Kieran “We’ll have to think on that one. There must be something down in the basement we can use”.

“Non non non!” Madame de Sade shrieked “You mustn’t go down there, not ever!”

“Your husband down there is he, by any chance?” said Hillyard.

“It’s quite big, the basement”, said Mieps “There’s an underground tunnel, it must run under the parkland”.

“Take my keys”, Madame de Sade, in her panic, practically flung them at Kieran “There must be one on there somewhere for these chains. Take them”.

Bardin directed Bengo and Tamaz to start work trying out the various keys on the manacles.

Meanwhile raised voices were heard in the hall, and Julian, Adam, Ransey, Rumble and Toppy entered the house.

“There’s a man lying on the front steps”, said Toppy, as though he was complaining about the mess “He’s been shot in the knees”.

“He’s a guard, don’t have sympathy for him”, Clarissa suddenly erupted “He has the leftovers around here, if you know what I mean”.

“What the hell is going on here?” Julian bellowed “It looks like a fucking war-zone!”

He caught sight of Mieps’s battered face.

“What’s happened to you?”

“Stop shouting, Jules”, said Adam.

“Stop shouting?” said Julian “Are you mad? I’ll shout alright! Mieps, what’s that vile little French squirt done to you?”

“I mainly bruised my face falling off the trolley”, said Mieps.

“What?!” said Julian.

Bardin had gone into another nearby room whilst this little altercation had been going on. This room was fitted out as a study. The window was flung wide open and a hellish draft was coming in from the outside. Over the unlit fireplace was hung a blown-up still from a black-and-white film, showing a naked girl in a badly-fitting blonde wig being buggered by a man in a mask.

On the floor was a heavy-duty metal safe. It’s door was open and the contents had been liberally ransacked. The wall nearby exhibited the following message, hastily scrawled in chalk: “VOUS AVEZ FAIT UN ENNEMOI DE MOI”.

“What the blazes does that mean?” Bardin asked Joby, who had followed him in.

“It’s French”, said Joby “It don’t take Sherlock Holmes to work out it was written by Sade”.

“Yeah, but what does it mean?” said Bardin.

“Hang on a minute”, said Joby “Adam might know. He lived in France for a while when he was young, with Julian”.

“Don’t remind me!” said Adam, who had heard his name mentioned “It translates as ‘you have made an enemy of me’”.

“Petulant little twerp”, said Joby.

“Sade’s parting-shot presumably”, said Bardin.

“Hm”, said Adam “But it certainly implies we haven’t heard the last of him. It’s a clear threat and no mistake”.

“He’s done a bunk”, Bardin informed the others, who were still waiting at the bottom of the main stairs “Absconded. He must have taken some loot out of the safe and got out through the window”.

Madame de Sade looked as though she was about to faint at this news, and she fell onto a nearby chair. Sade, her beloved husband, who at times she had willingly turned herself into his partner-in-crime for, had abandoned her, had left her alone to face the music.

“This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise”, said Kieran “He almost made a second career out of escaping in his time”.

“But he can’t have got far!” Tamaz protested.

“He doesn’t have to”, said Kieran “The countryside round here would swallow him up like quicksand. In the meantime, we’ll go down and see what’s in the basement. I’m starting to get real bad vibes about that place. Mieps, you’d better stay up here. Adam’ll stay too”.

“Oh very well”, Adam sighed, knowing he was being the duty of supervising Madame de Sade.

Ordinarily, Mieps would have protested at being left out of things, but he was bruised and exhausted. And although he wouldn’t admit it out of hand, he didn’t want to see the gloomy lower regions again. He would never forget that terrifying journey being wheeled through the underground passageways, with the sound of weeping seemingly ever-present nearby. He urged the others to take caution.

When the lift doors opened onto the dismal, unsavoury corridors of the basement Kieran almost reeled from the impact of the repellent atmosphere which greeted him there. Bardin in turn quailed at the thought of exploring this forbidding place, and was glad he had insisted that Bengo stay upstairs and keep Madame de Sade pliable.

Things got off to a very bad start indeed when a corpse was found on a trolley, covered over with tarpaulin, and pushed to the side of one corridor. It was clear it had been left there to be buried somewhere in or around Starhanger House at a more convenient time. It was a man, and he had been shot cleanly in the head.

Kieran gesticulated and re-covered the body with the tarpaulin.

“I wonder which snuff film he starred in!” said Joby, his words doing nothing to disguise how shaken he felt by it.

“Listen”, said Tamaz “The dogs are coming round”.

An eerie wailing came from outside as the dogs emerged from their tranquillised sleep.

“We’d better be on the alert”, said Kieran “In case someone decides to go and let them out”.

Bardin stepped into a nearby room which was lit by a red lightbulb. Coils of film-tape littered the large table in the middle of this bleak cellar room, and someone had obviously been in the process of cutting it and re-sealing it, all part of the movie editing process. They had clearly abandoned it when Kieran stormed the house. Bardin picked up one skein of film and held it up to the light. The stills showed Brother Iggy crucified to the wall, and two hideous, vampirish creatures cutting open his chest with surgical knives.

Kieran called Bardin away and said they had to press on. His instinct directed him to an iron-studded door at the far end of the passage. On opening it they found themselves at the top of a flight of stone steps leading down to an underground cavern. The whole place dripped with damp. The cavern itself was littered with dark archways, which led uninvitingly into the nether reaches of the cave.

“I think we’ll leave this for the time being”, said Kieran, who had refused to let anyone budge from the top of the steps “We need to be better prepared. Down here holds the key to everything”.

“But there are other things around here”, said Bardin “I don’t know what, but I can sense other living things all around us”.

“We’re not ready”, Kieran insisted “We have to be fully prepared to take the lid off this box of tricks. We need to be ready, and acclimatised to the ways of this house, and we’re not yet”.

Bardin had found Kieran’s reasoning unsatisfactory. He himself felt possessed of an urge to rip the “box of tricks”, as Kieran had called it, wide open. Back up on the ground floor once more though, Bengo said Kieran had been wholly right, and it was no good Bardin getting gung-ho about all this. Besides, the young people were coming out of their drugged haze and were reacting to the situation with alarm and terror. They had to be got away from Starhanger.

Adam had had to console one girl who screamed on seeing her chamber-pot. Adam had an unsavoury idea what she had been made to do with the contents of it. He agreed with Kieran that these people had to be removed from the house before anything further happened.

He had barely said this when a horrific scream erupted from the stairs, and one of the hideous old creatures that had been seen in the town, hurtled down the steps brandishing an evil-looking bull-whip.

“Ghoomer!” Tamaz exclaimed.

Bardin ran towards the stairs and fired recklessly at the creature. Two of the bullets went wide, and two more simply disabled the creature.

“You’re wasting ammo”, said Ransey.

He grabbed the pistol and went up the stairs towards the creature, who was now clinging to the banisters. He shot the creature in the head and then returned below.

“That was one of the creatures on the film-reel”, Bardin babbled “It cut out Iggy’s heart!”

Bengo wrapped his arms round Bardin and clung onto him like a life-raft.

A door opened at the back of the hallway, and Piers emerged, drunkenly clutching a bottle of champagne.

“Good lord, I’d forgotten he was here!” said Adam.

“Easily done!” said Julian.

Piers looked upwards and straight into the lifeless eyes of the dead Ghoomer leaning through the banisters. He dropped the champagne bottle and screamed.

“Oh for God’s sake, get him out of here”, said Julian “Useless great lump!”

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