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“Bardy?” Bengo turned over drowsily and lay on his side in bed, looking like a little dog “What are you doing out of bed?”
“Stretching my legs”, Bardin fibbed “I had a touch of cramp”.
“I woke up and you weren’t there”, said Bengo.
Bardin moved away from the window, and tucked the quilt around Bengo, shushing him gently.
“Did you see something outside?” said Bengo.
“Go back to sleep”, said Bardin, climbing back in beside him.
When Bengo and Bardin went into the bathroom first thing the following morning, they found Hoowie in the bath-tub, sitting in about two inches of water.
“Clear off”, said Bardin “Bengo and me need to get ready”.
“What about me?” said Hoowie.
“You could sit in there all day and it wouldn’t make you anymore beautiful!” said Bardin.
Hoowie got out of the tub and left the room with as much dignity as he could muster.
“We’ll clean our teeth and then shave”, said Bardin to Bengo.
“O.K”, Bengo sighed, who could see that Bardin was very tense this morning.
They took up positions on either side of the wide old-fashioned wash-basin, much as they had used to do as children.
“Ah, it’s Tweedledum and Tweedledee”, said Crowley, on finding them thus.
Crowley’s hypnotic gaze could seem disturbing, and it was so on this occasion. He had a way of staring that made it seem as though he was looking right through your body and into your soul.
On this particular morning Bardin didn’t like it at all. He picked up a cut-throat razor and hurled it in Crowley’s direction. It missed him and hit the door, clattering onto the tiled floor. Crowley wisely removed himself from the room.
“Oh Bardy!” said Bengo, and he wrapped his friend in his arms.
“We’d better pick up the razor”, said Bardin, gruffly “Before someone treads on it”.
After breakfast, many of the new inhabitants of this not-very-desirable residence improvised a game of hockey in the front courtyard. For once Bardin’s whistle was to come in useful, as he took the job of referee. Codlik was to attempt to keep some kind of score.
Toppy declined from joining in. Instead he wrapped a scarf around the lower part of his face and took a carpet-beater to the library sofa. Adam was also doing a spot of housework, clearing up the breakfast things. When he went to return the clean dishes to the sideboard in the dining-room he found Crowley playing the gramophone recordings of his voice again.
“I’m glad we’re alone like this, Aleister”, said Adam “There is something I want to discuss with you”.
“My dear fellow”, said Crowley “You sound like a headmaster about to reprimand a disappointing pupil!”
“Well I’m afraid that’s rather what I feel like!” said Adam “Bengo told me what happened in the bathroom earlier. Why were you trying to intimidate Bardin?”
“Intimidate him?” said Crowley “Not my intention at all, old chap. Bardin fascinates me. He reminds me in many ways of myself when I was younger”.
“In Bengo’s words”, said Adam “You were ‘creepy, sinister, like an old pervert’”.
“How absolutely extraordinary!” said Crowley “I was under the impression they were worldly creatures, reared in the theatre”.
“And very difficult upbringings they had too!” said Adam “Particularly for Bardin. I feel that I’m betraying him saying all this, but as a boy he was … well I think you can guess what I’m driving at. I don’t need to spell it out”.
“Adolescence was a difficult time for me too”, said Crowley “Sexually. All that Victorian repression is not good for a healthy young boy”.
“Bardin was 8”, said Adam “And he was sexually abused”.
It was unusual to see the normally verbose Mr Crowley lost for words, but it happened this time.
“Eight?” he rallied “Oh my dear sir!”
“Didn’t you once write, Mr Crowley”, said Adam “That the most effective sacrifice was that of a young, innocent boy?”
“At the end of my life, Adam”, said Crowley “I questioned a great deal of what I had previously said and done. I also said when I was a young man that I wanted murder and war. And then I witnessed it on a worldwide scale, not once but twice! I abhor destruction. No man who truly respects life has any wish to take it. As Kieran would say, evil is all about destruction. I have been a very wicked man in my time, Adam, a bad man, a hideously misguided man. I will not deny that. But I do not regard myself as evil”.
Ransey called a meeting in the library after dinner, to tell everyone that he thought that the abstract diagrams he had been studying were really unmarked tunnels that lay beneath them, and interlocked all the significant places they had visited in recent years, such as Starhanger, the Big House, the Lixix catacombs, the Governor’s House in Aspiriola, and may also link Midnight Castle and the ruined church at Zilligot Bay.
Joby was washing his face in his bedroom afterwards when he was startled by Josh suddenly appearing.
“What are you doing creeping about like that?” Joby squawked.
“It’s only me”, said Josh “Who did yer think it was?”
“In this house?” said Joby “Just about anybody!”
Josh looked all round furtively, and when he had satisfied himself that they were truly alone, he spoke.
“You’ve gotta talk to Kieran for me”, he said.
“About what?” said Kieran, who had silently come into the room, wearing Joby’s dressing-gown.
“There you are!” said Joby “You can talk to him yourself now. Go on, he don’t bite!”
“Look, now we’re out of all that oblivion”, said Josh “Angel can get to us again”.
“I’m aware of that”, said Kieran.
“Well he can get to me!” Josh exclaimed “For not honouring my side of the agreement!”
“If Angel was that fashed about getting revenge on you”, said Kieran “He oculd have done it at Starhanger, or even better, when you lived in the hallway at Indigo Towers. You were far more vulnerable there than here”.
“Exactly”, said Joby “So stop feeling sorry for yourself, Josh!”
“Angel has a grievance against everybody”, said Kieran, as Tamaz also joined him in the room “But I can’t imagine you’re his most pressing concern somehow”.
“But he eats people”, said Josh “He tears ‘em limb-from-limb!”
“So what?” said Tamaz “I can turn people to stone!”
“Tamaz!” said Joby “Start getting ready for bed!”
Bardin was drinking directly from the wash-jug in his room, directly across the corridor from Kieran’s, when Rumble, Farnol and Hoowie all lumbered in, carrying their bedding.
“What’s going on?” said Bardin.
“Adam said he didn’t like the thought of you two sleeping alone”, said Farnol “On account of you both being so delicate and vulnerable like, so he asked us to sleep in here”.
“Like hell you are!” said Bardin.
“Now don’t be like that, man!” said Farnol.
“Perhaps he was on a promise tonight”, Hoowie sniggered.
“Don’t mind us, mate”, said Rumble “You two just carry on as though we’re not here”.
“It won’t be anything we haven’t seen before!” said Farnol.
Bengo, who was already in bed, giggled.
“You’re not sleeping in the bed”, said Bardin, planting himself in front of it as though he was about to try and defend a valuable work of art from marauding vandals “I’m not having your feet sticking up my nose again! I had enough of that that Christmas at the Town House!”
“We’ll go on the floor, we’re not proud”, said Rumble “We’re used to being the stage-extras next to the big stars!”
“You’ll be in the way if I need to get up in the night”, Bardin grumbled “If I tripped over you I could sprain my ankle”.
“Then I could carry you everywhere, Bardy!” said Bengo.
“Like a bag of old washing!” said Rumble.
“DEMONS!” Victor screamed from the corridor outside “DEMONS!”
Bardin looked around at everyone, as though checking that they had heard it too. Then everyone surged out into the corridor at once.
Victor had wrenched open some doors at the far end of the corridor that opened into a laundry cupboard. He was now amongst the sheets and pillowcases, yelling about demons.
“Is he on something?” Bardin demanded of Thetis.
The lady opened her mouth as though to try and explain, but gave it up as a bad job and simply nodded instead.
“Try and get him calmed down”, he sighed “And watch out he doesn’t start swinging punches”.
“It’s alright”, said Thetis “I’m used to Victor. He thinks the demons are coming up through the rock below us”.
“The hatch to the shaft has been bolted down!2 Bardin shouted over his shoulder, as he went along to Crowley’s rom.
Once there he, (in his own words), “completely lost it, had a brainstorm”. He said afterwards that he couldn’t remember his exact words, but he knew they must have been “pretty forceful”. Once he had finished he found himself to be shaking from head to foot. Trembling like a leaf he went back to his own room.
He swore a lot, climbed into the four-poster and pulled all the curtains on it shut, and then he ordered Bengo to get inside with him.
“You’re getting paranoid you are”, said Bengo to Mieps, in the kitchen early the next morning “You think I’ve got nothing better to do than to gossip about you”.
“Then what were you telling Julian earlier?” said Mieps. “Nothing”, said Bengo “He was asking me to keep an eye on Bardy today that’s all”.
They were alone in the kitchen, as Adam and Joby had gone outside to fetch in some eggs for breakfast. Mieps was doggedly pursuing Bengo around the kitchen. Bengo turned and squeezed one of Mieps’s boobs. Mieps gave a look and a hiss of such annoyance that Bengo quailed, and tried to take cover in the larder. Mieps cornered him in there though, and took advantage of the strategic closeness of a lemon meringue pie on the cold shelf to shove it with deadly accuracy into Bengo’s face.
Mieps stormed past Bardin on his way out of the kitchen. Bardin, totally confused, unearthed Bengo in the larder, who was standing there bewildered, and covered in cream.
“What happened to you?” said Bardin.
“Mieps did this!” said Bengo “And I’ll get the blame for the loss of the pie too!”
“His aim’s quite brilliant isn’t it!” said Bardin “Do you remember that time he got you at the Little Theatre at Toondor Lanpin? There aren’t many who could be so accurate over such a distance”.
“I’m glad you’re impressed!” Bengo snapped “He shoved it so forcefully too, just like you used to do!”
“C’mon, I’ll get you cleaned up”, said Bardin “It’ll be quite like old times!”
“It’s not funny, Bardy!” said Bengo, as they went over to the big stone sink by the back door.
“You are funny and that’s all there is to it!” said Bardin “It’s a gift, you should just accept it as such”.
“Oh Bardy”, Bengo melted “You’re funny too!”
They kissed, and Bardin a fair bit of the cream on his face too. They were both laughing at this when Lonts ran in from the dining-room, looking very agitated.
“What is it?” said Bardin “It’s not Victor again is it?”
Joby and Adam came through the back door. Adam was looking dismayed at the remains of one of his pies, now on the clowns’ faces.
“No it’s Codlik!” said Lonts “He’s got up onto the roof!”
“Well if he’s threatening to jump, don’t stop him!” said Joby “And don’t tell Kieran, because he’ll try and talk him out of it!”
“I don’t think he’s trying to jump”, said Lonts “But he’s refusing to come down”.
“O.K”, Bardin sighed “I’ll see if I can find out what’s going on”.
“Codlik’s up on the roof!” said Tamaz, holding his jewellery box under his arm. He had found Thetis and Madame de Sade poring over the treasures looted from Starhanger, and taken umbrage.
“I know!” said Bardin.
He went through the library to the corner staircase, and followed it up to the very top. Up on the slates Codlik was doing a very good impression of a man who was about to jump, standing right on the edge as it were.
“Is this going to take long, Codlik?” said Bardin “Only it’s freezing up here”.
Codlik urgently gestured at him to come closer, but Bardin had no intention of doing anything quite so reckless. Codlik gave one of his familiar gasps of impatience.
“Look over there!” he pointed at the mountains to the north. A dark shape was standing near the summit of one of the nearer ones. It have the distinct impression of someone standing there and watching them.
“What’s that noise?” said Bardin “Can you hear it?”
It sounded like a man’s very deep growl, being borne along on the wind towards them. Bardin was reminded of the “horrible voice” Maria had said she had heard on the waterfront at the Village of Stairs.
“It’s the Devil!” said Codlik, eyes blazing like a zealot “He’s there!”
The door to the turret opened and Kieran crept out. He had been feeding the horses when Tamaz had come to tell him about all the excitement on the roof.
“Get back inside”, he said “Don’t look at it”.
The three of them retreated to the staircase inside, and shut the door to the roof behind them.
“He can’t get over here”, said Kieran “He’s a vampire, he can’t cross water, not without weakening himself considerably”.
“And if he finds away into the underground tunnels”, said Codlik “What then?”
“We’ll send you to deal with him”, said Kieran “We know how keen you are to rid the world of all evil!”
“Joby”, said Hillyard, going into the kitchen where they were attempting to prepare breakfast “Get upstairs and see to Kieran. He seems to be in a bit of a state about something”.
“What’s happened now?” said Joby.
“Just get up there!” said Hillyard, aiming a light kick at Joby’s behind.
“I’m fine”, said Kieran, who, for reasons best known to himself, had taken refuge on the floor of the laundry closet “Hillyard shouldn’t have worried you like that. It’s just a bit of stage-fright that’s all. We have to go into the final stages, and I’m getting a wee bit apprehensive. So much is hanging on all this. If we get it wrong …”
“Ssh”, Joby sat down next to him and held his hand “We’ve done pretty well up to now. As long as we don’t lose our heads and get carried away we should be fine. It’s talking to Codlik that’s upset you, he’s enough to twizzle anyone up he is!”
“He always underestimates people”, said Kieran “He’s convinced he’s cleverer than everyone”.
“Well we’ll just have to show him won’t we eh?” said Joby “Not that he’ll be much impressed at the moment, not with our lot carrying on as though they’re in a bleedin’ circus!”
“Have the clowns been up to something then?” said Kieran.
“Mieps shoved a lemon meringue pie into Bengo’s face earlier”, said Joby.
“Ah poor old Bengo”, said Kieran “He always cops it doesn’t he!”
“Yeah, particularly if Mieps has a hand in it!” said Joby “And then, then I have bloody Hillyard kicking me in the rear!”
“Oh dear”, said Kieran “You’ll have to make a point of withdrawing your favours next time he asks”.
“I don’t think he’ll bother asking at the moment”, said Joby “Josh has made sure everyone bleedin’ knows I can’t get it up!”
Victor pulled open the door and stared down at them. His eyes were suspiciously glassy, as though he was seeing another world entirely and not this one at all.
“I wish he’d stay off that muck!” said Kieran, as he and Joby got to their feet and followed him out into the upstairs corridor.
“He’s starting to be trouble he is”, said Joby.
“This house is the focal-point”, said Victor.
“Yeah we know”, said Joby, shoving his hands into the bib of his pinny “That’s why we’re back here!”
“I saw it all last night”, said Victor, in his wispy voice “The end of everything. The death of the Universe, everything disintegrating into nothing”.
“It’s being so cheerful keeps him going!” said Joby, heading down the main staircase.
“Where are you going?” Victor demanded to know.
“Downstairs, where does it look like!” said Joby “Kieran! Come on down!”
Kieran obediently followed him down the broad stairs, which were dominated by a huge north-facing picture-window. “Look”, Joby pointed out of it ”He’s gone now”.
“For the time being”, said Kieran.
The dining-room table, although long and broad, couldn’t seat all 24 of them around it at once, so at mealtimes a few often sat back on the sidelines, eating with their plates on their knees. Joby and Kieran ate breakfast in a corner by themselves.
“You can tell we’re getting into the end-game”, Kieran said quietly to his closest friend “Everybody looks so tired. Look at poor wee Bengo, he looks exhausted”.
Bengo was sitting at the table, with his chin cupped in his hands, listening to the other clowns.
“Hardly surprising”, said Joby “The way Adam works us in the kitchen! Seriously though, it’s not exactly unexpected is it? We’ve been living under this stain for years now, thanks to Codlik!”
“It’s not entirely his fault”, said Kieran “Just some of it is, in fact a lot of it is!”
During the day figures were seen to the south of them, on the rocky shoreline in that direction. Through the binoculars they appeared to be a horde of savage children in rags. Kieran and Joby assumed that they were Sawney Beane’s children. Ransey, in a disturbing burst of positive thinking, said that this could be construed as a good sign! This meant that there must be caves in that direction that could link them to the Horn, and thus to Zilligot Bay. The major snag was that an extensive family of Medieval cannibals lay between them and their escape-route!
Lonts came into the house after taking the dogs for an airing in the front courtyard. He found Bardin in the hall, looking rather at a loss.
“Everything’ll be alright, Bardin”, said Lonts, clasping him firmly on the shoulder “At least you’ve got Bengo here”.
Bardin nodded, in a rather philosophical fashion.
After dinner that evening Joby had fallen asleep on the sofa in the library. He woke up a short while later to find Mieps had fallen asleep on top of him. Kieran curled up in a nearby armchair, also asleep. Across the hall, he could hear the others talking in the dining-room.
“I’m sorry”, said Mieps, blinking in the dim light “I must have fallen sideways when I nodded off”.
“It’s alright”, said Joby “You can stay like that if you want. You must be exhausted after all that circus-performing you’ve done today!”
“Oh don’t you start, I had enough of that from Julian!” said Mieps “When I followed Bengo into the larder I only meant to give him a good shaking. But when I saw the pie there I thought that was a punishment he’d understand better than any other! He took it well. He didn’t squirm or dodge or anything, just sort of stood there stoically”.
“It must be ingrained in him by now!” said Joby “He’s been programmed over the years!”
“I was just teaching him a lesson that’s all”, said Mieps “He would keep on about Codlik!”
“I can understand you getting annoyed about that!” said Joby.
Kieran awoke and sat up in his chair. Mieps also sat up and found his shirt had come undone. He hastened to rebutton it.
“Don’t do that on my account!” said Kieran.
“It seems a shame we’re going to have to all start saying goodnight to each other soon”, said Mieps “I can’t get used to that”.
“It’s not for much longer”, said Kieran “I can feel it in me bones”.
Angel is very near, he thought to himself.
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