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By Sarah Hapgood

Magnolia Cove was in the process of being rebuilt when they returned there soon after the Spring Equinox. Kieran had feared he might not be popular there, that the people might see their sudden flight as desertion. But everyone on the sloop had had such a gruelling journey back from Brimstone Point, with foul weather and food having to be severely rationed, that they presented such a down-at-heel rag-taggle look on returning to the town they it was hard not to feel sorry for them.

People had died in the Christmas night destruction. Codlik felt he should offer some public words of sympathy. He suggested that he say to the towns-people that their friends and neighbours hadn’t died in vain, the usual politician’s spiel. The Indigo-ites decided to sharply remove him to their old home at Indigo Towers before he got lynched.

Crowley went back to live at his old house, although he came over to the sloop every day. Thetis initially went with him, but decamped to Indigo Towers when Crowley began working on some of his more ambitious Magick again.

“My initial impression of that lady was wrong”, said Julian to Adam in the cabin on the sloop “I used to think she was like some awestruck rock groupie where the old fart was concerned, but the scales seem to have fallen from her eyes lately. She wants no part of Crowley’s rituals”.

“Well I’m concerned about Victor”, said Adam “Thetis says Aleister makes him sleep outside at night on the bracken. You know how cold it still gets at night, he could go down with a serious illness”.

“The price of extreme masochism, my dear”, said Julian.

“If that’s all you’ve got to say I shall go back to the work!” said Adam, huffily leaving the cabin.

Julian shouted after him, but Adam told him to piss off. He stormed along the corridor to the galley. Bengo, who had been returning from the heads, had to flatten himself against the wall.

“I’m sorry, little fellow”, said Adam, when they were in the galley “I was so wrapped up in my own rage that I didn’t see you there”.

“You were quite formidable”, said Bengo.

“It must have been like a tank going past!” said Joby.

Adam swiped him with a tea-towel.

“What are you upset about, Adam?” said Bengo.

Adam explained his concern over Victor’s plight. Joby, who could never work up much (if any) interest in Victor, simply shrugged.

“Why don’t I pop over and see if he’s alright?” said Bengo.

“I don’t think that’s a very good idea, Bengo”, said Adam.

“If you go over there on your own”, said Joby “Crowley’ll think all his birthdays have come at once!”

“Any tea going in here?” said Hillyard, coming in.

“I hear those words more than any other!” said Joby.

“Kieran asked me to tell you”, said Hillyard to Joby “That he’s only got one more customer to see, and then he’ll be free”.

Kieran had opened up his Confessional service once more, and people were drifting back along the tow-path to see him.

“Where’s Bardin?” said Hillyard, adjusting his crotch “I haven’t seen him this morning”.

“Gone over to see Hegley”, said Adam.

Hegley and Clarissa had survived the Christmas destruction by taking off to the caves. Hegley was now back in his little house in the forest. He was a subdued and disappointed man these days, because Clarissa had chosen to return to her old digs in town, now that the overall apparent danger had disappeared.

“He’s taken it bad I think”, said Bengo “He’d got used to being with Clarissa”.

A shout went up from the hold, and a volley of French followed by the yell of the fragrant word “pisspot!” Sade had been kept incarcerated in his wheelchair since their return to civilisation, and was determined to run everyone else ragged as a result.

“I’d better go to him”, Adam sighed.

“Put it over his head if you like”, said Joby “That’d give us all some peace and quiet for a while!”

“I’m ugly that’s the trouble”, said Hegley, as the and Bardin sat in his kitchen, sampling from various bottles of whisky “Why would a girl like that want to make a life for herself with an ugly little fart like me?”

“No no no”, said Bardin “You’re not … you’re a very kind person”.

“That’s what people say to blokes when they can’t think of anything else good to say!” said Hegley.

“She just prefers to live in town, that’s all”, said Bardin “Than out here”.

“I think I was happier when all the chaos was going on”, said Hegley, now sounding very gloomy indeed “At least she was with me then”.

“We must be going”, said Bardin, pointing dramatically at the doorway “It’sh nearly lunchtime, and if you come back with me now, I can arrange for you to sit next to Thetish”.

“No-o”, said Hegley, shaking his head “She scares me that one”.

“Nah, she’sh alright when you get to know her”, said Bardin “She’sh not as scary as Miepsh can be!”

On the way back to the sloop Bardin insisted on stopping for a little while, in order to lean on an abandoned fence-post and listen to the birds. After so long on an overcrowded boat he still couldn’t get over the freedom of being able to move around large open spaces again. It was like being let out of prison.

“This place looksh more and more like a shanty-town everyday!” said Bardin, when they got back to Indigo Towers, and found the chickens roaming freely from the boat to the shore.

Hegley stayed by the house to chat to Rumble, who was sharpening some tools. By a small miracle Bardin managed to climb across the gang-plank without falling into the river. Toppy, who was on the forward deck putting various items of laundry through the mangle, watched him with withering disapproval.

“It seems rather early to be so drunk”, he said.

“It wash the thought of having to come home and see you!” said Bardin “Enough to get anyone rat-arshed!”

Bardin got halfway down the galley steps before he realised quite how drunk he was. The heat and the all-round general fugginess of the galley hit him like a heavy blanket being suddenly chucked round his head.

“Where’sh Bengo?” he asked, blearily.

“Well fortunately for you he’s gone over to the house to pick up some tins of chopped tomatoes”, said Adam.

“Happy birthday to you!” sang Joby “Chopped tomatoes and stew, bread and butter in the gutter, happy birthday to you!”

Lonts, who had been sitting at the table reading a magazine, hooted with laughter.

“It’s not my birthday is it?” said Bardin.

“No of course it’s not , you silly arse!” said Adam “I think you need to lie down before lunch. I’ll take you into the hold”.

“Why can’t I lie down in the cabin?” said Bardin.

“Because Julian’s in there”, said Adam “And he’ll be very cross if he sees you in this condition!”

Fortunately, Sade had been moved over to the house, so Bardin could be put on the camp-bed in private. Adam mopped his fevered face with a damp cloth.

“I really think you should go teetotal, old love”, he said “You always react badly to alcohol, and you only end up getting yourself into trouble. You don’t want to antagonise Julian, not in the mood he’s in today”.

“What’s the matter with him?” said Bardin.

“Oh Codlik’s been annoying him that’s all”, said Adam “He says that we’re all slipping back into normal life, and that’s not acceptable, he says, as the war isn’t over yet”.

“I guess he’s right”, Bardin sighed “It’s so easy to pick up the pieces again, and yet we’re not finished are we, we shouldn’t really act as though we are”.

“To be perfectly blunt, I doubt we ever will be”, said Adam “There is going to be no decisive victory over this evil, and I get annoyed with Codlik for naively assuming there will be”.

“So!” Bengo appeared in the doorway, a vigilante in a canvas pinny.

“Oh go away”, Bardin murmured.

“That I won’t!” said Bengo “You can’t be trusted to stay out of trouble can you! Just like that time you gambled away all our pocket-money!”

“You always have to bring that one up don’t you!” said Bardin “And stop shouting at me”.

“I’m not shouting at all”, said Bengo “I didn’t throw my voice whatsoever”.

“Bengo, I think Joby could do with some help in the galley”, said Adam “Please don’t leave him to attend to the lunches all by himself or we’ll never hear the end of it!”

Bengo could see the profound sense in this and left the room, with a backward scowl at Bardin for good measure.

“Honesty, you two are worse than a couple of kids!” said Adam.

“Worse than Kieran and Joby?” said Bardin.

“Well I wouldn’t go that far!” said Adam.

“You could have taken this off first”, said Julian, tugging at Adam’s pinny “I invite you over here for a pre-lunch drink and you turn up looking like that!”

“Be grateful I’m here at all”, said Adam, as they walked in a leisurely fashion towards the library “I only came over to keep you sane with Aleister, Piers and the Sades about. I do have a lot of work to do you know!”

“This is the most important job of all”, said Julian “I can only take so much of Crowley blithering on. The man is such a confounded snob!”

“Well now you know what we’ve all had to put up with from you over the years!” said Adam.

Julian chose to ignore that particular remark. He escorted him into the library, where Crowley, the Sades, Piers and Ransey were already assembled. “Like the chamber of horrors”, Julian muttered under his breath.

“Ah Adam”, said Crowley “So you’ve been released from bondage for a short while”.

“You shouldn’t use such words, Aleister”, said Adam, helping himself to a glass of sherry “You’ll only excite yourself too much”.

“I saw Joby earlier”, said Crowley “Wearing a rather fetching woman’s wig”.

“What ‘s this?” Julian barked.

“Nothing!” Adam retorted “Farnol’s picked up a box of old stage-props in town, it contained a lady’s wig and Joby put it on for a bet. He’s not wearing it now!”

“It brought out his bone-structure rather well I thought”, said Crowley.

“Reminded you of your drag queen friend at Cambridge I suppose?” said Julian.

“Oh no, that’s Kieran”, said Crowley, much to Julian’s irritation. Adam had little sympathy, feeling that Julian had rather brought it upon himself.

Julian shocked everyone though by smashing his glass into the fireplace and storming out of the room. Ransey and Adam went after him.

“I thought it was supposed to be me who did that sort of thing!” said Adam.

“Well for once in your life perhaps I feel you should lose your temper!” said Julian, when they reached the kitchen of the house.

“Having been cooped up in close proximity to Aleister for the past few months”, said Adam “I refuse to get riled by him now we’re back here!”

“Julian has a point though”, said Ransey “It was easier to keep an eye on him on the sloop. Here he could get up to anything. I mean for a start I don’t suppose either of you know where Kieran is at the moment”.

“Upstairs actually”, said Adam “On his little window perch. And he’s very safe from Aleister up there because Crowley wouldn’t dare risk inflicting his colossal weight on the upper floor! Lunch will be in 20 minutes”.

And he walked off.

At lunch Adam put Madame de Sade next to Julian, and this move proved surprisingly successful, as Renee engaged him in a lot of small talk about the weather. Both of them agreeing that, indeed, the weather round here really did remind them of Provence.

Afterwards though Julian demanded to see Kieran in the cabin.

“No, you’re not putting me under house-arrest again!” said Kieran “I have a list of clients as long as your arm, and I’d rather see them over at the house. If you’re worried about Aleister getting over-excited by me charms you’ll have to keep him occupied yourself!”

“Don’t you get cheeky with me, you little runt!” said Julian “It’s high time you got the services of the razor-strop”.

“No can do”, Kieran giggled and made for the door “Bardin deserves it more than me today. You’ll have to ask him about his bad dose of ‘sunstroke’ this morning!”

“You can be an evil little bastard, Patsy”, said Adam, sitting with Kieran in the upstairs window, in the afternoon sunshine “Fancy dropping poor Bardin in it like that. I thought I’d saved his skin rather well until you said all that!”

“Ah when Julian’s in a foul temper like that it’s every man for himself!” said Kieran “Great cunning is what’s required in order to survive!”

“I doubt Bardin sees it that way at the moment!” said Adam.

“Worse things have happened to him on stage”, said Kieran.

“I’m not so sure about that!” said Adam.

“ADAM!” Lonts bellowed from the hall below “Adam, come down at once, I really must speak to you, NOW!”

“Wee Lonts sounds a bit upset”, said Kieran.

They both went down to the hall, where Lonts was standing in a small sea of newsprint scattered on the floor. It was the remains of the local paper, and Lonts looked as though he had been crying.

“What on earth’s the matter, Lo-Lo?” said Adam “What’s happened?”

“It was in the paper”, said Lonts “Dogs have been disappearing, all over the town. They disappear and are never seen again!”

Kieran paused in the middle of gathering up the pages, and looked at him.

“This could be very significant”, said Kieran.

Adam was trying to soothe and calm Lonts.

“They just wander off”, Lonts continued “And vanish. Somebody’s taking them aren’t they, Kieran?”

Kieran nodded, but was reluctant to say anything more for fear of upsetting Lonts any further. But he remembered Crowley once remarking that the demons, when preparing for important rituals, lived on a diet of dog flesh.

If the local paper had upset Lonts, one of the global papers upset Bardin. That afternoon he sat up on the forward deck with the other clowns, and Tamaz, and muttered over it.

“Bardy, if you don’t stop that”, said Bengo “I shall get quite cross, what’s the matter now?”

“I’ll tell you what’s the matter! There’s a big entertainment firm up in Krindei”, said Bardin “Who are buying up all the local little down-at-hell shows and sort of absorbing them. They want to create the ultimate circus”.

“So?” said Rumble.

“So it won’t have any clowns in it!” Bardin exclaimed, throwing the paper down on the table.

Farno, who had been practising some juggling nearby, dropped his balls.

“You can’t have a circus without clowns!” said Bengo “We ARE the spirit of circus!”

“What have they got in it then?” said Rumble “A bit of poetry reading? Holistic therapy? Brass rubbing?!”

“Oh acrobats and tightrope-walkers, all that sort of thing”, said Bardin, waving his hand dismissively “Well I’m not letting them get away with this, or it’ll be the beginning of the end!”

(The others weren’t sure if he meant for circuses or civilisation, but the feeling was that it virtually came to the same thing).

“Well what about that idea I had?” said Farnol “A fund-raising spectacular over Easter to raise money to help in the rebuilding of the town?”

“Another show?” said Tamaz, looking disdainful and dubious “You lot are always doing shows”.

“Not always”, said Bengo “We haven’t done one since Aspiriola … have we?”

“This will be a show with a difference though”, said Bardin.

“You always say that and all”, said Tamaz “And it always looks like the usual old rubbish to me”.

“Is Toppy pulling your strings or something?” Bardin snapped “This is going to be a celebration of clowning, it will be a circus with ONLY clowns in it!”

“You four?” said Tamaz.

“No actually, clowns from everywhere”, said Bardin “We’ll show them what’s what. A bloody circus without clowns indeed, it’s like a bar with no beer!”

“They’ve probably got those in Krindei too!” said Rumble.

“How are we gonna advertise?” said Farnol “We’ve got no money”.

“I’ll cadge some free air-time on the television”, said Bardin “I can pay them for it by doing another quiz show, or talking about Kieran or something”.

“That’s exploitation isn’t it?” said Rumble.

“Perhaps”, said Bardin “I’m not unduly concerned”.

“There’s a snag”, said Rumble “If you invite clowns from everywhere to come, we’ll get our old stable-mates from the Cabaret of Horrors crawling out of the woodwork”.

“Surely not?” said Bardin “They must be in the knacker’s yard by now, or dead”.

“Kieran might have got them their youth back too”, said Bengo.

“He wouldn’t”, said Bardin “Would he?”

Bengo shrugged.

“That’s a risk we’ll have to take”, said Bardin, moving on briskly “I think this is one of the best ideas I’ve ever had. A festival of clowning, just think of it”.

“I am”, said Bengo, uneasily.

“It might turn out to be so popular it’ll become an annual event, like the Toondor Lanpin festival”, said Bardin.

“But who’s going to want to spend days just watching you lot chuck things at each other?” said Tamaz.

“We do other things as well!” said Bardin “There’ll be singing and dancing, and acrobatics and magic tricks, and … oh all sorts of things. It’s a showcase of clowning I tell you!”

“You won’t get me anywhere near it!” said Tamaz.

Bardin looked as though he wanted to throttle Tamaz.

“How about”, said Farnol “Doing a big all-out slapstick finale at the end of it? How about we stage the biggest custard-pie fight the world has ever seen?”

Bengo groaned and rested his head on his arms.

“I told you, didn’t I?” said Tamaz “It’s just going to be you lot chucking things!”

“It’s a brilliant idea!” Bardin shouted him down “We could set a whole new world record. And what a fantastic ending to the show. No one’ll ever forget it”.

“I suppose that’s a risk we’ll have to take!” said Rumble.

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