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Joby was stirring a pan of rice as though it was hemlock and that he himself would have to imbibe it. He gave a scowl of acute hatred as Kieran slid into the room.
"He exists", the Irishman whispered "Angel's mad axeman. He exists, and he's out there".
Joby stopped stirring for a moment and then continued as though nothing had been said.
"I've just seen him. In the bar".
"Take more water with it next time".
Kieran removed the saucepan from the paraffin stove, and grabbed Joby's hand.
"Come with me", he said "I think I know where the secret passage is".
"You see, it's not obvious, particularly in this light. That's probably his advantage in being blind. The other senses compensate. He could feel for it with his hands, and notice things in the woodwork that we wouldn't", Kieran pressed a panel, and it opened a crack.
"Where is he now then?" asked Joby.
"You tell me".
"Well as he's got an axe I wish we knew", said Joby, glancing round him nervously.
Kieran led the way behind the panelling, and up a steep wooden ladder fixed to the hidden interior. At the top the bathroom could be glimpsed through cracks in the panelling.
"So he emerged from here whilst Angel was in the bath".
Kieran pushed the panelling ahead of him and it yielded to his touch. They entered the room at the foot of the bath.
"Well", said Joby "What the hell do we do when we find him?"
Kieran waved at him to be silent, uncomfortably aware that the bare wooden boards creaked loudly beneath his feet.
"He might be deaf as well as blind", Joby suggested.
"We couldn't be that lucky", Kieran grunted, as he peered out into the corridor.
Suddenly he sprang back inside and shut the door as noiselessly as he could.
"He's out there", he mumbled, forcing the words out through a barrier of fear.
"Did he notice you?"
"I don't think so. He was going down the stairs at the end. He must have a lame foot because he was clumping around on the steps. I didn't get much of a look at him, just this very bulky, shadowy shape".
"And he was definitely going DOWN the stairs, not up?" Joby asked "I wonder if the others have seen him".
"Or if they're still alive", Kieran said, anxiously.
"You mean, like a bloodbath, gruesome double axe murders at remote pub, that kind of thing?"
"Stop talking like a tabloid headline! The fact remains, he could've butchered them both".
"But he's blind with a club foot, from what you said. Not exactly an invincible foe".
"He's a focking psychopath with an axe!" Kieran protested "That's what we have to bear in mind. Now, let's go and look for the others".
When Kieran pushed open the door of the room opposite them he braced himself for the sight of two bloody, mutilated corpses on the floor. It was almost an anti-climax to find Adam standing pensively by the window, and Angel sitting in his usual cross-legged position.
"I told you it was them all the time", Adam snorted in disgust "This sad little git keeps hearing intruders in the corridor. I wanted to look, to set his mind at rest, but he kept flipping on me everytime I went to the door".
"There IS an intruder", said Kieran "Angel's mad axeman is for real".
"I fucking told you!" Angel exclaimed, angrily "No one ever believes me when I say things, and yet I never lie".
"A thousand apologies", Joby said, abruptly "Now there are four of us against a lame blindman. We should be able to sort him out .. even if he has got an axe".
"And if we can't", said Kieran "We are not worthy of the name Man!"
The axeman was standing in the middle of the main bar area, clutching his weapon as though it was a vital life-line. The four intruders crept silently down the main staircase. At the bottom of the stairs Adam mutely indicated for the others to re-arrange themselves at strategic intervals around the room.
As they each crept silently to their own designated spaces, the axeman made inadequate lunges at thin air with his chopper. The others dodged him nimbly. Adam stayed at the bottom of the stairs, Kieran found himself by the main doorway, Joby had his back to the bar counter, and Angel was by the kitchen door.
"What now?" Joby muttered.
Adam wasn't sure. His first idea of them all charging the axeman at once now didn't seem such a good one. The axe looked pretty sharp, and the monster holding it was probably highly proficient in the art of dismemberment. Monster was the only way he could be described. He was a truly horrific sight. An obese body clad in filthy shapeless garments, his different-sized feet encased in bloodstained, foul-smelling bandages where he had once, many years ago, had them medically attended to. His hair was long, white and matted with dirt. His face a terrifying distortion with a twisted mouth and a film of skin completely covering each eye.
Silently, they dodged him at intervals, their feet making soft, scraping noises on the dusty floor. No one noticed Angel going into the kitchen.
The knife was well-honed, originally used for sawing at huge joints of meat. Angel tested it on his finger and winced. Holding it down the inside of his sleeve, he slid back into the bar.
He crept up behind the axeman, so silently that not even the victim heard him. He grabbed the hair on top of the man's head and yanked it back so sharply that he later found strands of the matted white stuff in his fingers. With the other hand he slid the knife across the man's throat, and severed all his life-lines for good.
An hour later it was fully daylight at the inn, and not a trace of the ubiquitous fog to be seen. Adam, Joby and Kieran sat around the kitchen table, prodding reluctantly at individual bowls of rice.
"I reckon", said Adam, dipping his fingers into the food but not tasting any of it "That the axeman was once the landlord of this place".
"No wonder he didn't get many customers!" said Kieran.
"I don't think he was always like that", Adam leaned back in his chair in a weary fashion "I reckon something drove him mad, and that something could be to do with the Loud House. That's only pure speculation of course".
"Good", said Kieran, not relishing the prospect of that day's travelling "So we don't have to bother with it".
"It's the only thing that makes sense", the older man insisted "This little place was once a thriving concern. Our clubfooted friend didn't come out here as a madman, he became one. Living in close proximity to that ... that place over there drove him mad. Perhaps he heard too much of that singing last night, I don't know".
"I wonder what happened to his eyes?"
"That, my dear Patsy", said Adam, leaning across the table "is the key to this whole thing. Perhaps that's what drove him mad. But I think if we find the reason why he went blind, we'll have the mystery all sewn-up".
"I'm not bothered about him", said Joby, testily "He's dead now. He can't harm us anymore. What I'm concerned about is our little blue-eyed friend. I'm not sure I like being stranded in a remote place with someone who's so good at cutting throats, and who we know nothing about".
"He did that to save us all", Adam protested.
"Huh!" Joby exclaimed "I haven't seen nifty fingerwork like that outside of an abattoir".
"It's the way he did it that got me", Kieran said "So calmly, as though he had it all planned, and as though he's ..."
"Done it before", Joby finished for him "Many times".
"You two are unbelievable", Adam said, incredulously "He saves your life, and now you brand him as a serial-killer! What ingratitude. He would hardly have been made trustee at the prison if he was psychotic would he?"
"No", said Joby, in a pointed fashion "He got made trustee at the prison because the Governor took a shine to him and wanted to spend more time with him. After all, he's got the kind of looks that appeal to tired disillusioned old men".
"Like it or not", Adam snapped "We have to keep him with us".
"He's right", said Kieran "Even if he is psychotic, it's best he stays with us, where we can keep an eye on him. Better than have him roaming about the countryside, and possibly stalking us".
"I still think you're being unreasonable though", said Adam "Angel isn't dangerous. He's very young, he had a rough upbringing, and he's spent all his adult life in prison. It can't be that surprising if he's picked up a few rough survival techniques".
"Survival techniques!" Joby cried "It wasn't that long ago that he scared you shitless as well".
"He didn't scare me Joby, it's just all his jumpiness got on my nerves. At least now I understand why, and if you took a good look at his arms you'd understand too".
"I think I'll go and see where the little darling's got too", Kieran rose to leave the room. As an afterthought he took another of the kitchen knives with him, in case Angel was still feeling aggressive.
He didn't have far to look. Angel was kneeling in the open doorway of the pub, retching violently. He clutched his stomach and the door-jamb, panic-stricken by the terrifying convulsions that his insides were making. Kieran nimbly side-stepped the corpse of the axeman lying in the middle of the room, and went over to him.
"It's alright. We'll get some fresh air inside you", he dropped the knife on the floor, hoisted the boy up by his armpits and propelled him outside "I'm not surprised you're feeling a bit dodgy now. That was some conjuring trick you did earlier. I hope you don't go doing it too often. It's not the kind of party-piece we're comfortable with. Are you feeling better now?"
The boy nodded and looked up gratefully, in the obvious expectation of stunning someone else's emotions with his prettiness and vulnerability. Kieran in turn looked appropriately shell-shocked, but it wasn't in recognition of his finer feelings being tapped. It was he sight of a nasty, green liquid substance clinging vilely to the boy's teeth, mouth, chin and shirt-front. Kieran tentatively touched it in disbelief and then stared in revulsion at his fingertips.
"It get's to you doesn't it?" said Angel "I mean, I thought he'd have normal blood like the rest of us. Instead it's all green and putrid. Talk about a bad turn ..."
"Angel", said Kieran, faintly "What's his blood, green or otherwise, doing around your mouth?"
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