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By Sarah Hapgood

Sensibly, they gave Tudde an armed escort over to his little encampment to pick up the remains of his few meagre possessions. When they got there they found an unwelcome visitor had left what looked like the contents of someone’s stomach on a plate, accompanied by a note which said that next time they hoped to greet him in person.

“It’s the wayside inn gang”, said Tudde “They must know I’ve been associating with you. They know everything that goes on around here”.

Back at the galleon once more they weighed anchor and set sail for the narrow beach that Tudde had suggested. They reached that area at sunset, and stayed sitting out at sea. Bardin was going to organise night-watches on deck, in case anyone in the area decided they were going to sail out under cloak of darkness and pay them a visit.

Over supper in the dining-room Tudde told them all that he knew about the inn. Particularly that Aimee had inherited it from her father, who had been a mentally unstable rogue.

“I get the impression there wasn’t any bit of skulduggery that he wouldn’t get up to if he could”, said Tudde “When Aimee took over the place, she was determined to clean it up. Everything was to be above-board”.

“That’s not unusual”, said Adam “The children react to the sins of the fathers, and want nothing to do with their shady antics”.

“Well unfortunately it’s regressed again in the new generation”, said Tudde “Bad blood will out I guess”.

“What happened to Aimee’s dad?” said Joby “Was he ever caught out?”

“From what I can gather he got more and more loopy”, said Tudde “He had a helluva temper, and one day he attacked a customer during a drunken brawl, knifed him. Well for a change the outside world heard about it, and had him locked up in a lunatic asylum in Port West. It’s not clear what happened after that. Some say he died there, others that he escaped and was never caught”.

“And presumably made his way back up here?” said Julian, sardonically.

“It is the stuff of old legends, it’s true”, said Tudde “But I guess even if he did, all that’s too long ago now to be of any concern to us”.

“Where this area’s concerned”, said Joby “I wouldn’t like to take bets on anything!”

After all the supper things had been cleared away, and most of them had retired to bed, Joby found Bengo alone in the galley, sitting at the table with a bottle of brandy.

“Aye-aye”, said Joby “This is a bad sign. The slippery slope”.

“I’m just having a little night-cap before turning in”, said Bengo.

“Yeah that’s what they all say”, said Joby, sitting down opposite him and pouring himself a glass “Bardin at a rough guess. He’s the only one who gets you like this”.

“We’re never gonna get away from here, Joby”, said Bengo “This area. As you said once, all paths lead back here”.

“I didn’t mean it literally”, said Joby “Just letting off steam that’s all”.

“Bardy says we’re obviously meant to be here”, said Bengo “Destined. To find out what’s what”.

“Sounds more like the sort of thing Kieran’d come out with”.

“How is Kieran? He was really quiet at dinner. Hardly said a word”.

“I took one of the riding-crops to him earlier, that’s probably why”.

“YOU did?” Bengo exclaimed “But that’s usually Julian’s department!”

“The way things were it was either me who did it, or Julian”, said Joby “I thought it was probably best if it was me. The way Julian was carrying on there would probably have been carnage, and Kieran wouldn’t have exactly protected himself. Sometimes he has to be protected from himself”.

“Bengo!” Bardin called out from the corridor.

Joby hastily stowed the bottle under the table.

“This is a cosy little scene”, Bardin said, on finding them in the galley.

“Just a little night-cap before turning in”, said Joby.

“To help me sleep”, Bengo snapped.

“Adam clearly doesn’t work you hard enough then”, said Bardin.

“On that outrageous remark I’m going to bed”, said Joby, picking up the lamp “What have you got planned for us tomorrow? Ambushing a wayside inn perhaps?”

“I thought we’d sit out here at anchor tomorrow”, said Bardin “And just do a little fishing”. “Oh Bardy”, said Bengo, almost bursting into tears with gratitude “I was convinced you were gonna try and do something silly!”

“And just occasionally you pleasantly surprise us”, said Joby.

“Goodnight”, said Bardin, firmly.

“G’night”, said Joby “Oh sweet vision of my dreams”.

He carried the lamp along the corridor and met Kieran coming out of the heads. They went into their cabin together.

“I see that thing is still in here”, said Kieran, noticing that the silver-handled riding-crop was still lying on the wash-stand.

“I haven’t got round to taking it back down to the hold yet”, said Joby “That’s all”.

“Oh I thought it was out of Julian’s collection of torture instruments”.

“No I didn’t want him knowing what we were up to. Get the old bugger too excited“.

Joby began to gently undress Kieran.

“Though I expect by tomorrow it’ll be all over the ship”, said Joby “And he’ll be wanting to get a close look at your marks, and then probably complain I didn’t do a good enough job!” “Joby, can you forgive me?” said Kieran.

“Course I forgive you, Kiel! I always do”.

“It’s just that I don’t seem to have been good for very much lately. Some Vanquisher of Evil!”

“Yeah well you can’t go around clubbing demons over the head all the time can you!” said Joby “You do enough. You’re my lover and my best friend, you’re our spiritual guardian, and God knows we all need one, and Hillyard would be lost without your help with the animals”.

“Ransey was right just now though. I do put cleansing the world above everybody’s safety”.

“Is that what he said to you?”

“Oh just one of his wee bedtime lectures on how irresponsible I am”, said Kieran “But he was right. And he said wasn’t arrogance a grave sin the eyes of God, and of course he was right about that as well”.

“Ransey quoting religion”, said Joby “Blimey, what is the world coming to! Well tomorrow, he can go and do it all again, only deliver it to Bardin this time, ’cept somehow I don’t think he’d be quite so repentant as you are!”

He turned down the lamp and got into their bunk.

“I’ll take the whip back downstairs in the morning”, said Joby “I promise”.

“Well I was kind of getting used to having it here”, said Kieran “Perhaps you should keep it … for use in emergencies”.

“He kept talk talk talking”, said Umbert “Way into the night. I thought he was never gonna stop”.

“Well all that isolation has clearly left him with a backlog of talking to do”, said Adam.

They were gathered outside the galley door the following morning, along with Joby and Hillyard. Umbert was letting off steam about the inconvenience of sharing a dining-room/bedroom with Tudde, their guest.

“What was he talking about?” said Joby.

“Wanted to know all about us and the ship”, said Umbert.

“Oh yeah, like what?” said Joby, suspiciously.

“You’re into polyamoury too”, said Tudde, suddenly walking out of the dining-room.

“Yer what?” said Joby.

“Oh Joby for heaven’s sake, engage your brain”, said Adam “It means having more than one serious sexual partner at a time. Multiple relationships”.

“That’s just called being plain greedy actually”, said Joby, with a blithe disregard to the fact that he did it himself.

Tudde looked understandably confused.

“But you have sex with everybody on the ship”, he said, innocently.

“No I don’t!” said Joby, indignantly.

“I don’t have sex with anybody”, said Umbert, proudly “I’m one of the celibates”.

“Listen”, Adam interrupted “I can hear something outside”.

“Sounds like thunder”, said Hillyard.

Rumble came thumping down the galley steps.

“We’re being fired upon”, he said “From the shore. That bunch of wankers from the wayside inn. And they’re got some pretty heavy artillery with them I can tell you!”

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