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"'It is 5 days since we left No-Name'", Julian wrote in his log-book "'And according to the maps Dolores gave us we are due to reach our next port-of-call at any time now. This is a small town called Barlazzi. Dolores told us it is very old, but quite bustling, or at least it was the last time she was there, which is some years back. She said it's so out in the sticks it'll be interesting for us to see if anyone recognises Kieran! Personally I think they will. We've been to some pretty out-of-the-way places before and he's always had an effect. I can never get over all these settlements along this river that remained undetected by the Ministry all these years, quite amazing really.
The countryside has been astoundingly beautiful, and surprisingly lush, considering how bleak it is just a little way to the south of here. It reminds me of the more fertile parts of Australia. Mile upon mile of steamy green forest stretching to the mountains on the far horizon. There isn't any of that dreary closed-in feeling we had in the swamp as unlike there we can, as the old song puts it, see for miles and miles and miles.
Needless to say it is very hot and humid, and we travel only first thing in the morning as we are quite happy to dawdle. This would have been a perfect rehearsing time, and the others are seething with ideas (the slightest thing can set off a spin for a comedy sketch) but, much to Bardin's frustration, the curse went and came upon the Lady of Shallot! Freaky was confined to bed for 3 days with his period. The poor little bastard was doubled up in pain for most of the time, so it was impossible for him to do anything. The others tried rehearsing without him, but it soon became obvious how indispensable the Fuckable Object ... sorry, ingenue ... is to the whole revue.
Yesterday, much to everyone's indescribable relief, Freaky was sitting up in bed eating everything in sight and barking orders. Obviously feeling much better. He lectured Kieran that if we'd whipped out his innards before leaving Toondor Lanpin we wouldn't have had this problem. I can tell Kieran is often shaken by Freaky's extremely pragmatic attitude towards his own womanhood. Perhaps it startles Tinker Belle's Catholic sensitivities, although he always denies this violently.
In the meantime Bardin had created another sketch, nominally entitled "The Stallion". Lonts takes the title role, playing a gorgeous (what else?) but innocent young slave who is put up for public auction. The comedy aspect centres around 3 bidders who are each desperate to get their hands on him. Lonts ends up getting stripped down to a jockstrap during the course of the sketch.
Adam has been perfectly snotty about the whole thing, claiming that it is "broad humour bordering on the tasteless", and that all the Indigo Players can seem to do is tear each other's clothes off. (Absolutely nothing to do with the fact that his little darling will be being ogled by everyone in the audience, oh no! Perish the thought!) I told him he was being perfectly insufferable, and as tiresome as Codlik. He's still not speaking to me for that slur!
The three bidders in the sketch are Bengo, Tamaz and ... Finia! Finia is superb. I never thought he'd want to perform, I can only assume Bardin talked him into it. He plays a haughty high society dame with lustful designs on Lonts, and is very funny indeed.
Bengo is a debauched old soddo, although he looks far too disgustingly young and healthy for such a role. Still, I'm relieved they didn't ask me to play it! I don't think I'd be in the mood for Adam's rather caustic remarks!
Tamaz plays the third bidder, a rather blowsy tart of a pub landlady. He was extremely annoyed that he gets to play the scrag end, whilst Finia is the classy bird, and at first refused to join in. He went into his cabin in a sulk and refused to be coaxed out. After all entreaties had failed Joby (oh wise Joby! Noble Joby!) went in and hauled him out by the elastic on his drawers! Joby really does have the magic touch, because Freaky didn't play up again for the rest of the afternoon. I think he was mollified by getting a chance to kick Finia in the butt during the sketch. Needless to say Finia was none too happy when he heard of this planned comic development, and I thought we were going to get another dramatic exit by a leading lady, but Bardin (who really should have been a diplomat not a clown), reassured him that it would not be Finia personally whom the punters would be piddling themselves to see kicked in the jacksey, but the grand society lady. Finia agreed to play ball, but only on condition Freaky doesn't get too carried away, or methinks the blowsy tart will be getting a swift boot up her rear too!'"
They docked in Barlazzi at four in the morning and slept for a couple of hours. Adam and Ransey then sneaked out early to buy melons and other fruit at the market in the town centre. Afterwards they hired a horse-and-trap and went for a ride round the town.
"It's so much cleaner than I expected", said Adam, as they trundled down past the sparkling river "I suppose I was expecting something like Toondor Lanpin".
"The buildings certainly look as though they're scrubbed regularly", said Ransey, eyeing with approval the white and pink stucco houses that all faced onto the market square "There's money in this town somewhere, you can be sure of that".
Back at the Indigo Lonts was standing on the foreward deck, eating his way through a bag of chocolate cookies, and watching Toppy who was strolling along the quayside, looking at the other boats, one of which was surprisingly swish and elegant.
"I suppose you want to get a job on that too", Lonts boomed, as Toppy joined him on the deck "You always seem to be looking for other jobs".
"That's not true", said Toppy "I like being on here. Even when you're awful to me, I like being on here".
Adam and Ransey returned at that moment, carrying a basket of melons between them.
"Have you eaten all those biscuits, Lo-Lo?" said Adam, climbing aboard.
"There's a couple left in the bottom", said Lonts, defensively.
"How bighearted of you", Adam exclaimed "We'll share them between the rest of us!"
"It's your fault, Adam", said Lonts "I got hungry waiting for you to come home".
"You were a long time with Ransey", said Toppy, slyly.
"Toppy doesn't get any breakfast now", said Lonts, stoutly "He's stirring is as usual!"
That afternoon Hillyard took a brass handbell Julian had bought before leaving Toondor Lanpin, and went around the market square ringing it to notify (warn?) the locals that the Indigo Players would perform two of their favourite (translate this as 'only') sketches at 2 o'clock, for the delectation of everyone.
At the appointed hour Bengo, Bardin, Tamaz, Lonts, Finia and Joby all piled into a hired trap, with the bath-tub and the laundry barrel roped onto the back.
"We're gonna have to think of a sketch that has simpler props", said Joby "Ones that aren't so cumbersome to carry".
"Well 'The Stallion' has no props at all", said Bardin "Unless you count Lonts's clothes!"
"I half-inched one of Julian's cigars for my turn in it", said Bengo, gleefully "He'll have a fit when he sees it".
"It's too crowded in this", said Lonts "You'll have to sit on my lap, Bengo".
The carriage took them into the market square, where a gratifyingly sizeable crowd had gathered, and they pulled up by the horse-trough, so that they could fill their props conveniently. Hillyard and Kieran had walked on ahead to meet them there. Kieran had been recognised very easily, and everyone had been friendly in a low-key way towards him.
"You came ahead on purpose", said Joby, getting out of the carriage and going up to Kieran "You hate to miss out on a bit of attention".
"I'll get all the attention I want later", said Kieran, teasingly "When me and Tamaz take to our skates".
Tamaz was the last one of the carriage. He had insisted on wearing his fur-stole over his petticoat, and it soon became apparent why. As he got out of the carriage he coyly lifted up the ends of it to reveal tantalising glimpses of his jacked-up bosom, before dispensing with it entirely.
"He's such a little tart", said Joby.
"He's the best advert we've got", said Bardin "Don't knock it".
By now 'Love In The Laundry' felt as familiar and much-loved to the Indigo-ites as a favourite soap opera. They no longer bothered rehearsing it as they felt had it about as fresh and sharp as they could get it. Bengo and Bardin's knockabout routine at the beginning of it was funnier than ever, but it was slapstick in its most violent sense. They hit each other with wash-boards so frequently that even the other Indigo-ites marvelled that they never seriously hurt each other. The women in the audience made sympathetic noises, and Bardin was under no illusions, he knew that it was Bengo (he of the sexy long legs) who got the most affection from them. That was why it gave him even greater pleasure than ever to toss him headfirst into the laundry-barrel.
The showstopping moment of course was always Tamaz losing the skirt of his petticoat, and he so obviously relished the impact this had on the men in the audience that Joby, who normally didn't make proper contact when he chastised him on stage, this time threw in a couple of firm smacks for good measure. Worryingly, this was cheered by a couple of male punters, and Joby said to Kieran afterwards that he could only assume they were battered husbands like his own father had been.
They barely paused for breath before launching into the first public performance of 'The Stallion'. Although the slapstick here wasn't quite so broad, it was still popular, mainly because of the amount of ad-libbing that went on. Bardin's only criticism was that Lonts was supposed to be a reluctant slave, not an eager one!
Bengo was a sneering revelation. In a grubby frock-coat and a battered stovepipe hat, he looked almost unrecognisable from the innocent little laundry-hand of the previous sketch.
The stars though were Finia and Tamaz, who made energetic rivals for Lonts's charms. They both ad-libbed shamelessly, but it was so inspired that Bardin simply let them get on with it. Tamaz kicked Finia rather too vigorously in the backside, so Finia tore off Tamaz's skirt once more and shoved it into the laundry-barrel which was still on the side of the "stage". Tamaz, who had been wearing his fur-stole, took it off and wrapped it round Finia's neck. Then he pulled him towards him and kissed him on the lips. As most male punters like nothing better than a hint of lesbian eroticism, this got cheered too.
"I thought it was supposed to at least try and be a family show", said Adam, standing at the back of the crowd.
"Good old panto tradition", said Julian "After all, how many of them used to end in gay weddings?!"
The audience showed their appreciation by donating fruit, wine and even a dead goose to them at the end of the show. A sour note was struck (literally) when one of the female punters, a real bruiser of a housewife, took exception to the way Joby had manhandled Tamaz during 'Love In The Laundry' and slapped him round the face before striding off.
"Are you o.k?" said Kieran, looking at him with concern.
"Yeah, I think me jaw's still there", said Joby, rubbing his face "A bit upsetting that".
"I'll go after her if you like", said Tamaz, fiercely.
"No, let it go", Joby sighed, despondently "That's showbiz, as the old saying goes".
"These things happen", said Bardin "Try not to let it get to you. Sometimes the punters can't seem to tell fact from fiction. Once I got to play a real nasty piece of work on stage, a vicious gunslinger. I thought it'd be fun to play a real mean bastard for a change, but I was glad when the run finished. It meant I could go into bars again without being punched and kicked!"
"Well done my little cherubs", said Julian. He came over to them and they all clustered round him "Bengo, you were so good, I might just let you off for stealing my cigar".
"He looked like Groucho Marx", said Joby "All he needed was the glasses and the moustache!"
"Are you alright, Joby?" said Adam "I noticed one of the women didn't appreciate your John Wayne impression".
"I'll survive", said Joby.
"Well I thought you were splendid", said Adam, kissing his cheek "And Tamaz makes a wonderful Maureen O'Hara!"
"He's got the feisty spirit for it", said Kieran "I've often felt he could be Irish".
"God forbid", said Joby "One of you around is enough!"
"What about me?" said Lonts, with a loud and injured air.
"Oh Lo-Lo, you were terrific", said Adam "I was going to say that straightaway, but I got sidetracked by poor Joby getting thumped".
"Let's continue with the eulogies over a drink", said Julian "It'd be nice to get out of the glare of the sun".
"I can't come in", said Tamaz, stamping his foot "My skirt's soaking wet, I can't put it on".
"You look perfectly respectable as you are", said Adam "Anyway, you walk around the Indigo in your drawers, so I don't see a problem".
"And the whole town's just seen 'em anyway", said Joby.
"Here, he can have my shirt", said Hillyard, peeling it off and handing it over "If he puts that on, he can take his corset off. I can't imagine it'd be too comfortable to relax in over a beer".
"Hillyard is the most thoughtful one of all of you", Tamaz simpered.
All dozen of them congregated in the town's main bar, and sat over beers and brandies, with their "takings" piled up on the backs of the benches. It was deliciously cool in here after the heat of the sun, and they weren't in any hurry to move. Kieran and Tamaz were going to rollerskate at sunset, and Bardin was going to give a song, so they agreed to stay in here until then.
"Great payment", said Ransey, picking up the goose by its neck "I can't wait to do the books!"
"Hillyard's going to have to pluck it, and top and tail it for me", said Adam "I can't bear doing that kind of thing".
"Why don't we just put it in the oven as it is?" said Lonts "As an experiment".
"You're not of this world sometimes", said Joby.
Lonts glared at him and decided he wanted to go and watch a nomadic conjurer, who had just come into the bar to do a magic act. Toppy went with him.
"The goose idea would be good for a sketch", said Bardin "We could do a spoof cookery show".
"Just about everything gets turned into a sketch these days", said Ransey.
"We have to grab ideas where we can", said Bardin "The more turns we have to our repertoire the better".
"In the next one can I have a less controversial role?" said Joby, rubbing his cheek "I've been thumped in this town. In No-Name I was nearly beaten up by Simeon. In the next one I'll probably be arrested as a wife-beater!"
"Those are the breaks", said Bardin "Comedy should be daring. In my opinion there's nothing worse than safe, bland humour, the sort that Codlik probably likes".
"Yeah, but you've said yourself the punters often think you're like the characters you play", said Joby "Well I don't want everyone thinking I'm a thug!"
"Look, me and Bengo beat each other up with washboards in that sketch", said Bardin "And half-drown each other too, and yet we don't have any problem with it. 'Love In The Laundry' works well, I don't want to stop it just yet".
"Bardin's right, Joby", said Adam "Think how controversial Shakespeare could be. I mean, 'The Merchant Of Venice' was the most awful anti-Semitic diatribe, and yet I remember going to see a performance in our time and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. It is style and sensitive handling that counts".
"'The Taming Of The Shrew' is probably a better comparison with what we're doing", said Julian.
"Yes of course", Adam laughed "Joby would make a wonderful Petrucchio, and Tamaz is a gorgeously sexy little shrew".
"Adam! Julian!" Lonts raced over, looking wild-eyed with horror.
"What is it Lo-Lo?" said Adam "Try and get your breath back".
"It's Toppy, he's disappeared!" said Lonts.
"He can't be far away", said Ransey, calmly.
"He's disappeared I tell you!" said Lonts "That horrible conjurer put him in a basket, and now he's gone!"
"It's part of his act, you dork", said Joby "I told you all didn't I! This is the sort of thing that happens when you're dealing with brainless punters!"
Ransey went over to the nomad, who was muttering some evil-sounding oath over an old laundry-basket.
"What have you done with Our Youngest?" said Ransey.
"Begone, you're despoiling the magic!" the nomad cried.
"Oh don't give me that", said Ransey "Where have you put him?"
Toppy suddenly emerged from underneath the conjurer's voluminous robes, looking rather sheepish. The bar-room audience fell about laughing, and the conjurer looked satanic with rage.
"He told me to go under there!" Toppy bleated.
"There you are", said Ransey to Lonts "He didn't really disappear into the ether".
"How was I supposed to know?" said Lonts, crossly "After all, that's what happened to Kieran at the Bone-House!"
"I didn't disappear out of the back of a laundry-basket!" said Kieran.
"It could be done", said Bardin, and went onto another idea for a sketch.
"Are you happy to go on with the laundry sketch?" Joby was asking Tamaz, whilst they were sitting alone at the table "I mean it's not much fun for you is it?"
"You reckon?" Tamaz grabbed Joby's hand and yanked it between his legs. His cotton drawers were distinctly moist around the crotch.
"Tamaz", Joby smiled, fondly "What am I gonna do with you eh?"
"Kiss me", Tamaz breathed and pulled him towards him.
"Rollerskating time!" Kieran thundered, grabbing Tamaz by the back of his shirt.
"Ooh you sexy little beast!" said Adam, tickling Joby under the chin.
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