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"It is going to be a hellishly uncomfortable night", Adam complained "I'm sweating so much I feel like a barbecued sausage!"
"It's worth putting up with a bit of heat", said Tamaz "If it ensures we're safe".
"Against what?" Adam cried, in exasperation "You and Patsy get the jitters out on the marshes, and before I know it the whole boat is being sealed like a drum, and we have you taking up the middle of the room".
He kicked Tamaz's camp-bed which was now wedged awkwardly down the centre of the room.
"Give it a rest, Ad", said Joby "You keep complaining like this and I'll have to have a word with Julian about you".
"Ooh big scary man!" said Adam, facetiously.
"Tamaz is doing all this for our benefit, Adam", said Lonts, lying in his top bunk "I think that's really good fo him, and you're just being mean not appreciating him".
"That is the last straw", said Adam "Even Lo-Lo's betraying me now!"
He climbed into his bunk with difficulty, feeling like a dog cocking its leg against a lamp-post. Tamaz got into his camp-bed, which involved a great deal of squeaking and sliding about.
"I feel like I'm in a prison camp", Adam muttered, rolling over to face the wall "And one of you had better remember to turn the lamp down!"
Soon after one o'clock Tamaz woke up after a particularly unpleasent dream which had vividly pictured him being in the last stages of breast cancer. Fortunately Joby heard his whimpering, and leaned across to comfort him. He reassured him it was just a dream, and that he'd probably re-interpreted what had happened to Lady Red.
Tamaz wasn't reassured, but they were diverted soon after by a scrabbling noise on the deck overhead. It sounded like a pack of cats or other small animals rushing about in confusion.
"It's the Thing!" Tamaz exclaimed "It's got over from the marshes. It's on here!"
Everyone else heard it too, and the quarterdeck was soon a hive of activity.
"Whatever it is, it's brushing against the topside doors", said Ransey, standing at the bottom of the steps with his revolver in his hand.
"Don't you go opening them to look", said Finia, hanging onto his elbow.
"We'll be fine as long as we keep the windows closed", said Kieran "It'll probably be best not to attack it unless ..."
"It attacks us first", said Joby, grimly.
"The hold!" said Lonts "It oculd get into there through the air-vent, like Uddle did!"
"The hold's bolted shut", said Julian "And we won't open it until the morning. Lonts, take Tamaz into my cabin out of the way. There's no sense us all trying to crowd into the gangway".
"Something's just gone past the saloon window", said Bengo.
"What did it look like?" said Julian.
"I don't know, it all happened so quick", said Bengo "It went dark, and I caught something out of the corner of my eye".
"Right, silence", Julian ordered "We need to keep track of where it's going".
They didn't hear anything for a while, and then there was a distant plop, like a sack of kittens falling into the river.
"It's left us", said Kieran "I think we can breathe again".
"'First light'", Julian wrote in his log-book "'Ransey, Hillyard and I have just carried out a tour of inspection of the boat, even going down into the hold, which I full admit had me feeling apprehensive. We were looking mainly to see if whatever that wretched creature was managed to lay any eggs whilst it was on here, or reproduce itself in any way, but thankfully all seems to be clear.
We are going to travel all day today at full lick. None of us wants another night like this one. As such I advised everyone to go back to bed and try and get some rest. Toppy is the most amazing child. In the midst of all this tension he still manages to get upset because Tamaz had taken advantage of his brief sojourn in my cabin to try on Toppy's best trousers! I sometimes think Our Youngest is the dottiest one of all of us.
I commended Tamaz for his acute instincts which had stood us in such good stead this night. He in turn replied that from now on he is going to be completely male. I said he could be an aardvark if that's what he wanted, as long as he continues to show this kind of foresight!'"
The afternoon saw them much further up the river, although still surrounded by mudflats on either side. Nonetheless they were able to put the events of the previous night in perspective, and all agreed that if the coming night proved to be a repeat performance they would at least be ready for it and know what to expect.
They anchored at around 6 P.M and Julian ordered Bardin to call a rehearsal, mainly in order to take everyone's minds off the coming dark hours. Bardin was delighted to do so. He said he had a brilliant idea for a satirical sketch, unwittingly inspired by the Barlazzi Town Constable. A spanner was thrown in the proceedings though by Tamaz refusing to turn up. Bardin nearly had hysterics at the thought of a walk-out by their ingenue and begged Joby to go and persuade him to come up on deck.
Joby found Tamaz in their cabin. Tamaz was lying in bed, and in spite of the heat he was wearing Lonts' winter pyjama jacket.
"I'm not performing", said Tamaz, crossly "I don't want to be the girl. From now on I'm a boy, and a boy alone".
"I know what's causing this", said Joby, kneeling down by Tamaz's bed "That horrible dream you had last night".
"I don't want to end up like Lady Red", said Tamaz.
"You can't go through life worrying about what illnesses you might get", said Joby, soothingly "Just remember one thing. Whatever happens I'll always love you and take care of you".
"Even if I've got no tits?" said Tamaz, aggressively.
"Do you really think that's all I want you for?" said Joby "I could've had Glynis if that was the case! Look, Lonts has been having bad dreams lately too. I'm surprised Kieran hasn't been on 'em as well. We'll know things are in a tight spot it he starts getting bad nightmares!"
He was relieved when Tamaz gave a small laugh at this.
"Come above and do a bit of rehearsing, it'll do you good", Joby continued "Bardin wants you in his new sketch, and in it he says you can play a boy, a young cadet guard. You have to be chased around the stage by Hillyard. He plays a debauched old Constable. But don't worry, he doesn't catch you!"
"I am still the F.O in the other sketches though?" said Tamaz.
"Yeah, but you don't have to do anything you don't want to", said Joby "I've been thinking about 'Love In The Laundry', I think it needs fine-tuning. Everytime we show it I get trouble. It's too controversial".
"You heard what Bardin said, comedy should be controversial", said Tamaz, who was sounding more lively "Anyway, I don't think it is dodgy, not in the least. It's not our fault if some of the punters are completely gormless!"
"O.K", Joby sighed "But I'm insisting we change the bit where I put you across my knee. I'll have a word with Bardin about it".
"Don't be stupid", Tamaz groaned and rolled his eyes "It's provocative and funny, and if I can put up with it so can the audience! Nothing else would be as funny".
"You have a real gift for it", said Joby, fondly "Comedy, I mean".
"I know", said Tamaz, climbing out of bed "Are we doing a rehearsal of 'Laundry' this evening?"
"I think so", said Joby "The clowns say they can cool off doing it, with all that dunking each other in cold water!"
"Good", Tamaz rifled in the cupboard "I've got a new addition to my costume. Finia did them for me".
He pulled out a pair of his drawers. Finia had embroidered the outline of a pink heart on the back of them, saucily right over his bum cleavage.
"What do you think?" said Tamaz, holding them up.
"Cheeky!" Joby laughed.
"I think the new sketch is showing promise", said Bardin, as he and Bengo sweltered together in the saloon late that night "Hillyard's superb as the Fat Constable".
"Adam said it was Brechtian", said Bengo "What does that mean?"
"Dunno", Bardin shrugged "Sounds a bit intellectual to me".
"I don't think we could be accused of that somehow", Bengo sighed.
"Perhaps to some of our punters we are!" said Bardin.
"'Last night passed off without event'", Julian wrote in his logbook, the following lunchtime "'No sightings of huge creepy-crawlies at any rate, and I actually managed to get some sleep. I breezed into breakfast feeling good, and was immediately hit by a frosty atmosphere amongst some of the other inmates. After some extremely tortuous questioning I managed to discover that that dimwitted old bat Adam has made himself the most unpopular boy in his cabin, mainly through his incessant complaining. As a consequence it appears that Joby wants to stage a palace coup and is all for putting him ashore, and apparantely I have to go with him, because I'm "one of his lot too"! But I have long since resigned myself to the fact that everytime Adam or I emit the slightest signs of human frailty Joby brands us a pair of cruel and degenerate aristocrats with no sense or feeling.
I came up with a solution to it all which I feel was truly inspired, and so naturally it got shot down in flames by everyone else! The chief problem undoubtedly is that their cabin in hopelessly overcrowded. There are 5 of them crammed into a space half the size of mine, so I suggested that Tinker Belle, Goofy and Freaky all swap places with the clowns. This would make one less in their cabin, and the odd trio can then have the saloon to themselves. The clowns went nuts about this, squawking that it was wholly impractical to expect them to share, as they often discussed the show half the night, and this would make Adam complain even more!
(Lonts also chipped in that he liked it being so overcrowded (!)).
I could see Adam was everyone's biggest bugbear and called him in here to lecture him in private. I said I had no intention of being put against a wall and shot by a rabid Marxist because of him! Adam (as I expected) was truly contrite by this time. He said his problem was that Lonts is getting increasingly besotted with Tamaz, and it worries him. He said he knew Lonts would never leave him (it's a bit difficult to do that when they're all in same cabin!), but he was worried because Tamaz had qualities he so obviously didn't. It transpired he wasn't referring to Freaky's tits, but his youth. "He's so young, and I'm so old and crabby", he twittered. I said he was being completely absurd, and this all had to stop. I said if we started allowing our jealousies and insecurities to take over, we'd end up no better than some dreary suburban wife-swapping ring! I was relieved to see he was reassured by this, and he promised to work on his complaining. All is not lost anyway. If he upsets that lot over the way too much he can come in here and share with me!'"
"'Later. Early evening. Ransey and I had a session going over the maps. We reckon to reach our next inhabited area sometime tomorrow. This is a large sprawling community scattered over a plain, so hopefully we should be able to fit in several shows over several days.
Watched the first proper run-through of 'The Fat Constable' this afternoon. It's really rather good, and some of the acrobatic feats Bengo performs as he tries to outwit Hillyard are breathtaking. Bardin has managed to persuade Toppy to take the role of the nervous young cadet. He says its impractical to have Tamaz doing it, as he would have to do a complete costume change, and next to no time is allowed between sketches for this. Very sensible, but needless to say Freaky is up in arms about this, saying it's all a plot, and we never had any intention at all of letting him play a male role. He then threatened to come down here and put on Toppy's best suit, in order to show us just how male he could be. I said if he didn't behave he wouldn't appear in the show at all. Bardin looked wretched by this, which is understandable as Tamaz is essential to our little revue. But fortunately Freaky calmed down after my threat, and peace, order and tranquillity was restored to our little home ... and if you believe that you'll believe anything!'"
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