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By Sarah Hapgood

Kieran had very real fears for his own future (mainly the length of it) after his conversation with Bishop Kyle. Nonetheless he said that their second and final night in Blossom Harbour should go ahead as they'd originally planned. The Indigo Players were wanted for another stint at the 'Black Bat', and he didn't want to put the mockers on their stunning success there.

Ransey was furious. At the first whiff of danger, however much it was still in the speculation stage, he wanted to whisk Kieran away into the mountains, to that huge house which could comfortably hide a whole army of Kierans if necessary. He was incensed that they were staying simply to entertain the boozers of the waterfront once more. He vented his spleen by following Adam to the laundry-house in town, and going on about it at great length as Adam collected the sheets and towels he had taken there the day before.

"The young ones very much want to do this", said Adam, as they waited by the counter "It's only fair. After all, if we do have to take Patsy into hiding for his own safety, they're not going to get much fun then".

"I'm surprised at you", said Ransey.

"Oh Ransey, you are such a sweetie", Adam purred "Your anxiety does you credit, but believe me Pats doesn't want this any other way, and for once, if it does come to a fight, I think he's got to say in the public eye. If he starts hiding too soon then I dread to think what might happen. He's a living icon, and the thought of his meeting an untimely end has terrified me for years. I've never had much time for this damn Church of his. I've always felt he was way too good for some of the priests and bishops that infest it. But there are also an awful lot entirely on his side. Like the ones at the monastery above Toondor Lanpin. I can't believe they'd turn against him quickly".

"Stop trying to mollify me", said Ransey "I'm not Lonts, to be soothed with a few soft words! If anything happens to Kieran, it'll be my responsibility and my fault!"

"Nonsense", said Adam "You do the best you can, but Patsy is a free spirit, everyone knows that, it's impossible to put him on a leash, I've been trying to do so for years! Whatever happened none of us would blame you".

"You think that's all that concerns me?" Ransey squawked.

"We can't discuss this here", said Adam, as three bare-chested men came out of the steam-cleaning room to blatantly eavesdrop on them "This town seems to be full of nothing but gossips!"

They took the clean laundry back to the Indigo, where Lonts, the clowns, Tamaz and Toppy were dancing on the deck to the wind-up gramophone.

"It's all because of these spoilt brats we're staying here", said Ransey, thundering down the quarterdeck steps "We should be telling THEM what to do, not the other way round!"

"What's the matter with you?" said Julian, who was sitting at the galley table, drinking tea.

"Old age", said Adam, putting the clean sheets on top of the table "He's getting terribly irascible in his twilight years".

Julian picked up the top sheet, unfolded it, and inspected it rigorously.

"It looks clean, doesn't it?" Ransey snapped.

"One can never be sure with these laundry houses", said Julian "Some of the chemicals they put on them are highly dubious".

"Yes, a slow-acting poison perhaps?" said Adam, facetiously "Like Napoleon's wallpaper!"

"Where's Kieran?" Ransey barked.

"In the saloon, talking to Joby", said Julian.

"Oh", Ransey didn't say anymore, but went across the gangway into his cabin.

"He always was peculiar", said Julian.

The show went off smoothly that evening. Kieran didn't do his usual rollerskating routine, mainly because there wasn't room, but his heart wouldn't have been in it anyway. Whilst the others were performing, he sat at the bar drinking whisky and talking to Adam.

"I'm seriously beginning to wonder if I'm going to go down in history as the man who made two very serious mistakes", said Kieran "Starting the New Church, and bringing back self-regulating areas. I expect all wars for the next few hundred years will be blamed on me!"

"That's rubbish", said Adam "You can't account for all the stupidities of human nature. Anyway, no great man in history has ever been completely infallible, so why should you be any exception? I am very proud of you. When I think what some might have done with the power and influence you've had, it doesn't bear thinking about. You're a very rare person, you've stayed incorruptible. You've never given into the temptations of greed for a start".

"There was never much chance of that", said Kieran "All my childhood I saw at close hand what an obsession with money could do to the soul. Me Mam was infatuated with the idea of making money. She couldn't just be satisfied with earning a crust, she was constantly trying to keep all those mythical wolves from the door. In all my childhood we never once took a proper holiday. Not because we couldn't afford it, but because she was terrified of closing the business for even a few days. It got so's I couldn't imagine her anywhere else but that focking guest-house! She was a slave to money. I don't blame her at all, she never had it easy, but I was always determined there was going to be more to my life than making dough. Sometimes I think I went too far the other way. I'm lazy at heart. I don't understand this constant striving everyone else keeps at".

"But that's what's saved you, don't you see?" said Adam "Your lack of ambition".

"If anyone should be able to understand me it's you", said Kieran.

"Your mother at least was benign", said Adam, sadly "My Father was undoubtedly evil, rotten at the very heart of him. Even now I can't forgive him. Not just because of the beatings he gave me, but some of the things he said. Adults can say what they like to each other. Most of us at least should be able to dish it back if we so choose. But no one's got any right to say what he did to a child. Those kind of scars never leave you. Still, if any good has come out of it, at least his example has kept me in check. I'm always appalled if I think I sound like him in any way".

"Addy, you could never be like him", said Kieran, reassuringly.

"Thanks to you", Adam smiled "After all, think what a bitter and twisted old bastard I was when I first met you. I don't want to even think where my life would have gone if you hadn't come into it".

"I think Lonts has something to do with it too", said Kieran.

"But if it hadn't been for you", said Adam "I would never have let Lo-Lo into my heart. I'd have been too afraid".

"He's coming this way", Kieran nodded over his shoulder.

"The show must be over", said Adam "We've been so deep in discussion I hadn't noticed. I hope Freaky kept his corset on tonight".

"I think you'd have heard Julian yelling if he hadn't!" said Kieran.

"Adam", Lonts came up to them, wearing only a pair of white shorts "You didn't watch us".

"I'm sorry, I got chatting to Patsy", said Adam "I didn't hear any disagreeable noises from the punters, so I assume it went off alright".

"I think so", said Lonts, tipsily "But I've had quite a few beers".

"Mm, you're getting a beer-gut on you", Adam prodded Lonts' stomach playfully "I'll have to start calling you Pot-Belly".

"Fatso The Red-Nosed Reindeer", said Joby, coming over with Hillyard.

"I don't think that's very kind, Joby", said Lonts, crossly.

"You should have a stomach you can remove, like mine", said Hillyard, pulling out the stuffing from under his costume.

"Where's Tamaz?" said KIeran.

"S'alright, he's with Julian", said Joby "He behaved himself this evening. Didn't pull any stunts at all".

"We're going to have to give him a treat when we get to Woll's", said Hillyard "He's been a right little star on this trip".

"Yes, he's been a good sport", said Adam "I wouldn't have wanted to do some of what he's done in the name of entertainment!"

"He's a trooper", said Joby "He's got the right temperament for it all round. Bardin was saying so earlier".

"Hillyard!" Bengo came over, still wearing his tattered frock-coat "Could you come and help us? Toppy's passed out backstage".

"What?" Adam exclaimed.

"He has been putting it away a bit this evening", said Hillyard "I noticed he was grabbing a lot of the bottles the punters were passing up to the stage".

"But Toppy doesn't normally drink very much", said Adam.

"He's been acting very strange lately", said Lonts "I'll come and help you carry him home, Hillyard".

"I think he'll live", said Adam, putting a blanket over the comatose boy on the sofa "He'll just have a nasty headache in the morning, that's all".

"I find it hard to notice when he's acting stranger than normal", said Bengo "He always seems a bit weird and eccentric to me".

"Huh, that's the pot calling the kettle black!" said Joby "Coming from someone who likes to get bashed round the head with a wet fish for a living!"

"Toppy makes a rather unlikely hellraiser", said Adam.

Julian walked into the saloon, with his hands thrust casually into his pockets.

"I don't know why you all have to stand around him as though he's on his death-bed", he complained.

"We're concerned about him", said Adam.

"I don't see why", said Julian "Getting drunk like that, he deserves everything he gets".

"There speaks the paragon of virtuous living", Adam muttered.

"He'll learn the hard way", said Julian, yawning and stretching "Like we all had to. I'm going to bed now".

"For all the damn use you've been, you might as well have gone several hours ago!" said Adam.

A lout could be heard yelling from out on the waterfront.

"I hope that isn't going to go on all night", said Julian, going towards his cabin.

"Oh cheer up", said Joby "Tomorrow we'll be out of here".

"That's the problem!" Lonts suddenly shrieked, causing Julian to halt in his tracks "I've had a flash of recognition! Toppy is nervous about going to Woll's. He's worried about seeing Lillijana again".

"He'll be alright once he gets there", said Adam "He's bound to be a bit nervous, they haven't seen each other since Christmas".

"That child leads an unnecessarily stressful existence", said Julian, going into his cabin and shutting the door behind him.

Toppy gave a sleepy groan and rolled over onto his side.

"Keep an eye on him tonight, Bengo", said Adam "And if he wakes up, try to resist giving him the benefit of your advice on relationships. Deep psychological insight isn't one of your strong points!"

"We've yet to find out what is", said Bardin.

"He must have something", said Kieran, patting his cheek "Or you wouldn't be with him".

"Lust", said Bardin.

Toppy woke up the following morning and was instantly aware that the engines were running and they were moving. He couldn't see his clothes anywhere in the saloon, so he tugged the blanket around him like a toga and went up on deck. There he found most of the others engaged in a game of skittles.

"Good grief", said Joby, on catching sight of him "The creature from the black lagoon!"

"Feeling rough this morning, Toppy?" said Adam.

"Not too bad really", said Toppy.

"Huh, the Devil looks after his own", said Joby.

"We've left Blossom Harbour", said Toppy, going over to the bulwark. The town had been left behind completely, and now they were once more in the middle of nowhere, but this time surrounded by intimidating-looking mountains, which were brown and arid in the intense June heat.

"You knew we were leaving this morning, Toppy", said Adam "We hope to be at Woll's around early evening".

"Today?" Toppy exclaimed.

"That's the plan", said Adam "It'll be nice to slip into a bolt-hole and take things easy for a while".

Toppy paced about restlessly. The others carried on with the game, although Tamaz stood and stared at him so much Toppy began to feel uncomfortable. Adam noticed and came over to lead Tamaz away.

"Don't stare at him like that", he said "You're disturbing him".

"You make me sound like my Mother!" said Tamaz, petulantly "I'm not allowed to do anything at the moment in case I disturb anyone! I'm having to wear this stupid vest in case I disturb Mieps, which is unfair".

"It's not for very longer", said Adam, patiently "When we get to Woll's we'll find Mieps a cottage, preferably a long way from the house, and then you won't have to worry about him so much. You just have to be co-operative for a few more hours".

"I'm tired of being co-operative!" said Tamaz.

"You have done very well so far", said Adam "You haven't given into Mieps' temptations at all yet, not like I was expecting you to".

"Tempted by him?!" said Tamaz "In his dreams!"

"I see you're picking up Joby's phrases", said Adam.

At noon Julian ordered the boat to be stopped for a couple of hours, in order to give Hillyard and Bengo a break from the hold, and so that everyone could have a dip in the river to cool off.

"This area is so bleakly beautiful", said Adam, standing at the edge of the river and tilting his face towards the sky "Although I keep expecting dinosaurs to appear!"

He and Julian splashed each other violently and then flopped onto the mossy rocks on the bank. Nearby, Toppy clambered to the top of a rock and sat down. His bare skin glistened in the sunshine, and his hair was sleaked back from his face.

"He looks so fresh and in bloom", said Adam, putting on his hat and peering out from under the brim "Oh to be that age again, but with the benefit of elderly wisdom!"

"Such a waste too", said Julian, quietly "Because he'll never be happy".

"That's rather defeatist, old love", said Adam "I expect people said that about me at his age, and that certainly isn't the case now!"

"O.K, I can't say it for certain", said Julian "But at the moment the odds aren't in his favour. He has no sense of humour for a start, and no passion".

"I had too much damn passion", said Adam.

"You can never have too much", said Julian "The art is in coping with it, and that does with age. But you can have too little. Have you ever known Toppy to simply relax and go with the flow?"

"You'd think we should be able to do something for him", said Adam.

"We've given him a base to fall back on for when he needs it", Julian sighed "And that's probably the most helpful thing we can do under the circumstances. Particularly as I think he should never live alone. It wouldn't be good for him".

"Oh for God's sake, Jules", said Adam "You make him sound like a potential serial-killer! The Jeffrey Dahmer of the 4020s!"

"I didn't mean it that way at all", said Julian "What I meant was that Our Youngest would feel loneliness even more acutely than the rest of us. He'll be more likely to harm himself than anyone else".

"We certainly can't have that either!" said Adam.

Lonts suddenly seized Joby around the legs and pulled him under the water. Joby came up eventually, spluttering water.

"I feel like I've swallowed half the sodding river!" he cried.

"That was for calling me Fatso the Red-Nosed Reindeer!" said Lonts.

"I'd forgotten all about that", said Joby.

"I hadn't", said Lonts, fiercely "I was biding my time!"

Kieran clambered over some rocks and then stepped back into the river.

"Do you think if we asked him nicely he'd put his rosary beads on?" said Julian.

"Why, do you want him to baptise you, like Saint John The Baptist?!" said Adam.

"No, but he'd look incredibly pornographic if he did", said Julian.

"You blasphemous old roue!" Adam laughed.

"Catholicism's a sexy religion, I've heard him say that himself", said Julian.

"You are like some perennial adolescent, Jules", said Adam.

"Well there has to be some compensation for advancing senility", said Julian.

Toppy jumped nimbly into the water, and was just coming up for air when the whole area was shaken by a deafening roar, that seemed to come from both inside and around the mountains. It was so incredible that it took a while for them to absorb the fact that they'd really heard it.

"What the fuck was it?" said Joby, pushing his hair back from his face.

"Some kind of animal", said Finia, nervously.

"But it sounded bloody enormous!" said Joby.

"It might just be the close proximity of the mountains which magnified it", said Ransey, uncertainly.

"It still sounded bloody enormous", said Joby "Whatever it was, I don't wanna meet it!"

Everyone stood silently, as though expecting it to sound again, but the area remained quiet. Julian stood on a rock and scanned the tops of the mountains. He was all too uncomfortably aware that these were the same hills where he thought he had seen the strange creature through the binoculars.

"I know I joked about dinosaurs", said Adam "But even so!"

"Back onto the boat!" Julian shouted.

Once back on deck he cornered Ransey.

"How close to Woll's do you think the river can take us?" he asked "All I know is if it gets much shallower we're in trouble".

"It'll get us pretty much most of the way", said Ransey, towelling himself dry.

"I hope you're right", said Julian "The thought of travelling overland at the moment isn't terribly appealing".

"It's only this particular area that's unnerving", said Ransey "We had no trouble at all when we travelled up in the hay-cart last year. Once we start hitting that area we'll feel more relaxed I expect".

"I'll do a quick roll-call and then you take us on our way", said Julian "This part of the world has suddenly got too bleak for comfort!"

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