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By Sarah Hapgood

"What's the matter with you this morning?" said Hillyard "I know you want to get to Toondor Lanpin, we all do, but there's no need to keep shouting at everyone!"

"I wanna get away from here", said Joby, and he explained to him in hurried whispers about the trapdoor in the cellar "I'm risking telling an old blabbermouth like you", he concluded "Because I know damn well you don't wanna go back to Hell either".

"Too right", said Hillyard "It was bad enough last time, but it changes each time you go, so we wouldn't know what to expect next time. Anyway we could just refuse to go, and bash Kieran over the head if he starts going on about it".

"It might yet come to that", said Joby.

He noticed Kieran coming towards them, putting on his goatskin hat.

"Get in the carriage", Joby ordered him.

"Alright", said Kieran "What's the rush?"

"Just get in the fucking carriage!" said Joby.

"Stop arguing, Kieran", said Hillyard "You're always arguing the toss all the time".

Kieran was rather taken aback at being rebuked by Hillyard, and clambered into the carriage. Joby turned his attention to Tamaz, who was engaged in a whispered conversation with Mieps, which seemed to consist mainly of hisses and spits.

"And you don't go down into anymore cellars", said Joby "Understand?"

Tamaz shrugged, which was his own personal interpretation of "Yes I understand".

Joby chafed with impatience to get away, not helped by Lonts who suddenly remembered at the last moment that he had left Snowy in the bar. An interminable few minutes followed, from Joby's point of view, whilst he went to fetch him.

The weather got much milder the closer they got to Toondor Lanpin, and they gradually left the snow behind. Unfortunately instead they ran into rain, heavy slanting rain, and mud, MASSES of mud. And there was nothing remotely glorious about it. The carriage got stuck and had to be gingerly dug out again. This was a filthy, aggravating, frustrating experience, and they released their venom by hurling mud-balls at each other. Once they were sufficiently plastered they got the horses and the carriage back on the road.

"This is fucking terrific", said Joby, back up on the box again with Hillyard, as rain lashed down pitilessly on them "I hope the God the plumbing works at this house Jonner's rented for us, because if I don't get a hot bath at the end of today I'm gonna end up in the loonies' ward with that other poor jerk! Who needs demons when we've got you to organise trips for us?!"

"Stop complaining", said Hillyard.

"I can't", said Joby "There's us sitting up here getting drenched, and that lot sat in there all snug and dry".

"Just think how much they're probably getting on each other's nerves!" Hillyard chuckled "Anyway, they can't be that dry, they're covered in mud too!"

Up on the back of the carriage, in the narrow seat normally used by footmen on posh occasions, sat the clowns with Tamaz seated in the middle of them.

"Why have we gotta be the ones on the outside, that's what I want to know", said Tamaz, indignantly.

"Julian's logic is because we're the youngest ones", said Bardin.

"No we're not", Tamaz squawked "Toppy's the fucking youngest, and yet I don't see him out here!"

"Toppy's different I suppose", said Bengo "Although I don't see how really".

"I don't know why he's regarded as being so fucking delicate", said Tamaz.

"He creeps round Julian, that's what it is", said Bardin "He's always fetching things for him and tucking blankets round him. We obviously haven't got the knack".

"Well I shouldn't be out here", said Tamaz "I'm part-girl. I bet bloody Glynis wouldn't be expected to sit up here in this!"

"Not in her condition, no", said Bengo.

"Hey look", Tamaz pointed to a charred ruin some distance from the road "There's the old Ghoomer house".

"And that weird place that looks like a giant turd's coming up too", said Bardin "There are some really weird things out here".

"Look amongst the trees!" said Bengo, excitedly.

Moving through the woodland which surrounded the Turd House was a small black horse with a horn growing out of its forehead.

"A unicorn!" said Tamaz, breathlessly "That's the first one I've ever seen!"

"But it's a black one", said Bengo, despondently "They're unlucky".

"Bullshit", said Bardin "You and your bloody superstitions! I expect in some parts of the world it's regarded as unlucky if you see a white one, or a sky-blue pink with orange dots one!"

"There are a lot of crows on the roof of the house", said Tamaz "They gather around evil".

"You two are complete dorks!" said Bardin "I thought birds weren't supposed to go where there was evil!"

"Crows don't count", said Tamaz.

"Neither does making it up as you go along!" said Bardin, waspishly.

"There aren't quite enough bedrooms to go around I'm afraid", said Jonner, as they gathered in a mud-drenched ragged rabble in the hallway of the large town-house he had rented for them "But mattresses can be put on the floor of the dining-room".

"The clowns and Toppy can go in there", said Julian, wearily removing his overcoat.

"I'm not bedding down with them again!" Toppy protested "I'd rather sleep in the stables with the horses!"

"Go ahead", said Bardin "Suits us".

"We're not that bad are we?" said Bengo.

"Yep", said Joby.

"You can come in with me and Adam, Toppy", Lonts sighed "Again!"

"He could always have the sofa in the living-room", said Adam, peering into the darkened room which opened off the left of the hall.

"No", said Lonts, in a resigned way "Toppy can't be trusted to sleep on his own. He gets in a state about it".

"He gets in a state anyway!" said Bengo.

"I must love you and leave you, I'm afraid", said Jonner "I'm going out for dinner. But there's plenty of oil in the lamps, food in the larder, linen in the cupboards, coal in the shed in the kitchen-yard. I'll call in and see how you're getting on sometime tomorrow".

"O.K", said Julian "Ransey'll settle up with you then".

"Did you have to take so long to thank him?" said Julian, standing in his new top-floor bedroom, which he had chosen solely because of the full-length sash window which commanded a magnificent view of the entire main street of the town.

"Yes", said Adam "He's gone to a lot of trouble for us. Think how ghastly it would have been to arrive at an unlit, unheated house with no hot water on the go".

"We're paying him enough for his trouble!" Julian snapped "Doubtless he'll be round everyday sniffing round you".

"Oh shut up", said Adam "I'm sure he's got far more important things to do. Stop sounding like such a petulant brat".

"He's just tired that's his trouble", said Hillyard, carrying a pile of bedlinen into the room.

"Yes, and not much chance of resting until you've made the bed up!" said Julian.

"I'm leaving before he drives me completely round the twist!" said Adam.

"Have a look at this before you go", said Hillyard, handing him a hardbacked book "Found it in the loo on the first floor. A bit of ancient pornography. Dates back to the century before last".

"It must be worth something then", said Adam, opening the pages carefully.

"Don't know about that", said Hillyard "But it's good for a giggle".

"Yes, I see what you mean", Adam laughed "Have a look at this, Jules".

A drawing depicted a naked man buggering another naked man in a monastery. The absorbing caption read "BAREING THE NOVICE'S ARSE".

"A lot of 'em have got a religious content", said Hillyard "Better not let Kieran see it".

"I'm not having him censoring our reading material!" said Julian "Even so, we'll keep it safely up here out of his reach!"

Bardin emerged groggily from the dining-room the following morning, tugging his bath-robe around him.

"I'll answer the door shall I!" he shouted at the other inmates of the house, who were slumbering in rooms all around and above him.

Standing on the doorstep under a rain-drenched umbrella was Hawkefish.

"You're an early bird", Bardin gasped.

"It's noon, dear boy", said Hawkefish "I just had time to come and see you before the afternoon matinee. Can I come in?"

"Yes, yes of course", said Bardin, ushering him inside, and then taking his umbrella and raincoat from him.

"What happened to your eye?" said Hawkefish "It looks nasty".

"Long story", said Bardin "Come in here, Bengo's in here".

Bengo sat up on the mattress on the dining-room floor, gazing at Hawkefish through his long hair.

"Are all of you bashed around the face?" said Hawkefish, looking at Bengo's swollen lip.

"No, just us two", said Bardin, moving a chair over for him "We're ... um ... we're lovers now you see".

"Oh that explains everything", said Hawkefish, sitting down "Sadly I haven't got much time today, which is a pity as I'm sure you have lots of adventures to tell me".

"A few", said Bengo.

"I'll get straight to the point for now", said Hawkefish "I want you both back at the Little Theatre. The punters have missed your act".

"They've missed Bengo's legs you mean", said Bardin, sourly.

"Bardy!" Bengo groaned.

"They have missed your act", said Hawkefish, firmly "I am constantly being asked when you are returning. That is one of the greatest compliments any performer can be paid, to be missed by the public. Now I'm afraid I can't pay you anymore than I did before. The Little Theatre's resources match its name, but I don't think a good salary is something you have to worry about these days!"

"But we're not staying here for long", said Bengo "We'll be going again at some point".

"Yes, I've heard the rumours", said Hawkefish "The great planned disappearance! I know how fond you both are of Kieran and the others, but I beg you to reconsider. This is your careers you're talking about. Bardin, you were always so ambitious ..."

"Do you know what the greatest thing about ambition is?" said Bardin "Giving it up!"

"And do you feel the same, Bengo?" said Hawkefish.

"Yes", said Bengo "I-I'm loved, and I don't ... w-when you're loved I suppose you don't feel the need to get up on stage and make everyone notice you".

"I know it's a bit hard to understand ..." said Bardin.

"No it's not", said Hawkefish "Showbusiness is a fake environment. We spend our lives in a land of make-believe, pretending to be someone else, and the public doesn't see, or worse still, doesn't want to see us as our real selves. I've often got very saddened when I've noticed my life oozing away in a glorified daydream. I'd love to know who the real me was, but I think it's too late now. Acting is a ridiculous job, but we do cheer people up, and its worth remembering that".

"Bengo and me were practically born on stage", sadid Bardin "Unlike the time-crossers, we had no family life as kids, and so perhaps now its time for one".

"Would you like a drink, Hawkefish?" said Bengo.

"Yes, I think I have time for one", said Hawkefish, and he got up and followed them into the kitchen.

"You spoilt over-indulged nasty little boy ... !"

"OW! Tone it down you spiteful old cow!"

"I will not!" said Adam, slapping Julian very hard on the behind "I'm not doing this for your pleasure. If you nanny had done this more often when you were a child ..."

"I'd have got her sacked!" Julian winced.

"If she had, I wouldn't need to be doing it now", said Adam, spanking him even more soundly.

"I'm glad she didn't", said Hillyard, laughing madly as he came into the bedroom at the top of the house "It would deprive us of a lot of pleasure!"

"Fuck off, Hillyard", said Julian, trying to twist round to see him "You always come in at the wrong moment. Don't you dare ask him to have a go like you did last time, Ada!"

"No I won't", said Adam, issuing more spanks "If only because I want all the pleasure for myself!"

"What's he done?" said Hillyard, throwing himself into an armchair.

"Nothing!" Julian shrieked.

"Other than be his usual horrid little self", said Adam "He's been asking for this for days, and then I come up here to wish him 'good morning', and get a mouthful of abuse, that was the last straw. I don't know how you put up with him!"

"His hide's so tough, I'm surprised he can feel anything", said Hillyard.

"Oh I assure you, he can feel this!" said Adam.

"Alright, you've had your fun", Julian wriggled out of his grasp "You are going to get it big-time, Ada".

"In a few days, when you've recovered!" Hillyard chortled "Anyway, cheer up, you're always going on about how a hiding's good for the soul".

"Oh yes, but not if he's the one getting it!" said Adam "Not being spanked anyway, but I wasn't going to give him the pleasure of being thrashed manfully with a belt, as he puts it. He behaves like a nasty little 6-year-old, then he can get treated like one!"

"One more word out of you, just one word ..." said Julian, jabbing his finger at him "And I will really make your day".

"You already have", said Hillyard "We're all three of us got boners, and that includes you!"

"I thought you were supposed to be lighting the kitchen stove", said Julian, stuffing his boner into a pair of pyjama bottoms.

"I have", said Hillyard "Hawkefish is down there now, trying to snatch the clowns away from us".

"We'll soon see about that!" Julian spat.

"Wouldn't you like a blow-job first, Jules?" Adam giggled.

"I am going to get plenty of them over the New Year holiday", said Julian, grabbing his dressing-gown as he made for the door.

"You hope", said Hillyard, as he and Adam followed him out onto the landing.

"Oh I will!" Julian cried, thundering down the magnificent round staircase "I shall have you in, all in turn, one after the other, to suck on my dick! Except him of course", he pointed at Ransey, who was emerging from one of the two small bathrooms situated next to each other on the first floor landing "I wouldn't touch that vicious Doberman for a pension!"

"That wasn't what you said Christmas night!" Ransey called, gaily.

"Nothing happened Christmas night!" said Julian.

"How do you know?" said Mieps, who was sitting in the bath-tub in the other bathroom, with the door open.

"Yes Jules, you will never know for sure", said Adam.

"Because I would never have HIM in my bed", said Julian.

"You were in mine actually", said Ransey.

"Psh!" said Julian, and thundered down the last flight of stairs.

In the hall Finia was sorting out mail on top of the chest of drawers, and from the living-room came the deafening sound of 'Chopsticks' being hammered out on the upright piano. Julian pushed open the door to find Kieran and Joby at the instrument, whilst Tamaz, his bath-robe open over his frillies, did a high-stepping dance to it.

"Julian, there are a lot of Christmas cards here for us", said Finia.

"They can all go in the bin", said Julian "Christmas is over, we don't have to bother with things like that anymore".

In the kitchen, a tipsy Hawkefish was sitting at the table, sharing a bottle of rum with Bengo and Bardin.

"Hawkefish", said Julian, imposingly "Why are you trying to snatch my children away from me?"

"Julian, you are magnificent", Hawkefish purred "You must have supernatural powers. To look at you no one would think you were 65!"

"I should hope not", Julian snapped "I'm 60!"

"Are you really?" said Hawkefish, amazed.

"Haven't you got any work to do today, Hawkefish?" said Adam.

"A matinee", said Hawkefish "But do not despair, I could sleepwalk my way through it".

"And he often has!" said Bardin.

"Bengo, could you go and fetch my cigars for me?" said Julian, sitting down gingerly at the table "They're on top of the piano in the living-room".

Bengo, looking very bleary-eyed, got up with the intention of heading towards the door but walked smack into the wall instead.

"I think you'll find it's easier if you leave via the door", said Julian.

"I'd better help you, Bengo", Hillyard laughed "Put you back into bed, I think".

"I'll do that", Bardin snapped, rising to his feet.

Unfortunately he tripped over a stool and fell heavily onto the floor.

"Now that's what comes of drinking on an empty stomach", said Adam, going to help him to his feet.

Whilst on the floor Bardin caught his reflection in a metal tray propped next to the cupboard.

"Shit!" he cried "I'm even uglier than I thought!"

"Rubbish", said Adam "Now follow Bengo back to your room".

Bardin staggered out into the hallwy, where he found Bengo peering at himself in the mirror. Bengo selected a gladioli from the vase on the table and threaded into his own hair.

"What are you doing?" said Bardin.

"Making myself look sexually alluring", said Bengo.

"You just have to take your clothes off to do that", said Bardin, going into the dining-room.

"That so?" said Bengo, his eyes going big and round with excitement.

He tore off his nightshirt and flung it across the hallway. He then sped into the dining-room where Bardin was preparing to climb wearily onto the mattress. Bengo pulled up the back of his nightshirt.

"Hm", said Bengo, approvingly "Cute arse".

He then entered him without much further ado.

"Oh hello Jonner", said Hillyard, opening the front door early that evening "Come in out of the rain".

"I just popped round to see how you were settling in", said Jonner, in his distinctive wispy voice.

In the hall he put his umbrella in the battered stand and ritually removed his sodden slippers. Jonner, who was never likely to be an icon of fashion at the best of times, looked as though he had been hauled roughly out of bed by an aggressive gorilla.

"They're in here", said Hillyard, leading him towards the living-room "Except the clowns, they're still asleep".

"Jonner!" said Adam, who was sitting on the sofa "How are you, old love? You look really ... casual".

Jonner looked down at his grey sweater and baggy striped trousers as though he'd never seen them before ... which as he often got dressed in the dark could almost have been true.

"None of us can talk!" said Joby, shuffling a pack of cards "It's only Mieps who's bothered getting dressed today".

"Of course, you haven't met Mieps properly, have you?" said Adam "You might be rather interested in him, he's like Freaky".

The night before Mieps had been hidden behind a long scarf wrapped round his face, so this was the first time Jonner had seen him properly.

"An hermaphrodite?" Jonner picked his way across the room to him.

"An old hermaphrodite", said Tamaz, dismissively.

"What an utterly fascinating face you have", said Jonner, grasping Mieps's jaw in his hand "The kind that has interesting stories to tell".

He twisted Mieps's face about, raised his eyelids and even wrenched his mouth open to peer inside, like a vet examining a horse. Mieps got tired of this mauling and suddenly smacked Jonner in the nose with his long tongue.

"I would like to do a study of him and Tamaz together", said Jonner, his enthusiasm undeterred "A double portrait. I bet there's never been one like that done recently".

Adam was annoyed as he'd been harbouring plans along the same lines himself.

"Sit down, Jonner", he said, making it sound like an order.

"I really came to ask if you've seen your invitation", said Jonner "I left it on the hall-table".

"Probably buried under all the Christmas cards", said Julian "Invitation to what?"

"The Town Council are throwing a dinner bash on New Year's Eve", said Jonner "Hiring a function room at Myrtle's hotel, in honour of Hillyard".

"Celebrating a rare visit to Toondor Lanpin by their Governor!" said Julian.

"It sounds like its going to be dreadfully posh", said Adam, in dismay.

"It will be rather", said Jonner "They want to prove to some visiting ex-Ministry men from Krindei that we can be very respectable down here too".

"Why bother?" said Adam "We don't have to impress them anymore, thank heavens!"

"It won't be a very respectable bash if we're all going!" said Joby.

"Ah that's the catch I'm afraid", said Jonner "They say that due to pressure of space Hillyard can only take 3 guests with him".

"Pressure of space!" Joby sneered "That function room's huge! They're just frightened we'll all turn up and be an embarrassment to 'em".

"How very astute of them", said Adam "I suppose they think by limiting it to 4 we won't be too much trouble".

"Depends which 4", said Hillyard "Can I choose, or have they selected my guests for me too?!"

"That's entirely up to your own discretion", said Jonner.

"Good", said Hillyard "I'll give it some careful thought".

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