Go back to previous chapter
By Twelfth Night everyone was thoroughly sick of Toondor Lanpin. The town wasn't as laid-back and fun as it used to be. Since the earthquake in the City it had gradually taken on an aura of respectability, and the old hazy days on the waterfront that the Indigo-ites remembered so fondly, were gradually disappearing into the past. All the civilised parts of the world were changing, moving purposefully into a new age. This was as it should be of course, if the human race was to build a new era in unison and bury the dark days of the past once and for all, but the Indigo-ites knew they didn't fit in with it. The new era would belong to the likes of Codlik and Glynis, healthy well-fed dynasties who worked hard and had neither the time nor the inclination to dwell on the hidden mysteries of life. Kieran knew that the likes of himself and the other Indigo-ites, with their colourful pasts and shotgun-riding attitude to the present, had to disappear or risk being lobotomised themselves.
So they kicked their heels impatiently in town, waiting for the Indigo to defrost. Codlik for once was on the receiving end of nagging messages, as they badgered him to let them know when the Indigo would be ready for transporting to Toondor Lanpin. Julian took a lot of pleasure from mentally envisaging Codlik running like a demented hamster down to the river every morning to check up on the boat!
Hawkefish lost all his previous convictions that no performer was bigger than his show, and constantly pestered Bengo and Bardin to return. The Little Theatre was ailing. No matter what ideas they came up with, they still weren't packing the punters in on the scale that had been known only a couple of years ago. Its hour had passed, and there was no getting away from that fact. The exuberant burlesque that had been its trademark no longer complimented the town, which was fast becoming hard-working and sophisticated. Hawkefish had personally hated the Happy Nude Year Revue. He knew that showing the entire cast butt-naked would look the monumental act of desperation that it was, and it left them nowhere else to go. Such a trick was impossible to cap, short of shooting himself on stage, and he was beginning to fear it might yet come to that!
He wasn't short of clowns, and they were talented enough men, but there was no risk factor to them, and their routines were often joyless. Too perfect. They also tended to favour a mawkish sentimentality which irritated him. Bengo and Bardin had been a comic partnership made in Heaven. Bengo with his hunky good looks and his air of innocent wistfulness, was a perfect contrast to Bardin's highly-charged sense of hard-edged anarchy, honed from a childhood apprenticeship in the Cabaret of Horrors and an intense resentment about his own looks. Bengo and Bardin had been all about risk, and Hawkefish found it hard to imagine any of his current crop of clowns daring to sock each other unconscious on-stage, as Bengo had done to Bardin at the Festival, even if it hadn't been scripted!
It wasn't just Bengo and Bardin he wanted though, but the entire Indigo Players' Revue. But Joby resolutely refused to appear in 'Love In The Laundry' in Toondor Lanpin. "After what happened with Myrtle that time they already think I'm a violent psychopath", he said "So I'm not encouraging 'em anymore than I have to!" Hawkefish would have moved heaven and earth to get Mieps and Tamaz on-stage, but they were equally unco-operative. The two of them currently spent their days either in Adam's studio, where he was painting them both naked, determined that Jonner wasn't going to hijack his ideas, or they ambled down to the shooting-gallery, where they outshone all the other punters with their prowess on the rifle range.
Hawkefish invited Bengo and Bardin to sit in on one of the rehearsals, as though hoping that the smell of the greasepaint and the glare of the footlights would be too much a temptation to resist for such seasoned troupers. The two clowns sat on a block of steps at the side of the stage and watched the chorus-girls clumsily attempting a new routine.
"Perhaps a bit less time at the dinner-table might help", Bardin muttered.
The girls were as past their best as the theatre, cursed with untoned muscle and cellulite. They had always been a bit on the hefty side for dancers, but now it was getting embarrassing to see such flab squeezed, as though with a crowbar, into skimpy costumes. The clothes themselves were old and badly-repaired, and Bardin was disgusted to see some of the girls sporting holes in their stockings.
"Sheer lack of professionalism", he sneered "Props should always be kept in good nick. They think the punters don't notice these things, but they do! Oh yes they do! Mind you, what do you expect? The schedules are too tight. The whole place is run like a sausage factory! It should be quality, not quantity".
"B-Bardy?" said Bengo, tentatively.
"Mm?" said Bardin, distractedly.
"Can we go home now?" said Bengo.
"Sure", said Bardin.
They left the theatre and returned home via the covered market, having been ordered by Adam to pick up some food for dinner on their way. Bengo had always liked the covered market, it was so full of life. Everywhere he looked people were either shouting or stuffing their faces with food, and on a winter twilight like today it had a magical air.
"Hawkefish has lost it, that's the trouble", Bardin was still going on "He's past his prime. He hasn't got any ideas anymore. I could get that place's fortunes turned over in no time at all".
"If you were in charge there'd be a mass walkout within one day!" said Bengo, impatiently "Nobody'd wanna work for you, you're a sadistic, bullying dictator!"
"There was no need for that", Bardin snapped "What's got into you?"
"It's worrying me the way you're going on", said Bengo "As though you're planning to stay here and run the Little Theatre".
"You are so dim sometimes!" Bardin exclaimed "All I meant was that if I could take over from Hawkefish for a month say, at the very most, I could inject some new ideas into that place. Set it on its way. Just think of it as an extra stop on the Indigo Players' world tour. But do you really think I want to stay here for good, running some crap two-bit theatre?! Ending up living alone and drinking too much, like both Ully and Hawkefish! You're a complete dork sometimes, Bengo!"
Bengo retaliated by screeching like a seagull and then hurried on his way, leaving Bardin standing there.
"This is nice isn't it, Joby?" said Lonts, after taking a substantial swig of his beer.
They were sitting in the small bar in the covered market, eating hamburgers which had been fried on the hot plate behind them.
"It is now everyone's stopped staring", said Joby "Every sodding person in this market-place has stared at you!"
"That's the trouble with being good-looking", said Lonts, gravely "It makes life really difficult at times".
"Oh yeah, it must be tragic!" said Joby "You remind me of rich people who complain about the problems of having too much money, and expect the rest of us to sympathise!"
"We're rich now though, aren't we?" said Lonts, suddenly not too sure.
"Well Hillyard is", said Joby "And Kieran. The rest of us haven't got a bean! If they decided to chuck us out we'd be in trouble".
"That's not very likely, Joby", said Lonts "Anyway, being rich doesn't feel much different to being poor".
"Yes it does", said Joby "Look at us sitting here like this. When we were poor we wouldn't have been able to just do this on the spur of the moment. It would have needed planning and cunning. Remember how much time and effort we used to spend just figuring out how to get food? I never wanna go back to that. Not ever!"
"Joby?" came a weak voice from behind him.
"Yeah?" Joby looked round warily and gulped, startled.
The man facing him was short and painfully-thin, with wispy blonde hair. He could have been any age between 30 and 50, and his eyes were startlingly blue, like Kieran's, except they were bleary and out-of-focus. In fact he looked exactly as Kieran would have looked if he'd led a completely dissolute existence for the whole of his adult life, and that was what had disturbed Joby so much. He was Kieran without his beauty and inner peace, like a burnt-out negative alter-ego of the Vanquisher.
"People have often said I look like him", said the man, as though reading Joby's thoughts "I could have been him".
"What went wrong?" said Joby, as though talking to a failed prototype of Kieran "Was it the booze?"
"Booze, drugs, sex", said the Kieran-clone "Addicted to sex. Constantly searching for new debaucheries, new strangenesses to sample. Never at peace".
"Why are you talking to me?" said Joby, nervously.
"I just wanted you to see me", said the man, cryptically "Just the once".
He moved silently out of the bar and disappeared into the hubbub of the market. Joby felt as though he was going to cry.
"Shit", he gasped "That was too eerie for my liking!"
"Bengo's outside", said Lonts.
"Call him in", said Joby "I need me mind taking off that!"
Bengo's attention was caught eventually and he came into the room looking sheepish.
"Where's your other half?" said Joby.
"He's out there somewhere", said Bengo "Looking for me".
"Go on, surprise us!" said Joby "You've fallen out! 400 years together and never a cross word!"
"Would you like a hamburger, Bengo?" said Lonts "They're very nice".
"I'm not sure", said Bengo, glancing outside nervously.
"Of course if you have to get your master's permission first", said Joby, sarcastically.
"No I don't", said Bengo, resolutely "I don't have to watch my figure these days. If I want to get fat I shall".
"I'll order you one", said Lonts "Don't argue, Joby. I can talk to the man just as easily as you can, I'm not a baby!"
Lonts ordered Bengo a hamburger, and watched intently as it was fried on the hot-plate.
"Would you like a fried egg with it, Bengo?" said Lonts.
"Your chance to live dangerously", said Joby.
"Yes", said Bengo, now feeling very rebellious indeed.
"Ding ding ding!" Joby shouted, pointing outside where Bardin was stood scrutinising the crowd.
"We could all duck down below the window", said Lonts "And then he won't see us".
"Too late, he's spotted us", said Joby "The radar's obviously working well today!"
Bardin appeared in the bar, looking venomous.
"Sorry Bengo", said Joby "Looks as though you've gotta put your leash back on. Freedom was nice whilst it lasted though".
"What did you go and leave me standing there for?" said Bardin, indignantly "I was in the middle of talking to you".
"Well perhaps I get tired of being told how stupid I am all the time!" said Bengo "I've only got one thing to say to you, if you want to work at the Little Theatre again then do so, but it'll be without me, and chances are you'll never see me again! And now I'm having a hamburger, and I don't give a stuff how many calories are in it! In fact, the more the merrier!"
"Well come on then, let's have the grand unveiling of the masterpiece", said Julian, standing in the living-room at home before a canvas covered in a plastic sheet.
"Not if you're going to adopt that sarcastic tone, Jules", said Adam "You can be very cruel sometimes about other people's efforts".
"I can't help it", said Julian "You've been so damn secretive about this picture, and all it is is Mieps and Freaky in the buff. A sight I've seen countless times".
"I know, but I'm so anxious that it should be better than how Jonner would have done it", said Adam.
"Of course it will be", said Julian "His efforts always seem competent but too stylised to me. Unwrap it. There was no point in bringing it home if you're not going to show it to me".
"There", said Adam, taking off the plastic sheet to reveal a striking portrait of Mieps and Tamaz lying naked side-by-side on a divan covered in a red sheet.
"It's good", said Julian, approvingly "Very good. I hope you're going to give it to the gallery".
"If they'll have it", said Adam.
"They'd be mad not to", said Julian "You've captured them both beautifully. They are both so extraordinary".
"Mieps interested me the most", said Adam "Because he doesn't have Freaky's androgynous qualities to the same extent. Mieps is so much more male. He has more body hair and he's more well-built. His female side so rarely emerges. It's not as if he even likes women's clothing like Freaky does".
"He's very enigmatic that's for sure", said Julian, pulling a small cigar out of his waistcoat pocket.
"One thing I did learn about him though", said Adam "He undoubtedly loves Freaky very much, it's not just a lust thing. It's so hard for us to equate Ghoomers with such fine emotions as love, but there is a genuine tenderness and affection there. I was quite delighted to discover that".
"Yes, I think we're alright with him", said Julian "He hasn't given us one single cause for concern since he joined us, apart from his brief attempt at kidnapping at the big house".
The front door banged and there was a cacophony of voices in the hall.
"There's Joby", said Adam, grabbing the plastic sheet.
"Don't be ridiculous", said Julian, snatching the sheet from him "He's going to see it sometime".
When Joby came into the room, all Adam's fears that he might get jealous of Mieps' and Tamaz's intimacy, captured so accurately on canvas, proved groundless. He admired Adam's picture, and praised the way he had caught the expression on Tamaz's face. It was as if whilst Tamaz was in the picture, the image of Mieps didn't have a hope of getting noticed by him. This was true.
It was Lonts in fact who got jealous. He lived in permanent fear of Mieps whisking Tamaz away from them, and he didn't like reminding how close the two Ghoomers were to each other. All Adam could do was constantly reassure him that Mieps was coming with them, and Tamaz was never going to leave their protection.
The Ghoomers themselves came home soon after, laden down with cuddly toys and other prizes from the shooting-gallery. They had proved to be so successful that they had now been barred from the place for winning too often!
"We're running out of things to do in this town", said Julian.
Everyone stood silently for a moment, as though absorbing the uncomfortable truth of this statement.
"A man came to the door today", said Finia, who came into the room whilst the minute's silence was in progress "Looking for some people who had rented this place years back. He kept going on that he had once had a room in this house, and couldn't understand why I wasn't interested. But why should I be? That's all years in the past, long before we came here, and I was a bit irritated that he didn't seem to realise that time had moved on. I don't know what I'm trying to say really ..."
"That it's time we were gone too", said Ransey, who came in behind him.
"Lady Red's gone", said Adam "Glynis is married to Codlik. Everything here is becoming respectable. The Little Theatre is fading. Even Jonner is a respectable businessman these days".
"When I went to answer the door", said Finia "I took my purse with me, because normally when someone rings that bell it's someone after money, salesmen, peddlers, or charity collectors. The whole town's becoming obsessed with money. It's not what it was. Not what it was at all!"
Bengo finished putting clean bedlinen on the mattress, and then climbed in. He had barely settled down when Bardin came into the room and began to undress.
"I suppose you've been wondering where I disappeared to after dinner", he said.
"No", said Bengo, not looking at him "I assumed you went back to the Little Theatre".
"That's where you're wrong actually!" said Bardin, leaving his vest on and climbing in next to him "I went for a drink at Persephone's".
"Big deal", said Bengo.
"I was meeting Hawkefish", said Bardin "He said he goes there when there's no evening performance. Some of the others in the troupe were there too".
"That was nice", said Bengo, with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.
"It was pretty tedious really", said Bardin, lying on his back and staring up at the ceiling "I can't believe there's any profession more boringly self-absorbed than thesps! Second Lead went on about how he spent midnight on New Year's Eve getting laid. As if anyone but him could possibly be interested!"
"It's a big event to him", Bengo laughed "After all, where most people would carry of a photo of their lover around with them, he carries a picture of his left hand!"
Bardin laughed and congratulated Bengo for having come up with a remarkably clever joke for once.
"It's an old one of Ully's", Bengo admitted "You must have heard it before!"
"Might've done", said Bardin "Talking of which, that stupid new drag queen they've got insists on being referred to as 'she', as though he was a real woman, not just a cock in a frock. Says it's an old stage tradition apparently. I upset him because I said that was just plain daft. We don't refer to Finia as 'she' and he'd be more entitled to it than this idiot!"
"Perhaps to be fair he really does want to be woman", said Bengo.
"That's not what he said", said Bardin "He thinks it would just be better for his career, give his act more novelty value. Told me I was plain stupid for not going along with it. I said stupid or not, it's hard to keep up the farce of pretending he's a woman, when I live with a transvestite eunuch and two hermaphrodites, none of whom insist on being referred to as 'she'!"
"What did he say to that?" said Bengo.
"Called me an ugly little faggot", said Bardin "I said, well there's a lot of it about! Talking of which, that naff crooner who's joined since our day got reprimanded by Hawkefish recently for jerking off in the men's loos. He has a compulsion for doing it apparently. So now the singer insists on joking about it all the time. Keeps asking everyone he meets where the gents' bogs are, and expects everyone to roll around in fits of laughter. God, he's boring! And don't give me any Codlik-style psycho-babble about how it's his way of dealing with it, 'cos it's still boring. The worst is yet to come though. Apparently he's now written a song about it, and wants to inflict it on the punters sometime. That should see the Little Theatre bomb once and for all! I mean, who the hell wants to hear a song about some idiot wanking off in a public convenience?!"
"I'd love to see the stage-set for it", Bengo chortled "Is he gonna be surrounded by a row of urinals?"
"Don't joke", said Bardin "He has seriously suggested that!"
"Oh what?!!!" Bengo was now helpless with laughter.
"I said to him that at the Cabaret of Horrors he might've been able to get away with that act", said Bardin "Except he'd have to have accepted it as a joke, not as the great meaningful torch song he obviously thinks it should be!"
"So what did you say to Hawkefish?" said Bengo, serious again.
"Look, let's get one thing straight once and for all", said Bardin "I've never had any intention of staying here again after you've gone, not even if Hawkefish signed the entire deeds of the theatre over to me and threw in a blockbuster budget as well! I only went out this evening to cool off, because you'd been getting yourself uptight".
"Of course it has to be my fault doesn't it!" Bengo snarled.
"Because you don't listen!" Bardin exclaimed "I've told you all this to show you how fed up I am with mainstream showbusiness".
"So what was all that about helping the Little Theatre?" Bengo demanded.
"Oh call it nostalgia", said Bardin "I'm fond of the place for old time's sake, and I didn't want to see it go out in a long, naff decline. That was all. But after an evening spent with that bunch of pretentious dreary gits I think they deserve all the naffness they can get! Hawkefish is o.k, but I'd forgotten just how boring the likes of Second Lead were. I'd rather concentrate on thinking up new sketches for the Indigo Players, for when we do our final tour on our way to our distant refuge".
"Now you're talking!" said Bengo.
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site