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By Sarah Hapgood

Bengo was woken up the following morning by the sound of a heap of cutlery crashing onto the dining-room table.

"I've got to set it up", Tamaz growled, having flung down a tablecloth wrapped round every knife, fork and spoon in the house.

"You look too delicious to be doing chores", said Bengo, taking advantage of Bardin's absence from the room to look over Tamaz in an appreciative fashion.

Tamaz came over to him and lay down in Bardin's spot on the mattress. Bengo stroked Tamaz's legs, relishing the feel of the silk stockings and the coffee-coloured lace trim on his drawers.

"You're sensational", Bengo murmured.

"He already knows that!" Joby barked.

Tamaz sprang to his feet guiltily.

"I was just having a break", he said, sulkily.

"Having a break?" Joby exclaimed "You haven't even started yet! I'll get on with this, you go upstairs and wake Kieran. I don't want him missing breakfast".

"J-Joby?" Bengo stammered, after Tamaz had left the room "You're not gonna tell Bardin are you?"

"I haven't made my mind up yet", said Joby, smugly "You'll have to sweat on it for a bit".

Bengo whimpered in reply.

Bardin was already out of sorts. He had been in the yard chopping kindling for the kitchen stove, and had been taunted by the two men delivering oil for the lamps.

"Give us a kiss, blondie", one of them cried, and then added "Strewth! Not with that mouth!"

Adam managed to get them hurried up and on their way.

"I think some men never get past puberty", he sighed, when he and Bardin returned to the kitchen.

"Adam!" Lonts bellowed, running into the kitchen with Snowy under his arm "You've got to talk to Julian, now!"

"Oh dear, do I have to?" said Adam.

"He says we can't have any dogs in the house", Lonts went on "He says they howl all night. I said dogs only howl when they're hungry, or when they're shut out in the rain, and we won't let that happen. Then he said he didn't want them in his room, and I said we could get one of those little gates for the stairs to stop them going up to his floor, and then he said ..."

"And then I said we could get dogs when we left here and went into exile", said Julian, coming into the room, followed by Joby "In fact I said dogs might come in useful when we live out in the wilds, but you were too busy having hsyterics to listen!"

"But why can't we have them here?" Lonts wailed.

"Because we've already got enough pets in this house with you here, not to mention Bengo and Freaky", said Julian, testily.

"And both of them need putting on a leash", said Joby.

"Why, what's happened?" said Bardin, sharply.

"Nothing", Joby mumbled, none too convincingly.

"I don't know why you need to prance around the house with 'em on in this heat", said Kieran, who was kneeling on Tamaz and forcibly divesting him of his stockings.

Tamaz lay trapped on the bed, hissing and spitting indignantly.

"Joby doesn't mind", he shrieked.

"Joby's too damn soft with you", said Kieran.

He managed to pull of both stockings and hung them over the bed-rail. Tamaz slapped his naked backside.

"Oh-ho, want to play, eh?" said Kieran.

He undid the crotch buttons on Tamaz's drawers and entered him without much further ado.

When they finally left the bedroom to go down to breakfast, they found Codlik on all fours on the landing examining the carpet.

"It's almost completely threadbare in parts", he tutted.

"Shocking isn't it!" said Kieran "People shouldn't be allowed to walk on 'em!"

The others had assembled in the dining-room for breakfast. Ransey had strewn the table with maps, and everyone had to grope under them to get at food and cutlery. Ransey had found an estuary which led southerly off the river which ran past No-Name. Several days journey along it was a beach area on the west coast, backed by a wooded hill, in the depths of which was marked the substantial remains of an old fortified house. It was generally agreed that this would be worth a look for the siting of their colony. It wasn't as inaccessible and cut-off from the rest of the world as a desert island would be, and yet it was still remote and isolated. Not remote enough for Lonts though, who bizarrely envisaged "neighbours" dropping in at all hours of the day and night.

"Don't be such a pillock, Lonts", said Joby "It's a bloody long way for someone to come for a cup of sugar!"

Adam, equally bizarrely, suggested they should find out if it was for sale first.

"It's a ruin, in the middle of nowhere", said Julian, impatiently "Even if by some slender chance it's still legally owned by someone, I can't see us having too much trouble staking squatter's rights. Do you seriously imagine we're going to have to employ estate agents and surveyors?!"

"No one's owned that place in years", said Ransey "It only exists on the No-Name maps. I doubt anyone's ever 'owned' it, technically. Whoever built it simply did just that, started building it on the empty land".

"It's probably falling down", said Joby, gloomily "Not safe, floors rotted, dry rot".

"Then we live on the Indigo until we rebuild it", said Ransey "And then it doesn't matter how long it takes".

"It might be cursed", said Joby "Haunted".

"Then we get Kieran to exorcise it", Ransey sighed "It seemed to work up at Woll's place".

"It sounds like a lot of work", said Tamaz, fearfully.

"I can't imagine somehow that that will concern you overly much!" said Julian.

"Think of the hunting opportunities out there", Mieps whispered to Tamaz, which made the younger one smile.

"Have I got to do all this washing-up on me own?" said Kieran, standing in the middle of the kitchen whilst Adam wrapped a pinny round him "I'll still be at it this time tomorrow!"

"It makes a change for you to do some work around here, Patsy", said Adam.

"Jaysus, it's like being back with me Mam!" said Kieran.

"I'm going to hang the washing out now", said Adam "I expect you to have made some considerable headway by the time I get back".

He picked up the washing-basket. Outside Joby was sweeping the yard lethargically.

"For heaven's sake take that scowl off your face, Joby", said Adam "Just because I've given you a little chore to do!"

"You're always giving me little chores to do!" said Joby.

"Well it's a good job I'm around", said Adam "Or you and Patsy would probably lie in bed all day, drinking".

"Chance'd be a fine thing", Joby muttered.

Whilst Adam was at the washing-line, Codlik came out and talked at him, on his favourite theme of how he thought the whole idea of self-imposed exile was completely wrong.

"Codders, you're beginning to sound like a scratched record, old love", said Adam.

"Well I'm sorry, but it's absurd", said Codlik, following him along the line of Lonts's billowing nappies "You say you're going to find peace, but it seems to me that wherever you lot are there will never be peace. All you ever do is argue".

"That's because we all stimulate each other", said Adam "There's bound to be a lot of noise where there's a lot of passion and love. I grew up in a quiet house, one that had very little love in it at all, where you should have heard a pin drop from the lack of communication, or rather a dull thud, as my Mother's vodka bottle hit the carpet just before she collapsed onto the sofa!"

Codlik trailed him back to the house. Joby was talking to Kieran through the kitchen window, or rather both were sniggering. Kieran made clucking noises as Adam got near, and Joby exclaimed "It's Attila the Hen!"

"Don't be tiresome", said Adam.

They were soon distracted, first by the sight of Hillyard pushing a wheelbarrow laden with a garden fork and shovel across the lawn, on his way to muck out the horses.

"What's so bleedin' funny?" he yelled.

"You're sporting a rather impressive bum cleavage, old love!" said Adam.

Hillyard yanked up is trousers, only to have them settle around his hips again when he moved off once more. Then Lonts and Tamaz got out onto the flat roof of the kitchen, reached via one of the bathroom windows, in order to do a bit of sunbathing.

"It's really nice up here", said Lonts, as he and Tamaz leaned over the edge, the sun framing their hair "I can see Tamaz's breasts!"

"You don't have to get up on the roof just to see them!" said Joby.

"No, but I've got them all to myself up here", said Lonts.

Codlik decided he could make himself useful by helping Kieran with the washing-up.

"Personally, I would have changed the water before I did the glasses", Codlik pouted, standing by the draining-board with a tea-towel "In fact I would have done the glasses before anything else".

"I wanted to do the frying-pans first", said Kieran, fiercely brandishing the dish-mop "It was the shittiest job, and I wanted to get them out of the way, so there!"

"Even so, there's very little method in this way of doing things", said Codlik.

"If you carried on like this with Glynis", said Kieran "I'm not surprised she chucked you out!"

"I think I will go and send Glynis a telegraph message", said Codlik, stiffly "Telling her I arrived safely".

"I can't think why you didn't do that yesterday!" said Kieran.

Adam had been enjoying a foxtrot around the living-room on his own that afternoon, when Julian and Ransey returned from the boatyard.

"Good news", said Ransey, throwing himself into the nearest armchair as usual "The Indigo doesn't need much doing to her, just a bit of valeting really, cleaning the propeller and all that, so we should be able to release her the day after tomorrow".

"Well as we're not going out on the high seas now, I suppose we don't have to worry so much", said Adam, taking the record off the gramophone.

"But it does mean that there's no reason why we can't disappear as early as next week", said Julian.

"I've already started drawing up lists of things to take with us", said Ransey "The others will need to get their Wants lists sent into me. They need warning though that we may not be restricted by money anymore, but space is still at a premium".

"So no trunk-loads of ballgowns for Freaky!" said Julian.

"But we can't leave so soon", Adam stammered.

"Whyever not?" Julian exclaimed "We've all been bursting to get going for months now".

"Y-yes, b-but ..." Adam began.

"But what?!" Julian barked.

"I promised Codlik last night t-that ...", said Julian, awkwardly "T-that we wouldn't disappear before Glynis's baby was born".

"That's weeks away", said Julian "July, for God's sake! What the hell did you want ot go and promise a thing like that for?!"

"Because I thought no one would mind", said Adam.

"You blithering great jessie!" said Julian.

"Julian, I won't be spoken to like that!" said Adam.

"Go and do one of the few things I know you can do", said Julian "Go and make a pot of coffee".

Adam shoved him roughly over the back of the sofa and stormed off to the kitchen. He was viciously swirling coffee beans round the grinder when Lonts came in. The sight of him, with Snowy under his arm, helped to dissipate Adam's anger somewhat, and he tearfully told Lonts what had happened.

"I can't bear him talking to me as though I'm a complete moron", said Adam.

"You're not a moron at all", said Lonts, fiercely "And if he says you are I shall get very angry. You were only trying to be thoughtful to Glynis".

"I promised Codlik we'd stay without really thinking about what I was saying", said Adam "Oh I can understand why he's annoyed. Sometimes it can feel as though we're never going to get away".

"I think it gives us more time to prepare", said Lonts "I think we need to take more animals with us. We have to replace the hens we left at Woll's, and I think we should get a couple of goats".

"Yes of course, what a splendid idea!" said Adam "We can learn to make our own butter and cheese".

"Hillyard already knows how to", said Lonts "I've been talking to him about it. He says he learnt how to do it when he worked on the Ministry farm years ago, and he says we can take a couple of the spare wooden churns from the dairy at Woll's place".

"It's all so exciting isn't it, Lo-Lo?" said Adam "And I never cease to be amazed by all these useful little talents that Hilly keeps hidden. Mind you, I've always said he can turn his hand to anything, excpet when one says that about Hillyard it tens to sound rather like a double entendre!"

Later that afternoon Bardin got called out to Persephone's bar to meet an old colleague. He had been astonished to find a note pushed through the door for him from Zooks, one of his fellow clowns from the Cabaret of Horrors. Like Bengo and Bardin, Zooks had been in showbusiness from a very early age, and had spent most of his career at the Cabaret of Horrors in the Village of Stairs.

Clowning was the only life Zooks had ever known, but he wasn't very good at it. He had been a lazy child, and never wanted to rehearse or do his acrobatic exercises, which were compulsory. He had no outstanding talents as a clown, and he had been kept on at the Cabaret in adulthood purely as secondary foils to the other clowns. In recent years though his drinking, his clumsiness, forgetfulness and bad timing had made him too unreliable to work with. When doing complex slapstick routines it was vital for a clown to be able to remember hundreds of different movements in exactly the right order, and this proved impossible for him. Routines collapsed when he was involved in them. When all the other clowns refused to work with him any longer, Ully, who because of his own drink problem had sympathetically tolerated his mistakes for years, had announced gently that "I have to let you go".

"As though he'd been doing me a fucking favour!" said Zooks, angrily shaking his mop of unruly dark hair "Look, I had to see you, Bardin. I used all the money I had to cadge a passage up here on a fishing trawler. I've got nothing left. Could you see your way round to putting me up for a few days?"

"One night", said Bardin "And then tomorrow we'll find you digs".

"No I ent got the money for the rent", Zooks protested.

"Hillyard'll give you some", said Bardin "He's always saying he's got more than he knows what to do with".

"Fucking bully for him", said Zooks.

"He's a nice guy", said Bardin "And his money'll give you the chance to get your head cleared. Give it a couple of weeks and then go and see Hawkefish at the Little Theatre. Say I sent you. He's always on the lookout for new talent".

"I haven't got no fucking talent", said Zooks, bitterly "I can't even juggle for fuck's sake! What kind of a clown is it who can't even juggle?!"

"Get yourself a couple of mime routines sorted out", said Bardin "They always go down well, and they'll be your best bet as a lone clown".

"That's just the trouble, I'm no good as a lone clown", said Zooks "I need a stage partner, an opposite number. I'd work better then, I know I would. I always used to wonder why Ully constantly pushed you and Bengo together, even as kids. He made you share everything, the same routines, the same rooms, and yet you both fought all the time. I got on better with you than he did".

"We've always had a good on-stage rapport though", said Bardin "When Bengo suddenly left the Cabaret I felt completely cut adrift. I just couldn't gel with anyone else in the same way. That's why I followed him up here".

"And yet he hasn't got your talent, mate", said Zooks "All he had were his looks. Without that he'd have been as useless as me".

"No, Bengo's got something", said Bardin "I admit his timing's not the best, and he's always doing unscripted pratfalls, but there's something about him the punters have always warmed to, and it's not just his looks. I've seen it happen so many times, as soon as he appears they seem to relax, as though a reliable old friend had turned up. He's completely non-threatening I suppose, and it's got worse since we've started having audiences with women in. They all want to mother him! He could make every mistake in the book, and yet the punters would always forgive him. That's a rare quality in a performer. I admit it's annoyed the shit out of me at times, as though he's got an unfair advantage, but both Ully and Hawkefish have said that's what's given an edge to my role".

"Is it true that you and he are now lovers?" said Zooks, incredulously.

"Yep", said Bardin, in a tone that implied no further information was forthcoming.

"Shit, I couldn't get involved with someone I've known all my life", said Zooks "Where's the damn mystery and excitement? You know everything there is to know about each other!"

"Mm, that's right", said Bardin, draining his glass "We understand each other. C'mon, I'll take you back to meet the others. A word of advice though. Try not to get too much in Julian's way. You'll be o.k as long as he doesn't take too much notice of you. He'll be the tall, blonde one, quite well-preserved for his age".

Bardin took him into the house via the kitchen-door.

"Will you relax!" Bardin cried "Anyone'd think you were about to meet royalty!"

"I feel like I am", said Zooks, painfully aware of his shabby, dirty clothes "Look at the state of me! All I need are a few squashed cabbage leaves and potato peelings to complete the picture of squalor!"

He was taken first into the dining-room to leave his rucksack there.

"Me and Bengo sleep on the floor here", said Bardin "I expect you'll be joining us. Everywhere else in this house is full up".

Zooks had been distracted though by Tamaz, who had appeared in the doorway. In his wine-coloured teddy and silk robe, he looked like an exotic young courtesan.

"Who's the creep?" said Tamaz, imperiously.

"You've heard of Tamaz", said Bardin, beckoning the said person into the room.

"I saw him rollerskating with Kieran at the Festival last year", said Zooks, in awe.

"He's our ingenue these days", said Bardin.

"He's really half-male?" Zooks exclaimed "He, she, he, looks like a fucking female to me!"

"And tomorrow if you see him in plain clothes, you'll think he's a boy", said Bardin.

Zooks suddenly grabbed Tamaz's crotch. Tamaz yelped and spat, boxing Zooks's ears.

"I just wanted to check", said Zooks "Extraordinary".

"You wait til you see Mieps", said Bardin.

"Another hermaphrodite?" said Zooks.

"He's even more extraordinary than Tamaz", said Bardin.

"No he isn't!" said Tamaz, indignantly, and he swept out of the room.

The clowns followed him across the hall into the living-room, which was choked to the rafters with all the other occupants of the house. Zooks recognised Kieran and Codlik at once, but was dumbfounded to see TWO tall well-preserved blondes in there, and panicked because he didn't know which was the infamous Julian. Mieps he could tell at once, if only for those extraordinary snake eyes. Zooks found he could only stare at him, as though he was an art-lover trying to decipher the significance of a rather cryptic piece of sculpture.

"Show the jerk your saggy tits", Tamaz muttered.

Mieps slapped his leg and told him to to and sit quietly behind the chair. Amazingly, Tamaz did so.

"What the hell are you doing here, Zooks?" said Bengo.

"Staying for the night", said Zooks, smugly.

"Oh just what we need", said Julian, after Bardin had explained who Zooks was "A nest of jealous clowns. A menage-a-trois of clowns!"

"Jules, don't antagonise Bengo", said Adam.

"If you had your way I wouldn't be allowed to speak at all!" Julian retorted.

"We couldn't be that lucky", Joby muttered.

"You're Julian?" said Zooks.

"I am", said Julian, crisply "What of it?"

"N-nothing", said Zooks "Just that Bardin told me you were well-preserved ... a-and you are!"

"Well-preserved?!" Julian spat "What's that supposed to mean?"

"That you're very good for your age", said Bardin, hurriedly.

"Yes, no one would think he was 10, would they?" said Adam, caustically.

"Stop carrying on, the pair of you", said Ransey "Or I'll knock your heads together".

Hillyard had been distracted by Mieps whilst this conversation was going on. The Ghoomer had been staring at Zooks with something more than idle curiosity. It was becoming obvious that he had sensed something very disturbing. Kieran was preoccupied talking to Codlik, so Hillyard decided to find out for him.

"I'm going to put the kettle on", he said "Make some coffee".

"I'll give you a hand", said Mieps.

Tamaz had sensed something was afoot, and went to follow them out. Mieps barked at him to stay where he was, and Tamaz went back to sulkily picking at the long tassels on an embroidered cushion.

"He just seems a bit of a sad loser to me", said Hillyard, huddled with Mieps behind the kitchen door.

"He's a loser who's lost absolutely everything", said Mieps "That makes him desperate and dangerous".

"But what can he gain from hurting Kieran?" said Hillyard.

"Fame, recognition", said Mieps "He's spent his whole life merely being tolerated by people, and when he was sacked he lost even that. He didn't come all the way here just to get Bardin to pull strings for him at the Little Theatre, you can be sure of that".

"And you can sense all this?" said Hillyard.

"You can too", said Mieps "Or you wouldn't have been so ready to come and talk to me now. And the other danger is that Tamaz is beginning to sense it too, especially picking it up from me perhaps. He has to be sent upstairs out of the way".

"He won't like that!" Hillyard exclaimed.

"That's irrelevant", said Mieps "Tamaz doesn't have any skill at cunning and conspiratorial behaviour. He is still too young and excitable for that. If he senses what we know about Zooks, he'll probably blurt it out to everyone".

"Getting him out of the way could be a problem", said Hillyard "It's impossible to get Tamaz to do something he doesn't want to".

"No it's not", said Mieps, firmly "I'll tell him to go in such a way he'll know he risks a beating if he refuses. You humans are too soft!"

"What do we do with Zooks though?" said Hillyard.

"Get rid of him as soon as we can", said Mieps "And by that I mean send him away from here. Tomorrow as soon as the bank opens, you give him money, and plenty of it. Even a considerable sum will be a drop in the ocean to you. Give him enough to keep him in alcohol for several weeks. That will blunt his urge for recognition for a while. Then hopefully by the time he's drunk all that we'll be gone from here. To people like him, assassinating a public figure becomes their only chance to get noticed".

"We've got to get through tonight though", said Hillyard.

"Go back to the living-room and keep everyone distracted whilst I go to the dining-room and search Zooks's bag", said Mieps "If he already has a weapon I mean to find it".

"Where does that vile old snake get off telling me to go upstairs?" Tamaz exclaimed, sitting at the foot of his bed "And you just let him talk to me like that! And what were you whispering about with Hillyard just now?"

Joby didn't answer. He was standing at the bedroom door, waiting impatiently for Kieran to come back from the bathroom. Tamaz flopped back against the mattress and pouted. He gave a couple of teary sniffs, but Joby still didn't take any notice of him.

"It's time that dressing-gown of yours was thrown out", said Kieran, coming into the room "I'm surprised it hasn't fallen to pieces by now".

"I'm very attached to this dressing-gown", said Joby "It's like an old friend. I've had it since Husgalonghi".

Tamaz noticed they were talking a false, artificial way, like conspirators frightened of being overheard in the street. He was desperately trying to decipher what was going on, but it was as if Kieran and Mieps had joined forces to psychically block him out. He was hurt by this, as though they didn't trust him.

Joby noticed Mieps walk past and go into Ransey's room, which was in-between theirs and the bathroom. Without saying a word, Joby followed him in there.

"Shut the door!" Ransey barked, when he came in.

Mieps was standing in the room, holding a small revolver in the palm of his hand that he had found in Zooks's bag.

"We still don't know he means business", Finia protested "A lot of guys go armed when they travel alone".

"We're still not taking any chances", said Ransey, taking the gun and emptying out the full complement of six bullets into a saucer "No guests in this house are going to hide guns without my knowledge!"

"What other weapons have we got in this house?" said Mieps.

"My gun", said Ransey "And my spare, which Julian keeps up in his room. He keeps it locked up. To give him his due, he's very responsible when it comes to guns".

"Should we inform the clowns?" said Mieps.

"No, it'd only make them too agitated", said Ransey "Having to spend the night with him. Bardin's sensible, but Bengo hasn't got the brains he was born with!"

"That's not fair", said Finia, inadvertently showing his old attachment to Bengo.

"Well it's true", said Ransey "Have you forgotten that time he decided to go and rescue Joby? He wanted to attack Tamaz with balloons filled with flour! No wonder the little sod got away so easily!"

"If I'd been there Joby would have been rescued a lot sooner", said Mieps "The little brat wouldn't have slipped through my grasp so smoothly. Then again, perhaps Joby didn't want to be rescued too soon!"

"I'm going to bed", Joby growled.

"Take my revolver with you", said Ransey.

"No, why should I?" said Joby "We've disarmed him now, so what's the panic?"

"There are other things in this house he could use as weapons", said Ransey "The poker for the kitchen stove for instance. If Kieran was attacked with that whilst he was sleeping his brains would be reduced to a pulpy mess".

"They already are!" said Joby "Have been for years. Anyway he'd have to get past me first, and Tamaz. The poor jerk doesn't stand a chance!"

"I hope for your sake those words don't go down for posterity", said Ransey, severely.

"Tuck your arms and legs right in", said Bardin "You have to be as smooth and round as possible".

He was rolling Bengo into a ball and attempting to push him head over heels.

"We need a rubber mat for this", said Bengo, with his head somewhere in the region of his anus "This floor's murder to work on".

They both collapsed into a giggling heap. Zooks watched them sulkily from nearby, irritated by their ease with each other's naked bodies.

"Are you guys going to keep this up all night?" Zooks snapped.

"Not with you here, no", Bengo muttered.

Zooks went over to his rucksack and began to root around in it. He got more and more irritated, and then upended the bag onto the dining-room table.

"Where is it?" he squawked.

"What's he looking for?" Bengo sighed.

"Probably the batteries for his dildo", said Bardin.

"One of you jerks has solen my fucking gun!" said Zooks.

"I didn't even know you had a gun", said Bengo "And what the hell do you want one for anyway?"

"Defending his honour on the fishing-trawler probably", said Bardin.

"He should be so lucky!" said Bengo.

Zooks gave a crazed cry and snatched an item out of Bardin's theatrical basket. It was a fake crowbar which was actually made of plastic, not metal. A fact which entirely escaped the attention of the world's most inept assassin. He ran out of the dining-room, across the hall and up the stairs, hotly pursued by the other two clowns. They all made so much noise that Zooks would have had trouble creeping up and battering a deaf sloth.

He got into Kieran's room where Tamaz (who hadn't slept a wink, consumed as he was with annoyance over Mieps's high-handed secretiveness) flew nimbly out of bed when he saw Zooks standing there with the crowbar. Without any further ado he punched Zooks in the face. He didn't stop punching him until he had him on the floor and was sitting astride his back.

Julian was first into the room, carrying the spare revolver. A fact which gave him untold satisfaction when Ransey appeared.

"I was in a deep sleep", said Ransey, with embarrassment "And when I woke up it took me a while to find my glasses".

"Some fucking bodyguard you are!" said Julian.

"I take back any nice thing I ever mistakenly said about you!" said Ransey.

"That shouldn't take long should it!" said Julian, tartly "Right, you clowns go and fetch the Town Constable, but some clothes on first!"

Bengo and Bardin both ran out of the room.

"Plastic", said Joby, picking up the crowbar from the floor "It's one of the props!"

"Oh dear", Adam sighed, looking down at the whimpering Zooks "It almost makes you feel sorry for him doesn't it!"

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