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By Sarah Hapgood

"I feel woozy", said Kieran, sitting in the living-room later the following morning, after Zooks had been taken away "It must be all that brandy Codlik keeps forcing down me".

"Most likely post-traumatic shock syndrome", said Codlik "He tried to kill you!"

"I'm not going to take it personally", Kieran sighed "He just wanted his 15 minutes of fame that's all. If I hadn't been there he'd probably have gone for you".

"I can't imagine there's much kudos in assassinating an EX-President", Codlik smiled "Not like the Vanquisher of Evil".

"Battered to death with a clown's plastic stage-prop!" Kieran laughed "Jaysus, what a way to go!"

"Oh Finia, do cheer up, old love", said Adam "It's all over now".

"I didn't want to believe he really meant harm", said Finia, who was morosely playing patience at the table by the window "You get tired of believing bad things are going to happen, and having to be prepared for them".

"Why don't you go and buy yourself a new frock?" said Adam "A bit of shopping always cheers you up".

The mention of the magic word 'shopping' alerted Tamaz, who had been having a heated discussion on the patio with Mieps. He came in through the French windows.

"Are we going shopping?" he said, excitedly.

"Why don't we all go?" said Adam "Joby, you need some new clothes. Look at that hole in the seat of your trousers. Bend over a moment".

"Not in front of you!" said Joby "Anyway, I'm a rich eccentric".

"That isn't eccentric, that's just miserly", said Adam "And Patsy, you need a new shirt. I'm tired of looking at that one".

"Yeah so am I", said Joby "And he has the brass nerve to criticise my dressing-gown!"

"I won't come", said Codlik "I'm going to the telegraph office to see if there's anything from Glynis".

"I'm not coming either", said Lonts "Hillyard's said he's going to take me to the art gallery. They're having a wild life exhibition there. He says that in the local paper it says there's going to be a special section on bears".

"You didn't mention it to me", said Adam, annoyed that Hillyard had got in first with this invitation.

"Come and meet us there after you've been shopping", said Lonts.

"Shopping's the wimp's answer to hunting", Mieps chimed in, from the patio.

Tamaz shut the French windows on him.

"Why are all these sizes so huge?" said Tamaz, holding up a vast red satin corset.

"Because it's a shop for cross-dressers", said Finia "And they tend to be a bit on the hefty side".

"We're not", said Tamaz.

"I dunno what half this stuf is for", said Joby, looking with amazement at the various stands "What the hell does a genitals suppressor do?"

"For drag queens wearing skimpy costumes", said Finia "So that you can't see their nuts!"

"Not a problem you have though is it!" Joby chuckled.

"This is very civilised isn't it?" said Adam "I bet an awful lot of women must be jealous. There can't be many ladies' dress shops which have such attentive staff AND serve you coffee".

"I thought the coffee bit would please you", said Finia.

"I wouldn't want to wear that in this heat!" said Kieran, pointing at a skin-tight rubber dress "There wouldn't be anything left of me by the end of the evening!"

"Yes, an awful lot of it does look very uncomfortable", said Adam "Very restrictive".

"That's what we like", said Finia.

"It's not a form of body punishment is it?" said Kieran.

"Nah, it's all to do with fetishes", said Joby "With fetishes you exaggerate the bits you like".

"Shall we put Freaky in some rubber stockings for you then?" said Adam.

"No, I'd rather have silk", said Joby "I'm not keen on the smell of rubber. It makes me feel sick".

"Can I have these?" said Tamaz.

"Don't be silly, they're falsies!" said Adam "You don't need those, you've got the real thing!"

"But they've got tassels on", said Tamaz.

"I don't care", said Adam, selecting a silver nipple-chain "I'm glad Jules isn't with us to see the amount of money we're spending".

"It's Hillyard's money, not his", said Joby.

"More coffee?" said the drag queen proprietor, holding out the glass jug.

"Do you get dressed up like that all the time?" said Joby, looking at her smart tailored suit and high heels "Don't you ever go into men's clothes? That get-up don't look very relaxing".

"I have a very chic pair of silk pyjamas for relaxing in", she said.

"Look at this!" Tamaz cried, holding up a long leopard-print shawl "I must have it, it matches my eyes! Adam, please. You're the one with Hillyard's wallet".

"Yes, but Joby's your keeper", said Adam, sipping his coffee "Ask him".

"I don't know what you need a fur-wrap for where we're going", said Joby.

"It might be the last thing I'm ever bought", said Tamaz.

"I can't imagine that for one moment!" Adam sighed "There are numerous shopping-for-Tamaz days left until the exodus".

"The nights might get cold down-river", said Tamaz.

"Oh go on", said Joby "Add it to the heap".

"Thanks", said Tamaz "You always think clothes have to have a practical purpose, Joby, but they don't".

"I'm hoping we can go without 'em a lot when we get there", said Kieran.

"Ugh, I couldn't go without clothes", said the drag queen "The idea of everyone going without any embellishment is just too awful for words!"

"Perhaps that's what I find a bit depressing about drag queens", said Adam, as they all walked to the gallery afterwards "I mean, they all seem nice enough people, but it's all about make-believe, exaggeration and disguise".

"Like the clowns", said Joby.

"Yes", said Adam "And a good clown has to have a melancholic base. But the likes of Ully and our friend back there ... well as a life-long gay, I've spent my entire existence wanting to be accepted as my true self, and yet they're all about dressing-up and pretence".

"We dress up to be our true selves that's why", said Finia.

"Yes of course", said Adam "Oh Finia, I'm so sorry".

"What for?" Finia shrugged.

"Because in our time you could have been a girl", said Adam "Which is what you've always wanted, and in this primitive era you can't".

"I do o.k", said Finia "I can't believe it would have made much difference after all these years. I've often wondered if years ago I should have volunteered as a baby-carrier, but I don't think it would have been very satisfying".

"That's the crazy thing", said Joby "In our time transsexuals couldn't have babies, and yet in this time eunuchs could! Where's the logic?"

"We could only carry them, incubate them like a hen sitting on eggs", said Finia "Not conceive, give birth naturally or suckle. That's what I mean when I say it wouldn't have been very satisfying".

They got to the art gallery where Lonts was in raptures. Not only did they have pictures of bears there, but in a small side room a projector was cranking out jerky moving pictures of bears in their natural habitat.

"They remind me of us", said Lonts, ecstatically.

"They look more civilised than us", said Joby.

A volley of exagerrated "aarghs!" broke out as the film showed brown bear-cubs frolicking in a woodland clearing.

"I've seen this four times now", said Lonts.

He wasn't to see it a fifth, as the owner of the art gallery wanted to lock up the for night. Lonts reluctantly agreed to leave, and they went out into the street, where they were whistled at by Julian. He was standing outside a cafe-bar with Toppy, who had been scampering along the pavement beside him like an adoring puppy.

"I've had a perfectly wretched afternoon", said Julian "So I shall rashly take you all out to dinner".

"But we're not all here", said Lonts "Ransey, Mieps and the clowns are missing".

"They can get their own dinner", said Julian "If they turn up, we might find a small corner of the table for them".

"So what's been so awful then?" said Adam, once they were all seated inside.

"Codlik wittered on at great length about how much he was missing Glynis", said Julian "So I suggested, perfectly reasonably in my opinion, that he go back to her. But oh no! That's far too simple a solution. No, he'd rather mope around here and bore the arse of us instead!"

"What's the news from the big house then?" said Joby "Or isn't there any?"

"Glynis is upset by the haunting above the kitchen", said Julian "Keeps hearing babies crying in the night. Puts it all down to what used to be called her 'interesting condition'. Wants Kieran to go back there and exorcise it".

"I'd forgotten all about it", said Kieran "Why can't the monks do it?"

"That's exactly what I said", said Julian "I've told Codlik they've got to start sorting all these problems out for themselves. Levka and the monks can burn creosote just as well as you can".

"I really would be most unhappy if you went, Patsy", said Adam "Jules is right, as the new house-owners they really should do it themselves, and Codlik should go back there and be with her. He is supposed to be her husband after all".

"He shouldn't let a bunch of scabby old women dictate to him", said Joby.

"Well I wasn't going to put it quite like that, but I agree with the sentiments", said Adam.

"Of course, the REAL father might have a few ideas of his own", said Julian, caustically.

"Don't start", said Hillyard "The best thing I can do, for everyone's sakes, is to stay out of it all".

"Yes, very true", said Adam.

"The best thing all of us can do", said Julian "Is to forget all these stupid ideas of staying until the birth, and just leave as soon as we possibly can. Let them all get on with their new era. Glynis has got to get used to the idea of being Codlik's wife, which I know is a grim enough prospect for anyone, but matters won't be helped by Hillyard, Joby and the rest of us staying around on the scene".

"We really should leave soon, shouldn't we?" said Adam, anxious to put the debacle of his promise to Codlik behind him.

"Yes, very soon", said Julian "And with as little fuss as possible".

"Ransey's already started on the supplies list, so it won't take long", said Hillyard "Not with him organising everything".

"You hope", said Julian "Personally I think he's the one that's going senile, not Adam. He's developed a very old man's way of talking, keeps saying 'hm? hm?' after everything".

"I haven't noticed that at all", said Adam "You're imagining it".

"You mark my words", said Julian, tapping the tablecloth insistently "It won't be long before he's having to wear incontinence pants!"

"Oh really, Jules", Adam snapped "You can be so very silly sometimes!"

"What on earth were you thinking of?" Bardin exclaimed "Even Bengo wouldn't have come up with such a completely stupid idea as that!"

"What's that supposed to mean?" said Bengo, aggressively.

They were sitting in the Town Constable's office, talking to Zooks. The Town Constable obviously didn't regard Zooks as a major threat to society, because he had let him out of the cells, and was sitting apart from them, with his feet propped up on his desk, reading a paperback novel. The keys were slung down carelessly in front of him.

"Shut up a minute, I'm talking to Zooks", said Bardin "Now listen, I said we'd help you out money-wise. I even said I'd put in a good word for you with Hawkefish. All you had to do in return was cut down on the booze. So what do you do? You try and assassinate Kieran!"

"Because it's not enough just to get by", Zooks retaliated "If I was to die tomorrow not one single person would notice I'd gone. What's the point of being given life if no one notices you've got it?! Damnit, I wanted to be noticed by someone, anyone!" If I'd succeeded in killing the Vanquisher of Evil, his funeral would be something else. There'd be days of mourning declared, people sobbing in the streets, flowers stacked up around your house. But if I went there'd be nothing, nothing at all".

"If you'd succeeded in killing Kieran", said Bardin "You'd have made a lot of us very unhappy. Surely it's better to die unnoticed, than so hated and reviled?"

"As it is you're looking at 10 years in a prison in Port West", said the Constable.

"Why Port West?" said Zooks "It's the other side of the world!"

"Now that the City's gone, it's the only place equipped to take long-term offenders", said the Constable.

"I-I thought I'd be able to stay here", said Zooks.

"Oh I see", said Bardin "You had it in mind that you'd end up a sideshow exhibit. Come and see the clown who murdered the Vanquisher! How about a bit part in Hawkefish's next production instead?"

"W-what do you mean?" said Zooks, plaintively.

"He's doing some big swashbuckling adventure thing", said Bardin "All about pirates. He says you can have a part as one of the crew of a pirate ship. Even for someone with your abysmal talent it shouldn't be too difficult. You just have to wear a coloured headscarf and do a lot of frantic running about. No lines, but it's all work. Oh and there's a tavern scene, where you get to eat a real chicken leg and pickles. The sort of thing that used to get us so excited when we were kids".

"I don't understand", said Zooks "How can I?"

"Kieran's not pressing charges", said the Constable, putting down his book and picking up the big key-ring "He doesn't want the hassle of a trial".

"So as long as you promise not to try and kill him again you can leave", said Bardin "Although in a few days time you'd have a hard job catching him, as we're leaving this place".

"We've got some digs lined up for you too", said Bengo, hastily, and then he glared at Bardin "I wanted to tell him that, seeing as you got to tell him everything else! You always pinch all the best lines, it gets on my nerves".

"Well I have to have something!" said Bardin "Seeing as we all know you don't need anything so mundane as lines in order to get noticed! What did one awestruck reviewer say once? 'Bengo doesn't need to do anything when he's on stage, he simply has to be there!'"

"You've never let me forget that one have you?" said Bengo "It sticks in your craw like a festering poison!"

"So am I free to go then?" said Zooks, tentatively.

He was a nervous wreck all through his official discharge, in case it was some elaborate and very cruel practical joke, which was about to be revealed in all its hideous glory at any moment. It wasn't until he finally stepped outside with the others that he was able to attain a modicum of relaxation, and it was then, in the sultry heat of a Toondor Lanpin twilight, that he realised quite how reckless he'd been with his own existence. That he had been prepared to squander it completely for the sake of a frenzied burst of high-octane publicity, "enhanced" by the hatred and venom of the rest of the world directed entirely at him. Him. A third-rate clown whom people would still forget after the dust had died down and he'd been locked away. After all, it would be Kieran's life that was remembered for posterity. His untimely death at the hands of a sociopathic loner would only ever be a mere footnote to it, and then Zooks's name might not get mentioned at all, he would just be yet another "crazed assassin". As anonymous then as he had been before.

Bengo and Bardin walked him to his new digs, firmly, but saying very little.

On their last night in Toondor Lanpin Lonts said he wanted to take Tamaz out for dinner alone, just the two of them. To Julian's amazement, Adam agreed.

"Why aren't you riddled with jealousy?" said Julian "Fuming".

"Because I think it would be a good idea", said Adam, standing by the kitchen stove "I really do. Oh think about it, Jules. Neither of the poor little loves has had much of a chance to do anything like this before. I'd never forgive myself if I denied them this opportunity".

"Well I just hope they'll be alright alone", said Julian.

"Lo-Lo is very responsible as regards the younger ones", said Adam "He'll look after Tamaz, and I've told him that at the first hint of trouble of any kind they must come straight home".

"Can Lonts handle Freaky alone though?" said Julian.

"Yes he can", said Adam, firmly "Tamaz seems to calm down with him".

"I'm relieved to hear it", said Julian "I think given half the chance, Freaky would be like a black widow spider, except none of us would let him get away with it".

"I don't have any worries with Lo-Lo on that score", said Adam "He seems to strike a chord with him in a way that I simply can't describe. All I know is it's wonderful".

The atmosphere in the house was like New Year's Eve with its sense of anticipation, and this was now being channelled into Lonts and Tamaz's date. Adam and Toppy dressed Lonts as though he was a bridegroom on his way to church. Downstairs things were chaotic. The new Governor of Toondor Lanpin had turned up and wanted to read them his inaugural speech, hastily scribbled in pencil in a child's exercise book. Unfortunately he could never get past the opening lines of "What does the New Era mean to you?" This was because he said it in such an aggressive way that his audience either recoiled in terror or collapsed into fits of laughter.

Tamaz was subdued and didn't flounce around in his ballgown before setting off, as everyone had expected. He'd had a dream the night before in which he'd frenziedly tried to tear snakes from his hair, only to have them instantly grow back again. He'd had this dream more than once before, and it upset him every time.

"You're very quiet, Tamaz", siad Lonts, when they were finally ensconced in a dining-booth at Myrtle's hotel "Didn't you want to come out with me?"

Tamaz told him about his dream.

"And Mieps has been lecturing me just before we came out", he added "Went on at me to behave, as though I don't know how to!"

"Adam's the same", Lonts smiled "He told me not to get too excited. I don't know what he thinks I'm going to do! Start smashing the place up I think!"

"Mieps thinks I'm going to torment you all evening", said Tamaz "He's like Joby. He gets nervous when anyone likes me, as though I'm going to drive you to violence or something".

"You did want to come out though didn't you?" said Lonts.

"Of course", said Tamaz "I got so excited about it that I nearly put my drawers on inside out!"

"I'm glad you didn't", said Lonts "There's an old Kiskevian superstition that if you put your clothes on inside out you'll end up in a fight".

"Ghoomers believed it meant you were going to get a visit from the Devil", said Tamaz "What other superstitions did you have?"

"An itchy nose was the sign of a long drinking session ahead", said Lonts "Although I don't know if that counts as a superstition or not".

"From what I've heard you got a lot of itchy noses in Kiskev!" said Tamaz.

"It was an unhappy place", Lonts sighed "Sometimes I get angry when I think they were all unhappy for no reason. If only they'd known there were women in the world! Perhaps we could have persuaded some from down here to move up there, but I spect the women wouldn't have wanted to live up there".

"Some might", said Tamaz "The desperate ones, like Emily. Or Glynis!"

"Tamaz, you are funny!" Lonts laughed "Here, I'll show you another Kiskevian belief".

He spilt a little of his wine on the tablecloth, dipped his fingers in it and then rubbed them on his forehead.

"So what does that do?" said Tamaz.

"Brings untold good luck", said Lonts "Love and prosperity. Although it can't really work otherwise everyone would do it I suppose".

"It might work for us", said Tamaz "When we get away from here".

"There won't be any bad dreams when we get to our sanctuary", said Lonts "You look really beautiful, Tamaz. Elegant. Sophisticated".

"Do I?" said Tamaz, in genuine surprise "Mieps says I haven't got a sophisticated bone in my body".

"You're more sophisticated than me", said Lonts "Mind you, Joby would say that wasn't hard! He says I'm a clumsy great lump. He's probably right. I wish I wasn't so big. Sometimes I've got so much body I don't know where to put it all. And sometimes people look scared when they see me. I often frighten Toppy, and I don't mean to".

"He's easily frightened", said Tamaz "Little wimp".

"He is really peculiar", said Lonts "Keeps on about furniture all the time. He got all shocked the other day because he said he lifted up the living-room carpet and found black and white floor tiles underneath".

"So?" Tamaz shrugged.

"I don't get it either", Lonts sighed "But he seemed to think it was significant. Sometimes I just think he's not all there, so we'd better be kind to him. Me and Bengo were talking the other day. Speculating as to what would be the first things we'd do if we became President, like Kieran was. Toppy overheard, and he said he'd build himself a big palace, as though that was all he would have to do!"

"He can build me one if he likes", said Tamaz "Except I'm not President anymore. It wasn't all it was cracked up to be. I'm not surprised Kieran abdicated. There were always men whispering in corners, and nobody ever told you anything. Not properly anyway. Nobody was ever straightforward".

"You must have been so scared, Tamaz", said Lonts.

"Yes", said Tamaz, candidly "I never want to feel that unwanted and vulnerable again".

After the dinner, which largely consisted of them tearing shellfish limb from limb, they went for a walk along the waterfront. They wound up on the jetty where the Indigo had previously been moored, and stood for some time at the end of it, gazing out across the river to the houses on the far side. The moody atmosphere was broken by Tamaz suddenly kicking off his high heels and throwing them into the river.

"I won't be needing them anymore after we leave tomorrow", he said, much to Lonts's amusement.

Back on the waterfront they were met by Adam, Julian and Hillyard, who had come out for a walk as a ruse to see where they had got to. They had coffee one last time at Persephone's (or so they thought), and then went back to the house.

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