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By Sarah Hapgood

They left the big house as abruptly as they had arrived, leaving everyone there rather askance. Some of the staff had been looking forward to a long stay to liven things up and were disappointed, as was Glynis, who had barely seen them.

It was still raining back in Toondor Lanpin, and Julian went down with flu, which infuriated him as no one else got it.

"Monsoon seems to go on longer every year", said Adam, tucking a fresh hot-water bottle under Julian's bedclothes.

"This year it has", said Julian, croakily "And it's cold too. After all, this time last year we had just celebrated seeing off the FFF. We had had that street-party".

"Was that a year ago?" said Adam, in dismay "Oh Jules, the years seem to go by faster and faster".

"They always did go fast", said Julian "It's just that when we were young it didn't bother us, because we knew we'd have decades ahead of us".

"We really have to make the most of things from now on", said Adam.

"Don't remind me", said Julian "Death is the worry that wakes me up in the middle of the night".

Bardin walked in, carrying a cup of beef tea.

"You're back early", said Julian "I thought you were going to Hawkefish's new revue this afternoon".

"We left earlier than expected", said Bardin, spreading a napkin over Julian's chest "Bengo had hysterics during the interval".

Adam had noticed that Bengo was loitering on the small landing outside and pulled him in. Bengo immediately ran into the corner of the room and sank sobbing to the floor.

"The show was THAT bad?!" Julian exclaimed.

"It almost sounds worth going to see!" said Adam "What was it about?"

"A celebration of clowning", said Bardin, sending Bengo into a fresh volley of tears "Although someone should tell them there's more to clowning than dressing up in baggy clothes and pulling stupid faces! You have to actually make people laugh too!"

Adam hooked Bengo up under his armpits and propelled him into a chair.

"What on earth's the matter?" said Adam.

"One of the performers was taken ill during the first-half", said Bardin "So Hawkefish came out at the interval and asked if Bengo would stand in for the rest of the show. As soon as he heard what was involved, he had a fit. Which was crazy. It was the most bog-standard slapstick. Bengo could do it standing on his head!"

"And knowing Bengo he probably would!" said Julian.

"Well if he didn't want to do it, why didn't Hawkefish ask you?" said Adam.

"He wanted someone good-looking for the part", said Bardin, tartly.

"I would have had to have been hit with 3 or 4 pies at once, at close-range!" Bengo wailed.

"I told you it was bog-standard slapstick", said Bardin.

"Why am I always being made to do things like that?" Bengo sniffed "Why can't I play the romantic lead for once?"

"Because you're a clown!" said Bardin, impatiently "And clowns don't play romantic leads!"

"I'm sure Charlie Chaplin would have disagreed with you there, old love", said Adam.

"That's easy for you to say", Bengo snapped at Bardin.

"It's been done to me as well", Bardin sighed, wearily "Plenty of times. You once did it unscripted! It was meant for someone else, but you wheeled round at the last minute and hit me with it instead!"

"You must have annoyed me that day", said Bengo.

"And did I carry on like a pillock about it?" said Bardin "No I didn't. Because I am a professional!"

Bengo screamed and drummed his feet on the floor.

"Bengo!" said Julian, pushing away the remains of the beef tea.

"Don't make me go back on the stage!" Bengo threw himself onto Julian's bed and sobbed into his chest "Please!"

"You two go downstairs and work off some of your energy", said Julian, slapping Bengo's rump "Go now. You're squashing my hot-water bottle".

Bardin grabbed Bengo by his shirt and pulled him out of the room.

"Don't expect me to exert that much self-control when I'm well again!" said Julian, after they'd gone "Bengo takes a great deal of resisting".

"He is absolutely scrumptious", said Adam, rearranging Julian's pillows "Are you warm enough, Jules? Would you like something to put round your shoulders?"

"No I would not!" said Julian, irritably "Who do you think I am, Great Uncle Bulgaria?! I may get up in a little while anyway".

(Which sounded like a threat).

"I strongly advise you not to", said Adam "Or you'll never get well".

"I can't lie up here, all neglected and forgotten, whilst you lot enjoy yourselves downstairs", said Julian.

"The idea of us being allowed to forget you!" said Adam.

Down in the kitchen, Hillyard and Joby were preparing a cold supper.

"Did you know I've got my eye on some donkeys?" said Hillyard.

"Nothing surprises me where you're concerned!" said Joby.

"No, for taking back to the Bay with us", said Hillyard "Ransey thinks they'll come in useful for the expedition".

"Would we have room for 'em?" said Joby.

"There's bags more room in the hold", said Hillyard.

He began to scrape some vegetable scraps into a sack.

"You're not taking those out to the goats now?" said Joby.

"Yeah", said Hillyard "A bit of rain's not going to harm me. What's the matter? You afraid of being in here alone in the twilight?"

"I feel a bit uneasy this evening", said Joby.

"Don't you worry", said Hillyard "I'll feed the goats and bolt them into the stables, and then I'll be back!"

Whilst he was gone Joby put more kindling on the stove, and then stopped in confusion. He could hear a distant rumbling sound. Back in the 21st century he would have said it was an aeroplane going over, but they didn't have such things anymore. Air-buggies had distinctive, nasally whines instead. His other thought was that it might be an earth-tremor. Toondor Lanpin had had plenty before, but this didn't seem to fit somehow.

He stood up and jumped out of his skin. Hillyard was looking through the window at him, the sacking draped over his head.

"Joby?" said Kieran, coming through from the hall "You o.k?"

"Yeah, no thanks to that dork Hillyard!" Joby cried.

"You're nervy aren't you?" said Hillyard, slamming the back door shut behind him "It was only me".

"You looked like an escaped lunatic!" said Joby.

"No, just wet through", said Hillyard, standing in front of the stove and stripping off his sodden clothes "I was only out there a couple of minutes and I'm drenched".

"Serves you right", said Joby "Didn't you hear it, Kiel? A rumbling noise, just now?"

"It's hard to hear much about Lonts dancing round the gramophone", said Kieran "It sounds like it was probably an earth-temor to me".

"I spose so", said Joby, looking glum.

"Here's some news to cheer you up", said Kieran "Tamaz has put his winter bloomers on!"

"We'll be looking at them until Christmas!" said Hillyard, pulling a dry t-shirt of the indoor washing-line.

"Haven't you got very far with the supper yet, Joby?" said Adam, entering the room "This is what happens when I'm not in here to discipline you!"

"Be my guest", Joby sighed.

"You'll get me so excited I won't be able to carve", said Hillyard, preparing to slice up a joint of cold beef.

"Did anyone else hear that rumbling noise?" a wild-eyed Bengo ran into the room, clad in only a vest.

"You heard it too?" said Joby.

"Now really!" said Adam "Bengo, I won't have you running around the kitchen with no pants on. It's not hygenic".

"Sod hygiene!" said Hillyard, looking at Bengo hungrily.

"Hillyard, don't", said Adam "Bengo's far too excitable at the moment".

Bengo clung onto Adam, gibbering agitatedly about the strange noise. Lonts appeared, and looked venomous when he saw them thus embraced. He grabbed Bengo and hurled him bodily back out into the hallway.

"You can't be trusted, Adam", Lonts boomed.

"That's very true", said Hillyard, giving Adam a gentle prod in the backside with the meat-fork.

"I can be trusted, actually", said Adam "And Lo-Lo, I won't have you hurling poor little Bengo around the house. He's smaller than you".

"Most people are!" said Joby.

Bengo had scudded along one of the hall-rugs, as though it was a flying-carpet, aided by the polished floor underneath. He had come to rest at Bardin's feet.

"You were always good at pratfalls, Bengo", said Bardin, who had caught a brief glimpse of Lonts's angry face in the doorway, just before Bengo had come flying out "Did anyone else hear the noise?"

"I don't know", said Bengo, breathlessly "I didn't get a chance to find out. Lonts found me hanging onto Adam and got entirely the wrong idea. I've banged my knees. I wish I'd had my knee-pads on!"

Bardin knelt down to massage them.

"It can't have been anything too serious, Bardy", said Bengo, sitting propped against his friend "I mean, nothing's fallen off the walls. Perhaps it was a cart rumbling past in the street, and we misheard it".

"Anything's possible in this weather", said Bardin "A touch of monsoon madness again perhaps".

Bengo had calmed down a little by now. Bardin stroking him was a very pleasent feeling, as was the chill air of the hallway wafting around his naked lower half. At times like this he forgot their usual animosity, and felt he would happily be Bardin's slave. Tamaz approached them, wearing a pair of linen pyjamas. The clowns immediately grabbed him and pulled him onto the carpet, tearing off his pyjama bottoms.

"Oh I've got to break this up", said Hillyard, mischievously.

He picked Tamaz up and turned him upside down, before noticing Julian standing at the bottom of the stairs.

"You're not supposed to be out of bed", said Hillyard, still clutching Tamaz.

"I can't stay up there all alone", said Julian "I've come down for supper at least".

"Put me down!" Tamaz spat, indignantly "All the blood's rushing to my head!"

Hillyard set him on his feet.

"And it's a good job I'm here now", said Julian "This is what happens when you think you've got rid of me. Freaky in his bloomers, and Bengo flashing an erection for all to see!"

"Nothing new then", said Hillyard.

The rain seemed to lash down harder than ever as the evening wore on. Supper was consumed in the kitchen, with them all sitting tightly-packed around the table.

"Why couldn't you pick on someone your own size?" said Bardin, when he found himself sitting next to Lonts.

"There is no one else his size!" said Joby.

"I had to calm Bengo down", said Lonts "He was too excitable".

"I really don't think throwing him around the house is the way to do it, Lo-Lo!" said Adam.

"There's not enough room at this table", Ransey grumbled "I'm having trouble moving my elbows. We should make the clowns sit in the corner, and then we could chuck scraps at them!"

Julian was warming his hands in front of the stove.

"I insist you go back to bed as soon as you've eaten, Jules", said Adam.

"Yes, you'll probably get pneumonia and have to go into hospital then", said Ransey, with obvious relish.

"And won't you just love that!" said Julian "Before I know it you'd have Boney-Arse reading the last rites over me!"

"He can't be that ill if he's insulting us!" said Kieran.

"God, this weather gives me the creeps", said Joby "I keep hearing things in it".

"You're far too jumpy", said Kieran "Don't you think if there was anything to worry about, me or Mieps might have picked it up by now?"

"Not necessarily", said Joby "You've probably shut yourself off, as usual".

"And I don't always detect things", said Mieps "Back at my old place I didn't always guess when Reptile Men were imminent".

"I thought we had one looking through the kitchen window earlier", said Joby "It was Hillyard!"

Somebody hammered on the front door in an ominous fashion.

"I'm not answering that!" Bengo squawked "I always get sent to answer the door, but I'm not doing it this time!"

"I wish you'd calm down", said Ransey, rising to his feet "You've been frisky all day. I'll answer it".

"I'll come with you", said Mieps.

"If you insist", said Ransey, although he was secretly quite glad of Mieps's company.

"Stop fidgeting, Bengo", said Julian.

"I can't help it", Bengo wailed.

"Calm down, Bengo", said Adam, sternly "Or I'll tip you over my knee and paddle your butt!"

Which at least seemed to take Bengo's mind off his jitters.

Ransey found a note pushed through the letterbox, which was addressed simply to "KIERAN". He unbolted the front door and looked out, but he wasn't terribly surprised to find no one there. It was hard to see anyone through the rain, which was now teeming down as though to atone for a million droughts. In the darkness it seemed as though the rest of the town's population had vanished, and they inside the Town House had been cut adrift, like a rudderless ship floating through deep space.

"It's probably some begging-letter", he said to Mieps, who was doing bird impressions with his hands creating shadows against the wall "Either money, or someone's dying. The usual old thing!"

Kieran was in the pantry with Joby, Lonts and Bengo. They were putting away jars and pots of food, whilst at the same time pinching scraps. Ransey handed the note to him through the doorway, as there wasn't room for one more person in there. Kieran knew as soon as he took it that this note would be one of the most important he would ever receive in his entire life. That it might eventually, once and for all, signify why there had ever had to be a Vanquisher of Evil, let alone why it had to be him!

"Who's it from, Kieran?" said Lonts.

"It doesn't say", said Kieran, peering closely at it in the dim light "I didn't think it would somehow".


"Why can't people ever say what they mean?!" Joby exclaimed "Do you know what it means?"

"Yes, I think so", said Kieran "Whoever sent this thinks they're being too clever for me, but there are clues a-plenty in the exact words they use. And at the same time they want us to succeed, otherwise they wouldn't have said 'make it happen'".

"What have we got to do?" said Lonts, twisting the hem of his jumper anxiously. Bengo was standing next to him, looking utterly confused.

"We have to go on that expedition", said Kieran "Just like we've been planning to do!"

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