Go back to previous chapter
"Bullshit", said Joby "A whole bucket-load of bullshit! I'm not falling for that one! Not this time!"
He was sitting with Kieran in the large, marble-floored lobby of the Governor's residence at the top of the town. They had both gone up there to crave an audience with His Excellency, on the off-chance that he might be able to give them any further information on the strange things that were going on in and around the town.
"I'm sorry, Kieran", said a steward, coming towards them across the vast expanse of cold floor "But His Excellency won't see you".
(Not "he can't see you", or "he's unable to see you", but "he WON'T see you").
"Fine", said Joby, crossly "Well we didn't wanna be in this crummy joint anyway".
Kieran followed him outside.
"Let's not take it personal", said Kieran "He is very old and frail after all".
"It's not him", said Joby "It's that house. It gives me the irrits".
"Reminds you of Father Dalman and us chasing Tamaz?" said Kieran "Not a happy time. You really do love our Tamaz don't you?"
"Yeah, I do", said Joby "But it's not like how I feel for you. Nothing could be".
"Oh Joby", Kieran flung his arms round him.
They walked back down the steep steps hand-in-hand. In the peaceful glare of the tropical sunshine they agreed to ignore the Fat Man's cries of the Devil in their midst, and to simply return to the Bay as soon as possible, as long as they could persuade Julian not to get too involved with it all.
As they were walking past the theatre, Bengo suddenly came hurtling out of the foyer doors yelling "Kieran! Kieran! KIERAN!" at the top of his voice.
"What are you up to, you little scrote?" said Joby "You've been told not to wander round the town on your own".
"I can't help it", said Bengo, breathlessly "Kieran, you've got to come in. It's Ully. He's dead!"
"Dead?" said Kieran "How? What happened?"
"Heart-attack", said Bengo "It happened very suddenly in his dressing-room. He choked on his own vomit. You've got to come in and bless him, or whatever it is you do".
The back corridors of the theatre had been packed with performers, all jabbering with consternation. Rumble and Farnol managed to send most of them home, just as the undertaker turned up. He looked like a cadaver himself. A grim, bony individual in a vest, braces and a stovepipe hat.
"He'll have to stay here for the night", he said to Kieran "We've got no room back at the morgue. Yellow Fever on the waterfront and all that".
"Leave him here?" said Kieran "In this heat?"
"Just for one night", said the undertaker, casually "I'll come back and pick him up in the morning. Perhaps you'd like to close his eyes".
Kieran gently pulled down the eyelids on Ully's corpse, which lay on a couch behind a screen in his dressing-room.
It was easy to remember Ully's kindness, and his courage when he had helped them to defeat Cootie and the vampires at the circus. But in truth he had already been dead for some time. The last 20 years of his life had been like one continuous preparation for this moment.
Bengo and Bardin had gone to the small bar inside the theatre with Rumble and Farnol. The whole theatre was now soothingly quiet. The day's performances had been cancelled and, apart from themselves, all the entertainers had been sent home.
Bardin got a sealed bottle of rum from behind the bar and 4 glasses. He poured out the drinks and they gave a toast to Ully. Then, as they sat drinking, he looked around at the numerous framed photographs which adorned the walls. There was one of Ully in his prime, taken soon after he had become director of the theatre. Bengo and Bardin popped up in a couple of photographs. One was a group picture of all the clowns which dated back to their childhood. Another of the 2 of them in their teens, both staring with rare goodwill into each other's eyes. Bardin was annoyed to see one of Bengo on his own, in his classic Best Legs In The Business pose, his half-naked body glistening with baby-oil.
"Most performers would die for an opportunity like this", said Farnol, and then blushed when he realised his choice of words "Your own show. Think of it! You can do anything you want".
"You run it", said Bardin "You and Rumble between you. Why not? You can do just as good a job as me".
Bengo and Rumble didn't say anything, leaving their more domineering partners to argue amongst themselves. Rumble looked deadpan, as he always did, and Bengo looked wretched with misery at the thought of Bardin being tempted by this offer.
Meanwhile, the other Indigo-ites had arrived and, as it looked as though a night-long vigil was about to take place around Ully's corpse, the main doors were barred, sealing them in.
"Nice to see you dressed up for the occasion", said Julian, as they let the undertaker out.
"I'll dress up tomorrow when I come to take him away", said the undertaker, darkly.
"He reminds me of the ghoulish butler in the Addam's Family!" said Julian, as he and Adam walked around the emtpy area behind the stage.
"It's quite eerie being in a theatre when it's non-operational", said Adam, sitting down in a heavy, wooden chair.
"Oh don't look so depressed!" said Julian, pulling up a prop's basket "We always think of Ully as some tragic figure, and yet that's absurd. He had a damn good life all-told, or he could've done if he'd kicked the booze into touch".
"I know", Adam sighed "I suppose I feel sad because he reminds me of how I might've been, if I'd never met Patsy".
"We all get like that", said Julian "If I'd never crossed over I'd have ended up as one of those fat, temperamental old queens that were so prevalent in the design business".
"I epxect you'd have had a very glamorous life", said Adam, teasingly "All those snake-hipped young men at your disposal".
"Boring, shallow little farts", said Julian, dismissively "All style and no substance. They were like disposable tissues. Useful in an emergency, but you threw away afterwards without another thought. Ten of them couldn't make up one Lonts or one Bengo".
"The clowns will have even more pressure put on them to stay now", said Adam, sadly "We've never had anyone leave us before, and now it seems they're all doing it. Mieps ..."
"You're jumping the gun", said Julian "Hillyard's keeping a close tab on Mieps, and the clowns haven't gone yet. We won't give them up without a fight. What's this?"
He had been lazily fumbling through a heap of props on the floor, and pulled out a leather bridle, adapted for use on humans, with a paddded bit to be inserted in the mouth.
"The things you find in this place!" he said.
"It looks more like one of Madame Simone's props!" said Adam.
"It does, doesn't it?" said Julian "She uses things like this. Can you imagine this on Kieran or Bengo, say?"
"Oh don't", said Adam "Unbearably cute!"
They ambled slowly towards the bar, where they found that Kieran (with the help of everyone else) had instituted a full wake for Ully.
"Patsy!" said Adam "You know you can't drink like that. You can never handle it".
"You can't tell an Irishman not to drink after a death!" said Kieran.
"Not even after the death of an alcoholic?" said Adam "That could have been me in there, if I had never met you".
"What about me?" said Lonts, who was sprawled in a chair too small for him, with Snowy lying face-down on his stomach.
"You've had quite enough already by the looks of things", said Adam.
"I mean, what would your life have been like if you had never met me?" said Lonts.
"A helluva lot quieter", said Joby.
"Very very empty", said Adam, which left Lonts nodding contentedly with satisfaction.
Kieran stood up to fetch another bottle and fell against Joby.
"Adam's right, you can't handle it", said Joby, holding him round the waist "You haven't got the space to put it in!"
"Don't show everyone me ribs!" said Kieran, pulling his shirt back down where Joby had pulled it up "It's not decent".
Bengo burst into tears.
"Oh God, he's off again", Joby groaned "Like a bloody leaky tap!"
"Bengo, give it a fucking rest", said Bardin, in exasperation "I've told you til I'm blue in the face, I am not taking over Ully's job! But you never fucking listen. You never listen to the exact words I say. And yet I couldn't make them any fucking simpler! Not even for you!"
"Come with me", said Julian "Both of you".
Bengo and Bardin followed him nervously out of the bar. Julian took them to a store-room nearby and pushed them into it.
"You are both going to stay in here for a couple of hours", he said, lighting the gas-lamp on the wall "When I come to let you out, I expect this matter to be resolved once and for all. For all our sakes!"
He walked out, slamming the door behind him.
"I thought we were gonna cop it then", Bengo sniffed.
"You mean you were hoping!" said Bardin.
"Weren't you?" said Bengo.
There was a bed lying against the far wall, heaped with old costumes, thrown there in a riot of gauze, satin and taffeta. Bardin pushed the material aside and flopped back against the bare mattress. He patted it as though summoning a dog, and Bengo scampered over to him.
Before locking the dressing-room door on Ully's corpse, Farnol had retrieved the scrapbooks that Ully had kept in there.
"Now this, this", he said, pointing to a photograph of a plump, naked man with a fierce expression "This person used to bill himself as the Man Of Hate. He did bad taste things the rest of us wouldn't even have dreamt of! He liked to rub his scrotum with mustard and then ask a member of the audience to lick it off".
"Oh what?" said Joby, in dismay "That's disgusting! He should've been carted off to the funny farm!"
"For all we know, he was", said Rumble, laconically "He just walked out one day and was never seen again".
"He would do anything to upset people", said Farnol "If Kieran had been in the audience I expect he would've done vile things with a crucifix".
"Ach, that's ben done more times than you've had hot dinners", said Kieran, who was lying stretched out on one of the red velvet banquettes in the bar.
A distinct, unnatural chill fell over the room. Joby exhaled and saw his breath hanging in the air.
"Did everybody feel that?" said Farnol, softly.
"Only to be expected at this time", said Adam, moving closer to Lonts.
"It's a bit nerve-wracking though isn't it?" said Farnol "I mean, his body is only just down the corridor when all's said and done".
"It's only Ully for goodness sake!" said Adam "Not one of Gabriel's zombies!"
"I know, but he wasn't a pretty sight at the end", said Farnol "Not with his mouth all jammed open like that".
"I expect the undertaker will have to break his jaw before preparing him for his coffin", said Adam.
Tamaz felt uneasy and drew nearer to Joby.
"We should fetch the clowns", said Lonts "We should all be together".
Bengo woke up with his face pressing into Bardin's chest. He had often woken like this when they lived together during their pre-Indigo days, and once more Bengo marvelled at how absurd it was that they had never become lovers before. It all seemed so natural now. They should always have been lovers. It was the most right, most natural thing in the world.
Slowly though he became aware of another presence in the room. Or someone approaching them at a very slow, measured pace. Gradually Mieps emerged out of the gloom.
"Can't you make some noise when you walk?" said Bardin, irritably "You're too stealthy!"
"Habit", said Mieps "I've been sent to get you. Have you resolved your differences?"
"Never mind us", said Bardin "What about you? Are you still going to walk out on us?"
"He can't", said Bengo "Who else would keep Tamaz in line?"
"You're just trying to flatter me", said Mieps.
"So think yourself lucky", said Bardin, propping himself up on his elbow "If we didn't care about you, we wouldn't go to the trouble".
"Bardy's right", said Bengo, solemnly.
"I'm not going", said Mieps, in the same gently cajoling tone of voice an adult might use to convince small children there were no demons under the stairs "So there!"
The clowns looked gratifyingly relieved. They grabbed their clothes and ran across the corridor into the bar, where the others were feasting on some goodies they had retrieved from the supplies cupboard behind them. Rumble was juggling with toilet-rolls.
"What happened to you?" he said, looking at Bengo's naked backside, which was still quite red from all his recent beatings "Did you sit on the hot-plate or something?!"
"Don't ask", said Joby "That sort of thing's always going on".
"Bengo's been in trouble a lot lately", said Lonts.
"One of us is always in trouble", Joby yawned, and leaned against Lonts's broad chest "Adam and Julian wouldn't be happy unless they had someone to wallop!"
Adam was in the darkened foyer, smoking one of Julian's cigars which he had surreptitiously pinched whilst the raiding of the store-cupboard had been in progress. Kieran found him there.
"Jaysus, you won't half cop it!" he said.
"So will you, if Joby catches you", said Adam, as Kieran took the cigar-butt and drew on it.
"I think even Joby'll let me off this one", said Kieran, watching the people in the street pass by on the other side of the glass doors "This reminds me of one of those old zombie films, 'Dawn Of The Dead', with the small band of survivors holed-up in a building, whilst the zombies roam about outside".
"This reminds me of Marlsblad", said Adam, softly stroking the back of Kieran's neck "I can't believe it was so long ago".
"Neither can I", Kieran whispered "Frightening isn't it?"
"I love your voice when you're aroused", said Adam "It goes as soft as a small child's. At times like this you seem the same boy you were at the 'Moon And Stars'".
"I am, deep inside", said Kieran "Particularly where you're concerned".
He noticed someone pressing their face up against the glass doors, staring in at them from the early evening darkness outside.
"Let's find somewhere more private", said Kieran, taking Adam's hand.
They made love in one of the theatre boxes closest to the stage, dimly illuminated by the gas-jets of the footlights on the stage below. This was the same box they had been in when they had heard of Gorth's death, a fact which wasn't far from Kieran's thoughts.
"Patsy", said Adam, leaning against the rim of the box afterwards, and staring down into the empty stalls a short distance below "What the big man in the restaurant said earlier, about the Devil being at large ..."
"He's not", said Kieran, standing next to him.
"Well whatever, whoever it is", said Adam "I want you to promise me you're going to have nothing to do with tracking them down".
"It's Julian who's got the bea in his bonnet not me", Kieran protested.
"I'll sort Julian out", said Adam "It's you I'm dealing with here".
"I can't go promising anything", said Kieran.
"You bloody well can!" said Adam, angrily.
"Oi!" Joby yelled from the stage "Adam, what are you getting out of your tree about now?"
"He's getting too masterful", said Kieran "You'll have to come up here and rescue me".
"Damnit Patsy", said Adam "I'm being serious. Don't laugh at me when I'm trying to keep you safe! I don't want any feeble cries of 'I can't promise you anything'. It makes you sound like a politician".
"No, a politician would never say that!" Kieran laughed.
Annoyed, Adam grabbed him by his long hair and spanked his bare buttocks, his thighs and the backs of his legs. Kieran gave whoops of delight and encouragement.
"I needn't have rushed need I!" said Joby, hauling himself up laboriously over the edge of the box.
"I suppose you've been hatching plans between you behind my back?" said Adam.
"Leave it out", said Joby, breathlessly "Kieran's got no intention of going after this jerk, that's if it is just one jerk".
"Joby's said he'll beat the bejaysus out of me if I so much as think about it", said Kieran.
"I doub that'll act as a deterrent, more like an invitation!" said Adam "Now listen to me, I'm not getting any younger. One day I won't be here".
"You've been saying that for years, and you're still here!" said Joby.
"Well I'm very sorry to disappoint you then!" said Adam, crossly.
"Addy", said Kieran, placatingly "Let me put it simply ..."
"You'll have to, for his sake!" said Joby.
"If there is someone going around abducting people against their will", said Kieran "Then that is a criminal matter, and up to the Town Guards to sort out. I am not a copper, and I've certainly got no wish to become one".
"You're too short anyway", said Joby.
"Now if the town is suffering from such a spiritual malaise that they're prepared to believe the Devil is behind everything", Kieran continued "Then that is the job of the Church to sort out, and in this neck of the woods that means Levka".
"He'll probably make it worse!" said Adam.
"No he won't", said Kieran "He may be a wee bit too evangelical at times, but he's not corrupt".
"Yet", said Joby, darkly.
"Be quiet", said Adam, sternly "Patsy, are you telling me exactly how you feel on this?"
"Yes I am", said Kieran "I've been saying for years that I've retired, it's about focking time people believed me! Just for once we are going to carry on our lives as normal as possible, and see what happens. We'll protect ourselves, like we have been doing, but my first priority is to you all. It always has been. I remember saying that to Angel back at the Loud House! If everyone in the world looked out for those closest to them, and put them way above the rest, without encroaching on anyone else's space, then the world would be a lot more tranquil a place. I refuse to put anyone else in the world before you lot. I won't do that anymore. It's not right. The Codliks of this world can blither on as much as they like about loving everyone, but it just doesn't work in practise. You have to prioritise, and that's what I'm doing".
"The Codliks of this world undoubtedly mean well", said Adam "But all too often they sacrifice their loved ones for the sake of everyone else".
"Well they can do what they like", said Kieran "But they have no damn right to tell the rest of us how to live".
"Isn't he magnificent, Joby?" said Adam.
"Can we just do away with the plaudits", said Kieran "I'm your slave, so I shouldn't get praise! So's Joby".
"Yeah, particularly in the kitchen", said Joby.
"You're both too fiery to be true slaves", said Adam, fondly "Mind you, if you weren't I wouldn't have any cause to discipline you, and that would make life dreadfully dull!"
"Hey!" Rumble shouted up from the stage through a cardboard megaphone "I've made some spaghetti. Come and get it!"
Rumble had boiled up a large quantity of pasta over the hot-plate behind the bar, and had then served it up to everyone in plastic bowls.
"You should join us permanently", said Joby "We could always do with an extra cook".
"Rumble's no cook", said Farnol "Spaghetti's about his limit".
"Well I can't say I go much beyond boil it or fry it", said Joby.
"We don't have fancy meals anyway", said Lonts.
"No, although it would be nice occasionally", said Ransey.
"Could we join you permanently?" asked Farnol, suddenly, watched by Rumble, who always had an endearing habit of watching his noisy friend intently as he spoke.
"Your new job is to run this place", said Bardin, shortly.
"Hey, hang on, you're not Captain yet!" said Joby.
"I'm just saying", said Bardin "Someone's got to run this show now".
"And you're saying we've got to do it just 'cos you don't want to?" said Farnol.
"That's Bardy all over for you", Bengo sighed.
"No listen", said Farnol "Could we?"
He looked imploringly at Ransey, who was sitting next to him.
"Don't look at me!" said Ransey, through a mouthful of spaghetti "Julian's the chief dominatrix!"
"Thank you", said Julian "We're not hiring anyone new at the moment. It's not practical".
"You say that everytime someone joins", said Hillyard "I remember when Bengo came along, the rest of us all wanted to keep him, and you were going to dump him in the swamp!"
"I wouldn't really have left him there", said Julian "You're a soft, sentimental old bat, Hillyard! I happen to think that Farnol and Rumble don't fully realise what they're asking. They've only seen us in the Village of Stairs. They don't know what a quiet existence we have for most of the time. That for the greater part of the year we see no one but each other. That would be a heck of a culture shock for them".
"You've said yourself, Farnol", said Bardin "That we're practically a religious order, and that's what it's like".
"I've got a solution", said Adam "Why don't they come and stay with us on the sloop whilst we're here, just for a few days? It would give them a good idea of what living with us is like".
"If that don't put 'em off nothing will!" said Joby.
"Kill or cure", said Ransey, grimly.
"We haven't got room", said Tamaz, haughtily.
"Excuse me, but when were you ever given a vote?" said Julian.
"It happens to be true", said Tamaz "How the hell are we going to squeeze two more in?"
"Easy", said Julian "You and Toppy can sleep on the bowspit!"
Kieran remembered the last time he had seen Ully, the recent evening when the entertainer had joined them for supper at the taverna. He had sensed Ully's profound loneliness, and knew that in some ways it had been made worse by spending time with them, of witnessing their tightly-knit group at close quarters.
"There's no harm in them joining us", said Kieran, softly "And in many ways I think it'll be a good thing. A very good thing".
"So suddenly the deranged leprechaun decrees that we're a home for waifs and strays!" said Julian, as he and Adam washed in the basins in the gents' toilets "That'll make 15 of us!"
"Infinitely better than 13", said Adam, running a towel soaked in soapy water around his armpits "I always found the mysticism of that number a bit heavy at times. It felt too much like Patsy and his 12 apostles!"
"I see what you mean", said Julian, grudgingly.
"I really believe this way we can truly be left alone to be a real family", said Adam, drying himself and then putting his shirt back on "Nobody can accuse us of being a coven or a religious order instead".
"You don't get many of them with 4 clowns in!" said Julian, running a comb through his hair.
"And they're both young and fit, that's an important point to take into consideration", said Adam "Two more to look after us in our old age".
"I know", said Julian "But that Farnol talks so much!"
"He's an enthusiast", said Adam.
"Yes", said Julian "About everything!"
They went out into the foyer, where Hillyard was drinking coffee and looking out through the glass doors. Dawn was breaking, chucking great streaks of pink across the sky.
"What do you think of our new recruits?" said Julian, sharply.
"Yeah, they seem alright", said Hillyard.
"That's your reaction to everything!" Julian snapped.
"Rumble makes nice spaghetti", said Hillyard.
"Anyone can make nice spaghetti when it's boiled straight out of a packet!" said Julian.
"You can't!" said Adam "You might as well give in, Jules. You want it as well, I know you do".
"Hah, we'll just get used to them", said Julian "And then they'll decide they don't want to be with us after all, and bugger off again!"
"Old people never like change", said Hillyard.
"Adam!" Lonts appeared "The undertaker's at the stage-door".
"Goodness, he's early", said Adam "O.K, I'll pop along".
Adam was relieved to find that the walking cadaver had put on a jacket this morning, covering up his disreputable vest.
"Have you been here all night?" he asked Adam.
"We couldn't leave Ully on his own", said Adam.
"I don't see why not", said the undertaker "No one's gonna walk off with him are they!"
He signalled for his 2 assistants, both carrying the coffin, to follow him in. One of them was well-soaked in brandy, and leered at Lonts.
"Hello beautiful", he said.
"Try and have a modicum of respect", said Adam "There's death in the building".
"Keeps you on a short-chain does he?" said the assistant, still leering at Lonts "So would I if you was mine!"
"Don't be absurd!" said Adam, and he clipped his ear.
Bardin and Kieran were in one of the dressing-rooms trying on different hats and coats. In the one next to them, Tamaz had put on one of Ully's old dresses, a green satin effort too big for him. Bengo was hooking it up at the back.
"It's no good", he said "It'll just slip off you. Ully was tall and well-built. You're a shrimp".
Tamaz gave a hiss of annoyance.
"Try this instead", Bengo handed him a necklace in the shape of a plastic snake wih emerald green eyes "Ully used to wear this sometimes. You take it".
"No, the others will only accuse me of stealing it", said Tamaz, stroking the brittle glass eyes of the snake.
"It's only a prop", said Bengo "Not worth anything. You might as well have it. Ully was the only one who ever wore it".
He helped Tamaz to fasten it around his neck. Then they both strolled over to the bed in the corner where Bengo had lain with Bardin earlier. The green dress slid off Tamaz, and he sat down on the mattress in his drawers. They both heard a loud thumping in the corridor as the coffin was manoeuvred back out of Ully's dressing-room.
"They're taking him away", said Bengo, flopping back against the mattress.
Tamaz sat helplessly, not knowing what to say.
"You feel guilty", he said, eventually "Because you didn't love him as much as you should have".
"I don't understand why", Bengo sighed "He was kind, never unfair. I knew him from an early age. I should really care more for him than I do for Adam or Julian, but I spose he was too aloof. He had so many problems of his own, so we couldn't get close to him. But he was a decent person, didn't cause any harm. He didn't deserve to be so unhappy".
"Perhaps the aloofness was the problem", Tamaz shrugged "So busy being brittle and salt of the earth, but never let anyone get close to him".
"You might be right", said Bengo "I hadn't thought of it that way. He always struck me as someone who had a barrier around him".
"Isn't it awful?" said Tamaz, brushing away tears with the palm of his hand "You live all that life, only to die and have people sum you up in a couple of sentances!"
"You needn't worry", said Bengo, pulling him back by the waist of his drawers "It'll take more than that to sum you up!"
"And what'll you say about me, if I go first?" said Tamaz.
"That you were very VERY sexy!" Bengo laughed, kissing him "And completely unique, a one-off".
Adam saw the undertaker and his men off the premises and then went into the bar, where he made himself a cup of black tea, heavily fortified with large spoonfuls of sugar. The bar looked like a bomb-site. It would all have to be cleared up before they left. He took his mug of tea and went in search of the others.
He found that the rest of them had congregated on the stage, and were all dancing to a wind-up gramophone. Bardin had put on a pair of tasselled nipple-clamps. Finia was performing a deft shimmying dance, the sort beloved of strippers. Rumble was careering about amongst everyone, his pony-tail flying out behind him.
"Do you remember that time Ully wanted us all to take elocution lessons?" Farnol yelled above the music "Got some crazy idea in his head that we should all have 'standardised voices'! Well what's wrong with the way I talk I say?!"
"Adam", said Julian, quietly "Are you sure we're doing the right thing?"
"Very sure", said Adam.
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site