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After leaving the draper's shop, Julian took Bengo for a drink in the hotel right next door. The Palm Grove was as old-fashioned and art-deco as its name, the sort of place where Hercule Poirot rounds up his victims and exposes their sins to public scrutiny. The bar was in the main central atrium, which had a grand but slightly decaying balcony running all around above them at first-floor level. There were even potted ferns dotted around a pianist tinkling the ivories nearby.
Julian noticed that the Fat Witchfinder and his longsuffering silent companion were sitting nearby, quaffing more absinthe out of tall glasses. Julian ignored their salutations and ordered iced coffees for himself and Bengo, with gin sling chasers.
"What are you doing?" said Julian, when he noticed Bengo kneeling on the tiled floor "What's wrong with the chair?"
"It's wickerwork", said Bengo "I'll get criss-crosses on my butt".
"You'll get more than that if you're not careful!" said Julian "Sit down properly".
Bengo threw his arms round Julian's neck and kissed him again.
"I want to light my cigar", said Julian "Sit down and have your drink".
He gave Bengo a sharp slap on the rump which seemed to echo all around the atrium. Bengo sat down and began to spoon cream out of his coffee, licking it up with his tongue in a very beguiling way.
"We called in at the shop next door and they said you had come in here", Lonts's voice suddenly thundered out behind them.
If Bengo had caused a ripple in the bar when they first walked in, Lonts caused a tidal-wave. A massive sun-tanned beefcake in a pair of white linen pyjamas, with the jacket completely unbuttoned over his broad chest, he was a phenomenally unsettling sight. Not even Snowy dangling from one of his huge fists could diminish his sex-appeal in any way. Adam was scampering along skittishly in his wake.
"Why are you two out alone?" said Julian "I said everyone was to go out in groups of 3 or more".
"Oh that's a very silly rule, Jules", said Adam, pulling up a wicker chair "I'm quite safe with Lo-Lo to keep an eye on me".
"Anyway, there are 4 of us now", Lonts boomed.
"His education is really coming along!" said Julian, in mock-awe.
"Oh be quiet you old crab, and order us some drinks", said Adam.
Julian did so, and then chucked a large parcel wrapped in brown paper at Lonts.
"Here", he said "Shirts for all. There should even be one your size in there!"
Lonts and Bengo both went for the parcel, and tore off the paper with gusto, pulling of wads of white cotton shirts.
"According to one of Finia's magazines", said Adam "Crucifixes are the latest hot fashion accessory".
"Angel's having an influence on the fashion industry now is he?" said Julian, dryly.
"No, more like Patsy is", said Adam "He makes wearing crosses look so sexy and decadent".
"Kieran as a pioneeer of fashion!" said Julian, in disbelief "Quite a turn-up for the books. Half the time he never wears any clothes, and the other half of the time he looks like the Straw Man from the 'Wizard Of Oz'!"
Whilst this conversation had been going on, unbeknown to all those seated below in the atrium bar, 3 vampires had congregated silently on the walkway overhead. Most of this area was in shadow to those below, and the fiends couldn't be seen unless they lenaed on the railings. They stood watching everyone, like the crows gathering menacingly behind Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Birds'.
Bardin had spent an hour strolling round town with Rumble and Farnol. As far as the 2 latter clowns were concerned, they were simply having a walk. Bardin though was having a seethe. He was jealous for all number of reasons that Bengo had been spirited away to be Julian's companion for the afternoon. When he found out from the draper's assistant (who was fast beginning to feel like a message service) that Julian had taken Bengo into the hotel next door, Bardin seethed even more.
He took to patrolling up and down the street outside, followed by Farnol and Rumble, and all of them watched distrustfully by the doorman.
"Look, you might as well relax", said Farnol "There's nothing you can do about it at the moment. Bengo's in there and we're out here".
"And the idiot in the white gloves is not gonna let us in in a hurry", said Rumble, meaning the doorman who was eyeing them up now like a boxer sizing up his opponent.
"We have as much right to go in there as anyone!" said Bardin.
"Will you tell him that or shall I?" said Rumble, dryly.
"He knows we're clowns", said Farnol "So as far as he's concerned we're a common-as-much troublemakers. We might upset everyone whilst they're trying to drink their mint juleps!"
"Bengo's a fucking clown and he's in there!" said Bardin, angrily.
"Ah, but he's got Julian with him to act as his dog-handler", said Farnol "Give it up as a bad job, Bardin. We're never gonna get past this fella".
"Then we'll go round the back way", Bardin whispered.
Farnol and Rumble rolled their eyes, and followed him down a side alley to the rear of the hotel. They were surprised to find Mieps and Tamaz lurking by the dustbins there. Tamaz was weeping and protesting, which he had done a lot in Mieps's presence lately.
"Tamaz!" Bardin barked "You're not supposed to be alone with him!"
"He dragged me down here", Tamaz wailed "Kieran and Joby must be looking for me. I expect I'm in deep shit with Joby, and it's all this old snake's fault!"
"Listen to me", Mieps hissed at all of them "There's vampires in this building. I can sense them".
"Are you sure?" said Bardin.
"Course I'm fucking sure!" said Mieps "I wouldn't risk the wrath of Kieran or Julian if I wasn't!"
"My God", said Bardin, softly "Bengo's in there".
The 5 of them burst through the service doors and into the kitchen area, where the staff were busy hacking the heads and tails off large fishes. Mieps directed the others to grab cleavers and knives.
"Fucking Ghoomer!" one of the cooks roared.
Mieps and the other vampire-hunters run armed up a flight of back stairs, which led out onto the walkway overlooking the atrium. They spotted the vampires as soon as the vampires spotted them. Angel, Caln and Mullawa (the latter no one had seen since the old Winter Palace days) gave earsplitting shrieks and ran in the opposite direction. The clowns pursued them directly, whilst Mieps and Tamaz ran round the other side of the walkway to try and head them off. The vampires, seeing they were in danger of being cut off, jumped up onto the railings, and with a lot of deft hand- and footwork, clawed their way up towards the ceiling using the gilt cornices and fancy filigree as stepping-stones. Bits of it broke off and landed on the guests below, who were shouting with consternation.
When they had manoeuvred their way out of reach, the vampires smashed the domed glass in the ceiling and escaped out over the roof.
"I've just heard what happened", said the Town Constable, greeting Julian and co. in the foyer of the Palm Grove, and looking very imposing in his dress uniform, complete with feathered hat.
"There was no need to put your best uniform on to come round, old love!" said Adam.
"I was at a private function", said the Constable.
"Probably having his portrait painted", Julian muttered.
"I want a full explanation of what happened here today", said the Constable.
"Well you're going to have to wait", Julian snapped, glaring at the others who were all standing round him disconsolately "I haven't had one yet! Everybody back to the sloop. Now!"
The Constable was left spluttering, whilst Julian herded the others towards the door. He grabbed Mieps by his elbow and pulled him up close.
"Words cannot express my feelings for your gross insubordination", said Julian "You broke just about every rule I laid down".
"I gave into my baser instincts as you called them, for one reason only", said Mieps "To protect everyone else. I could sense those creatures were in town, and when I sensed they were in this immediate vicinity I knew someone was going to be at risk. As far as Kieran and Joby were concerned, they thought Tamaz was with Bardin and the other clowns. I did a lot of manoeuvring to make sure everyone thought he was somewhere else".
"You put him in danger of the vampires!" Julian exclaimed.
"I knew what I was doing", said Mieps, which incensed Julian even more.
"You're leaving us!" he cried "I'm throwing you out! Something I have never done to anyone ever before!"
"And something you're not doing now!" said Adam, firmly "I thought I was supposed to be the impetuous one! There is no right or wrong in this situation, Jules. Now let us all go home, and stop glaring at Mieps so viciously. It adds years to your face!"
When they reached the waterfront they caught up with the other Indigo-ites, who were all making a fuss because Hillyard had just bought a new horse, a large, sturdy, white stallion. He had put Finia and Toppy on the back of it, and he, Kieran and Joby were standing there discussing its finer points. Although the waterfront wasn't far from the Palm Grove, Kieran hadn't heard anything about the extraordinary events at the hotel.
Gradually it all spilled out though, which wasn't easy as the atmosphere between Julian and Mieps was downright poisonous. In spite of his famed irascibility, and his sarcastic tongue, Julian wasn't a violent man in the slightest. It was next to impossible to get him to lose his temper in such a way that he forgot himself entirely. But he came very close to doing so today. It wasn't just that Mieps had deliberately gone against his orders. It was mainly because he had tried to coerce Tamaz into such a dangerous situation. Tamaz was the daughter Julian should have had, as was Finia. Any himt of either of them being put in peril in any way was sufficiently terrible to make Julian forget the stiff upper-lip attitude that had been dinned into him as a child.
A shocking row broke out between him and Mieps in the cabin. Adam, fearing that a very real cold-blooded feud was imminent, tried frantically to build bridges between them. But this was difficult to say the least. Mieps could not be trusted. He put his own base instincts above Tamaz's safety, and no amount of Adam's arguing that Mieps was a different species and so had different values, could defuse Julian's indignation at this.
Hillyard helped by taking Mieps away to the hold, but the atmosphere hadn't been eased very much by the time they all went to bed, only in that Adam had persuaded Julian not to throw Mieps off the sloop that very same evening.
Angel arrived on the sloop very late, determined to see Kieran. He knew it was a forlorn hope that he could get Kieran to see his point of view, but the fact was that this time Angel was on the level. He needed Kieran to help him. The Grand Master had resurrected him. Angel had been promised all the benefits that immortality could bring, but the harsh fact was that being a vampire these days was a dreary existence, particularly once the novelty of being able to move supernaturally through buildings and space had worn off. The Grand Master imposed too many rules and regulations on his coven. It was a joyless life.
One of the first things Angel had wanted to know on being brought back to life was what Kieran was doing now. And for several days he had had his answer. Kieran's coven had swelled to a select 15, and Kieran, no longer burdened with being President, was basically doing what he damn well wanted. He paid a lot of obeisance to his God, but other than that his time and his energy were his own. He had freedom of movement and peace of mind, and he was surrounded by a wall of love. Angel had never seen him so at peace before.
When he got onto the Indigo MKII, Angel scratched on the cabin door and managed to rouse Kieran, who slipped out to see him, accompanied by Tamaz. This late-night companion Angel hadn't bargained for. Angel had had little or no experience of women during his life. As a child he had been sexually abused by men, and as a vampire sex had been sublimated by the constant urge to satisfy his blood-lust. the close proximity of Tamaz disturbed him considerably. Tamaz's tawny eyes and naked breasts disarmed him. He reacted in the only way he knew how, aggressively.
"You could assimilate him into your little group", he sneered "The one who would have had you all shot in Thetislog!"
"Tamaz was punished for his sins", said Kieran "Far more severely than you were for yours, which were much worse in my opinion. He spent many years living in the cage. For a long while he was more of an outcast than you were, but he came through and redeemed himself completely. Angel, you've only your own stupidity to blame if you couldn't do the same".
Enraged, Angel slapped Kieran round the face, flattening him against the main-mast. Tamaz was equally furious and flew at Angel, beating at him with his hands. Kieran pulled him off.
"Don't get too close to him", he whispered, patting Tamaz's behind.
Angel pulverised by such intimate contact with Tamaz. It was the first time he had ever had breasts poking against him, and the whole softness of Tamaz and his female side was almost too much to bear.
"Joby will get you for striking Kieran!" Tamaz cried.
Angel slunk back into the shadows like a whipped dog.
"Don't get at Tamaz", said Kieran "I mean it, Angel. He may have done some bad things in his time, but he was redeemed by love, even when it was against all the odds. You always REFUSED to be. You may have thought you had it hard when you first came to live at the Ministry, being shunned by people, but that's nothing comapared to what Tamaz had. The Ministry wanted to kill him! And he suffered dire humiliations in the cage. Look at him now! Look at him, Angel! He's beautiful ... and he's loyal. And loyalty of that kind can only come from love. And if you doubt this, you just try harming Joby in any way!"
Earlier that day, Angel had experienced some very bitter feelings as he stood on the walkway in the Palm Grove, with those two burnt-out old wrecks Caln and Mullawa. What was the use of immortality when it had to be dedicated to destruction and not love? The sight of Lonts and Bengo playfully fighting over the parcel of shirts had said it all. In all the years, centuries that the Grand Master had promised him, Angel would never know such loving affection.
The Grand Master had expressed a desire to see Kieran isolated and abandoned. Angel had pointed out that many a demonic force had tried this, and had failed. How could any of Kieran's closest supporters be seduced away from him? With money? Hillyard was one of the richest men in the world. With fame? The Indigo-ites were the most famous family in the world. With sex? Ha-ha! No one living in Kieran's crowd ever went short in that department, not even Toppy. The vampires were disillusioned. Kieran had survived all attempts to destroy him, and seemed now to be stronger than ever. There didn't seem to be any point as to why the vampires had been dragged down out of the ether again.
"I don't hate you, Angel", Kieran came up close to him, and Angel recoiled "My feelings for you aren't strong enough for that. I tried everything I could to help you after we came back from Hell. I gave you a place with us. I gave you money, which you injected straight into your arms. And in return you despised us. You bullied wee Lonts, and you did some terrible things to poor Ransey, when he was going through a bad time. You thought it was fun to torture him, to try and drive him out of his mind. I can forgive you that even, but I'm no saint, I'm not like Codlik. I can't feel duty-bound to help the whole world. I gave if my best-shot, but as far as I'm concerned, from now on I've narrowed my boundaries. I'm not the Vanquisher of Evil anymore. You go and tell your puppet-master that. He wants a fight with me. Well I refuse to give him one".
"And what if he was to destroy one of your own?" said Angel, threateningly.
"Then he'll have destroyed someone for no purpose at all", said Kieran "No purpose at all other than to show that he's capable of hate and destruction. All he'll earn for it is universal contempt, and even the vile ones don't like living with that. They like to be feared, because that gives them respect, but they don't like contempt. There's nothing remotely respectful about contempt. You tell him that!"
"But what I did to Ransey was no worse than what he did to your precious Joby", said Angel, pointing at Tamaz.
"That was different", said Kieran "Don't ask me how, somehow, for a lot of complicated reasons, it just was. Be gone now, Angel. You and me have nothing more to say to each other".
"I can kill!" said Angel, sounding like a petulant child "I could leave you now, and kill anyone in this town! Anyone!"
"You could still do that even if I promised you the earth!" Kieran roared "And chances are high you probably would!"
"I'll make you react with concern to me!" Angel screamed "I will! That is my promise to you!"
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