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Julian was at a loss to know what to do for the best. In a short time they could all go back to the Bay, but even that option seemed unappealing now with all these events hanging over them. He fully supported Kieran's decision to not fight the mysterious Grand Master, in fact he would have been appalled if Kieran had, but it still left things unresolved. Until the Grand Master came out of the woodwork and revealed himself, things were at a stalemate.
The truth was that sometimes, when evil surfaced, it was just plain boring. Evil got in the way of everyday life. Evil stopped people enjoying themselves. Julian felt like millions of men had before him, who just wanted to look after their families, only to have some moronic government go and start a stupid, pointless war and disrupt everything. It was only politicians who were interested in great crusades, everyone else just wanted to LIVE.
Codlik heared about Kieran's midnight meeting with Angel, and dashed round to the sloop, eagerly awaiting Julian's grand plan of campaign. Julian though was too busy trying to keep a lid on things domestically. Mieps was in a highly combustible state. Hearing that Tamaz had been on deck with a vampire, he had wanted to go off vampire-slaying immediately. Hillyard had put a stop to it by binding him hand and foot, tying him to a stool and confining him to the hold.
Barely 5 minutes after Codlik had arrived, news had reached Adam and Julian that the 4 clowns had been involved in a fight further along the waterfront. It had all started because one of the waterfront peddlers, a particularly mouthy young man by the name of Hoowie, had developed a crush on Bengo. Hoowie was mainly harmless, but his stock-in-trade was to be as verbally provocative as normal. He had raved about Bengo's legs, and had said he would only sell them melons if Bengo would come and give him a hug and a kiss. Seeing nothing wrong in this bit of harmless flirtation, Bengo had agreed. The other 3 clowns though, who were tense after Angel's visitation, were annoyed by Hoowie's cheek and Bengo's revelling in his attention. And so they had started a fruit fight, which had rapidly got out of hand and soon involved the entire waterfront. The Town Constable, who had felt slightled by Julian's off-hand treatment of him the day before, came along and arrested as many of the participants as he could, including the 4 clowns and Hoowie.
Julian greeted the news impassively, and said that as far as he was concerned the clowns could stay in prison for several days.
"Jules, you don't mean it!" said Adam, aghast "That place is a cesspit of humanity. I dread to think what would happen to little Bengo amongst that lot!"
Ignoring Codlik's irrelevant bleatings about bringing down just retribution on the vampires, Julian had grabbed his hat and gone with Adam to sort things out.
When they got to the town jail, they found that Bardin, Rumble and Farnol had been put in the main cage with all the other miscreants of the town. Bengo though (for his "own safety") had been taken up to the Constable's office to await bail. Julian said he didn't trust himself not to tear Bengo limb from limb, so he sent Adam up to fetch him, whilst he went into the bear-pit to get the others. The main cage was like a zoo, with the inmates baying hyena-fashion. Julian found Hoowie now trying it on with Rumble ("You're exactly my height, isn't that great?"), which left Farnol looking wretched. Bardin was hanging onto the bars of the cage, looking hollow-eyed with worry about Bengo.
And with good cause.
When Adam walked into the Constable's office, accompanied by Lonts, they found Bengo literally being being chased around the desk by the upright officer of the law. The Constable had made himself scarce on seeing Adam, hardly now in a position to impose further penalties on his new inmates. Bengo had flung himself weeping into Adam's arms.
"Can't you little rats stay out of trouble at all?" said Adam "I am tired of having to bail you out of places! You're always getting yourselves arrested! If it's not Freaky's sex-appeal causing trouble, it's yours!"
"Bardy started the fight", Bengo wept.
Adam, who understood Bardin's jealousy only too well, had no time for Bengo's pleas of innocence. He pulled Bengo's pants down to his knees, and smacked him as though he was a little boy. Bengo howled and cried that he wanted to go home. To be spanked by Julian in anger was a decadent and exciting experience. To be spanked by Adam solely in anger was to be punished by the den-mother, and was a different thing entirely.
"I'll make it up to Bardin!" Bengo wailed.
"Lo-Lo, take him home", said Adam, setting Bengo back on his feet "Here's some change for a rickshaw. Don't stop for anyone on the way".
"O.K", Lonts sighed "Come along, Bengo".
Bengo pulled up his pants and followed Lonts out of the room, sniffing helplessly. He sat snuggled up to Lonts in the cosy confines of the rickshaw on the way home.
"Don't worry, Bengo", said Lonts, soothingly "Adam will be really nice to you later, you'll see".
"Bardin won't be", said Bengo, sorrowfully.
"Yes he will", said Lonts, fiercely, as though it would be entirely in Bardin's best interests to be!
Hillyard greeted them back at the sloop, and made Bengo a mug of herbal tea, which he then fed to him as though he was an invalid.
"You can't seem to stay out of trouble at the moment", said Hillyard "Perhaps I should have control of you".
"Hillayrd!" Joby barked, coming into the cabin.
"I'm just trying to make him feel better that's all", Hillyard protested.
"Yeah, course you are!" said Joby, sarcastically.
"Are you still angry with Kieran, Joby?" said Lonts, assembling his toy bears on the desk "About him seeing Angel last night. I'm quite cross with him too. He put himself and Tamaz in danger".
"He's given me his word it won't happen again", said Joby.
"And you believe him?" said Bengo, in genuine astonishment.
"I wouldn't", said Tamaz, sidling in behind Joby "No one ever told me the little blonde guy had once practised vampirism with that oily jerk".
"He did it for the good of everyone else at the time", said Hillyard.
"There's no guarantee he won't do it again", said Tamaz.
"Not if he knows what's good for himself this time!" said Joby, darkly.
"Right, I'd better go and check up on Mieps", said Hillyard "He's a right little spitfire at the moment. Takes some handling".
"Madame Hillyard, dominatrix!" said Joby.
"Do you want to come with me?" said Hillyard, groping Joby's bottom.
"Not on yer life!" said Joby.
Bardin rode home in a rickshaw with Julian. He felt filthy and unkempt next to Julian's pristine cleanliness, and kept surreptitiously trying to sniff himself.
"Stop that!" said Julian "It's a disgusting habit!"
"I messed up again, didn't I Julian?" said Bardin.
"The Constable had it in for me because I snubbed him yesterday", said Julian "He reacted to your little slapstick fight as though it was a full-scale street-riot, and there was no need for that. At least we won't have any trouble from him again, not now he's been caught trying to get his pants down with Bengo! Apart from him, I blame Bengo, who is an abominable little show-off. With any luck Adam has soundly taught him a lesson. Listen to me, Bardin. I very much appreciate having you around. If you hadn't been with us these past few years, Bengo would have been a huge worry for me. He needs a partner, a STRONG partner. You're good for him".
"He's good for me too", said Bardin, quietly.
The rickshaw came to a standstill, and they decanted from it. The Indigo MKII was waiting in front of them. Julian looked at it proudly. It wasn't the same as the old Indigo, with its compactness and homeliness, but it was still a pretty good vessel. The windows of the cabin were open, and Julian thought that at least this communal chamber was an improvement on the old boat with its separate cabins.
Bardin went aboard, and found Bengo lying alone on the bunk, sobbing into the quilt. He sat down next to him.
"Bengo, look at me", he said.
"I can't", said Bengo.
"That's crazy", said Bardin "Look, you're going to have to help me. Whilst you were being chased around by the Constable, Hoowie was coming onto Rumble, and Farnol's a bit cut up about it".
"But why?" said Bengo "Farnol shouldn't take it seriously".
"Oh you know what he's like", said Bardin "Farnol thinks too much of people, so he's easily disappointed. I've always felt that if someone sent Farnol a load of manure through the post, he'd figure they just forgot to send the horse as well! And it's not easy for him, being the jealous type".
"Don't rub it in", said Bengo, rolling back onto his side "I don't think I can ever face Adam again. He's so cool, you know, so elegant. And he had me with my pants down, across his lap. It wasn't like at No-Name, where we just had a bit of fun. He was really pissed off with me this time. I don't think I can ever look him in the face again".
"You're bonkers!" said Bardin "Anyway, so what if you had your pants round your knees? You never get embarrassed, Bengo. Not ever. That's what made you such a great clown".
"But I felt so ashamed!" Bengo sniffed.
Farnol came into the room, looking wretched again. Bardin sighed and went over to the desk, searching for the whisky decanter amidst the jumble of maps, logbooks, cigar-box, and paddles that were scattered over the surface. He got some plastic glasses out of the drawer and poured them all drinks. Farnol accepted his gratefully, but Bengo continued to peer apprehensively over the quilt.
"I think we should make a cardboard cut-out of Hoowie and throw darts at it", said Bardin.
"Come and have a drink with us, Bengo", said Farnol, holding up his glass "None of it was your fault".
"Yes it was", said Bardin "It was also my fault for not reacting the way I should have done. I should have dragged him away from Hoowie".
Bengo gave a whimper, partly out of terror and partly out of agreement. Rumble came into the room, eyed warily by all 3 of them. He walked straight up to Farnol, and peered into his ears as though searching for signs of anything in there. Farnol smiled, as though pathetically grateful for the attention.
"I wish our domestics were as easily resolved", said Bardin.
He had barely coaxed Bengo off the bunk, when Adam came in. Unfortunately, Adam had just had a stormy run-in with Hillyard in the hold, and so wasn't looking at his most serene. Adam was strongly opposed to Hillyard's methods of tying up Mieps, and had gone straight to the hold on getting home and cut Mieps free. Lonts and Toppy had then taken Mieps up on deck to bathe him. Adam and Hillyard were consequently not at their friendliest with each other at this point in time. Bengo, seeing Adam's expression, had promptly dived under the table.
"You're being very silly", said Adam, crouching down "Come on out at once".
"He says he can't face you", said Bardin.
"Well that's going to make things a trifle inconvenient round here isn't it!" said Adam "Julian doesn't get all this nonsense when he's spanked you".
"Julian doesn't make me feel ashamed!" Bengo cried.
"I never realised I had such formidable power!" said Adam "I always think I'm such a sweet little soul".
Joby, who had just come in with Kieran, gave a tut of disbelief.
"And what are you doing in here?" said Adam "I left you to get started on the dinner".
"I'm not staying in the galley", said Joby "Hillyard's in there. Sharpening knives".
"He often sharpens the knives for us", said Adam.
"Yeah, but you should see the expression on his face", said Joby "Sweeny Todd's got nothing on him at the moment! Almost puce-coloured he was!"
"Good grief", said Adam "We'd better leave him alone in that case!"
"What's Bengo doing under the table?" said Kieran.
"Oh another of my victims", Adam sighed "He is suffering from deep shame because I took his pants down earlier".
"Ach you shouldn't hide because of shame, Bengo", said Kieran "Shame is an ennobling experience. You should revel in it".
"Bengo's not a Catholic, Patsy", said Adam.
"No, he's potty enough without that as well!" said Joby.
"What did you run off for?" Hillyard snapped, making Joby jump out of his skin "What did you think I was going to do? Stick a knife in your ribs?!"
"It had crossed my mind", said Joby, gloomily.
"Look, you've made your point about Mieps, Hillyard", said Adam "And I refuse to let you keep him tied up any longer. He's quite harmless at the moment".
"Yeah, the Reindeer and Pee-Wee are giving him a bath", said Joby.
"Lo-Lo and Toppy are giving him a bath", said Adam, tetchily.
He then noticed the empty decanter on the desk, and held it up in disbelief. The clowns looked suitably shamefaced.
"That's alright, there's plenty more in the hold", said Hillyard "I always keep old Julian well-stocked".
"Old Julian's still not going to be pleased with this though", said Adam, fiercely "I sometimes think we should buy a damn great play-pen for the clowns, and shove them in it!"
"Nah", said Joby "They'd only wreck it".
That evening there was a street carnival in the Village of Stairs, to celebrate the first of November, the Feast of All Saints, a religious festival that had survived in this part of the world, even during the long ban on religion. Another name for it was the Day Of The Dead, which had an uncomfortable poignancy at the moment, with vampires and zombies at large.
Adam was appalled to hear that Julian had given permission for everyone to go ashore and join in the festivities. He sought a confrontation with him on the poop-deck.
"Ada, darling. they are all grown men", said Julian "I know they never act like it, but they are. I can't go confining them to barracks when the rest of the town is going bonkers with joy".
"But Jules, for heaven's sake", Adam protested "Nowhere is safe at the moment".
"Exactly", said Julian "Believe me, there is method in my madness. I have been wracking my brains to know what to do about Angel and his loathesome cronies. I don't know whether it's old age or what, but I refuse to listen to Codlik and his aggressive warmongering. I've come to the conclusion instead that our best weapon is to be ourselves. The vampires, and whoever it is that's manipulating them, can't control us. Look at what happened earlier today, when the clowns got into trouble on the waterfront. For a few hours we forgot the vampires existed, because we were so busy sorting that out. Evil cannot flourish if everyone ignores it".
"But evil can kill", said Adam.
"Any one of us can be killed any time by any one", said Julian "Kieran could get knifed by some religious nutter who has nothing to do with vampires and Grand Masters".
"Don't say that", said Adam.
"I'm not trying to distress you", said Julian "But please trust me, I really think this is our best option. I have a good feeling about it, and Ransey agrees with me. Astonishingly".
On the forward deck below them, Tamaz battered a scorpion to death with a broom.
"They get everywhere", he said.
He then pulled off his clothes and dived gracefully into the sea, surfacing against almost immediately.
"I would pit him against the vampires anyday!" said Julian.
The Day Of The Dead Carnival was a lot more noisy and colourful than its name would have led anyone to believe. Legions of boozed-up men marched through the streets, up the steps and down alleyways, blowing trumpets and whistles raucously. Beer and wine didn't so much flow, as cascade.
Kieran and Joby went up onto a roof-top bar directly opposite the 'Golden Compass' and watched from the parapet. Behind them, Lonts danced with Tamaz. Down in the crowd, Hillyard was marching at the head of a gang of men, ruddy in the face from alcohol. Kieran could sense the vampires were nearby, and he suspected Tamaz could too, but they had both agreed to not react at all unless directly provoked.
After a while Adam and Julian joined them. Julian was carrying a new, ornate silver-topped walking-stick.
"It's a sword-stick actually", said Julian, demonstrating how it worked "Ransey's bought it for me from some street-vendor. He's got himself a machete, of all things. My Grandfather used to have one of these. He got arrested for carrying it on the London Underground once".
"Why?" Joby exclaimed.
"The police didn't take too kindly to it", said Julian "They regarded it as an offensive weapon. My Grandfather's monologue about how he had a right to protect himself against muggers didn't work, I'm afraid".
"No, I mean why was he on the London underground?" said Joby, as though such an idea was beyond all comprehension.
"I expect the tumbrils weren't running that day!" said Julian, sarcastically "He had as much right to go on it as anyone else! You're far more of a snob than any of my lot were!"
"Oh Jules, not possible, old love", said Adam, leaning on the parapet "What an amazing scene this is. I wish my artistic skills were up to doing it justice".
"Who'd want a picture of Hillyard and a load of other jerks looking pissed?" said Joby.
"You have no romance in you at all", said Adam "If you weren't such hot stuff in the sack, there'd be no reason for your existence at all".
"And he's a prude!" Kieran bellowed "He wouldn't let Tamaz come out until he'd put his trousers on".
"With good reason too", said Joby "He'd have caused a riot in those black, lacey things he's got on underneath".
"Adam", said Lonts, after finishing his dance with Tamaz "Let's go to the beer-garden over the road. The clowns are in there".
"Oh dear, do we have to?" said Adam, in dismay "I dread to think what state the place is in by now".
"We have to rescue Toppy", said Lonts "He got caught up with them, and I expect he's afraid".
"Going out with the clowns, he's probably got good reason to be!" said Joby.
"I've just had a really brilliant idea of how to get out of this building", said Lonts.
"Via the stairs seems the best option, Lo-Lo", said Adam "The way we came in".
"Look after Snowy, Adam", said Lonts , handing the bear to him.
Lonts then picked up Joby under one arm and Kieran under the other, and carried them down the well-worn white steps which led down to the street. Towards the bottom he stumbled, and dumped them both roughly on the concrete.
"Are you o.k, Kieran?" he asked.
"Fine", said Kieran, breathlessly "I think I landed on a cabbage!"
"I thought it was best to do that", said Lonts "So if there were any vampires lurking on the stairs they wouldn't get you".
"Thoughtful", said Kieran "There must be the remains of an entire decaying fruit and veg stall just here!"
"That was really funny wasn't it, Joby?" said Lonts.
"I'm gonna drown that damn bear of yours before the evening's over", said Joby "Just to get my revenge".
"In a butt of malmsey perhaps", said Adam, who had Snowy under his arm now "Like the Duke of Clarence".
Ransey and Finia were both standing at the entrance to the beer-garden opposite. Finia was looking disgruntled, because of the ornamental machete Ransey had bought earlier in the evening, and which he was now proudly carrying at his side.
"It's making me nervous", said Finia "You don't carry a damn great thing like that around without intending to use it".
"As long as he uses it to behead a few vampires, why worry?" said Joby.
The clowns and Toppy were sitting in the beer-garden, at one end of a long, scrubbed trestle table. Farnol was talking nineteen to the dozen as usual, whilst Rumble kept taking surreptitious swigs of his beer without him noticing. Bengo was wearing his mot beguilingly nonplussed expression, what Kieran always thought of as his Goldie Hawn look.
"I bet you I could hold anything you care to mention between the cheeks of my arse", said Farnol.
"Oh what?!" said Joby, in horror.
"I did say it probably wasn't wise to come over here", Adam sighed.
"That was part of our act", said Farnol.
"That says it all", said Bardin.
"Go on, name something", said Farnol, undaunted.
"This trestle table", said Julian, which sent the others into hysterical whoops of laughter.
"Something reasonable", said Farnol.
"If this means we have to look with great scrutiny at your flabby behind, can we pass?" said Ransey.
"Ah, you don't know what you're missing", said Farnol "It is an amazing spectacle to witness".
"One I can happily live without", said Ransey.
"I don't feel safe in this town", Finia suddenly announced "I wish we were back up at the big house".
"Are you for real?" said Joby "You hated it up there! You moaned your ruddy head off everytime we went there!"
"It was only the snow I hated", said Finia.
"I expect it's about to start snowing there now, old love", said Adam "It is November after all".
"That house does have the advantage of its size", said Julian "We could put Farnol at one end of it and ourselves at the other, and we wouldn't be able to hear him yakking!"
Mieps gravitated over from the other end of the garden, looking considerably the worse for drink.
"Everyone was buying me drinks", he said "They all wanted to know what it was like to kiss a Ghoomer. I've been getting drinks for kisses".
"You'd better sit down", said Adam, whilst Tamaz glowered venomously at Mieps.
"Would you like a kiss?" Mieps tried to snog Adam "I bet you've never kissed someone with tits before!"
"You'd be surprised!" said Adam.
In the midst of all this hubbub Kieran was successfully sidetracked by Angel, who was hanging around the fringes of the garden with Caln and Mullawa in tow. It was becoming increasingly obvious to Kieran that the two latter vampires, once so almighty and powerful, were now little more than wrecked zombies. A feeble blood-lust contained in a burnt-out shell. They trailed around after Angel like bewildered halfwits. No one else in the garden gave them a second look.
"Come with us", said Angel "Just down a side street near here. I need to talk to you".
"You can forget that!" said Kieran "Me come down a dark alley with you three?!"
"I'm gonna tell you who the Grand Master is", said Angel "But by doing so there's no knowing what might happen".
"Will he know immediately that you've told me?" said Kieran.
"He'll know", said Angel "He'll appear immediately".
"Tell me, and let him be damned", said Kieran.
"It's Father Dalman", said Angel "And don't say he's dead just because Ransey shot him ..."
"Well I should like to know how he's been resurrected", said Kieran.
"A group of stupid young boys, self-styled sorcerors of the black arts", said Angel "Dragged his corpse out of the tower in the Marsh Village. They brought him back to life. He repaid them by making them his slaves".
"He hasn't changed much then", said Kieran "And where is he now?"
"He hangs out at an old house in the countryside beyond this town", said Angel "He's got them all there with him. A colony of his victims. He's off his head completely, but he's not after power anymore. He's sex-crazed, constantly looking for new thrills and new victims".
"That's why he's been abducting people from town", said Kieran "He was the one who sent Bengo the roses?"
"He's as bad as Tomce", said Angel, twisting his fingers in agitation "That's why I want you to destroy him. Now do you believe me?"
"Why can't you do it yourself?" said Kieran, softly "Like you did Tomce".
"He scares me too much", said Angel, helplessly "He has such a presence when you get near him. I'm not strong anymore, not like I was. None of us are", he indicated his 2 feeble vampire companions "We just want to go back into the ether, where we had peace. Where we didn't feel this craving all the time".
"I'll help you", said Kieran "But I'm worried about Tamaz. Dalman abused him".
"I know", said Angel "I know all about it. Dalman brags about it. He's so fucking sure he's gonna get Tamaz back. He calls him his little runaway. Kieran, I know some of the things he intends to do to Tamaz when he gets his hands on him. He's gonna have a field-day with him. You can't let it happen. You can't".
"Oh Angel, now I know you're on our side", said Kieran, reaching out and stroking the rough skin on Angel's face "You looked into Tamaz's eyes and now you're smitten! He has his mother's power, even if he can't turn people to stone. And as my 'reward', are you going to betray me and take me 2000 years into the future?"
"I would only have done that to keep you safe", said Angel.
He noticed Joby looking over anxiously and shrank back into the deepening shadows.
"Oh and another thing", he said "I wouldn't be so sure if I was you that Tamaz can't turn people to stone!"
Kieran barely had time to digest this incredible statement when a hiatus occurred in the street outside the garden. Crowds of men, alerted by the scene out there, flocked into the street, the Indigo-ites amongst them.
A young boy, in his late teens, and exceptionally good-looking, was limping up the steps towards them. He was naked, and his back, from the shoulders down to his ankles, was covered in welts, where he had been beaten horrifically to within an inch of his life. His face was haggard and tormented, and his eyes showed agitation and fear. As if in mockery of his state, he was wearing flower garlands made up of orange gladioli around his neck. Kieran pushed his way through the crowd towards him.
"Kieran", the boy whispered, shaking with shock "Kieran! For months I've dreamt of seeing you. I can't believe you're here in front of me. Stop all these people staring at me. Please! Please!"
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