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By Sarah Hapgood

It was decided (or rather Julian decided) that Hoowie should be put on a cargo air-buggy that was going up to the big house on Christmas Eve, to take Yuletide supplies there. In no time at all he was gone. Adam and a handful of the others went to see him off at the little airport.

"He's really gone has he?" said Joby, who was toasting his feet in front of the kitchen stove when Adam returned "We're not gonna get any nasty surprises at the front door later tonight?"

"He was very upset at being sent into exile", said Adam.

"He wasn't earlier!" said Joby "Lonts was telling him about all the food and drink and attractive young people there are at the big house, and Hoowie was getting as excited as anything. He was trying it on with you that's all".

Adam had strongly suspected this himself, but was too annoyed at Julian's handling of the whole thing to even consider agreeing.

"Haven't the turkeys been delivered yet?" he snapped, after looking in the pantry.

"I dunno", Joby shrugged.

"Oh really!" said Adam, storming towards the hallway "I have to do everything around here!"

Joby stuck his tongue out at him.

"I saw that!" Adam returned, smartly, causing Joby to leap out of his chair like a scalded cat.

Toppy walked through the kitchen, carrying Hoowie's camp-bed under his arm. He made purposefully for the back door.

"Is he leaving home?" said Joby.

Toppy went outside and dumped the camp-bed on the refuse heap near the stables. Then he purposefully walked back again and vanished into the hall, still without saying a word.

"He's quite emotional on the quiet isn't he?" said Adam.

Hawkefish had made an arrangement with the 4 clowns to get them to appear as a one-off special at the Little Theatre's Festive Revue. Farnol and Rumble were to entertain the punters front-of-house before the show and during the interval. Bengo and Bardin were to have a spot on stage. Bengo had, rather unwisely, left the choice of routine to Bardin. When he heard that Bardin had picked an old routine from their Cabaret of Horrors days, entitled 'The Really Thick Quiz Show Contestant', he was furious and refused to perform.

This routine was broad slapstick, (which was why Bengo hated it, as he always came off worst in these spots). In it he had to play the character of the title, someone so inept at answering the questions that Bardin, as quiz-master, gradually got more and more exasperated with him and inflicted various punishments on him, usually involving chocolate sauce, shaving foam, egg yolk, and other general gooey edible substances, after tearing his clothes off him first. It wasn't only funny, but very sexy too.

"The punters go mad over it", said Farnol "The sight of your luscious body getting smeared with all that goo! It was good enough in the old days, but now that you and him are lovers it really gives it an edge".

"Then Bardin can do it! He can be the victim!" said Bengo, storming around the dining-room.

"It wouldn't work with me playig that part", said Bardin "It has to be you. The punters'd only get frustrated and wish it was you anyway. That's the price you pay for being beautiful".

"Then I wish I was ugly", said Bengo.

"Don't be stupid!" said Bardin "Look, it's not all you anyway. You get to smear chocolate sauce over my chest, and slam a custard pie on my butt".

"Yeah, shame it's your butt!" said Bengo.

"With my face it wouldn't make any difference!" said Bardin.

"Oh Bardy", said Bengo, weakening.

"You've gotta do it, Bengo", said Farnol "It'll be like old times, us all working together".

Much against his better judgement, Bengo agreed to do the sketch. In his heart of hearts he knew Bardin would talk him round to the idea eventually anyway, and the longer he stalled the more Bardin would take it out on him on stage.

Backstage at the Little Theatre that evening was bedlam as usual. In the main dressing-room, Godle The Strong Man, never one to give up without a fight, was impressing on Bengo once again how utterly implausible it was that a nice guy like him should bother with Bardin, who was himself at this moment being spoken to firmly by Rumble.

"Don't be too hard on him tonight out there", he said, putting a strong grip on Bardin outside the dressing-room door "I know what you can be like. Perhaps us 4 should all get together sometime. Keep it in the family like. After all, it wouldn't be the first time for us would it?"

He had grabbed Bardin's bath-robe in his fist and nearly yanked him off his feet as he spoke, masterful behaviour which always excited Bardin.

"What's going on here then?" said the irritating Zooks, coming up behind them.

"Piss off!" Bardin roared.

Zooks walked towards the wings, casting very sly looks back at them.

"This is a lousy time to tell you", said Bardin, hurrying through the wings with Bengo a short while later "But it's no big deal, no big deal at all, right?"

"What isn't?" said Bengo, in confusion "You haven't told me anything yet!"

"I lost my virginity with Rumble!" Bardin cried, much louder than he'd intended, causing a gaggle of chorus-girls to break into annoying girlish giggles "Stupid bitches!"

"You and Rumble?" said Bengo.

"Yes, but it was years ago, ancient history, I can barely remember it", said Bardin "And it only happened once. Just once".

"So why have you told me now?" said Bengo.

"Because I didn't want you hearing it from bloody Zooks", said Bardin.

"How does he know?" said Bengo, even more perplexed.

"He overheard us talking just now".

"If it's no longer important, why were you talking about it just now?"

"Because he thinks it would be a good thing if we all had sex together", said Bardin.

"With Zooks?" said Bengo, looking astonished.

"No, not with Zooks!" said Bardin "He's got nothing to do with it. Us four, you, me, Rumble and Farnol".

"B-but I don't fancy them", said Bengo "I only fancy you ... and Tamaz, and Julian, and Adam, and Kieran, 'cept he never looks at me that way, not even when we were at the 'Golden Compass'".

"Oh and don't forget Hillyard", said Bardin, snidely "And Finia".

"Actually Farnol's quite sweet isn't he?" said Bengo "He's got a nice personality".

"You just fancy everybody!" said Bardin.

"Once the idea's been put in my head", said Bengo.

"Under threat again, Bardin?" said Zooks, standing by the props table "That's what you get for being with someone so much better-looking than you".

Bardin picked up a custard pie, which had just been prepared by the stage-manager, and clobbered Zooks with it.

"Hey, I'd just done that one!" said the stage-manager.

"I'll get you for that!" Zooks cried, dripping foam "I'll spray you with hot shit, I hope you get some incurable disease!"

Bengo was laughing helplessly. Bardin tried to calm him down.

"We're on next", he hissed "Bengo, calm down. You have to get into character!"

It was all to no avail. They both laughed helplessly.

In the interval Farnol performed the routine that always made him very popular, 'The Man With The World's Biggest Dick'. It was strongly reminiscent of Rod Hull and Emu, except that instead of a stuffed bird on his arm, he wore a mock-up of a very large phallus around his waist, which went bonkers, like an excited triffed, when it sighted some members of the public. He went down a storm with it in the bar, watched by all the other Indigo-ites who had gathered there.

Bengo and Bardin joined them soon after. On leaving the stage Zooks had got his revenge by squirting them both with one of the fire-extinguishers.

"I've been covered in just about everything this evening", said Bengo.

"You were wonderful", said Adam "It never occurred to me before that slapstick could be erotic".

"That sort is", said Bardin "Because it's all about squelchy, gooey things on naked flesh".

"And sex is just a big squelch anyway!" said Hillyard.

"I'd love to do a picture of you both like that", said Adam, as the others groaned "Two naked bodies covered all over in sticky things. A nice bit of unusual erotic art".

"What are you going to call it?" said Julian, caustically "'When Clowns Mate'?!"

"Why not?" said Adam, unabashed.

"A fella just stopped us in the foyer", said Bardin "Wanted to know why we didn't have Tamaz in the routine with us, like we used to in the Indigo Players".

"What's he got against me?" said Tamaz, indignantly.

"Nothing, quite the opposite in fact", said Bardin "He fancies you. Wants to see you with your naked breasts smeared with chocolate sauce. I expect he might be one of those food fetishists".

"It wasn't Joby was it?" said Kieran.

"Shaddup!" said Joby.

"You should've joined us, Freaks", said Bengo "You'd have been a sensation. We wouldn't have touched your face, you could've trusted us".

"Trust you two jerks?" said Tamaz "Never!"

Soon after they all got home, Joby retreated to one of the bathrooms and groaned into the toilet bowl for a while, having, like the rest of them, indulged in too much of the festive cheer already. When he groggily re-emerged onto the landing he found Lonts waiting for him.

"Why aren't you asleep yet?" Joby asked, faintly.

"I know for a fact Adam's bought me another 'Happy Bears' book for Christmas", said Lonts, triumphantly "There's a new one just out, you see".

"Some writers are just sadists!" said Joby.

"In this one they all go on a picnic", said Lonts "I think that sounds good fun, don't you?"

"Why, do they all fall down a mine-shaft or summat?!" said Joby.

"If you read it to me tomorrow", Lonts continued "Then you can read it to me again when we get back to the Bay, because I expect I'll have forgotten the story by then".

"G'night", said Joby, going into his room.

"Tamaz is in Mieps's room", said Lonts "I expect he'll be there all night now".

"Merry Christmas", said Joby glumly, shutting the door on him.

Down in the dining-room, the 4 clowns were sitting propped up against the 4 corners of the bed, all smoking hashish which floated up into a heady, sweet haze above them.

"I suppose we should start getting down to it sometime", said Rumble.

"I can't get up the energy though", said Farnol, drowsily "I'm feeling too laid-back".

Opposite them, Bardin was on the very verge of falling asleep. Bengo suddenly flopped off the bed and began yapping like a dog, crawling round on all fours. He went to the dining-room door and scuffled at the bottom of it, as though begging to be let out.

"Bengo", said Bardin "You'll wake up the whole house!"

Bengo nosed open the door and padded into the hall, where he continued to bark vociferously.

"You crazy clown!" said Toppy, coming out of the living-room "With you it's one barmy thing after another!"

Bengo snarled and latched his teeth onto Toppy's ankle, ripping at his pyjama bottoms. Toppy squealed and lost his balance, falling onto Bengo, where they both ended up sprawled helplessly on the hall floor.

"What's going on here?" said Adam, coming down the stairs, followed by Lonts.

"This idiot's really lost it", said Toppy "I know we've always said he should have been a dog, but now he's started thinking he is one!"

"Lo-Lo, perhaps you could put Bengo to bed", said Adam.

"O.K", Lonts scooped up Bengo in one arm and carried him back into the dining-room as though he was Snowy.

"I wish he was a dog", said Toppy, crossly "Then we could have him put down!"

"That is not a very nice way to talk!" said Adam.

"I can't help it", said Toppy "He's torn the button off my pyjama pants".

"That hardly calls for compulsory euthanasia!" said Adam.

"I've taken all his clothes off and put him under the blankets", said Lonts, a short while later "And I've taken all their funny fags off them and put them out in the ash-tray".

"Well done", said Adam "Now we can get back to bed".

"I don't know how I'm expected to sleep in torn pyjamas", Toppy grumbled.

"Stop going on, Toppy", said Lonts "If you were a normal person you wouldn't put clothes on just to go to bed!"

"I know it's Christmas", said Julian, sitting up in bed and eating yoghurt from a small bowl "And so I should be lenient and tolerant and forgiving ... but I refuse to be! I don't mind high spirits, but I wish you lot would stay off the funny smokes".

"They were quite safe", said Bardin, standing on the rug next to the bed, wearing his bath-robe open over his underpants "We got the stuff off Jonner, and he swore there was nothing dodgy about it".

"How would he know?" Julian exclaimed "He'd smoke ground-up toe-nails! I know it's not unsusual for people to think they're animals when they've been on dope. But I did hear of someone once, long ago, who jumped out of a top-floor window after smoking dodgy hash, because he believed he could fly! And you 3 were hardly in a position to keep an eye on Bengo, who is quite excitable enough when he's not intoxicated, without him needing any extra stimulants!"

"I'm sorry", Bardin mumbled, looking at his feet.

"Doubtless it must seem unfair to you that I've singled you out to come up here like this", said Julian "But you are the most responsible one, and I rely on you to act as Bengo's brain, for the simple reason being that he hasn't got one of his own!"

A dollop of yoghurt fell from the spoon onto Julian's bare stomach. Bardin leapt across and licked it up, pressing his lips into Julian's flesh. When he had finished, Julian kissed him fully on the mouth, and then traced the outline of his lips with his fingers. Bardin instinctively flinched.

"Now now", said Julian "I thought we had cured you of all that nonsense. You've been kissed on the mouth enough times now to forget any hang-ups you may have had. I shall have to call you Precious Bane. That was a book written a very long time ago about a woman with a harelip".

"Poor thing", said Bardin "It's been bad enough for me, it would be terrible for a woman".

"Her greatest wish was to find someone who would love her so much that he would willingly kiss her on the mouth", said Julian "And at the end of the book it happened".

Bardin blushed. It was all too reminiscent of himself and Bengo.

"You'd better get downstairs and sort him out", said Julian.

Farnol and Rumble were talking in bed on the landing. They both stopped when Bardin approached. They teased him about having been summoned up to the top-floor. Bardin reacted by getting onto their bed and jumping all over it.

When he got back down to the dining-room he found Bengo lying on his back in bed, with a flannel clamped to his forehead, groaning.

"Bardy", he said, shakily "Where were you just now? I needed you".

"I got called up to the top-floor", said Bardin "And got my knuckles rapped on your behalf".

"Oh I'm sorry", said Bengo, pitifully.

"You will be", said Bardin.

"Were you punished?" said Bengo.

"I'll get it as a treat when I've punished you", said Bardin, taking the flannel off him and resoaking it in a bowl of water "Although I expect it'll have to wail until you're feeling less fragile".

"I'll do anything you say", said Bengo "You're the Master".

"Hah! That wasn't the case last night", said Bardin "You weren't being very obedient then, or when I came up with the routine for the show. All I got then was tears and tantrums!"

"I forget myself sometimes", said Bengo "I never did have your ability to concentrate".

Bardin gently climbed over him and snuggled down under the covers next to him.

"Is that an acceptable state in which to turn up or work?!" said Adam.

Joby stood before him in the kitchen, unkempt and unshaven, clutching a poltice to his forehead.

"Oh don't go on, Ad", he said "I think I'm dying. I shouldn't even be in here. I should be in bed, like the clowns. They're all tucked up in the dining-room like the fucking Ovaltinees!"

"Stop whining", said Adam "We have a lot to do. Open the stove door and see how the turkey's doing".

"No I can't!" said Joby "If I smell that meat cooking I'll probably vomit!"

"I'll do it", said Ransey, striding purposefully into the room "Have you worked ut the exact cooking time required, Adam? You know, hours per poundage".

"Yes I had worked that out before I started it!" said Adam.

He mixed up a hangover potion and handed it to Joby.

"No I can't drink that stuff", said Joby "It tastes horrible".

"You're not meant to enjoy it!" said Adam, in exasperation.

"Now Ransey's here you don't need me as an assistant", said Joby, moving away.

"Yes I do", said Adam, grabbing him by the sleeve of his bath-robe "Sit in the pantry and drink that. Within a few minutes you'll be feeling human again".

"I doubt it", said Joby, mournfully.

Whilst this conversation had been going on, Kieran had been asleep upstairs. He rolled over in bed and sensed someone lying next to him. Thinking it was Joby, he put out a hand and touched him, only to feel a body covered in coarse human hair. Startled, he leapt out of bed.

"Angel!" he cried "What the fock are you doing here?"

"I thought I'd pay you a social-call", said Angel "What better day of the year to do it than Christmas Day?"

"I don't want you just dropping in like this", said Kieran "It'll upset the others".

"They don't need to know", said Angel "Anyway, you can't blame me. The company back at the Castle leaves a lot to be desired. Mullawa just weazes all the time and thinks about his next lot of grub, and Caln's preoccupied with trying out some of Dalman's dodgy sex-aids".

"Caln always was a wee bit kinky", said Kieran.

"You can hardly talk!" said Angel "You're standing there with a red arse! Sit down anyway, if you can, you know I won't hurt you".

"It's different for me", said Kieran, lying back down next to him "It's not just a physical sensation for me. I like the indignity of it, the feeling of someone else being in control".

"Yeah well I suppose if you're God that's natural", said Angel "You must get brassed off with everyone expecting you to know all the answers all the time, of being perfect. I have the same problem".

"Yeah, course you do!!" said Kieran.

"In a different way, I was about to add", said Angel "Everyone expects me to be bloody awful all the time. No one ever looked pleased to see me".

"Are you surprised?!" Kieran exclaimed.

"But I understand how you feel, completely", said Angel "After all, you never claimed to be perfect, did you? It was what everyone else put on you all the time".

"God is Love", said Kieran "That is all, because that's all anyone should need. But no, they wanted a great logical pattern too, a brilliant, rational mind behind it all! They could never accept that Love was enough, that when you've got that the rest all falls into place. I don't know why they couldn't accept that, but there we are. It was People, Humans, who said God had to be perfect".

"Whereas really you're an irrational, naive creature who occasionally gets frustrated by it all and loses His filthy temper!" said Angel.

"I don't want you coming here and talking like this", said Kieran "It would cause too much anguish".

"What, to old Spotty you mean?" said Angel.

"Leave Joby alone", said Kieran "And he hasn't been spotty for many years now".

"Wouldn't it blow his mind if ...?" said Angel.

"Angel! Joby was the first person, other than me Mam, who ever offered me unconditional love", said Kieran "Giving love, without expecting anything back in return. Even Adam only wanted to screw me at first. I won't have you slagging Joby off".

"But I want to come and see you though", said Angel "You and me was always meant to be mates, chums".

He picked up Kieran's Bible from the bedside table and flicked through it.

"You don't like the Old Testament much do you?" said Angel "Must be because it shows up all your imperfections".

"What, as a vengeful Fascist dictator you mean?" said Kieran "Endlessly bringing down retribution and punishments out of sheer paranoia".

"Yeah, they got you off to a T there didn't they!" said Angel.

"The Bible was never meant to be taken literally", said Kieran "Somethings in it really happened, but a lot didn't".

"You also don't like the fact that in the Old Testament we're shown as quite pally", said Angel "Chatting like old comrades over a garden fence. Look at the Book Of Job for instance ..."

"You're not the first person to figure that one out", said Kieran "Not by a long way. There have been enough jokes made on that one for a start!"

"And that's why you let me live this time", said Angel, triumphantly "Because you need me in this world".

"Like a focking hole in the head!" said Kieran.

"Who else can you talk to like this, eh?" said Angel "Not any of your family, it'd cause 'em too much anguish as you put it. And certainly not any of your pathetic priests. They'd probably crucify you, or burn you at the stake".

"I think they'd quite like to at the moment as it is, for letting you stay around!" said Kieran.

"Exactly", said Angel "They'd never be able to accept you weren't perfect. That all you are is exactly what you've always said you are, someone guided and motivated entirely by love. They'd get angry".

"Anger and disappointment", said Kieran, pensively "A volatile combination in humans. So. Now you've at last got what you wanted all along. The knowledge to destroy me. Because you're right. Everyone would turn on me if you let slip the truth. What are you going to do then? Hang it over me as a threat? The world could be yours now".

"What would I do with it?!" said Angel "Things can only be destroyed once! What you don't seem to realise is that, just like you, I'm quite ordinary really. We both like chucking the dice and taking chances. Neither of us has a system, a quest, a campaign. We both live from day-to-day".

"And there aint nothing wrong in that!" Kieran sighed.

"Hey! Why's the door locked?" Tamaz hammered on it, imperiously.

"I ... er ... took the precaution", Angel whispered "Good job I did really!"

"Kieran!" Tamaz squawked "Open up, this is my room too you know!"

"I'm just coming", said Kieran, and then he hissed at Angel "Scoot it for God's sake!"

Angel chuckled, and slipped out of the window like a cat.

"Who were you talking to in here?" said Tamaz, when Kieran finally let him in.

"Meself", said Kieran "I'm always doing it!"

Tamaz sniffed the air, suspiciously.

"There's a strange smell in here, like sulphur", he said "I don't like it".

He picked up the Bible which Angel had abandoned on the bed, and noticed sticky traces on it, like track-marks made by a slug. He looked at Kieran with a blazingly piercing look, his eyes luminous in the dim light of the room. A shiver went through Kieran. Tamaz knew!

"Let's have a drink", said Kieran, getting a bottle of whisky and a couple of glasses out of the wardrobe "Things are getting a wee bit heavy around here".

"There's a million questions I want to ask you", said Tamaz, huskily.

"And I won't answer any of them", said Kieran, pouring out the whisky and handing a glass to Tamaz "Unless of course you want to know if I love you. And I do! I do!"

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