"I think it suits me just fine", said Lonts, adjusting the long pearl necklace against his bare chest "Don't you think so?"
Adam gave an amused laugh and stretched out luxoriously on Natalie's bed, clasping his hands behind his head.
"I don't understand why men don't wear jewellery like this", said Lonts, parading up and down the centre of the shaded room.
"There's nothing to stop you, old love", said Adam "But I think I'm going to have to start calling you Cheri".
"He was a character in a French story I read once".
"Was he like me?"
"Oh yes, very much so. He was very very beautiful, and very very spoilt. Just like you. And he liked trying on his mistress's jewellery".
Lonts giggled, and Adam pulled him towards him, kissing the boy's broad chest and groping his bottom.
"How much longer did Natalie say we could have her room for?" asked Lonts.
"She wants to come back at five o'clock, to have a little lie-down before she goes to the theatre".
"Is five o'clock a long way off yet?"
"A couple of hours", Adam looked up into his face and gave a slow wink.
"I think you should sleep until then", said Lonts, teasingly.
"Now why on earth should I want to waste time doing that?"
"Because you've looked very tired lately. Everyone's said so".
"It's just the heat that's all".
"You work harder than any of us", said Lonts "And Ransey says Julian never gives you a moment's peace, and it's not right".
"Ransey needn't trouble himself on my account", said Adam "And I've known Julian nearly all my life. If I'm not used to his ways by now I never will be. Why don't you kiss me?"
Lonts smiled and lowered his head, until his lips met Adam's.
At four-thirty Fradie, newly-arrived in Toondor Lanpin from the City, hot off a fishing-trawler (useful experience for gauging what Ordinary Men wanted from life), walked down the long, narrow street which stretched from the causeway out to the marshes at one end to the waterfront at the other. Although forty-years-old he had never been out of the City before, and was loving every minute of his new vagabond existence. He had arrived only that lunchtime and had spent the intervening hours simply walking around, enjoying the sight of women who were more real than figures on a clockwork television or cardboard advertising hoardings.
He paused on one side of the street to light a cigarette, and was suddenly startled by two men hurtling past him on a bicycle. One was peddling, whilst another sat on the saddle keeping his feet clear of the spokes. He recognised the passenger immediately. Kieran hadn't changed at all since his presidenting days, although his clothes were decidedly shabbier. Joby had been less immediately recognisable, but he too seemed to have changed very little. Fradie had always had a lot of time for Joby, figuring from things he'd heard that he was an ordinary no-bullshit type of fella.
"I think Glynis wants if back in one piece", Kieran shouted, as Joby brought the bike to a standstill with a harsh squealing of brakes.
"She said the brakes only played up in the rain", said Joby, breathlessly "Well I wouldn't wanna ride this down a steep hill in any weather, not even a bloody drought!"
Some french windows on a balcony overhead were pushed open with a screech and a good-looking boy emerged. He was completely starkers, but his lower half was concealed by a row of potted geraniums.
"Lonts", said Kieran, squinting up at him "You should be on a calender looking like that".
"What the well-dressed Eskimo is wearing this season", said Joby "A row of potted geraniums!"
"Where are you going?" said Lonts.
"Out along the causeway for a wee bit and then back again", said Kieran.
"We'll see you at the cinematograph later", said Joby.
"Sure will. Ride 'em cowboy", said Kieran, slapping Joby's rump.
After they had gone Fradie continued to stare up at Lonts. He had heard more about him than anyone else in the public eye, apart from Kieran. Baby Lonts, a.k.a the Kiskev Survivor. Now there was a subject for a story! The retarded boy who had witnessed the mass suicide of his entire village, who had been inside the Winter Palace, who had come up against the vampires, who had been sent to his doom on a convict-ship by Father Gabriel ... oh yes! Fradie gave a throaty and satisfied chuckle, but was disconcerted to find Lonts staring down at him intently. Fradie smiled and tipped his hat. Lonts reacted by calling "Adam!" over his shoulder. Fradie decided it was time to go and find the Indigo.
"Yes, I think someone's in", said Glynis, standing on the deck of her barge "Well there's usually someone around anyway".
Fradie looked at her appreciatively. Glynis was certainly looking her best today, spilling out of a pale blue swimsuit, her fair hair braided into two tight little plaits which bounced skittishly above her shoulders.
"Would it be o.k if I went on in?" asked Fradie, licking his lips.
"Don't see a problem", Glynis shrugged "Were you after anyone in particular?"
"The one in charge", said Fradie "But I take it that's Kieran?"
"Not really. Julian's the Captain of the Indigo, and I think he might be in, or at least I haven't seen him go out".
"Thanks ... er ... thanks", Fradie tipped his hat again, and climbed onto the forward deck of the Indigo.
He found he was being watched by Tamaz, and this shook him even more than seeing Glynis. Tamaz was leaning against the bars of his cage, eating an apple. Sweat was trickling between his bare breasts. Fradie had seen Tamaz once before, very briefly, in a trinket shop in the City. Tamaz had been President's Consort in those days, and had been buying up jewellery like a magpie, or rather he had been selecting what he wanted and charging it to an account in Gorth's name. Fradie had found him quite repellent. A young boy dressed up in a purple frock and white fur stole, his hair curled and his cheeks rouged. Fradie was glad he had never seen him pregnant, that would have been too much for him to take in.
Now he walked over to the cage and stared down into it with a look of morbid fascination. Tamaz threw open his mouth and exposed a wad of half-chewed apple. Shaken, Fradie backed away and headed for the door to the quarterdeck. He went down the steps and looked through the nearest door, which led into the galley. It was empty, but he thought he heard a soft noise coming from a room on the other side of the next one.
He went in there to find Julian lying on a heap of bedding on the floor, with a burning sandalwood jos-stick at his feet, and flanked one either side by Bengo and Hillyard. All were naked.
"Who the bloody hell are you?" Julian looked up blearily.
"I'm a w-w-w ..."
"Well spit it out for God's sake".
"I'm a writer".
"Oh", Julian groaned and lit a cigar "Come down here for inspiration have you?"
"Well there's not a great deal to be found in the City", Fradie snapped "I'm on a sort of working sabbatical in fact. Travelling round and writing when the mood takes me".
"The last man I met who said he was a writer turned out to be a complete lu-lu", said Julian, pacing around the saloon "He'd devised a hit list and wanted to kill us all, one-by-one".
"That so?" Fradie chuckled, which made his careworn face look refreshingly younger.
"Glad you find the thought amusing", Julian spat.
"No, I guess there's not much difference between a writer and a psychopath, that's what I was thinking", said Fradie "What happened to him?"
"I shot him. Dead".
"Not something I want to do again to anyone".
"You won't have to do that to me. I mean no harm".
"I sincerely hope so", Julian leaned back against the cabinet and stared at him intently.
Fradie felt uncomfortable. Julian was still naked for one thing, and Fradie had never been particularly keen on the sight of male flesh. Since women had been re-introduced into the City he had set about trying to screw as many of them as he could. One the whole he had had a lot of success, although it rankled deeply that one had described his penis as "cute". CUTE! Fradie had been appalled by this, as though the bloody woman had raked up his biggest hang-up and waved it at him tauntingly. CUTE! He was aware of how "cute" his penis was, he didn't want reminding of it. Since then he hadn't appeared completely naked to anyone, always managing to have sex whilst staying almost fully-clothed. No one had yet commeted on the contrast between his prudery over his own flesh and his libertarian mentality. Women in fact found it rather earthy and exciting. Something different.
And now here was bloody Julian flaunting himself in the altogether, as though he was in a sauna. And what was worse, his penis was HUGE! An ageing faggot with a cock like a racehorse! Life just wasn't fair sometimes.
"So what are you here for then?" asked Julian, with a distinct note of amusement in his voice.
"Eh?" Fradie was appalled to find he'd been staring fixedly at Julian's cock, and that this certainly hadn't gone unnoticed by the other man.
"So what are you here for then?" Julian repeated.
"W-well I-I'm just looking round", Fradie stammered "Out of curiosity. As I said, see where inspiration takes me".
"I meant, what are you doing on the Indigo?" said Julian "Why did you want to see me?"
"I wanted to know if I could tag along for a few days. Talk to you all. Also I'm new in the town, and I would appreciate ..."
"We're not a tourist office", said Julian, shortly.
Bengo came into the room, bent over backwards until his hands touched the carpet behind him. He crawled naked into the saloon like a spider. Once in he continued to perform some extraordinary contortionist movements.
"He's pretty good", said Fradie, appreciatively.
"It's his job", said Julian, dismissively "Stop showing off, Bengo".
Now he was alone with TWO naked jerks! Fradie was relieved when Hillyard walked in wearing a bath-robe.
"You can't stay here", said Julian "We haven't the room".
"He could sleep on deck", said Hillyard "It's warm enough, and no rain's forecast".
"Well that depends", said Julian, smiling "On whether he would feel safe on deck".
"I can take care of myself", said Fradie, ferociously "I've just spent five months on a fishing-trawler".
"Perhaps Glynis'll take pity on him and take him in", said Bengo, standing on his head and propping his feet against the wall like a fan unfolding.
"Is Glynis the voluptuous one I spoke to?" asked Fradie.
"Yes, she is a pretty sturdy little pony", said Julian "I don't see any harm in you staying on deck, seeing as it's not going to cost us anything".
"He's all heart isn't he!" said Hillyard.
The cinematograph, as it was rather quaintly called, had arrived in Toondor Lanpin for a brief run at the Little Theatre, much to Bengo's disgust, as he didn't see how anyone could prefer watching people on celluloid to live on stage. Fortunately it was for only three nights, and the quality of the little ten-minute films being shown was so poor that it was highly unlikely there would be much regret when it left again. Most of it seemed to be taken up with adverts from sponsors in the City, all of whom obviously believed the only way anyone in their right mind would buy their products was if there was plenty of nude flesh on display (of both genders).
Getting to tell these commercial breaks apart from the films themselves was practically impossible. Joby and Kieran had been watching a seduction scene between a man and a woman for several minutes before realising it was in fact a play, and not an advert for hair-shampoo as they'd originally thought. Kieran went back to reading his newspaper by torchlight.
Meanwhile up on the screen a beautiful woman lay naked on a bed, whilst her ardent suitor knelt beside it with his hands clasped together as though in prayer.
"I am luckier than all the princes and millionaires in history", said the man, in a rather crackly voice "Men would pay a fortune to be where I am now, and I am so lucky to be granted this privilege ..."
"Oh pull yerself together you daft sod", said Joby, unimpressed.
"Has she fallen asleep yet?" said Kieran, drawing on a cigarette.
"Hard to tell", Joby grunted "She hasn't moved or spoken for so long I'm beginning to think she's stuffed".
"More filth I see", said Julian, sliding into the seat next to Joby "Hasn't Adam finished bonking Eskimo Nell yet?"
"You know what those two are like", said Joby "At it for hours".
"Nothing but bloody sex everywhere", said Julian, getting out a paper bag of walnuts and a nutcracker "It's disgraceful really. Oh we've got a guest at home by the way. Calls himself a writer, from the City".
"Oh what?" said Joby, in dismay "Well he'd better not be sleeping in our cabin that's all I can say. There's no bloody room!"
"He's staying on deck", said Julian, cracking a handful of nuts "Funny little chap. Walked in on us".
"I'm surprised Hillyard didn't have his trousers off him, wanting him to join in", said Joby.
"No point", said Julian "I think he's more interested in Glynis's charms".
"There's plenty of 'em", said Kieran.
"More than could be said for you!" said Joby. But he found himself squirming slightly in his seat as he remembered Kieran gently soaping his back at the bath-house that afternoon.
"You alright there, Joby?" said Julian, sucking on the kernel of a nut.
"Yeah", said Joby, hoarsely "It's the heat that's all".
The scene on the screen had changed to a confrontation between a man and woman (both fully-clothed, which came as something of a refreshing change), both arguing about the identity of the man's father.
"Oh he's the latest hot stuff apparently", said Kieran, squinting at him through his cigarette smoke "I've been reading about him. Everyone's going barmy over him in the City".
"Not bad I suppose", said Julian, who at that moment would rather be looking at Adam and Lonts.
"He looks like a girl", said Joby "I thought it was a girl until it spoke, all that floppy hair. Can't stand blokes who look like girls".
"Kieran looks like a girl", said Julian.
"Kieran looks like an alien", said Joby.
"You two are a right couple of charmers when you get going aren't yer!" said Kieran.
The lights came on for the intermission, and various peddlars swarmed round with goods for sale, all of which was considerably more entertaining than much of what had gone on up on the screen. A brace of Siamese twins were selling perfume and hand-made fans. Claudia and Gloria were both very beautiful, and joined at the hip in such a way that they could never look each other squarely in the face. They moved in a mesmerising crab-like motion, their four feet clopping lightly on the bare wooden floor.
"I'll have one of these", said Julian, picking out a fan and paying for it with an odd assortment of loose change.
"Now THAT'S what I call an erotic fantasy", said Joby, as the twins moved away.
Glynis felt uncomfortable on the deck of her barge this evening. She had been sitting up there enjoying a drink of homemade wine. But it wasn't just the gathering twilight that was making her feel uncomfortable. Fradie kept staring at her from the deck of the Indigo. He had set up his portable typewriter on the forward deck and was bringing his journal up to date, constantly distracted though by the sight of Glynis in her pink silk pyjamas. Glynis wished one of the Indigo-ites would appear and distract her from him, but the only ones in sight were Finia and Toppy, who were both sitting on the quayside repairing chorus-girl costumes. Neither would be up to a confrontation with Fradie if he started giving trouble.
"You seem to have a lot to write", said Glynis, deciding that it might be best to try and engage Fradie in civilised conversation.
"Come over and take a look", said Fradie, pausing to light a cigarette.
Glynis climbed over onto the Indigo, her curiosity beating all else. She picked up a sheet of paper from the small pile lying next to the typewriter, and was appalled. On it was a detailed description of herself sucking Fradie's cock.
"How dare you!" she exploded "I've never done that to you, it's a complete pack of lies. How can you call this a diary? It's all complete fantasy and nothing else!"
"Exactly", said Fradie, unruffled "And is there any law against a man recording his fantasies in his diary?"
"You're sick", said Glynis.
"Nothing sick about healthy sexual fantasy. I cut out the bullshit in sex. I think you're a very attractive woman, and I'm writing about what I'd like to do with you".
"You can't use people like this!"
"I'm not using you. It's all on paper, not meant for publication. Safer than me forcing myself on you aint it? Hey, wise up Glynis. You're a big girl now. What's the matter? Been too used to a bunch of faggots next door lately is that it?"
"Are you o.k, Glynis?" Hillyard appeared on deck, still wearing his bath-robe "I heard shouting".
"This man's a fiend", said Glynis, drawing herself up like an opera-singer about to launch into a show-stopper.
"I'm not a fiend", said Fradie "I'm a harmless guy who finds you attractive. You should be flattered. You're obvioulsy a woman of some considerable passion".
"You'd better come below and have a drink, Glynis", said Hillyard, fearing the said woman would combust soon otherwise.
"Sounds like a good idea to me", said Fradie.
"Oh no, you stay here and carrying on bashing at your keys", said Hillyard "You'll be safer that way".
Adam had settled Lonts in the auditorium with the others, been snapped at by Julian for being later than he'd originally said, and then gone in search of an ice-cream for his young lover. In the bar though he was distracted by finding Madame Simone sitting in the corner. Adam had been wanting to paint this lady for some time, but hadn't been able to pluck up the courage to go to her house and ask her.
Madame Simone, a sixty-something prostitute who earned her living as a dominatrix, was a perfect subject for a picture, in spite of resembling in appearance a rather squat bull-dog. Under her stiff black hat her eyes and general expression gave the impression of having seen so much of life she was able to predict exactly everything that would happen next, entirely in keeping with her favourite lugubrious expression of "nothing new under the sun". It was the first time Adam had seen her in town for some time and he felt he couldn't waste the opportunity. Ideally though he should offer to buy her a drink, but Madame Simone drank brandy, and he barely had enough to buy Lonts an ice-cream.
He decided that the best thing was to simply be up-front about it and ask her directly if she would sit for him sometime. He felt terrified as he did so, and could understand from her imposing presence why she was considered to be so good at what she did. Fortunately for him, Madame Simone had taken a shine to him and bluntly told him so.
"You're one of the few men in this world who are genuinely kind with no ulterior motive attached", she said, in her gravelly voice.
"Oh I can be as manipulative as the next guy when I want something", Adam laughed, shyly.
"You're upfront about it though", Simone replied "An unusual quality in a man. All men are usually such liars".
"Is hating men a necessary part of being a dominatrix?" asked Adam.
"I don't hate men", Simone drew on her cigarette in a leisurely fashion "But it all helps me to understand them. Men know they are base creatures. That is why they have such a genuine desire to be brutalised. It's a form of absolution for them".
"I thought it was more because men like to be touched on the butt", said Adam "Or up it. But the absolution comes in too. We all get like that from time to time. Will you sit for me some time, and then we can also talk some more?"
"Do you want me to come to the Indigo?"
"Wherever you prefer".
"Make it the Indigo", said Simone, sipping at her brandy "It's a female-free zone isn't it?"
"Most of the time".
"Good", said Simone, heartily "Because by heaven, I can't stand women!"
"We're getting down it a bit aren't we?" said Glynis, picking up the whisky bottle which was now only about a quarter-full "The others won't be too pleased if we drink the lot".
"Don't you worry about that", said Hillyard, sitting next to her on the sofa "Leave me to sort them out. You just relax. Anyway, it's their fault for inviting that stupid scribbler to stay here".
"Oh I expected I over-reacted", said Glynis, stifling a soft burp "He's right. There's no harm in writing these things, particularly if it's not meant for publication".
"You could sue him if he did publish it", said Hillyard "I had that trouble once. Some idiot wrote a biography of me, made up some hair-curling tales about me. All lies. I didn't sue though. The others talked me out of it. I'm glad I didn't now. It would only have given him free publicity".
"It's the narrow margin between imagining and doing that bothers me", said Glynis, tipsily "What happens if he crosses the border and wants to start putting his fantasies into reality? Life is so much easier for you men. You're not vulnerable like us women".
"Oh no?" said Hillyard, thinking of his very painful ordeal at the hands of the Whang Man.
"I feel safe here with you though", said Glynis, sliding down the sofa "You're not at all like Joby says you're like to be alone with. He says you usually can't keep your hands to yourself. Like a giant octopus, he says".
"Are you in love with Joby?" asked Hillyard, bluntly.
"Yes", said Glynis, sadly "But nothing will ever come of it. He and Kieran are as close as Claudia and Gloria. He said to me once that Kieran was under his skin, whether he liked it or not".
"Does he know how you feel about him?"
"I don't know. Joby doesn't give much away about his real feelings. I know he likes me because he's said so. Says he enjoys my company. But I notice the passion in his voice when he talks about Kieran, and to him. That's something else. I would have liked ..." Glynis took a deep breath as though she was about to dive into a swimming-pool "I would have liked children with Joby. I think he would've made a good father. I've seen how he is with Lonts. Please don't tell him I said any of that, I'd die if you did!"
"I won't say anything".
"Are you sure? Joby says you're such an old gasbag and can't be trusted with any secrets".
"I'm certainly gonna have a lot to say to Joby when I see him!" said Hillyard, acidly "But don't worry, I won't tell him about your feelings".
"I expect you will", said Glynis, mournfully "You men tell each other everything. Admit it, you do. I bet you tear us poor women to bits in private".
"Nope", Hillyard shrugged "Usually debating what the next lot of grub's gonna be actually. We can talk about food for hours, what to have, where to get it, how to pay for it. We seem to have spent the past twenty years having those conversations".
"You don't think I'm like a boy do you?"
"You?" said Hillyard, startled "Nothing like one. You're about as womanly as you can get! What made you come out with that?"
"Kieran told me the other day I was like an honorary boy. I found it quite upsetting".
"Oh he was probably getting his knickers in a twist over you and Joby", said Hillyard "Take no notice of him. He gets very jealous of all the time you and Joby spend together. You're certainly nothing like a boy from where I'm sitting".
"No, I expect you'd make a pass at me if I was", Glynis giggled, and then had an insane feeling she wouldn't be able to stop.
"I'll make a pass at you now if it'll make you feel better", said Hillyard "Except I'll probably be at a loss because you've got a piece missing".
"Do you think I'm attractive then?"
Hillyard took her question as an invitation. He put his glass on the floor and was suddenly lying on top of Glynis, fumbling at the toggles on her pyjama jacket. Glynis tried to get out the words that she had only been making conversation, but found it difficult to say anything with Hillyard's lips on top of hers. She squirmed in an effort to move out from under him, but this only inflamed him even more.
"HILLYARD!" Ransey bellowed from the doorway.
Glynis took advantage of the distraction to slide off the sofa, landing with a hard thump on the saloon floor.
"It was my fault", she panted, awkwardly grabbing at the toggles on her jacket "I must've given him the wrong idea. I seem to be doing that a lot tonight".
"Rubbish", said Ransey "You only have to breathe to give Hillyard the wrong idea! God help us if he's moving onto women now. He'll be locked up in prison before we know it!"
"I'm sorry", Hillyard exclaimed "But it's an easy mistake to make".
"You can't afford to make mistakes like that", Ransey scolded "Not all women would be as cool as Glynis about it. I wish you'd learn a bit of self-control. You're nothing better than an animal sometimes".
"Steady on, Ransey", said Hillyard.
"I will not steady on, you were almost raping her!"
"I wasn't", Hillyard looked like he was about to cry "That was a terrible thing to say. If she'd yelled at me to stop I would've done, immediately. I've never taken anyone against their will".
"Not through lack of trying at times", said Ransey "You've got no self-discipline".
"No look please don't fall out", said Glynis, wishing she find the co-ordination to get to her feet "It was just a misunderstanding that's all. He didn't scare me. I know Hillyard's not a violent man".
Ransey had to grudgingly concede that this was true. Hillyard didn't have a violent bone in his body. He was just chronically over-sexed that's all.
"You're being reasonable than he deserves", said Ransey, intending it as a compliment but instead making it sound like a bitter accusation.
"What on earth's going on in here?" said Adam, appearing on the scene. Behind him was Lonts clutching Snowy by his foot, and Finia and Toppy cradling armfuls of gauze and netting.
"Hillyard making some ham-fisted attempt to seduce Glynis", said Ransey.
"Good grief", said Adam "Moving onto the fairer sex now, Hilly? I think your ways might be a little too perfunctory for them".
"These things happen", said Hillyard, feeling his head swimming.
"Oh sit down before you fall down", Ransey snapped "I'll help Glynis home".
"NO!" Glynis yelped "I don't want to go for the hat-trick and give you the wrong idea too".
"Well you'll never find your own way there", said Hillyard, sinking onto the sofa with much gratitude "And that scribbling trog's up on deck. You'll never get passed him alone in your state".
Glynis suddenly felt a deep wave of shame sweep over her. She felt nailed to the floor, in a state of dishabillee, with numerous pairs of eyes staring at her.
"I'll take you home", said Adam, gently "I can assure you that you won't give me the wrong idea at all".
He got Glynis onto her barge, and took her below to her bedroom, where he lay her down on her patchwork quilt. Adam felt very sorry for her. He remembered her current condition only too well from his own drinking days.
"Don't be too hard on Hillyard", said Glynis "We both made a mistake".
"Oh I'll still have a go at him", Adam smiled "It never does Hillyard any harm to be told off. Joby will laugh like a drain when he hears. It's quite a turn up for the books, Hillyard attempting to seduce a woman!"
"Joby", Glynis whispered the name "I'm such a noodle aren't I?"
"A very lovely noodle", Adam stroked her hair "Are you going to be alright now?"
"Yes. Apart from never wanting to see anyone ever again".
"Nonsense. Every single one of us on the Indigo has made a complete idiot of himself on many an occasion. Joby always makes a spectacle of himself when he's had too much to drink, and time has mercifully blotted out some of my worst excesses, although a couple from more recent years still make me go hot-and-cold to recall".
"The water lapping on the sides sounds so soothing", said Glynis, drowily "Do you ever lie awake and watch the patterns the ripples make on the ceiling?"
"Yes, often", said Adam "I find it quite relaxing when I'm lying awake worrying about money. Sleep well now".
He climbed back onto the deck of the Indigo to find Julian leaning against the bulwark in the dark, waiting for him. Fradie was conscientiously tapping away on his typewriter like an industrious secretary, using a torch propped on a pile of books for illumination.
"I've just heard all about it", said Julian "I've told Hillyard he's damn lucky I don't give him a good thrashing".
"It would upset Glynis if you did", said Adam "That's a very sweet little fan. Did you buy it off the twins? I see them sitting on the edge of the quay some days, making them. Another wonderful subject for a painting. This town is so rich in them".
"It's a paddle really", said Julian, tapping Adam's bottom with it "To keep you in line".
"I can't wait until you meet Madame Simone", Adam laughed.
"She is the most extraordinary woman isn't she?" said Julian "I can't get my head round her at all. She moves around like my great-grandmother, all aristocratic and dignified, and yet makes her living out of belting men! Perhaps she'll be able to give me some tips. If Hillyard can earn good money jerking men off, I don't see why I can't wield a riding-crop or the razor-strop. We could have our own brothel here. Think how much we could charge for Lonts!"
Fradie spent an uncomfortable night on the deck. He had only a thin blanket to wrap himself in, and this did absolutely nothing to soften the hard surface that he was trying to sleep upon. Added to that Tamaz spent most of the night stalking up and down his cage ranting in a very loud voice, so much so that Adam heard him from inside the Indigo and feared that he would disturb the neighbours. He went into Julian's cabin and woke him up.
"Adam", said Julian, with drowsy delight "What a wonderful surprise. Make yourself scarce, Bengo".
He elbowed Bengo, who was tucked in next to him like a hot-water bottle.
"No Jules don't be silly", said Adam "I haven't come in for that. It's Tamaz, he's making the most fearful row. You're going to have to do something before he gets us all evicted from the waterfront".
Julian groaned and got out of bed. He pulled on his nightshirt and tied the sleeves round his waist, leaving his upper half bare. He ransacked his closet for a riding-crop that he'd bought a few months back, and which seemed to serve no other purpose than to scare Toppy half to death. Fortunately on this occasion it also subdued Tamaz, who took one look at it and slunk into the corner of his cage, whimpering.
"I wonder what upset him tonight", said Adam, as Julian re-locked the cage-door.
"Our guest was making him restless I expect", said Julian "Tamaz is a compulsive exhibitionist. He likes nothing better than an audience, and Fradie's got a front-row seat I suppose".
"I think he gets lonely", said Adam "Tamaz I mean. He plays up because it's a way of getting our attention".
"If he plays up again tonight he'll get more than he bargained for", said Julian, shortly.
"Why can't I come with you?" said Lonts, following Joby up onto the forward deck the following morning "I like going to see Glynis, she gives me chocolate biscuits".
"You're a right greedy little pig do you know that?" Joby snapped "You can't come with me today because I want to talk to Glynis alone".
"Hm", Lonts assumed a narrow-eyed cynical expression "I shall tell Kieran where you are".
"You go stirring it and I shan't be responsible for my actions!" Joby exclaimed "Now push off".
Joby climbed onto Glynis's barge, ignoring Fradie who was watching him through a haze of cigarette smoke. Below deck, Glynis was still in bed. She had removed her sweat-sodden pyjamas during the night and these now lay on the floor by her bunk.
"Oh Joby go away", she cried "I can't see you now".
"Don't be daft, now's as good a time as any", said Joby "I'll make you some coffee".
Ignoring her shouts and pleas that he remove himself from her barge, Joby went into the galley and began to make coffee. Glynis tucked a sheet round her naked body and followed him somewhat reluctantly.
"He's told you hasn't he?" she said, angrily "Hillyard I mean. And he promised me he wouldn't".
"Oh we all know what Hillyard's like", said Joby "He's tried the same thing on me enough times. His enthusiasm gets the better of him, and that's putting it kindly! I know it must've been upsetting for you, but believe me he wouldn't have hurt you. Hillyard may be a pratt at times, but he's not a psychopathic rapist".
"You mean to say he hasn't told you what me and him talked about?" said Glynis, sitting down at the table.
"I doubt he can remember!" said Joby "Hillyard's got the memory of a senile pensioner sometimes. What was it then, that you talked about?"
"How I felt about you", Glynis sighed "I might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, and it's high time you knew anyway. If the worst comes to the worst, at least it'll clear the air between us. I love you ... have I upset you? You seem sad".
"No I'm alright", Joby set the coffee on the table and sat down opposite her.
"Is this where you say 'I like you very much Glynis but it can never be'?"
"No", said Joby "This is where I say I'm very fond of you Glynis, I think you're a very attractive woman, and in the old life I'd have rolled over and died for you".
"But there's this crazy, emaciated nutter on the scene, and whilst he's there it just wouldn't be fair on you. There's no logic as to why I prefer him to you. You're easier than him in so many ways. And I know we could have a good life together, you and me".
"Well then ..." said Glynis, making a last bid for him.
"When Tamaz took me hostage", said Joby "His first aim was to make me hate Kieran, and if he'd succeeded in doing that he would've broken my spirit. And at times he did succeed. I did hate Kieran, because if it hadn't been for him I wouldn't have suffered half as much as I have done. But I also got to thinking something else. I'm not the sort of guy who inspires grand passions in people, I'm too ugly and practical for that. I never thought when I was younger that anyone would ever go completely bonkers over me. But he did".
"So have I", Glynis protested.
"No, you just think you have", said Joby "Because you've got used to having me around, and we like the same sort of things. We're great friends you and me, and I hope we always will be, but we're not true lovers, soul-mates. Not really. I can't explain it Glynis, I'm not very good at this sort of thing. But I can't be without him. I just can't".
After leaving Glynis's barge Joby prowled the jetty, trying to clear his mind of the previous scene. He walked past Fradie, who was working on his typewriter like a man possessed. Joby absently wondered how he managed to experience anything to write in his journal, when he was typing it all the time. Tamaz watched him sullenly from his cage as he carried on along the jetty. He suddenly jumped to his feet and pointed at Joby through the bars.
"It's me you can't give up, as well as Kieran!" he said.
Joby sighed and ignored him. He came upon Lonts who was sitting on the edge of the jetty, dangling his bare feet in the water. Lonts made an exaggerated point of looking the other way.
"Have you seen Kieran then?" said Joby, standing over him.
"He's out paying calls", said Lonts, sulkily "And I wouldn't really have told him. I'm not a sneak like Toppy is".
Joby recalled a dream he had once had, in which he had been talking to Lonts, and Lonts had been normal, or at least as normal as normal is. It had been spooky, listening to Lonts talking blandly and sensibly, instead of with his usual emotion and passion about everything. The dream had been so vivid that when he woke up and heard the real Lonts talking, he had felt disorientated.
"I'm sorry I snapped at you earlier", Joby mumbled "But I had to clear the air with Glynis once and for all, and the thought of it was stressing me out a bit".
"I don't know what there is to get stressed out about", Lonts shrugged "You don't leave people you love. I would never leave Adam, however much I got on with someone else. Me and Julian really enjoyed being together in the hills above Zilligot Bay, but I was still glad to get back to Adam".
"I never had any intention of leaving Kieran", said Joby "But Glynis is a good friend and I didn't want to hurt her feelings. It needed careful handling. I couldn't just go charging in there like a bull at a gate like you would've done".
"Is it all sorted out now then?"
"I think so".
"You THINK so?" said Lonts, impatiently "All that talking and you still only THINK so!"
"I've done as much as I can, that's what I meant", said Joby "I can't tell Glynis what she should feel. The rest is up to her".
"Why don't we go indoors and play polar bears?" said Lonts, brightly "I asked you to play it with me three days ago and you said I'd have to wait until you was in a better mood. Well I've waited now".
"Oh Lonts, do I have to?" Joby wailed "It's too hot for one thing. No self-respecting polar bear would get excited in this heat. Tell you what, I'll shut you in Tamaz's cage and you can play it with him!"
"Joby, you've gone back on your word", said Lonts, with such gravity he sounded as though global war was imminent "You promised me".
"No I didn't", said Joby, and then gave in "Oh alright, come on then. But if you bite me or get your dick out I shall refuse to play anymore, understand?"
An exhausting twenty minutes had ensued, and at the end of it Joby left Lonts sprawled on the sofa in a sweaty heap. He went into their cabin and poured cold water into the enamel wash-bowl. He was washing himself when he heard Kieran's light, measured tred on the quarterdeck stairs. Joby always instinctively knew when it was Kieran approaching, and he wasn't mistaken this time. As Kieran opened the door, he heard Adam in the galley instructing Hillyard to take the food-pail down to Tamaz.
"If you think you can manage to do that without jumping on someone on the way", said Adam.
Kieran didn't say anything when he got into the cabin, instead he walked around the room examining the furniture.
"Are you looking for something?" asked Joby, as he dried himself on a towel.
"Your rucksack", said Kieran.
"What do you want that for?"
"I don't. I just want to know if you've packed it yet, 'cos if so I'm going to hide it".
"I'm not moving in with Glynis, you pillock", said Joby "She's a woman for a start, and they're even more hard work than you are! They play daft games, and I was never able to deal with that. You should know better than to even think it anyway".
"Just checking", Kieran shrugged "Tamaz told me just now that you'd never dream of running off and leaving him!"
"Chance'd be a fine thing", said Joby "Tell me something, were you really worried I was going to go off with Glynis?"
"The thought had crossed my mind a few times".
"That's crazy. After all we've been through together".
"I never take anyone for granted, Joby", said Kieran, sombrely "Not anyone I care about anyway".
"I'm not your dad, Kieran", Joby protested "If I say I'm staying with you, I mean it. Besides, Glynis is great but she doesn't make me laugh like you do. And I don't have to think about what I say to you all the time. And you'd probably go off the rails if I wasn't around, bringing back the Inquisition or something equally daft".
"And we can't have that", Kieran smiled.
That afternoon Adam took his sketch-pad and his case of paints (now on their last legs and thoroughly watered-down) onto the quayside. As he'd hoped, the Siamese twins were sitting on the edge, weaving and plaiting rushes into sun-hats and fans. He wasn't so delighted to find Jonner there, with his easel set-up and looking horribly self-important and industrious.
"I might have known you'd be here", Adam growled.
"They make an intriguing study don't they?" said Jonner "Can you imagine what having a twin attached to you must be like?"
"As I'm very rarely alone, yes", said Adam, feeling inhibited from getting out his ancient little pot of paints whilst Jonner was displaying such a professional kit.
"But to never be alone", said Jonner, insistently "Not even whilst performing life's most intimate functions".
Adam groaned and rolled his eyes. Like most creative artists Jonner seemed to be obsessed with sex and other bodily functions.
"I expect they miss the little things in life the most", said Adam "Like not being able to turn over in bed and sleep on their side, that kind of thing".
"Ooh yes I hadn't thought of that", said Jonner "Are you going to do a bit of daubing too then?"
"No I don't think I will", said Adam "The light's not good".
(The light was perfect).
"Don't mind me", said Jonner "I expect we'll produce two entirely different works. Two views of one aspect".
"No, the mood's passed", said Adam, feeling robbed of his precious space in which to indulge "I think I'll go back home and paint Tamaz".
He had no intention of doing any such thing, but he felt intensely irritated by Jonner's air of professionalism and had no wish to be made to feel like some bored housewife indulging in her latest faddish hobby, as a means to while away the afternoon.
Fradie looked up from his typewriter as he approached and stood up to greet him.
"I've got an idea", he said.
"Congratulations", said Adam, dumping his painting-kit on the deck "Hadn't you better write it down before you forget it?"
"No, I mean for you guys", said Fradie "This town is broke, right?"
Adam assumed this question was rhetorical, as the answer was blindingly obvious to anyone.
"Now you tell me what Toondor Lanpin's greatest potential attraction to a tourist would be", said Fradie.
"Cannabis?" said Adam.
"Nah", said Fradie, impatiently "It's people. This town is choc-full of misfits and freaks".
"Well there's no need to get so personal", said Adam.
"You sell yourselves", said Fradie "The people of this town. Put yourselves in a three-ring circus and sideshow and people would flock in from all over the world. It doesn't have to be all the time, just for a few weeks of the year, say. The Toondor Lanpin Festival. It would make enough money to fund you for the rest of the year. And there would be no chance of you having to go crawling back to the Ministry, when you're all bankrupted by the end of the year, which you will be if you carry on like this".
"The town would be full of visitors though", said Adam.
"As far as I can see it's the only way you'll keep your independence for much longer", said Fradie.
With this cheering prophecy ringing in his ears Adam went down to the saloon, where he was surprised to find Julian playing host to Madame Simone, who was sitting on the sofa, looking as inscrutable as ever under her stiff black hat.
"I was just passing and I thought I'd call in", she said, in her dinstinctive voice "Julian's been keeping me most entertained".
"Has he?" said Adam, warily.
"I'm sorry to have missed you", she said, rising out of her seat "But I can't stop as I have a client due at half-past".
"It's gone ten-to", said Julian "He'll probably have given up and gone home by now".
"Oh no", Madame Simone gave a rare smile and shook her head "To be kept waiting is yet another small part of the game. They like to be treated with indifference and contempt".
"I never knew it was so complicated", Adam sighed "Don't you ever wish they'd just ask for a cup of tea instead?"
"That wouldn't be anywhere near as much fun", said Simone, sounding extremely sinister "Would it, Adam?"
Adam showed her back up the quarterdeck stairs and then returned to the saloon.
"What have you been telling her, Jules?" he hissed.
"Getting coy in your old age aren't you?" said Julian, putting a record on the gramophone and winding the handle vigorously.
Adam caught sight of Julian's horse-whip and riding-crop lying in the corner.
"And what's all that rubbish doing out?"
"She was giving me her professional opinion on them", said Julian "The riding-crop's perfect actually".
"Not for using on me it's not", Adam retorted.
"Don't be silly, Ada darling. I meant for thrashing the others with if they get intolerable", said Julian "Cheer up for pity's sake. Madame Simone is very taken with you, and I think I've exerted a little charm on her too. I wouldn't be surprised if she wanted to adopt us, and as she's not short of money that could turn out to be quite some blessing".
"Fradie suggested we turn ourselves into a circus and freak show", said Adam, mournfully.
"I must admit the thought has crossed my mind a few times", said Julian, grabbing Adam's hand and slipping his arm round his waist "Let's have a little dance shall we?"
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site