Go back to previous chapter
"You're all mad!" Codlik suddenly erupted, like Alice at the court of the Queen of Hearts "It can't be done that way. Life isn't that easy".
"Who says?" said Joby.
"It can be as easy as we make it", said Adam.
"No, NO!" Codlik hauled himself to his feet with great effort. Years of semi-abstinence had made him very susceptible to getting intoxicated quickly "I won't have it! I won't be lectured by you! You're all freaks! I mean, look at him", he pointed at Tamaz "What d'you call that creature? He? She? It?!"
"We call him Tamaz", said Lonts, in bewilderment.
"We were going to have him killed", Codlik blurted out "Tried and executed, as was his due. No one would have argued against it".
Hillyard walked round the table and picked Tamaz up, prior to taking him from the room so that he wouldn't have to listen to Codlik's ravings.
"I'm still eating", said Tamaz, indignantly.
"I'll bring something in to you later", said Joby "Go with Hillyard, now".
Hillyard carried Tamaz from the room. Julian approached Codlik.
"I'd like to remind you that you're in our home", he said "And you've just insulted one of us, so for goodness sake calm down or I'll have to ask you to leave".
"I'm the fucking President!" Codlik roared, now completely out of his tree "You can't talk to me this way. None of you can. You're all freaks! I'm leaving of my own free will. I'm leaving!"
Codlik kept such a low profile after his insane outburst that it was almost as if he had never existed. Kieran said that Codlik had built his whole career, nay his whole life, around his caring image, and it would be hard for him to recover from such a terrible loss of control. Even so, he found it hard to feel truly sorry for him. All of them, from Julian right down to Toppy, had got heartily sick over the years of being regarded as freaks and misfits. The only place they truly fitted in was with each other, and for several days there was a subdued mood on the Indigo.
This wasn't entirely unpleasent, in fact it was quite restful. Julian enforced the "no non-residents aboard" rule, and it worked so well they decided to keep it. Codlik's presence had been the last straw. Let everyone else look sneering at them if they wished, but they weren't going to do it to them in their own home.
When they finally resumed their customary links with the outside world it was with an even more defined sense of unity. They no longer gave a hoot if they were too insular. Nonetheless they still had friends in the outside world, and Joby took Lady Red to the casino for an afternoon treat one day. There he astounded her by putting all his newly-won stake on zero at the roulette table, and then saw it come up, which ensured that he'd won triple what he would normally have done.
"If I had more energy I'd help you celebrate", said Red, when Joby took her home.
He helped her into bed and left everything she needed within easy reach. Back at the Indigo he took great pleasure in pulling wads of notes and coins out of his bulging trouser pockets and handing them at random to everyone.
"That's to you for being a good boy and saying your prayers", he said to Kieran, and then handed another lot to Lonts.
"Can I afford a new gramophone record with this?" Lonts asked.
"Get yourself about six", said Joby, handing him some more.
Tamaz was sulking in the saloon because he hadn't seen Joby since lunchtime. Joby sat on the arm of the sofa and flicked the wad of notes near his face. Tamaz snatched them and thrust them down his cleavage, where the wad bulged comically like a third breast.
"You're always so appreciative", said Joby, facetiously. *
Bengo went back to work the following day, and on returning to his dressing-room after the matinee performance he found a note from Fradie, urging him to call round when he was ready. Bengo dragged himself to Fradie's bedsit with the greatest reluctance. When he got there it was worse than he feared. He knew Fradie had been bursting with ideas for the Christmas show, and for some time now had promised (threatened?) to produce a completely new routine for it. Bengo was about to be treated to a dress rehearsal of the entire sad spectacle.
Two nubile young blonde women and a rather gormless-looking, and it must be said, decidedly ageing, lad-about-town were to inflict their extravaganza on him.
"This is what it needs", said Fradie, who had pushed his table to one side ad put a mattress on the floor to serve as 'the stage' "A bit of pep!"
The girls promptly engaged in a pillow fight, which entailed them losing their clothes. Then, for no apparent reason it seemed, Gormless walked in on them wearing a long black coat, which he flung open to reveal that he was naked underneath (oh lucky audience!). His obvious next move was to roger one of the girls, but his body didn't seem willing to co-operate.
"Get your act together", Fradie exclaimed "You'll have us laughed off the stage".
"I can't", Gormless bleated "It's having Bengo sitting there watching. I just can't, it's putting me off, I can't get it up!"
"You'll have a lot more than Bengo in the audience on the night", said Fradie.
"I wouldn't bank on that if I was you", said Bengo, and he got up and left.
"Hey!" Fradie followed him out into the corridor "Give a guy a break. This is what the show needs. Your stuff's all very coochie-coo for the kiddies' matinee, but the everning perf needs stronger meat".
"Listen you jerk", said Bengo, in exasperation "If people want pornography they can read one of Mezlin's books".
"This'll get bums on seats", Fradie protested.
"For the first show perhaps", said Bengo "And then most'll get bored and stay away after that. Why should they come and watch this, when for the same price they can go to Lady Lucasta's and do it for themselves?!"
"But ..." said Fradie.
"I'm sick of you keep harping on about sex all the time. You make it all so damn tacky", said Bengo "Sex is just sex. You either have it or you don't, and most men have it when they think about it. Can't you, just for once, THINK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE?!"
Fradie watched as Bengo stormed off.
"Cantankerous little bugger", he muttered.
Feeling as though he'd like to scrub himself down with sandpaper, Bengo walked down the long main street of the town in a filthy temper. He badly wanted to let off steam to someone, and decided to throw himself at the first Indigo-ite he met. Unfortunately the first one he came across was Toppy, and Bengo thought the boy would probably die of fright if he tried any such thing.
Toppy was sauntering along in his best outfit, wearing a new wide-brimmed hat he had purchased only that morning. He had affected a nonchalent stroll, obviously apeing Julian's confident swagger, what Adam called his "poseur on parade" walk. As soon as he saw Bengo he wilted in embarrassment.
"I need a beer", said Bengo, abruptly "Come with me".
He took him down into the cellar-bar, where some people were having an early dinner of beef soup and sour cream.
"I envy Fradie", said Toppy, when Bengo had told him of his afternoon's activities.
"Why?" said Bengo, in astonishment.
"Because at least he's at ease about sex", said Toppy "I doubt I'll ever be. Oh I know what you're going to say. It's what everyone says. That it'll all come right in time".
"Because it will", said Bengo "We've all been through what you're going through".
"How can it be so?" Toppy exclaimed "When I don't even know what it is I want?! I don't understand you, Bengo. I remember before we first came to Toondor Lanpin, I overheard you saying to Finia that if there were women around you'd probably fancy them, so why don't you?"
"Because I mistook like for fancying", said Bengo "I do like women, I like them a lot. Like Kieran does, he says he's in love with all women, and yet he still goes home to Joby! Well I guess that when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, I'd rather have men. Toppy, it'll all work out, I promise you. When I was still a virgin I had sex on the brain. I could barely think about anything else. I just wanted to break through the barrier, because I knew it'd be easier once I had. Do you think we're all born knowing exactly what we want?! Get real, of course we don't! It's all about trial and error until we find what suits us".
"What if I decide I prefer women?" said Toppy, defiantly.
"So what?" Bengo laughed "I'm hardly going to have you strung up for it! Neither is anyone else. There are plenty of girls in this town ..."
"And all of them coarse", Toppy spat.
Bengo had to fight down a great urge to thump him. Going from Fradie to Toppy in such a short space of time was enough to drive anyone mad!
They left the cellar-bar soon after, and said little to each other as they walked down the rest of the street. Outside one of the cafes Bengo was relieved to see Kieran, Joby, Lonts and Tamaz sitting round a large carafe of wine. It wasn't the first, and they were all gently soused.
"Aren't you cold?" said Bengo "It's getting a bit nippy out here".
"Still a vast improvement on this time last year", said Kieran "Cockroach Mansions and all that".
Toppy went inside to use the facilities, and Bengo hastily blurted out that the sooner they all found a nice, sensible lover the better for everyone.
"Some of the things he comes out with fill me with despair", Bengo cried "He reminds me of that pathetic second-lead we've got at the theatre. All crumpet and no warm blood. He actually said the other day that he found kissing distasteful, as people's mouths were full of germs! Toppy's going exactly the same way".
"Yeah, we'd better get him sorted out soon", said Joby "He's gonna end up like Kenneth Williams at this rate. Not wanting to use the same loo as anyone else, that kind of thing".
"But all this needs a wee bit of thought", said Kieran "No taking him off to Lady Lucasta's again. It was a disaster last time. He refused to take off his vest!"
"That was bloody Hillyard's fault that was", said Joby "Him and Fradie cooked it up between 'em. Still, I mean it's not surprising Toppy's peculiar. What does he get living with us lot? Wall-to-wall buggery, and Lonts trying to get into his pants!"
"I haven't done that in ages!" said Lonts "Toppy's hopeless when it comes to sex. I think you're all wasting your time".
"Toppy will always be a lousy lover", Tamaz electrified them all by saying "He thinks he's too superior to everyone else".
"See!" said Lonts "Tamaz can read minds, he knows".
"Maybe, but it's the pot calling the kettle black", said Joby "After all, Toppy isn't the most spoilt little git on the Indigo is he?!"
"No, Tamaz might have a point", said Kieran "Toppy's problem does seem to be that he is far too sneering of everyone else. He's a brown noser, pure and simple. He's in awe of anyone he considers superior to him, and condemns anyone below. Either way it's not a good prognosis for being a red-hot lover now is it!"
"So what can we do?" said Bengo.
"Leave him to stew", said Tamaz.
"Oh you're a great help you are!" said Joby.
"He doesn't really want a lover", Tamaz shrugged "He just thinks he should have one, that's all. I think you're all wasting your time".
"Toppy's coming back!" Lonts hised, in such a stage whisper that Toppy would have had to have been completely deaf not to have heard him.
"Are you all talking about me" said Toppy, nervously.
"Don't be silly, Toppy", said Lonts "We wouldn't talk about you, you're boring".
"That's quite enough of that!" said Kieran, so sternly that Lonts's bottom lip trembled "Sit down, Toppy. I think in his own hamfisted way Lonts was trying to reassure you".
"I suppose Bengo's been telling you all about me", said Toppy, sitting down next to Lonts.
"Well you know all about us, so we might as well know all about you", said Kieran.
"And you're all going to say the same thing", said Toppy, wearily "That you all went through the same".
"No, I went through far worse", said Joby "I wasn't much older than you are now when we crossed over. I had to rethink everything, right from scratch. And I had to put up with Adam teasing me about it".
"Aw come on now, he didn't do that all the time", said Kieran "It's just he knew you better than you knew yourself, and you couldn't accept it. But you did in the end".
"And then there was no turning back", said Tamaz flippantly, rearranging his fur stole.
"I'm glad to say", said Kieran.
"Well J-Joby ..." Toppy stammered "H-how did you overcome it ... f-for the first time. Get the nerve I mean".
"I got fed up with missing out", said Joby "It was making me so unhappy. I was almost going out of me head with it all. Kieran was so close all the time, and yet I still didn't have him. You tell him, Kiel".
"So he got drunk one night", said Kieran "And persuaded Adam to take him on. Come the morning, he felt brave enough to come after me, and jaysus, did it make life easier once he had!"
"I want to go home", said Tamaz, haughtily.
"Well you're gonna have to wait aren't yer!" said Joby "We're talking".
"I did the same with Adam", said Lonts "I just went downstairs to him one night and that was that".
"But how did you know that was the right time?" said Toppy.
"I just wanted to be with Adam", said Lonts "I wanted us to be completely together".
Toppy looked bitterly disappointed by all this. He wanted it written out on tablets of stone, with everything clearly earmarked as to how, when, where and with whom it would all happen. As it stood, it was all too confused and vague for his liking.
"Let's all go home like Tamaz suggested", said Bengo "It's getting cold out here".
"Good idea", said Kieran.
Late that night Bengo walked into the saloon in search of Hillyard. The others were all in bed and everything was quiet. Very much Mood Indigo.
"Can I sleep in your bunk with you, Hillyard?" he asked "Only Julian's already asleep, and if I disturb him getting in he might get cross".
"You don't have to ask", said Hillyard "You can come in with me anytime".
"So what have you been doing today?" said Bengo, trying to sound casual.
"At the bath-house?"
"Well I haven't got any other job", Hillyard chuckled.
"Doing what there exactly?" said Bengo, to his friend's obvious surprise.
"Handing out soap and towels, putting in more hot water when it's asked for, clearing up the locker rooms, helping a couple of oldies in and out".
"Nope", said Hillyard "No one wanted a massage today".
"What about a blow-job?" said Bengo, suddenly.
"No one wanted one of those either", said Hillyard "It's been quite quiet really. Are you ready to turn in now?"
"I wish we were out on the high seas", Bengo exclaimed.
"Wouldn't you miss the theatre somewhat?"
"I'm tired of the theatre".
"I find that hard to believe!" said Hillyard.
"Well I am", said Bengo "Everyone else seems to have better ideas for the Christmas show than we do, and I'm bored with our routine. We've been doing the same pitch for too long. I'm sick of washing shaving foam out of my hair twice a day".
"Look, what's the real matter?" said Hillyard, putting his arm round Bengo's shoulders "I can't believe it's the theatre. You were all excited about the Christmas show last night when we talked about doing one for the governors at Woll's place. Is it anything I've done?"
"No it's not you", said Bengo, emotionally "I just sometimes wish we were all alone in the swamp again. It's funny, but I can't remember missing the theatre when we were travelling".
"I think I know what this is about", said Hillyard "It was Codlik and his stupid outburst the other night. That's what's really upset you isn't it?"
"He was like a mad person", said Bengo "I still don't understand what happened".
"He's been under a lot of strain lately", said Hillyard "And I suppose he just flipped. It can't have helped with us all sitting there calmly telling him he was out of a job! It weren't very tactful".
"Well what he said wasn't very tactful either!" said Bengo "Let us travel again, Hillyard. Can't you persuade Julian to take the Indigo out again? I won't complain, not once ..."
"I find that very hard to believe", said Julian, the following morning. He was lying on his stomach on his bunk with a bandana wrapped round his head, whilst Hillyard gave him a vigorous massage. Finia stood to one side in his nightgown, mixing oils and lotions on top of the washstand.
"Complaining is like a drug to Bengo", Julian continued "A born prima donna".
"I expect Fradie got on his nerves yesterday too", said Finia.
"Fradie's enough to try the patience of a saint!" said Julian "It's a great shame he's so avowedly heterosexual, he would be a perfect partner for Hillyard here. They could bonk each other senseless until the cow's come home!"
"Bengo's upset about all sorts of things", said Hillyard "Codlik, Fradie, perhaps he's had one custard pie too many thrown at him too".
"I must admit I don't know how he can put up with that all the time", said Finia "I'm not surprised he wants to be back in the swamp!"
"We would all like to be away from this unceasing train of humanity occasionally", said Julian "But Tinkerbell won't dare leave Toondor Lanpin at the moment, in case the Ministry use his absence to gain a foothold here. Perhaps next year when we've had the election, things might be more secure and we can leave".
"I'll believe that when I see it", said Hillyard, and he began to pummel Julian aggressively.
"Hillyard!" Julian roared "Tone it down a bit. I'm an old man, not a bloody boxer in training! If I fancied a bit of rough stuff I'd fetch the razor-strop for you and we could make it more exciting!"
"Not until I've had me breakfast", said Hillyard "My stomach's gurgling with the smell of that ham and eggs cooking".
"Right, Finia can oil me now", said Julian.
Before Finia could do so Toppy burst into the room.
"Julian!" he cried "That Jonner person's outside!"
"I'll be hearing those words in my grave", Julian groaned "Hillyard, go outside and inform him that we are closed to non-residents, as it's quite apparent he can't read!"
"Jonner says he is a resident", said Toppy.
"Over my dead body!" Julian exclaimed, with feeling "The idea of him creeping around here permanently is too ghastly to contemplate!"
"I'll go and talk to him", said Hillyard, wrapping his bath-robe around him.
"And tell him he's got a bloody nerve calling round at this unearthly hour anyway", said Julian.
"It's twenty-past eleven", said Finia.
"Exactly", said Julian "It's not even noon yet. What does he think we do, hold coffee-mornings?!"
When he emerged from his cabin a few minutes later, Julian was annoyed to hear voices still wafting down the quarterdeck steps from topside.
"Why can't Hillyard ever just carry out a simple order?" he said, going into the galley where Adam was busily engaged in churning out a pile of buckwheat pancakes. The large dishes of ham and eggs were slowly congealing on the table.
"I don't know", Adam snapped "All I know is if you lot don't come and eat this soon it'll be pointless. And I don't care if I do sound like Hirrid. There are times when I know exactly how he must have felt. Cooking breakfast for nearly a dozen people is not necessarily a fun way to start the day!"
"Alright, keep your corsets on", said Julian "Where's Joby anyway? He's supposed to be your galley assistant".
"He's still in bed", said Adam.
"Well get the lazy little oik out of it then", said Julian.
"I didn't like to, Jules", said Adam "He was fast asleep when I looked in just now. He and Patsy were lying there so peacefully I didn't have the heart to wake them. Particularly as it's quite chilly this morning too. Julian, I must talk to you later".
"Talk to me now", said Julian, sitting down at the table and forking food onto his plate.
"No I need to be sure we won't be interrupted", Adam dropped his voice confidentially "It's about Toppy. I'm rather worried about him".
"He looks alright to me", said Julian.
"He keeps asking me questions", said Adam "About sex".
"Oh good grief, we haven't got to explain the birds and the bees to him have we?" said Julian "I know he's innocent for his age, but that's ridiculous!"
"He asked just now to explain all about anal sex", said Adam "He just came out with it completely out of the blue. Wanted to know all the technical details, and if it hurts so much why do people do it!"
"Ada, I'm sure you will explain it all beautifully", said Julian.
"But Jules, I'm terribly worried about him, he could get into a dreadful mess", said Adam "He's so sensitive. One bad experience at his age and he could be mentally scarred for life. You and I were so lucky, we had each other".
"Toppy is not going to have sex with anyone", said Julian, firmly "I've told you before, he'll always be a virgin. This is just a phase he's going through. He'll come to his senses eventually. He's one of life's celibates, harsh fact".
"Even if that is true we still have to find some way of handling this", said Adam "We're the closest thing to parents he's ever going to have. We can't just leave him to flounder. He's hopelessly confused and mixed-up at the moment. Living with us cant' be at all good for him in his state".
"Rubbish", said Julian "He's living in a warm, loving environment, where sex is treated openly and honestly, not as some grubby behind the bikesheds activity. It's that kind of attitude that scars people, where they can't discuss things frankly. Stop looking so worried, we'll sort it".
"We're going to have to let him in", said Hillyard, coming into the room "Jonner I mean. He's in a bit of a state".
"Good", said Julian.
"What's the matter with him?" said Adam, flipping the last buckwheat pancake onto the pile.
"His head's hanging off probably", said Julian.
"His boyfriend's finished with him", said Hillyard.
"His boyfriend?" said Julian "What boyfriend? Where's he been keeping him, in his cigarette box?!"
"All fags together as Fradie would put it", said Adam "Oh I know it's a pretty dire joke, but it's the best I can do at this hour".
"He says they go back years", said Hillyard, sitting down at the table "They were in that weird commune together. Then this boyfriend came and stayed with him for a while recently, and now he says he's leaving for good. These eggs are a bit rubbery, Ad".
"Oh dear!" said Adam, sarcastically.
"It sounds like some ridiculous domestic tiff to me", said Julian "And of absolutely no concern to us. Hillyard, drag your fat arse back up on deck and tell him so".
"You drag your fat arse up on deck and tell him", said Hillyard "I'm having my breakfast".
"Can I come in?" said Jonner, wispily "Only it's cold up there. Would you mind if I warmed myself by your stove?"
"It's Little Nell!" said Julian, tartly.
Ransey and Finia came into the room.
"I would get something down you quick if I were you", said Julian.
"Your rule about non-residents didn't last long did it!" Ransey snapped at Julian.
"Don't lay into me, four-eyes", said Julian "It wasn't my idea to let him in".
"Is that maple syrup?" said Jonner, leering at the jug Adam had set on the table "For the pancakes?"
"I'm assuming you've already eaten, Jonner", said Adam sternly, which had an immediate chastening effect on the said man.
"That's what's need around here", said Ransey "A bit of firm leadership".
"My influence obviously", said Julian, unabashed.
Everyone else filed in soon after, which meant Jonner found himself being nudged around the table to make room for them all.
"What's he doing in here?" said Joby, bluntly.
"His boyfriend's finished with him", said Hillyard.
"He is not staying here", Lonts boomed, thunderously.
"W-what did your boyfriend say to you, Jonner?" asked Toppy, with solemn and earnest interest.
"He said he wanted to experiment more with other people", said Jonner.
"What was your boyfriend's name, Dr Mengele?!" said Julian "And does he do vivisection? If so, we'll send Tamaz to him".
"The sooner the better", said Ransey "He climbed through the hole in the wall and woke me up this morning".
"I'd better fix that for you today", said Hillyard.
"I won't hold my breath", said Ransey.
"Did you want him to stay with you?" said Toppy, who seemed to be the only one taking Jonner seriously.
"Yes", said Jonner "I got to rather like being in a couple".
"You can't have had long of it", said Joby "He was nowhere in sight at the Hallowe'en show".
"It's been on and off for some time", said Jonner "Mostly off. I really wish I hadn't been born this way".
"Is vivisection something unpleasent?" said Tamaz.
"You bet!" said Julian.
"Then why have I got to have it done to me?" said Tamaz, indignantly "Isn't it enough that you starve and beat me, keep me naked, and work me like a slave?!"
"Tamaz, your ability to stretch the truth is quite awe-inspiring", said Julian "You sit there wearing a ridiculously expensive piece of satin and lace, stuffing your face with pancakes and syrup, and accuse me of starving you and keeping you naked! And I wouldn't call asking you to scrub a table and peel a few spuds as working you like a slave either".
"Being gay is no fun!" said Jonner, with desperation.
"Oh I don't know, it has its moments", said Kieran.
"It's like anything, depends who you're with", said Joby.
"Gay men are more sexually promiscuous than straight men", said Jonner.
"My gran would've said ALL men are sexually promiscuous given half a chance!" said Joby.
"Only the English", said Kieran.
"Who was it who said all Englishmen have sex on the brain, which isn't the best place for it!?" said Adam.
"Betjeman I think", said Julian.
"What is so wrong with monogamy?" said Jonner.
"Absolutely nothing, old love", said Adam.
"Swans mate for life", said Julian "And they are one of the most spiteful, bad-tempered species on earth".
"Well I can see what your philosopy is", said Jonner, angrily "None of you practice monogamy on here do you?!"
"I do", said Lonts, fiercely.
This served to make Jonner shut up like a clam.
"If you practice it, why did you have sex with Julian above Zilligot Bay?" said Toppy, with great daring.
"Toppy, you are so stupid", said Lonts "It doesn't count within the family!"
"What a wonderfully practical approach Eskimo's have towards sex", said Julian.
"We are all monogamous with each other", said Adam.
"Yeah", said Joby "And don't start up again, Jonner. Codlik pissed us off enough the other night with his ranting. All people seem to do is come on here and have a go at us".
"Hence the sign outside, you see", said Kieran.
Lonts rose to his feet magnificently.
"I'm going up on deck", he said "To have my morning pipe".
And that seemed to be the last word on the subject.
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site