Go back to previous chapter



By Sarah Hapgood

Winter came to Toondor Lanpin. Not as fiercely as it had done the year before, but instead it came wrapped in a chilly river-mist which blanketed the town like a pea-souper. One morning Ransey found Finia rubbing his arms in the saloon and immediately brought up the paraffin stove from the hold.

"I can't risk you catching pneumonia like you did at Wolf Castle", he said.

"Oh yes", Finia simpered "That was when you and Hillyard built my coffin for me!"

"Those were very trying circumstances", Ransey snapped "Now keep wrapped up. No walking around in sleeveless dresses. This isn't Husgalonghi you know".

"You don't say!" said Finia.

"If this stove isn't warm enough", Ransey went on "Tell Hillyard to light the fire in Julian's cabin".

"Has he gone?" Finia asked, once Ransey had left the boat.

"He's rather sweet isn't he?" said Adam.

"It's to make up for what he lacks in sex drive", said Tamaz, tartly.

"Be quiet", said Kieran "Joby wouldn't want to hear you stirring it like that".

"I am treated like a worm on this ship", said Tamaz, stamping his foot petulantly.

"Don't be a daft eejit", said Kieran "We wouldn't treat a worm like that!"

Ransey was having a very busy time of it organising the Council of Governors' meeting. Woll had agreed to host it, and now it was simply a matter of getting all the governors co-ordinated to attend. He was helped in this by the Ministry refugees, who were only too glad of something to do.

Since his hysterical outburst on the Indigo, Codlik had kept himself confined to his room at Myrtle's hotel, like a sulky teenager. His underlings had gradually got more and more exasperated with him, and were longing to explore the town. Ransey's offer of work came as a godsend, and they thoroughly enjoyed the informal air of the planning meetings, which were held every afternoon in the cellar bar, over tall glasses of cold beer. It was a vast improvement on the old Ministry meetings, held in dusty rooms crammed with box-files, where the only refreshments on offer had been cups of poisonously strong tea.

Out of earshot of Codlik they all relaxed, and gradually began to badger Ransey about acting as a tour-guide for them. Ransey immediately began to see this as a way to keep the Ministry tamed. They weren't likely to want to take over the town and change it if they were happy with it as it already was! He enlisted the help of some of the other Indigo-ites, and the fun-starved Ministry men responded like small boys let out of a particularly strict boarding-school.

Joby took them to Natalie's Den, where they became mesmerised by the roulette table, so much so that getting them away from it again proved difficult.

"You'll all end up like the sad gits who have to be chased out when the cleaner turns up in the early hours", said Joby.

The Ministry next dropped tentative hints that they wanted to visit Lady Lucasta's place. Ransey roped Hillyard in for this, and he took them all along there on evening with Bengo in tow. Much later that night Hillard and Bengo returned to the Indigo and were met by Ransey, who was sitting up in the galley wanting to hear all about it.

"Well Bengo did his spider walk for them", said Hillyard "Fradie was there too, and he insisted on giving us a song".

"He sings like he's swallowed a mouthful of razor-blades", said Bengo.

"Yes alright, get to the interesting bit", said Ransey, impatiently "What did they make of Lucasta's girls?"

"We didn't watch that bit", said Hillyard "They all went off to their own private rooms. One guy's got some dodgy habits though by all accounts. Apparently he wanted one of the girls to dress up in her outdoor clothes, and pretend she was sitting on a train, so taht he could go in and accost her".

"Oh that'll be Fatty Sofan", said Ransey, reverting to the lingo of his schooldays "He's harmless. When we were at college we used to tell each other what we'd do if we came across any women. Fatty Sofan used to fantasise that he'd meet one unexpectedly in an empty railway carriage, and he'd have her all to himself. That's where all that's coming from. He wouldn't harm a fly though. He probably never got past taking her hat off!"

All this junketing was doing wonders for diplomatic relations. Lady Lucastas's girls, the roulette table, drinks at Persephone's and in the cellar-bar, the numerous attractions of the Little Theatre, and the promise of fishing when the fog cleared, were all successfully ensuring that the old-style Ministry rule was getting well and truly buried.

"You can't possibly want to change what we do here", said Bengo, coming out to greet them during the intermission at the theatre one evening "I've been watching you from the side of the stage. You've been enjoying it all".

"Well it's not us you see, little Bengo", said Sofan, amiably "It's His Grace the President. He does feel so very strongly about some things. He just wants everyone to be happy".

"We are happy already", said Bengo, temperamentally "We don't need him to tell us how to do it. Anyway, he's not the President anymore".

The Ministry men reflected on this statement, and found they weren't unduly upset by it. Funny that.

"Kieran's the President", Bengo blurted out, recklessly.

This news sent pleasent shock-waves round the men, they immediately began to cast fevered looks at one another. This could be the answer to everything! Kieran could depose Codlik with ridiculous ease, and then the good times would continue to roll unhindered. The Council of Governors self-regulating their own areas, with Kieran as Chairman, plus acting as Governor of Toondor Lanpin, the new centre of the Universe! Everyone skipping around merrily, no rules, no dictates, all doing their own thing. It was King Arthur and the court of Camelot all over again. With no Lancelots and Guineveres to cause trouble, particularly not when Kieran had them both sleeping in the same cabin with him!

Hillyard though was looking very disconcerted.

"He hasn't said he wants that, Bengo", he said "You've no right to say that and you know it".

"I don't see what harm it can do", Bengo retorted.

"We agreed on an election next year and Codlik as Chairman", said Hillyard.

"Codlik would not be a good idea as Chairman", said Sofan, which was remarkably forthright "We would prefer that it was Kieran".

"See!" said Bengo, rebelliously.

"You're going to be in trouble when you get home", said Hillyard.

Bengo thumbed his nose at him before retiring backstage.

"Well, what have you got to say for yourself?" Julian barked "We had everything sorted out, and now you've gone and thrown a spanner in the works. Have you no idea of diplomacy, of taking things softly and gently? You don't seem to realise that we are trying to build a whole new world here, and it all has to be thought out precisely and carefully, and you go making rash promises of Kieran being President, when that is not his intention!"

"I don't see why not!" Bengo retorted, standing at the side of Julian's desk "It's what everyone else wants. Since the news got out this afternoon I've never seen so many happy, smiling faces".

"Yes, there was probably a rumour going round that you were giving up showbusiness!" Julian exclaimed "Now you listen to me, you snivelling little stage brat, I don't want another word uttered in public about this from you".

"I'm a free person, I can say what I like", said Bengo.

"Fine, say it", said Julian "But in that case you make your home elsewhere. The price of free speech at a time like this comes high on the Indigo, and it's about time you learnt that. You know how Kieran feels about becoming President again, and you've violated his wishes. You're obviously not as a loyal as I thought you were".

This was all too much for the super-sensitive Bengo. He burst into tears.

"And I don't want to listen to that!" said Julian "Now get out of here before I inflict serious damage on you".

"You're throwing me out of my home", Bengo wailed.

"I meant out of this cabin, not the boat!" said Julian.

Bengo crept to the door like a whipped dog. He passed Hillyard coming in on his way out.

"Have you beaten him?" said Hillyard, indignantly.

"No", said Julian, pouring himself a brandy "Although I seriously felt like dashing his brains out with a paper-weight!"

"Aw come on, Julian", said Hillyard, placatingly "He's only a kid".

"No he isn't", said Julian "He's 20 or 21, I can never remember which. Quite old enough to be held responsible for his own foolish words anyway. But I hold you responsible for all this, Hillyard. You were there, you should've shut him up".

"It's not as big a deal as you think", said Hillyard "There is no President's post anymore, not with self-regulation. Kieran just has to chair the meeting that's all, and perhaps be Governor of the town, if that's what everyone wants".

"Oh is that all?!" said Julian "And you think that poor little bastard hasn't had enough responsibility in his life already?!"

"I don't want it to go back to as it was before he appeared", said Hillyard, firmly "But him being in charge again won't be like it was before. We won't have to live at the Ministry H.Q for a start, and there won't be as much paperwork".

"You have a blindingly simple view of life sometimes, Hillyard", Julian rasped.

"I know how special he is", said Hillyard "I know that until this world is stable again, he is vital to it. How often have we used him as our last and vital weapon, whether it's with the Ministry, the Ghoomers, the vampires, whatever. And don't you dare say I'm putting that before how I feel about him personally, because it's not fucking true! I'm like the rest of you. Sometimes, I just long for a desert island, or to be out on the high seas again, and perhaps in the future it might happen, but at the moment he has to stay visible. God help us Julian, it can't go back to as it was before. It just can't. If he disappears then we'll lose any chance of screwing up the Ministry once and for all, of establishing a world order that is sane and humane. It has to be done this way. It just has to".

Bengo had apologised to Kieran in a very emotional way, hiccuping on his own tears. Kieran meanwhile lay on the sofa, biting the edge of a cushion, and staring fixedly at the paraffin heater.

"Stop fashing yourself, Bengo", he said, eventually "And go and wash your face".

Once alone, Kieran lay for a few minutes, feeling as though he'd had six whiskies in rapid succession. Joby came in shortly after and took him in his arms.

"It'll be alright, baby", he whispered.

"And I thought I'd get away with just rollerskating from now on", said Kieran, ruefully.

"Oh you have to do that as well!" said Joby.

"I'll tell you something Joby, if this is the way it has to be then I'm doing it my way from now on", said Kieran "No more endless paperwork and meetings, and if they don't like it they can damn well lump it".

"Listen, it's Toondor Lanpin that's the seat of power now", said Joby "Not the City. That'll make a big difference. A huge difference. And we're all staying on this boat".

"Yes, that's vital", said Kieran "Or even if anything happens to the Indigo, we move somewhere just as compact. No more huge barn-like places like the Ministry H.Q. We all have to stay close. It's only now I'm beginning to appreciate how important staying in a close physical environment is. Wolf Castle was different, that was remote and away from it all. But in the thick of it, like here, we have to keep it this way".

"So simple when you think about it really", said Joby "I expect that's why families like Julian's ended up so cold and remote with each other, there were too many rooms separating 'em".

"Well of all the bloody nerve!" Adam stormed into the saloon and slammed the door shut behind him "Lo-Lo's just thrown me out of the galley!"

"Why?" said Joby.

"He said I was being mean", said Adam, foraging a space for himself amongst them on the sofa "Just because I told Bengo off. He's now sat in there wiping Bengo's face with a tea-towel, and saying I've got no feelings, that I'm just like Julian! Normally I quite like it when Lo-Lo gets stern with me, but this was completely uncalled for!"

"Oh take no notice", said Joby "You know what a stroppy little bastard he can be".

He and Kieran sat on either side of Adam, and leaned against him restfully. This reminded them so much of their early days together that they all unanimously got quite emotional, and when Julian came into the room, followed by Hillyard, he found them all weeping nostalgically.

"Oh for pity's sake", Julian exclaimed "I wish everyone would pull themselves together. You're all carrying on like a bunch of hysterical old queens. I name this ship, the bunch of hysterical old queens, Gawd bless her and all who sail in her!"

"I'll put some music on", said Hillyard "Lonts bought some new records the other day".

"Yes they were quite a find too", said Adam, blowing his nose "A Smetana piece, and Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto. We were thrilled to get those. Put the Tchaikovsky on, Hilly. It'll be quite appropriate for our queenly behaviour".

"What's the connection?" said Joby.

"Tchaikovsky was gay, old love", said Adam "Just like you and me".

"I'm not gay", said Joby "Well at least I never think of meself that way".

"Oh Joby, you are priceless", Adam laughed "You're as bent as me!"

"Yeah, but no one would ever look at me in the street and think I was queer would they?" said Joby.

"Oh I don't know", said Julian, facetiously "The handbag and the high heels tend to be a bit of a giveaway!"

"Very funny", said Joby "The thing is, you and Adam couldn't be anything else".

"No, must be our aftershave", said Julian.

"But whereas me", said Joby "I look normal".

"Not on your life!" said Kieran.

"Bengo's alright now", said Lonts, hauling the said man in by the hand "I've cheered him up, after the way you lot all frightened him. Poor Bengo. I know what it's like to be bullied by you all. I told him you used to beat me and then ignore me for days".

"Chance would've been a fine thing", said Joby "Ignoring you for a few seconds is hard enough!"

"You exaggerate as appallingly as Tamaz, Lonts", said Julian "Talking of whom, where is the little dear?"

"In our cabin", said Adam "Ransey's keeping an eye on him through the wall".

"Is this one of our new records, Adam?" said Lonts.

"Oh you're speaking to me now are you?!" said Adam, sarcastically.

"Adam, don't be petulant with the boy", said Julian, sternly.

"I've just bolted the topside doors", said Ransey, coming into the room.

"Good", said Julian "Keep Jonner out".

"I was thinking more of the Ministry", said Ransey "I'm surprised they haven't been swarming all over us".

"Perhaps they're better at obeying written instructions than a certain cigarette-smoking man", said Julian.

Kieran stood up suddenly, as though someone had stuck a pin in him.

"I thought I heard Tamaz whimpering", he said "I'd better go and check on him".

"I'll come with you", said Joby.

"No, you stay here", said Kieran "I'll sort it out".

He found Tamaz lying on his camp-bed, writhing about in the midst of a nightmare. He was crying and muttering feverishly, as though he was trying to push someone away. Kieran managed to wake him only after some considerable difficulty.

"There's a Ghoomer in this town", Tamaz wept, as Kieran held him in his arms. Tamaz was so distressed he wound his hand around Kieran's hair and held on onto it. Kieran managed to work his hand loose eventually.

"Where?" said Kieran.

"A house on the outskirts", said Tamaz "A big house behind a field. Don't tell me it was just a dream, because it was real, I know it was".

"I believe you", said Kieran "I could sense you were upset when I was sitting in the saloon. Tomorrow we'll go and look for this house, o.k? See what we sense when we get close to it".

"Don't leave me there", said Tamaz "Please".

"I won't leave you for a single moment", said Kieran.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License.

Go forward to next chapter

Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site