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"If I never see another picture of a Virus-infected body it'll be too soon", said Kieran, testily "Everytime another batch of 'em dies one of the brothers comes running back up here to show me a photo of it!"
"The important thing is that you are uninfected", said the medical officer at the monastery "The Virus has such a short gestation period that you would definitely be exhibiting signs by now if you were".
"And there's no sign of an outbreak in the town?" said Kieran.
"All is clear", said the M.O "We'll keep you up here for another day or so just to be perfectly sure that none of you are infected, and then you can go home".
Kieran stood patiently whilst one of the monks dressed him. He was perfectly capable of dressing himself, and yet the Arch Pater's valet deemed it such an honour to wait on him that Kieran felt a heel when he tried to refuse. The little man was very well-meaning, but he lacked Hillyard's deftness as a valet. It was yet another reason why he would be glad to get home.
The Medical Officer's room overlooked the central courtyard round which the mountain-top monastery was arranged. The December air was decidedly fresh up here, but Kieran missed the damp bustle of Toondor Lanpin. They had been here for a week, effectively in quarantine, whilst a contingent of the monks guarded the Ghoomer settlement, ready to burn it and salt it when the last victim died.
They had slept in the communal dormitories along with the monks, and Kieran occupied his days strolling around, trying to fit in with monastic life, and being hailed reverently wherever he went. Sometimes this got very farcical. In the cook-house meat was swept out of sight the moment he appeared, in case his vegetarian sensitivities were outraged in any way. If he met monks in the chapel, they made exaggerated signs of obeisance, and played with candles and holy water as though they were Satanists casting spells. It all reminded him of the old joke about Christ arriving unexpectedly at the Vatican, and the Pope imploring everyone to "look busy, just look busy!"
It was in the laundry-room though that he finally lost his temper. Tamaz's underwear had caused an enormous fuss when it appeared in there, and Kieran walked in to find a couple of monks coyly inspecting the little red rosebuds embroidered on the hem of his drawers. "The sooner we get some female monks up here the better!" he had exploded "You're like a bunch of 10-year-olds!"
The brass bell in the courtyard clanged as a signal to the gate-keeper to open the huge double doors that led to the outside world.
"Not more photo's from the front I hope", said Kieran.
"No, that'll be the supply wagon coming back from town", said the M.O "If all goes well you'll be returning home when the next one goes out".
Joby had been having an afternoon nap in the dormitory, and was woken by the bell clanging. He had had a mixed stay at the monastery, but he had surprised himself by not disliking it as much as he'd expected. It was a calm place on the whole, and being a creature of habit at heart, he had quite liked the way the daily routine here had its own little rituals. It was also nice to be away from the endless sexual shenanigans of the neighbours, especially Glynis's irritatingly reproachful presence. He also got to see a lot more of Kieran, as there wasn't a whole town for him to wander off into for hours on end, and it amused Joby greatly to see the way he handled the monks.
The downside was that he missed the other Indigo-ites, especially Adam and Lonts, and he found it disturbing when he couldn't hear Lonts's voice anywhere. The other downside was that Tamaz spent his entire time in an excitable state. The monks were either curious or entranced by this bizarre and yet strangely alluring creature in their midst. Tamaz knew this only too well, and hammed it up for all it was worth. He carried on like a hyper-sexed officer's wife at a remote army barracks. Not a day went past when Tamaz couldn't be found "shaking his arse round the courtyard", as Joby put it.
The first thought that went through Joby's head now was that he'd better go and find Tamaz, and see what mayhem he'd managed to wreck today. He sighed and swung his legs off the communal plank bed which ran down the centre of the room. It was cosily warm in the dormitory, lit as it was by two stoves at either end, and he felt no great wish to go traipsing round the courtyard. Nonetheless he put his coat on and went outside.
The supply wagon was taking up a lot of space, and monks were busy carrying foodstuffs into the far end of the cook-house. As he couldn't see him anywhere, Joby had a strong inkling that that was where Tamaz could be found. Usually propping up one of the refectory tables, and eating whatever was to hand.
"JO-O-O-BY!" came a loud cry from behind him.
Joby looked round to find Lonts standing by the food-wagon.
"Lonts", he said "What the hell are you doing here?"
Lonts suddenly came hurtling towards him. Joby looked round frantically for somewhere to dive for cover. On ascertaining that there was nowhere, he resigned himself to a feeling akin to being hit with a cannon-ball. Lonts threw himself at him, rugby-tackling him to the floor, and smothering him with kisses.
"Joby, I've missed you so much", he cried "Have you missed me?"
"Yes, look can I get up off the ground, Lonts?" said Joby, breathlessly "Only it's cold down here".
Lonts hauled him to his feet but continued to bear-hug him.
"It's not been the same without you, Joby", he said, emotionally "I've been so worried, and the evenings were really long without you three around. I was having to put up with Toppy, and he's no company at all. All he talks about all the time is buying furniture, which is really boring".
"Lonts, does Adam know you're here?" said Joby, finally getting a word in edgeways.
"Of course he does, Joby", said Lonts "He's here too. You'll see him in a minute, he's talking to the driver. We both came up on the food-wagon, just to see you. We're going to stay here tonight and then take you home tomorrow".
"There you are", Adam came striding towards them "What have you got to say for yourself, Joby? I've been worried sick. You and Patsy go off for a night at a hotel with Freaky, and the next thing I know you're in quarantine at a mountain-top monastery! Where's Patsy at the moment?"
"He's seeing the M.O", said Joby.
"Why, what's the matter with him?"
"Just another check-up to make sure he hasn't got the Virus".
"Oh really!" Adam cried, in exasperation "The past few days have been an absolute nightmare. We've had Ransey and Hillyard scuttling about like a couple of arsonists, the whole town has been squawking like a hen-coop with a fox outside!"
"Don't give Kieran a hard time when you see him", said Joby, firmly "We did what we thought we had to do, and it turned out alright in the end".
"And I'm very glad it did", Adam hugged him.
"You're frozen", said Joby, touching his hands "Come into the cook-house, they've usually got some soup on the go".
Inside the said building Tamaz was sitting on the edge of the table, nibbling at an oak-cake. He stopped to stare at them with his mouth open when they entered the room.
"I might've known you'd be in here", said Joby.
"Hello Tamaz", said Lonts "I bet it's been boring for you at a monastery hasn't it?"
"No so's you'd notice", said Joby "He's been carrying on like the star-turn at a brothel!"
Joby fetched them all bowls of vegetable broth, and the four of them sat down to eat.
"Lo-Lo and I are on the run if the truth be told", said Adam "Jules has been impossible these past few days, he just kept bossing me around constantly. 'Get back to your studio, Adam', 'shut up, Adam', 'stop worrying all the time, Adam'. So I thought, oh hell I've had enough of this, I'm going to do something macho and decisive. I'm going to come up here and bring you all home".
"He didn't die of gangrene poisoning then?" said Joby.
"Well of course he didn't, the gangrene wouldn't have stood a chance!" said Adam "If he carries on again when we get back, I shall seriously think of joining this order permanently. Brother Adam has a nice ring to it, don't you think?"
Kieran came in soon after, and Adam gently reproached him for the terse note he'd sent him.
"That might've been the last thing I'd had from you", said Adam.
"Yeah well it wasn't", said Joby, bringing over a bowl of soup for Kieran.
"Now it's all done we can look forward to the Christmas show", said Lonts.
"I'm afraid Bengo's in a bit of a state at the moment", said Adam.
"Some things never change", Joby groaned.
"Fradie did a rotten write-up on his act for our local rag", said Adam "Said the whole thing had an end-of-the-pier feel to it, and Bengo was kidding himself if he thought the audience would be satisfied by the sight of him in a jock-strap. It was all so bitchy one would have thought Julian had written it!"
"There's a feud going on between Fradie and Bengo at the moment", said Kieran "That's what's behind all this".
"Oh God it's gonna be a long winter", Joby sighed "Can we stay up here?"
"Don't you think this lot need a break from Tamaz?" Kieran laughed.
Tamaz slammed down his spoon and crossed his arms huffily.
"Tamaz, why don't you show me around the monastery?" said Lonts.
"That's a good idea", said Kieran "Go on, Tamaz".
"Is Tamaz alright?" said Adam, once Tamaz and Lonts had left the room "He seems a bit put out by something".
"I expect nobody's flirted with him for about 30 seconds", said Joby.
"I hope it's nothing more than that", said Adam "You two can be a bit insensitive sometimes, and remember Tamaz is half-female".
"We don't get much chance to forget!" Joby exclaimed.
Tamaz took Lonts to the chapel first, which got Lonts weepily nostalgic because it reminded him of the one in Kiskev (even if they had kept their dogs in it!). Lonts enjoyed himself lighting candles though, and Tamaz made blowing patterns on the bowl of holy water.
He then took him to the robing-room, where the monks kept their cassocks, ceremonial outfits, and their civilian clothes. Tamaz tried on a hat which was too big for him, and which looked comical on top of his long hair.
"Would I look pornographic in a cassock?" he asked, holding one up to him "With my tits I mean".
"I don't think so", said Lonts "These are baggy. I don't expect your bosom would show up under one. They're not big enough. Glynis's might, because she's got big ones".
"Glynis's look like a pile of dough parted down the middle", said Tamaz, tartly "How anyone can fancy her I don't know. She has all the sex appeal of a bottle of milk!"
"You are funny, Tamaz", Lonts laughed "You come out with really funny things sometimes. I like talking to you".
Tamaz kissed him suddenly on the lips.
"No, Tamaz, you shouldn't", he said.
"Why, frightened you'll enjoy it?" said Tamaz "So what if you did, I wouldn't hurt you".
"But you might get pregnant, and then everyone would blame me", said Lonts.
"I don't have to be fucked like a woman, you know", Tamaz sighed and rolled his eyes "That's all I ever hear is people going on about me getting pregnant. I'm sick of it. I am half-boy you know. I'm the most versatile human being you'll ever get".
"Are you glad you kept your wang?" said Lonts "I've heard the Ministry tried to get you to have it removed, like Finia did his".
"Yes, they went on about it a lot at one time", said Tamaz, reflectively "Wanted me to become a whole woman. I didn't just refuse out of spite though. I don't want to be completely female, I enjoy my boy's side just as much. I'd lose a lot of my hunting skills if I was just female. And if I was just female I'd become all boring like bloody Glynis".
"We all like you as you are", said Lonts.
"Will Joby always like me, do you think?" said Tamaz "Or will he get fed up with me eventually?"
"No he won't, Joby's not like that", said Lonts "He loves you. It's not just sex. It's like how he feels for Kieran".
Joby appeared a few minutes later, saying that he'd been looking for them all over the monastery.
"I'm surprised you're not in here with your clothes off, knowing you", he said to Tamaz.
"Why don't you ever say something nice to me?" Tamaz burst into tears "You just kept telling me off these past few days, everytime you see me".
"Because you keep misbehaving that's why", said Joby, peering into his face "Don't upset youself now. You've just got me jealous at times, that's all".
"I thought you'd like seeing everyone else fancy me", Tamaz retorted.
"But I don't need them to show me how attractive you are", said Joby "I already know. You're wonderful. Extraordinary".
"You don't want me to be completely female then?" said Tamaz "Like Glynis?"
"I wish everyone would shut up about Glynis", said Joby "I don't want you to be fully female, anymore than I want Kieran to be! I fell in love with you, you twerp. When I fell for Kieran I didn't do it on condition he suddenly became a brunette or an Englishman! I wanted him as he was, although perhaps a bit more weight on him would be nice, if only to stop me worrying so much! Why have you got upset about Glynis?"
"She wound me up that evening in the hotel restaurant", said Tamaz "Thinks she's so damn sexy, and thinks she has an advantage over me because she's fully female. Smug cow".
"How come it was you and Kieran I was with then, eh?" said Joby.
He kissed him tenderly.
"Is everything alright now?" said Lonts, anxiously.
"Yeah", Joby sighed.
"Toppy said to me yesterday that he never wants a lover because it's nothing but trouble", said Lonts "I think Toppy's a fool".
"It's his choice", said Joby "But he's gonna miss a lot!"
That evening they attended a concert in the chapel, which was a rather gloomy affair. Four monks played some doleful pieces using a clarinet, horn, cello and trumpet. Afterwards Adam remarked to Kieran that it was the most depressing concert he had ever been to.
"We should re-name them the Mournful Monks Quartet", he said, when they all undressed in the dormitory later.
The monks had cleared a space for them in one of the corners and the five of them were to sleep there.
"What do you do with Tamaz at night?" said Adam "To make sure he doesn't get into trouble I mean".
"Me and Joby stick him between us", said Kieran "Like a bolster!"
"Joby seems to be rather sad about the thought of returning home tomorrow", said Adam.
"Well I've always felt Joby had the makings of a good monk", said Kieran "He could work in the kitchen garden here. I could imagine him in a large brown apron and a straw hat".
"If it wasn't for Jules I would quite like it myself", said Adam "I could work in the cook-house. But I have to get back for Julian's sake".
"I don't see why", said Joby "He's got Hillyard to keep an eye on him, and Finia, and Bengo, and Toppy".
"Yes I know, but I would miss him", said Adam "He's like you are with Tamaz. They drive you mad, but you can't imagine life without them. Tamaz, your drawers have got rather baggy. What have you been doing with them?"
"It wasn't me, it was that stupid laundry here", said Tamaz, peeling off his t-shirt "They were my favourites too. Joby will have to buy me some new ones".
"Oh I will, will I?!" said Joby "You've already got enough to open your own lingerie shop!"
"Yes, but I always want more", Tamaz coiled his arms round Joby's neck and kissed him.
"Look I don't want to be a wet blanket, kids", said Kieran "But we are supposed to be in a monastery, and the monks don't know where to put themselves at the moment. I feel like I should be chucking a bucket of cold water over you!"
"Sorry", Joby mumbled, and cleared his throat several times in embarrassment.
Tamaz woke Kieran up in the middle of the night.
"I thought you'd find this encouraging", he whispered.
"What?" Kieran snapped.
"Well here you and me are like this", said Tamaz, softly "Now there would be nothing to stop me pulling at your pillow and smothering you with it. I just wanted to show you that I'm not going to do that".
"I'm deeply touched", said Kieran, sarcastically.
"That's a good sign isn't it?" said Tamaz.
"Awesome", said Kieran.
Tamaz nodded with satisfaction and rolled over to go back to sleep. Kieran swatted him hard on the rump and Tamaz sat up again.
"And that was for waking me up!" said Kieran.
In the morning the monks brought them hot rolls and coffee before daybreak, as well as some gifts for them to take away with them, including a bottle of homemade parsnip wine.
"That looks lethal", said Joby "I wouldn't go near that without sending in a bomb disposal squad first!"
"You haven't seen the beetroot", said Kieran "That's so dangerous it can't be allowed out in daylight!"
Tamaz was sporting a rope of electric blue beads round his neck.
"What are they, voodoo beads?" said Joby "They can't be for keeping evil spirits away, or you wouldn't be wearing 'em!"
"The man in the laundry made them for me", said Tamaz, haughtily "He's in love with me".
"Poor sod", said Joby "Another victim".
The monks lined up to see them off, and they travelled back down the mountainside in the rear of the food-wagon.
"So you've decided to come home have you?" Julian snarled, when Adam walked into his cabin.
"Yes, and you're very lucky I have", said Adam "So don't start complaining. I was sorely tempted to stay up there and become a monk myself".
"Don't be ridiculous!" Julian slammed open the lid of his cigar box and pulled one out the size of a hose-pipe "You'd be hopeless at it! Have you any idea of the torments I've suffered since you decided to abandon me?"
"For heaven's sake Jules, I've only been gone one night!" said Adam "You can't have suffered much torment in that time".
"Oh no? That's what you think!" said Julian "Fradie has decided to launch a campaign of homophobia against us. He had the bloody brass nerve to send me a gift of a pink cardigan, with a note attached saying that I should wear it in public as a warning to everyone that I'm an insatiable old bugger!"
"Take no notice of him", said Adam "He's taking it out on you because of this ridiculous feud he's having with Bengo. And if anyone's insatiable around here it's Fradie!"
"Bloody pink cardigans", said Julian "Ridiculous little fart. I saw him dancing last night in Persephone's bar, he looked a complete and utter moron. Like the Missing Link on drugs. He made Bengo look intelligent".
"Jules, calm down", Adam laughed "It's a sad day when we have to worry about Fradie's actions!"
"I suppose so", Julian sighed "But you unnerved me running off like that, and taking the boy with you".
"I never intended to be gone for long", said Adam "Blame Patsy, I was impatient to know what he was up to. Come into the saloon and have a drink with the others".
"Why should I?" said Julian, sulkily "If you weren't here neither would they be!"
"Now that is completely untrue", said Adam.
Lonts came hurtling into the room and threw himself at Julian, kissing his face as though he hadn't seen him for several weeks.
"I think Joby's glad he didn't become a monk now", said Lonts "He says it's much warmer down here, and Julian's not boring like the Arch Pater up there is".
"See, Jules", said Adam, serenely "Oh ye of little faith!"
Joby was unpacking the bags in his cabin. He was tired, but he could hear the warming sound of glasses clinking in the saloon, and the gramophone had started up. Now he was back home, he was glad to be back in his niche.
"Is everything all there?" said Hillyard, coming into the room "I think I managed to pick up all your things that you'd left at Myrtle's".
"Yeah, thanks mate", said Joby "It all looks in order".
"I got Tamaz's frock home without crushing it too much", Hillyard pointed at the dress which was now on a hanger on the back of the door.
"Good", Joby chuckled "Saves me having to buy him a new one! Ransey says you both managed to fire the house o.k. Must've been nerve-wracking".
"No, I quite enjoyed it in some ways", said Hillyard "Sort of therapeutic".
"I hope you're not getting a taste for it!" said Joby "We suddenly find we've got an arsonist living with us!"
"It was symbolic, if you know what I mean".
"No, not really. It's not like you to start coming out with all this kind of rubbish, Hillyard".
"Yeah well, I think I'm having a mid-life crisis like you did", said Hillyard "Got to thinking whilst you lot were away. I need to sort meself out, don't I? It's stupid the way I carry on. People are going to be laughing at me when I'm old if I'm still carrying on like this. But I'm caught in a cleft stick. How do I settle down?"
"Is this all to do with Bengo?" said Joby "Are you worried about how he feels for you?"
"He's too young for me, Joby", said Hillyard, candidly.
"Oh come off it", said Joby "It's being young at heart that counts, and you're certainly that! Anyway, you make yourself sound like an old man. It's only the same age difference between you and Bengo as between me and Tamaz".
"Yeah, but Tamaz is one of those people where age doesn't matter. Like Lonts. They're so unique in their heads that what age they are is irrelevent".
"That's true", Joby sighed.
"If it was just physical it'd be different", said Hillyard "Bengo's got a good body. But's more than that. He wants so much. I'm very fond of him, and I try to give him what he wants ..."
"What exactly is the problem?" said Joby.
"He's romantic, he's got all these dreams for us, just like Hirrid used to have", said Hillyard "And I guess I've been through too much. I can't go making cast-iron promises, and get all excited about the future. I don't like thinking about the future, I never have, but it's worse now I'm getting towards middle-age".
"Why don't you just tell him that?" said Joby "Or are you too vain? Frightened he'll start thinking of you as an old fogey! You can't have it both ways".
"You smug git, it's alright for you isn't it!" said Hillyard "You in your little paradise with Kieran and Tamaz".
"Leave it out!" said Joby "Neither of them are easy at time. I'm piggy in the middle between the new Messiah and a demonic hermaphrodite, and you think I have it easy! I've had to have eyes in the back of me head these last few days where Tamaz is concerned, and now I come home to find you carrying on like an hysterical old pansy!"
"I am an hysterical old pansy", Hillyard retorted, and they both laughed.
"I think I know what the problem is", said Joby "Bengo wants too much. He's too clingy. He's the sort who'll keep wanting you to tell him you love him at set hours of the day and night, and God help you if you forget. I spose that's where I am lucky really. Kieran's never been like that, and Taamz, poor kid, doesn't expect it because he's not used to it. Can't you just enjoy being bloody awkward when he gets stroppy?"
"I haven't got the knack for it like you have", said Hillyard.
"Stymied then ent yer!" said Joby "Would you like me to have a chat with him? I might be able to help. After all, I was once a victim of the curse of Hillyard. I thought I had a hold on you just 'cos we'd had sex. It's your own fault. You're too charismatic for your own good".
"Sure", Hillyard gave a wry smile "So charismatic I bet you didn't miss me once whilst you were away".
"Gimme a break, I was only gone a few days!" said Joby "I missed Adam and Lonts, but that's because Adam's always been there in me life, and Lonts is such a big presence he tends to create a vacuum when he's not around. So, would you like me to talk to Bengo?"
"No, you've got enough on your plate", said Hillyard "Perhaps I should ask Julian to say a few words to him".
"Huh, kill or cure", said Joby.
"Desperate measures and all that", said Hillyard "And I sometimes think he understands me better than I understand myself".
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