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By Sarah Hapgood

"It was hardly very friendly was it?!" said Hillyard, a few hours later.

He was defrosting by the fire in Adam's room, which had been poked back into life by the steward who had brought the breakfast trolley in. Lonts was still dozing on the bed, and Adam curled Hillyard's fingers round a cup of tea.

"Leaving me to freeze", Hillyard went on "Look me, I can't stop shivering. And my fingers are so cold and stiff they look as though you could hang cups from 'em!"

"I have absolutely no sympathy for you", said Adam "What on earth did you expect? You sneak off without a word to Julian as to what you were doing. Not so much as an excuse me or an apology, and then you come creeping back like a runaway dog, and expect him to move over in bed for you!"

"I don't know why you're sticking up for him", Hillyard grumbled "It's only how he used to treat you when you were younger".

"That has got nothing to do with it", said Adam "For a start he regrets the way he used to carry on, and for another he's too old now to put up with your nonsense. For heaven's sake, you've got him and Bengo on tap. Why do you need to keep chasing after every other bit of trouser as well? It is getting very boring, Hillyard!"

Hillyard looked crestfallen.

"This tea's stewed", was all he could think of to say in response.

"This tea tastes like a privet hedge", said Joby, standing in the next room.

"What are you up to this afternoon then?" said Kieran, sitting by the fire with a cigarette "Whilst I'm being bored to death at this meeting?"

"Lonts wants to go tobogganing", said Joby "So I thought I'd tag along with Tamaz and keep him company".

Tamaz was sitting on the windowseat, distractedly eating a slice of toast. With his other hand he was plucking at the orange silk ribbon threaded through his drawers.

"That's really clever, Tamaz", said Joby, as the ribbon came halfway out.

"It doesn't matter", said Kieran, flicking through his itinerary "I expect Finia can get it threaded back in again. Oh will you listen to this ... a meeting that goes on all afternoon, followed by yet another big dinner, followed by the show. It reminds me of a day on a luxury cruise liner. Every minute of it accounted for so you don't have time to think!"

"Tomorrow should be easier", said Joby "And then it's home, and back to normal, hopefully".

"What do you mean, hopefully?" said Kieran "Of course it will be".

"Well you might be getting a taste for all this", said Joby "The high life I mean. Luxury and comfort. Servants waiting on you".

"Like hell!" said Kieran "I already feel like an inmate at an exclusive mental home, I don't think I could stand too much more of it. Must've been how royalty felt all the time".

"They didn't know any better", said Joby "It does feel like a closed institution this, doesn't it? All it needs is bars on the windows. That food we had last night certainly felt institutional. All this luxury, and we can't get any decent grub!"

After eating Kieran dressed and went downstairs for the first session of the meeting. This passed without event, being merely a chance for the governors to give everyone else a brief lowdown on their own places, and their plans now that they had total indpendence. It was unexciting but good-natured.

At five o'clock they dispersed into the hallway for tea. Kieran felt mildly depressed. It all smacked too much of his presidenting days. He felt he had already spent far too much of his life in meetings and didn't want anymore. He was determined that tomorrow Julian could represent Toondor Lanpin, whether he liked it or not.

Codlik had arranged for small Christmas gifts for each of the governors to be laid out on trestle tables. This was a kind thought, but tiresome. The distribution had a strongly ritualistic feel to it. Codlik insisted on handing out the presents one by one, and then waiting whilst they were unwrapped and commented on. It took an absolute age to get everyone done. Even this wouldn't have been so bad if the gifts hadn't been so crushingly useful and functional. Another kind thought, but misguided. Codlik believing everyone would rather receive something practical than frivolous. As such they all got items such as scarves, gloves, hoof-picks, and pocket-sized reference books along the lines of How To Unblock Your Own Drains. Kieran was given a recipe book for baking cakes. An activity he knew he'd never do if he lived until he was a hundred!

"I expect Adam might be able to find a use for it", he said. (The galley table need a wedge under one of its legs).

"Have you already opened your presents amongst yourselves?" said Codlik, when the distribution was over.

"No, we never give each other Christmas presents these days", said Kieran "We used to, but the last few Christmases things have been so much in the air that I guess we got out of the habit of it. Last Christmas was the Cockroach Mansions time, the couple before that we were out sailing, we had the comet winter a few years back, and we didn't even know when it was Christmas then! I don't think presents are all that important anyway. They can be a nice gesture, but on the whole being together's more important".

It was unfortunate that after Kieran had finished this little homily, Hillyard came down the stairs towards them with a face like thunder.

"Are you off out, Hilly?" said Kieran, indicating his friend's coat.

"Yeah, so what?" Hillyard grunted, morosely.

"It'll be dark out there now", said Codlik "Take care in the snow won't you".

"I'm not a kid!" Hillyard snapped, and made towards the huge double doors which led to the outside world.

"Take no notice of him", said Kieran, after Hillyard had left "He's not feeling himself at the moment".

Hillyard had gone outside without any clear idea why. Night had fallen, and the snow was waist-high in places, hardly conditions perfect for a meditative stroll. He went towards the corner of this part of the house without any plan in mind, and saw an oil-lamp burning from a nearby outbuilding. He went towards it.

Inside the shed he found Joby, Lonts and Tamaz gathered round a workbench, on which Lonts was repairing one of the estate children's sledges. Tamaz was leaning with his elbows against the bench. Joby glanced round at Hillyard and looked noticeably irritated to find him there. He was enjoying this quiet lull in the day. Tamaz was subdued but untroubled, and Lonts was prattling away contentedly. Joby felt he could do without Hillyard and his endless personal problems at that moment, particularly as it was all stuff he had heard many times before over the previous 20 years!

"Been enjoying yourself have you?" said Hillyard.

"Yeah, why do you want us to apologise for it?" said Joby "We're just off back to the house anyway. Finish off now, Lonts. We can come down again in the morning".

"Joby, I don't know why you're being shitty with me too", said Hillyard "Everyone is at the moment".

"Probably 'cos we're sick of you and your tarting", said Joby.

"Sure, but you were quite happy to live off it!" Hillyard exclaimed.

"That's got nothing to do with it", said Joby "It was a means of making money. If I wasn't so damn ugly I'd have done it too. Except no one in their right mind would pay to have sex with me!"

"I would", said Hillyard.

"I rest my case!" said Joby.

The two men smiled at each other. Joby suddenly grabbed Hillyard's arm and led him over to the doorway.

"Look Hillyard", he said "A word to the wise. You upset old Julian last night".

"Oh come off it, Jobe", said Hillyard "Don't lecture me. Not after some of your antics these past few months".

"I'll be the first to admit I behaved like a pillock at times", said Joby "Particularly towards Glynis. And I know Kieran's had a lot to put up with. But I never picked up a complete stranger right under his nose, then went off with 'em, and didn't give him any idea when I was coming back. And then when I did return it was without a single bloody word of explanation! That was shitty, Hillyard. I wouldn't normally feel too much sympathy for an arrogant sod like Julian, but we all thought you and him had come to an arrangement".

"We had", said Hillyard "But I thought this was going to be a grown-up relationship".

"Oh go and boil your head, Hillyard!" said Joby.

Kieran and Julian were both sitting in the deep, circular bath-tub that went with their suite, going over the Toondor Lanpin speech for tomorrow's meeting. Julian was morose and irritable, and found innumerable faults with what Kieran had written for him to say.

"It's as dry as old bones", he rasped "Look at all the nonsense about our main agriculture products being rice, barley and buckwheat. It sounds like a school examination paper!"

"It's what the other governors will want to hear", said Kieran.

"I cannot imagine why!" said Julian.

"So that we can open trading links with them if necessary", said Kieran "I'll try and pep it up a bit, but God knows when I'm going to find the time. I've got a cabaret spot to do as well you know!"

With that he hoisted himself out of the tub, wrapped himself in a towel and left the room.

"Are you going to be long in there?" said Ransey, appearing at the foot of the bath-tub "Only I want it next".

"I'll be as long as is necessary", said Julian.

"Like that eh?" Ransey turned on the cold-tap full blast, and Julian gave a yelp and climbed out of the water, which had already been cooling somewhat.

"Why are you being such a cantankerous old git this evening?" said Ransey "It's Christmas night, and you're upsetting people. Finia's already worried about you. If you're in this sulk because of Hillyard then take my advice, don't bother".

"It's alright for you isn't it!" said Julian, wrapping a towel round his waist "You've got Finia, you took him away from me. You're not going to have to face loneliness in your old age".

"How the hell do you think you're going to be lonely on the Indigo?" said Ransey.

"One can be lonely in a crowd", said Julian "You and Finia have each other, Adam and Lonts have each other, and Sooty and Sweep have their pet freak to play with! I have no one. Bengo and Toppy are too young. I want someone with whom I can exchange shared experiences. I foolishly thought Hillyard accepted I had something to offer him, but it seems I'm going to end up one of those sad old sticks who are treated with contempt by their promiscuous partner. Just punishment for the sins of my youth no doubt".

"I don't understand why Hillyard is the way he is", Ransey sighed.

"It's his only means of identity", said Julian "Or so he thinks. There was a philosopher in ancient times who was so chronically uncertain of his place in the world and how it regarded him, that he stopped talking, and would only communicate by wagging his little finger. Hillyard's the same, only he wags something else!"

"Is that why you carried on so when you were young then?" said Ransey.

"I suppose so, partly", said Julian "I had an image to maintain. In our time gay men liked to claim that they were incapable of monogamy. Such things were for the dreary straights! We were too busy being debauched and having fun for such social conformities. And I rather enjoyed my image of the strutting testosterone-charged aristocrat. Who wouldn't? Well I'm paying for it now. A nice moral twist in the tale. Should keep Kieran happy!"

"Do you want me to have a word with Hillyard?" said Ransey "Try and make him see sense somehow".

"I don't like the sound of that", said Julian, warily "What are you going to do, shoot him?!"

"Only if he won't see reason", said Ransey.

Tamaz had brought enough underwear with him for a month-long stay. He had now got it out and arranged it over all the chairs and tables in the far end room.

"Glad to see you're being more like your old self again", said Joby, standing near him in his bath-robe "I was getting concerned about you, the way you were being all quiet and reticent".

"Just busy thinking what I'd like to do to some of those governors if I was still in power", said Tamaz "I was never given a chance to prove my worth".

"Leave it out, Tamaz", said Joby "You'd always be an awful leader. You're too much of a monumental spoilt brat to be otherwise!"

"But I might have been alright with you as my consort. Kieran always says he couldn't have done it without you".

"I would not have wanted to be your consort, Tamaz. I don't trust you. You'd have probably clapped me in the City Assizes for disagreing with you, or led me around on a dog-leash like Caligula was supposed to have done to his missus!"

"Which would you like me to wear tonight?" said Tamaz, indicating the lingerie selection.

"It doesn't matter really", Joby shrugged "I won't see it under your frock".

"Ah but you'll know about it", said Tamaz, pressing up against him.

Joby plucked at the buttons on Tamaz's trousers. He slipped them down and then pulled off his t-shirt. Once Tamaz was undressed he picked him up and gently carried him over to the bed. They made love in an impatient flurry, eager to get at each other's bodies, which was just was well as Joby barely had time afterwards to wrap a quilt round Tamaz before one of the house-stewards barged in.

"Can't you knock?" Joby snapped, irritably.

"You should lock the door if you don't want intruders", said the steward, rather rudely "I have to ask if you need anything before dinner".

As he said this he looked suggestively at Tamaz, who stared back with all the confident allure that comes to some people in the immediate aftermath of sexual intercourse.

"We'll let you know if we want anything", said Joby.

"You don't want your bed turning down?" the steward snorted.

"Oh clear off will yer!" Joby roared.

The steward complied with his wishes, smirking as he did so.

"Jerk", said Joby "He must get his kicks from spying on guests. Mind you, he got plenty to satisfy him with you!"

Tamaz gave a yodel of amusement and wriggled his bare feet about at the end of the quilt.

"I think he was after you too", Tamaz chortled "Perhaps he's heard about our threesomes and wanted to make up the numbers".

"In his dreams", said Joby.

Toppy had got bored. Dinner was over and everyone had assembled in the great hall to watch the show. Toppy had no part in the show, and he had seen it so many times that there was now nothing to hold his interest. As such he decided to help the staff clear away the dirty crockery and glasses in the dining-room. During the course of which he had got tentatively talking to one of the serving-girls. Lillijana was quiet and bashful, with none of the bawdy humour and raucous laughs that so terrified him about the Toondorie girls.

He helped her load a trolley and wheel it down one of the stone corridors which led to the back regions. This corridor was lined with cabinets containing china plates, interspersed by darkened archways leading to a hidden network of staircases and passageways. Toppy was fascinated by the whole building, and especially by this entire service wing, which connected so mysteriously to other parts of the house.

"I'll show you over if you help me to put away the clean plates", said Lillijana.

Toppy agreed. A bevy of very young girls from the village were washing up in the scullery, standing on rows of low packing-cases so that they could reach the big stone sinks. The clean plates were stacked on the table by the door, and Toppy and Lillijana ferried them to the china cabinets. In spite of his innate shyness Toppy loved a good gossip, and now, temporarily freed from Lonts's tyranny, he was able to indulge his passion.

Lillijana told him the story of her life. How she had been born on Woll's estate. When her mother died she and her elder brother were taken on as staff at the house. It was this older brother who seemed to be very much THE dominating factor in her life. He almost decided her every move.

"Do you like working here?" Toppy asked.

"It's alright", said Lillijana "It's comfortable and there's plenty to eat. The staff are nice on the whole but very reserved. You can't have a good laugh with them. And all too often it's just too quiet here. That's why I looked forward to this Christmas so much. To have the house full of guests for once. I think the master would like to entertain more, but he's too shy".

"Do you see much of him?"

"Very rarely. I've only seen him once. He got lost one day, not far from where we are now. Can you imagine it, getting lost in your own house! He asked me to show him the way back to his room, so I did. He was very kind, but I could see he was horribly shy and was so nervous he didn't really want to speak to me. I felt so sorry for him. I wish you'd come and work here. You'd obviously be a natural at the work. I'd like to have a close friend here. Most of the other staff can be so stand-offish, I can't relax with them".

"I couldn't leave the Indigo", said Toppy.

The idea of working at Woll's certainly had its attractions, not least having Lillijana there, but all in all it was precisely because the house was so big and the staff so remote, as Lillijana had said, that put him off it. Although shy he didn't want to go back to such a cold (in all senses of the word) environment.

"If-if you ever got fed up with working here though", he stammered "You could come to Toondor Lanpin. We could put you up on the Indigo".

"But I'm a girl", said Lillijana "I wouldn't fit in there".

"Yes you would", said Toppy "Anyway, you being a girl doesn't affect it. Tamaz is half-girl and he lives there".

"Everyone on the staff is talking about him", said Lillijana "He's so strange and spooky, I can't get over it! Does he scare you?"

"Yes, sometimes", said Toppy "It's the eyes. The way they stare. But he's quite harmless really. There's nothing to be afraid of".

"I can't come", said Lillijana, sadly "My brother would never let me".

"Do you have to do what he says?" said Toppy.

"Well he makes life difficult for me if I don't. I'm all he has in the world", said Lillijana awkwardly, making it plain that she found it hard discussing her brother "Let me give you a little guided tour now. I promise that I will have you completely confused in no time at all".

Lillijana was as good as her word. She took Toppy up some twisting stone staircases, which all intersected wih one another at different levels. Toppy, with his love of intricate design, felt overwhelmed by it all. They paused for a breather on a small windowless landing where three spiral staircases met. One was the way they had come, another led down again directly on the other side of the landing, and a third, a much shorter one, led up to a closed door. The walls were made of thick stone, and the roof was vaulted.

"It's all so amazing", Toppy gasped "No wonder Woll gets confused! I wish I could walk round and draw a plan of it all. And these stairs! They're so steep in parts".

"The first day I worked here I had to carry a bundle of washing down them", said Lilliana "I was so nervous that I threw the washing down, and then walked down and collected it. Fortunately the housekeeper wasn't anywhere about! Now, I am going to really confuse you".

"Ah no you can't", Toppy giggled "I've been keeping rough notes in my head. I'm pretty sure I an find my way back".

"But this house plays tricks, it's full of surprises", said Lillijana, teasingly "I bet you can't guess how far away the great hall is from here".

"Miles", said Toppy "We've walked for ages and I can't hear a sound from it".

"That's what you think", said Lillijana "Come with me".

She took him down the opposite stairs and along a low-ceilinged corridor which gradually branched out into a much wider one. At the far end was a door which led into an unused bedroom. The furniture was swathed in dust-sheets. Opposite the door was an arched window with a deep sofa-like seat cut into the wall below it. Toppy was astounded when on Lillijana's instructions, he looked out of the window and found himself peering into the great hall directly below them.

"I never expected that!" he gasped.

"We can sit here and watch the show", said Lillijana "Pretend we've got our own private box at the theatre".

She pushed open the window and a flood of noises rose up to greet them. It was the beginning of the mime act, and Hawkefish had inserted a solo singing spot for Glynis at the start of it. Glynis had a moderately good singing voice. She only hit snags when she tried to reach top notes, and on those occasions she could suddenly turn into a droning donkey. Hawkefish assumed, quite rightly, that her clinging dress would distract the audience from these deficiences.

Toppy and Lillijana were sitting side by side, listening to Glynis, when steward came bursting into the room. Toppy took one look at him and experienced the biggest feeling of panic he'd ever had in his life. This man had bully written all over his hard sallow features. In fact he looked the living personnification of the word.

"I-is this your brother, Lilli?" he asked, nervously.

"Iylish, don't cause trouble, please", Lillijana begged "I was just showing Toppy over the house".

At that moment Toppy would have given a year of his life to hear Lonts's feet thumping along the corridor outside. But Lonts was waiting behind the green curtain at the far end of the hall, waiting for his cue. Even if Toppy yelled out of the window it was highly doubtful he would be heard above Glynis, the band, and sundry noises from the audience.

"What have I always said to you?" Iylish barked at his sister "I'm the only family you have. It's us against the world. We have to stick with each other. You don't sneak off with one of those sodomising loonies".

"B-but ..." Toppy stammered.

He had no time to finish. Iylish picked him up like a surfboard and carried him out of the room.

"I nearly lost my way during the singing spot", said Glynis, when safely back behind the curtain again "It was the glare of the arc lights straight above me. I glanced up into them, and I clean forgot where I was for a moment. I hope the audience didn't notice".

"No, you were really good, Glynis", said Lonts, solemnly "I think you should sing all the time".

Backstage (or rather the far end of the hall) was as busy as Grand Central Station, with the same pressure on everyone there not to stand still for too long. The cast in the closing scene of 'Murder At Nightmare Hall' had just filed out into the public's gaze, and the stage-hands were rushing around making sure all the relevant props were to hand for this crucial scene. A flight of wooden stairs led down into the cellar, where a honeycomb of small rooms had been set up for the performers' use.

"We'd better head down there", said Glynis "Get out of everyone's hair".

A door opened in the corner by a dressmaker's dummy, and a truly extraordinary sight came out. A skinny boy in a black underpants was smeared liberally with honey. It had completely covered his hair, and from the way he was walking so jerkily it had been stuffed down his pants too.

"Toppy, you poor child", said Glynis "What's happened to you?"

"Where are your clothes, Toppy?" said Lonts sternly, as though Toppy had suddenly developed a yen for walking around like this.

"He tore them up", Toppy sobbed "And then he poured honey over me, and stuck pepper around my private parts, and he dragged me all along the corridor by my ankles".

Glynis made reassuring noises and said they'd get him below and cleaned up. Lonts picked him up as easily as if he was Snowy and carried him down the stairs.

"Just one more rinse and that'll be most of it out", said Bengo, washing Toppy's hair in the pantry attached to the main dressing-room "I'm a dab hand at this. Mind you, I was always having this sort of thing done to me when I was in the Cabaret of Horrors".

"This Iylish sounds a total madman", said Glynis, who was standing nearby with a towel "The most chronic case of over-reacting I've ever seen".

"It's not even as if Toppy would have done anything with Lillijana", said Lonts "Anyone in the world would be safe with Toppy!"

Lonts meant this without any malice, which was just as well as Toppy was still sobbing helplessly. When Bengo had finished cleaning him, he passed him over to Glynis, who wrapped him in the towel and her bosom.

"I think we'd better go and find this Iylish", said Bengo to Lonts, who nodded in reply.

In the main dressing-room the chorus-girls were lined up on the stairs, waiting to go on and perform the last act. Through a slightly open doorway, Bengo could see into the much smaller second dressing-room. Kieran and Tamaz were sitting with their backs to the door, talking. Their rollerskates were piled up haphazardly on the industrial-sized radiator. They hadn't noticed the hiatus with Toppy, and Bengo was relieved about it, as he had his own plan for getting revenge.

They had managed to circumnavigate the great hall without being stopped and delayed by anyone. Every minute was of the essence now. Their target was on the other side, busily setting up the buffet supper table, and looking as though he was far too preoccupied and important to go wasting his time bullying young boys.

"Are you sure this a good idea, Bengo?" said Lonts.

"I hope you're not going yellow on me", said Bengo, indignantly.

"Of course not", said Lonts "But what if it goes wrong and we hit the wrong person by mistake?"

"What do you take me for?" Bengo exclaimed "I was doing this sort of thing when you were still frightening reindeer! I am a professional".

"Yes, but your timing's not all it should be sometimes", said Lonts "I heard Bardin say so once".

"Bardin doesn't know ANYTHING!" said Bengo, and he stamped onwards, followed by Lonts.

In the middle of the hall Hawkefish, as the dastardly squire, was being confronted with the truth about his evil crimes by an authority of the law, played with great ineptitude by floppy-haired Second Lead, who was squealing out his accusations like an irate housewife. Various extras were scattered around trying their utmost to look as serious as possible, including Joby, whose face looked naturally lugubrious in repose and so he didn't have to strain himself as much as the others.

When Bengo and Lonts got to the buffet table Iylish was standing with his back to them.

"This is perfect", Bengo whispered to Lonts "Now watch this for comic genius".

Lonts watched with understandable trepidation as Bengo crept up behind Iylish. Suddenly Bengo leapt onto Iylish's back and pushed him forcefully headfirst into the mammoth squashy Christmas cake, which had sat in the middle of the table like a fat unwanted guest. When Iylish managed to come struggling up for air Bengo pushed him back in again.

"Enjoy the fucking cake!" Bengo shrieked, yanking his head back by the hair and ramming it in a couple more times for good measure "Merry Christmas Iylish!"

"I don't think you should be down here, Adam", said Lonts, meeting him at the bottom of the dressing-room stairs "This area is for performers only".

"Well I think that is a bloody silly rule", said Adam "Anyway, I'm hospital visiting. I've come to see Toppy".

The said boy was sitting on an old sofa in the corner. He was scrubbed clean and wearing a striped bath-robe. A handkerchief lay rolled up in his lap, and occasionally he raised it to his eyes.

"My clothes are ruined, Adam", he wailed.

"Only one outfit", said Adam, sitting down next to him "Is the little girl alright?"

"Lillijana?" said Kieran, who was making tea on the gas-stove "She's with the housekeeper at the moment. Iylish didn't harm her. He's going to be asked to leave in the morning though. Great embarrassment you see. A guest being attacked by him so vindictively".

"He'll insist on taking her with him!" said Toppy.

"No he won't", said Kieran "If he goes anywhere near her he's in trouble. There's no love lost between him and the rest of the staff. Bengo made their Christmas by showing him up like he did".

"I can't imagine Hawkefish is too pleased", said Adam "Destroying his big denouement scene like that".

"He's more concerned about Second Lead's atrocious acting", said Kieran "He wants Joby to play the Constable in future productions. Hawkefish says he has the right tone of voice and facial expression. Promotion from village idiot to police inspector in one evening, I bet even Olivier couldn't have managed that!"

"Oh Joby would be perfect casting", said Adam "He has the deadpan delivery. What a shame we can't get hold of a copy of Joe Orton's 'Loot' or J B Priestley's 'An Inspector Calls'. Joby would be deft and subtle in both".

"You sound like a theatre critic", said Julian, coming towards him "Hawkefish had better watch himself, or he could find you directing the show!"

"Only performers are allowed down here", said Adam.

"Well they let you in so they'll let anyone in", said Julian, pulling up a torn armchair and sitting down "What a cheerless-looking place this is. I feel like we're re-living the Blitz!"

"Once you've tasted my tea you'll really feel like there's a war on too", said Kieran, setting out a motley assortment of mugs on a tray "It's even got condensed milk in it!"

"I think I'll pass", said Julian "I must admit I do feel sorry for that Iylish chap".

"Jules, that's a traitorous thing to say!" said Adam.

"Well he hasn't had much of a Christmas has he?" said Julian "Being screwed by Hillyard, and then nearly suffering death by Christmas cake. No wonder he looks fed up!"

"Is he the one Hillyard went with then?" said Kieran.

"Oh yes", said Julian "Hillyard showing his usual impeccable taste in men!"

"He chose you for a start", said Joby, who had just come downstairs, followed by Second Lead, the expression on the face of whom was best left undescribed.

"Very amusing", said Julian.

"A star is born, I take it?" said Adam.

"We haven't agreed on anything yet", said Joby, glancing over at Second Lead, who was slamming about amongst the boxes and bottles on one of the tables "It all has to be finalised".

"Will you hark at him!" said Kieran, licking condensed milk off a teaspoon "Before we know it it'll be stretch limo's and fresh orchids in his dressing-room!"

"You're just jealous 'cos you're still in the chorus", said Joby "Not everyone's got star potential".

"Where is your dancing-partner, Pats?" said Adam.

"Fiddling about in the next room", said Kieran.

"Where is it?" Second Lead suddenly bellowed.

"What have you lost?" said Joby.

"Probably best not to ask", Julian muttered.

"My gold chain", Second Lead shrieked "I took it off and put it in the back compartment of the box for the stage jewellery for safekeeping. I thought it would be safe there. I thought this was an honest company, and yet look, look! All the jewellery has gone. I mean it's all worthless, what could anyone want with it?"

"Calm down, it can't be far away", said Adam.

"I think I've got an idea where it is", said Joby "The thieving magpie's been at work. Tamaz! Put all the jewellery back!"

Tamaz jangled into the doorway of the next room. He was stark-naked, but covered in every scrap of jewellery he'd got out of the box (including Second Lead's chain). Necklaces, bangles, beads, rings, anklets, and earrings, all liberally festooned his extraordinary body. He even wore a pearl in his navel.

"What a magnificent sight!" Hawkefish cried out from the stairs "He looks like the high priestess of an exotic temple. A goddess come to life!"

"Don't go giving him ideas", said Joby "He doesn't need much encouragent in that department".

"He looks like an hermaphrodite in a load of junk jewellery to me", said Julian, unimpressed.

"No, no", Hawkefish steamed across the room, as though mesmerised "You don't seem to realise what a prize you possess. What a magnificent specimen of the human form he is. I could do so much with him!"

"I'm sure", said Julian, dryly.

"No you misunderstand me", said Hawkefish "The rollerskating routine is all very well, it's immensely popular, but it doesn't do full justice to his body".

"Hawkefish, you've seen Tamaz starkers loads of times", said Joby "What's the big deal all of a sudden?"

"Because I hadn't fully appreciated his vampish qualities before", said Hawkefish "He could be the sex symbol to end them all".

"I think you're getting a bit carried away", said Adam "I know Tamaz can be very attractive, but that's rather over-egging the pudding, old love. The chances are most punters will still turn up to look at him just because he is different, as they do now. Him appearing naked will just give it that bit more kick that's all. I think you've been indulging in a drop too much of the festive cheer if you think he's going to be the best thing since Marilyn Monroe!"

"Yes I suppose so", Hawkefish slumped despondently onto a chair "One can always dream though".

"I'm cold!" Tamaz barked.

"Put some damn clothes on then", said Julian "No wonder you're cold when you're standing there like Salome at the court of King Herod!"

Tamaz slunk back into the other dressing-room, clanking so much he sounded more like the member of a chain-gang than an exotic high-priestess.

"We really have saved you an awful lot of hassle, old love", said Adam to Hawkefish "Tamaz as the greatest living sex icon of the era really doesn't bear thinking about!"

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