Go back to previous chapter
Spring was never long in coming to Toondor Lanpin, and by the middle of January the weather was noticeably milder, and the gloomy river-fogs were getting less frequent. Lady Red went into a sharp decline, and she ordered her nurse to move her bed into the garden under a canvas awning. There she stayed for several days, determined that she wasn't going to die, hidden away in the house out of sight of the sky.
Kieran and Adam took turns to sit with her. Kieran tried to take comfort in her complacency at her oncoming death, but found he couldn't. He urged her to get angry, arguing on the principle that people could often buy time that way. Lady Red refused to comply, even though it was obvious that she was terrified out of her wits by what was coming.
"Sometimes I lie her and I think I'm going to die, I'm going to die, it can't be so", she said one afternoon, as Kieran sat on the edge of her bed under the canvas awning "I think that it must all be a dream, a game, but no, I've gone beyond that. I'm in a place now where dreams no longer work. Shouldn't you be urging me to give in and prepare myself to meet my Maker?"
"I can't", said Kieran "I want you to have longer here".
"So do I", said Red "I make deals with God in my head. I say to Him, if it's what you want I'll live like this for several years. Lying here, just watching the world pass by, I'll limit myself to this canvas awning, and I won't ask for anything more, only please let me live. But I know it's not going to happen. I can't die all nobly and in soft-focus, even though it's what everyone expects".
"None of us expect that", said Kieran "In your position I'd be exactly the same. I can't imagine life without you, Red. You epitomise it so much".
"You'll have to say that at my funeral", said Red "Try not to dwell too much on my drinking, and the way I used your body".
"I'll remember your kindness and your generosity", said Kieran.
There was a loud shrieking and squawking noise as Lonts and Tamaz chased each other round the garden.
"Those little jerks", Kieran sniffed "They've got no sense of occasion. I'll go and shut them up".
"No, don't", said Red "I like to hear them. What's Tamaz got on today?"
"Oh he looks a real picture", said Kieran "A t-shirt and a pair of neat little bloomers. You can tell summer's coming!"
Red laughed and then found she couldn't get her breath. A look of total panic crossed her face. In fact she was wide-eyed with it. Kieran was momentarily caught out. He hadn't expected it to happen quite so abruptly. He'd thought she'd gradually slip into a coma like a lot of cancer patients did.
"Red", he gathered her into his arms and whispered close to her "Be at peace, my lady".
"I d-dreamt", she gasped "Of children playing ... l-last night. I-I d-dreamt that. Is t-that what's w-waiting for me? P-please tell me it is!"
"Go forward into the light", he said, softly "God bless you. Night night, my lady".
Lonts and Tamaz had collapsed into a large mound of dried grass cuttings that Joby had heaped in a corner of the garden. There they lay, barefoot and giggling, hugging each other close. Lonts was delighted to be able to mess around with someone as sensuously physical as Tamaz. Even though he was quite a bit bigger than him, Lonts felt he didn't have to hold back in his enthusiastic handling of him. Tamaz was no Toppy. He wouldn't start screaming because of a bit of erotic horseplay. Quite the reverse. He revelled in it.
"No sticking it in my cunny, remember?" Tamaz had said, as Lonts ran his hands feverishly over his body "Or you won't be the last Kiskevian after all!"
"And then we'll both be in trouble", said Lonts, feeling unbearably excited "You are so sexy, Tamaz".
Lonts sprang away guiltily at the sound of Kieran's voice above him.
"Kieran", he stammered "You're crying, is it ...?"
"Lonts, take me into the house", said Kieran, emotionally.
Lonts sprang to his feet immediately. He picked Kieran up like a baby and carried him into the cottage.
"The nurse should be back with the others soon", said Adam, putting the kettle on the gas-ring in the kitchen "The doc and the undertaker, and hopefully some of the rest of our family. Whoever he can round up".
"I hope he can find Joby", said Kieran, pouring himself a glass of tepid beer from a bottle on the side.
"I expect he can", said Adam, sitting down on the chair next to him "Joby was going to be in the main street this morning, organising the hanging-baskets on the lamp-posts. He should be pretty easy to find. Make the most of these few quiet minutes until they all get here".
Lonts and Tamaz had been banished into Lady Red's study in the meantime, on the strict instruction that no bonking was to take place, not with the undertaker about to arrive at any moment!
"I'm glad you're here", said Kieran.
Adam pulled him onto his lap and held him until they heard the rumble of the cart-wheels in the lane outside. A horde of people decanted from it, having spent the short journey from the town sitting around Lady Red's pre-built coffin. All of them appeared momentarily at the back door and nodded at Kieran as though they were showing obeisance at a temple. The doctor went to the canvas awning, accompanied by the nurse, Glynis and Persephone. The ladies had turned up to prepare Red for her final journey. In her arms Persephone carried a nightdress wrapped in tissue-paper. This beautiful nightgown, made of fine linen and trimmed with juicy scarlet ribbons, had been prepared by Emily for Red's shroud. Glynis carried a selection of combs and creams, in order that Red would look her best for her lying-in at the Chapel of Rest.
Into the house came Julian, Hillyard and Joby.
"Oh God I can tell it's here", said Julian, quietly "Death. I can feel it".
"Yeah I know what you mean", said Joby "Houses always have that feel when it's about".
He went over to Kieran and embraced him. Lonts was now hovering uncertainly in the doorway.
"I'll take him into the living-room", said Hillyard "And keep him occupied".
Adam watched the undertaker pacing about the garden, occasionally stopping to run his hand through his already extremely smooth hair.
"Yes", he said "And Pats and Joby, you'd better keep an eye on Tamaz".
Kieran and Joby walked down the corridor to the back of the house, where Red's study overflowed with stacks of papers crowding every surface, including the floor. Tamaz was scrunching into a pear he'd got from a bowl of fruit by the window, and stuffing another two into his drawers.
"What are you playing at?" said Joby, fishing them out again.
"Saving them for later", Tamaz mumbled, through a mouthful of pear.
Kieran retrieved Tamaz's trousers and two pairs of shoes from the floor.
"You'd better get your clothes on, Tamaz", he said, smiling at this extraordinary person.
"No, I'm not getting dressed yet", said Tamaz, casually.
"Oh yes you are", said Joby "Red's just died. What are people gonna think if they see you prancing around her house in your knickers?!"
"Good grief, look at all this paperwork", said Julian, coming into the room "Red must have hoarded every scrap of paper she came across. We'll have to get Ransey to sort it out and batch it all up".
"I'm not getting dressed", Tamaz continued, mulishly "I feel boring when I'm dressed".
"Tamaz!" Joby cried, in exasperation.
"Get dressed, Tamaz", Julian barked "Or I'll warm your backside with my hand!"
Tamaz simpered but nonetheless graciously allowed Kieran to help him into his trousers.
"You little sod", Joby hissed "I won't forget this in a hurry!"
"And I won't forget you letting Julian threaten me", said Tamaz, indignantly.
"I wouldn't have done if you'd only do as you're told", said Joby "Oh what's the use?! I might as well save me breath!"
"Yes I would if I was you", said Tamaz, blithely.
Adam had been kept busy for an hour making tea and serving it at the back door. When the undertaker finally announced that Red's coffin was ready to be loaded onto the cart, Hillyard went out to drive the horse and vehicle into the garden, and as close to the canvas awning as he could get it. Ransey, who had turned up in the meantime on foot, went out to help him. Adam went into the living-room to wake up Lonts, who had fallen asleep on the sofa.
"We'll be walking back to town", said Adam, bringing over Lonts's shoes, which Kieran had deposited on a table by the door "Behind the cart. Red'll stay overnight at the hospital, and she'll be buried tomorrow".
"Have the women finished tidying her?" Lonts asked.
"I suppose when you die I'll have to do that for you", said Lonts, with childlike pragmatism.
"Well I wouldn't want to put you to any trouble!" said Adam "Just tip me over the side of the boat if you don't want the hassle!"
"What would you like to wear in your coffin?" said Lonts.
"I'll think about it and let you know!" said Adam, facetiously "Now don't ask me anymore. I had a brush with death a couple of years back, I'm in no hurry to go thinking about it again!"
"Of course if I die first", Lonts continued, regardless "You'll have to do me. That could happen, like when my brain went funny that time".
"Your brain's never anything else", said Joby, coming and leaning on the back of the sofa.
"Joby", said Lonts, solemnly "If I die after Adam, will you prepare me for my grave?"
"Yep", said Joby "I'll even remember to put Snowy in with you".
"You can't do that!" Lonts exclaimed, in horror "Snowy would be buried alive!"
"Well I can dream", said Joby "Of course I could die before you as well, and then you'd be really snookered".
"Yes, I suppose Toppy would have to do it then", said Lonts, unenthusiastically "And he's bound to make a mess of it!"
"Look, can we stop this conversation?" said Adam, testily "All this talk about people washing each other in their coffins, it's very upsetting. I don't want to have to think about any of you dying. Red's funeral is more than enough to be going on with!"
The Indigo-ites waited for the cart to move back out into the lane, and then prepared to follow behind it. Several of Red's closest neighbours had turned out to see her off. They would miss their astonishing neighbour. She of the flamboyant dress sense and tumbling red hair, who had (before the disease got too tight a hold) strode out into her garden every morning in her nightgown, to practice her target-shooting with a row of tins and her rifle.
"I'm glad it's being done this way", said one old lady to Adam "I did worry that, as she lived alone, she would have to leave the house on her own, but you're all here. That's as it should be".
Red was put into the Chapel of Rest at the cottage hospital for the night. When Adam appeared on the back steps he saw Lonts and Tamaz sitting side-by-side at the bottom of them.
"Aren't you concerned how cosy your little darling is getting with Tamaz?" said Julian.
"No, I've impressed on Lo-Lo many times to be careful", said Adam.
"That doesn't mean it's sunk in!" said Julian "Before we know it we could have a litter of hermaphrodite brats running amok on the Indigo!"
"I can hear you talking", said Tamaz, stepping up to them "You could save all your worries by booking me in here and having my inside bits and pieces removed".
"Oh Tamaz!" Adam cried "There's no need for that, old love".
"Why not?" Tamaz shrugged "I don't care".
"It won't come to that!" Kieran barked, so fiercely that Tamaz ran into Joby's arms for protection.
"You frightened him", said Joby, reproachfully.
Adam pulled Kieran away by the hand.
"I can understand as a devout Catholic that you have strong views on such a subject", Adam hissed "But I will not have you carrying on like some fanatical Jesuit tellling the rest of us how to live!"
"But that wasn't what I meant!" Kieran protested "I just didn't want Tamaz feeling he had to sacrifice his womanhood just to keep the rest of us happy".
"Can you seriously imagine Tamaz being so unselfish and self-sacrificing?" said Adam, in disbelief.
"No I suppose not", Kieran gave a wry smile "But the fact remains he's still very young, only Bengo's age. I don't want him rushing in to be steralised just because the rest of us can't keep our dicks under control".
"It's only Lo-Lo we have to watch", said Adam "And I know he doesn't always think things through, but he is very aware of the serious consequences if Tamaz got pregnant, and more importantly Tamaz is aware of them too. That kid doesn't want to get pregnant again anymore than we want him to be!"
Kieran walked back with Adam to the Indigo, where he found Joby waiting for them on the deck.
"Is Tamaz o.k?" Kieran asked, as Adam went below.
"Of course he's o.k", said Joby "He's milking it for all its worth! He's already got a promise out of me to take him shopping the day after tomorrow and spend a fortune on him!"
"He's amazing", Kieran chuckled "He's so wonderfully straightforward. No worrying about what's lurking deep in his subconscious".
"Yeah well it might help if he had one!" said Joby.
"You've always been a wee bit in love with him haven't you?" said Kieran "That's why you got so drunk at his wedding".
"Don't ask me", Joby sighed "You know me better than I know meself most of the time".
"I'm not upset about it", said Kieran "I wish now you'd rescued him from that travesty of a marriage. But more than anything I wish I hadn't come up with the idea to impregnate him. He must hate me for that".
"No he doesn't, I promise you", said Joby "Tamaz is too busy looking at what goodies he can get next to worry about the past. You did what you thought was best at the time. How could we have known that there wasn't any need for it?"
"I think about his babies quite a bit", said Kieran "One day they're going to want to leave Wolf Castle and go out into the world. Well how's the world going to treat them?"
"They'll get by, like we all have to", said Joby "The world isn't like it was when they were born. It's got no reason to hate them. Tamaz has proved to be a safe and civlised ... well sort of, you know what I mean ... person, so they should be too. It'd have been different if he'd been ... been executed".
"Yes, he would be this demon in everyone's memory", said Kieran "And that impression would pass to his kids".
"Whereas that's not the case now", said Joby "Come on, let's go below. It's getting chilly out here, and you've had enough for one day".
"Well that all seemed to go off o.k", said Adam, returning to the Indigo after Lady Red's funeral the following afternoon.
He removed the cloths covering trays of sandwiches in the saloon, whilst Julian set about opening some bottles of elderflower champagne that they had left to cool in ice-buckets before setting out.
"I thought Patsy paid quite a lovely tribute to her", Adam continued.
"I can't get used to the idea of her not being around", said Julian "It's all happened too damn quick. And there's always something deeply upsetting about someone several years younger than you dying".
"Pour out the champagne, Jules", said Adam, gently "I know Codlik would argue that her drinking didn't help her, but it'd be the first thing she'd suggest if she was here".
"She certainly had no time for him!" said Julian.
The other Indigo-ites came into the saloon, accompanied by Glynis, Persephone, Myrtle and Emily. There was a pleasent cacophony of voices as everyone helped themselves to champagne and eats.
Tamaz sat shivering in his ballgown and fur stole. Although he had worn an old coat over his outfit he was still cold.
"I told you to wear something warmer didn't I!" said Joby.
"I can fetch the paraffin heater in", said Ransey "Although it should warm up in here quick with everyone around".
"It's Joby's fault, he should buy me another dress", said Tamaz "A warm one, like Finia's pink woollen one".
"I suppose you think Red should have left you her jewels as well!" said Ransey.
"Dolores gets those", Tamaz mumbled.
"Mainly because they belong to No-Name", said Kieran "They were only loaned to Red for her lifetime".
"That's my first job next", said Ransey "Getting a courier sent down-river with them. It's a bloody nuisance No-Name not having a telegraph office".
"The courier could run off with them", said Lonts.
"I doubt it", said Ransey "Anyway, it's a risk we have to take".
A sprinkle of feminine giggling broke out from the corner, where the four ladies were clustered round Hillyard.
"Power is an aphrodisiac", Joby groaned.
"Not that Hillyard's ever needed much help in that department", said Ransey.
The women all wanted to know about Hillyard's new duties.
"I haven't got many", said Hillyard "And Ransey does most of it".
"You should have a consort now you're Governor", said Emily.
"Tell you what, I'll have seven", said Hillyard, genially "One for each day of the week. You can be Wednesday!"
"Have some sandwiches, ladies", said Adam "Or this lot won't give you a look-in, they're like a plague of locusts when it comes to food".
"Did you prepare all this yourself?" said Myrtle.
"Joby helped me", said Adam "My galley assistant".
"I find it hard to imagine Joby cooking", said Myrtle.
"Oh he's fine as long as it's fairly straightforward macho fare", said Adam "But you should've seen the tears and tantrums once when I asked him to make some pastry. He was terrified everyone would think he was a poof!"
Julian put the Smetana record on the gramophone, and the party took on a very relaxed air, as all good wakes should. Things were going very well indeed until a dreadful "hallo-ing" broke out in the gangway, and Jonner appeared in the doorway.
"I've been out of town for a few days", he wisped "And I've only just got back. I didn't know you were having a party".
He was mesmerised by the sight of Tamaz, who was sprawled in the armchair with a glass of champagne resting on his cleavage. His dress had got rucked up to his thighs and he was exposing a great deal of knicker-leg. Adam swatted his bottom as though he was a new-born baby, and Tamaz spilt his drink over his chest. He proceeded to mop it up with his fur-stole.
"This is actually a funeral wake", said Julian sternly to Jonner.
"Oh who's died?" said Jonner, innocently.
"Lady Red", said Julian "And as you weren't at the funeral you're gatecrashing, so I'm asking you to leave".
"Easy mistake to make, Julian", said Jonner, taken aback by Julian's terseness.
"I'm tired of your mistakes", Julian snapped "LEAVE!"
"I don't blame Julian one bit for getting the hump", said Joby, in his cabin later with his room-mates "I get sick and tired of Jonner creeping around too. He's always gatecrashing or on the scrounge. None of us wanted him here this evening. I dunno what took him so long to get the message".
"Obviously mesmerised by the sight of Tamaz exposing himself", Adam laughed.
Tamaz, who had been pattering up and down the middle of the room, suddenly bent over and pulled his dress up, exposing his behind like a can-can dancer. Adam deftly poked him with his fingertips in a sensitive spot, or as much as he could when Tamaz was protected by a pair of elasticated linen bloomers. Tamaz squealed with laughter.
"I must say, Tamaz", said Adam "Your underwear isn't up to its usual elegant standards. What you've taken to wearing these past couple of days looks decidedly ... well serviceable I suppose".
"They're warm", said Tamaz, haughtily.
"We should've got him a set of thermals after all", said Kieran.
"You wouldn't dare make me wear those!" said Tamaz.
"What's it worth?!" said Joby, unlacing the back of Tamaz's frock.
"I don't see as how they would be much different to what he's got on", said Adam.
"Oh they would be", said Kieran "Tamaz's are the height of chic compared to what the housekeeper at Woll's place had on!"
"All we ever seem to do round here is discuss Tamaz's knickers", said Joby "We're like a bunch of old perverts!"
"Well we could discuss yours instead", Adam fished up a pair of underpants from the floor, and stuck his little finger through a hole at the front "Is this in case of emergencies?!"
The following day most of them were busy tidying up Lady Red's cottage. She had left the building itself to Kieran, whilst the contents (apart from her jewels) were to be auctioned off and the proceeds donated to the cottage hospital. Hillyard and Joby though occupied themselves by walking round the town, in order that Joby could point out to a reluctant Hillyard everything that needed doing to it.
"And these could do with a lick of paint", said Joby, stopping in front of a pair of dilapidated doors. Someone had scrawled across them 'DO NOT OBSTRUCT. DOORS IN CONSTANT USE'. No one had ever seen these doors being used at all, and what they led to was a mystery, but their peeling veneer certainly made the place look an eyesore.
"Well get Ransey onto it", said Hillyard, standing nearby with his hands in his pockets "He'll know who's responsible".
"You're the Governor", said Joby "You're supposed to have all this information at your fingertips".
"Oh leave it out!" said Hillyard "Anyway, you're on a hiding to nothing if you're intending to make this place look like Krindei".
"I'm not that daft", said Joby "I just thought we'd better show willing that's all".
"Look I'll make meself unpopular round here if I start marching around with a clipboard telling people to paint their doors", said Hillyard "Come on, I'l buy you a beer".
They settled down outside Persephone's with two tall glasses of iced beer. The sun was warm and the quayside nearly deserted.
"Isn't it quiet round here when our lot are elsewhere?" said Hillyard.
"Yeah, although for all the use you've been this afternoon I might as well have gone with 'em", said Joby "I was supposed to have taken Tamaz shopping anyway".
"If you take him on Thursday I'll come with you", said Hillyard "I'll be at the bath-house most of tomorrow".
They chatted leisurely for several minutes, but were interrupted by a runner from the telegraph office appearing breathlessly at their side.
"It's for Hillyard", he said "From Mr Woll's estate".
Hillyard went pale.
"You open it, Joby", he said "I think I know what it is".
Joby paid the runner and dismissed him.
"It's quite long", he said, indicating the two full pages of typescript "Are you sure you don't wanna read it yourself?"
"Is it actually from Woll himself?" said Hillyard.
"No, his housekeeper", said Joby.
"Then that means Woll's dead", said Hillyard, quietly "It's not unexpected, but I thought he might have had a bit longer. Oh God, what a shitty week this has been!"
"It often happens like that", said Joby, squeezing his hand "My gran used to say death comes in threes".
"Oh great, so who's going to be the third?!"
"Let's see what she actually says", Joby scanned the opening paragraph "They've had his funeral already apparently. Very quiet, no flowers, because that's the way he wanted it. She says he wanted to die as he'd mostly lived, inconspicuously. She says he always had the greatest of affection for you, and often spoke to her of 'the good times he'd had in Toondor Lanpin'. She also says ... Hillyard, he's left you everything".
"What are you on about?"
"He's made you his main beneficiary. You were the only close friend he'd had in years, according to this. He's made a few bequests to individual members of staff and estate workers, but other than that, everything, house, land, money, goes to you!!! She says 'I am sure I speak for everyone on the staff when I say that we look forward to welcoming you here at your earliest convenience. I hope you decide to keep the house and estate, as it has been a home to so many of us for nearly 30 years. Many of the younger people have known no other life'".
"Well of course they can stay there", Hillyard bellowed, emotionally "The whole bloody place was run for their benefit not his anyway! They can open it as a brothel if they want. Turn it into a pig-farm, a health centre, or a film studios! See if I care. I don't want it!"
"Oh don't be such a jerk", said Joby "You're as bad as Kieran you are! You don't know how to show any gratitude when someone does you a good turn".
"You have it then", Hillyard snapped "You can set Tamaz up there in splendour".
"I do hope you are joking", said Joby, in horror "Tamaz could get through Woll's entire fortune in about three weeks!"
"It wouldn't take him that long surely?!" Hillyard gave a teary laugh.
"I'll get us some brandy", said Joby "It's a bit of a shock to the system suddenly finding out you're one of the world's richest men!"
"I feel as though the last hour hasn't been real", said Hillyard, when the brandy level in the bottle had dropped somewhat "I keep wanting to turn the clock back and just have us sitting here talking about paint. I never wanted this, Joby".
"No, but the fact remains you've got it", said Joby "And I'd keep quiet about the not wanting it bit if I was you. It's the sort of thing that riles people, like lottery winners who always insist they're not gonna give up their lousy job in the canning factory!"
"But I didn't want things to change", said Hillyard "I liked them as they were. The Indigo, and working at the baths. It suits me. I don't want to live in that bloody great mausoleum. I wouldn't know what to do with myself!"
"You don't have to live in it", said Joby "Stick a manager in to oversee it and keep things ticking over. That way you don't have to live there, but no one gets chucked out of work or made homeless either, like they would if you sold it. You can ask Julian about all that sort of thing, it's his background".
A horse and cart rumbled down the main street soon after, and came to a halt by the water-trough. Ransey was driving, and the others all decanted out of the back. They came towards Hillyard and Joby, all jabbering at once about nothing in particular.
"The paperwork in Red's study is a nightmare", said Julian "Ransey is in seventh heaven sorting it all out".
"He'll have even more to sort out now", Hillyard mumbled.
His remark went unnoticed in the general hubbub.
"I see the brandy's been taking some punishment", said Ransey "I thought you were suppose to be doing some Governor work, Hillyard".
"Drowning me sorrows", said Hillyard "Woll's dead".
"Oh what a shame", said Adam "He was a sweet man. But I felt sorry for him. All that money and he was so lonely".
"His life was almost like something out of an old parable", said Kieran "Except it wasn't money corrupting, but money isolating. He had so much it set him completely apart from everyone else".
"Yeah well it doesn't have to do that!" said Joby, sharply "Not all mega-rich people end up chronic loners".
"An awful lot do", said Adam, sadly.
Tamaz, who had been chewing thoughtfully on the end of his fur stole, suddenly blurted out "Has he left us anything in his will?"
"Yes, the whole lot", said Julian, sarcastically "On condition we have you scrubbing the town hall steps every Monday in a sackcloth!"
"And a solemn vow to renounce all material pleasures!" said Kieran.
Julian fished a note out of his wallet and ordered Bengo to fetch some more brandy and glasses.
"We'll drink a toast to Woll", he said "After all, I sometimes doubt we'd have survived Cockroach Mansions if it hadn't been for his little donations. Although I know I always felt frustrated at the time because we could have done with more".
"Isn't that always the way though?" said Adam "The trouble with the super-rich is that it doesn't always occur to them just how hard up other people can be. It's not thoughtlessness, just naivety I suppose".
"A bit like someone living on benefit who can't see that having pots of money can cause misery", said Kieran.
"There's a big difference between being miserable in comfort and being miserable in poverty though", said Ransey "It makes a world of difference if the cage is a gilded one!"
"Yes, the worst aspect of being poor was the lack of freedom", said Adam "There were times when we felt stymied at every turn".
"That won't happen again", said Hillyard.
"No, we've got Patsy's legacy", said Adam "That makes such a huge difference to us. It's quite wonderful".
"We've got my legacy too now", said Hillyard.
"Oh I thought Woll might leave you a little something", said Adam.
"See, I was right to ask!" said Tamaz, indignantly.
"You are the sort of snotty child who would always ask visiting grandparents if they'd brought you a present!" said Julian.
"Like you, you mean", Tamaz muttered, which caused even Hillyard and Joby to laugh.
"The thing is", said Hillyard, as Bengo set out the glasses "It isn't just 'a little something'. He's given the whole lot, the complete works".
"Well well if it isn't the Sultan of Toondor Lanpin", said Julian, after a momentary pause "Hail the conquering hero ..."
"Shut up, Jules", said Adam "You sound as spiteful as your mother".
"I'm not being spiteful", said Julian "I suppose I'm just a bit disgruntled because it means I'll ahve to put up with worrying again about when he's going to vanish off there. It was tedious enough the last time".
"I'm not going to live there", said Hillyard "I'll just visit occasionally, and you lot'll have to come with me. This money is for all of us, same applies to the house. It's ours, not mine".
Ransey took Hillyard in hand, and spent most of the following day frog-marching him round the telegraph office (a long message back to the housekeeper offering condolences, and assuring her of the ongoing security of everyone's jobs), the solicitors, and the bank. Ransey did most of the talking to the various officials, and Hillyard's only contribution was to tell the bank manager's assistant that an active sex life would clear up his spotty complexion a treat!
"If that's all you've got to say I might as well have done this by myself", Ransey snapped, on the way home.
"I don't know why you didn't anyway", said Hillyard "I had to let 'em down at the baths today because of all this rubbish".
"You've got to jack that in now anyway", said Ransey "Multi-millionaires don't work as bath-attendants".
"I can do what I like", said Hillyard "Just because I'm rich now doesn't mean I have to do everything you say!"
"You don't seem to appreciate just how rich you are", said Ransey "You could go to Krindei and make most of them look paupers, particularly as Woll owned some oil-wells there".
"Look Ranz", Hillyard paused in the stret "I know you're trying to be helpful, but I really want to do this my own way. I don't want to end up like a Krindei-ite, or Woll come to that. Everyone seems to think money has to take possession of you and turn you into a neurotic drone, well I want to prove 'em wrong".
"And I want that too", said Ransey "I wouldn't wish Woll's fate on anyone. But it isn't just money that makes people like that. It could've been me as well, hiding away at the top of a house, thinking all the rest of the world is out at a party and I hadn't been invited! In my own way I'm trying to help you achieve your aim, and you should know after all these years that you can trust me. Now there aren't many accountants you can say that about, are there!"
It had been a taut atmosphere on the Indigo that day. Lonts had been repeatedly assured that they weren't moving out, but had still taken to pensively pacing the deck with Snowy under his arm. Toppy, who had been varnishing a new chair close by, had got exasperated with him and dabbed his brush in Snowy's face. All hell had subsequently broken out.
"All this over a bloody teddy-bear!" Julian had roared "I don't know why I don't buy us all a bloody great play-pen and we can just jump in it!"
Adam took Snowy into the galley and scrubbed him in the sink, whilst Lonts stood close by, looking as anxious as a mother watching open-heart surgery being performed on her son. Bengo meanwhile was relishing Goody Two-Shoes Toppy's fall from grace, until Julian yelled at him that it was high time he washed his hair.
"It's my new stage look", said Bengo, hurtfully "Wild and untamed".
"All it looks is greasy and unwashed", said Julian "I could fry chips on that! Now go and get it done at once!"
Whilst all this was going on, Joby had been lying on the sofa in the saloon, his face propped moodily on a cushion whilst a sombre jazz piece played on the gramophone next to him. Kieran had asked him to go to the hospital with him to go over a bequest that Hillyard wanted to make as soon as all Woll's money was officially his, but Joby had felt too down in the dumps for Good Works. He had spent the afternoon imagining Hillyard as lord of the manor, of him having to spend all his time at Woll's house, of the Indigo never being the same again. The commotion over Snowy on the other side of the saloon door had rumbled on without him noticing.
Tamaz came into the room, scrunching on an apple. He sat down on the sofa next to Joby, and nudged away a tear on Joby's face.
"Why are you unhappy?" he asked, lying down beside him.
"I'm just being daft", said Joby "I've lived with Hillyard for 20 years. I know he's a bloody menace at times, but I really don't want him to leave".
"He won't", said Tamaz "You heard him. If he visits Woll's place we'll all go too".
"I'm surprised you haven't been sucking up to him", said Joby, fondly "I should be out in the cold now as far as you're concerned shouldn't I?"
"You're both as bad as each other", said Tamaz, dropping bits of apple on his t-shirt "You've both been promising to take me shopping all week and you haven't managed it yet".
"We are definitely taking you tomorrow", Joby smiled.
Tamaz gave a snort of disbelief.
"Oh yes we are, if only to buy you some new undies", Joby pinged the elastic on Tamaz's bloomers "I'm fed up with looking at these passion-killers".
"Don't you fancy me in them then?" said Tamaz.
"I'd fancy you in a potato-sack", said Joby "But the warmer weather's arriving now, so you can be a bit more exciting".
"I find these quite exciting", said Tamaz "I can feel them when I've got them on under my trousers. I don't feel boring then".
"That is one thing you could never be, Tamaz!" Joby pulled him to him and they kissed hungrily, until the gramophone strarted winding down. Joby gave a groan "That bloody thing! What wouldn't I give for a decent stereo!"
"I'll do it", Tamaz got onto his haunches and wound the gramophone with the side-handle. He squirmed delightedly as Joby gently rubbed his bottom.
"Oh what a sight to generate uncontrollable lust in a man!" said Julian, coming into the room "The epitome of sexual arousal. Tamaz in his cotton bloomers!"
He deftly picked Tamaz up and danced with him in his arms. Tamaz cackled, and put his hand inside Julian's shirt to fondle his nipple.
"Better watch out", said Julian, collapsing into an armchair with Tamaz on top of him "Or Joby might get jealous. We all know how possessive he can get".
"He'll know if he goes too far", said Joby, who was looking through the sack of gramophone records.
"I just want to know if Julian is really as queer as he likes to make out", Tamaz pulled up his t-shirt and fondled his breasts.
"Joby, get this creature to behave", said Julian, laughing helplessly "Or I'll turn it over and paddle it".
"Be my guest", said Joby "Sometimes it gets him to behave for all of 30 seconds afterwards!"
A great deal of elderflower champagne was consumed that evening. So much so that Kieran had great trouble sleeping, not helped by a raging headache and Joby snoring incessantly in his ear. Eventually he got up to help himself to some water from the wash-jug, and found that Tamaz was also awake.
"My head hurts", Tamaz whispered.
"I can take your mind off it if you like", Kieran knelt down on the floor by Tamaz's bed.
"You sound like Father Dalman", said Tamaz "He used to say that sort of thing before fondling my breasts!"
"Am I really like him?" said Kieran.
"No", Tamaz conceeded "He was only concerned with satisfying himself. I was just a sex-thing to him, an implement".
"I hope I don't give you that impression", said Kieran "I'll prove it to you shall I? I'll work on you for your pleasure first and foremost".
"Yes", said Tamaz, hoarsely and excitedly.
Kieran whipped back the blanket and rammed his hand between Tamaz's legs, groping at his penis and moulding it under the thick cotton material of his bloomers until it was erect. Then he yanked down Tamaz's drawers, roughly wrenched open his legs and inserted his fingers into Tamaz's vagina. There he rubbed gently on his clitoris until it was completely inflamed, and Tamaz was breathless with arousal.
"Did he ever do that for you?" said Kieran, softly.
"He wouldn't have known it existed!" Tamaz giggled, wild with sexual contentment.
"Ah well you see I had the advantage of not growing up in a male-only world", said Kieran.
"Come to me again like this sometime", Tamaz whispered.
Kieran kissed him, redressed him and rolled him onto his side, before replacing the blanket.
The jewellers in town the next day resembled a bird-cage. A handful of women from the Marsh Village had arrived in town to see it for themselves, having heard so much about it from Myrtle's friend Octavia, and about the Toondories from Nesta. Its quaint squalor though couldn't make up for the comfort and luxury they were used to, and they were currently squawking in disbelief at the rows of "gaudy trinkets" that passed for jewellery hereabouts.
"Extraordinary lot, these Marsh women", said Hillyard, standing with Joby behind a revolving stand of earrings "I suppose they were pampered a lot because for so long they thought they were the only women in the world".
Joby was staring unimpressed at the headgear of one of them. The feather in her satin turbun was so high she could have got a job dusting lampshades and chandeliers!
"If they all wore less make-up", said Joby "And didn't insist on frizzing their hair they'd be quite attractive".
"I know what you mean", said Hillyard "All that rouge makes them look a bit clownish. They're strong-minded though. They make sure they get what they want".
"Yeah but even they might have met their match today", said Joby.
Tamaz was returning from the back of the shop where he had selected two brooches. One he pinned to the bodice of his black teddy, and the other to his fur-stole. When he reached the counter he grabbed a pad of rings and began jamming them onto his fingers indiscriminately. The Marsh women had noticed him, and were staring quite openly, occasionally emitting bemused giggles. Never normally at a loss as to how to deal with anyone in a firm and often contemptuous way, nonetheless they were at a complete loss when dealing with Tamaz. They were simply speechless in his presence and could only stare like institutionalised zombies.
"You can't have all of those", said Joby "Put some back, or you'll look like you're wearing a knuckle-duster!"
Tamaz gave a longsuffering sigh and removed two rings from each hand.
"How about a necklace?" said Hillyard, selecting one from a box on the counter "Here you are, pearls".
Tamaz bit them and flung them down with a clatter.
"Fake", he said.
"Alright, don't have 'em then", said Joby.
Tamaz changed his mind and ordered Joby to fasten the clasp. Hillyard meantime was getting nervous. The women had recognised him and were obviously getting ready to move in for the kill. News of his stupendous legacy had travelled like wildfire, and he was now one of the, if not THE, most eligible bachelors in the world. Not only was he filthy rich, but he was also good-looking and fit.
"Come on, let's pay for these and go and have a beer", said Hillyard.
"You could save yourselves a lot of trouble if you opened an account here", said Tamaz.
"That right?" Hillyard laughed.
"Ignore him", said Joby "If you could show me someone who's even more spoilt than him in the world, we'd have to get Kieran to declare it a miracle!"
"You owe me all this", said Tamaz, imperiously "To make up for the way you used to keep me locked up in a cage, and you tried to strangle me once, remember?"
"There are many times I wish I'd succeeded!" said Joby "Talk about selective memory at work. What about all the lousy things you did to me?!"
"Only to be expected", said Tamaz "After all, you are my slave".
"It certainly feels like it at times", said Joby, with feeling.
They escaped from the shop and headed to Persephone's bar. On the way Tamaz's jewellery attracted a lot of looks, so much so that rumours immediately started flying that Hillyard was squandering his entire fortune on him. Although it was hard to see how he could do this in a fairly cheap little baubles shop! Even so, it reminded people uncomfortably of Gorth's fate at Tamaz's hands.
"They seem to think Tamaz is going to murder us all with a hatpin", said Kieran, when he caught up with them at the bar.
Tamaz seemed to shrink in his seat, and he sat huddled up like a sparrow feeling the cold.
"Now don't you worry about what I've just said", said Kieran "This is what goes with being rich. It goes with begging letters and fawning waiters".
"If I want to buy Tamaz presents I can", said Hillyard, indignantly "Or do they expect me to give it all away to donations to the hospital and Good Works?"
"Most people don't have a problem with it", said Kieran "And those that do aren't worth worrying about".
"I suppose no one'd be allowed to criticise them if they wanted to spend money on their families!" Hillyard went on.
"Hillyard, let it go", said Kieran "You are getting yourself in a fine old lather over nothing".
"You started on it", said Joby "Winding us up with stories of snotty neighbours and upsetting Tamaz like that".
"Would you like me to kiss your feet to make amends?" said Kieran, facetiously. He moved up closer to Tamaz and slipped his arm round his waist "Glad to see you've got your frillies back on. I was beginning to think winter would never end!"
"The teddy's more accessible", said Tamaz, suggestively rubbing his hand between his legs "Under my trousers it buttons up around the crotch. You just have to pop the buttons open, that's all".
"I wasn't aware the bloomers restricted you too much either", said Joby, caustically "They certainly didn't last night anyway!"
"Ach, you were snoring your head off at the time", said Kieran "You wouldn't have known anything if Lonts hadn't gone and blabbed this morning".
"You have more fun in your cabin don't you!" said Hillyard "All I got last night was Julian barking at me to massage his feet!"
Meanwhile Glynis was preparing to move back to her barge. She hadn't enjoyed her two-month sojourn in the bedsit, as the dreary rooms were too much a representation of loneliness. Bengo, Lonts and Toppy were helping her to repack her things.
"Just typical though isn't it?" she said "No sooner do I move back then you lot will probably all decide to go to Woll's place!"
"Even if we do it won't be for very long", said Bengo "And if you're really fed up with being alone why don't you come with us?"
"Yes, the others won't mind", said Lonts.
"You could be our twelfth member", said Bengo "That'd take us up to a round dozen".
"I'm a woman", said Glynis "I wouldn't fit in".
"That's rubbish", said Lonts "All that means is you've got breasts and a hole, well so's Tamaz and yet he lives with us".
Glynis had to smile at Lonts's rather brusque summing-up of her womanhood, but she wasn't so pleased at getting lumped with Tamaz.
"I hope I would be easier to live with than him", she said.
"Oh Tamaz is alright", said Bengo, innocently unaware that Glynis would rather hear how tiresome and impossible Tamaz was!
"He's really funny sometimes", said Lonts.
"He obviously has you all in thrall", said Glynis, tartly.
"I suppose he does really", Bengo shrugged, casually "Perhaps he's our mascot, I hadn't thought of it that way before".
"Let's go and have a drink and see if we can find the others", said Lonts "And then we can tell them you're coming with us".
"She hasn't agreed yet", said Toppy, tentatively.
"Shut up, Toppy", said Lonts "I know I promised Adam I would be dignified around you, but that doesn't mean I've forgiven you for what you did to Snowy. You'll have to try a lot harder than that to please me!"
Adam and Julian had joined the others at Persephone's, having fought their way through the forest of feathered headdresses at the bar.
"I should have brought some hedge-clippers in with me", said Julian "They look like extras in a naff Jane Austen production!"
"They're all after Hillyard", said Kieran "We're here to protect him".
"Get me a drink, Hillyard", Julian barked at the said man.
"Certainly", said Hillyard "Cocoa, beef-tea?"
"Brandy", said Julian "And don't be impertinent. I can see money is going to your head!"
He sat down on the bench next to Tamaz, who had just finished polishing off a bowl of stuffed olives and was now wiping his beringed hands on his fur-stole.
"I suppose you're gonna have a go at us as well for buying him some gems?" said Joby.
"Oh I've given up completely where this creature is concerned", said Julian "I just sit back and go with the flow. He has us all on a string anyway".
"Don't mention Gorth!" said Tamaz, crossly.
"I wasn't going to", said Julian "Gorth is dead, whereas I am alive and I do not intend to let you change that situation".
"I won't", said Tamaz, serenely "You're sexy, he wasn't".
"Oh for the days when my presence alone could turn you into a gibbering wreck", said Julian "Now I am as puttified as everyone else".
"I've got a present for you, Julian", said Hillyard, putting his drink in front of him and then reaching for a package on his chair "I got it from the tobacconists earlier. The longest cigar they had in the shop. All twelve inches of it".
"Yeah, we thought it'd match your dick", said Joby.
"How thoughtful", said Julian, as Adam giggled madly.
"Don't go and set light to your dick by mistake", said Kieran.
"What are you laughing at?" said Lonts, appearing with the others.
"Schoolboy humour", said Adam, still giggling "I'm sure Glynis doesn't want to be bothered with it".
"I wondered what was exciting the Marsh women", said Glynis "They all kept looking over here as we came over. I should have known it was because Tamaz was in here!"
"Those dreary old scarecrows", said Tamaz, contemptuously "They're jealous because I'm sat here with all these men that adore me, and they're reduced to just bitching with each other".
"These adoring men will put you back in your boy's clothes if you're not careful", said Adam "And then the Marsh women will have endless advantages over you".
"No they won't", Tamaz snorted "They don't know how to handle men. They don't realise you all enjoy being licked into shape".
"Being half-male yourself of course gives you an advantage in understanding us", said Julian.
"Can Glynis come to Woll's with us?" said Lonts "Only she's lonely".
Glynis blushed to have her private feelings discussed so publicly.
"Well I suppose it'll be nice to have a sane person around for a change", said Adam.
"It'd put Tamaz's nose out of joint", said Toppy.
"No it wouldn't", said Tamaz "I haven't got little fat legs like hers".
"Disregard him, Glynis", Julian sighed "His spanking's been neglected of late. I blame Tinkerbell and Goofy myself for not exerting enough discipline".
"That'll all change when we get him home", said Kieran.
"At least I don't go expecting everyone to defend me all the time", said Tamaz "If Glynis had insulted my legs I'd have found some way of turning it to my advantage, not sat there bristling like a self-righteous suet-pudding!"
"This could be a new game, Glynis", said Adam "You think up the worst insult you can for Freaky, and see if he can wriggle out of it!"
"Oh her insults would be boring", said Tamaz, dismissively "Probably something about my cock, or motherhood".
"Alright, put a sock in it", said Joby "He's not like this all the time, Glynis".
"Going shopping gets him too excited, you see", said Kieran.
"It's my fault", said Adam "I encouraged him. It's easy to forget that people outside the family might find him upsetting".
Glynis could have been mollified by this, if Tamaz hadn't suddenly assumed a shy and meek expression, which made her feel ludicrous for having got offended in the first place. It wasn't for her benefit that Tamaz was doing it though. As Joby had said the day before, Tamaz usually had an innate instinct for knowing when he was about to cross the line of tolerance. When this happened he pulled back by assuming a wilting pose, or even sobbing.
"I just don't know how to deal with him", Glynis confessed, sadly "And I'm afraid slanging matches aren't my scene. It's my round I think".
"That's put us in our place", said Julian, when Glynis had gone up to the bar "I hope she doesn't make a habit of that when she joins us".
"I think we inevitably have to accept a bit of it", said Adam "Women do have a tendency to be more grown-up about these things I suppose".
"And Glynis doesn't like arguments", said Joby "She likes to know how people feel, but she doesn't want to know what they think".
"We should pair her up with Codlik", said Julian.
"I'd rather you did that than have her join us", said Kieran.
"Patsy?" said Adam, in surprise.
"Listen, my home's me sanctuary from the world", said Kieran "And when I say home I don't just mean the Indigo, but being with you lot. I don't want to then have to put up with Glynis mooning after Joby and having verbal cat-fights with Tamaz. I'm getting close to losing me saintly patience about it!"
"It was Tamaz's fault", said Joby.
"No it wasn't", said Kieran "Glynis can't bear to hear Tamaz's name without going into meltdown, and that would be a disaster for us all living together. She's not joining us, and you'll do as a I say on this one, Joby!"
Kieran got up and left the bar. Joby followed him, tugging Tamaz along as well.
"Oh dear", said Adam, softly "He hasn't had a little outburst like that for a while".
"Inevitable", said Julian "He's still all in pieces after Red dying".
"I'm going after him too", said Lonts, distraught "All of this is my fault!"
"Not such a good idea after all, having Glynis along", said Hillyard.
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site