"You're so tiny, Finia, like a little rabbit", Julian picked him up under his armpits and held him dangling in the air "There's so little of you. Must be being married to an accountant that does it. Happy people always put on weight when they get married, they don't lose it".
"That's bullshit, Julian", said Finia "If I've lost any weight lately it's because of the Indigo diet, not because of being married to Ransey. I wish you'd learn to accept him. We wouldn't have been able to get by without him at times".
"Alright, don't rub it in", said Julian, setting him back on his tiny feet.
"You're in a real bad mood lately", said Finia "Is it anything to do with that letter Hillyard got from Woll?"
"How should I know!" Julian exclaimed "Seeing as I'm not privy to its contents".
"He's offered to let you read it".
"I'm not that starved for kicks in my old age that I need to read other people's mail!"
"Woll wants him to go and live on his country existence".
"Oh how bloody peachy!" said Julian "I've heard that from every jerk on this boat. Even Tamaz seems to know all the details. Well if it's such a blindingly good offer why doesn't he go? What's keeping him here?"
"Loyalty", said Finia "He's been Kieran's foot-follower for a long time now".
"Kieran's groupie more like. Oh God, I don't think I can take much more of this. Everyone's deserting me".
"Julian!" Finia cried, as Julian slammed out of the cabin.
Julian went into the galley where he found Adam and Hillyard washing some reject fruit from the market.
"Woll says he's had a bumper crop of apples and plums on his estate this year", Hillyard was saying "And apparently the men on his staff are organising some six-a-side soccer tournaments. Gives you some idea how many people he employs, because he's got some women working in the house these days too".
"It all sounds positively idyllic", said Adam, quietly.
"Yeah. I'd get a suite of rooms all to myself apparently", Hillyard went on "Bit of a turn up isn't it! I haven't had me own room since Wolf Castle".
"I'm going out!" Julian announced dramatically, and then stamped up the quarterdeck steps.
Lonts knocked on Ransey's cabin door and then walked in, dragging the canvas laundry sack behind him.
"Can I strip your bunks, Ransey?" he asked.
"Sure", said Ransey, who was sitting at a small folding-table, doing some of his freelance accountancy work.
"I think you're really clever doing all that", said Lonts, peering over his shoulder "It doesn't make any sense at all to me".
"It's easy enough when you know all the rules", said Ransey, placing his pencil on the ledger and then stretching "Just a case of putting order into a bit of chaos. I suppose that's what I like about it".
"Who invented numbers?" said Lonts, pulling the sheets off Finia's bunk "And why are they so important?"
"I don't know", Ransey laughed "But it seems to work well enough. Was Julian chucking his weight around just now? I heard him shouting".
"He's in a bad mood at the moment", said Lonts "I hope Hillyard doesn't leave us. He's always been kind to me. I know everyone says he's daft at times, but he's very kind to everyone".
"It's got to be his decision", said Ransey.
"Will you miss him if he goes?"
"I can't imagine him going. I just don't think it'll happen".
"You think he's kind too though don't you?"
"Too bloody kind at times", Ransey expostulated "We'll just have to wait and see, Lonts. As I said, it has to be his decision, no one else's".
Kieran, faced with a rare free afternoon, had gone to bed to catch up on his sleep, a commodity that had been in poor quality of late. Like Julian, he had been restless since the Festival had closed three weeks before, and the letter from Woll had exacerbated it.
He had fallen into a deep sleep and then been plagued by a highly disturbing dream. In it he had been standing out on the marshes with the others, all of them eveloped in a dense fog. Suddenly Angel had appeared, and had announced that he was taking Kieran two thousand years into the future, to the seventh millennium. "No you can't!" Kieran had screamed "I got shifted 2000 years once before, you can't do it again". "You have to", said Angel "And this time you have to come alone". Angel had patted his face contemptuously, and Kieran had felt the hairs on his palms. And those hypnotic blue eyes too. The ones that were ironically so like his own. "Two sides of the same coin, you and me", said Angel "We belong in the seventh millennium".
"No!" Kieran had woken up screaming. He sat on the edge of his bunk for some time, getting himself adjusted to consciousness. He vainly groped for some cigarettes, but the carton was empty.
The Indigo felt unnaturally silent. No voices, no footsteps, where the blazes was everybody? He went out into the gangway, but the whole place was deserted. In Julian's cabin he found a reasonably-sized cigar butt in the ash-tray and coined it for himself. Julian's logbook was lying open on the desk, and Kieran idly turned over the last couple of pages.
"'Seriously thinking we should resume travels'", read the last entry which Julian had written only that morning "'All this domesticity is hopeless. We'll end up turning into a right load of handbags at this rate. Serious signs of rotting in parts of the forward deck though, and heavy rain forecast for tonight won't do it any favours. Will get it checked over properly tomorrow. Doubtless Adam will have hysterics at the thought of leaving Toondor Lanpin, but he'll do as he's told. The simple fact is we can't carry on living this way, not knowing from one day to the next if we're going to be able to eat supper or not. It's too ridiculous for words. Sooner or later our future has to be addressed, and I'm no more looking forward to it than anyone else ..."
Julian had wandered the town for the most of the day. The only person he spoke to on his travels was Emily, who informed him that she had taken a room in the old stable-block behind Persephone's bar.
"I earn a bit of cash making up cushions and embroidering tablecloths", she had said "There's a man down the market who sends them to the City. They pay a fortune for them there. We don't get paid a fortune though! Still it's work I can do in my own home, and my needs are small. They always were".
After talking to her he had drank from a dipper by the horse-trough in the main street, and then dodged a couple of boys kicking a rag around, on his way to the public reading room. There he had buried himself in the maps section, poring over them, looking for somewhere else to go. He was vaguely intrigued by the idea of pursuing the river up beyond No-Name, particularly as the map rather brassily claimed "This area is uncharted, but is thought eventually to lead to the west coast".
"Well of course it bloody does if you follow it far enough, you dope!" Julian had muttered under his breath.
It never ceased to amaze him how lazy the people of present day were. So much of the planet was currently "uncharted", but strangely it was an era that didn't seem to be spawning any great intrepid explorers. It occurred to him that they on the Indigo had probably seen more of the world than anyone else.
"Perhaps we can get Fradie to write up our adventures for us", he mused "It'd be a bestseller, no more money worries. No, it'd take too long, and we need money now, today, not in a couple of years time".
He had been sitting stuck in a dream for some time, before he realised the librarian was going round lighting oil-lamps.
"A storm brewing", he said "Getting a bit dark outside".
"It was forecast", Julian sighed, and he got up to leave.
As he retraced his steps to the waterfront he could hear thunder rumbling in the far distance. From Glynis's barge he could hear her listening to the shipping forecast on her wireless set. All around him the neighbours were fetching in washing and bolting hatches, even though not a single drop of rain had fallen as yet.
When he got onto the Indigo he was surprised to find Finia sitting alone in the saloon, doing more of his interminable mending.
"Where is everyone?" said Julian "Where's Adam?"
"Gone out", said Finia.
"Gone out? But he never goes out!"
"He has this evening. Said he was going to Persephone's for a drink".
"A drink?" said Julian, faintly.
"I think he meant an iced coffee", Finia smiled "He hasn't got the money to fall off the wagon!"
"Well what's brought this spasm on?"
"Nothing in particular", said Finia "Hillyard and Joby said they were going out for a beer, and Adam said he wanted to go too. Lonts and Toppy are having tea with Glynis".
"Reduced to sponging off the neighbours now", Julian spat.
"Ransey's taken some accounts back to the hotel", Finia continued "Kieran's disappeared, Bengo's popped over to the theatre to check rehearsal times for tomorrow, and Tamaz asks if he can spend the night on-board, because it's going to rain".
"I'll sort that out when I get back", said Julian "Depends how generous I'll be feeling".
"Are you off out again then?"
"Yes, I want to see what's so fascinating about Persephone's bar all of a sudden!"
"I don't know what's so bizarre about me being in here", said Adam, perched on the edge of a bar-stool "Am I not considered manly enough to be seen in a pub these days?"
"No it's not that", said Hillyard, sitting next to him "Not at all".
"Hm, I sometimes think I should grow tits and wear a pinny!" Adam retorted "I don't get off the Indigo nearly enough. How on earth did I end up becoming den-mother?"
"You always were", said Joby "It was 'cos in the old days you were the eldest, the babysitter as you used to call yourself, and you're more mumsy than Julian".
"Oh charming", Adam snorted.
"It's always the way though innit?" said Joby "In all couples, regardless of gender, one has to be the woman. And when it comes to you and Julian ... well you're it. Admit it, that's always been the case".
"Maybe", said Adam, grudgingly "So in that case who wears the trousers out of you and Patsy?"
"God knows", Joby sighed "He's a law unto himself. Sometimes he pretends to listen to me, but it goes in one ear and out the other. No brain to stop it, I spose".
"I'm confused", said Hillyard.
"Permanent state of mind with you", said Joby, sipping at his beer.
"If all that man-woman bit is true", said Hillyard, undaunted "How does that explain Adam and Lonts?"
"Mother-son", said Joby.
"With bedroom privileges", Adam laughed.
"So you're still the woman there too", said Hillyard "But you also wear the trousers, as you put it".
"Well God help us if Lonts was in charge!" said Joby "He needs a firm hand on his tiller".
"The loving hand that chastises when needed", said Adam "Anyway, stop all this refering to me as a woman, I'm beginning to get a complex about it, as though I was like Tamaz or something".
"Oh he's having one of his womanly phases sure enough", said Hillyard.
"Must mean his period's due", Joby groaned "He always starts playing girly then".
"When I took his food-pail down to him earlier", said Hillyard "I said, all innocently like, your hair's getting a bit long, Tamaz. I'll ask Finia to pop down and trim it for you. And he has a fit! Clamps his hands over his ears and starts squealing. Took me ages to calm him down again. You'd think I'd suggested shaving his head!"
"He'll be alright", said Adam "It's been rather oppressive today, with the storm coming on. Perhaps that's affected him".
"There you bloody are!" Julian exclaimed, hoving into view "I don't like coming home to find you've disappeared Ada, I find it very disturbing".
"Well what am I supposed to do?" said Adam "Apply in writing for permission from you three days in advance!"
"Don't go giving him ideas", said Joby.
"You were always like this, Jules", said Adam "When we were students you could come home any hour you damn well pleased, but I had to be sitting by the fender waiting for you".
"Oh don't rake all that up", said Julian "It's thundering, I think it's time you came home".
"Why, getting scared are yer!" said Joby "Why don't you have a beer now you're here?"
"Yes Jules, sit down and take the weight off your mouth", said Adam.
"What made you come here this evening?" said Julian, dragging a spare stool over.
"It's all part of Adam's new macho image", said Hillyard.
"Good grief", said Julian "We don't want too much of that, it's far too terrifying".
There was a loud drumming sound as the long-awaited rain hit the windows.
"This is going to be quite a storm", said Hillyard, looking out at the deepening darkness.
"Patsy's going to get soaked if he's out in that", said Adam.
"Yeah, I'm gonna go and look for him", said Joby, picking up an oilskin jacket he had brought over from the Indigo "I don't spose he's far".
He eventually located him down by the seedy waterfront bar, near the old warehouse area where Tamaz had locked him up. They didn't often bother with this place, simply because it was too depressing for words. Hillyard occasionally came down to the bar here when lack of funds drove him out looking for tricks, (leading Julian to nickname him Dockyard Doris), but otherwise it was pretty much shunned.
"What the hell are you doing down here?" said Joby, walking towards him through the rain.
"I got walking around and didn't really notice where I was going", said Kieran "Until it started raining".
"I'm surprised you noticed then, knowing you", Joby looked down at Kieran's bare feet, which were splattered with mud "You have got some footwear, haven't you?"
"Only those tatty old trainers", said Kieran "I don't like wearing them when it's really hot. I keep thinking me feet'll start rotting if they sweat too much!"
"Perhaps I should save up and get you some sandals".
"Sandals?" said Kieran "You'll be suggesting I grow a beard next and change me name to Moses!"
Joby got him back to the Indigo and dried him off. The boat was in chaos. From pin-silence it had gone to bedlam, with everyone now home, and the storm raging outside. Julian had agreed to let Tamaz come aboard, only for the said person to prefer dancing along the jetty in the pouring rain. By now Julian was in a filthy mood, not helped by Hillyard refusing to be drawn on whether he was staying or not. When Tamaz was finally snared and brought below, Julian gave him a couple of whacks with his riding-crop.
"There was no need for that", said Hillyard, cradling a sobbing Tamaz in his arms "The storm just got him excited that's all. You shouldn't beat him when his period's due".
"If he doesn't behave that's what he gets", said Julian, storming into his cabin.
"He's in a grotty mood isn't he!" said Bengo, raising his leg and propping it against the saloon wall.
"I wonder why", said Finia, looking pointedly at Hillyard.
Lonts felt very sorry for Tamaz. He'd been on the receiving end of enough beatings from Julian himself to know exactly how he was feeling. To cheer him up he put a recond on the gramophone and asked him to dance with him.
"Chaos in here", said Ransey, sitting on the arm of the sofa next to Kieran "I'm glad I've finished my work. I'd never be able to concentrate in this racket. Are you o.k? You look a bit peaky".
"I dreamt about Angel this afternoon", said Kieran, leaning towards him confidentially "Jeez, it was so damn real".
"He can't come back", said Ransey "As I said at the time, even he can't survive having his head blown apart".
"I know, it just got to me that's all", Kieran sighed "You're looking pleased with yourself this evening".
"Just glad that job's out of the way", said Ransey "Hotel accounts are a nightmare to sort out. And I always relax more when everybody's under one roof. I'm still head of security deep down, I suppose. I still get nervous if anyone's out of sight for too long, particularly you".
"My grog tray looks in a parlous state", said Julian, coming into the room "It wouldn't surprise me if someone's been swigging from the brandy bottle".
"Toppy I expect", said Hillyard, teasingly.
"It wasn't me!" Toppy shrieked, in terror "Don't use the riding-crop on me!"
"Calm down, you're like a hysterical voice in the wilderness", said Julian, picking a bottle of brandy out of the cupboard "I expect it was the same person who dropped cigar-ash all over the logbook whilst they were reading my deepest thoughts".
"They can't be that private or you wouldn't have left it out", said Kieran.
"Somehow I had a feeling it might be you", said Julian.
"You're brooding on things too much, Julian", said Hillyard "You need to take up a hobby".
"What do you suggest?" said Julian, acidly "Knitting? Lace-making?"
"Hobbies are no good for a man of your temperament", said Ransey "You need to do something actual. You've been like a bear with a sore head since the Festival finished. You're not happy if you can't walking around barking orders at people".
"Oh fuck a duck, Ransey the psychologist", said Julian.
"He happens to be right, Jules", said Adam "Perhaps you should go back to your interior design work. There must be loads of people in this town who'd like their places re-vamped".
"And bugger all money to pay for it!" said Julian, stoutly "Don't be an ass. Anyway, I can hardly see Toondor Lanpin leading the field in style!"
"I think this is all so silly", said Lonts "You all keep on about money all the time, but money isn't important. We're all happy, surely that's what matters?"
"Oh the poor sad deluded child", said Julian.
"No I'm not", Lonts retorted "Our living costs don't have to be high, I heard Ransey saying so once. So why is everyone obsessed with getting more and more money?"
"It is time I spoke", said Adam, portentiously "Lo-Lo is right. Our living costs don't have to be high, but they are because of things like this (he picked up the half-empty brandy bottle). It is this that makes us poor. I haven't dared speak up to now because I'm well aware that my status as an ex-alchy means I am not allowed to lecture on such a subject, but I have stayed silent for too long. If not quite so much money was spent on booze ..."
"Oh I'm going to bed", said Joby "I know we've hit rock bottom when we've got to stop drinking. Even in our early days we could still drink".
"Yes, too bloody much!" said Adam.
"Goodnight", said Joby, leaving the room.
"Well done, Ada", said Julian "If they gave prizes for clearing a room you'd win hands-down".
Joby went into his cabin and draw across the blanket on a string which separated his and Kieran's part of the room from Adam and Lonts's. Kieran followed him in a few minutes later.
"Tamaz is spending the night in Hillyard's bed", he said "I bet that's getting you jealous".
In reply Joby whacked him so hard across the bottom that Kieran almost lost his balance.
"It is wrong", said Tamaz, standing in the middle of Julian's cabin "It is wrong to beat a woman".
"I quite agree", said Julian "But you are not a woman".
"Oh yes I am", said Tamaz, cupping his breasts in his hands and holding them up as though for sacrifice "Look at these".
"And what's that in your knickers then?" said Julian, shortly "A roll of plasticene?"
"I don't know what's the matter with you lately, Julian", said Hillyard "You're obsessed with money. We do alright don't we?"
"It's old age", Bengo giggled "He wants a private pension!"
"I am tired of living hand to mouth", said Julian "I think we deserve better. Is that so wrong?"
"No, but the important things are we have a roof over our heads and we don't starve", said Hillyard "Well we manage that alright. There have been times in the past when even that seemed an impossible dream. Remember the Uncharted Area? I happen to think the baby had it right. As long as we're happy, that's the main thing".
"Julian wants security in his old age", Bengo taunted.
"Save your jokes for your act, Bengo", Julian snapped "God knows it needs them!"
"You worry too much", Hillyard began.
"As your beloved Captain, it is my duty to worry", said Julian.
"But there's nothing to worry about!" said Hillyard, flapping his arms in exasperation "You've got our undying devotion, what the hell more do you want?"
"Have I though?" said Julian, quietly.
"I am not going to Woll's place", said Hillyard, emphatically "I won't deny he makes it sound tempting ..."
"And you'd be set up for the rest of your life", said Julian.
"I know, but I'm still not going", said Hillyard "I've given it a lot of thought, and I know materially it's a better offer than staying here, and Woll's a good bloke but ... oh I don't know why! Too much water's gone under the bridge I suppose. Everytime I think about it I keep remembering the time I went to collect Kieran from the lighthouse. But it's not just the big things like that, it's stupid little memories. Wolf Castle, and that poky house we had in the City ... and the island".
"Yes well I wasn't with you then", said Julian, irritably "I wish I had been".
"I wish you had been too", said Hillyard "And I expect Adam does as well. The money don't matter, Julian. As long as we don't owe a fortune to anyone, what's the big deal? I know in the old life you were used to a lot of money, Adam's told me all about it ..."
"I will do anything to keep us together", said Julian "And sometimes I get afraid that's all, that penury will drive us apart. Two might be able to live as cheaply as one, but not eleven!"
"Well Bengo's got his performing, and you know I can always earn extra", said Hillyard "Some of the women that go down the bath-house show an interest in me as well as the men. They're always saying they like me because I'm more considerate than a lot of men ..."
"Hillyard, damnit!" said Julian "You'd be nothing better than a gigolo".
"Who cares?" said Hillyard "I don't!"
The storm raged for most of the night, and by the morning the water level in the river had swelled enough to be lapping over the jetty. The market square had become an object of curiosity with everyone inspecting the rubble that had been swept into it by the floods. But as the morning progressed the dog day sun shone as blisteringly as usual.
"Hilly's told me the good news", said Adam, carrying Julian's breakfast tray into his cabin "That he's stopping. I hope that's put you in a better mood".
"ME?" Julian exclaimed "I wasn't the one who started lecturing everybody about the demon drink like some pansy version of Carrie Nation!"
"I was tired", said Adam "And fed up with you going on about money all the time. I wish you'd just accept that we're going to live out the rest of our days in poverty".
"Don't you ever wish we still had Wolf Castle though?" said Julian.
"Yes I do", Adam sighed "We'd all have more privacy for one thing. I do get so tired of Joby thrashing about like a wet fish on a slab just because Lo-Lo's getting into my bunk ... oh cheer up, Jules. Such things are mere trifles. I really don't know why you're letting everything get to you so much. It must be the male menopause coming on, except you're probably too old for that".
"What are you up to this morning?" said Julian.
"I'm going out".
"Oh nowhere exciting. Just across the river to pick up some old canvasses from Jonner. Ones he doesn't want anymore, that I can strip down and paint over. Crumbs from the king's banqueting-table. Being grateful for small mercies, that kind of thing".
"Are you going to be long?"
"Half an hour at the most I should imagine", said Adam.
"Where are you going?" said Lonts, following Kieran and Joby onto the quayside.
"Out onto the causeway to see if the marshes are badly flooded", said Kieran "That's all".
"Can I come?"
"No!" said Joby, vehemently.
"Oh go on, Joby", said Lonts, twisting his hat in his hands "I won't be any trouble, I promise".
"How many times have we heard that one over the years?" Joby groaned "Usually just before something happens to him!"
"Where's Snowy?" said Kieran, noticing the absence of the said polar bear.
"He's not very well this morning", said Lonts, solemnly.
"What's the matt ...?" Joby began "Oh God, he's got me at it now! I think it's real too!"
"Snowy's got laryngitis", said Lonts.
"How can you tell?" said Joby "He never speaks!"
"Do polar bears get laryngitis?" said Kieran.
"Oh don't you start!" said Joby.
"Alright, you can come with us, Lonts", said Kieran "Help take your mind off it".
"Kieran!" said Joby "You're as barmy as he is!"
"So what?" said Kieran "It's better than the alternative!"
"I have a little surprise for you", said Jonner, as he greeted Adam at the door of his apartment.
"Have you?" said Adam, warily.
"Come on in", Jonner tugged him into the room.
The first thing Adam noticed about the apartment was the preponderence of ash-trays strategically dotted around the room, including a tall one on wheels.
"Handy", said Adam.
"You don't smoke much these days do you?" said Jonner.
"Occasionally", said Adam "Nowhere near as much as I used to. At one time I didn't feel whole unless I had a cigar in my hand".
"Take a look at this", Jonner turned round a canvas which had been facing the wall.
It was a portrait of Kieran, showing him leaning against a low wall, a cigarette in one hand, his hair tousled, and a slight furrowing of his eyebrows as he dwelt on some niggly thought.
"Jonner", Adam gasped, momentarily lost in admiration for a fellow artist "That is so good! I've been trying to capture Patsy for years, and it's never turned out as I'd wished. You've got him perfectly".
"He was leaning against a wall on the quayside one day", said Jonner "I did a hasty preliminary sketch in charcoal, and then tore back here to paint it up. Do you like it?"
"It's superb", said Adam, humbly "You've captured the essence of him. Something I don't seem to have ever managed".
"That's not true", said Jonner "Come through here. I'll show you something else".
He took him through a curtained doorway into his sleeping area. Arranged around the walls were his own personal favourite pictures, ones done by himself and others. At the foot of his bed was a nude sketch of Kieran, one of a series Adam had done a few years ago and which had received notoriety when exhibited in the City, for daring to show the Vanquisher looking frail, vulnerable and disturbingly emaciated.
"You bought one of them?" said Adam.
"Yes, the last time I was up there", said Jonner "They made a great impression on me. I had only ever seen official portraits of Kieran before. I was so impressed by your honesty of vision".
"Well I hadn't intended them for public viewing", said Adam "The only reason I agreed to them being shown in the end was because I thought it might shock Patsy into putting on some weight. Anorexics rarely realise how appalling they look to everyone else. It caused a lot of unpleasentness in our house at the time, I can tell you. At one point I thought he'd never speak to me again".
He approached the picture as though seeing it for the first time, and was instantly hit with how shocking it must have seemed to everyone else. For the first time Kieran hadn't been painted as though viewed through gauze. In this he looked like a famine victim who had collapsed and died by the side of a road. No wonder the press hadn't liked it!
"Your pictures inspired me more than anything else", said Jonner "And encouraged me to look for the freakish element in all of us".
Next to Kieran's picture was one of Jonner's own works, a portrait of Tamaz. In it he was standing nude by a chair in Jonner's studio. Even to Adam, who saw Tamaz every day, the picture made an impact.
"That is a great achievement too", he said "It brings it home to us how extraordinary Tamaz is".
He was rather disconcerted to find Jonner stroking his bare leg. Disconcerted because he had never given Jonner's sexual bias a thought up until now. As far as he was concerned Jonner seemed to exist solely for painting and cigarettes. He had never seen him with anyone about town, male or female.
"I think you're very attractive", Jonner breathed, in his wispy voice.
Adam wished he could return the compliment, but to his mind Jonner had always looked rather like a Womble.
"You've taken me a bit by surprise", he said, instead "All the times we've worked together ... well I've never thought of you as having an intimate life".
"It's not as hectic as I'd like it to be", said Jonner, which was quite some understatement, as 'hectic' wasn't a word that could ever have been used to describe his sex life "Most artists get their kicks from their muses, but the type of people I paint don't seem to be interested".
"Such as Tamaz?" said Adam.
"I would be rather afraid to bed him", Jonner confessed.
"Yes, it would be a bit like having a tiger by the tail", said Adam.
Jonner managed to slip Adam's singlet off him with some ease. He then bent his head and kissed his chest, pausing to fondle his nipple-rings.
"You must have been very brave to have those done", he said.
"I had them done in the City on my fortieth birthday", said Adam, nervously "Don't ask me how many years ago that was!"
"You are gorgeous", Jonner breathed heavily "I've thought so for some time now. Those lovely long legs of yours, and your hair".
It is easy to get carried on a tide of passion ... oh God, thought Adam, I can almost hear my father saying it! But the Lord God gave us self-control ... maybe, but Adam's own self-control didn't kick in until he was lying with Jonner on the bed, stroking his body. And then his conscience came screaming to the fore, with a vision of Lonts, his darling, beautiful boy, abandoning him in disgust. Jonner was ceremoniously removing his spectacles before Adam came completely to his senses.
"Oh shit!" he cried "Oh God, Jonner I'm sorry ... it's no good. It's Lonts. I've never cheated on him, outside the other Indigo-ites anyway, and they don't count. I'm sorry, but I don't think he'd understand, and I can't risk any chance of losing him. He's too big a prize. Please understand".
He stood up. Jonner was squinting at him, looking about twenty years younger without his glasses on. Jeez, was his eyesight that bad? thought Adam, with supreme irrelevance. He looked as though he could barely make out Adam's shape.
"Put these back on", said Adam, handing the spectacles back to him "I feel an even bigger shit with you squinting at me like that".
"Would Lonts have to know?" said Jonner "I wouldn't tell him, you have my word on that".
"No, I don't like the thought of keeping secrets from him", Adam pulled his shorts back on "I am sorry Jonner, I shouldn't have let it get that far. I should be whipped, and if Julian finds out I probably shall be!"
"J-J-Julian?" said Jonner "He doesn't have to know does he?"
"I'll play it cool for as long as possible", said Adam.
He retraced his steps back across the bridge over the river, feeling rather shaken by this unexpected development, and yet with a great urge to giggle at the same time. Was there ever a more absurd activity than sex, and a more absurd sensation than the sexual urge? And yet it was the one thing every human being had in common. Even true celibates like Toppy shared in it, as they were governed by their lack of sexual urge.
He got back to the Indigo to find Tamaz locked up in his cage and looking rather disgruntled about it.
"I'm having a period!" he screamed, when he spotted Adam "This is inhuman", he stamped his foot "You wouldn't do this to a woman!"
Adam gave a heavy sigh but forbore to answer. Below deck on the Indigo he found Julian staggering round his cabin, having just walked into a drawer that he had left pulled halfway out of his desk. This had obviously put him into a filthy temper, and Finia was watching him with exasperation.
"You make such a meal out of it, Julian", he was saying.
"Oh really?" said Julian, clutching his knee "And what if I had osteoporosis eh?"
"Don't be silly, Jules", said Adam "It's only women who get that".
"Yes", said Julian "But if I was one ..."
"You're not, so the question is irrelevant", Adam snapped "What are you in such a foul mood about now?"
"Toppy's got a job", said Finia.
"Has he?" said Adam "Oh the clever little thing. Where?"
"Ransey got it for him", said Finia, proudly "The manageress at the hotel wanted an extra steward to wait on table and help clean the bedrooms. She mentioned it to Ransey, and he suggested Toppy. He's taken him along there now to talk to her. It's not live-in. He can stay here".
"But he'll be earning", said Adam "Oh Jules, don't you think that's good news?"
"Oh wonderful", said Julian "We're sending out the youngest to keep us now!"
"Jeepers", Finia groaned "I'm going to take the costumes back to the Little Theatre, before he drives me right up the wall!"
"Do you want me to rub your knee for you?" said Adam, after Finia had gone.
"Yes", Julian gave a small whimper.
"This is good news, Jules", said Adam, massaging his friend's knee "Just the sort of thing we need, and it'll be good for him too, Perhaps make him less timid".
"You haven't heard the worst", said Julian "Toppy's not the only one who's got a date at the hotel today. We had a missive sent round from there just after you left. From Hillyard's rich old crony no less. He's turned up, is staying there, and wants to see him. Hillyard's just gone".
"I thought Hillyard had said he was staying with us?" said Adam "So we have nothing to fear".
"I don't trust that Woll in the slightest", Julian snapped.
"Oh nonsense", said Adam "He seems a rather harmless old gent".
"Then why didn't he come here to see him?" said Julian.
"Because he's shy!" said Adam "Very shy. It would be extremely difficult for a man like that to just turn up on his own, with the prospect of facing us all en masse. Much easier to do it this way, and I expect he'd like to see Hilly alone first".
"I bet!" said Julian "Well, did you pick them up?"
"Pick what up?" said Adam, defensively.
"The canvasses", said Julian "The ones you went to collect off Jonner".
"Canvasses?" said Adam "Oh yes ... I mean, no I didn't. He wasn't in".
"Wasn't in?" Julian exclaimed "Where have you been all this time then?"
"For a walk", said Adam "Although I really don't see why I have to explain my every movement to you".
"You do when you're lying", said Julian "What have you been up to?"
"Don't tar everyone with your own brush, Jules!"
"He made a pass at me", Adam gibbered "But nothing happened. It was all very very civilised. These things happen. And it wasn't all his fault, I didn't ... didn't really grasp what was happening at first".
"You've always been a little tart, Adam", Julian spat.
"That's bloody rich coming from you!"
"Once the school tart, always the school tart, that's you".
"I know, and you were the one who took advantage of me most!" said Adam "At least with Jonner I pulled back from the brink in time, I bet you wouldn't have done!"
"Oh yes I would", said Julian "Jonner holds no appeal for me at all. He minces around as though he was Kenneth Williams on castors, breathing poisonous fumes over everyone. And I'm a smoker and I say that! I'm surprised he didn't asphyxiate you at ten paces".
"He's rather sweet really, particularly when he takes his glasses off. He goes all vulnerable then ..."
"Obviously time I took Lonts out for another drive", Julian sighed "Must be plenty of places we can get lost in around here".
"Damnit!" Adam picked up a pillow and belted Julian round the head with it "You always score best in the wind-up stakes!"
"Only because where your little darling's concerned you're so at risk from attack", Julian pulled him towards him "He's like a bag of sweets. I only have to threaten to confiscate him, and you come whimpering into line".
"Hillyard, I've missed you so much", said Woll, after they had embraced in the doorway of his room "What's wrong? Have I aged so terribly over these past few months?"
"No, no", said Hillyard, whilst thinking the exact opposite. Or was it just that in the intervening time he'd forgotten quite hold old Woll was? But he couldn't be that old surely? Not Selis the vampire old anyway. He couldn't be that much older than Adam and Julian, and yet they were still caught in a state of thoroughbred preservation.
"Come in, come in", Woll bustled across the top-floor room "I got room-service to bring some tea up just before you arrived. As you no doubt saw it's all a bit chaotic downstairs at the moment".
"Yeah, their cellar flooded last night, they're having to try and rescue some of their stock", said Hillyard, sitting down by the window which overlooked the marshes "It was quite some storm. You had no trouble getting here though?"
"The roads were quite treacherous in parts", said Woll "Now, I've ordered some sandwiches here. I want you to eat them up. You've lost weight, you know".
"Have I?" said Hillyard, in astonishment. He ran over to the full-length mirror in the corner "Cripes, I have haven't it! I look almost haggard".
"Life continues austere I take it?" said Woll, pouring out two cups of tea.
"I wouldn't say austere exactly", said Hillyard "We manage, just about".
"I read all about the Festival in the newspapers", said Woll "A great success by all accounts".
"Yeah it was, you should've come".
"I'd have liked to, but I-I could never seem to get the nerve", Woll produced a small stack of photographs, rather like a deck of playing-cards "I've brought you some pictures of my house to show you".
He fanned them out on the table, and Hillyard gave them a cursory look whilst stuffing an egg sandwich into his mouth.
"Impressive", he said "I know you said it was big, but I didn't realise it was THAT big. You could get Wolf Castle into it three times over! It must take some running".
"Fortunately I have a very good team of staff. Sometimes I think the whole estate is run for their benefit, not mine. They get so much more pleasure out of it than I do".
Hillyard was normally the most easy-going of men, but he began to feel a bit exasperated with Woll already. He'd forgotten quite how self-pitying the man could sound. He curbed his impatience with him as best he could. Woll's self-pity was after all just a side-effect of his terrible life-long loneliness.
"H-h-have you given any thought to the proposal I outlined in my letter?" said Woll, almost queasy with nerves "Of course you don't have to decide right now. I appreciate it's a difficult decision to make ... no, no please don't decide now. I've got some crates of food supplies for you all. Perhaps we could deliver those when we've finished tea. Just some excess produce from my estate, and items from our larders that we can spare. Kreg, my personal steward, will help us deliver them. He came up with me on this trip. He wanted to see Toondor Lanpin for himself".
Hillyard gazed out of the window. He could see Lonts, Kieran and Joby walking along the causeway, back towards the town. It was then that he knew beyond doubt that he'd never be able to break free of them, they would always be there. If he went away he would always be hearing about them and wondering what he was missing. It was too late to change now. He was an Indigo-ite for good.
"It's like Christmas", said Joby "Or getting a delivery from a Chinese takeaway!"
He stood on the forward deck of the Indigo as Kreg and a couple of stewards from the hotel delivered the crates of goods to them.
"It is all tremendously exciting isn't it, Jules?" said Adam.
"This is all in payment for Hillyard is it?" Julian snapped.
"Oh what nonsense!" said Adam.
"Hillyard's not going anyway", Joby groaned "I can't imagine him as some pampered floozie belonging to a country squire. Lonts would be ideal for that, but not Hillyard".
"You're just trying to upset me, Joby", Lonts retorted "And it won't work".
Ransey and Toppy came home whilst the supplies were being unloaded. Both of them were splattered with dirty water.
"I thought you were going for a job interview", said Adam.
"So did I", Toppy wailed, indignantly "But they had us clearing out the cellar instead!"
"He's got the job", said Ransey "Myrtle, the manageress, was particularly impressed with his dining-room skills. It's just they had a bit of a crisis on their hands with the cellar being flooded so we helped out. He starts tomorrow".
"Oh Toppy that's wonderful", Adam enthused "We are all very proud of you".
"It'll be nice not to have to listen to him snivelling all day", said Lonts.
"Lo-Lo!" said Adam, in a warning voice.
"Well at least he's employable, not like you", said Joby to Lonts "Not a lot of call for reindeer-keepers down here".
The delivery of supplies fast turned into an open-air banquet. By the time Hillyard brought Woll back, the neighbours had also descended on the feast like a plague of locusts. Julian ordered Lonts, Bengo and Toppy to remove some tinned and bottled stuff below deck immediately, or there'd be none left.
Glynis brought over some of her home-made wine ("guaranteed to make the party go with gastro-enteritis" - Julian), and several of the Tearfuls' children descended too. Little Tracy danced along the jetty, whilst Joby was kept busy changing records for her on the wind-up gramophone. One of her brothers, a fat boy with a sharp mind but an unfortunately criminal disposition (Kieran had caught him stealing chocolate bars from the tobacconists only that morning), was also joining in the feasting.
"I like your skirt, Julian", he said, tugging at Julian's nightshirt which Julian had tied round his waist.
"If it wouldn't be a criminal waste of good food I'd wipe that pie all over your fat little face", said Julian.
"No offence, mate", said the fat boy "I think you've got nice little arse, considering how old you are".
He jabbed Julian in the bottom with his fingers rather suggestively.
"You cheeky little bastard!" Julian exclaimed, jumping sideways.
Fat Tearful moved away, giggling hysterically.
"Whatever happened to the old-fashioned notion of having respect for one's elders and betters?" said Julian.
"That was really funny wasn't it, Adam?" Lonts chortled.
"Well I'm so glad I'm here to entertain you all", said Julian, snidely.
"I'm gonna let Tamaz out of his cage", said Joby "It's not fair to leave him out of the party".
"And whatever happened to the old-fashioned notion of murderers being locked up for life?" Julian continued.
"It can't do any harm, Jules", said Adam "Tamaz proved at the Festival that he's not a danger to the public anymore".
"Are the keys in the usual place?" said Joby.
"Yes", said Julian, unenthusiastically.
"Swell party, Julia", said Fradie, who had arrived unnoticed and was now gnawing at a hunk of cherry-topped pork pie.
"My name is Julian, and I might have known you'd be around when there's free food on offer!"
"Ah give a guy a break", said Fradie "I've allowed got a gas-ring in my digs, and I know you're a generous fella under that gruff exterior".
"I never get a bloody say in the matter that's why!" said Julian "What's mine is everybody's, or so it seems. And that applies to humans as well", he cast a harsh look in Adam's direction.
Joby had unlocked the cage door and left Tamaz to roam at will. The said person wandered the deck, picking at food like a bird pecking out worms in a garden. Whilst nibbling on a piece of fruit pie he sashayed amongst them all, and most of the guests ignored him, for the simple reason that they couldn't think of a way of opening a conversation with him.
"H-he's a strange boy isn't he?" said Woll, nervously.
"Putting it mildly!" Hillyard guffawed.
"Is he completely rehabilitated these days?"
"As much as you can ever hope for from someone who's half-demonic".
Tamaz looked at Woll directly for the first time, and the older man felt uncomfortable under his amber gaze.
"Tamaz", said Woll "That's a very pretty wrap you've got on".
He indicated the floral, cotton wrap which Tamaz had slid on over his frillies.
"Persephone gave it to him", said Hillyard.
"It's useful", said Tamaz, languidly "I can hide things in the pockets".
"Like what?" said Julian, sharply "Come on, what are you up to?"
"Oh ... um ... keys", Tamaz pulled the ring holding the keys to the cage out of his pocket "Very careless of you Joby, you shouldn't leave them in the door like that".
"Hand them over!" Julian barked.
"Nope", Tamaz hurled the keys over the side of the boat, and they fell irretrievably into the murky depths of the river.
"I've had enough of that cage!" he continued "And now you'll have to let me stay on here".
"That's what you think", Julian exploded, pushing his way towards him "It'll be the City Assizes for you".
"No it won't", said Tamaz "You wouldn't dream of it, not after all this time".
"Bengo, fetch my riding-crop", said Julian "I'm going to take a layer of skin off this slimy little creature".
"No!" Lonts leapt in front of Tamaz "You can't, Julian. I won't let you. Tamaz is mad. You can't beat a mad person. Please, Julian! I think you'd regret it afterwards".
"The only thing I regret is listening to that demented Irishman and letting this fiend stay with us", said Julian "Am I Captain of this tub or am I not?"
"Of course you are, old love", said Adam, soothingly "No one doubts that for a minute".
"But for pity's sake!" said Julian "We're going to have to put up with him with us all the bloody time now! It was bad enough at Cockroach Mansions, but at least I thought that was only temporary, whereas now ..."
"You'll get used to it", said Hillyard.
"It's not very nice being locked up all the time, Julian", said Lonts "You've never been in prison, you don't know what it's like. But some of us do".
"Give me some space", said Julian, yanking Tamaz towards the poop-deck by his elbow "I want to talk to this creature without you lot all mithering at once".
"Don't assume for one minute that this is the end of the matter", he said, once he and Tamaz were reasonably alone "You are very much on probation now. If you seriously step out of line and cause any harm to anyone, I won't hesitate to have you taken away. Is that clearly understood?"
Tamaz leaned forward as though to kiss him. Julian shook him off.
"And there will be absolutely none of that!" he continued "You are to stay on this boat all the time unless one of the others, and by that I mean a responsible member, is prepared to take you ashore. I've seen how some of the men on this waterfront look at you sometimes, and as far as I can see the worst thing that could happen would be if you got pregnant again. I have no intention of running a kindergarten for a litter of your brats. So there will be no fornication for you!"
"It's not up to me is it?" Tamaz sighed.
"You will behave, Tamaz", said Julian, quietly and firmly "This is the best chance you're ever going to get to lead anything like a normal life, and if you mess it up I can promise you wholeheartedly that you will never get another one. I know you've heard all about the Isolation block at the City Assizes. It's a very grim place, the equivalent of a living-death ..."
"Don't!" Tamaz put his hands to his face and turned away. It was genuine distress, not feigned.
"I just ..." he cried through his hands "I just wanted ... w-wanted c-company that's all".
"Hillyard!" Julian shouted down to the other deck "Get up here!"
"Yeah?" said Hillyard, when he joined them.
"Keep an eye on him for the rest of the evening", Julian directed "You've got the most patience with him. I hope your sugar daddy won't take too much umbrage".
"Saves me having to let him down tonight", Hillyard whispered "I'm not looking forward to it".
"Serves you right for getting into these emotional entanglements", said Julian "Tamaz can sleep in with you for tonight. Tomorrow you can clear out a corner of our cabin, and take out his bedding from the cage, lay it out in there".
"O.K", said Hillyard.
"And if Joby ever lets slip to you in the future that he left those keys in the door deliberately, tell me, and a very unpleasent scene will follow", said Julian.
"You don't miss a trick do you?" Hillyard smiled.
"Not where you lot are concerned, no", said Julian.
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