Go back to previous chapter
The following morning Adam took Lonts shopping in the market-place. Lonts's use as a carrier of melons though was severely curtailed when he spotted Jonner walking out of the tobacconists. Adam didn't like the look that came over Lonts's face. He had that snarling, flared nostrils expression that usually preceeded some dreadful scene.
"Lo-Lo", said Adam "I thought we'd sorted all this out. I've got my stern voice on now. LONTS!"
Fortunately they were distracted by Toppy suddenly hurtling towards them, wearing his uniform, but looking wide-eyed with terror.
"Toppy, I thought you were supposed to be at work", said Adam.
"I've run away!" Toppy cried "Please don't make me go back there, Adam. I hate it. It's awful. I know we need the money, but I can't bear it".
"Calm down", said Adam "The money's not that important. You weren't getting paid very much anyway, not considering the amount of hours they were expecting you to do. But I suppose the hotel trade's always been like that. What's happened? Is it that awful boy?"
"He won't leave me alone", Toppy exclaimed "He keeps following me around, picking on me. He said just now he'd stick my arm in the stove if I didn't agree with him that his mother is beautiful".
"That's disgraceful", said Adam, horrified "You did exactly the right thing to run away".
"Julian's going to have a go at me!" said Toppy, in despair.
"No he won't", said Adam "And if he does I'll box his ears. We're not that short of money we have to work for bullies like that. Come along, let's go home".
"I've still got my marbles! I've still got my marbles!" Tamaz tittered, resting his chin on the arm of the sofa.
"That's a matter of opinion", said Joby.
"Are we alone on this tub?" said Tamaz, sitting up.
"No", said Joby "Finia's in his cabin having a lie-down. He's got a headache".
"Well he won't disturb us then will he?" said Tamaz "Kieran leaves you alone a lot doesn't he?"
"Oh gimme a break", Joby groaned "And stop fidgeting. You're like Lonts you are. You've got too much energy".
"Perhaps I should take some exercise then", Tamaz began to wirl around the room like a Whirling Dervish, his cotton wrap billowing out around his bare legs.
"You're not usually this lively when you've got the curse", said Joby.
"It's finishing", said Tamaz, spinning faster.
"Tamaz!" Joby grabbed him by his wrap, but Tamaz shrugged it off "Pack it in!"
Tamaz came to a stop. He rested his forehead against Joby's, and touched his lips with his tongue.
"Laugh, Joby", he said, teasingly "It's very easy. You wouldn't get much of that with that blonde heifer next door. Ooh no, that would be very calm and sedate wouldn't it! Once she's reeled you in it'd be a very regulated life. Not much stocking time either I expect".
"Put this back on", Joby sighed, handing the wrap to him.
"Why? It's hot", said Tamaz, and he pulled off his camisole "Oh you're not going to stay all dreary and decent with me are you?"
"I never know what mood you're going to be in next", said Joby "You're all lively at the moment, and tomorrow you'll probably be lost in a world of your own".
"I expect so", Tamaz chimed, smacking his lips as though he'd just eaten a meal.
Voices could be heard approaching the quarterdeck steps.
"Put your clothes back on", said Joby "Your tits aren't as fascinating to everybody as you seem to think they are!"
That afternoon Myrtle turned up, like a hurricane, incensed because Toppy had walked away from her slavery without a word of explanation. Toppy cowered behind Adam in the galley, convinced he was going to be sent back to the hotel, and terrified of Myrtle, who was a truly aweseome sight. She was a thin, hatchet-faced woman with died blonde hair. She wore half a ton of make-up on her unironed face, and was so nervy that even at the best of times she seemed on the point of hysteria. Her favourite expression was "I want to cultivate peace and tranquillity in my haven!" This was usually screamed out at high volume to a cowering staff.
"Madam, I appreciate that some mothers are blind to the faults of their sons", said Julian, at last getting a word in edgeways "But until that Neanderthal brat of yours vows to change his ways, I will not let anyone here work in your establishment".
"I wouldn't employ any of you!" Myrtle shrieked "Never again! You're all a lazy bunch of good-for-nothings. And you ... you are the worst of the lot! I wouldn't employ you as a pot-boy!"
"I would be the best damn pot-boy you ever had", said Julian "You'd be lucky to get me!"
"You're all barred!" said Myrtle, turning to leave "Indefinitely!"
"That's a bit unfortunate", said Hillyard, having just returned home "Because Woll's invited us all over there for dinner tonight".
Myrtle was suddenly faced with the prospect of losing out on a huge addition to Woll's bill. Her innate meanness over-rode her pride.
"Alright", she conceeded "But after tonight you're all barred ... and that includes YOU!"
She addressed this to Kieran, who had been innocently standing in the corridor.
"You should be ashamed of yourself", she continued "You call yourself a religious man, and yet you flout the basic conventions of marriage. Marriage is for the procreation of children".
"That's alright then", said Kieran "I'm not married. Not anymore".
"You pretend to live in a state of marital bliss with him!" said Myrtle, pointing at Joby.
"Marital bliss?" said Joby, in disbelief "That'll be the day!"
"Aw c'mon now Myrtle", said Kieran "It's hardly my fault Joby's barren. I've been trying to get him him to conceive for years, but he simply hasn't got it in him!"
"I rue the day you arrived in this town!" was Myrtle's parting shot.
"Eh-oh", said Kieran.
"I really don't feel up to eating at her place", said Adam, after Myrtle had gone "I'll stay behind and mind Tamaz".
"No, he's invited too", said Hillyard.
The evening was crammed with bad portents, almost as soon as they arrived at the hotel. Firstly, Woll had such a bad attack of nerves that he coudn't drag himself down the stairs to greet them. This was a trifle inconvenient as Myrtle had decreed that none of the Indigo-ites were to be served with so much as a glass of tap-water until he appeared. They were grudgingly shown into the dining-room set aside for private functions. This lilac-papered chamber was like something out of the interior of a kaleidoscope. A bloody psychedelic nightmare.
"I haven't seen such grim decor since we were at the Winter Palace", said Joby "I hope there are no vampires lurking behind the walls".
"Only Myrtle", said Kieran.
For half an hour they sat in limbo, waiting either for Woll to appear, the staff to take pity on them, or Bengo to return from his rehearsal. Julian walked around the table, analysing the state of the utentils and glasses. Adam had seen him do this many times before. Julian couldn't go into a restaurant or a hotel it seemed without instantly turning into a replica of his grandfather, barking orders at everyone and complaining about everything in sight.
"This situation is intolerable enough without you carrying on", Adam snapped.
"Don't whine, Ada", said Julian. He patted Adam's bottom playfully with a spoon.
"This place is boring", said Lonts "Let's all go home and have an orgy".
"Oh God, I thought we were overdue for another of Lonts's orgy suggestions", said Joby.
"Must be a full moon", said Kieran.
"Well it's got to be more fun than this!" said Lonts.
"It wouldn't say much for our sex lives if it wasn't!" said Joby "Siddown, you daft reindeer!"
"I suppose I should go and see where Woll's got to", said Hillyard, unenthusiastically.
"Don't put yourself out on our account", Julian snapped "We can just sit here all night gawping at the empty plates!"
"And the empty glasses", said Kieran.
"Surprise!" Bengo appeared in the doorway "I bet you thought I was never gonna get here".
There was a round of non-committal murmurs.
"Strewth", said Bengo "What a dreary bunch of old buggers you lot are! Hasn't anyone ordered yet?"
"We can order as much as we like", said Adam, sadly "We're not going to get anything".
"Bardin and me have been thinking up a slogan to describe our act", said Bengo, propping his leg on the back of a chair "What do you think of: The Clowns Who Will Do Anything For A Laugh?"
"Sounds like mounting desperation to me", said Hillyard.
"Highly appropriate really", said Julian.
"Well I thought it made us sound playful, joyful, full of fun to have around", said Bengo, defensively.
"Absolutely none of which describes Bardin", said Julian "He even pisses you off, let alone the audience!"
"Clowns don't have to be happy", said Bengo.
"Good job then ennit!" said Joby.
The door inched open. Everyone went silent and leaned forward in eager anticipation to see if this could finally be HIM. Woll sneaked into the room as though he was hoping no one would notice him.
"There you are!" said Adam "We thought you'd stood us up".
"I-I-I fell asleep in the bath-tub", said Woll, which was the best excuse he could think of on the spur of the moment.
"Well we're very glad to see you now", said Adam.
"Not half", said Joby, whose stomach was rumbling quite noticeably.
Woll was conducted ceremoniously to his chair at the head of the table, and suddenly staff materialisted out of thin air and the dinner-party got underway. After a round of aperitifs (consumed at breakneck speed) Woll began to relax, and when Myrtle showed no sign of putting in an appearance so did everyone else.
The food was ... different. The first course was a watery seafood soup with shiny black molluscs floating in it like dead cockroaches.
"I wonder if Myrtle strained this through her hair-net first", said Adam, spooning up the thin liquid but not eating any.
"I expect it's really the remains of lunchtime's washing-up water", said Joby.
Two exhausted-looking wretches carried in the main course, a huge fish which looked like some exotic sea-monster that had been washed up on the banks of the river. It had obviously been boiled to within an inch of its life, as enough steam was rising from its container to start a dry-cleaning service.
"Any idea what it is?" said Joby.
"Whale?" said Julian.
"The vegetables will be in in a moment", bleated one of the the staff from the doorway. He sounded so exhausted and demoralised that everyone expected this to mean the vegetables would have to find their own way in, given time.
"I shall carve!" Lonts thundered, picking up the huge fish-knife and server "Don't anyone stop me. I always wanted to carve the meat at Wolf Castle but no one would ever let me".
Whilst he was thus engaged in hacking at the fish, Tamaz got up and drifted near Woll.
"Tamaz", said Woll, gently "I almost didn't recognise you in trousers and a shirt this evening, you look ... l-like a complete boy".
"I am not a boy!" Tamaz shrieked.
"I thought his period was over?" said Adam.
"It is", said Joby "But his brain takes a while to catch up!"
"Tamaz, sit down", said Adam, firmly "Don't bother Woll".
"No, he's alright", said Woll.
"I knew I should have brought the whip with me", Julian hissed at Adam "But you would insist ..."
"I'll show you!" Tamaz cried. In an astonishingly short space of time he had managed to strip himself completely naked.
"Get hold of him, Hillyard!" Julian bellowed, from the other side of the table "I'm going to get new keys made for that cage!"
"It's entirely my fault", Woll stammered.
Tamaz ran down the length of the room and came to a stop just as one of the waitresses walked in carrying the vegetable dishes. At unexpectedly being confronted with a naked hermaphrodite she screamed and dropped the lot.
"Sit down", said Adam, pushing a chair towards her and waving his napkin over her "I'm so sorry about that. It wasn't your fault".
"Myrtle", the girl cried "I dropped the food. She'll blame me".
"We'll explain it to her", said Kieran.
"Brandy", said Woll, grabbing the bottle and walking towards her "It's the only thing for hysterics. I have a housemaid who's very prone to them".
He poured out a generous measure, and the girl cradled the glass in her hands like a life-line.
"What was he doing naked?" she asked, eventually.
"He likes being undressed", said Lonts, who was still dolling out fish onto everyone's plates "I'm the same. I was always taking my clothes off in public at one time".
Meanwhile Joby, with Hillyard's help, was trying to get Tamaz back into his clothes before anyone else came in.
"You've really blown it now", Joby hissed, stuffing him into his camisole "You'll never be allowed out again. I'm really ashamed of you".
"It's inside out", said Tamaz, imperiously.
Joby gave a snort of rage and ripped him out of the garment, tearing it down the front.
"You'll have to go without it", he said.
"Come on, put your shirt on", said Hillyard, forcing Tamaz's arms into the sleeves.
"I want a dress", said Tamaz.
"Well we haven't got one!" Joby squawked, in frustration.
"He has", Tamaz pointed at Finia, who was methodically collecting potatoes from the floor.
"You can whistle", said Finia "You're not having anything of mine".
"Haven't you got some old thing you don't want anymore?" said Joby.
"No!" said Finia "All the old things I've got these days I'm still wearing! What are you anyway, his boyfriend?"
"Don't be like that, Finia", said Hillyard.
"Well you two go mental over that creature, it's crazy", said Finia "Come and eat the potatoes".
"You've got such nice hands, Kieran", said the waitress, tipsily examining Kieran's fingers "So soft and gentle-looking".
"Mm", said Kieran, who at that moment was thinking he'd like to use them to do something very ungentle to Joby.
"The fish is getting cold!" said Lonts, indignantly.
Sylvia, the waitress, joined them for the main course, and Adam stuck a chair under the door-handle to stop anyone coming in. Whilst she ate Sylvia gave them some entertaining gossip on Malevolent Myrtle and her psychopathic son. The extent of Milich's brutality was horrifying. He frequently attacked the staff (Sylvia had had her fingers deliberately jammed in the door by him only recently), he had once hacked off the heads of his mother's pet doves with the wood-chopper, and had once followed an ex-chambermaid (who had resigned out of terror of him) round the market-place, screaming foul-mouthed abuse at her.
"He exposes himself too", she added "He hasn't done it to me yet, but he brags that he goes down some of the side-streets at night here and well ... you know".
"Why hasn't he been put away?" said Adam.
"Myrtle protects him", said Sylvia.
"What, even when he killed her pets?" said Joby.
"That did shake her", said Sylvia "But most of the time the silly ... SILLY woman seems to treat it all as a joke, as though he's just an endless source of amusement. She can't understand why we don't find him as endearingly funny as she does".
"Where is he at the moment?" said Toppy, who was practically hiding under the table.
"Out with his cronies", said Sylvia "They play snooker a lot in one of the cellar-bars nearby. Look, I'm really going to have to get back to work. I'm going to be in real terrible trouble as it is".
"You can't work here", said Woll, pulling out a well-stuffed wallet and handing a wad of money to her.
"This is a month's wages", said Sylvia.
"Good", said Woll "Then it'll tide you over until you get another job. If you find you have any trouble getting one then contact me. My housekeeper can always do with an extra pair of hands".
"I'd strongly advise you to take it, Sylvia", said Adam "Woll's right, you can't work it here, it's a nut-house".
"I think it's time we were going too", said Julian, after Sylvia had been safely seen off the premises "Persephone lets out a room above her bar. I believe it's empty at the moment. Why don't you move there, Woll, for the rest of your visit? This place is hardly the cheeriest billet in town".
"Yes, and you would be nearer us then", said Lonts.
"Don't put him off!" said Joby.
Woll's things were hurriedly packed into two bags by Kreg, and the others waited outside whilst he checked out, none of them wanting another angry encounter with Mrytle. Then they walked them both down the street to Persephone's bar.
"Well that's him sorted out", said Joby, joining Kieran who was sitting by the horse-trough in the middle of the street "Are you pissed off with me again?"
"No", said Kieran, blowing a smoke-ring.
"Good, 'cos I haven't done anything wrong".
"I can't help getting jealous occasionally", said Kieran "In my stupidest moments I think you're going to run off with Tamaz".
"Oh yeah, I'm thinking of getting a nice little semi-detached in the City suburbs", said Joby, sarcastically "I can just see us settling down there together! Listen, all I'm trying to do is to look after him, 'cos the trouble is nobody ever has up to now".
"I know, I know, I said it was me stupidest moments didn't I!" said Kieran "And I do think you're doing the right thing actually".
"Yes, I don't want him going the way of Angel. Anything that helps stop that has got to be a good thing".
"He can't end up like Angel", said Joby "He hasn't got Angel's power. He can't shape-shift for a start".
"I just get jealous sometimes when I realise how beautiful he is".
"Is he?" said Joby.
"Not conventionally", said Kieran "But he has a unique look about him, and I don't just mean in the obvious ways! Sometimes he looks very beautiful".
"Yeah, and at other times he just looks like a scrawny little jerk!"
"Bit like me you mean?"
"You're beautiful all the time, and you know it", said Joby "I've heard nothing else from people since I first met you".
"Walk me home then", Kieran slipped his arm round him "If I've been getting paranoid of late I expect it's because I'm restless. I feel I should be doing something, perhaps going back to being a pilgrim, I'm not sure".
"It's enough to most people that you're Kieran", said Joby.
"It can't be!" Kieran snorted.
"Yes it can. Very special people are like that. I remember once, back in our time, watching some programme about Princess Diana. And some jerk said she didn't deserve her image 'cos she'd never actually DONE anything. And someone else said even if that was true it didn't matter. It was enough when she was alive that she'd been Princess Di. Don't ask me how that sort of thing works, but it does. People just like you for you. They don't expect you to start tap-dancing or faith-healing as soon as they meet you".
"Well on that level I might as well just have meself stuffed and put in a glass case!" said Kieran.
"Kieran, we could all say we're no damn use to anyone. What use am I to the world? I grow few tomatoes, big deal!"
"You've kept me sane all these years", said Kieran "Who knows how I might have ended up if you hadn't been around? It's a thought that doesn't bear looking into!"
"He's going to have me put back in that cage", Tamaz was saying, in the saloon on the Indigo "Well I won't go! I shall fight tooth and nail ..."
"Julian's not going to do that", said Hillyard.
"Yes he will, he's a vindictive shit".
"It's very easy to handle Julian", said HIllyard, quietly "Just do everything he says, or make out you're doing everything he says, and he's a pushover, a complete pussycat as Adam once called him".
"Oh I am, am I!" said Julian, walking into the room, with Adam following on behind "No wonder this creature's unmanageable, with you filling his head with subversive ideas!"
"Us doing everything you say is a subversive idea?" Hillyard exclaimed.
"Yes that is a rather novel concept, Jules", said Adam "Reminds me of the time when I was a little boy and my mother told me to 'stop behaving'. I think she meant start, but with my mother one could never be sure!"
"And what is all this 'make out' you're doing everything I say nonsense?" Julian continued.
"Oh it's the same thing in practice", said Hillyard "Look, I'll get Tamaz bedded down for the night".
"Preferably under six feet of compost!" said Julian.
"Don't say things like that, you'll hurt his feelings", said Hillyard, in all seriousness.
"Did you hear that?" said Julian, once he was alone with Adam "Now we have to watch what we say in case the little darling's feelings get hurt! I'm getting to feel intensely irritated by all this rehabilitating Tamaz project, it's going too far. It's not as if we can count on the wretched creature to behave itself when we're out! This is the thin end of the wedge, Adam. Soon we'll be taking drinks to him on a silver tray, and ordering asses milk for his bath! And all the while he would probably slit our throats given the opportunity!"
"No he wouldn't", said Adam "That was the old Tamaz. He's completely harmless these days".
"Oh yes, until he gets a taste for power again!" said Julian "And then we'll all be done for".
"One sight of your horse-whip, Jules, and he'll soon behave", said Adam "That's all it takes".
"You're all raving mad!" Julian exclaimed "Going potty over the bloody freak! I could understand it more if there were still no women around, but you all pander to him as though he was the only girl in the school, it's pathetic! I notice Glynis doesn't get this kind of leading lady treatment".
"Glynis doesn't live with us", said Adam "And anyway, much as I'm very fond of her, Glynis hasn't Tamaz's ... well his pizzazz I suppose".
"His pizzazz?" said Julian, faintly "I'm goin to bed, whilst I've still got a bunk to sleep in. By this time tomorrow I wouldn't put it past you lot to have let Tamaz have it instead!"
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site