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"Anything in the paper?" asked Kieran, one morning two days later.
"No, not much", said Joby, closing it hastily "It's all a week out of date by now anyway".
"So why are you looking at the t.v listings?", said Kieran, sitting down on the sofa next to him.
"I like to look at 'em sometimes, see if I've missed anything", said Joby "They put such crap on it makes me feel better for not having a telly! Take last Saturday for example. There was a fascinating interview with a man who's been making dog food for the past thirty years".
"Oh that's nice", said Kieran.
"Followed by a wildlife report on the exploding hedgehog population in the City park".
"What is it, Anoraks' T.V?" Kieran laughed.
"Well what can they expect with Codlik in charge?" said Joby "He's the biggest anorak of the lot!"
"You might find the local paper more interesting", said Kieran "I've just been having a squint at the copy in the library, I couldn't get hold of a world one".
"What's in it then? It normally only runs to four pages!"
"Malevolent Myrtle's written a letter to it, claiming that we, meaning all of us on the Indigo here, are a nuisance to the town and the sooner we all leave it again the better".
"Oh she's just got the hump 'cos we deprived her of her best customer", said Joby "Not that he's complaining mind. Woll loves it at Persephone's. He's been down in Natalie's Den most of the time".
"Myrtle's really got the knives out for us", said Kieran "We're all a bunch of yobs apparently".
"What's her fucking son then, a choirboy?" Joby exclaimed "God, I hate people like her, I always have. Thick as shit. Everything's always someone else's fault".
"Calm down, I wish I hadn't told you now", said Kieran.
"I'd have found out", said Joby "When this kind of thing happens everyone takes great delight in telling you about it. What else did the old cow have to say?"
"Oh the usual", said Kieran "I should be ashamed of meself as I should be setting an example. Julian should be ashamed of himself as he's in charge. Tamaz is a danger to the community and should be locked up, preferably out of sight, as is Lonts ..."
"What's she picking on him for?" said Joby, in dismay.
"Because she's a miserable, angry old bag", said Kieran.
"I think it's time we moved", said Joby "Bloody danger to the community! The only person who's a danger to the community is her frigging son! Does Julian know about all this?"
"Yes", said Kieran "I bumped into him on the quayside just now. He didn't say much, just 'I see' in a very clipped nobby voice. He's probably hatching some plot as we speak".
Julian was in fact trying out a rather expensive cigar in the tobacconists. Madame Simone had encountered him in the street and given him her condolences on Myrtle's hate mail. Like an indulgent aunt taking out her favourite nephew, she had then taken him into the shop to choose a box of cigars.
"Call it a late birthday present", she had said.
"The scent of this one!" said Julian, drawing on a fat cigar in front of the flame which was kept lit on the counter "Like roses. I remember my grandfather telling me that you could always tell an expensive cigar by the rose scent. This is extremely generous of you, old girl".
"I can afford it", said Simone "Trade is ticking over rather well at present".
"The whipping and spanking game obviously pays well".
"Boys will be boys!"
"They'd be rather disappointing if they weren't!" said Julian.
"You're a man after my own heart, Julian", said Simone.
"Adam would say that you and I are a great meeting of minds!" Julian laughed.
"How is Adam these days? I haven't seen him much lately".
"Oh as batty as ever. He'll be even more so when he hears about Myrtle's letter".
"Come and have a drink with me", said Simone.
"Gladly", said Julian.
As they were walking out of the shop they met Jonner coming in.
"I'm surprised you don't move your bed in here!" said Julian.
Jonner sidled past him, looking terrified. "As well he might", said Julian to Simone.
"I've sold a few tomatoes, so I'm feeling generous", said Joby, a short while later "Come on out and I'll buy you an ice-cream".
"I don't want one", Lonts mumbled, moodily occupying the sofa.
"That's not like you".
Joby noticed that Snowy had been rammed into the wastepaper basket upside down, with his pink feet sticking up in the air.
"That's not a very friendly thing to do is it!" said Joby, retrieving the stuffed bear.
"I don't want Snowy anymore", Lonts sniffed "He stops me being normal".
"I'll have him then", said Joby "He'll be more cuddly to take to bed than Kieran!"
Lonts smiled in spite of himself. Joby took this as an encouraging sign and sat down next to him.
"Anyway", he said "I dunno what you mean by normal. Who do you know that you'd call normal?"
"It wasn't me who took all his clothes off at the hotel!" Lonts blurted out, emotionally "It was Tamaz. So why is Myrtle saying that I'VE got to be locked up?"
"Search me", Joby shrugged "She's a pillock".
He pulled Lonts towards him and hugged him close.
"We all love yer", he said "And surely that's all that matters, isn't it? There have always been people who are vindictive shits about anyone who doesn't conform, who isn't exactly like them. And these smug gits probably think they're so free-minded as well. There's nothing we can do about 'em. They're usually smug and complacent and self-satisfied, and at the same time angry".
"Why angry though?" said Lonts "And why angry with us?"
"Because we show 'em what they're missing", said Joby, kissing his hair "And that disturbs 'em too much. Shakes 'em out of their complacency. They don't tend to like that".
"That's silly", said Lonts "I mean, we don't get jealous of them!"
"No, and that's the trouble", said Joby "That's what upsets, it irritates the shit out of 'em!"
Simone took Julian to a cellar-bar, which attracted most of its clientele because it was the only place in town that had a snooker table. This was currently occupied by Milich and his foul-mouthed girlfriend, who was berating the barman because "you don't do proper fucking measures in this shit-hole!"
"I thought you had more class than to come to a dive like this, Simone", said Julian, trying to avoid the sticky rings on the table.
"I wanted to cheer you up", said Simone "By showing you how unpopular Myrtle and her loathsome offspring make themselves in this town. To prove to you that she will get very little support for her vindictive letter".
"That so?" said Julian, languidly. He loosened the flowing red silk cravat which he had put on that morning because he had felt in a flamboyant mood. It was rapidly evaporating.
"You're not your usual spirited self today, Julian", said Simone, in gentle admonishment "I hope you're not going to let such a joyless family defeat you".
"Simone", Julian sighed "It is a matter of supreme indifference to me what they do. Besides, I've made up my mind. We're leaving Toondor Lanpin".
"Just because of Myrtle and Milich?"
"I am too old to go taking the sensible option of stand and fight. Let me tell you something. When we first acquired the Indigo and began our voyage round the world, we used to joke that the best outcome for us would be to find a desert island and stay there. That option has now become a very attractive one. There is nowhere in the civilised world that we fit into".
"You fit in here", said Simone "Dammit Julian, you can't do this!"
"Give it a little while longer. At least let Bengo do his autumn show".
"We'll see", said Julian.
"You should see these fucking old hags with their tits round their waist!" Milich's girlfriend yelled, spitefully.
"I rather think that was for my benefit", said Simone, quietly.
"Time I had a word with the little yobbess obviously", said Julian.
"No", Simone grabbed his hand as though to anchor him down "Let it go ... for the time being".
"Isolation!" Tamaz screamed, clawing at his bedding "That's what it means. I'm to be locked away in Isolation! That's what she said in that letter. Put away. Out of sight".
"You're not going anywhere", said Hillyard, trying to calm him down "You're staying with us. Myrtle hasn't any say ..."
Tamaz let out a bloodcurdling scream, and hammered his foot against the outside wall of Julian's cabin.
"Adam!" Hillyard yelled "Adam, get in here!"
"Oh no, what's the matter with him?" said Adam, appearing in the cabin.
"He's heard about the contents of the letter. Must've heard us talking about it", said Hillyard "Can you do that trick of yours, the one that you do with Lonts?"
Adam knelt on the floor, and placed his hands on Tamaz's head to steady him.
"Tamaz", he said, firmly "Deep breaths. Deep breaths".
Tamaz slowly subsided into a whimper.
"Good grief", said Julian, standing in the doorway "Are you reading bedtime stories to him now?"
"Shush, Jules", said Adam, rolling Tamaz onto his side and stroking his back "That letter upset him".
"It upset me too, but I don't get my back rubbed!"
Julian stormed into the saloon and promptly fell over some old canvasses that Jonner had delivered earlier that day. His curses could be heard far and wide.
"There", said Adam, propping cushions round his old friend, who was reclining on the sofa like a Roman emperor "Are you nice and comfy now?"
"I'm black and blue", Julian grumbled "It's a bloody miracle I didn't sprain my ankle! What did you go and leave them piled up in the doorway for?!"
"I haven't had a chance to sort them out", said Adam, propping Julian's foot up on a padded stool.
"I'm always walking into things in this place. The whole boat's a complete shambles. And now you think you can get round me by mollycoddling me!"
"I'll mollycoddle you across my knee in a minute!" Adam hissed "You're acting like a bad-tempered little boy".
"He is a bad-tempered little boy", said Joby, walking into the room with Lonts "He's probably going into his second childhood".
"Julian never left his first one!" said Adam "He is exactly the same now as he was when he was ten. The only difference is that he doesn't terrify me anymore".
"More's the pity", Julian spat "This place might be run to a modicum of order if I terrified you all, instead of being a constant source of amusement, which is obviously all I really am".
"What are you gonna do about that letter then?" said Joby.
"Emigrate to a remote island", said Julian.
"Sounds good to me", said Joby.
Lonts cheered and looked happier than he had done all day.
"We could start a whole new civilisation", he said.
"How?" said Julian "We're all men!"
"No, we've got him haven't we", Joby jerked his thumb in the direction of Tamaz, who was now lying quietly in Julian's cabin.
"Oh you'd like that wouldn't you!" said Julian "A proper little garden of Eden that would be! I can just see Tamaz cavorting around in fig-leaves!"
"I can see in that case one of us had better go on a midwifery course before we leave!" Adam laughed.
"We're not going through all that again", said Kieran, coming into the room "So get that out of your head, Joby. Tamaz's last pregnancy was stressful enough!"
"Just a thought", said Joby.
Bengo had been in the heads whilst this conversation was going on. When he caught the gist of it had pulled open the door slightly to hear better. He gathered that this was more than a lighthearted chat, there was an undercurrent of serious intent about it. He was saddened. He enjoyed his work at the Little Theatre, he felt he had found his niche there. But he knew that if the Indigo was to sail again, he would be on it. The thought of being left behind was intolerable.
The autumn show was due to open in a few days time at the end of August. The centrepiece was a one-hour melodrama with different acts sandwiched around it. With the opening of every new show he got excited, convinced each time that this one would be the best yet. But he felt more justified than ever about this one.
"If the punters can't find something to enjoy about it, they'll be impossible to please", he had said to Natalie, who was helping to sponsor it.
At the costume rehearsal this evening though he was intensely pre-occupied about the conversation he had heard earlier. He refused to tell Bardin what was on his mind, which annoyed his colleague as he always distrusted any secrets Bengo might have.
Bardin worked out his frustration by complaining constantly about the humid little hutch of a dressing-room they shared, which was intensely stuffy in the summer heat, even with the window wide open.
"If the punters only knew what we went through", he snarled.
"Well they don't and they wouldn't care if they did", said Bengo, removing the last of his stage make-up "So stop wasting your energy moaning about it".
"You've been in a shitty mood since you got here", said Bardin, petulantly.
"Artiste's privilege", said Bengo.
"Well you'd better lighten up before Friday", said Bardin "The punters notice if you're tense".
"As you're always saying, I Am A Professional!" Bengo cried.
"Are you going straight home now?"
"Thought you might like a drink", said Bardin, awkwardly "You could come back to my place".
"Why, do you fancy me?" Bengo exclaimed "Look, I'll tell you if I've got anything important to say".
"Huh, you'd better!" said Bardin.
It was still light when Bengo left via the stage-door. In fact it was a beautiful summer's evening, but his thoughts weighed heavily on him. He was dismayed when he rounded the corner into the main street to find Milich and a couple of his cronies sitting on a low wall, laughing their unpleasent laughs.
He knew with a deadening certainty that they would try and rile him as he walked past, but he remembered Ully advising him during his Cabaret of Horrors days that the best way to cope with hecklers and bullies was to mentally build a wall round yourself and shut them out. He tried to do this now, but Milich and co decided to catch up with him.
"He reeks a bit", Milich cackled "Get a whiff of him! Stinks like an old jock-strap. I think body-odour should be made a criminal offence".
"I've been working my arse off all evening, you little shit!" Bengo shrieked, unable to contain himself any longer "Not that you'd know anything about that, not with mummy looking after you".
"At least I've got a mother", Milich retorted "I was conceived and born naturally, not hatched in a fucking battery farm! Although I'm surprised you weren't binned as a reject".
"Get off my back will you!"
"I'm not on it, wouldn't want to be. I can get women, I don't need to settle for screwing other fellas".
"You can get women, can you?" said Bengo, driven to an uncharacteristic display of spite "Is that what you call that tart you hang around with? She looks like a guy to me. In fact, I'd be hard pushed to say who's got the most testosterone, you or her!"
Milich's friends found this quite funny, and weren't afraid to laugh, even when Milich gave them a venemonous look. Bengo found this revelation quite interesting. Up til now he'd been under the impression that Milich's friends lived in total awe of him and would do anything he said out of sheer terror. Apparently this wasn't the case. That they were so ready to laugh at him could mean they too thought their "best mate" was a bit of jerk!
"Are you alright there, Bengo?" said Ransey, crossing over the road towards them.
This had a striking effect on Milich and his chums. If there was one person in the town they wouldn't take on, it was Ransey. He was too much of an unknown quantity. His assassin work for the Ministry, and his time spent working for the evil Father Gabriel, plus his enigmatic Doberman-like appearance, made him too rich for their blood.
"I'm glad to see the back of them", Bengo sighed with relief, after Milich and co had gone "I wish I had your knack of terrifying the shit out of people with one look".
"You wouldn't make a very good clown if you did!" said Ransey.
They neared Persephone's bar where they found Hillyard sitting outside, swigging from a bottle of beer.
"On a date with Woll?" said Bengo.
"No he's down in the casino, as usual", said Hillyard.
"Isn't it about time you gave him your answer?" said Ransey "Or haven't you made up your mind yet?"
"You know I have", said Hillyard, loftily "My decision was never in any doubt".
"Aw shucks, and I thought you were going to have us sweating there for a while", said Ransey.
"You are one sarcastic bugger do you know that!" Hillyard laughed.
"It's one of my many endearing qualities", said Ransey.
The following morning Ransey was on deck with Julian inspecting the Indigo for signs of decay. What they found was no better or worse than they'd originally supposed. Really she needed a complete overhaul at a boatyard, but such things cost money, a great deal of money. Julian didn't need Ransey's expertise at accountancy to know this simply wasn't feasible at the present time.
He went below deck and met Adam emerging from his cabin, shutting the door softly after him.
"Lo-Lo's having a lie down", he said "He didn't sleep terribly well last night".
"Neither did I", said Julian "I hope there's some breakfast going, Ada".
"Yes", said Adam, as Julian followed him into the galley "Fruit salad".
"When was the last time we had a decent fry-up on this boat?" Julian exclaimed, throwing himself onto one of the chairs.
"A few days ago, that's all", Adam sighed, setting the bowl in front of him "The hens aren't laying at the moment. I think they must be stressed out. They pick up our moods you know".
"Well if they don't start laying soon, we'll have ..."
"Chicken casserole", said Adam "You say that everytime they have a barren period".
Julian grabbed his hand and pulled him onto his lap.
"You'll simply have to stop bellowing, Jules", Adam smiled "You're getting far too excited about everything. It's not good for you".
"If you say at our age, I shall roll you over", Julian nuzzled him, whilst unbuttoning his friend's shorts "I need comforting".
"I know", Adam cooed "My poor, excitable little boy".
They were jolted out of their reverie by Joby slamming the frying-pan onto the stove.
"There's no point you doing that", said Julian "There's nothing to put in it".
"Oh yeah? That's what you think", Joby held up an egg.
"Where did you get that?" said Julian.
"Funnily enough, from a hen", said Joby "That little Suzannah thinks the world of me. She must always know when I'm about due to visit her".
"Stick a slice of fried bread in with it, and that'll go down a treat", said Julian.
"Yeah it will, won't it?" said Joby "I'll enjoy it. Finder's keepers!"
"It was worth a try", said Julian, glumly.
Adam stood up and his shorts promptly fell down, much to the amusement of the other two.
"That was very deftly done, Ada", Julian laughed.
"Yeah, you should get a job with Bengo", said Joby.
"Well how much of a treat do I have to give you before you'll kindly share your egg?" said Adam, refastening his shorts.
"Half a fried egg?" said Joby, scooping the desired item onto a slice of fried bread "Oh I reckon that counts for a good half hour's worth".
"I think we can run to that, don't you, Jules?" said Adam.
"A quarter of an egg between us, that makes fifteen minutes from each of us", said Julian.
They both crowded round Joby whilst he frantically tried to shovel the egg into his mouth. Adam pulled the cord on Joby's baggy cotton pants, whilst touching him in strategic parts of his bottom.
"Relax, old love", he said.
"Yes, the scrawny Irishman isn't here to glare at you", said Julian "We can be all English together, exclusively. As potty and debauched as we like".
"A little bit of egg please, Joby", said Adam, in a wheedling fashion.
"You'll have to try and get it, won't yer!" said Joby.
Adam and Julian tore pieces off the heel off a loaf of bread and dabbed them into the gloriously messy remains of the egg, whilst cornering Joby by the sink.
"Three in a sink and a fried egg", said Julian "What a wonderful sexual fantasy!"
Kieran cleared his throat loudly from the doorway, and then went on into the saloon.
"Oh that's torn it that has!" said Joby, pulling up his pants which had slid round his knees "First Glynis, then Tamaz, and now you two upper-class jerks".
"And what great satisfaction it must have given you to make us beg for a bit of your fried egg", said Julian "Cheer up, old fruit. If Tinkerbell finishes with you, Adam and I will adopt you as our pet tart. A bit of rough occasionally always helps to thin the blood".
"I thought you had Hillyard for that!" said Joby.
"Take no nonsense from Patsy", said Adam "I can remember plenty of occasions when he's behaved badly".
"And as you've said yourself in the past", said Julian "The Irish always get decidedly po-faced when we English decide to enjoy ourselves. They simply cannot take us being ..."
"Right pillocks", said Kieran, who had reappeared in the doorway "Joby, come through here. I want to talk to you".
"Talk at you is more likely", said Julian.
Joby followed Kieran into the saloon.
"There's egg-yolk on your t-shirt", said Kieran.
"So?" said Joby, kicking the door shut behind him "Now don't start nagging me and telling me it's all for me own good 'cos I won't listen".
"Well what the blazes am I going to do with you?" Kieran exclaimed "It's one damn debauchery after another! Trollop-chasing, screwing hermaphrodites, and now allowing yourself to be buggered by two old lah-di-dah pansies! Where's it all going to end?"
"I didn't allow myself to be buggered", said Joby.
"Only because I turned up!"
"Exactly, so I can get you on a technicality".
"But in the galley, Jobe", said Kieran, in dismay "By the sink!"
"Well they wanted a bit of me fried egg", said Joby "So ... oh never mind. I dunno why you're so puritanical these days. You never used to be like this".
"Probably because I'm not getting any meself!" Kieran exploded "No sex please I'm the focking Vanquisher!"
"Oh dear oh dear", Joby pushed him back onto the sofa "Poor old Kieran. Tell you what, there's no fried eggs at stake here. You and me do it for free".
"Typical innit?" said Joby, lying on the sofa with him afterwards "If we'd tried doing it in our cabin, the whole bloody world would've come traipsing in. We screw in the middle of the living-room and we get total privacy!"
"Don't speak too soon", Kieran laughed, lighting a cigarette.
"Where did you get to this morning anyway?" said Joby "You went out early".
"I went to see Myrtle".
"Why for God's sake? She's the last person I'd wanna see at the moment!"
"Oh to try and stop all of this silliness before it gets out of hand", said Kieran "Find out what's bugging her so much about us".
"Did it do any good?" said Joby, sceptically.
"She listened very patiently until I mentioned Milich", said Kieran "And then she burst into tears".
"Typical female device", said Joby "Mind you, the thought of Milich's enough to make anyone burst into tears!"
"I got all the usual maternal crap about how no one understands her wee son", said Kieran "And how he's all she's got in the world. She stopped just short of telling me what a good boy he is really! I don't think even she's daft enough to believe that one!"
"You don't sound too sympathetic?"
"I'm not", said Kieran, bluntly "Me mam was in exactly the same position as her. Running a business on her own and bringing up a kid. Now I may have a lot of faults but I'm not a focking psychopath like Milich, and neither was me mam a deluded, bitter old halfwit like Myrtle".
"But did she say she was gonna lay off us?"
"Did she hell! She got all self-righteous and said, and I quote, 'someone's got to stand up for decency in this town'. I'd have much more respect for her if I thought she genuinely believed in that, but she doesn't. She just wants someone to take out her bitterness and frustration on, and we're in the firing-line. You can bet your bottom dollar that every shitty thing Milich says or does will get taken out on us in future. The really stupid thing is that I sense she doesn't love that wretched boy of hers at all".
"Oh I know she makes a great show of adoring him. That kind of act's really easy to do".
"I don't understand".
"She's as fed up and disappointed in him as everyone else in this town", said Kieran "You can't go on loving someone year in, year out, when all you get is NOTHING BUT CRAP in return, not even when it's your own flesh and blood. There comes a time, and I admit it can take years, when you just have to be honest with yourself and say I don't love them anymore. Unless you're an out and out fool of course, and I don't believe she is. She's more in love these days with the idea of playing mother, even martyred mother. It's safer to do that than admit the truth. As I said, all of us here are just the scapegoats for her rage. And until she finally is honest with herself that won't change".
"I know what you mean", Joby sighed "I can't remember the day when I finally admitted to meself that I didn't love me mum, it just seemed to happen slowly like. And then I realised that for years I'd just tolerated her because she was me mum, and for no other reason. Then one day I spose I just thought 'there's absolutely nothing loveable about you, you're an old cow'. I think if we hadn't crossed over into this time, it would've got to the stage eventually where I wouldn't have bothered to drag meself to see her if she was dying! You just can't feel anything for people like that in the end, whoever they are. They knock if all out of yer, literally in her case! And you get bored with making excuses for 'em. Oh they're unhappy, dissatisfied, frustrated, you say to yourself again and again and again. Until one day you think I just don't give a shit anymore".
"Oh Jobe", Kieran buried his face in Joby's shoulder "I'm so sad for you".
"Don't be", said Joby "I'm alright about it now, honest. I flushed it out of me system ages ago. I'm just glad I'm somewhere now where that evil, tight-lipped face of hers can't see me. That's all that matters to me where she's concerned".
The door slid open and Tamaz crept into the room, looking rather vague and bewildered.
"Sod off", said Joby "We're busy".
"So I see", Tamaz mumbled. He slicked his hair, greasy from dire need of washing, back behind his ears.
"Looks as though he could do with a wash and brush up", said Kieran.
"Yeah I know", Joby groaned "It was spose to be his bath-night yesterday but I didn't have the nerve to go and ask Glynis for the tub. I haven't felt like facing her since we had that scene the other night".
"Well why don't we take him to the bath-house?" said Kieran "He'll behave himself, especially if Julian comes along too with his horse-whip".
"Will everyone else like it though?" said Joby "In the town I mean".
"They got used to him alright at the Festival!" said Kieran "Anyway if enough of us go we can get a big tub to ourselves, so they won't have to see him anyway".
Which was what they managed to do, easy enough when there were eleven of them wanting a bath! The others had all stripped off and jumped in, whilst Joby and Kieran were still trying to undress Tamaz, who was now in a wilful mood.
"Why did I have to wear this crummy old shirt?" he said, petulantly.
"Because people don't walk around town in their underwear that's why!" said Joby.
"I don't see why not, when it's this hot", said Tamaz, stubbornly.
"He's got a point there", said Kieran "Anyway he looks quite respectable in that camisole. There are plenty of woman walking around the streets with far more revealing stuff on than that!"
"Exactly", said Tamaz, jabbing his finger at Joby "Your trouble is you want me to be a boy because then no one'll look at me and you won't have to get jealous all the time".
"You do fancy yourself don't yer!" said Joby.
"That was a quick dip", said Kieran, when Julian got back out of the tub.
"I can take as long or as short as I like", Julian snapped "I don't need lecturing on it from Ireland's answer to Mahatma Gandhi!"
"No, I've got more hair than him", said Kieran.
"That wouldn't be difficult!" Julian roared, snatching up his clothes.
Everyone seemed out of sorts this evening. After the bath Finia and Tamaz had a pointless row over the use of a decaying lipstick. Tamaz raged that Glynis had given it to him, and Finia had no right to use it.
"Is this what we've come to?" Ransey barked "Fighting over a fucking lipstick!"
The evening ended on a subdued note.
The following day things weren't much better. Julian went back to the library to re-examine the maps, and was annoyed when Adam followed him there.
"You're supposed to be on the Indigo", said Julian, irritably "Keeping an eye on things".
"I'm not a fucking Stepford Wife!" Adam retorted "Except that would suit you would't it? A robot in a frilly pinny answering to your every whim!"
"Well how am I supposed to feel!" Julian raged "Hillyard's seeing Woll this morning. What if he decides to go back with him? The next thing is, we'll have Kieran and Joby setting up a bizarre menage a trois with Tamaz, and then you'll decide you want to be alone with your little darling, Finia will go away with Ransey, and where will that leave me? With Bengo and Toppy! Are we all so hideously immature that we need each other so badly?"
"Nonsense, we're a true commune", said Adam "Just as Rosalie the gypsy predicted. For heaven's sake, Jules, I'm not going to leave you. We'd all like more privacy at times, it's true. But perhaps if we leave the waterfront we might get it".
"We'd better examine those maps again", Julian mumbled, in an uncharacteristically subdued tone "Although I haven't the faintest idea where we could go to from here".
"Perhaps it's for the best", said Woll, sitting at the window of his room above Persephone's bar "If you did come with me you'd only regret it within a couple of weeks. You're a rather capricious person, Hillyard".
He added this last bit affectionately, but with an evident tone of regret in his voice.
"I don't know why I'm turning you down", said Hillyard "You're an easy person to get on with, and kind, and everything ... and life on the Indigo isn't exactly a bed of roses at the moment".
"What precisely is the matter?" said Woll, with genuine concern.
"Just about everything", said Hillyard "Myrtle's vendetta is one thing, but the main thing is just chronic lack of money. You just simply get tired of being poor, particularly when you can see no end to it in sight. And there are eleven of us crammed on the Indigo, which doesn't make it easy at times. Annoying really. Wolf Castle would really come in handy at the moment".
"You're not thinking of disbanding?"
"I hope not! Particularly after I've just turned you down!" said Hillyard, with engaging frankness.
"You need another place like Wolf Castle?"
"No, not really. We just need a bit of land, somewhere were we can moor the Indigo, and then perhaps put up extra places for more privacy. Like a small village, you know what I mean? Then others could join us if they wanted to. The crazy thing is, we like Toondor Lanpin. But it's just too cramped here".
"You need somewhere further along the river perhaps?" said Woll "A plot of your own land, room in which to expand?"
"Yeah that's exactly it", said Hillyard, enthusiastically "Then Joby could have his own garden, that'd solve a lot of the food problems, and perhaps we could keep more animals. I did all that kind of work when I first left the camp, I worked on a Ministry farm, so I know what's what. And Lonts would help me, you can be sure of that!"
"But you don't want to leave Toondor Lanpin completely?"
"No. The others have got some daft scheme about a desert island but I'm not too keen. That was all very well when we were younger, but Adam and Julian aren't in the first flush of youth, and I'd rather be somewhere closer to civilisation. We've had two big health scares in recent years. Adam's lungs, and Lonts had a tumour on his brain. We were lucky we could get them both sorted out quickly. I don't like to think about what would've happened if we hadn't. And also I don't think Kieran should shut himself away from the world. If he wasn't around the Ministry could get up to all sorts of things round here, perhaps take it back over. I feel it's important he stays visible. Both you and me remember what it was like before he came on the scene".
"No one more than I", said Woll, quietly.
"Yeah, and there's far more to lose now", said Hillyard "With the women I mean. This new civilisation has to be preserved at all costs".
"I've been wrong about you, Hillyard", said Woll "Oh I've always been fond of you, but I had you down as a laid-back handsome man with no particular direction. Forgive me, but I never thought of you as being particularly intelligent".
"That's alright", Hillyard shrugged "I'm not".
"You are. You understand the importance of Kieran for a start".
"But I still couldn't tell you why he was important!" Hillyard exclaimed "When I very first met him I thought he was a bimbo. A blonde airhead. I don't know when I started thinking otherwise. It might've been when he got upset one day and ran into the forest. This was ages back, before Marlsblad even. The others had been talking about him being the Vanquisher of Evil and all that, and he got so worked up. He just didn't want it. He knew he'd got himself into a world where he'd never be left alone again. And that's been bloody hard for him at times", then he laughed "And there are other times when he enjoys it. He can get away with doing as he likes then. There's never anything bland about Kieran!"
They were both distracted by loud voices and splashing coming from the quayside. Milich and his cronies, for want of anything better to do, had decided to pick on Toppy, a soft target if ever there was one! They had surrounded him and were shoving him about like a pinball machine.
Lonts, who had been sitting on the jetty with Snowy, had overheard the commotion and gone galloping to his rescue. Milich was in two minds about taking on Lonts. True, Lonts was a big lad, with a temper to match, but Milich's insufferable ego wouldn't let him be intimidated by a "retarded halfwit". On being called this, Lonts had promptly picked Milich up like a roll of carpet and thrown him into the river. Milich's cronies were too busy having fits of laughter to come to his rescue, and were even more hysterical when, after Milich had clambered laboriously back onto the quayside, Lonts had thrown him back in again! By the time Hillyard had got outside, Lonts had achieved the hat-trick, and Milich was too tired and demoralised to put up much further opposition.
"Don't interfere, Hillyard", said Lonts, stoutly "I could do this all afternoon!"
"You keep him away from me!" Milich spat water like a burst hose-pipe "He's a fucking nutcase. My mum's right, he shouldn't be allowed out. I'm going to have the Town Constable on him!"
"What?" Hillyard laughed "Just for chucking you in the river? It's not as if you can't swim!"
Toppy tugged on Hillyard's shirt and said solemnly: "Lonts was protecting me. He shouldn't get into trouble for it".
"I wish I'd got a job at the hotel too", said Lonts, majestically "Milich wouldn't have DARED pick on Toppy then!"
Lonts stamped away towards the Indigo, his flip-flops slapping in the dust. Hillyard found the idea of Lonts working as a waiter or a bell-boy so amusing that he didn't realise Milich was still raging.
"Oh cheer up, Milich", said Hillyard "Go home and get your mum to dry you off!"
Bengo was pathetically pleased to hear that Hillyard was staying on the scene, and in his joy managed to persuade Natalie to let him have ten free passes to the opening night of the Autumn Show. 'Autumn' felt like a bit of a misnomer as it was still as blisteringly hot as high summer. The only difference being that it dawn broke at four a.m, not three a.m.
The Little Theatre was crammed to the gills for the first night. The programme on offer was a very old and popular one, the centrepiece being "Murder At Nightmare Hall", a tragi-comedy as it was grandiosely billed. In truth it was more a combination of slapstick and hammy melodrama. The lead actor was one Mr Hawkefish, who over the course of 20 years had specialised in starring in such darkly humorous productions, putting on performances strictly from the Tod Slaughter school of acting. In interviews to the local paper he liked to brag about the various ingenious ways he had been killed on-stage, knowing to the exact number the amount of hangings, stabbings, shootings and throttlings he had endured. No one could ever say his productions were art, but they were phenomenally popular, and "Murder At Nightmare Hall" was advertised on the billboards as "back by popular demand!" which was no mere gimmick.
Preceeding and following the play were the usual burlesque and circus acts which were the Little Theatre's staple diet, and Bengo was hoping that some of the new faces on offer would prove as popular as "Murder At Nightmare Hall". The most interesting discovery was Madelaina, a lady tight-rope walker, who was to perform her act above the heads of the audience. It wasn't clear whether this would prove as enthralling as her skimpy costume to most of the punters, but it hardly mattered.
To get the punters in the requisite good spirits Natalie had laid on free glasses of elderflower sparkling wine. The twins, Claudia and Gloria, circulated with these, whilst Emily earnt extra money for the evening as a cigarette-girl.
"I'm enjoying it all so immensely", she said, sounding as though she'd been partaking of a few drinks herself "I wish I'd done this ages ago. It was Persephone who got me the job".
"You're enjoying it then?" said Adam, who was caught up with all his crowd at the bar.
"Oh yes", Emily gushed, undoubtedly pie-eyed "All the punters are so friendly. I do think men are wonderful, don't you?"
"No, not really", said Adam, wedged in next to Fradie, who was also completely rat-arsed and shrieking with laughter "Most of the time they're pretty tiresome!"
"I know you don't mean that", said Emily, coquettishly.
"Want to bet?" said Adam.
"Hey there, old Ada", said Fradie, turning to face him "Take a look at this", he showed him a postcard of Madelaina which he'd bought in the foyer "Some totty, eh? If she falls of that tight-rope, it could be our lucky day".
"Yes, she might flatten you!" said Adam, with feeling "Why don't you just cut out the intervening hours and take the postcard straight home with you now?"
"You fags!" Fradie chortled "You don't know what you're missing! How can you prefer a guy to something like this?"
"Looking at some men the thought has crossed my mind occasionally too", Adam rasped.
"I mean, it goes against the grain", said Fradie "We fellas are here to put our seed into as many women as possible".
"A task I'm sure you apply yourself to with great zeal and dedication", said Adam, dryly.
"Well if it was left to you guys the world would come to an end", said Fradie "In fact it nearly did! Unless you count the likes of him of course".
He pointed at Tamaz, who was shimmying around in Natalie's old black teddy like a chorus-girl. Emily was called over by another punter, and Fradie leaned nearer to Adam in a conspiratorial fashion.
"You ... er ... ever got the urge?" he whispered "You can be honest with me, it won't go any further".
"The urge to do what?" said Adam, darkly.
"To fuck a woman", said Fradie "You won't shock me if you say 'yes'. After all, it's a basic male instinct. Now c'mon, tell me, I can keep a secret. I won't say a word to Lady Julia, I promise you".
"I've never been with a woman, Fradie. That's what you wanted to know isn't it?"
"That isn't what I asked. I said, have you ever got the urge?"
"No", said Adam, simply.
"Not even out of curiosity?" said Fradie, in astonishment.
"Have you ever wanted to sleep with a man out of curiosity?"
"Not on your life!"
"Then you've answered your own question".
"But plenty of fags have had women lovers", said Fradie "In fact it's quite the fashionable thing in the City at the moment for fags to have girlfriends".
"It was in my time too", said Adam "But I've never been overly concerned with fashion".
"Hey Ad", said Joby, pushing through the crush towards him "I've just been hearing some gossip from the City".
"Go on then", said Adam "But if it involves any intimate details about Codlik I don't want to know".
"They're having trouble with their sewers", said Joby.
"That it is it?" said Adam, forgiveably unimpressed "That's the gossip?"
"Nah, people are disappearing into 'em".
"Oh Joby for heaven's sake, you're not making a word of sense".
"People are going down into the sewers", said Joby, patiently "And are never being seen again".
"That was going the rounds when I was there", said Fradie "It all started when some sewerage workers disappeared on an inspection. No trace of them was ever found, not even their corpses. It's rumoured there's some kind of creature down there killing them. Eating 'em I suppose if no trace is ever found".
"It sounds rather like an urban myth to me", said Adam "We had plenty of those in our time too".
"But ordinary people are disappearing too", said Joby "Non-sewerage workers I mean".
"Why would ordinary people want to go into the sewers in the first place?" said Adam, testily "Is entertainment that lacking in Codlik's new caring paradise!"
"Some might be on the run", said Fradie "The sewers have always been a good hideout or escape route. Some could of course have just felt compelled to go down there".
"Of course they were!" said Adam "You'll be saying next they were abducted by aliens! This is an incredibly silly conversation. Anyway, the show must be about to start. Let's find our seats. Where's Lo-Lo?"
"Between you and me", Joby whispered, and then looked round him "Don't tell Kieran this, 'cos he'll go ape, but I reckon some might be trying to get away from Codlik's new law and order scheme. It's a bit harsh by all accounts. I've been keeping the City newspapers from him. Fortunately Persephone's taken the telly out of the bar, or he might have heard from that".
"What new law and order scheme?" said Adam "And if it's harsh how does Codlik fit it in with his caring image?"
"He's bowing to public pressure", said Joby "Everyone wants to see offenders punished severely, and Codlik's concerned about being popular more than anything else, even if it means he loses a bit of his Mr Nice Guy image".
"Which probably wouldn't do him any harm", said Fradie.
"They haven't brought back the death penalty have they?" said Adam.
"Not yet", said Fradie, which was hardly reassuring.
"They've brought back the birch though", said Joby.
"He's what?" Adam exclaimed.
"Apparently all done because some miserable old bugger on his Council said that if he didn't do it, then he, the miserable old bugger that is, would carry out any punishments himself on prime-time television".
"Then the man's obviously a sadist, he should've been fired", said Adam "Patsy's going to find out about this eventually, Joby. I'm very surprised he hasn't done so yet. He normally reads the papers from cover to cover".
"I managed to distract him from the last one", said Joby "And luckily Myrtle's antics in our local rag's kept him occupied up til now".
"Oh God, how depressing", said Adam "Well let's hope Pats doesn't find out this evening and start rampaging about. I've been looking forward to this show".
Whilst the others had been talking in the theatre bar, Hillyard had given Woll a guided tour of the Indigo. So far Woll had only seen topside, and had expressed curiosity about this vessel they were all so attached to. Hillyard showed him round it like a monk proudly escorting a visitor round his monastery. Woll tried not to show that he was genuinely shocked by their living quarters.
Woll wasn't a spoilt man, just rather pampered. He didn't look down on people for living in poor surroundings, but many years of very good and soft living had made him rather dependent on thick carpets, well-upholstered chairs, beds with crisp, scented linen, crystal glasses, fine china and scrupulous cleanliness. He was also a passionate lover of method and order, and firmly believed that without all of the aforementioned the soul would wither and die.
He found the galley clean but sparten. The only objects of convenience being the pump-action sink and the gas-stove, as averse to his own kitchen whre his housekeeper reigned supreme over every gadget she could think of, plus a fleet of kitchen-maids.
The cabin that Adam, Joby, Kieran and Lonts shared was so untidy that at first Woll genuinely thought they'd been burgled! The idea of Kieran and Joby only having an old blanket on a string for privacy round their bunk also offended his fussy bachelor mentality. Woll practically needed a police cordon thrown round his room before he would even think of undoing his trousers!
"But the blanket's hardly sound-proofed!" he said.
"I know, and you should hear Joby complain sometimes", Hillyard chortled "Particularly when Adam and Lonts get going. Lonts is a noisy little basket".
Woll was touched to se Kieran's rosary lying on his pillow, but otherwise the room was best kindly described as "lived-in". Hillyard took him into Julian's cabin, which was larger and because Julian had more exacting standards than Adam, much tidier. Nevertheless a large circle was missing out of the middle of the carpet ("bloodstains, someone died there", Hillyard mumbled "nasty business really"), and Tamaz's bedding was heaped up next to Julian's desk, liberally festooned with his eccentric collection of underwear. Woll, with his eye for minute detail, didn't fail to notice that some of these bore small spots of menstrual blood.
Hillyard noticed his appalled expression and took him back out into the corridor. He indicated the door opposite Julian's.
"That's Finia and Ransey's room", he said "I slept in there with Ransey before those two got together. Well not literally with him! I couldn't imagine anything less likely!"
The saloon was homely but showing very marked signs of wear. The carpet was badly worn, the sofa was stained, and there were black patches on the white-painted walls from where the oil-lamps had smoked. The only things in good nick were the thin brass railing round the bookcase and table which were rubbed and polished.
"Toppy does those most days", said Hillyard "He's a good little housekeeper", he sighed heavily "I know what you're thinking. It looks a dump, but it's all we've got, and you've got to admit it's an improvement on Cockroach Mansions! We're so used to it, perhaps we just don't see it properly anymore".
"But you've known luxury", said Woll "Doesn't it come hard after that?"
"Being short of money's hard", said Hillyard "Sometimes having no privacy is hard. But freedom's more important than luxury anyday. That's how we see it anyway. You can't put a price on freedom. It's more important than anything else. Look, I want to go and catch some of the show. Are you coming or not?"
Hillyard was so offhand that Woll knew he'd seriously offended him, (something which was nigh-on impossible to do), and it cut into his heart like a knife.
"Hillyard, I'm sorry", he said "I didn't mean to sound disparaging in any way".
"Your sort just don't think do you!" Hillyard snapped, angrily "Everything's always been so cosy for you, or for a long time anyway. I bet you laugh at other people all the time. We're all a joke to you, like a bloody flea-circus!"
Shy Woll had lived alone for too long. With only servants bowing to his every whim, he had lost the knack of soothing someone's feelings, of appeasing them. He could only stand there, looking pained with sorrow. Hillyard went past him and Woll followed sadly.
After the show a great many people retired to Persephone's bar, including the Indigo-ites and the great Mr Hawkefish.
"God save me from amateurs", he esposed, grandly "That second lead they've given me, all good looks and no brain. He may have floppy blonde hair and a cheesy smile, but he only has two expressions in his entire repertoire, one a kind of faintly quizzical look which he uses when playing a scene of high dramatic content, and the other, more general expression, of completele and utter vacuity".
"I could do better than that", said Lonts.
"And you would be a much greater pull, my dear", Hawkefish replied "Good looks alone only fool the punters for so long, and then they get restless. And he has absolutely no dress sense. An actor is often judged by his sartorial elegance, his ability to wear a dress suit for instance. The likes of him think all they have to do is throw it on, straight off the hanger! They have no idea of the attention to small details that are involved, such as the coat-tails hanging exactly two inches below the crook of the knee, and the waistcoat being cut short at the front".
"That may all be very well for you poseurs", said Fradie, who was rather surprisingly still conscious "But it doesn't pull the women. They look for something other than image, more earthiness in a guy".
"You know for all this talk of women", said Joby "I've yet to see you with one!"
"I like to keep my private life private", said Fradie, which was met with guffaws of disbelieving laughter from everyone else.
"Oh dear please excuse my hollow laughter!" said Adam "But it seems to me that your private life, what there is of it anyway, is anything but!"
Glynis came in at that moment to buy two bottles of beer to take back home with her.
"We didn't see you at the show tonight", said Kieran, who was standing next to her at the bar.
"No, I'll go some other night", said Glynis, vaguely.
"Are you sure you're o.k?" said Kieran, with concern "It's nothing to do with Joby is it?"
Kieran looked across at Joby, who was pissed. Having caught Glynis's eye, he immediately began mugging it up in a shameless and brazen fashion, winking at her and blowing kisses. If he'd been standing closer, Kieran felt he would have clouted him!
"He's drunk", said Kieran "He doesn't mean any harm, darlin'".
"Don't spare my feelings, Kieran", said Glynis, taking the beer and leaving.
"I've ordered two coffees", said Adam, stepping into the little curtained alcove in the corner where Julian was already sitting "I've asked Joby to bring them over when he's ready. I am extremely annoyed with him. Glynis has just been in, and he wound that poor little girl up something rotten".
"'Little' isn't a word I would use to describe Glynis", said Julian "Sturdy perhaps. Stocky. Built to withstand all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. How on earth does Joby do it? He's hardly the most prepossessing of men to look at, and the less said about his innate charm the better!"
"I really don't know", Adam sighed "All I can say is the slightest bit of attention goes straight to his head ... or somewhere else".
"What are you both doing hiding in here?" said Joby, carrying the coffees into the alcove and setting them on the table.
"We are not hiding", said Julian "You make it sound as though we're doing something illicit".
"Didn't anything I said to you the other day sink in, Joby?" said Adam, crossly "I told you to let Glynis know where she stood, not freeze her out one minute and then flirt outrageously with her the next!"
"Oh you're getting passed it, Ad", said Joby, tipisly "You don't know how to play the game anymore".
"I'll give you the bloody game, you little creep!" said Adam "Can't you see how unhappy she is?"
"You told me to be indifferent with her!" Joby exclaimed "Not to be too nice".
"I wouldn't call winking and blowing kisses being indifferent", said Adam "She must've felt you were making a fool of her in front of everyone!"
"Not fair and gentlemanly behaviour, old fruit", said Julian.
"Oh as if you'd know about that!" said Joby.
Adam pulled Joby onto him and began to alternately pummel and tickle him.
"Leave off, Ad!" Joby cried, breathlessly "You know how ticklish I am! This is torture!"
"Exactly", said Adam "Serves you damn well right!"
"You'll leave red nail marks all over my skin!" Joby shrieked.
"He's such a delicate little flower", Julian purred.
Adam turned Joby round and spanked his backside very hard. Joby yelled drunkenly that he was going to call for the Town Constable.
"Are you three at it again?" said Kieran, appearing at the entrance to the alcove.
"Bloody assault, that's what that was!" said Joby, pulling Kieran in front of him as a shield.
"Rubbish", said Adam "If I had the money I'd book you in for a session with Madame Simone, she'd soon sort a little varmint like you out".
"He's drunk, Addy", said Kieran "No one'll be more sorry than him in the morning".
"Too true", said Adam "Particularly if I have anything to do with it!"
"Does drink excuse everything?" said Julian "Remind me to get rat-arsed, I'd have a field-day!"
Kieran dragged Joby back to the bar. Although he had defended him to Adam, he still felt he shouldn't get away with his bumptious behaviour towards Glynis.
"You're a bloody tease, Jobe", he said "I should know, I had to put up with enough of it when I first knew you. Blowing hot one minute and cold the next".
"What is this, pick on Joby night!"
"Ah what's der madder?" Kieran cooed, groping his friend's bottom "Is your wee arse hurting?"
"Kieran!" Joby exploded.
"What's been going on?" Hillyard laughed.
"Joby's just got his comeuppance", said Kieran "The way he's been flirting with all and sundry he needed walloping, and he's just got it".
"Who by?" said Hillyard.
"Adam", said Kieran.
"Well it could be worse, Joby", said Lonts, solemnly "It could've been Julian, his spankings really hurt".
"I spose everyone's gonna be laughing about this until the day I die!" said Joby.
"And beyond", said Kieran "We'll be laughing ourselves sick at your funeral too!"
"I'm going to the karsey!" Joby thundered, and stalked off.
"You should get your own back on him", said Hillyard to Kieran "Have an affair yourself".
"Me?" said Kieran "No one has an affair with me. I'm the Vanquisher. Completely sexless, and more androgynous than Tamaz! At least that's how everyone makes me feel these days".
"I would, given half a chance", said Hillyard "And that'd really upset him. You're the best lay I've ever had. I've never forgotten that afternoon at Wolf Castle".
"Neither have I", said Kieran "And I remember how badly he took it too".
"Even better. Come on", Hillyard groped Kieran's knee "You and me were sensational together".
"I think we need to have that orgy", Lonts sighed.
Joby had calmed down slightly by the time he got back, and he asked Persephone what she had done with her t.v set.
"Oh I got fed up with it", she sighed "For a couple of days we couldn't get anything on it at all, apart from a test-card saying 'normal service will be resumed shortly'. So at the moment my house-boy's using it as a stool for when he milks the cow".
"Sounds like a problem at their end", said Kieran "Perhaps the technicians have gone on strike or something".
"The state of their programmes, I doubt anyone'd notice!" said Joby.
They had been asleep for barely an hour when Ransey crept into Kieran's cabin and woke him up.
"Ransey, what's happened?" Kieran sat up, groggily.
"I've just got back from Natalie's Den", said Ransey "Didn't have much luck at the tables tonight I'm afraid".
"I hope you didn't wake us up just to tell us that", said Joby, grumpily.
"No, there's been some bad news from the City", said Ransey "It's only just come in through the telegraph office, I thought you might want to know. It's not very clear as yet what's happened, but the City seems to be in chaos".
"How?" said Kieran "How do you mean?"
"I'm not sure. Just a cryptic message about disturbances on a big scale", said Ransey "Sounds like serious rioting to me. There are fatalities, that's all I know at present. I got the impression this has been going on for a few days. We've only just heard about it. It sounds like a very major civil disturbance to me".
"Codlik?" said Kieran "Any news of him?"
"Nothing as yet", said Ransey "This was just a short message sent by someone's friends up there. But the telegraph operator's been sending a runner round town like a tit in a trance ever since telling everyone".
"I'd better get a message through to the Ministry", said Kieran, clambering over Joby "See if they can tell us anything".
"Why?" said Joby "The City's a long way away, it's their problem. Why should it concern us?"
"For all we know this might be a protest at Codlik's regime", said Ransey "If it is, you know who they're going to want to put in his place ..."
"It's alright, Jobe", Kieran hastened to reassure him "It won't come to that. I've always said, they can't make me be President".
"Oh can't they!" said Joby.
"Of course they can't", said Adam, climbing out of his bunk "Whoever heard of such a thing!"
"We'll play it cool until we hear some more", said Kieran, who sounded nervous in spite of himself "But I promise you, we're not going back up there. I mean it! I don't want it anymore than anyone else".
"I'll hold you to that", said Joby, grimly.
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