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By Sarah Hapgood

Lady Red sent them an ecstatic message the next day that she had managed to clinch a deal on her clapboard cottage. Relieved to have the gloom cast by Woll alleviated a little Kieran had ordered a basket of white gardenias from the florist for her. He knew how much it meant to her that she would get her haven at long last. He took it round to the hotel, accompanied by Joby and Lonts. Myrtle grudgingly let them in, although Kieran knew they must look a disreputable bunch with their tattered vests and bare feet.

Once in her room (which was a riot of discarded jewellery and underwear) Red ordered up a trolley of drinks, and mixed them cocktails, which chiefly consisted of brandy and cream, and were gorgeously smooth to the taste.

"Does he come with the flowers?" she said, pointing at Lonts.

"You can have him if you like", said Joby.

The cocktails went down at a satisfying rate. Lonts lolled on Her Ladyship's bed, sucking his thumb, and Red was often heard to give a mieow of longing in his direction.

"You don't need him", said Joby, tipsily "Not for real satisfaction".

He gave Red's backside a slap. Something he would'nt have dared to do in a sober state.

"I can see you've obviously been corrupted by Julian", said Red, falling back into an armchair, barely managing to keep her lace negligee within the bounds of decency.

"Not on your life", said Joby, shaking his head vigorously "He has some funny habits, but they're not mine".

"What does he get up to with that whip?" said Red.

"Not a lot", said Joby "It's just for show".

"It was useful when we were chasing Tamaz", said Kieran, who was lying on the bed next to Lonts "People don't tend to mess around with a man who's carrying a bloody great whip. It can be as effective as a gun if you look confident enough".

"He hasn't used it on any of you?" said Red.

Joby gave a snort of derision. Lonts wriggled off the bed.

"Joby", he said "I need the loo".

"Oh God", Joby groaned "Half my life has been spent ferrying you to the karsey!"

"It's just along the corridor", said Red "Can't he take himself?"

"No", Joby sighed, with frustration "He's alright at home, but in a strange place anything can happen to him".

He escorted Lonts from the room. Once they were alone Kieran got up and went over to Lady Red.

"You know I'm afraid don't you?" she said, looking up at him "Crazy isn't it? A big girl like me, afraid of a little thing like death".

"Red", Kieran whispered, gently "Let me just hold you, darlin'. It'll help you, I know it will. I've always felt much stronger once I've been in someone's arms".

He climbed onto her lap like a little boy and lay his head on her bosom.

"Oh hurry up", said Joby, in the bathroom down the hall "I know you're not very big down there and so you might have trouble finding it ..."

"I don't think that's very kind, Joby", said Lonts, tinkling into the bowl. Suddenly he swerved to give Joby some more recriminations and peed on the floor instead.

"Lonts!" Joby roared "Watch what you're doing!"

"I can't help it", said Lonts "It's those cocktails. Terrible things. I don't know my own mind".

"You never do!"

Afterwards Joby managed to get him repackaged and the loo flushed without too much hassle.

"You're drunk too, Joby", said Lonts, as they walked back to Lady Red's room.

"Don't I know it!" said Joby.

They got back into the room to find Red and Kieran both asleep in the same chair. Joby woke up Kieran and between them they managed to tuck a blanket round Red, and lowered the blinds at the window.

"Time to go home", said Kieran, once they were out on the landing "Except I don't know if I can".

"I'll help you", said Lonts, and he promptly picked up Kieran and slung him over his shoulder.

"Lonts!" Kieran cried, as they headed for the stairs "You'll break me focking neck!"

"No I won't", said Lonts "Unlike you two I can still walk in a straight line".

It was a true that he did manage to get Kieran down the stairs in one piece, but even so negotiating them at all did bring home to them just how lethal the cocktails had been, also that they couldn't remember exactly how many they'd had.

"I'm sure there must've been something else in them", said Kieran, managing to get back on his feet "Like meths, perhaps".

What happened next had that awful air of disjointedness about it that so often comes with heavy drinking. Circumstances arise out of thin air. Fights develop out of nothing at all. Logic ceases to exist. Everyone is too busy being swept along by the dictates of the emotional side of their brain to stop and rationalise anything at all. All Joby could say after was that Malevolent Myrtle had appeared in the lobby and had "said something". But it wasn't what she said so much, as the look on her face. "She looked just like my mum", he said. It was then that he had swung a punch and socked her in the mouth.

A couple of hours later Adam stood with Julian in Myrtle's office and looked appalled at her swollen upper lip.

"Myrtle", he gasped "I'm so dreadfully sorry. I really am. There is absolutely no excuse for this behaviour".

"Where is he now?" Myrtle asked, with a calmness that took the two men by surprise.

"In the jug", said Julian "All three of them. The Town Constable's locked them up in the cell".

"Where if I have my way they'll stay for a long time to come", said Adam "If you wish to press charges please feel free to do so. I won't try and talk you out of it. In fact I'll help you cook up some more if you like!"

"I thought Joby was a close friend of yours?" said Myrtle, surprised.

"He is", said Adam "He's very dear to me, but that doesn't mean I don't think he's behaved like a complete cretin".

"It doesn't matter", Myrtle mumbled.

"But of course it does!" Adam protested "This is a serious assault!"

"Would you like some tea?" said Myrtle, unexpectedly "I'll go and order some".

"Tea!" Adam exclaimed, after she had gone "I was expecting her to be chewing the furniture, and she's inviting us to tea!"

"Perhaps she's a secret masochist", Julian shrugged "Perhaps she enjoyed it really".

"If that's the best you can come up with", Adam snapped "I'd advise you to sit quietly in the corner with your colouring-book!"

"It'll be along shortly", said Myrtle, when she returned "Now how long do you propose to keep them in the cell?"

"Well it's really up to the Constable", said Adam "But if I had my way if would be for as long as you wished".

"I haven't lost any teeth", said Myrtle "So I don't think it need be for too long".

"Myrtle, I really don't understand ..."

"Shut up, Adam", said Julian "You twitter in the most ridiculous way sometimes. Doubtless Myrtle has her own reasons for all this".

"I'm not unused to drunken men", said Myrtle "Not with running a hotel. I know full well what they can be like. And it's not the first time I've fallen foul of one of them. They're usually very contrite afterwards, and they don't tend to argue when I add extra to the bill".

"Compensation", said Adam "Of course we'll pay whatever you ask".

"No we won't!" said Julian "They'll be punished, and Myrtle will get a full apology, but I'm not running to financial compensation".

"But ..." Adam began.

"No buts, Adam", said Julian, sternly "You heard the lady. This is a hazard of the job. As I've said, retribution will be exacted, but I fully hope this may go some way to clearing the air between us".

"I'm hoping that too", said Myrtle.

"But Joby will assume then he did everyone a good turn!" Adam protested.

"Not by the time I've finished with him he won't", said Julian "Although I must say Mrytle, that if you're taking this as some form of atonement for your son's misdeeds, then I'd rather wish you wouldn't. Am I right or not?"

"I've come to a decision about Milich", said Myrtle "But that's family business and I don't really want to go into it now. I see myself as coming out of a dark forest ... ah here comes the tea".

In the cell at the Constable's office, Kieran and Lonts sat at the opposite end of the bench to Joby, who was feeling horribly guilty, which only made him even more bad-tempered.

"You two are a right pair of sanctimonious gits!" he suddenly blurted out "Anyone'd think you'd never done anything wrong!"

"We've never done anything like that", said Kieran, staring at the bars in front of him.

Lonts didn't say anything. He was sucking his thumb and scratching his stomach contentedly.

"If she was a fella I wouldn't be getting all this grief", said Joby.

"She's not though is she", said Kieran.

"I don't see what difference it makes!"

"No, you wouldn't".


"Don't talk to me, Joby", said Kieran "You and me are getting a divorce".

"Do they give us something to eat in here?" Lonts asked.

"Oh someone'll come an dlet us out in a wee while", said Kieran "Except Joby of course, they might decide to keep him in".

"I hope not", said Lonts "He might get lonely. Can't we stay in here with him? I don't want to see Julian yet".

"You don't have to worry about him", said Kieran "It'll be Joby who gets the thrashing".

Voices could be heard in the Constable's office, and then Hillyard came through, carrying the ring of keys.

"He said I could go ahead and let you out", said Hillyard, unlocking the door "You lot've made his day! Three arrests in one afternoon, that tops his crime rate for the month!"

"We're allowed to go home?" said Kieran.

"Yep", said Hillyard "Myrtle's not pressing charges".

"I want to stay here", Lonts wailed "Hillyard, can you run home and fetch Snowy for me?"

"He's frightened of what Julian might do", said Kieran.

"You'll be alright, Lonts", said Hillyard, reassuringly "Never fear, Hillyard's here!"

Kieran and Lonts got up and left the cell. Hillyard went over to Joby, who hadn't budged from the bench.

"C'mon", said Hillyard "You're a free man!"

"What's the point of me going home?" said Joby, morosely "I'll be treated like a leper in this town from now on. I won't be able to show my face in public. No one's ever going to speak to me again".

"I will", said Hillyard.

"You'll talk to anyone!" said Joby.

"What made you do it?"

"It was the way she looked at me. All hard and spiteful, a bitter old woman. I just can't take it when anyone looks at me like that, particularly a woman. I just don't understand why they have to be so damn nasty and horrible. I know we were drunk but ... I couldn't handle it, that's all. I've really messed up, Hillyard. I can't seem to do anything right".

"Seems to me you're beating yourself up far worse than you did her!" said Hillyard.

"Kieran'll never forgive me for this", Joby sobbed.

"I expect he already has, knowing him", said Hillyard, sitting down on the bench next to him "Adam told me what Myrtle had said. She's been quite understanding, you know. Apparently she's suffered real bad with her nerves for years. She has to take pills for it, but sometimes she runs out or forgest because she's so busy with the hotel. She says it has been known for her to lash out at people when the nerves get the better of her, and so she understands what happened to you this afternoon".

"She really said all that?" said Joby.

"Yeah. She says when she's wound up the slightest thing can tip her over the edge, even just somebody moving a pen a couple of inches on her desk! She says it doesn't help that everyone gets shit scared at such times, and they all try to stay out of her way. She says she understands why, but she feels abandoned by 'em then. She's nowhere near as bad as that son of hers".

"I know, I've always known that", said Joby "Oh Christ, it's a good job I never got married isn't it! My wife could've had me up for battery no end of times!"

"Instead Kieran'll keep you on a short leash for a while", Hillyard laughed.

"That's if he wants to know me", said Joby.

"I can't imagine he doesn't somehow!" said Hillyard.

The press, starved of anything to do, had seized on this development with glee, and Hillyard only just managed to get Joby back to the Indigo ahead of them. Kieran in the meantime had been detained by Glynis, who had also heard about Joby's misadventure and wanted it recounting to her in grisly detail.

"I never knew he was like that", she said "Never. Not in all the time I've known him. Has he ever hit you?"

"Oh yes", said Kieran, blithely "Loads of times".

He was determined to get something out of this whole debacle, even if it was only to shatter Glynis's illusions about Joby! Back on the Indigo he found Joby had fled into their cabin, and couldn't be roused from his misery even to admire the new curtain on a brass rail round the bunk which Hillyard had knocked up for them that morning.

"Makes me feel like I'm in hospital", Joby grunted.

"Poor old Joby", Kieran kissed him and cuddled him "You could outdo me with guilt and penances. I notice I don't get all this when you've socked me in the face!"

"So what happened to all that sanctity of womanhood crap you were chucking at me in the cell?" said Joby.

"Most women are built of sturdier stuff than me", Kieran smiled.

"You're a bigger winder-upper than anyone else I know", Joby retorted.

"I'll nip across to Julian and put in a recommendation for mercy for you", said Kieran "I love you, you daft eejit".

"I don't deserve you, Kiel", Joby sniffed.

"That could be taken two ways!" said Kieran.

Out in the gangway Kieran found the hatch into the hold open. He peered down into the gloom and made out Hillyard industriously moving about.

"What's afoot?" he said to Julian, when he went into his cabin.

"I asked to see Joby, not you", said Julian, who was in the throes of setting out two brandy glasses.

"Ah well if you're getting the brandy out I couldn't resist", said Kieran, genially "Joby's already suffering enough, without you having a go at him".

Suddenly the engines started up.

"Are we off somewhere?" he said.

"Moving", said Julian, pouring out brandy "Not far. Just out into the middle of the river".

"Won't that make things a wee bit inconvenient?" said Kieran.

"It's only for a couple of days, to give the press a chance to get bored with the story", said Julian "After two days of non-events in Toondor Lanpin they'll be desperate to go back to the City and listen to one of Codlik's speeches!"

"So we hibernate in the middle of the river until then?" said Kieran "What about Bengo and his performances?"

"He's going to report in sick", said Julian "If Bardin's wise, he won't create too much of a fuss. He knows he can't do without Bengo, and it's only two performances he'll miss".

"It'll do us good to get out of the stream for a bit", said Kieran "Although I suppose they could hire a skiff and come out to us".

"I doubt it", said Julian "Toondor Lanpin will work its magic of laissez faire as usual. I don't think they'll be bothered too much somehow".

That night Joby went up on deck with Hillyard to do some fishing. They were thus occupied until the first chilly grey fingers of dawn appeared.

"Did me good, that did", said Hillyard, as they packed up their equipment.

"Is what Woll said still bothering you then?" said Joby.

"I'm getting over it", said Hillyard "I just can't understand it I suppose, but then you know I'm not the most perceptive of people when it comes to relationships. I just don't get why it should bother him whether I tart or not. I thought he knew the score all along".

"C'mon let's get these below", said Joby "Adam got some ice in before we left the jetty. We'll pack 'em in that until lunch-time".

"Something to look forward to", Hillyard sighed.

Joby slept until about noon. When he woke up it was because someone was moving his head, adjusting it to a more comfortable position on his pillow. At first he thought it was Kieran, but when he opened his eyes he found it was Tamaz.

"You're not supposed to be in here", he said, sleepily.

"Kieran said I could come in as long as I didn't disturb you too much", said Tamaz "But then I always disturb you don't I!"

"Bog off", Joby sighed.

Tamaz gave one of his tee-hee-hee giggles and slipped his wrap from his shoulders. He climbed onto the bunk and pulled a small packet from the front of his drawers.

"Where did you get that?" said Joby, wearily.

"From Julian's desk", said Tamaz "He must keep a supply for when he has Hillyard. After all, we never know where he's been! And I thought it would be a good idea to bring one in, because I suspect you wouldn't like it very much if I got preggy-weggy".

"I'll give you preggy-weggy, you little scrote", said Joby, not without affection.

Tamaz got up again, took off his underclothing and then stood showing his naked body to Joby as though displaying it at a cattle auction.

"I remember it well", Joby murmured.

"Are you still upset by what happened in that room?" said Tamaz "By what I made you do?"


"Beat me for it if it'll make you feel better. I'm sure Julian would lend you his riding-crop".

"That won't be necessary. Oh come here!"

Tamaz got back onto the bunk and Joby rolled over to face him.

"So, do you want me to wear it then?"

"You'll have to", Tamaz smiled "Julian's said he'll put me in the hands of the Ministry if I get pregnant again".

"Can't have that can we?" said Joby, smoothing the condom over his penis.

Once adequately covered he spread his body over Tamaz's.

"I wish you'd kiss me", said Tamaz "Even if it was just once".

"It's that bloody tongue of yours", Joby smiled "I keep thinking you'll choke me with it!"

He kissed Tamaz, whilst groping at his lower half. The days had gone when the sight and feel of Tamaz's extraordinary genitals had turned his stomach. Now he didn't mind accidentally touching his penis as he felt for his cunt.

"You still need it don't you?" Tamaz whispered "The feel of a cunny".

"It welcomes me in", Joby groaned.

"In a way that an arse doesn't", Tamaz giggled.

"You're well-oiled already", said Joby, sliding into him with ease "What have you been doing to yourself?"

"Nothing", said Tamaz "Just thinking about you".

Joby thrust into him with more gentleness than had been known in the past.

"You're incredible", Joby breathed.

"Better than Kieran?" Tamaz whispered.

"No. Different. You're both so different. But you're not better than him so don't think it!" Joby cried "You're both ... both amazing".

"Aren't you the lucky one then!" said Tamaz.

Afterwards Tamaz stood with his legs apart whilst Joby gave him a douche using the water from the jug on the wash-stand.

"It's cold", Tamaz squirmed.

"You should fret", said Joby "I've gotta run the gauntlet to the heads to get rid of this thing! God, you didn't half squelch it out didn't you! You're as sticky as syrup down there!"

He picked up Tamaz's underwear from the bunk and helped him to get dressed. As he buttoned him into his drawers he spoke to him softly.

"I'm in love with you", he said "You know that don't you?"

Tamaz didn't know what to say so he kissed Joby on the lips again.

"It doesn't change the situation ..." Joby began, and then realised how boring he sounded "Oh shit, what I'm trying to say is I don't want to ever leave Kieran, or lose him".

"But why should you?" said Tamaz "He accepted us this way before, and he knows what's going on in here. He's as psychic as me, so he can't fail to know".

"I don't stand a chance of keeping anything from the pair of you do I!"

"You'll cope", said Kieran, shutting the door behind him.

"Kiel!" Joby blushed violently "Oh God, what's the matter with me, I can't seem to stay out of trouble!"

"I wish you'd calm down", said Kieran, who was more preoccupied with searching for a new packet of cigarettes amongst his things "You keep getting steamed up and you'll upset Freaky Fred here. For God's sake sort yourself out, Joby. I find it hard to talk properly to a man who's got a used condom hanging off his prick!"

"I-I'll go to the heads", Joby pulled on his robe "This has gotta be the wierdest threesome in history!"

"Oh I doubt it", said Kieran.

Joby left the room.

"Well", said Kieran, alone with Tamaz "I wonder if you can handle it, someone loving you".

Tamaz helplessly bit his nails.

"Nice to see you lost for words for once", said Kieran.

"Are you angry with me?" said Tamaz.

"I don't know", said Kieran, candidly.

"You won't ever send me back to the Ghoomers will you?"

"At one time that was all you wanted".

"That was when I thought the Ministry were going to have me killed", said Tamaz "But you don't know how awful it is with them. The deformities, the cold and dark, the creatures, and spiders and snakes everywhere".

Tamaz began to cry pathetically. Kieran took him into his arms.

"You're not going back", he said "I want to keep you as a pet for one thing. You fascinate me, Tamaz. Someone who grew up around evil but who isn't intrinsically evil himself, just spoilt and wayward. You can't understand love, can you? Because you've never known it. And yet your first instinct isn't to destroy it, which was Angel's. In so many ways you're more innocent than most. You're on a par with Lonts really".

Tamaz didn't say anything, he simply cried quietly.

Later that afternoon Julian was nursing a headache in his cabin when Kieran went in to see him, carrying a bag of ice.

"I can't get away from you at the moment, can I?" Julian snarled.

"Adam thought this might help", Kieran placed the bag against Julian's forehead "I'll rub your neck for you if you like. It sometimes helps".

"I wish you'd develop healing hands", said Julian, leaning forward so that Kieran could massage his neck and shoulders "We could make a fortune out of you then".

"I sometimes think it's enough just to put your hands gently on someone", said Kieran "Psychologically lifting problems from them".

"Don't you believe in faith-healing then?" said Julian "After all, Christ did it on a grand scale".

"Christ was in a league of his own", said Kieran "The only man to have ever been born completely free of sin".

"Weren't you then?" said Julian, facetiously.

"Don't say things like that, Julian. It frightens me", said Kieran.

"No thunderbolts from Heaven are going to strike you down", Julian sighed, wearily "Doesn't Catholicism teach you anything but fear?!"

"You haven't got a religious bone in your body, so how would you know?" Kieran retorted.

"I know it's all based on superstition", said Julian "Most of the Ten Commandments are based around that. But it's the contradictions I could never stand, particularly about love. I thought Christianity was supposed to be about loving one another, so how does that square with the jealous God theory? You know, all that thou shalt not love anyone more than me nonsense. Thou shalt forsake everyone if I tell you to. Could you do that?"

"No I don't think I could", Kieran confessed "I agree with you about the contradictions. We are supposed to try and build the Kingdom of God on Earth, and I don't believe we can do that without loving each other first and foremost".

"So you wouldn't give up Joby if the Lord God Almighty told you to?"

"But I don't believe He would. I've always maintained I couldn't have done anything without the love of everyone around me".

"Doesn't that rather imply your faith in God isn't strong enough?"

"The exact opposite", said Kieran "I believe He gave me that love as a gift".

"I've never thought of Joby as a gift from God before!" said Julian.

"He has his momments", Kieran smiled "I've never believed that all of the Bible should be taken literally. Where I come from that sort of thinking caused too much trouble. Too many men and women going around claiming that they were captives to Biblical lore, and using it as an excuse to get away with whatever they wanted".

"And not just in your part of the forest either", Julian sighed "Adam's father suffered from pretty much the same affliction. Not nice. Not nice at all".

"I sometimes think I've had to triumph over hardly any adversities in life", said Kieran, thoughtfully "Not when compared to Adam say, or Lonts".

"You've had the hardest deal of all", said Julian "I would never have wished your position on anyone".

There was a loud banging and thumping coming from the corridor.

"What the hell is going on out there?" said Julian.

"The galley table is being dismantled", said Kieran "I heard them talking about it just before I came in".

"Why?" Julian exclaimed.

"Adam wants us all to have dinner up on deck", said Kieran "But the table has to be taken to bits to get it up the stairs".

"He is deranged", Julian sighed "I think I've got a Bohemian free spirit on my hands, and really he's a bloody Sunningdale housewife!"

"It was Toppy's idea", said Adam, standing on the deck and supervising the laying of the table "He suggested we make the most of our temporary privacy by eating outside".

"We're going to all this hassle just to please Toppy?" said Joby.

"More to the point we're going to all this hassle just for cold meat and salad", said Julian, watching the dishes being set out.

"Oh for heaven's sake", said Adam "You've got no sense of occasion".

"There isn't an occasion", said Julian "It's not Christmas".

"We've got pickles as well", said Lonts, carrying up a large jar of pickled onions.

"Oh well that makes it all worthwhile", said Julian "Well worth getting the best china out if we're having pickled onions!"

"Julian, you can be perfectly repellent sometimes", Adam hissed.

"At least I don't have middle-class blood in me", said Julian "And that's what's coming out here, your father's ancient lineage of respectable trade!"

"You can talk!" said Adam "What was it your mother's family did? Owned biscuit factories wasn't it?"

"Ssh, dark family secret that", Julian gave a wry smile.

"My mother used to make jokes about it, at your mother's expense", said Adam "She used to knock on the lids of biscuit tins, and ask if Monica was in there! 'Are you in there, darling?' she used to say. Only when the old man wasn't around of course, he wouldn't have approved".

"You can see where Adam gets his 'loveable eccentricity' from", Julian sighed heavily, much to Joby's amusement "He's the Honorable bloody Letitia to a tee sometimes!"

Hillyard came up on deck wearing a red shirt that no one had ever seen before.

"Is that new?" said Joby.

"Yeah, got it with my immoral earnings", said Hillyard "I felt I could buy some clothes with it now that Kieran's legacy is buying the food. I picked up a couple of frothy, lacey nightgowns too. They caught my eye. I couldn't resist 'em".

"What, for you?" said Joby, in horror.

"No!" said Hillyard "I've given one to Finia, and I was gonna give the other to Tamaz, but he says he doesn't want it".

"Why not?" Joby barked at Tamaz, who was sunning himself on a heap of rope.

"Vulgar", said Tamaz, haughtily.

"Spoilt little trollop", said Julian.

"It would get caught up round my middle in bed", said Tamaz.

"Seems a shame for it to be unwanted though", said Kieran.

"You can have it if you like", Hillyard laughed.

"Do me a favour!" said Kieran "Me mam would be turning in her grave! Why don't we give it to Myrtle as a peace-offering?"

"Yeah", said Hillyard "Joby could take it round there in person".

"Oh don't ask me to do that!" Joby cried, in dismay.

"It would be a nice gesture", said Adam "Don't you think so, Jules?"

"Well apart from the fact that I really can't imagine Myrtle in a frothy nightgown, yes", said Julian.

"Is it really the done thing to go giving women nightdresses as presents?" said Ransey "If you're not involved with them I mean. She might get the wrong idea".

"From us?" Julian exclaimed "I hardly think so! If it worries you that much we'll send Adam round with it. She would have to be suffering from acute paranoia to think he was giving her the come-on!"

Bengo was upset. The evening, which had started so well, was for him turning out to be a worry. At the dinner-table Julian had got some maps out and began proposing that they take a short trip, perhaps down the river which linked up with this one at the western end of town.

"We never had a chance to explore that area before", he said "We were too busy chasing a certain person", he gave a brief nod in Tamaz's direction.

Just a short trip. A few days. "After all, I doubt there's much to see but rocks and wasteland", said Julian.

Nevertheless the others got very excited about the idea, and Ransey even began making notes.

"But why?" said Bengo "Why now?"

"Because now we can afford it", said Julian "And a change is as good as a rest, as the saying goes".

"Well that's alright for the rest of you", said Bengo, waspishly "But I have commitments. Bardin's going to give me a hard enough time for taking these days off, without taking anymore!"

"We realise that, old love", said Adam "We don't expect you to come, we know how busy you are the theatre at the moment. I expect Fradie could put you up for a few days. That would be convenient wouldn't it? He only lives just round the corner from the theatre".

"You don't understand", said Bengo "I want to come!"

"Make your mind up", Joby grunted.

"But I can't come", Bengo continued.

"There'll be other trips I suspect", said Julian "I'm proposing this now because I think it would do us good to get out of town for a while".

"Run away you mean!" Bengo leapt to his feet "That's your lots' answer to everything isn't it! Run away! No wonder you never fit in anywhere!"

"Good grief", said Julian, after Bengo had stormed below.

"I don't think I've ever seen him so worked up", said Adam.

"Clowns can be miserable little bastards", said Julian, dismissively.

"Jules!" Adam admonished.

"Well they can", said Julian, unrepentent "Stroppy with it".

"Bit like interior designers really", said Ransey, much to the others' amusement.

"Perhaps one of us should go down to him", Adam suggested.

"Why?" said Julian "He's hardly going to go anywhere, and I can't imagine for one minute we've heard the last of this".

Bengo made a protest by spending the night on the floor instead of in Julian's bed. He got nothing out of this, other than a stiff back, and Julian seemed insultingly unconcerned. The following day though Julian ordered the Indigo to be taken back to shore so that Bengo could go back to work. It was either that or have him row himself there and back in the skiff, which there didn't seem much point in really.

He felt no joy at being back in harness again. Backstage life was beginning to feel irksome, and Bardin started giving him a hard time as soon as he showed up for rehearsals at noon. They had a blazing row in their dressing-room, frequently interrupted by the chorus-girls coming in singly to let them sniff their new perfumes. Bengo, because of his good looks and amiable nature, was normally a great favourite with them, but his surliness today was noticeable and off-putting.

In the end he got so worked up he threw a pot of face-cream at the wall and walked out, fully intending to never come back. He was intercepted at the stage-door by Mr Hawkefish, who noted his distressed state and invited him into his dressing-room to calm down. Bengo agreed. He knew he didn't have to worry about getting any unwelcome passes made at him. Hawkefish, for all his camp exclamations and "dear boying" had an eye strictly for the ladies. Bengo gratefully accepted a glass of brandy from him.

"I thought when you offered me a little snort of something you meant coke", Bengo giggled.

"The last thing I would want to do is to turn you into a snow queen, my dear boy", said Hawkefish, sitting down opposite him "A surefire way to lose your good looks. The healthy bounce and glossy sheen on your hair would go for a start. Now what is it that is causing you such dismay?"

Bengo explained everything.

"Don't you have any say in things on the Indigo?" Hawkefish asked.

"Yes", said Bengo "But I'm pretty low down in the pecking-order".

"You are a performer first and foremost", said Hawkefish "It is your identity, and one should never deny that about oneself. They've said themselves they'll only be gone for a few days".

"That's what they say", said Bengo "Years ago, before Kieran became President, they went off to Lixix for a short holiday and were gone for over two years! How do I know they won't do the same again, and then where will I be? They might never come back at all!"

"I find that hard to believe", said Hawkefish "Your trouble is insecurity, the classic hallmark of the true performer. Terrified of being forgotten, left behind, ignored. One has to have a little faith in people sometimes. I would strongly advise you to stay here and work. We have a busy time ahead of us. We need to start making plans for the Hallowe'en fundraising spectacular. I was rather hoping we could give the punters a little preview of it when the Equinox Fair comes round. That only gives us a couple of weeks, and you are one of the team's greatest assets".

Such words were music to the ears of the "true performer" and Bengo meekly went back to his dressing-room. After rehearsals he crept off alone to the cellar-bar for a beer, and found Ransey there, making more of his notes.

"Can't get away from any of us in this town", said Bengo, trying to sound jokey and appeasing.

"You can always go and drink at the other end of the bar", Ransey, crushingly "I won't disturb you".

Bengo stood there dejectedly, feeling like a small child that had been smacked and couldn't understand why. Ransey looked up and peered at him through his spectacles.

"I didn't mean it", he said, gruffly "Have you asked Fradie if he can put you up yet?"

"I'll go and see him later", said Bengo.

"I can't imagine there'll be any problem", said Ransey "Except he'll probably be badgering you to bring chorus-girls home".

"I expect so", Bengo gave a doleful sigh "Y-you won't all change your minds when you're out there and decide not to come back, will you?"

"No", said Ransey, simply "You've got nothing to worry about, so stop worrying".

"I'll try", said Bengo, uncertainly.

Joby reluctantly dragged himself to Myrtle's hotel to deliver the nightdress and his apology. He was a nervous wreck and only agreed to go on condition Kieran went with him ("as it was your bloody idea!"). When they got there they were informed that Myrtle was entertaining a friend in her private sitting-room, but they could go in.

Myrtle's friend was a fat, heavily made-up creature, who was so clean, coiffured and scrupulously dressed that she looked as though she should come wrapped in cellophane. She had two moods and expressions: disgust, and a rather silly giggle which was usually only ever activated when someone else made a fool of themselves.

"Oh just look at those two", she said, when Kieran and Joby entered the room, making no attempt to lower her voice out of politeness.

They both instantly felt like scruffy, badly-dressed eccentrics, which was exactly what they were, but it's still not nice to be made to feel that way by someone with such a nasty sense of superiority. Kieran knew he could never be so cruel as to make Joby apologise in front of such a creature, and instead he presented the garment himself and gave a little speech of goodwill to Myrtle.

Myrtle, to her credit, accepted it very graciously and with genuine pleasure.

"I hope you don't mind", said Kieran "We thought it matched your eyes".

This last bit was entirely off-the-cup, and afterwards he said to Joby that it was a good job they had decided to give her the blue one and not the bright red one which had gone to Finia!

"It's lovely", said Myrtle, a rare smile crossing her lips "I've never had a present like this before".

The fat friend was remarkably silent thus far, but this was because she couldn't think of something sufficiently bitchy to adequately illustrate her contempt for them.

"You will stop and have some tea?" said Myrtle.

"Perhaps some other time. Not when you're entertaining your friend", said Kieran, deliberately making it sound ambiguous.

"This is Octavia", said Myrtle, introducing them "She was a very good friend to me when Milich was born".

Kieran felt that as Milich was now nearly twenty, any debts of friendship to the loathsome Octavia should be well-paid by now!

"She's staying with me for a few days", Myrtle continued.

"You have our sympathy", Joby muttered, and earnt a sharp nudge in the ribs from Kieran.

"She's from the Marsh Village", said Myrtle "You went there when you were pursuing Tamaz didn't you?"

"It's a very pretty place", said Kieran "Are you one of the Marsh Witches, Octavia?"

Honest to God, he had asked this question in all innocence! Joby was making no secret of his amusement at this grisly faux pas, and was all but lying on the floor kicking his heels in the air. As it was he was pointing at Octavia and shrieking "look at the expression on her face!"

"But the Marsh Witches do a lot of good stuff", Kieran floundered, wondering where all his subtle skills of diplomacy had suddenly flown to "They ... um ..."

"Prance around outside in the nude", Joby guffawed "Oh God, what a thought!"

"Joby!" Kieran bellowed, but even so he couldn't force himself to apologise. He felt it was just retribution in fact for Octavia's shallow bitchiness when they had first come in.

"Can't take him anywhere can you?" said Myrtle, grimly "How on earth did you cope at official functions when he was your Consort?"

"I didn't", said Kieran, sarcastically "I had Adam for ceremonial occasions. I used to keep Joby locked in my suite. He was never allowed out in public, because he'd only go and disgrace himself!"

"Male consorts are an abomination", said Octavia, primly.

"He certainly was!" Kieran exclaimed.

Joby had been too busy laughing to listen to Octavia, which was just as well.

"I don't know how you could even consider such a thing", said Octavia "It goes against the grain".

"Even if I had wanted it there was no alternative at the time", said Kieran, who had heard all this many times before "Or at least we didn't know there was anyway".

"But it's so ... so ...", Octavia desperately racked her brains for adequate words "What you do is just so ... HORRIBLE!"

"They don't like it up 'em!" Joby cried, helpless with laughter "Oh my mouth hurts, I can't stop".

"Now you know how it feels", said Myrtle.

To Kieran's pleasent surprise he realised that underneath her frosty exterior she was enjoying herself immensely. He wondered how many times she had been intimidated into Octavia's way of thinking.

"Oh yes I know", Joby gulped frantically to try and calm himself "I'm sorry, Myrtle. It should never have happened. I'd cut off my hand before I let it happen again".

"You wouldn't need to", said Kieran "I'd do it for you!"

"As I said to Adam, I know what it's like when your feelings get too intense for you", said Myrtle "I once attacked a bellboy with a brass poker just because he hadn't brought me a knife to cut my pear with!"

"Did you?" said Joby, with awe.

"You have a nervous condition, Myrtle", said Octavia, censoriously "He was just drunk! No excuse at all. Drunken men feel they have a God-given right to abuse women".

"It wasn't like that at all", Joby protested "I know what I did was wrong. I admit it".

"Oh you do now", said Octavia "Men are always pathetic in the eyes of society's condemnation ... Until The Next Time".

"There won't be a next time", said Joby, firmly.

"Men rape and abuse women daily", said Octavia, now well-launched.

"I think you're being a wee bit unfair", said Kieran "There are men like that, I won't deny it. But to say ALL men are like it is a gross exaggeration. Anymore than ALL women are ... are ..."

"Old shrews", said Joby, with feeling.

"Men have always made women lead lives of brutal degradation", said Octavia "Taking advantage of our bodies for their own gratification".

"I bet it's been a long time since that happened!" said Joby.

"C'mon, I'm taking you home", said Kieran, pulling Joby out of the chair by his vest.

"I'll see you out", said Myrtle.

In the foyer Joby apologised to Myrtle again, even literally hanging his head in shame. Myrtle patted his arm and said how easy it was for "friendly arguments" to get out of control.

"Oh please Kiel, speak to me", Joby whimpered, as they walked back to the Indigo "You heard what she was like!"

"You don't make jokes about rape", said Kieran.

"I-I wasn't. I didn't mean it like that. You know me, I'm not a monster ..."

"Trouble is, Octavia was right", said Kieran, sombrely "Women have been treated pretty cruelly by men over the centuries. Rape, battery, desertion, deprivation of freedom, denial of human rights, female circumcision, and the Massacre for God's sake!"

"But as you said we're not all like that", Joby broke off "That was a pretty limp thing to say wasn't it? But it's not all one-sided. Women can dish it out too".

"Hardly on the same scale though!"

"So I've gotta be punished for all the sins of the male sex have I?" Joby exclaimed "Where's the bloody fairness in that? I know I've behaved like a prize prick lately, but I still don't deserve that".

"I'm sorry Jobe, I got carried away", Kieran put his arm round him "Now don't look so wounded, I really wasn't getting at you. I was just letting off steam. I tend to see things a bit simplistically when I'm like that. The truth is, human nature has always been deeply flawed, on both sides".

"Exactly", said Joby "It's a hard game for all of us, and none of us gets out alive!"

"And everyone plays games, and uses each other", Kieran sighed "I am so scared of life sometimes. I get so tired of feeling like a freak, of not fitting in anywhere".

"You fit in with us", said Joby "The ship of fools!"

"Did you know the original ship of fools was a floating lunatic asylum?" said Kieran "They used to trundle it up and down the Rhine, I think it was, because they didn't know what else to do with the poor bastards".

"Sounds quite apt really then doesn't it!" said Joby "We're all freaks in our own ways, Kiel. Everyone. And the man or woman who thinks they aren't is the biggest freak of the lot!"

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