Go back to previous chapter
"Kieran's gonna get himself in a right state", said Joby, drinking morning coffee with Adam in Persephone's bar "I pleaded with him not to go, after all, Eva wasn't religious as far as I know. But he kept on that, because she'd met such a violent end, her spirit would be restless and would need comforting".
"Perhaps he has a point", Adam sighed "And it will show that someone cares about the poor girl".
"God, I hope they catch Milich", said Joby.
"He can't have got far away", said Adam "The Constable reckons that he's probably still in town somewhere. It would be easier for him to hide here than out in the open countryside. This whole town is like some hug rabbit warren. Look how long it took us to locate you when Tamaz kidnapped you, and you were practically under our noses the whole time! To be honest, it wouldn't surprise me if Milich topped himself. He's obviously unhinged enough".
"Wouldn't be any great loss", Joby grunted.
"Well as I said he can't be far away", said Adam, waving at Persephone that they wanted topping up "Mezlin saw him leave the building barely minutes before he found Eva's body at the bend in the stairs. That doesn't give him much of a head-start. Eva had been dead a very short time when we heard him giving the alarm".
Hillyard walked into the bar carrying a folding camp-bed.
"Can I leave this with you?" he said, propping it against the bench on which Joby was sitting "Only I'm late for my stint at the bath-house".
"Sure", said Joby.
"You're not moving out are you, Hillyard?" said Persephone, refilling the coffee-cups.
"No, Julian's moving Tamaz into our cabin", said Adam "So Hilly popped out to buy a bed for him".
"I've just seen her", said Hillyard, after Persephone had moved away "Eva I mean. They were taking the body out of the building. Shaken me up a bit".
"You mean she wasn't covered up?" Joby exclaimed.
"That's disgraceful", said Adam.
"No they've put a blanket over her", said Hillyard "But it still gave me a turn. I can just imagine how Mezlin felt when he found her!"
"And how Kieran's gonna feel after praying over her", Joby mumbled.
He was deeply concerned about his friend, but at least when he got back to the Indigo he could occupy himself with moving Tamaz's bedding into his cabin, and sorting out the camp-bed. Lonts and Toppy brought in a tray of tea for him soon after, and told him about all the new peddlers they had met in the town that morning, who had arrived with the Fair.
"There was one old man who cleans your teeth in the street", said Toppy.
"With soot!" said Lonts "He did ours for us. He was really funny wasn't he, Toppy?"
"He said our teeth were quite good considering", said Toppy.
"Considering you never go to the dentist you mean!" said Joby "Perhaps we should get him to look at yours, Tamaz".
Tamaz was sitting on his new bed, which was wedged in at the end of the room at an awkward angle, to leave a small space for the wash-stand.
All four of them had an impromptu tea-party, with the teapot set in the middle of the floor like a religious icon. When Kieran returned home soon after he found them like this, looking casual and relaxed, which was more than could be said for him. Kieran was wound up like a spring, and Joby could sense this at once. It was hardly the best time for him to find out that Tamaz was their new room-mate.
"It was Julian's idea", said Joby "Because Tamaz is with us permanently now, he felt he'd better have a proper bed. And he's put him in here because ... because ..."
"He can be close to you", said Kieran, with a trace of snideness in his voice.
"Not just me", Joby protested "Because Adam's in here too, and he's had plenty of experience with all that sort of thing".
"I'll pour you some tea out, Kieran", said Lonts.
"Sod the tea!" Kieran roared.
He picked up the teapot and flung it at the wall above his and Joby's bunk, where it hit the panelling with a hideous thud and left a watery brown stain behind it. Lonts and Toppy watched this manoeuvre with awe, whilst Tamaz calmly flicked his long tongue about like an ant-eater.
"What's the matter?" Kieran screamed "Aren't I allowed to lose my temper, is that it? Not even when I've just seen the body of a woman who's been stabbed in the stomach God knows how many times, and slashed across the face? He'd cut her nipples off too! Can you dig that, eh?"
Joby silently indicated for the other three to leave the room, which they did with the minimum of fuss.
"Aren't you going to say anything?" Kieran wept, once they were alone "I wasn't expecting it to be so bad. I've seen so many terrible sights, I thought nothing could get to me anymore. There she was on a public landing. He must've done it all so quickly. Amazing really. He must've stunned her first to stop her screaming ... and when I saw her I thought, who am I praying for here? Her or me!"
"Both?" said Joby, quietly.
"A man turned up whilst I was there", Kieran said a few minutes later, as they sat side by side on their bunk "He's travelling round a bit, spreading The Word. Hitched a ride with the nomads for a while. He's very young. I can never get over how young all these monks and priests seem to be at times. He's from a religious house not far from here, further up into the mountains".
"I know where you mean", said Joby "You had a letter from them once when we first moved here, inviting you to go and visit".
"I'm terrified if I go there I'll never come out!" Kieran gave a weak smile "Feel it even more now. The wee monk told me today they've got a room all set aside for me, if I feel like going on a retreat there. He meant well, but I suddenly got a feeling of the deadly inevitable. As though someone had shown me a crystal ball to look into. Us in a few years time. Me holed up in some gloomy cell at the monastery, listening to confessions from people beating a path to me door, and receiving alms. You know like the odd pouch of tobacco or comfy pair of slippers!"
"And meanwhile", Kieran continued "You'll have a nice we house on the edge of town, living there with Tamaz. The suburban lifestyle I expect you were always meant to have really".
"Tamaz isn't my idea of a suburban housewife", said Joby "I can't see him throwing Tupperware parties. Frilly undies parties maybe! You're daft, Kieran".
"Yes", said Kieran, sadly "I know".
In spite of the murder the normal life of the town went on, although a group of men, under the Constable's authority and direction, were carrying out extensive searches for Milich on the quiet. That evening the Fair did even better trade than it had the evening before, and the only sign that something was slightly out of kilter were the occasional whispered conversations in doorways amongst the women, and more loud debates amongst the men as to how he'd managed to inflict all the damage on Eva that he had and then slip away with seemingly little effort at all. After all, it wasn't even as if Milich had a reputation for being terribly bright or fleet of foot!
Myrtle had shut herself away in her room and refused to see anyone but Octavia. Her hotel had been one of the first buildings to be searched, and it had revealed nothing. She informed the Constable that she would never allow Milich in her home again, and from the way she said it there was no reason to disbelieve her.
Down near the waterfront Persephone had set up an outside bar dispensing tall glasses of cold beer, which went down well in the heat of the evening, where the ground was still steaming after the customary two-hour monsoon that afternoon.
"Nobody seems overly concerned that there's a maniac on the loose", said Adam, who was standing with Julian and Hillyard.
"Well I suppose to put it crudely ", said Julian "He got the one he was after".
"I know, but he could still kill again in panic", said Adam "He's like a hunted animal now. He could turn very nasty if cornered".
"Finia's worried", said Julian "With Ransey being roped in as one of the pursuit squad".
"I can understand that", said Adam "But Ransey's no fool in these situations".
"Look, I don't want to sound unfeeling", said Hillyard "But can we talk about something else? I've heard nothing but this all day. It's driving me mad the way everyone keeps chewing over it. It's not decent. I don't know why they don't put her body on public exhibit and let everyone have a good gossip over it!"
"Yes it is a bit like that isn't it?" said Adam "You're quite right. All this kind of endless post-mortemising doesn't do anyone any good".
Bengo stamped up to them causing considerable amounts of tittering from everyone around him, mainly because he was covered from head to foot in liberal dollops of green gunge.
"Hello Bengo", said Julian "Been working hard I see".
"Bardin did this to me!" Bengo shrieked "I hate him. He's a fucking nutter!"
"But I thought that was your job, old love", said Adam.
"Do I look right to you?" said Bengo, indignantly.
"Well ..." said Adam, awkwardly.
"He got the fucking mixture wrong!" Bengo continued, in much the same vein "It's supposed to be watery slime, that's easily washed off. I'm gonna need a fucking fire-hose and sandpaper to get this off me!"
"I can do it for you easy", said Hillyard "I'll attach our rubber hose to the tap on the horse-trough and sort you out that way".
"There's an offer you don't get everyday!" said Adam.
Hillyard went back to the Indigo for the hose and then firmly led Bengo over to be sluiced down, which was very entertaining for everyone else.
"It's coming off now!" Hillyard yelled, eventually.
"No thanks to him!" Bengo pointed at Bardin, who had appeared nearby, accompanied by Mr Hawkefish.
"A word to the wise, dear boy", said Mr Hawkefish, once Hillyard had turned off the tap "Always check one's props before one goes on. I find it saves an awful lot of wear and tear on the old nerves. When I was a budding young star I once appeared in a play where I had to hurl myself onto the stage and leap fully horizontal onto a sofa. One night the numbskull of an assistant stage-manager moved the sofa to the other side of the stage without informing me. As you can imagine, I was lucky I didn't end up in traction".
"Could've been nasty that", said Hillyard.
"It was highly embarrassing too", said Mr Hawkefish "I wasn't pompous for at least a week after that!"
"Bardin's done this before", Bengo seethed "He once made up custard pies using real, thick, creamy custard. I don't what he thought he was playing at, but the bloody stuff stuck like glue to everything".
"It was a literal experiment that's all", Bardin muttered "It just happened to not work".
"I'll say!" said Bengo "I had to cut locks of my hair out to get rid of it!"
"I remember that", Hillyard chortled "Last summer wasn't it?"
"Well you haven't had to do that this time have you!" said Bardin.
"No thanks to you", said Bengo "Hawkefish is right. I'm not leaving the props to you in future. I'm in charge of them from now on. And I'll get my own back too".
Bengo continued to mutter angrily as Hillyard and Mr Hawkefish took him back to the bar for a beer. Bardin discreetly made himself scarce. After a while Hawkefish drifted over to talk to Adam and Julian, leaving the other two alone.
"Do you want me to run home and get you a t-shirt?" said Hillyard "I've noticed a chill in the evenings lately".
"That won't be til much later", said Bengo "I'm fine at the moment".
"You look fine too", Hillyard glanced over him appreciatively "You'd be a prize to anyone. I should've valued you more".
Bengo looked pathetically grateful for this sop.
"I-I was talking to Adam earlier", he said, shyly "He tells me you seem kind of lonely at the moment".
"Nah I'm alright really", said Hillyard "I just wish I was a bit more cut out for close one-to-one relationships sometimes that's all. I've never been very good at that".
"Perhaps people asked too much of you", said Bengo "I-I wouldn't".
"You deserve better than me".
"But I don't want it", said Bengo "I wish you'd let me back into your heart again, Hillyard. I mean, I don't see why not. It's all in the family. We've had sessions together with Julian, and ..."
He cried gently. Hillyard put his arms round him and squeezed him gently.
"Sometimes I sense you distance yourself from me", Bengo sniffed.
"Because I care about you that's why", said Hillyard "You're still very young. A lot younger than me that's for sure!"
"You can't hurt me now, can't you see that?" said Bengo "All I want is for you to trust me, to not draw away when I try to talk intimately with you. You could only hurt me if you left completely and went off alone, because I wouldn't see you then".
"There's no chance of that happening", said Hillyard.
"For a while I thought you were going to go off with Woll", said Bengo "I could see how worried Julian was, and I got like it too".
"All that's over now", said Hillyard "Not that there was much to start! Everything's sorting itself out at last, and I'm mightly glad you're around!"
Adam watched from a short distance away as Hillyard got Bengo in what in all honesty I can only describe as A Passionate Embrace.
"Oh dear", he said "I see all that's starting up again".
"Leave them to it", said Julian, buying a bag of popcorn off one of the street vendors "Don't start twittering and interfering. From where I'm standing they both look like they're getting what they want!"
Joby trailed round the Hall of Mirrors, looking as grim-faced as a married man taking out his family on a day-trip. He was followed by Kieran and Tamaz. Kieran was slightly high from a cannabis cake and couldn't refrain from giggling wildly at all the absurd reflections all around him, which excited Tamaz even more. At the end of one corridor Joby bumped into Glynis, who was tiddly and inclined towards appeasement.
"Hello Joby", she said, as though meeting him in an art gallery "I see you're taking your people out".
"His wife and mistress", Kieran laughed, hysterically.
"I wish you'd calm down!" Joby bellowed.
"Oops sorry sorry", said Kieran, waving his hand in apology "He can be such a miserable old git, Glynis, you don't know what a narrow escape you've had".
"I'm sorry, Kieran", said Glynis "My own feelings got so out of hand I didn't consider yours".
A heavy scene was diverted by Tamaz suddenly tugging off his own trousers and then running past Glynis, clad in only a coffee-coloured teddy, liberally trimmed with lace.
"I'll kill him!" Joby yelled "Come here! Kieran, pull yourself together and help me get him".
"I don't know what you're getting so excited about", said Glynis "He's not doing any harm, and in this heat ..."
"Don't encourage him!" Joby squawked "Tamaz, I'll kill you when I get my hands on you, I mean it!"
Tamaz gave a yodel of amusement and allowed himself to be caught up by Joby, even though when Joby got his hands on him it was like trying to grasp a slippery eel. Joby gently smacked his rump a couple of times, and Tamaz "ow-ed!" in a pantomime fashion, although, due to all the scratchy lace covering his posterior, it was doubtful if he felt very much. Kieran meanwhile had picked up Tamaz's trousers and walked up with them over his shoulder.
"You can put 'em on him!" Joby exclaimed "I'm going to have a drink. But before I got I wanna say one thing. You three have been the bane of my life these past couple of years. Betwen you, you've all tried to drive me raving mad! Well enough's enough. There comes a point in every man's life when he says ... when he says ..."
"Enough's enough?" said Kieran, helpfully.
"When he says No More!" said Joby, emphatically.
"So what are you going to do then?" said Glynis, perplexed.
"Four in a bed?" Kieran suggested, which had Glynis desperately trying not to laugh outright.
"No smutty innuendoes!" Joby roared.
"That's a shame, I was getting quite excited by that thought", said Kieran.
"I want you all to know", said Joby "That I am not as soft as you all seem to think. I am asserting my right to be regarded with respect. I have been pushed around enough, and this is as far as it goes. None of you need think you're getting anything over me again! I WILL NOT BE MADE A FOOL OF!"
He turned to leave and promptly walked into one of the mirrors, thinking it was the exit corridor.
On leaving the Hall of Mirrors he went straight to Persephone's bar and ordered five brandies, lining them up on the counter-top as though they were targets to be picked off one by one. Adam and Julian walked in when he got halfway down the line-up.
"Joby, for heaven's sake", said Adam, in dismay "What are you doing? That's the slippery slope, that way of drinking. Take it from one who knows!"
"A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do", said Joby.
"Get rat-arsed obviously", said Julian, picking up one of the glasses and draining it himself.
"They were all in there", said Joby "All in the Hall of Mirrors. Kieran. Tamaz. Glynis. I thought it was time they listened to me. I mean, it's not as if I've not laid it on the line to them what kind of relationship I want from each of them. I have. Time and again".
"And they've listened to you, you silly-arse", said Adam.
Joby suddenly stared the sobering prospect in the fact that Adam was right. Glynis after all had been good-humoured, civil and apologetic. Kieran had been laid-back and obviously at ease with both his "rivals". Tamaz had been a bit excitable, but as he spent most of his days in a state of semi-delirium this was hardly anything unusual!
"Seems I'm a bit late with me firm speech", he said, humbly "They've already sorted it out".
"Yes", said Adam, quietly "It rather looks that way doesn't it?"
"Goddamnit!" Joby roared "Aren't I even allowed to be dignified without making a prat of meself!"
"Joby sweetheart, we all love you dearly", Adam exclaimed.
They were distracted by a commotion which suddenly started up outside the bar-room windows. A couple of women screamed, and several voices could be heard exclaiming in horror. Persephone ran to the window, gave a short scream of disbelief, and then ran back to grab one of the brandies Joby had left.
"He's bringing it in here", she cried "Oh please, can't you stop him?!"
Ransey walked into the bar wearing a set of oilskins, which were muddy from where he'd been crawling about in the network of subterranean tunnels which networked under the town, and which dated from the days when the women had had to hide from the Ministry. Over one arm he carried a powerful blunderbuss, and in the other hand he carried a severed head.
"Good God", said Julian, swallowing hard.
"Is that Milich?" said Joby, hoarsely.
"Found him half-decapitated in one of the tunnels", said Ransey "Silly sod had tried to hang himself using a length of cheesewire. So one of us finished it off when we cut him down. He was already dead by then".
"Take it outside!" Persephone screamed, tearfully.
"Yes, I do think it was a bit insensitive to carry it in here, Ransey", Adam admonished.
"Just thought everyone would like to se it that's all", Ransey shrugged "Thought they might find it reassuring".
"I can't imagine anyone's now in any doubt that he's dead", said Julian, tartly.
Far from putting a dampener on the festivities, as Adam had thought might happen, it all seemed to accelerate somewhat. Ransey took the head to show Kieran, who retorted "I hope you're not expecting me to chuck this one from a balcony?" (referring to his rather bloodthirsty accession after Father Gabriel's demise). "There are ladies present these days!"
As is usual with any grim sight, once people have got used to the initial feeling of revulsion or horror, they usually develop a morbid curiosity about it, and such was the case now. Once everyone had stopped screaming they all wanted to run over and take a look at it. It wasn't the head so much that fascinated, but that it had once been Milich's.
Kieran was concerned that Myrtle might see the commotion from her bedroom window, so he wrapped the head in Ransey's oilskin jacket and took it to the hospital, to join the rest of Milich's body in the morgue.
Go forward to next chapter
Return to Sarah Hapgood's Strange Tales and Strange Places web site