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By Sarah Hapgood

Hillyard and Wesley were enjoying a brief pause in their labours. They had been set to work re-painting a rowing-boat, but were taking a mid-morning break, both of them sitting on the waterfront in the spring sunshine, nibbling at off-cuts of a sponge cake Adam had put in their tucker-boxes.

“Beautiful isn’t it”, said Hillyard, as they gazed out over the huge lake “You couldn’t ask for better … you alright, Wesley? You seem a bit quiet this morning”.

“I can see Bardin on the main deck of the galleon”, said Wesley “Looking at those maps”.

“Oh he likes maps”, said Hillyard “But it’s rare for us to get our hands on any decent ones”.

“You’re going to be moving on soon aren’t you?” Wesley sighed.

“I wouldn’t bank on it, mate”, said Hillyard “Everybody likes it here. We’ve found a civilised place that accepts us with no trouble. You wouldn’t believe how rare that is these days. Or what a luxury it is having all this on our doorstep, so to speak”.

“But what about Kieran?” said Wesley.

“He likes it too”, said Hillyard “Says it reminds him of Ireland … that’s where he comes from originally”.

“Yes, but I know you have to be constantly on the alert for any danger to him”, said Wesley “And we’re in a port here, people are coming in and going out all the time. I suppose it’s only gotta take one of them to head back to the City and say they’ve seen Kieran here”.

“And who’s to say they’d be believed?” said Hillyard “Look Wes, we take that risk wherever we are to be honest. We have to stay alert, be ready to bail out at any time, but that’s no reason to stop us lingering here for a while. Anyway, I’m earning money at the moment, that counts for something, as we’re scarcely got any, and Adam’s enjoying having fresh food to play with. Plus he wants to help Bea get settled in”.

“But I know you want to find somewhere you can settle up as a closed order”, said Wesley.

“Who’s to say we can’t find somewhere around here?” said Hillyard “And closed orders can be near civilisation, Kieran’s said that as well. Anyway, we can’t be THAT closed off! Just we’ll be a bit private now and again”.

“You like this job don’t you?” said Wesley.

“I like being the one who brings home the bacon”, said Hillyard “Gives me a kick”.

“But Bardin”, said Wesley, sounding almost like Bengo in his exasperation “He’s so damn energetic all the time, up and at ‘em. I can’t see him staying still in one place for too long”.

“Well he’s managed it plenty of times before!” said Hillyard “He’s the kind of guy who needs plenty to do, that’s all. And there’s no shortage of that for him”.

“Do you have to keep looking at these maps, Bardy?” said Bengo, taking coffee up to his partner on the main deck.

“For God’s sake”, Bardin tutted “You make it sound like pornography!”

“Well it’s unsettling everybody”, said Bengo “They keep thinking you’re going to suddenly weigh anchor at any moment”.

“It’s not my fault if everybody’s thick and jumps to conclusions all the time, is it!” said Bardin “Come here a minute”.

Bengo walked up to him miserably.

“Look at this”, said Bardin, thumping the map he was holding “This is a mp of THIS area. This is what I’m perusing. I’m trying to find out as much as I can about THIS area”.

“Oh I see”, said Bengo.

“Yes”, said Bardin “But everybody sees me looking at a map, gets completely the wrong end of the friggin’ stick and has hysterics all over the place!”

“Perhaps you should’ve told them you were looking at local maps?” said Bengo.

“Or then again, they could’ve just asked me!” Bardin snapped.

“People can’t ask you, Bardy”, said Bengo “You’re too awesome!”

“Well they can ask you then, and you can tell them”, said Bardin “All this fuss just over me looking at maps! Utterly ridiculous!”

“I’m sorry, Bardy”, said Bengo, meekly.

“Perhaps you’ll now be nice to me for a change”, said Bardin “All I’ve had for days is you snapping at me and calling me names”.

“Oh I didn’t!”

“Yes you did. You called me an ‘oaf’ yesterday. AND chucked a cushion at me!”

“Sorry, Bardy”, said Bengo, even more humbly.

Over the next couple of weeks they assimilated well into the life of the town. Kieran was taken over to the chandler’s shop to meet Movich, the owner, accompanied by Ransey and Joby. And this soon became a regular feature of afternoons, when the four of them would sit by the little wood-burning stove in Movich’s office, cradling mugs of strong, sweet tea, and listen to Movich’s tales of the town. He had lived there for most of his life, and had many a colourful tale.

Adam was also enjoying himself. His understated charm and courtly good manners were proving a hit with the female population, who were fast becoming as enamoured with him as Beatrix was.

“He’s playing the eccentric English toff to the hilt”, said Joby.

“He doesn’t have to play it, that’s him!” Kieran laughed “He’d have made a fine diplomat would our Adam”.

Adam loved having two markets practically on his doorstep, the covered one and the quayside one. Handling fresh produce again after so long nearly sent him into an orgasm. Hillyard handed his wage packet to Adam as soon as he received it, a fact which Julian found intensely irritating.

“Do you have to do that?” he complained “Can’t you hide a bit of it back for booze and other essentials?”

Hillyard ignored him. It gave him a kick to make Adam happy, and when Ransey too secured some part-time work doing the boat-yard’s accounts, he couldn’t have been more ecstatic.

Bardin meanwhile had sent the other clowns (and Hoowie) to work scrubbing out the outbuilding at the inn, the one which Beatrix and the others would soon be moving into.

Adam decided to go over one morning to see how they were getting on. He took Lonts with him as protection against being mobbed by the women. Lonts’s huge presence and booming bass baritone voice usually awed people into silence when he was around. Bengo went along too, for the sheer pleasure of watching the other clowns doing hard-graft. When they got there Lonts took up sentry-duty outside the door, and filled his pipe.

“Yeah, I could do with protection too”, said Hoowie “The women round here go nuts over me”.

“Can’t say as how I’ve seen that, Hoowie man”, said Farnol.

“Yes you have”, said Hoowie “They can’t stop looking at me when I’m around”.

“That’s ‘cos you’re a nutter”, said Bengo.

“I am the cutest clown in the world”, said Hoowie.

“Oh no you’re not”, said Bengo “I’M the cutest clown in the world! You’re the weirdest!”

“You’re both wrong”, said Farnol “I’m the cutest clown in the world”.

“Well I must say it’s all coming along rather nicely”, said Adam “I almost don’t recognise the place”.

He paused by a metal spiral staircase, which had been nearly hidden by old packing-cases the last time he had been there.

“Where does that lead?” he asked.

“Storage space in the roof”, said Rumble “They used to store old fishing-nets up there. It’d make a cosy sleeping-space now, might be a bit hot in the summer though”.

“Even so, it would give a little bit of privacy”, said Adam.

He felt a prodding on his behind. Hoowie was jabbing him saucily with the handle of a broom.

“Hoowie, behave old love”, he said “Or I’ll put you over my knee, and I don’t care what Julian says”.

“How?” said Hoowie “You’ve got nowhere to sit down in here”.

“I can find a way”, said Adam “I am nothing if not resourceful”.

Hoowie grabbed him again.

Adam tucked him under his arm and dealt him several smacks on the behind.

“Hello Bardin!” Lonts hollered from just outside the door.

Everybody instantly assumed fresh positions and looked quietly serious.

“Oh Bardy”, said Bengo, when his partner appeared framed in the doorway “It really is you”.

“Of course it’s me”, said Bardin “Who did you think it was?”

“I thought Lonts might have been joking”, said Bengo.

“I heard you were over here”, said Bardin “I didn’t want you holding up progress. The sooner this is done, the sooner they can move in”.

“You have a very good point there, old love”, said Adam.

At lunchtime the clowns returned to the galleon for a couple of hours.

“My God, you’re so deliciously grimy and sweaty”, said Julian, when Hoowie walked into their cabin.

“Don’t tell me you like my BO”, said Hoowie, giggling.

“I could lick all the sweat off you”, said Julian.

Hoowie sat on Julian’s lap, and they kissed vigorously.

“I’ve missed sitting on you”, said Hoowie “Mind you, I haven’t been able to sit down anywhere all morning”.

“Bardin keeping you under the cosh is he?” said Julian “Good. Keeps you out of mischief”.

“I’ve been really good”, said Hoowie “Worked like a slave”.

“I understand you still found time to be cheeky to Adam though”, Julian teased.

“Huh, told you about that did he?” said Hoowie “He spanked me!”

“Well that’s what you get for mucking about with Adam”, said Julian “Anyway, I doubt you could feel much through your woolly knickers”.

“Wanna bet?” said Hoowie “I won’t be wearing them this afternoon, got me too hot”.

“I just have time to give you a quick swab over with the flannel before lunch”, said Julian.

Within a few days the outbuilding was ready for human habitation. As far as summer accommodation went it was perfectly adequate, but there was hope that by the time the autumn rolled round, the Cav4 would have somewhere more solid to live in.

“I suppose we shall now have a great emotional leave-taking”, said Julian, snidely.

“Why?” said Adam “Wesley will still be seeing Hillyard every day at the boat-yard”.

“I don’t mean Wesley”, said Julian “I mean you and Beatrix slobbering over each other”.

“Oh do be quiet, you silly old fool”, said Adam “As we’re all planning to stay here for several months at least, I’m sure I shall be seeing Bea most days too”.

“Yes, gossiping around the markets together”, said Julian “With your baskets on your arms”.

Adam chucked a rolled-up pair of socks at him.

Kieran and Joby were finally able to move back into their cabin.

“You can tell women have been sleeping in here”, said Kieran, dumping their bags on the sofa “It smells softer somehow, more fragrant”.

“Oh don’t worry”, said Joby “We’ll soon stamp our earthy male presence on it”.

He seized Kieran and kissed him hungrily, squeezing Kieran’s tiny buttocks at the same time.

“I can’t believe I’ve got you all to myself again after all these months”, said Joby “No more snatched sessions here and there”.

“Bengo and Bardin must be pleased too”, said Kieran “We’ll have to take them out for a beer to thank them for putting us up”.

“If I can squeeze some money out of Adam”, said Joby “We’ll take ‘em out for a meal as well”.

“Tonight?” said Kieran.

“Yeah, but later on”, said Joby “After I’ve tanned your backside first”.

Joby had brushed Kieran’s hair vigorously until it hung in a halo round his face. When he tipped him over his knee Kieran’s hair fell forward, puddling onto the floor like a golden curtain. Kieran was stark-naked, and the whole image had an erotically-charged, slightly blasphemous quality to it. Joby smacked his bare buttocks hard until they were red and sore.

“How will I sit through dinner tonight?” said Kieran, afterwards.

“Stuff some socks down the back of your trousers”, said Joby “Make it nicely padded for you”.

“God help me if the clowns discover that one!” said Kieran.

“They won’t be in any position to talk”, said Joby “Particularly Bardin. Adam can’t wait to get his hands on Bardin’s starchy behind again!”

“Ah good, we’ve got the window table”, said Bardin, as they took their places in the main bar area of The Dancing Dog “My favourite spot”.

“Yes, he gets picked up by men when he sits here”, said Bengo.

“Bardin, you brazen hussy!” said Kieran, sitting opposite him, his behind cushioned by the strategically-placed socks.

“That was because they thought I was a woman”, said Bardin.

“Did you have your pink nightie on then?” Kieran teased.

“He’s utterly shameless isn’t he”, said Bengo “I should never really let him out on his own”.

The portly man in the white apron came over and distributed menu’s amongst them, before silently departing again to leave them to make their choices.

“It’s all a wee bit fishy”, said Kieran.

“That’s ‘cos it’s a seafood restaurant”, said Joby “Or freshwater fish restaurant I spose is the correct way to call it”.

“No vegetarian dishes at all?” said Kieran.

“Yes, there is vegetable soup”, said Joby “Says it here. It’s your own fault, why couldn’t you have been a pis-catarian or whatever it’s called?”

“Pisces actually”, said Kieran “Well it looks like it’s going to be the vegetable soup then”.

“Like it or lump it”, said Joby “And if you don’t behave I’ll pull the socks out of your trousers”.

“Hah”, said Bardin “Trying to pretend you’ve got a big dick, Kieran? That’s an old stage-trick”.

“Thanks Bardin, but the socks are round the back”, said Kieran.

“Ooh”, said Bengo “Bardy, that’ll be you this time tomorrow”.

“With any luck”, said Joby.

A tray of beers arrived, four tall golden, frosted glasses.

“Blimey, this is a bit of alright innit”, said Joby, when the beers had been arranged on the table.

“Good beer and good company”, said Kieran “Who could ask for more!”

They all clinked glasses.

Kieran polished off the vegetable soup, and let the spoon drop into his bowl with a clatter. He looked round at the other three, who were polishing off the remains of their shellfish supper with great relish. The table was littered with black pots containing the remains.

“You lot look like a bunch of carnivorous cavemen gnawing on bones”, he said.

“That’s us”, said Bardin.

“Is it bothering you, Kieran?” said Bengo.

“Is it hell!” said Joby “He’s just winding you up, that’s all”.

Kieran looked out at the lake. The moon was reflected in the calm waters. Rocks stood placidly near the shore, a life-buoy tinkled gently in the night-breeze.

“It’s beautiful out there”, he said.

“It’s pretty nice in here too”, said Bardin.

An impromptu sing-song began in the far corner of the bar.

“Perhaps you could lend them your voice, Bardy”, said Bengo.

“I am supposed to be having a break from working tonight”, said Bardin.

“Singing doesn’t count as work anymore, you great muffin!” said Bengo.

Kieran leaned back contentedly in his chair.

“Isn’t it nice and peaceful here?” he breathed.

“Peaceful?” said Bardin “What? With that racket going on?”

“I mean generally”, said Kieran “The ambience of the town, but not in a too-good-to-be-true way”.

“No, I’d start worrying if it was”, said Joby “It wouldn’t be real”.

“Quite the opposite in fact”, said Bardin “Some very dark things have happened here”, he lowered his voice and leant forward “The landlord’s daughter for one thing”.

“Yeah, that’s all a bit weird”, said Joby “Not at all clear who, or what, attacked her”.

“It sounds sort of supernatural”, said Bengo.

“I’ve been meaning to say that meself”, said Kieran “But I thought everybody would bellyache like mad if I did”.

“I heard something else about her very recently”, said Bengo “Beatrix told Adam, she’d heard it from Jarvis. The girl never sleeps”.

“What? Never?” said Joby “She must do! Perhaps she does it in shorts snatches and nobody notices”.

“No, he swears it’s true”, said Bengo “She never sleeps at all. It’s a big worry to them, because sometimes she’s gone wandering outside at night, so they’ve had to take to tying her in bed with some sort of sleep harness thing. They say it upsets them to do it, but what choice do they have?”

“It would make sense”, said Kieran “After a traumatic experience like that she’s frightened to sleep because we’re all vulnerable when we’re asleep”.

“Poor girl”, said Bardin.

“Even so”, said Joby “You’d think she’d get so tired that Nature would take its course eventually anyway. However hard we try to stay awake we can still end up dozing off”.

“She never does”, said Bengo “People have sat with her all night apparently, and she was awake the whole time”.

“It certainly sounds like she’s suffering from some trauma-related illness”, said Bardin.

“Mm, good job we’re hanging round her a bit”, said Joby, looking pointedly at Kieran.

“Alright”, said Kieran, firmly “Let’s get one thing straight right now. I am not planning on rushing off to the City, like the focking Spanish Inquisition! Let’s get that clear once and for all. I wouldn’t just be putting you lot in danger, but probably everybody else as well. We’re much better off trying to create a haven in this part of the world, and taking each day as it comes”.

“Blimey”, said Joby “Commonsense at last”.

“Haven’t I been saying that for ages that we’re a religious community?” said Kieran “We’re not an invading army. Those days are gone”.

“And no more astral projection?” said Joby.

“No. OK”, Kieran sighed “I suppose it was a dodgy thing to do and all”.

“Let’s get some more beers in”, said Bardin, signalling to the man in the white apron.

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