Aleister Crowley had gone off on a spiritual retreat. As far as the others could gather this involved living for a couple of weeks in an old shepherd’s hut somewhere in the hills, with the barest necessities for survival, and not even a bucket for a latrine. He said that after a few days of this, with only the stars, the distant sea, and the countryside for company, he would be completely at one with himself. Most of the others regarded this as a rather grisly thought, but if it kept him happy (and more importantly, out of the way for a few days) then it was alright by them.
Meanwhile, down in Zilligot Bay, things were trying to be put back on an even keel, after the stress and mayhem of the previous months. The Indigo Tavern was reopened, under a banner proclaiming “BACK IN BUSINESS – UNDER OLD MANAGEMENT”, and Ransey (to Adam’s annoyance, and Hillyard’s unspeakable anger) had called in a local builder to give the place the “once-over”, and see about making it look more impressive somehow.
A wake had been held for Codlik, with the clowns getting up a makeshift band to play raucous rock music at it, with Bardin singing, and Tamaz and Thetis dancing. All this under another banner saying “DING DONG THE ANNOYING LITTLE SHIT IS DEAD!” Adam tried to argue that this wasn’t perhaps in the best possible taste, but his heart wasn’t really in it, and the banner stayed up through the entire evening.
The morning after this joyful event Joby had gone into the main room of the bar (prior to opening time) to find Kieran standing on a table and apparently beating up the television set. Joby remonstrated with him that this was the only television set in town, and so it had to be handled with great care and delicacy.
“But I nearly got a picture then”, said Kieran “I saw a horse there!”
“You’re imagining it”, said Joby “And I dunno why you want to put the racing on anyway, nobody can place any bets”.
“Ah I’ve been thinking about that”, said Kieran “Why don’t we open up our own bookies here, as a little sideline?”
“You’re unreal you are!” said Joby “For years you’ve been lecturing me about going anywhere near a pack of cards or a set of dice, and now you wanna set up your bookies!”
“It’d all be a bit of harmless fun that’s all”, said Kieran “I’ve never liked you gambling before because you’ve never known who you’re gambling with, there are some unscrupulous bastards out there”.
“There are a few round here and all!” said Joby.
“But we all know each other so it’s no problem”, said Kieran.
“I think it’s a pants idea, Kieran”, said Joby “If we win the customers could get the hump and give us the cold-shoulder, and if they win we could be cleaned out in no time at all!”
“You never see a poor bookie now do you?” said Kieran.
“Only ‘cos they go out of business that’s why!” said Joby.
“When do you ever see a bookies go out of business?” Kieran argued.
“I’m not discussing this anymore Kiel”, said Joby, and as if to illustrate his point he lifted Kieran down from the table “What are you up to this morning?”
“I’m going to help Hillyard with the horses”, said Kieran.
“Well go and get on with it then”, said Joby “And leave the telly alone!”
Joby switched it off and returned to the kitchen, where Bengo, who was supposed to be cleaning the sink, was yelling at Bardin out of the window.
“Bardin, shut up, or I’ll put scouring powder down your trousers!”
Bardin took this as a promise and shuffled away.
“What’s the matter with him?” said Joby.
“He just keeps nagging all the time”, said Bengo “It’s driving me mad. He won’t relax, which is silly, now that Codlik’s no longer with us, there’s nothing to stop him”.
“He’ll calm down in time”, said Adam “He’s had to live on edge for so long that it’s become a way of life”.
“I’m not accepting that, Adam”, said Bengo “That’s just pandering to him that is”.
“Oh what a hard little thing you can be on the quiet!” Adam giggled.
There was a murmur of men’s voices from out in the back yard, where Ransey was showing the builder around. Adam watched them with boot-faced disapproval. The two men came into the kitchen.
“As we absolutely have to have this”, said Adam to Ransey “In your opinion anyway. I strongly suggest he takes a look at the roof. Everytime it rains someone has to run up there with saucepans to catch the water”.
The builder tutted and shook his head, which incensed Adam even further.
“And what is wrong with that suggestion?” Adam snapped “It seems perfectly reasonable to me!”
“The whole point of this renovation work”, said the builder, as though explaining the finer points of quantum physics to a halfwit “Is that you wanna impress future customers, you want them to go away from here with a sense of wonder at what you’ve achieved here, right?”
“They’ll certainly get that if the roof caves in on top of ‘em!” said Joby.
“They’re not gonna go away from here saying ‘oh what a nice roof that place had’ are they?” the builder persisted.
“They might perhaps notice it if it’s not there!” said Adam.
“I think we should go over to the sloop and discuss this further”, said Ransey to the builder “In peace and quiet!”
He glared at the others as he left the room.
“The stupid old fool!” said Adam.
“Has he gone?” said Hillyard, coming in through the back door.
“Yes”, Adam sighed.
“I dunno what’s come over Ransey”, said Joby “It’s just not like him at all. Normally he’d be the first to see the sense in getting the roof done. What’s with all this poncing around with frills and furbelows instead?”
“Perhaps he’s been talking to Finia too much”, said Bengo.
“Finia agrees with us about the roof”, said Adam “He doesn’t want to get wet either!”
“Toppy then”, said Joby “It’s the sort of daft thing he’d come out with. Oh never mind the leaky roof, feel the velvet cushions!”
“I don’t know why we has to have a builder in anyway!” Hillyard exclaimed, somewhat emotionally “Haven’t I done all that sort of thing for years, eh?”
“We all appreciate your sterling qualities, Hillyard”, said Adam.
“I’m not asking for praise and gratitude”, said Hillyard.
“That makes a change!” said Joby.
“I just don’t see why we can’t do it ourselves”, said Hillyard “Blimey, there’s enough of us here to manage anything that needs doing! We’ve got all the clowns for one thing”.
“They’d be no bloody use!” said Bengo “They’re better at wrecking things than repairing them! I’m the only one out of that lot who’s got any practical skills”.
“That just about says it all!” said Joby.
“Sheer wanton waste of money”, said Hillyard, taking the bucket of vegetable ends from Joby that was destined for the stables “No bloody need for it at all!”
And that parting-shot he was gone.
“Good grief”, said Adam “All this plus Aleister’s due home tomorrow. I’m going to start thinking it was easier when Codlik was around!”
“Nah”, said Joby “Don’t be daft!”
That night Bardin chose to sleep in The Landlord’s Bedroom, with Bengo naturally. But any attempts at relaxing though were thwarted by the other clowns, who were all in the bar below, talking and drinking until nearly two in the morning. Bardin found he couldn’t heed Bengo’s pleas to “just ignore them, Bardy”.
“I can’t!” said Bardin “What the fuck is Hal and the other idiots all still doing here anyway? They should have gone back to the Village of Stairs by now!”
“Hal says they’re having a little holiday”, said Bengo “He said they haven’t had one in years and they’re entitled to one”.
“No they’re not!” said Bardin “We never have holidays do we!”
“He says we’re on one long holiday so we don’t need one”, Bengo sighed.
“That is pure naked envy that is”, said Bardin, his little brown eyes narrowing with spite “Because we’ve got out of the business and they’re still in it!”
“They’re not in it at the moment”, Bengo pointed out “Seriously, Bardy, I don’t think they ever intend to go home”.
“We’ll make them!” said Bardin “They can’t stay here if we chuck them out can they?”
“And just how are we going to do that?” said Bengo “At the moment they’re paying their way”.
“Yes well that can’t last”, said Bardin “They’ll run out of money eventually, and then if they think they can sponge off us …”
“I don’t think they do”, said Bengo “I’m not defending them, but I don’t think they’ll sponge. Hal seems to think that eventually we’ll get more tourists down here, people will want to come and see Kieran, and so then they can set up their own show, or some such rubbish”.
“Who the fuck is going to want to see them!” said Bardin “A bunch of clapped-out old has-beens who haven’t used any new material in years!”
“Bardy, calm down!” said Bengo “Just relax”.
“I can’t!” Bardin roared, and he got out of bed.
“Now where are you going?” said Bengo.
“Downstairs, to tell them lot to shut up!” said Bardin.
“They won’t take any notice”, said Bengo “And if Hal’s rat-arsed he might be all over you”.
Bardin took stock of this frightening notion and got back into bed.
“Why don’t we fool around?” said Bengo “I thought that’s what you wanted to come over here for”.
“I did, but I didn’t bank on that lot!” said Bardin “I can’t do anything with that lot down there listening out for every creaking bedspring!”
“Shit, this is like being a teenager again!” said Bengo, as they lay side-by-side with their hands behind their heads “Me wanting sex and you being all stuck-up”.
“There’s no need to bring all that up!” said Bardin.
There was the repeated slamming of the main outside door downstairs.
“That might be a good sign”, said Bengo “It might mean they’re leaving”.
“I doubt it”, said Bardin, gloomily “It probably just means they can’t be bothered to go round to the loo in the back yard and are using the street instead”.
“Filthy gits”, said Bengo.
“I’ll send Toppy out there with the hose in the morning”, said Bardin.
“Perhaps we should send him out there now, whilst they’re doing it!” Bengo laughed, which at least had the effect of making Bardin laugh too “You can imagine Mutton Broth getting suddenly blasted with that whilst he’s having a piss!”
“He probably wouldn’t notice until about 10 minutes after it’d happened!” said Bardin.
“Oh don’t you both look sweet in there!” Adam gushed “I could eat you all up”.
He was looking down at Bengo and Bardin, who were lying groggily in bed.
“Adam!” Bengo exclaimed “Am I late for doing the breakfasts?”
“Oh you’ve completely missed breakfast, old love”, said Adam “It’s twenty-past ten”.
“Shit no!” said Bengo “Joby’ll kill me!”
“That won’t be necessary”, said Adam “He’s getting the afternoon off, so he can’t grumble at you. I’m sending him and Patsy to the old caravan for a couple of hours. I want Patsy out of the way when Aleister returns”.
“It’s a bit hard to keep Kieran out of his way all the time”, said Bardin.
“Yes, but I can limit it as much as I possibly can”, said Adam “We’ve just made a fresh brew. Make yourselves presentable and come down”.
Bengo and Bardin breakfasted off tea and slabs of bread and butter out on the quayside. Afterwards, Bengo took the mugs back to the kitchen, where Joby was alone, making a range of individual meat pies.
“Oh not those bloody pies again”, said Bengo “I wish we’d never got the customers onto them!”
“I asked Adam how many we was gonna have to do today”, said Joby “And he said just keep doing ‘em until he says stop. Cheeky sod!”
Bengo put on his pinny and prepared to join in. There was the sound of rapid hammering in the distance.
“What was that?” said Bengo, looking alarmed.
“One of the others doing some DIY I expect”, said Joby “Sounded like it was upstairs”.
“It sounded further away than that”, said Bengo.
“Well whatever it was there’s no need to look so alarmed!” said Joby “We’re here at the Indigo Tavern, Zilligot Bay, not back at Starhanger!”
Adam virtually cleared the kitchen of all human life forms, in preparation for Crowley’s return. Kieran and Joby were sent to the old caravan, and Bengo was sent over to the sloop. As a storm was imminent he even managed to get Lonts to take Ransey up into the roof, so that he could see for himself just how tiresome everything got when any amount of rain was imminent.
“God, it ent half getting dark out there”, said Joby, lying on the bunk in the caravan with Kieran. He was looking out through the door, which had been left open as it was so humid.
“That could be a real humdinger coming in”, said Kieran “Seems appropriate for Aleister’s return somehow!”
“Don’t remind me”, said Joby.
Kieran gave a start as Josh appeared outside the caravan door.
“Jaysus, he didn’t half give me a fright!” said Kieran.
“He’s enough to give anybody a fright”, said Joby “What the fuck are you playing at, Josh? Have you sunk that low for kicks that you need to go round spying on people now?!”
“Nothing to get excited about here”, said Josh “You’re only with the Stick Man here ‘cos you can’t get a woman interested in yer”.
“Glynis and Thetis might disagree with you there”, said Kieran.
“Fuck off, Josh!” said Joby, hurling his pillow at his brother. Josh slithered away.
“I won’t have him talking about you like that”, Joby continued “Not after everything you’ve done for him”.
“I haven’t done anything for him!” said Kieran.
“You took him in and gave him a home”, said Joby.
“That’s Adam’s fault that is”, said Kieran “He’s the one who keeps feeding him! Ach, it’s a bloody shame you know. There’s Julian can’t stand Piers, and there’s you can’t stand Josh. By now, I was hoping you’d all have come to a sort of understanding”.
“That sort of thing only happens in films”, said Joby “Why should we anyway? Piers is too much of a gormless git for an intelligent bloke like Julian, and I don’t see why I have to be saddled with Josh. I swear he ent even human sometimes!”
“Oh he’s human alright”, said Kieran “You’re not an only child, you don’t know what it’s like”.
“It’d be nice to find out!” said Joby “Anyway, of course you’re an only child. I swear your mum found you under a bush somewhere”.
“Left there by the little people”, Kieran laughed “A changeling!”
“You keep trying to find the good side in people”, said Joby “And sometimes you’ve just gotta accept that some people don’t have one! And just be grateful he’s not your brother!”
“He’d be a lot worse if he was!” said Kieran “Josh is all mouth and trousers really, but if he was Irish he’d be a psycho”.
“I thought you always said it was only the Northerners who were like that”, said Joby “And the rest of you was all as sweet and gentle as lambs!”
“Occasionally one slips through the net”, said Kieran.
The heavens opened and the rain began to hammer down.
“We haven’t got a brolly with us”, said Kieran.
“Looks like we’re gonna have to run for it”, said Joby.
“I might have expected you to return with a clap of thunder, Aleister!” said Adam, who was stoking the kitchen stove when Crowley reappeared.
“How delightful to see you again, my boy”, said Crowley.
Adam winced. He had asked Crowley time and again not to refer to him as his boy, but all to no avail.
“Did you have a good … er … spiritual retreat?” Adam asked.
“One has to use great patience during these retreats”, said Crowley, shaking out his battered umbrella and tossing it into the sink “The first few days are nothing but mind-boggling boredom, but then the peace and serenity kicks in, and a great inner calmness ensues”.
“Yes, I can imagine”, said Adam “It must take great effort of will simply to sit and think all day. Although I understand the Tibetan monks used to manage it for years on end”.
“Any surplus energy I had I expended by using a rock to carve graffiti into the hillside”, said Crowley.
“What sort of graffiti?” said Adam.
“Nothing obscene, dear boy”, said Crowley “A few Magickal words and incantations that is all”.
“Was that wise, Aleister?” said Adam “You’ve said yourself that using some of those words can be extremely reckless”.
“Only in the wrong hands, dear boy”, said Crowley “And my hands are very professional, I can assure you”.
Adam had to suppress a shudder. Joby and Kieran literally fell into the kitchen, skidding into it from outside, both wet through. They both lay on the floor roaring with laughter.
“Look at all the mud you’ve brought in!” Adam exclaimed “Toppy will have a fit!”
“Toppy’s always having a fit”, said Joby.
Kieran grabbed one of Adam’s bare legs and kissed his knee.
“Sometimes you sound like our Mam”, he said.
“You can say that again!” said Joby.
“Get up, both of you”, said Adam “Have you been drinking over there?”
“Not a drop has passed our lips”, said Joby.
“Not of alcohol anyway”, said Kieran.
“Patsy!” Adam shouted.
“Fucking hell, I didn’t see Crowley there!” said Joby, getting to his feet “He seems to blend into the shadows”.
“I do have the power to make myself invisible, if I so wished”, said Crowley.
“Don’t tell us”, said Kieran “You used to walk the streets of London in your ceremonial robes and golden crown, and nobody saw you at all!”
“They chose not to see him, more like!” said Joby “You can imagine it can’t you? ‘Don’t stare at him, Mavis, it only encourages him!’”
Adam gave an involuntary smile.
“Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in the bar, Aleister?” he said.
“I will go through in time”, said Crowley.
“Don’t rush on our account!” said Kieran.
“Make some tea!” Adam thundered at him “Joby, I want some brandy”.
“Things that bad are they?” said Joby.
“For the meal!” said Adam “Go and ask Thetis for a few drops. That’s if Piers hasn’t drunk it all!”
Joby went into the bar where Thetis was getting things ready for the evening’s business. She poured a measure into a glass for him first.
“If Aleister’s returned you could probably do with it”, she said.
Joby looked round him furtively and downed it in one gulp. Thetis refilled the glass.
“Here, are you trying to get me drunk?” said Joby.
“It won’t do you any harm”, said Thetis “It might even put hairs on your chest”.
“It’d have to be pretty good stuff to do that!” said Joby.
The outer door opened and Victor sidled into the room, clutching his jacket around him as though the temperatures were sub-zero, not tropical. He was also coughing violently, something that he had done a lot of lately.
“Victor, I don’t think you should be out and about in this weather”, said Thetis.
“The Master has returned”, said Victor.
“Oh my God!” Joby groaned.
“I must see him”, Victor headed towards the kitchen door.
“How did he find out so soon?” said Thetis.
“You can’t keep anything quiet round here”, said Joby “You can’t sneeze without the whole town knowing about it!”
“This really is bad news”, said Thetis.
“Crowley returning? You’re not wrong there!” said Joby.
“You do know he’s after Kieran don’t you?” said Thetis.
“I had worked that out some while back, love!” said Joby.
“He wants Kieran to replace Victor”, Thetis whispered “And you know what Aleister is like. He’s the spoilt little boy, what he wants he gets”.
“Well not this time he doesn’t!” said Joby.
“The more you say that the more determined he’ll be!” Thetis warned.
Joby knew that there wasn’t a cat in hell’s chance of Crowley getting Kieran as his disciple, but he was still annoyed by it. He heard Julian talking to Ransey on the upstairs landing, and went to where they were standing round the ladder, up which Lonts and one of the Cabaret clowns, Mutton Broth, were fiddling about in the attic.
“I want a word with you”, Joby said to Julian.
Julian looked at Ransey, shrugged, and followed Joby into The Landlord’s Bedroom.
“I can understand you being irritated”, said Julian, when Joby had told him what Thetis had told him “But why are you taking it out on me?”
“Crowley knows that Kieran …” said Joby, finding it awkward “That Kieran can be a bit masochistic at times”.
“I put that down entirely to Kieran being a Catholic”, said Julian “He thoroughly enjoys being punished for his ‘sins’, but if Crowley thinks he’s masochistic as Victor is, then he’s seriously deluding himself. One thing I do know is that Kieran is very unlikely to crawl on all fours, metaphorically-speaking of course”.
“Yeah, but it’s your fault”, said Joby.
“How the hell is it my fault?” said Julian “I can’t help where Crowley’s dick leads him! You’ll be blaming me next for Kieran being beautiful!”
“No, but”, said Joby “He knows about all your antics, and that’s given him the wrong idea about Kieran”.
“I’m not the only one who spanks Kieran!” said Julian “So does Adam, and you’ve even been known to do it yourself on occasion!”
“Yeah but Crowley’s a sadist ent he”, said Joby.
“So is Sade, he invented it! And don’t you dare blame me for any of his unsavoury habits!” said Julian “We have enough to put up with by having that lot living with us, I do not need you blaming me for things that they want to do! Haven’t I got enough of a cross to bear with having Piers as a brother?!”
“Sorry”, Joby mumbled “I just needed to let off steam that’s all”.
There was a loud and imperious hammering on the door. Julian opened it to find Mieps and Tamaz standing there, both looking rather baleful.
“Good grief”, said Julian “It’s the Snake-Women of Zilligot Bay!”
“What’s going on in here?” said Mieps.
“We heard shouting”, said Tamaz “Joby, are you alright?”
“HE’S alright!” said Julian “I’m the one who’s been getting my ear chewed off! And if you start giving me grief, Freaky, I’ll send you up into the loft to help with the saucepans!”
“I’m not going up there!” Tamaz spat.
“Well shut up then!” said Julian.
“I’m not going up there either”, said Mieps.
“You’re so old and decrepit there wouldn’t be any point asking you!” said Julian.
The violence of the storm kept the customers at bay, and so they shut up shop early that night. Kieran and Joby decided it was their turn to sleep in The Landlord’s Bedroom. Bardin was unnerved by this, now that Crowley was back on the scene, and in order to stop Crowley going on any dick-led midnight prowls around the tavern, said (to Bengo’s annoyance) that they would sleep on the floor of the bar. Naturally all the other clowns took this as an open invitation to have yet another lock-in, which annoyed Bengo even further.
“What with them and this blasted storm”, said Bengo to his partner “I’m not going to get any sleep tonight, and some of us have to work for a living you know!”
“Don’t start all that again, I’ve heard it all before”, Bardin snapped “Go and sort some blankets and pillows out!”
“I feel like some feudal monarch”, said Kieran “Sleeping in me castle room with all me guards in the room below”.
“Some castle room!” said Joby.
He and Kieran were lying in bed, drinking brandy-and-soda, lit only by flashes of lightning.
“Why hasn’t Tamaz come upstairs and joined us?” said Kieran.
“He will”, said Joby “When he gets fed up with the clowns”.
“This is all a bit of fun and all that”, said Kieran “But I don’t really need all this looking after. Crowley won’t get anywhere with me, I don’t care if he is a great big eejit! If he was mad enough to he might think he could get me physically, but he’d never get me mentally, and that’s what he wants. Me in total thraldom, like poor old Victor is”.
“You haven’t exactly done anything to put him off have you!” said Joby.
“I’m not taking that!” said Kieran, lightly punching Joby’s leg, to which Joby punched him back “I know exactly what you’re getting at. Well I’m not stopping the mortifying of the flesh, I can’t. We’ve had all this out before. Can you see me stopping it?”
“No”, Joby mumbled.
“And it’s not as if I’m not discreet now is it?” said Kieran “You don’t see me going around in public flaunting me backside, like the clowns have done at times! What are you suggesting anyway? That we all tone our behaviour down in case it excites Crowley too much! You want the whole world run for the wierdo’s now do you!”
“Alright, alright, stop going on”, said Joby.
“That’s the sort of rubbish Codlik would have come out with!” said Kieran.
“Kieran!” Joby exclaimed “You don’t half go on sometimes! Anyway I wasn’t just thinking of Crowley, actually! Has it never occurred to you that I get jealous sometimes when you go and hole yourself away with Julian?”
“And has it never occurred to you that I get jealous of you three all cosy in the kitchen day-after-day?” said Kieran “I can hear you all sometimes when I’m in the bar or out in the back yard, all laughing and joking together”.
“That is the biggest load of bullshit I’ve heard since Codlik died!” said Joby “What do you want us to do, chuck the saucepans at each other?!”
“No, I’m just saying that you have your own tight little unit there”, said Kieran “And there’s no room for anyone else in it”.
“Fuck off!” Joby leapt out of bed and stamped over to the window.
“You started this”, said Kieran “Going on about me and Julian as though we’re in some secret society …”
There was a knocking on the door.
“There’s no fucking privacy in this place!” Joby stamped over to it and pulled it open. Bengo and Bardin were standing there, giggling.
“We heard you having a row”, said Bardin, sounding quite tipsy “So we thought we’d come up and see what was what. Can’t have you two falling out, don’t you know”.
“We are not having a row!” said Joby.
“Sounded like it to us”, said Bengo.
“Well you should friggin’ know!” said Joby “The amount of barneys you two have!”
“You’re not rowing about Crowley are you?” said Bengo “Because that would be really really silly”.
“Funny, I was thinking that meself!” Kieran shouted from the bed.
“Go back downstairs”, said Joby to the clowns “There’s nothing to see up here”.
“It’s probably just the alcohol talking, Bardy”, said Bengo, as they turned to go back downstairs. Joby slammed the door on them.
“I hope you’re not gonna keep this up all night”, he said, going back round to his side of the bed.
“You started it, not me”, said Kieran.
“That is a really childish attitude to take ent it!” said Joby.
“I’m just putting you right on a few things that’s all”, said Kieran “Like not letting Crowley dictate to us how we live …”
“I’m fed up with arguing with you”, said Joby, lying down on his side and facing away from Kieran “All you ever want to do is have the last say all the time. It really gets on my tits. You’ll probably now start pretending you’re really upset that we’ve fallen out”.
“If we have fallen out then of course I’m upset!” said Kieran “You get yourself in such a state, but there’s no need. I never keep anything from you, and I don’t see Crowley as a threat because I’ve got you to protect me, you always have”.
“Yeah I’ve made a brilliant job of it at times haven’t I!” said Joby.
“You kept me alive when we were in Gabriel’s mountain-top lair”, said Kieran “I would have given up if you hadn’t been there to keep me going”.
Joby growled something unintelligible and re-arranged his pillow. Kieran put down his glass and lay down next to him. They listened to the storm for a few minutes. Kieran rolled over and blew into Joby’s ear. Joby turned over to face him and a bit of kissing ensued.
“Is that Tamaz coming upstairs?” said Kieran, hearing footsteps on the stairs.
“Sounds too heavy for him”, said Joby “He’s like you, he’s quite light-footed”.
The door opened and Dobley came into the room. He calmly pulled back the bedclothes and made as if to get in with them, acting all the while as though he was completely alone.
“Oi!” Joby exclaimed “What are you doing? Clear off!”
Bardin and Rumble burst into the room. Bardin was beside himself with apologies, whilst Rumble calmly pulled Dobley back out of the bed and then, eventually, the room.
“I’m so sorry about this”, said Bardin “He’s taken to doing it lately apparently. He keeps trying to climb into bed with people. I don’t think he knows what he’s doing, it’s as if he’s sleep-walking, only he’s awake, if you know what I mean”.
“This place is a fucking madhouse!” said Joby, whilst Kieran covered his face with his hands and laughed uncontrollably.
“I’ll keep him out of your way”, said Bardin “Even if I have to tie him to a chair!”
He left the room backwards, practically bowing as he went.
“Oh poor old Bardin”, Kieran laughed.
“What d’ya mean, poor old Bardin?” said Joby.
“It’s no fun for him trying to keep control of all the clowns”, said Kieran.
“Yeah well he ent doing a very good job of it is he!” said Joby “Nuthouse this is, bleedin’ nuthouse!”
When Ransey went over to the tavern first thing the following morning he found that most of the clowns had been put to work trying to clear up the deluge that had happened on the quayside outside the main entrance overnight. Bardin was sat at the bar-counter, with a glass of brandy in front of him.
“It’s a bit early for that isn’t it?” said Ransey.
“Hair of the dog”, Bardin mumbled.
“That’s a very dangerous habit to get into!” thundered Ransey “You’d be better occupied having something to eat instead. The last thing we want is another anorexic on our hands”.
“I am not anorexic!” said Bardin “I’ve always been thin”.
“Kieran always said that”, said Ransey “There’s thin and there’s thin, and you’re currently too thin”.
“Look I don’t go around criticising your figure do I!” said Bardin “And you’re a proper beanpole yourself!”
“Don’t get lippy!” said Ransey “You’re spending too much time getting maudlin that’s your trouble. You need to try and work it off”.
“I work!” Bardin spluttered “You try running a kindergarten of clowns and see how you like it! I have to have eyes in the back of my head sometimes! It’s not fair, it’s really not!”
Bengo was watching all this through a crack in the kitchen door and was barely able to control his laughter.
“What’s the matter with you?” said Joby.
“Ransey’s giving Bardy a right telling-off”, said Bengo “It’s so funny!”
“You’re a great friend and supporter ent you?” said Joby.
“Oh c’mon, you know what a motormouth Bardy can be”, said Bengo “It’s always a nice change to hear him getting it back for once”.
“Are we gonna have to put up with much more of Dobley trying to get into bed with us?” said Joby.
“I think he’s gone a bit screwy if you ask me”, said Bengo “We don’t know what crappy drugs they used to feed him at those parties at Starhanger. Whatever it was it’s addled his brain. Some of them can react much later and get you can’t they?”
“It has been known”, said Joby “Though from some of the things I’ve heard lately he was messing around with all that rubbish before he got mixed up with the Starhanger crowd”.
“The perils of showbiz I’m afraid”, Bengo shrugged “I could’ve got snared into all that at times, there was certainly enough of it floating around, but I’ve always had Bardy or you lot to keep an eye on me”.
“I think Dobley seems to suffering from severe depression and fear”, said Adam “The getting into bed bit might be a subconscious need of his to seek safety with people, like a little boy getting into his parents’ bed”.
“He must have seen some terrible things at Starhanger”, said Bengo “Well we know for a fact he saw someone drowned in the pool in the basement. Mind you, I guess we all saw terrible things at Starhanger”.
“We’ll probably go back there one day and find they’ve turned it into a tourist attraction!” said Joby “Like they did with the Winter Palace”.
“Oh Joby don’t say that”, said Adam “That would be terribly irresponsible”.
Ransey marched into the room, looking extremely purposeful.
“I’ve got the builder coming round”, he announced, and the others groaned “I’m taking him up into the roof”.
“Have a nice time!” said Adam.
“Yeah lock him up in there whilst you’re at it!” said Joby “Then he can see for himself what it’s like when it rains. If he was anymore of a cowboy he’d be walking like John Wayne!”
“Believe it or not”, Ransey snapped “That is why I’m taking him up there. I agree with you that the roof needs doing”.
“Blimey, you’ve seen sense!” said Joby “It only took a torrential thunderstorm to do it!”
Ransey gave Adam a look which Adam plainly recognised of old. It was the Joby-wouldn’t-be-so-mouthy-if-he-worked-for-me look. Adam effected a look of withering disdain in return.
Julian had one of his periodic fits when he confined Kieran to house-arrest, or to be more technical, boat-arrest. He announced that Kieran was to spend the afternoon on the forward deck, where someone could always be guaranteed to be around to keep an eye on him, someone other than Crowley that is. Unfortunately, with the weather turning hot and sultry again, in spite of the storm, Kieran wasn’t best equipped to keep his charms under wraps. In a fit of annoyance Julian practically threw him down the quarterdeck steps and told him to stay in the cabin until further notice.
Kieran retaliated by rifling Julian’s cigar-box, and in his temper dropped the lit cigar onto the desk and set some papers smouldering.
“Kieran!” Joby exclaimed, coming into the room and finding Kieran trying to put out the smoke “What the fuck are you doing? We don’t need you setting fire to the boat thanks!”
“There’s just a bit of smoke that’s all”, said Kieran.
“You’re bleedin’ daft you are”, said Joby, once the smoke had been extinguished “And what have I told you about smoking anyway?”
Kieran threw himself onto the bed in a sulk.
“I’m not allowed to do anything round here”, he said.
“O.K I know Julian’s gone a bit far”, said Joby, sitting down beside him “But Thetis was right you know, Crowley isn’t the sort of bloke who’ll stop, not until he gets what he wants anyway”.
“You think I can’t see off an old git like Aleister?” said Kieran “I’ve seen off Angel in me time, Crowley’s small potatoes by comparison!”
“There’s nothing small about him!” said Joby “I remember when he picked you up outside Boleskine. He’s such a big bastard and you’re such a little thing”.
“I may be thin but that doesn’t automatically mean I’m frail!” said Kieran.
“I feel sorry for you, I really do”, said Joby “It ent nice that everyone keeps lecturing you like this”.
“No it’s not!” said Kieran “I’M being punished because Aleister’s a sex-obsessed pervert, where’s the sense in that!”
“We don’t want you turning into another Victor”, said Joby.
“Like hell am I ever going to be like Victor!” said Kieran, pummelling a pillow in a rage “And the sooner Crowley realises that the better!”
Joby rescued the battered pillow from his grasp.
“He needs professional help if you ask me”, he said “Victor I mean. Thetis was telling me earlier that he’s now started seeing images in one of the pictures in the passageway over at the pub”.
“What picture, what images?” said Kieran.
“That picture of the bar-room we’ve got”, said Joby “The old photograph someone must have had taken years ago, the one that Adam had framed in town, well Victor says he keeps seeing figures coming out of it. It’s real spaced-out stuff. It’s bloody sad really. I wouldn’t want to have his mind at the moment. Everything must feel like being in a nightmare”. “If I wasn’t under focking house-arrest you could take me over there and show me it”, said Kieran.
“There’s nothing to see!” said Joby “It’s only Victor who sees these figures. You’d have to have abused yourself with all the crap he has over the years to see what he sees!”
“You think it’s the drugs that’s doing it?” said Kieran.
“Well of course it is!” said Joby “It’s almost classic textbook stuff innit? What else is it gonna be?”
“Aleister playing with his mind perhaps?” said Kieran “He’s got the ability, we know that for a fact”.
“Could be I spose”, said Joby “I think it’s more likely to be the crap though. We’ll have Dobley seeing them next!”
That afternoon Joby went out onto the quayside to collect a basket of fish that some of the clowns had dumped there earlier from a fishing-trip along the shore. He was alone out on the quayside (which was quite unusual in itself) when he heard someone shouting from the ocean. He went down the nearest mooring steps where he found a young girl standing in a long-boat, impractically dressed in a black cloak (impractical for sailing that is) and holding up her hands.
“Are you having a spot of trouble?” said Joby, assuming that she had lost her oars.
“I can’t get in to moor up”, she cried.
“Can you chuck me your rope and I’ll fasten it up for you”, said Joby.
The girl, who was slender and red-haired, picked up the heavy rope and with surprising deftness chucked it in Joby’s direction, where he lassooed it round mooring-stump up on the quayside.
“You can get ashore now”, he said, returning to the steps “Where have you come from? We don’t get many like you round here, female that is”.
“From the island”, said the girl.
“What island?” said Joby.
The girl gestured with a slim pale hand out across the ocean. As usual the ocean held no landmarks of any kind. It was nothing but pure, terrible ocean, right up to the distant horizon.
“But there are no islands near here”, said Joby “I’m sure we’d have heard about them if there were, and you can’t have come far”.
He had noticed that her boat contained no provisions of any kind. She stood in it, barefoot, and apparently wearing only the black cloak. She was like a sea-nymph or a mermaid washed up ashore.
“It’s only a little island”, said the girl “There are only 3 of us on it. Perhaps it doesn’t show up on any maps”.
“It doesn’t show up on the ocean either!” said Joby, who felt that the girl seemed increasingly strange as the conversation progressed.
He helped her ashore and her hand felt icy cold to the touch, even though in spite of the previous night’s storm, it was a sultry day.
“You’d better come across to the pub”, said Joby “Everyone’s gonna get a shock when they see you!”
“I’ve a better idea”, said the girl “Why don’t you come back to the island with me?”
“How?” said Joby “You’ve lost your oars”.
“I’m sure we can find a way round that”, said the girl “You’d like our island, it’s very beautiful there, and we’d all make such a fuss of you. Why don’t you come now? There’s no need to tell anybody, they’d only make such a fuss, and probably insist on coming as well”.
“I-I don’t think that’s a very good idea”, said Joby, now pretty certain he wasn’t dealing with somebody human “I’ve got something on the stove. As I said, you’d better come over to the bar”.
He went up to the quayside, but when he looked back to see if she was following him, but when he looked back he wasn’t too surprised to find that both she, and the boat, were gone.
“’I’ve got something on the stove’! Oh God, I must have sounded such a prat!” said Joby, talking to Kieran in a corner of the bar “I’m turning into a right old handbag, and it’s all Adam’s fault!”
“I’m never going to complain about you being too English ever again!” Kieran laughed “It’s probably what’s saved you!”
The bar was busy that afternoon, and so they were able to talk relatively in peace. Joby had gone straight to the sloop when the girl had disappeared, and insisted that Kieran come over to the bar with him. Kieran, who had had a pretty vigorous session with Julian, felt he was in need of some liquid refreshment and ignored the house-arrest restrictions, on the grounds that he couldn’t possibly be punished anymore than he had already that day.
“You think she was summat peculiar then?” said Joby.
“How many attractive redheads do we get rowing into harbour round here?!” said Kieran.
“But the weird thing is I think she was telling the truth about the island”, said Joby “Though Christ knows what would have been on it if I’d gone there, three like Tamaz’s mother probably! I’d have probably ended up as a bit of masonry on their terrace!”
Joby downed his brandy rather swiftly.
“At the moment I can’t rule out the possibility that she was Aleister’s doing”, said Kieran “Remember that demon he sent over to Julian at Magnolia Cove?”
“Oh yeah, the one he got wrong!” said Joby “Sending a woman to seduce Julian!”
“Well to be fair it’s not quite as daft as sending a woman to seduce Adam would have been!” said Kieran.
“’Oh put your clothes back on old love can’t you see I’m frightfully busy’!” said Joby, imitating Adam “So why’s he sending female demons to me then?”
“It’s bloody obvious why!” said Kieran “You’re the biggest barrier to him getting me! He probably feels he’d have a lot better luck with you out of the way, so he sends an attractive demon to whisk you away to a distant island, from where you’d never be heard of again. Oh God, it’s a terrible thought!”
“But he must have known it ent gonna work”, said Joby “Do I look like the sort of bloke who suddenly runs off with a strange woman on the spur of the moment? That might have worked when we first came into this world, but I was only 20 then and I hadn’t been turned into a total queer by you and Adam!”
“I don’t think it would have worked even then”, said Kieran.
“Seriously though, does he really think that’d work?” said Joby “He must know by now how close we are”.
“For all his great sexual abandonment”, said Kieran “Aleister doesn’t really recognise homosexuality. Buggering men was just another taboo to break for him, like all the other things he’s got up to”.
“I could imagine him doing it once, just to break the taboo as you put it”, said Joby “But he’s made a habit out of it!”
“Sex is the best way to dominate people”, said Kieran “He dominated his female followers that way, so why not the male ones too. That’s why he wants me, get me in thrall to him sexually and I’ll do anything that’s required”.
“Yeah right!” said Joby.
“And Aleister believes sex holds the key to many great mysteries”, said Kieran “Remember his theory that if you could hold an orgasm for half-an-hour you’d get an insight into another world? Well perhaps he thinks he’s got a chance of that working with me”.
“You’d be more likely to take him down into Hell and leave him there!” said Joby “I don’t know if she was a demon, she could have been anything. But I am pretty certain that island really exists”.
“I believe you”, said Kieran “But where the blazes is it, and is it only visible some of the time? Is it even in this dimension? I don’t know why I thought that, it just came into my head. Are you alright now?”
“Yeah”, said Joby “I still can’t believe I said I had summat on the stove!”
They both went out into the passage to look at the photograph that had been tormenting Victor. It was a very old interior shot of the bar, although quite atmospheric in itself with the old-fashioned ornate mirrors around the walls and the shining brass-work.
“He says he sees figures coming out of one of the mirrors”, said Joby, pointing at the relevant spot on the photograph.
“Out of the mirror?” said Kieran, staring suddenly at Joby with his big blue eyes “I keep thinking of the mirrors at the Winter Palace …”
“Don’t go reading anything into it!” said Joby “I keep telling you it’s just Victor losing his marbles that’s all!”
Joby lightly slapped Kieran’s bottom as a mild admonishment.
“Hey now be careful!” said Kieran “I’m feeling tender today!”
“Yeah serves you right and all!” said Joby.
“Hoowie, oi! Pack it in!” Joby thumped Hoowie, who was lying beside him in the communal bed.
“What’s the matter?” said Kieran, lying on the other side of Joby.
“He keeps groping me”, said Joby, and he thumped Hoowie again “Pack it in! Play with yourself!”
“I’m in a bed with 16 other people and I have to play with meself?” Hoowie exclaimed.
“Life’s a bitch sometimes ennit!” said Joby.
Madame de Sade screamed from the hold.
“Now what?” said Joby.
Bardin got out of bed and pulled a shotgun out of the desk drawer.
“Yeah shoot her and then we can have some peace!” said Joby.
“She might be just having a nightmare”, said Kieran.
“She woke up and found she was married to the Marquis de Sade!” said Joby.
Bardin went to the hold, closely followed by Adam and a few of the others. When they didn’t return for a while Joby and Kieran followed them. Joby met Adam leaning against the door of the inner hold looking quite ill.
“What’s happened?” said Joby.
“It’s Victor”, said Adam “Renee found him like it. He’s dead”.
“Are you sure?” said Joby.
“From what I’ve just seen I’m pretty certain of it!” said Adam, mopping his face with a handkerchief.
“Did he o.d?” said Joby.
“God only knows if it’s as straightforward as that!” said Adam.
“How do you mean?” said Joby.
“He’s pulled his tongue out”, said Adam “He must have choked on the blood, or died of shock, either really”.
“How the fuck could he pull his own tongue out?” said Joby “Even with all the crap he’s stuffed himself with, how could he do that?!”
Adam flung his hands into the air in despair and disbelief. Bardin came out of the inner hold, holding a cloth up to his mouth.
“First things first”, he said “We have to be practical. He’s dead and all we can do for now is to bury him. In this heat we shouldn’t hang about either”.
“We’ll do it this morning”, said Kieran.
“I’m sure we can analyse it all at great length afterwards”, Bardin sighed.
Thetis insisted on preparing the body for burial, even though Adam reacted with shock when she said she wanted to do it. Kieran argued that it would be good for her in some perverse way. “She feels guilty”, he said “It’ll help to purge a bit of that”. Mieps helped her, arguing that he had seen things even worse than that in his time. Rumble measured up the body, and some of the other clowns got to work knocking up a coffin in the backyard. Bardin watched the sun rise from the poop-deck, where Bengo fed him a cup of sugary tea from the biggest cup and saucer he could find in the galley.
“When was the last time we put our best clobber on like this?” said Hillyard, as he and Joby groomed themselves in front of the spotty kitchen mirror.
“Probably the last time we had a funeral!” Joby grunted “Brother Iggy’s I spect”.
Toppy was polishing several pairs of shoes in the corner of the room. Tamaz was inspecting them and chucking back ones that he felt weren’t good enough.
“Tamaz!” said Joby “Pack it in, or I won’t let you wear your fur-stole”.
“You can’t stop me wearing it”, said Tamaz, sauntering out of the room “Not in this time you can’t!”
“He’s worse than Kieran sometimes for always wanting the last say!” said Joby.
“Come on, let’s get some of the glasses and bottles set up in the bar for afterwards”, said Hillyard.
He and Joby went through into the bar, where Adam was practically force-feeding Thetis brandy in the far corner.
“She shouldn’t feel guilty”, Joby murmured “Nobody could have saved Victor. We’ve met enough like him in our time, pre-programmed to self-destruct”.
“Yeah it’s not like it was with Brother Iggy was it?” said Hillyard “His death was shocking, this is … well the nature of his going is shocking, but the fact that he’s gone isn’t”.
Hillyard didn’t want to dwell on Victor’s demise any further. He had had to smash Victor’s jaw in order to close his mouth for burial, and also Victor had reminded him too much of Stombal for comfort at times.
“We’ve got all the right ingredients for the wake”, said Hillyard, going over to the piano and raising the lid “Including this”.
“Oh no!” said Joby.
“What did they do with his tongue?”
“Well it’s a reasonable question!” said Bengo “Did they put it back in his mouth or tuck it in his pocket or chuck it on the stove or something?”
Bardin sat in the corner of the bar looking as though he was racked with serious pain.
“You are such a big kid!” he exclaimed.
“Why, because I’m showing curiosity?!” said Bengo.
Victor’s wake was in full swing, and most of the other clowns were keeping Thetis occupied by asking her to dance. Bengo took another sip of his drink and slid down the leather banquette even further.
“I think you’re being a shit”, he said “I’m not desecrating any graves by asking about his tongue am I!”
“This is not the occasion to go into all that!” said Bardin “We’ve only just buried the poor bastard!”
“Is there some stupid etiquette involved then as to when I AM allowed to ask it?” said Bengo “Six weeks time perhaps? Christmas next year?!”
“You’ve had too much to drink”, said Bardin “I’m going to send you upstairs in a minute!”
Bengo slapped Bardin’s knee. Bardin slapped Bengo’s knee.
“No no no”, said Thetis, joining them on the banquette “It upsets me when you clowns get so rough with each other”.
“No need to”, said Bengo “We never really hurt each other, and we’ve never known anything else”.
“My hair’s coming down”, said Thetis, forlornly.
“I can help you put it back up if you like”, said Bengo.
“No it might as well come down completely now all the formalities are over”, said Thetis, pulling hair-pins out of her dark hair.
“I’ll tell you what”, said Bengo, putting his drink on the table “I’ll rub your feet, that’ll relax you”.
He crouched on the floor and unlaced Thetis’s ankle-boots.
“This always used to work for us”, said Bengo, rubbing Thetis’s slender feet “Didn’t it, Bardy? When we were on the stage”.
“You’re a little treasure”, Thetis smiled.
“He has his moments”, said Bardin.
“I never used to like clowns very much”, said Thetis “I used to get annoyed when they always got things wrong”.
“People who don’t like slapstick always say that”, said Bengo.
“Slapstick is about things spiralling out of control. It’s physical farce”, said Bardin, authoritatively “One little thing goes wrong and then it steadily escalates until it’s complete anarchy, much as how we live all the time really!”
“I hadn’t really appreciated the pathos before”, Thetis continued.
“If you want pathos we’ve got it coming out of our ears with this one!” said Bardin, as Dobley mournfully weaved his way over to them.
“Hm I think perhaps he needs to go back to work”, said Thetis.
She hadn’t intended Dobley to overhear her, but he did.
“I know I know!” he cried, joining them in the corner, whilst Bardin sighed heavily “I’m a lost soul without work. I don’t exist outside the business, I have no identity, I am a forlorn nonentity, sitting staring at the wall”.
“Oh put a sock in it, Dobley!” said Bardin “This day’s been quite hard enough without you going on! Thetis isn’t interested in your hang-ups”.
“But I am!” said Thetis “You poor man, you’ve been through so much”.
“Most of which he’s brought on himself!” said Bardin.
“That’s not true”, said Dobley.
“Yes it is!” said Bardin “You became obsessed with fame, how many times have we seen that happen! You started thinking you were more important to everybody than you really were. You lost sight of what we really do, which is just to provide a bit of light-hearted diversion for people now and again”.
“I need the crowd”, said Dobley, sounding very intense “Without their love I cannot exist, there is no ‘me’ without that”.
“The crowd doesn’t love us, Dobley”, said Bengo “At the very most it just appreciates us sometimes that’s all. And we don’t want them ‘loving’ us anyway, you get all the freaks and nutters that way!”
“The trouble is”, said Bardin “He thought people came to watch him ‘cos they adored him, when all it was was they wanted a laugh! That’s how Codlik went nuts you know! He started thinking people couldn’t function without him in their lives telling ‘em what’s what! In the end all they wanted him to do was to leave them alone!”
“It’s much the same with Aleister”, said Thetis “Too much adoration from his disciples, that’s the problem. He’s the sort of overpowering man who only attracts weak people, there was no one strong enough to tell him to talk sense!”
As in a classic case of “talk of the devil and he’ll appear” Crowley walked into the room. He had attended Victor’s burial, but had then absented himself, saying he was going for a walk. His reappearance sent an icy blast around the room. Dobley asked Thetis if she would like to dance again and she agreed. Bardin fished an ice-cube out of his glass and sucked on it.
“So you’ve started doing that now as well?” said Bengo.
“What?” Bardin mumbled.
“You think I don’t know that old anorexics trick?” said Bengo “You’ll be taking laxatives next!”
“Bog off, Bengo!” said Bardin, spitting the ice-cube back into the glass “I put it in because I wanted to cool down that’s all. If you go on about me being anorexic again, which I am not, I’ll get a bloody divorce!”
“Well I’ve known dancers obsessed with their weight do that”, said Bengo.
“Hm, not something you’ve ever let trouble you though is it!” said Bardin.
“Pack it in at once!” said Adam, coming over to them “All I’ve been able to hear since we got back here is you two bickering …”
“He needs to be told”, said Bengo.
“All this just for putting an ice-cube in my mouth!” said Bardin.
“Bengo, go in the kitchen and make some tea”, said Adam.
“I don’t think anybody wants any tea, Adam”, said Bengo.
Adam gave him such a ferocious look that Bengo meekly slid off the bench and scuttled into the kitchen.
“Really I know you two normally bicker but it’s been getting out of hand lately”, said Adam to Bardin “I’ll start worrying about you at this rate”.
“Oh we’re alright”, Bardin sighed “We’re all of us on edge though, and it’s not just because of all these weird things that have started happening …”
“We’re hardly unused to weird things happening!” said Adam.
“There’s no bloody space!” said Bardin “I think I was expecting all that lot to sort of evaporate once we got back here, but they’re everywhere!”
“Yes well that situation can’t be allowed to continue”, said Adam “It’s just not practical to have everybody living in the hold. We’ll have to see about sorting out some living accommodation in town for them, even if we have to build them something!”
“That’s it, try and set fire to the place! That’s all we need that is!” said Joby to Lonts in the kitchen. Lonts was putting more fuel on the stove and flames were roaring out of the hole on top of the stove in an alarming manner.
“I know what I’m doing, Joby”, said Lonts.
“You always go over the top with it!” said Joby “That stove needs gentle treatment”.
Bengo was standing nearby holding two kettles and looking rather helpless.
“Joby, start carving the ham”, said Adam, when he came into the room “Bardin, could you cut the bread for us?”
“Do you want me to sharpen the meat-knife?” said Hillyard to Joby.
“I take it that was a ‘yes’ was it?” said Hillyard.
Lonts sat down by the stove and began to light his pipe.
“I’m glad he didn’t say too much at the grave-side”, said Hillyard, now vigorously sharpening the knife.
“Who me?” said Kieran, the last one in the room.
“No not you, cloth-ears!” said Hillyard “Crowley I meant”.
“I think it would have been in very poor taste for Aleister to have said much”, said Adam.
“We got any pickle?” said Hillyard, when he had finished sharpening the knives and had straightened his crotch.
“There’s some marmalade chutney”, said Adam “Toppy made it”.
“About the one thing he can do without annoying anybody!” said Joby.
Late that night the clowns were all sat in the bar watching television. Everyone else had gone over to the sloop. The t.v screen was showing an aged comedian inflicting his singing on a polite, but plainly bewildered audience.
“God, the make-up department must have been working overtime!” said Bardin, whose notorious contempt for most other performers was perfectly justified in this case.
“I am old …” the comedian sang, to which all the clowns shouted “You can say that again!”
“This is some jerk’s idea of late-night entertainment!” said Bardin.
“Isn’t there any pornography on?” said Mutton Broth.
“No there isn’t!” Bardin snapped “Anyway it’ll make you go blind!”
Bengo was looking wretchedly miserable, and his piteous state was only slightly alleviated by the closing credits rolling up the screen, ad infinitum. Immediately the programme finished an advert popped up advertising the geriatric entertainer’s memoirs ‘FIGHTING BACK FROM THE BRINK: MY BATTLE WITH THE BOOZE’, with special copies available for the “visually impaired”.
“At least we know now where your old audience have all got to, Dobley!” said Farnol.
“Out on day-release by the look of things”, Rumble grunted.
“I think I should write my memoirs”, said Dobley “After all, writing’s supposed to be a cathartic experience isn’t it?”
“A what experience?” said Bengo, looking as though he was about to cry with despair at any moment.
“I’m going over to the sloop”, said Bardin, standing up in a magisterial fashion “Come along, Bengo”.
Once they were outside Bardin let rip about the whole evening.
“I don’t know why you wanted to sit in there anyway”, said Bengo “I wanted to go to bed ages ago!”
“Can you seriously see Dobley writing a book?” said Bardin “Him sitting down to write 300-odd pages of manuscript?!”
“If it was all about himself yes I could!” said Bengo “I don’t know what you’re complaining about anyway, at least it might keep him quiet for a while!”
“Some idiot’ll go and publish it”, said Bardin “And then before you know it this whole town will be turned into a media circus!”
“More likely it’ll just get left in the bargain bins”, said Bengo “People must be sick of showbiz memoirs by now …”
“What’s that?” Bardin caught Bengo’s arm and pointed up the road which led to where the old church had once stood, before Kieran burnt it down anyway.
A strange figure was walking down it towards them. By the dim light of the new moon it astonishingly appeared to be a clown, in full motley and slap. Clowns in full costume can appear sinister at the best of times, this one appearing on a deserted road late at night was extremely unnerving.
“He’s not after a job is he?” Bengo joked, but very nervously.
“I don’t like the look of him”, said Bardin “C’mon, let’s get on the sloop”.
“Shouldn’t we tell the others?” said Bengo, gesturing towards the tavern.
Bardin gave him a look of exasperation but agreed. All the others bundled out of the tavern on hearing this extraordinary news and ran onto the quay to get a look at the midnight visitation. Except the phantom clown had disappeared.
“Oh dear oh dear”, said Hal, draping an arm round Bardin’s shoulders “It comes to us all eventually you know when you do too much elbow-lifting”.
“Bengo saw it as well!” Bardin squawked.
Hal gave Bengo a brief look which plainly said that no one should take any notice of anything Bengo might say he had seen.
“I’m definitely going to bed!” said Bengo “And I hope the fucking psycho-clown gets you all!”
“Perhaps it’s a sort of clown’s version of the Grim Reaper, coming to get you”, said Hillyard, when everyone was breakfasting on the forward deck early the next morning.
“Oh thanks, that makes us all feel a lot better!” said Bardin.
“Why are clowns thought of as sinister?” said Lonts.
“Because of their make-up I think, Lo-Lo”, said Adam “It’s a mask concealing the real person”.
“Before Bengo came to live with us I didn’t think clowns ever had a normal life”, said Joby.
“And you think BENGO’s ever had a normal life?!” said Bardin.
“What I mean is you never think of them going home at the end of the day and doing ordinary things”, Joby continued “A bit like politicians really!”
“Or Vanquishers of Evil”, said Kieran.
“We get a lot of flak”, said Bengo “When all we are are sweet guys who just want to make people laugh”.
“Psh!” said Tamaz “You’re never going to convince anyone with that argument! Everybody knows clowns are miserable fucked-up bastards! They’ve only got to look at you lot to see that!”
Bardin glared at him ferociously from under his cap.
“I let you stay out of the Festival, because that’s what you wanted”, he said “That won’t happen again!”
“Was it one of Crowley’s demons?” said Lonts “Like the red-haired lady Joby saw”.
“We don’t know for sure she was one of Aleister’s demons, Lo-Lo”, said Adam “I haven’t the faintest idea what she was!”
“Perhaps it’s something sort of weird happening in the town at the moment”, said Toppy “Perhaps we’re all seeing things we really want to see in our deepest minds”.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Joby.
“Yeah, right!” said Bardin “Like I really want to see yet another fucking clown!”
Joby found Kieran looking again at the picture in the passage later that morning. In a fit of annoyance he took it down and hid it in a kitchen cupboard.
“We could take it out of its frame and burn it on the stove if you like”, said Bardin.
“No”, said Joby “Why should we, it’s a good picture. We can just hide it until Kieran gets over this latest fit of superstition”.
“You think that’s all it is on his part then?” said Bardin “Superstition?”
“Course it bleedin’ is!” said Joby “Kieran comes from one of the most superstitious countries there ever was. I’m amazed any of ‘em could cross the road without seeing an omen in it, or the little people hiding somewhere !”
Bardin hadn’t been happy at the thought of destroying the picture either and was quite pleased with Joby’s solution. He went into the bar where Piers was sat up at the counter making hefty in-roads into a bottle of brandy. Bardin stuffed the cork back into it and took it behind the counter.
“You need to relax a bit more”, said Piers “You are seriously stressed out you know …”
Bardin imagined slamming a custard pie into Piers’s face and then went outside. He found Ransey and Julian inspecting a small plot of land a few feet away from the main door of the tavern. A tumbledown one-roomed shack occupied this small plot. Until recently it had been occupied by one of the oldest men in the town, but he had died whilst the Indigo-ites were away on their travels.
“Glad you’ve appeared”, said Ransey, making it quite clear that he thought Bardin should have been inspecting the site with them before now “What’s the matter now?”
“Nothing”, Bardin mumbled “Piers just annoyed me that’s all”.
“If you’re so foolish as to take any notice of ANYTHING that Piers says”, said Julian, who was carrying his hook-handled cane, plus smoking a cigar “You deserve to be miserable! Come and have a look inside”
He gave Bardin a couple of whacks with the cane. Bardin jumped and followed them into the ramshackle shack. A few sticks of furniture still occupied the place, plus an old iron stove on which the former owner had done all his limited range of cooking.
“Is that still in working order?” Bardin asked.
“I expect so”, said Ransey “No reason why it shouldn’t be. Just needs cleaning up a bit that’s all”.
“It seems a shame to demolish this place”, said Bardin.
“We can’t keep it”, said Ransey “It’s nowhere near big enough for a … what did you call it, Julian?”
“A granny flat”, said Julian “And Ransey’s right, it is nowhere near big enough to put all our tiresome in-laws in. Or perhaps you had it in mind as a little love-nest for you and Bengo?”
“I’m not sure about Bengo being let loose on that stove!” said Bardin “But something could be done with it. Perhaps we should think on it a bit before we make any fatal decisions”.
“You’re the Captain”, said Ransey, very grudgingly.
Bardin made a noise of agreement and went across to the back yard of the tavern, where Bengo was collecting eggs in the chicken-run, and Tamaz was swinging about desultorily on an old tyre hanging from an orange tree.
“Has someone given you a hiding?” Bengo laughed “Why else are you rubbing your behind?”
“Very funny”, said Bardin.
“We’re doing a bread and butter pudding with toffee sauce later”, said Bengo “Adam says you won’t be able to resist it”.
“It hasn’t got any custard in it has it?” said Bardin.
“No, that’s why I said toffee sauce”, said Bengo, in a longsuffering way.
“Thank God for that!” said Bardin.
Tamaz gave a yelp and fell from the tyre.
“You great nit!” said Bardin, going over to help him up off the ground.
Tamaz yodelled and pointed in the direction of the sea.
“Look look look!” he cried, thumping Bardin as though to make him see better.
“Alright, alright, I can see it!” said Bardin.
Out on the distant horizon a dark shape had appeared on the water. It looked too big and lumpy to be a boat.
“It’s the island!” said Tamaz “It’s appeared, it’s suddenly appeared!”
Lonts, who had been walking along the road in front of the tavern, had paused and stood staring out to sea, looking like an Easter Island statue. Suddenly he let out a roar that could demolish buildings “THE ISLAND!” Thetis had appeared in the main doorway of the tavern. A look of utter shock came over her face, and she cried out in disbelief. Lonts was disturbed by her reaction and went over to soothe her, but Thetis backed away down the corridor, stumbling in horror at what she had seen. She backed away into the dark recesses of the corridor, and that was the last that was seen of her.
The rest of the day was taken up with searching for her. The whole town was turned upside down and search-parties were organised into the foothills of the mountains at the back of the inn. No one could conceivably believe though that Thetis would have got that far without somebody seeing her. It was extremely disturbing, it was as though she had simply evaporated into thin air. Lonts, as the last person to see her, could only repeat that the sight of the island seemed to have upset her considerably.
As the afternoon wore on Julian suggested to Adam that they had to have things out with Crowley. It had been bad enough with Victor dying, but Thetis suddenly disappearing was the last straw. Adam agreed and sent a message over to the sloop that he and Julian wished to see Crowley immediately in the bar of the tavern. Crowley sent a haughty message back that he would be over eventually. Adam sent another message demanding that he appear At Once. It wasn’t often that Crowley’s insufferable snobbery could be made to work in anyone’s favour but it did this time. He was rather awed by Adam’s purple lineage, far more so than Julian’s which was more akin to his own. Plus he was intrigued by Adam the camp cook with artistic leanings suddenly acting like a feudal monarch (even though Joby could have told him that Adam usually acted like that in the kitchen anyway).
“I know no more than you, dear boy”, said Crowley, when the three of them were seated alone in a corner of the bar.
“I don’t believe you, Aleister”, Adam sighed “We know what you are capable of. We’ve seen it for ourselves. If you can organise trips through time, and the sloop to appear in some never-never land, and a huge dog to come out of the walls, as you did at the church last Christmas, then I’m pretty certain you can arrange for Thetis to disappear!”
“But why on earth should I want Thetis to disappear?” said Crowley “She wasn’t upsetting me. We seemed to have come to a very civilised arrangement all-told. There was nothing clingy about Thetis, she wasn’t like Victor”.
“You seem to have slipped into the past tense with her very quickly”, said Julian “She’s only been missing a few hours!”
“As far as I was concerned Thetis was in the past tense some time ago”, said Crowley, with his usual breathtaking arrogance.
“Aleister, we are in no mood now to mess around”, said Adam “You’re not the only one round here who can arrange for unpleasant things to happen. I would appreciate it greatly if you will tell us all you know, both about Thetis, and about this entire situation that is happening here at the moment”.
“I met Thetis in Magnolia Cove”, said Crowley “She approached me in a bookshop there. We seemed to click immediately. She was a striking-looking woman with a deep intellect, a combination that is all too rare in the female sex I’m afraid. I knew very little of her background, and to be quite honest with you I didn’t want to know. I like an air of mystery about my women, what man doesn’t? I didn’t ask where she came from, or what she was doing there”.
“She was probably just the daughter of respectable bourgeois parents”, said Julian “And she saw you as a chance to rebel against them!”
“No I don’t think so”, said Crowley “I think Thetis was a witch, and not just someone pretending to be one, as so many in my field are. You want my opinion, well I’ll tell it to you. I think Thetis came from that island out there originally, and now they’ve called her back. Her tragedy was that she didn’t want to go”.
The island could be seen clearly through the window of the bar. All the time they were talking it seemed to hover behind them like a malignant presence.
“But if what you are saying is true”, said Julian “Thetis would surely have reacted much more strongly when Joby came into contact with the redhead, the one that we all thought was one of your demons”.
“Thetis had a very muted reaction to that”, said Adam “I didn’t think to discuss it with her, I just thought she was as much in the dark as the rest of us, and of course things got rather overshadowed by Victor’s death. She was very upset by that”.
“She was preoccupied with him a lot in the last few days”, said Julian.
“And the redhead tried to spirit Joby away”, said Adam “Which is why we thought she was all your doing, Aleister. Well, the solution is simple. It is plainly clear that Thetis has been taken against her will, so we have to go out there, to the island”.
“I strongly urge you to abandon any such idea!” said Crowley “All my life I saw people meddle in dark things about which they had no true comprehension. You cannot simply sail out to that island and rescue her as though she was being held captive by brigands in some remote fortress. There are very dark undercurrents at work here. I strongly urge caution. Thetis isn’t a romantic damsel in distress, there are things about her which we cannot comprehend”.
“But that also applies to Kieran!” said Julian.
“And Tamaz actually”, said Adam “And so there is no reason why Thetis can’t be a part of us too”.
“She has been reclaimed, Adam”, said Crowley “They have called her back. You have to accept it. She has gone”.
Adam was consoling Bengo in the kitchen when Bardin came in a couple of hours later.
“BENGO!” he shouted “This won’t do! Nobody wants a sad-faced clown at a time like this!”
“I know, I’m sorry, Bardy”, said Bengo, sniffing and blowing his nose on a rather worn hanky fished out from the bib of his pinny.
“I do wish you’d take your hat off when you’re indoors, Bardin”, said Adam “We can’t see your sweet little face”.
“So what are you complaining about then?!” said Bardin.
Hillyard also returned from one of the searches, looking hot and flustered.
“Have you got any of that gooseberry tart left, Ad?” he asked, throwing himself down on a chair.
“You know we haven’t”, said Adam “You scoffed the last of it yesterday!”
“I thought you might have made some more since then”, said Hillyard.
“When have I had a bloody chance!” said Adam “I swear you sometimes think meals are magicked out of thin air! And have you seen Joby on your travels, or has he taken this latest catastrophe as an excuse to have a little holiday?!”
“He’s around out there somewhere”, said Hillyard, airily waving his hand towards the back yard “He and Kieran want to spend tonight in the caravan. Just to get a bit of space I think, not to hold any vigils”.
“I think it’s time to call off the searches now”, said Bardin “From what Crowley said it’s unlikely she’s in this dimension anyway”.
“But she didn’t want to go!” Bengo wailed, who had been in the process of putting several kettles of water on the stove.
“I know it’s hard to accept”, Adam sighed “But if she’s been called back to wherever it is she came from … Oh I don’t know, we have to accept it, we have no choice. We’ve known enough people from strange races to realise that we can’t always put our own code of conduct on things”.
“Well Mieps and Tamaz are Ghoomers but we wouldn’t accept them being taken back to a Ghoomer colony!” said Bengo.
“The Ghoomers are a different case altogether”, said Adam “We know they are highly dangerous and savage …”
“And we know nothing about Thetis’s lot at all!” Bengo pointed out “They could be highly dangerous and savage for all we know!”
“Bengo, stop arguing!” said Bardin “We can’t just go sailing out to that island without knowing a bit more than we do. We don’t know what the hell might be waiting for us! Joby joked about it the other day but there might be a race of Tamaz’s out there all ready to turn us into masonry!”
“Or into pigs to eat”, Adam smiled “I’m sorry, but you reminded me of an old Greek legend, of the sorceress on a remote island who turned all travellers into pigs”.
“And whoever they are they obviously have highly advanced Magick skills”, said Bardin “Knowledge is protection and we haven’t got ANY knowledge of them at the moment!”
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