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A horrific occurrence happened the next day, one that no one had bargained for. Thetis returned to the bar, but she was dead. Her remains were found left outside the front door early that morning, wrapped in a kind of shroud made out of an unknown type of seaweed. Inside her naked body was found covered in dead and dying sea-reptiles, of a kind, like the seaweed, hitherto unknown to any of them. They were medium-sized crustaceans with sticky, blood-sucking tentacles. The conclusion drawn was that she had had these creatures deliberately put all over her body and was then wrapped tightly in the seaweed. Someone had left her body outside the door during the night. Some of her flesh had been slowly eaten away by the creatures.
It was all clearly meant not just as a final punishment for Thetis for her refusal to come home, but as a warning to them all not to interfere in future in ways they didn’t know.
A stunned kind of daze seemed to fall over the whole town for the next couple of days. Kieran organised a burial at sea for her, and he, Joby, Bengo and Bardin took her body out in the skiff and disposed of her into the ocean. That night Kieran had a vivid dream in which he saw Thetis trying to run up some stone steps out of an underground room. She was screaming “help me!” and an enormous tentacled creature was hanging onto her back, weighing her down. The dream upset Kieran enormously, and he got a dangerous look in his eye, one that only added to Joby’s extreme unease. Joby had seen this look before. It was an evangelical desire to exact retribution. Kieran, normally one of the world’s gentlest of men, could turn quite fanatical in some circumstances.
It wasn’t that Joby himself didn’t want retribution for the fiends who had tortured and murdered Thetis, (because he did), but that he was concerned for the effect it would have on Kieran. In the past such fanaticism had unbalanced Kieran’s mind, and he didn’t want those days back. Julian picked up on Joby’s concern and decided to sort things out in his own inimitable way. Over the next few days he implemented a regime of punishment and absolution for Kieran that would have had lesser men heading to the hills. To Joby’s great surprise it worked! It seemed that Kieran had to have the fanaticism literally beaten out of him. He was so worn out and calmed by Julian’s disciplining that the fanatical stare in his blue eyes disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.
And then it appeared that they were being haunted. Thetis’s spirit had moved into the tavern. She wasn’t seen or heard, but her presence was very distinct. Neither was she a disturbing ghost in any way, or intrusive. Just occasionally items were found moved, and a door would be seen slowly closing of its own accord. Kieran said this wasn’t good, that her spirit wasn’t moving on, at which Joby completely lost his temper with him.
“Move on where?” he exclaimed “She wants to be HERE! She’s probably happier here than in bleedin’ Heaven, or wherever else it was you had in mind! She’s not doing any harm, leave her alone!”
“It’s just that …” Kieran began.
“It’s just nothing!” said Joby “It’s just you being a religious bloody bureaucrat that’s all! ‘If a spirit doesn’t depart in 3 days it must be made to move on’. Crap! That’s all that is, crap!”
“But she might unconsciously attract other spirits here”, Kieran protested “Ones that aren’t so welcome”.
“Then we’ll deal with ‘em when they turn up!” said Joby “She always wanted to be here, and now that lot over there”, he gestured towards the island “Can’t get at her anymore”.
Toppy scampered over obsequiously to tell Kieran that Julian was ready to see him again.
“Good!” said Joby “I’ll look out a soft cushion for you to sit on at lunchtime!”
Kieran stuck his tongue out at him.
Then it turned out that Thetis was quite prepared to be a playful ghost. She took to pinching Julian’s bottom after any of his sessions with Kieran.
“Just look at this!” said Julian, undoing his trousers in the bar one morning (before it was officially open for the day at least).
“Do I have to, Jules” said Adam, trying to cover up a smirk by rubbing his nose.
“I’ll be covered in bloody bruises by the time she’s finished!” said Julian, exposing a cheek to Adam’s gaze.
“Oh for goodness sake Julian, cover yourself up!” said Adam “Madame de Sade is in here!”
“There can’t be anything she doesn’t know about arses by now!” said Julian “Not after all these years of being married to that old fart anyway!”
Madame de Sade said something rapidly in French.
“What was that?” Julian barked.
“Oh something along the lines of ooh la la what a big boy you are!” said Adam.
“Disgusting!” said Julian “And you call yourself a respectable woman!”
Hillyard trudged into the room carrying a leather satchel. The monthly post had just been flown in, and he had gone along to the small wooden shed that passed as the local sorting-office to collect it.
“There looks rather a lot in there”, said Adam, in a concerned voice. He rarely viewed news from the outside world as potentially positive.
“Most of it seems to be for Dobley”, said Hillyard.
“Who the blazes is writing to him?” said Julian.
“I think his fans have finally found out where he is”, said Hillyard.
“Well I suppose it’ll be very reassuring for him to find out he’s still got some!” said Adam.
Kieran had gone for a lie-down in the caravan. When Joby went over to see him he found him lying face-down on the bunk.
“Alright me lad?” said Joby, very gently patting his behind.
“Ah Joby I must have dozed off for a few minutes”, said Kieran.
“I’m not surprised”, said Joby “The amount of ‘exercise’ you’ve been getting lately, it’d wear anybody out!”
“Julian’s quite tender really”, said Kieran.
“Yeah right!” said Joby.
“No I mean when he’s not thrashing me”, said Kieran “He’s been quite thoughtful”.
Joby gave a sceptical look.
“Anyway some post has turned up for you”, he said, fishing in the bib of his apron and pulling out an envelope.
“Oh jaysus, who’s writing to me?” said Kieran, in dismay “Not my Church I hope?”
“It don’t look posh enough for them”, said Joby “No gold-embossed seals and what have you!”
Kieran laughed and tore it open. He scanned its contents and then handed it back to Joby.
“The last bloody thing we need!” said Kieran “Father Levka coming down here to talk to me!”
“What for?” said Joby.
“Good question!” said Kieran “He’s starting up a new Bible group apparently, and his new disciples all sound very young and keen, and they can’t get over that he once knew me, and so he’s coming down here to get a few more words of wisdom from me to go home and impress them all with”.
“Are they all coming with him?” said Joby, who couldn’t be bothered to read the letter for himself.
“I don’t think so”, said Kieran “They probably can’t afford it”.
“Well I spose he’s not usually too much trouble”, said Joby “Not compared to most of your lot anyway! But that’s not the only trouble in store. Someone’s written to Bardin saying he wants to write his biography!”
“I bet Bardin doesn’t like that!” said Kieran “He’s such a private person”.
“He’s getting himself into a right state about it already”, said Joby “Bengo said nobody’ll probably want to read it anyway so what’s he worrying about!”
“If the writer comes down here he’ll want to interview Bengo as well”, said Kieran.
“That should be good for a few laughs if nothing else!” said Joby.
“He probably won’t be able to afford to get down here”, said Bengo, trying to console Bardin in the bar “Writers are usually broke, and he lives all the way up in Aspiorola”.
“Are you kidding?” Bardin snapped “He’s probably got some huge advance from some poxy publisher and can afford to come down here and stay for as long as he likes!”
“Well you don’t have to talk to him you know”, said Rumble, who was sat in the corner idly scanning the pages of the local newspaper.
“Oh great!” said Bardin “And then it becomes an un-authorised biography and he can slag me off any old way he likes! Terrific!”
“Make your mind up!” said Bengo “Anyway he can only slag you off if he’s got something to go on, and you’ve kept most of your private life under wraps from the world, not just the world actually, from us as well!”
“Alright, don’t go into all that again”, Bardin sighed.
“All I’m saying is”, said Bengo “That he’d have to talk to a few people and who would slag you off? Ully’s dead, and he wouldn’t have done that anyway, and Hawkefish certainly won’t as he’s always respected you. I suppose he could dredge up a few raddled old chorus-girls who shagged you at the Little Theatre”.
Rumble tried, unsuccessfully, to conceal a snigger behind the newspaper.
“They would have nothing to say!” Bardin thundered.
“That good was it?!” said Rumble, unable to hide his laughter any longer.
“We’re not gonna slag you off”, Bengo continued “However tempting it might be! And Hal and the other clowns won’t ‘cos they know you’re letting ‘em stay here on sufferance. Hey! That’s a good reason to let them stay I suppose. If you sent them packing they’d be bad-mouthing you all over the place”.
“Hal won’t do that”, said Rumble “Not now he’s found he’s in love with Bardin”.
“I’ve said I didn’t want that mentioning, EVER!” said Bardin “And you certainly don’t mention it to this damn writer! That’s exactly the sort of thing he’d want to hear! Everybody knows all writers are obsessed with anything to do with sex!”
“Don’t worry, Bardy”, said Bengo “I’ll say lots of nice things about you”.
“Like what?” Bardin almost squealed with frustration “That I made your entire childhood a misery, a-and w-what if he drags up how you left me ‘cos you c-couldn’t stand being with me anymore? Oh I don’t think I can bear it!”
“I’ll tell him how devoted I am to you now”, said Bengo.
“Oh God you’ll have me in tears in a minute!” said Rumble.
Dobley breezed into the room, clutching his wad of fan-mail to his chest as though it was a love letter from the dearest person in his life.
“I’m loved!” he announced.
“I’m in pain!” Bardin growled.
“I’m loved all over the world”, said Dobley, falling with a blissful sigh into the nearest chair.
“Except here”, said Bardin, still in a growl.
“My fans say I should be forgiven and offered a new contract”, said Dobley “They say plenty of people have done far more awful things than me”.
“Not in front of the camera they haven’t!” said Bardin.
“I don’t actually notice anyone clamouring to have you back, Bardin”, said Dobley.
“They wouldn’t dare!” said Bengo “Look at all the trouble we’re getting just ‘cos somebody wants to write his biography!”
“This guy who’s coming down to see you”, said Dobley “Will he be wanting to talk to all of us?”
“How the bloody hell should I know!” said Bardin “I suppose you’re hoping he’ll let you jaw on at him. ‘Dobley, the much-loved family entertainer, gives his side of what happened at Starhanger. At last we all get to hear his defence’. Is that it?”
“Oh everybody must be sick of hearing about Starhanger by now”, said Bengo.
“I wouldn’t bank on it!” said Bardin.
He looked across at Rumble, who was still calmly absorbed in the paper.
“How can you sit there like that?” Bardin demanded of him “As though there’s nothing going on!”
“I’m only an extra in this scene”, said Rumble, laconically “I don’t need to pay much attention!”
Bengo grabbed Bardin by his wrists and pulled him over to the kitchen door so that he could talk to him in private.
“Bardy, this has got to stop”, said Bengo “You’ve got to be a trouper about this, that’s what you’d be telling me if the boot was on the other foot”.
“I know!” Bardin cried “B-but it’s all irritating me so much! This jerk could come out with anything he liked, could write whatever he wanted about me”.
“So let him”, said Bengo “Who cares! Adam was telling me that Hillyard had all this sort of thing once. Someone serialised a load of rubbish about him in one of the Sunday papers, this was years ago. Hillyard got really upset about it, but it was all a five-minute wonder. Anyway, there can’t be much people don’t know about clowns by now. As Tamaz said, everybody thinks we’re miserable fucked-up bastards anyway, so nothing that gets written about you should come as any surprise!”
“Oh thank you very much!” said Bardin “I can’t wait for him to interview old Freaky-chops!”
“Tamaz doesn’t want to speak to him”, said Bengo “He says he has no time for all this sort of thing as no one has ever written anything nice about him”.
“That’s something anyway”, Bardin sighed.
Early that evening Joby was dozing by the kitchen stove. He was rudely awaken by Lonts slamming the outside door, quickly followed by the kitchen door.
“Hello Joby”, said Lonts “It’s me”.
“I’d never have guessed!” said Joby.
“Were you asleep?” said Lonts.
“I was!” said Joby.
Kieran was pouring out tea on the kitchen table. He asked if Lonts wanted one.
“O.K”, said Lonts “Though it doesn’t seem right you making me tea, Kieran”.
“Well I’m making it for everybody else so I don’t see why not”, said Kieran.
He handed Lonts and Joby two cups, and then took a tray through to the bar. Lonts put his tea on the fender and then pulled his pipe and a tin of tobacco out of his shirt.
“This is nice isn’t it, Joby?” he said.
“What?” Joby barked.
“Us sitting here like this”, said Lonts “Oh I know you’re not going to be agree with me because you’re always grumpy, but I know you think it’s nice really”.
“I’d love to know what a brain-specialist would make of the way your mind works sometimes!” said Joby “It’d be an endless source of fascination to ‘em! It should be one of the seven wonders of the modern world by rights!”
Lonts gave a hoot of laughter. Kieran returned to the room.
“Kieran”, said Lonts “Joby says my brain is one of the seven wonders of the modern world, isn’t that funny?”
“A bit like Joby’s sex appeal”, said Kieran.
“Alright!” said Joby.
“Jaysus, there’s some rubbish on the telly these days”, said Kieran.
“There always was!” said Joby.
“There’s a fella on it at the moment”, said Kieran “Singing, or at least I think that’s what he’s doing, with a black hood over his head, looks like a terrorist, and warbling about sex slaves, or some such cobblers”.
“Is that on now?” said Joby, looking up at the clock which said five-past seven “Gawd, that’s a disgrace that is! The t.v planners have no shame at all these days!”
“I had to come back in here”, said Kieran “He was scaring the living daylights out of me!”
He came and joined them by the stove. The wind-chimes that Adam had hung in front of the window over the sink gave a melodious rustle. Even though it was a fairly blustery night outside they knew that it wasn’t the wind that was responsible this time. Joby’s bare arms prickled, and some dark thought seemed to cross his mind as he unconsciously clenched his fists. Kieran noticed this and squeezed his arm comfortingly.
The following day was the day of the mass arrival in Zilligot Bay of Father Levka and Bardin’s biographer. They were due to arrive that afternoon. In the morning Julian went over to the tavern, the bar-room of which was empty apart from Piers, who was ferreting about suspiciously on the floor behind the counter. Julian leant over and hit him on the head with a beer-tray.
“Julian, that was utterly unspeakable!” said Piers, clutching his head “You always were a little brute!”
“Not so little these days”, said Julian “Anyway stop nicking our stock, I know that’s what you’re doing”. He noticed that Piers had been surreptitiously swigging directly from a brandy bottle whilst crouched on the floor “Most people would have the common decency to pour it into a glass first! I don’t know why you don’t go and sit out on the quayside with a bottle of meths like any other old wino!”
Piers rose blushing to his feet.
“Whilst you’re behind there fix me a brandy-and-soda”, said Julian, opening up the local newspaper in leisurely fashion.
Piers remained rooted to the spot. Joby came through from the kitchen carrying a tray of clean glasses.
“Joby, could you fix me a brandy-and-soda?” said Julian “Piers is completely incapable of performing such a task”.
“Strange”, said Joby, putting the glasses down on a nearby table “I thought he’d be pretty good at it by now, he gets enough practice!”
“No, Piers prefers to drink it straight from the bottle”, said Julian “Obviously the length of time it would take to pour it out would be an intolerable strain to him!”
“I dunno what he’s doing behind here at this hour anyway”, said Joby, going behind the bar “We’re not officially open yet”.
“That is completely unfair!” said Piers “Madame de Sade was behind here at nine-thirty yesterday morning!”
“She was working!” said Joby.
“Oh for God’s sake don’t try and explain that concept to him!” said Julian “You’re beaten before you’ve even started!”
Piers gave an anguished cry and fled from the room. Joby cast a look of mild concern at his retreating back.
“Don’t waste your sympathies on him”, said Julian.
“Yeah well he’s not up to dealing with you is he!” said Joby, fixing Julian’s drink.
“You of all people should understand what it’s like having an unwanted brother!” said Julian.
“Josh is a whinger, so I find it easy to ignore him”, said Joby “But Piers is so …”
“Hopeless?” said Julian “You’ve been listening too much to Adam, with all his blithering about how sweet Piers can be really”.
“Kieran thinks we should be able to get through to him in time”, said Joby.
“I might have known HE’D been filling your head with such rubbish!” said Julian.
“Piers is a sad case”, said Joby “I mean you can see how lonely the poor jerk is, and he was left to cope with your senile mother all on his own, I spose I feel sorry for him for that reason, I’ve known people who had to be carers, it’s a miserable life”.
“So what am I supposed to do about it?” said Julian.
“I don’t expect you to do anything!” said Joby “I know what an old bitch she was to you. But she’s gone now, and I spose I just feel sorry for Piers ‘cos he’s had a rotten deal”.
“No he didn’t!” said Julian “Knock that idea on the head at once! Pies had a very good deal, or at least he could have done if he’d only applied himself and been a bit tougher. But as it is he’s never bothered to use his brain, he has no courage whatsoever, and just wants to sit around whining all the time! He didn’t have to look after Mother. He could have put the old cow in a home, it wasn’t as if we couldn’t afford it!”
“I know but …” Joby began.
“And even so don’t get any romantic notions into your head that he had to wipe her botty or anything like that”, said Julian “He would have had a full-time nurse in to do all the dirty work. Your trouble is that Kieran wears you down with all his blasted tolerance and kindness and you don’t have the strength to resist it! Does he go on at you to be nice to Josh?”’
“No, he thinks Josh is funny!” said Joby “He laughs his head off behind the scenes when Josh starts bleating on about anything!”
“Joby”, said Adam, appearing in the kitchen doorway “Are you going to be all day in here? We’ve got things to do you know!”
“Gobble gobble”, said Hegley, poking his head round the back door.
“What are you doing here?” said Joby, who had been scrubbing out a frying-pan in the sink.
“Didn’t Clarissa want to go back to you?” said Bengo, who was peeling potatoes at the table.
“Take no notice of them, Hegley”, said Adam “They have an unfortunate way of putting things sometimes! I’ll try and put it more politely, what brings you all the way down here, old love?”
“I came down on the air-buggy”, said Hegley.
“Oh God, that means Bardy’s biographer has arrived!” Bengo gasped.
“And Father Levka”, said Joby, in his most morose tones.
“I was missing you all”, Hegley went up and threw his arms round Adam, which as he was quite a bit shorter than him, was quite a comical sight “I got a job at the poshest restaurant in Magnolia Cove, chef’s assistant, but the chef was a right bastard. Sadistic sod. If anyone of us tried to complain or have an opinion of our own he used to get us round the throat and tell us how lucky we were to work for him!”
“Some chefs are like that I’m afraid”, Adam sighed “Creative temperament can make them quite monstrous at times”.
“A bit like clowns”, said Bengo “Look at Bardy!”
“Oh Bardin’s not a monster, Bengo”, said Adam.
“You never had to work with him on stage!” said Bengo.
“Well don’t go saying things like that now his biographer’s around”, said Adam “It would be all grist to his mill”.
“How did you get down here?” said Joby to Hegley.
“I got an air-buggy down to the Village of Stairs and then another one down to here”, said Hegley “Isn’t the Village of Stairs a seedy place?”
“Don’t say that in front of Bengo”, Adam smiled “He comes from there”.
“Oh I don’t mind”, said Bengo “It is a seedy place, and it seems to get worse with every year that passes! Adam, do you mind if I go and find Bardy? I need to give him a final pep-talk”.
“We-e-ll”, Adam looked helplessly at the mound of potatoes waiting to be serviced.
“I can do that”, said Hegley.
Joby looked at him suspiciously, but Bengo was granted his request.
He found Bardin sitting on a low wall that bordered the orchard at the back of the tavern. Apart from his obligatory cap, Bardin wore only a pair of semi-transparent black pantaloons, the sort that male dancers wore to rehearse in.
“Bardy, you’ve got to smarten yourself up!” Bengo cried, when he saw him.
“You’ll be wanting us to get out the red carpet next!” Bardin snapped.
“I want this jerk to see why I’m proud of you”, said Bengo “How can I tell him what a professional you are if you’re sitting around like some slobby old git!”
“What do you want me to do?” said Bardin “Put on full clown’s motley and slap?!”
“Don’t be silly!” said Bengo “I asked Toppy to iron you a clean shirt earlier. If you carry on feeling sorry for yourself, I’ll start calling you Dobley!”
“Oh thanks!” said Bardin “So now I’m like Dobley am I!”
“I think it’s a bit much you making out this is all so terrible”, said Bengo “Especially when you think what happened to poor Thetis”.
“Alright!” said Bardin
“Come over to the sloop and get dressed” said Bengo.
Bardin followed him with great reluctance.
When they were walking over to the tavern from the sloop a short while later they found Father Levka sitting on the bench outside it, looking rather intimidating in his black outfit and long hair tied back in a severe pony-tail.
“You can wait for Kieran inside if you like”, said Bengo to him.
“Thank you, but I am quite content here”, Father Levka drawled, without looking at him.
Toppy burst out of the main door gibbering that Bardin’s biographer was waiting in the bar.
“Alright!” Bardin snapped at him “Stop getting so excited all the time!”
Bengo had been expecting a writer like Fradie, the one they had known in Toondor Lanpin, a chain-smoking womaniser who travelled everywhere on a battered bicycle and constantly addressed the Indigo-ites as “you fags!” Ragen couldn’t be further from this image if he tried. He had a Toppy-ish air of fastidiousness about him, from his immaculately-combed dark hair, to his expensive dove-grey suit and gold watch-chain, to the row of newly-sharpened pencils laid out on a neat line on the table in front of him. He was already primed for work. He presented an intimidating sight. Not helped by the glass of water at his elbow, which was the only drink he had accepted when he arrived. Bengo had never heard of a writer that didn’t drink copious amounts of alcohol, and found this unexpected austerity quite unnerving.
“Mr Ragen”, Bardin approached him holding out his hand “I’m Bardin”.
Ragen gravely rose to his feet like a tax-inspector being introduced to a potentially awkward case.
“This is my partner, Bengo”, said Bardin, introducing Bengo.
Bengo gulped and wiped his hand on his pinny (which he was suddenly acutely conscious of) and shook hands.
“I’ll … I’ll see if I can rustle up some tea”, he said, beating a hasty retreat in the direction of the kitchen.
“May I first say what a pleasure it is to meet you at long last”, said Ragen, in a light and delicate voice. He then gave a reflective pause, as though he was musing philosophically over the words he had just uttered.
“Well I’m sure you’re very busy”, said Bardin, looking at the row of pencils “So shall we get down to business? Oh by the way, do you have somewhere to stay here in town?”
“Mr Adam has offered me a bed here”, said Ragen.
“Here?” said Bardin “In the tavern?”
He found it hard to imagine how Ragen was going to adapt to sleeping in The Landlord’s Bedroom, which wasn’t the most salubrious pit imaginable, and even more unimaginable if he was going to be sharing it with Father Levka!
“Well as long as you’re sure”, said Bardin, uncertainly.
“Perhaps …” Ragen began “You would care to tell me a little bit about yourself, in your own words”.
“You make it sound as though I’m applying for a job!” said Bardin, unable to conceal his irritation at being further inconvenienced by something he had passionately NOT wanted “Why don’t you just ask me what questions you want and I’ll do my best to answer them?”
“Very well”, said Ragen, turning over a perfectly unblemished sheet of paper on his notepad “How old were you when you first appeared on stage?”
“Seven”, Bardin snapped “And you could have found that out from any old stage directory! I hope you’re going to ask me something a bit more interesting than that!”
This rather threw Ragen. He believed that the golden rule of interviewers when dealing with a subject in person was to get them talking about their childhoods first, as that put them at their ease (or it was supposed to) and you could find out a lot about their character-formation that way. Bardin had bowled him a googly straight away.
“Oh no!” said Bengo, who had been eavesdropping on all this from behind the kitchen door “Bardy’s losing his temper with him already! Oh this is terrible!”
Joby had gone out to the orchard to find Kieran. He located him sitting under a tree, doing nothing in particular.
“I don’t like you wandering out here on your own”, said Joby “Crowley could be about”.
“That’s why I borrowed Bardin’s whistle”, said Kieran, indicating the said item which was hanging round his neck.
“Anyway, your doom’s waiting for you out on the quayside”, said Joby “We’ve asked him to come in but he won’t. He’s probably waiting for permission from you first!”
“Levka’s not that bad!” Kieran laughed “Did the writer turn up? What’s he like?”
“Another bleedin’ Toppy if you ask me!” said Joby “Looks like he’s just been unwrapped from tissue-paper, and he asked for a glass of water! Can you imagine travelling all this way and asking for a glass of water!”
“Doesn’t sound much like a writer!” said Kieran.
“And Bardin’s already got snotty with him”, said Joby “Bengo’s nearly having hysterics in the kitchen”.
“Ach it’ll be alright”, said Kieran “He’ll see what a loveable soul Bardin really is when he’s been here a few days”.
“I wouldn’t bank on it!” said Joby.
They walked out of the orchard and round the corner of the tavern onto the quayside.
“There he is”, Joby whispered, gesturing towards Father Levka “Rasputin!”
“Joby, behave yourself!” Kieran giggled.
Father Levka got to his feet and strode towards them with a brisk purposefulness. When he got near Kieran he grabbed the Irishman’s hand and kissed it reverentially.
“You don’t have to do that, Levka”, said Kieran “I’m not President anymore”.
“Then that is a great pity, Your Grace”, said Levka.
He nodded politely at Joby, who had quickly stuffed his hands into the bib of his pinny, in case Levka got any ideas about trying to kiss his hand as well! Levka launched into a spiel about what a shame it was that Kieran wasn’t President anymore, and how the world would be a much more contented place if he was. Kieran remarked that he couldn’t remember the world particularly oozing contentment when he was President, but this didn’t deter Levka who looked as though he could go on in this vein for quite some while.
Joby returned to the kitchen. On his way there he saw Bengo feeding the goats in the back yard, and Hegley sitting on a milking-stool plucking a small heap of newly-deceased wild fowl.
“Hey!” Joby accosted Adam in the kitchen “What’s going on?”
“I’ve asked you and Bengo repeatedly for the past two days to pluck those birds”, said Adam “And you keep making silly excuses not to. Well Hegley actually volunteered to do so”.
“Of course he did!” said Joby “He knows how to get on the right side of you don’t he!”
“You’ve been moaning for as long as I can remember that we need more help in the kitchen”, said Adam “And now we’ve got it, you complain!”
“I meant one of the others”, said Joby “Not an outsider”.
“But Hegley’s such a harmless little man”, Adam protested.
“We used to say that about Brother Iggy”, said Joby, gloomily “And look what happened to him!”
“Well there’s nothing like looking on the bright side is there!” Adam gave an exasperated sigh.
“If anything happens to him don’t say I didn’t warn you”, said Joby “This isn’t exactly turning out to be the safest place to live at the moment is it!”
“What are you moaning about now?” said Hillyard, coming in from the yard “There’s always something with you ent there!”
Joby hurled pots and pans into the sink with reckless abandon. He then took off his pinny and left the room.
Hillyard suggested that Adam go and sit on a comfortable chair in the bar and have a stiff drink, whilst he went to find Kieran in order that he in turn could find Joby. Kieran joined Adam in the bar some minutes later. Bardin was still talking to his biographer in the far corner, although he kept casting anxious looks in their direction.
“He’ll be back over in a minute”, said Kieran “He’s just kicking the furniture a bit over on the sloop”.
“If he’s going to stay in that mood”, said Adam “I’d almost rather he stayed on strike!”
“His stress levels are dangerously in the red”, said Kieran “Look at everything that’s happened lately. Crowley sniffing after me, what happened to Thetis, and now one of my Church has turned up. I know Levka’s fairly harmless these days …”
“So is Hegley!” Adam protested.
“It’s all these people around all the time”, said Kieran “You’ve got to admit it is bedlam round here at the moment, and he can’t get away by himself very much like I can. I can go and sit in the orchard sometimes, well at least when Julian hasn’t got me under boat-arrest, but the best Joby gets is a few minutes in the chicken-run now and again! He hasn’t had a chance to grieve for Thetis, and if he doesn’t get that I’m worried he’s going to brood and then something dangerous could happen. He’s capable of anything when he gets into a mood like that”.
“I’d suggest he has some time off”, said Adam “But if I did that he’d probably see it as a bloody conspiracy to put Hegley in his place!”
“I did wonder about us two, and perhaps Tamaz if he wanted to, going up into the hills for a while”, said Kieran “But I know you’d worry yourself sick about us”.
“Too damn true!” said Adam “Whatever we suggest, Patsy, is going to be riddled with problems. We keep coming back to the fact that we’re stuck with this situation as it is, and Joby’s just got to accept that. That sounds terribly harsh I know”.
Bengo came out of the kitchen with two cups of tea which he put down on the table in front of them. He then stood and twisted his hands in his pinny anxiously, as though he was wondering whether to say something or not.
“Please tell us if you have an idea, Bengo”, said Adam.
“We’re open to all suggestions!” Kieran smiled.
“Because I’m only a stupid clown”, said Bengo “I only ever do have one suggestion to make. Perhaps we should put on a show? Oh ignore it, it’s daft, I don’t even know why I suggested it. It’ll just make things even more chaotic round here not less!”
“That sounds like it might help Dobley more than Joby!” Kieran laughed, to show he meant no criticism by his words.
“Madame de Sade gave me the idea”, said Bengo “She said she was missing really good music. I know we can’t provide that, not with Bardy being the only one who can sing! But she said that perhaps a little show, a light-hearted musical comedy, would help us all at the moment”.
“I like it”, said Kieran “But I can just imagine Joby complaining that it might bring even more people down here!”
“Perhaps that’s what’s needed”, said Adam “What’s the old Baudelaire quote? The best way to deal with horror is to immerse oneself in it. Not that I mean a show would be horror, Bengo!”
“Oh I expect it we’re all involved it will be!” said Bengo.
“We could have Aleister doing some magic tricks”, said Kieran, wryly.
“That sounds rather reckless!” said Adam “Are you not a little worried though, Bengo, that it might get Dobley rather too excited? I mean, it might raise his hopes a bit too much”.
“It could I suppose”, said Bengo “But I don’t see how it could make him any worse than he is at the moment!”
“Can I play Devil’s Advocate a moment though?” said Kieran “I still don’t see how this is going to help Joby”.
“I think he quite enjoys our shows really”, said Bengo “And perhaps if most of us got involved in some way, not just us clowns, who you must all be sick of seeing perform by now, then Joby might appreciate all the effort going into it”.
“He might”, said Adam, with immense scepticism.
“No I think Bengo might have something here”, said Kieran “Why don’t we have a Zilligot Bay Festival? Joby quite enjoyed being involved with the Toondor Lanpin one”.
“But from what I remember he worked in the box office with Ransey”, said Adam.
“Well that’s a good idea on it’s own”, said Kieran “Joby always calms down when he’s working with Ransey”.
“Oh thank you very much!” said Adam “So it’s bad for him to work with me now is it!”
“You get him a wee bit too excited at times”, said Kieran “But think of the one we had at Port West. We all had such a great time that we managed to expel Angel from the town. The same here might rejuvenate this old place. I swear the evil is creeping in on us because we’re this decaying community at the end of the world. The negative things are threatening to overwhelm us”.
Bengo noticed that Bardin kept looking over at them. He had obviously caught bits of their conversation and was intrigued by it. Before leaving the bar Bengo made as if to walk over to him and tell him what was going on. Bardin looked like a hungry dog about to be offered a juicy titbit. Bengo teasingly turned round and walked away from him, back into the kitchen.
“Here he comes now”, Adam sighed, glancing out of the window.
Joby was crossing over from the sloop.
“Correct me if I’m wrong”, said Adam “But I thought Joby was the baby out of us three?”
“Only by three months”, said Kieran “But yes he is”.
“So why do we let his little moods dictate to us so much?” said Adam.
“I thought that’s what babies did!” Kieran laughed.
Adam was determined to pass no comment whatsoever on Joby’s return to his duties, helped by Kieran who came in to give him some much-needed assistance in the kitchen. Particularly as Bengo had gone outside and was chatting to Hegley in the yard. Adam put Joby onto chopping sweet onions, and Kieran to preparing potatoes for baking. Bardin came into the kitchen, looking weary.
“Are you having a little break for now, old love?” said Adam.
“I feel vulnerable”, said Bardin “I know I’ve told him far too much, I don’t know how he got it all out of me”.
“I guess he wouldn’t be much good at his job if he couldn’t wrangle his way into people’s confidence”, said Adam.
“There was a sketch we used to do at the Cabaret”, said Bardin “Where Bengo had to tear away the back of my trousers. I hated it, it made me feel exposed”.
“Bound to, I would’ve thought!” said Joby.
“Well that’s what this makes me feel like”, said Bardin.
“You mustn’t worry about it so much, Bardin”, said Adam “People aren’t going to crucify you for telling them your life story!”
“Where’s Podge anyway?” said Bengo, referring to his partner.
“Out there”, said Joby, pointing in the direction of the yard.
Julian stormed into the kitchen in a blistering bad temper. From the bar could be heard the gentle click-clack of a manual typewriter in full flow.
“Have we turned the bar into a bloody office now?” he stormed.
“Ragen’s typing up his notes I expect”, said Bardin, gloomily, as though his death warrant was in active preparation as he spoke.
“Well why does he have to do it in there?” said Julian.
“Because he’s got nowhere else to work, Jules”, said Adam “You’ve banned him from going on the sloop!”
“How the hell am I supposed to relax with that racket clacking away in the background!” said Julian, throwing himself onto a chair and looking at Kieran, who was piercing potatoes with a fork “I see you’re going back to your ancestral roots, Tinkerbell”.
“Do you want me to practise me over-arm bowling on you?!” said Kieran.
“I see the Poacher’s still here”, said Julian, noticing Hegley through the open doorway.
“I take it you mean Hegley. And as he only arrived today it would be very surprising if he wasn’t!” said Adam “And don’t you start picking on him as well. He had a rough time at his last employment”.
“Oh God, he’s really had the violin out hasn’t he!” said Joby.
“If that little shrimp is to be believed he has a rough time everywhere”, said Julian “Talk about a hapless case!”
“Patsy, you must tell Father Levka sometime about all the Christian goodwill there is around here!” said Adam.
“I’m not having that!” said Julian “The very fact that we’re putting up with all these idiots shows there is a tremendous amount of Christian goodwill around, so there!”
Late that afternoon (although with the storm clouds coming on again it felt more like mid-evening) Bardin called a meeting of all his fellow clowns to discuss Bengo’s idea for a Zilligot Bay Festival. This extraordinary general meeting was held in the old skittle-alley opposite the stables in the back yard. It was a source of grievance to Bardin that they still hadn’t got the old skittle-alley up and running, and privately thought that whatever came of the Festival plan he would get the other useless clowns to work sorting the place out as soon as he possibly could. For the time being he had to be content with this meeting.
“Every time I think about this”, he said, imposingly, at the head of the table “I keep coming up against the same problem: who the hell is going to want to come all the way down here just to look at us lot?!”
“We could hire some dancing girls”, Hoowie suggested.
“That would work if we were performing in the next street in the Village of Stairs or Toondor Lanpin”, said Bardin “But even with that why should they want to come all the way here, we’re at the bottom of the world for God’s sake!”
“I think there’s a strange smell in here”, said Hal, looking all around him.
“I wonder what that could be!” Bardin snapped.
“Oo-er!” said Hal.
“I wish I’d never thought of all this”, said Bengo, miserably “I never expect people to take me seriously that’s the trouble!”
“If you give me a solo spot”, said Dobley “That would get them in, to see what I was up to these days”.
“What, sort of out of macabre fascination you mean?!” said Bardin.
“I keep thinking I should go back to being Uncle Farnol, Children’s Entertainer”, said Farnol “I really got to enjoying that …”
“Farnol Farnol!” Bardin interrupted him “How can you be a children’s entertainer in a town where there’s no children!”
“Children might come here”, said Farnol.
“Not if they’ve got any sense they won’t!” said Bardin.
“He could entertain some of the old men round here”, said Bengo “They’re like children!”
“Uncle Farnol, Senile Old Men’s Entertainer!” Rumble joked.
“Haven’t you got anything constructive to say?” said Bardin.
“Yes I have actually”, said Rumble “We could do this place up as a little theatre, I think that’d work quite well”.
“Isn’t it a bit narrow?” said Bengo.
“Nah it’d work”, said Rumble “We’ve got the whole of the outside to do the big stuff in. We could use this place for more sort of cosy performances”.
“Like my solo spot”, said Dobley.
Bardin groaned and put his head in his hands. The others waited patiently until he had resurfaced. When he did so he conscientiously wrote on a sheet of paper that the skittle-alley was to be revamped.
“We start that tomorrow”, he said “And at the same time everyone is to think up ideas as to what they can do for the show, which with you lot might take some time!” he turned to Bengo “And you and me need to come up with a routine too, preferably something we haven’t done before”.
“O.K”, Bengo sighed.
The meeting broke up soon after and Bengo left them all to gossip and returned to the kitchen, where he found Adam sitting by himself, writing up a new recipe he had gleaned from Hegley.
“How did it all go, old love?” said Adam.
“Oh it’s awful, Adam”, said Bengo, sitting opposite him at the table and resting his chin miserably on his hands. “Why do I come up with these stupid ideas?”
“Well it’s evidently not a stupid idea if everybody wants to do it”, said Adam.
“Bardy and me won’t have a normal married relationship now until the bloody thing’s over”, said Bengo “I’ll just be his comedy partner. He’ll be all brisk with me all the time”.
“Not all the time surely?” said Adam.
“You mean sex?” said Bengo “There won’t be any of that I can assure you! We’ll be like sportsmen in training!”
“I’m sure you can sort him out, Bengo”, said Adam “Bardin’s quite a softy really. His bark’s worse than his bite”.
There was a huge commotion as the clowns ran down the passage into the bar. The rain which had been threatening for several hours had finally broken and a violent storm was in now in progress. Bardin ran into the kitchen. Adam grabbed a towel from the dresser and flung it at him.
“I think I’ll turn in, Adam”, said Bengo.
“O.K, old love”, said Adam “Take a brolly with you”.
“If you wait a few minutes I’ll come over with you”, said Bardin “I just want a quick cuppa first”.
“Alright”, Bengo morosely resumed his previous pose.
“Would you care for some of your own apple crumble, Bengo?” said Adam “There’s a little bit left”.
Bengo brightened up for an instant, then looked at Bardin and got dejected again.
“I’d better not”, he said.
“Nonsense, you have some”, said Adam, fetching the dish “Bardin would be being absolutely silly if he objected to that!”
Bardin tried to think of a reply but he couldn’t think of one quickly enough, and Bengo got his apple crumble.
“I’ll go and see if Lo-Lo wants to go to bed”, said Adam, going into the bar.
“I suppose this is wrong too?” said Bengo, spooning up the crumble.
“Why are you taking that tone with me?” said Bardin.
“Because I see a miserable time ahead”, said Bengo.
“But I thought this show was what you wanted”, Bardin protested “It was your idea!”
“It’s not the show that’s the problem”, said Bengo “It’s your attitude when we do a show!”
“Just because I try to be professional …” Bardin spluttered.
“You never stop being professional, Bardy!” said Bengo “You never let up on me, not once”.
“That’s not fair”, said Bardin, on the verge of tears “I only ever want to do what you want. I’ve spent my whole life thinking about you. That’s not fair, Bengo …”
“Oh Bardy!” Bengo felt wretched as his friend began to cry “Oh Bardy, I’m an idiot, take no notice of me!”
He ran to put his arms round Bardin.
“When you left that time”, said Bardin “Everybody went on at me to find another partner, but I said no, I’d rather be a solo performer than have another partner. I couldn’t imagine working with anyone else. If you’d ever stopped to listen to what I say sometimes, instead of thinking I’m always getting at you, you’d have heard me say that I think you’re the best clown in the world”.
“Oh Bardy”, Bengo began to cry too “Oh I feel so wretched! You see, I never expect anybody to take any notice of me. When I left I suppose I thought you’d be alright. I couldn’t imagine you not being able to cope”.
“D-d-do you think Dobley would have ended up such a sad case if he’d had a comedy partner?” said Bardin “I don’t think so. People used to say we hated each other, that all comedy duo’s hate each other, they just don’t understand do they?”
“No they don’t”, said Bengo.
“At the worst all it was just resentment sometimes, because we knew we needed each other too much”, said Bardin “Nobody likes to think they’re completely dependant on someone else, that’s all that was. I expect Siamese twins feel the same”.
“We used to have a pair of Siamese twins in Toondor Lanpin”, said Bengo.
“I remember them”, said Bardin “They came to see us at the Little Theatre once. When they came to sit down in the stalls they both wanted to go in opposite directions, they were tugging at each other for a while until they sat down. I suppose that’s been a bit like us at times”.
Bengo gave a little laugh.
“What?” said Bardin, sniffing violently.
“Have you told Ragen about the first time you saw me?” said Bengo “When Ully introduced us to each other in his room, you gave me such a filthy look. I was so scared I could’ve died!”
“I think Ully had sung your praises a bit too much”, Bardin smiled “He was so busy telling me what great potential you had that I hated you before I’d even met you! And then there you were, all bloody dimples and curls! I wasn’t expecting a partner at all, let alone a cute moppet!”
“And I knew you didn’t want me around”, said Bengo “I’m surprised I didn’t pee myself! That would have been a good start wouldn’t it!”
Joby was woken up in the night by somebody banging on the cabin door.
“What the fuck …?” he exclaimed “I don’t believe it! What’s the friggin’ time for God’s sake?”
“Who is it?” Ransey called out.
A volley of excited French came through in a female voice.
“Renee?” said Adam “What is it?”
“Perhaps her old man has finally pegged out”, said Kieran.
“In our dreams!” said Joby.
“Stop it, you two!” said Adam, pulling on his dressing-gown and going to the door “Renee, I’m afraid my French is a bit rusty, could you calm down and tell me in English?”
Madame de Sade, looking a vision in dressing-gown and curl-papers, gave a tut of impatience.
“The ceiling”, she said, pointing upwards “At the tavern. The ceiling has fallen in!”
“Oh shit!” said Joby “It’s all this bleedin’ rain. I told you, Ransey, that fucking builder was useless! But you wouldn’t have it! He kept saying he was gonna get started on it and he never has!”
“It is the ceiling in the Landlord’s Bedroom”, said Renee.
“Oh well that’s not quite so bad”, said Adam “I thought you meant the ceiling in the bar or the kitchen”.
“But our visitors”, said Renee “They are very shaken”.
“Oh good”, said Julian “That means with any luck they’ll cut short their visit!”
“That’s not very helpful, Julian!” said Adam “I’d better come over and have a look, Renee”.
“Oh dear, yes, that’s not very nice is it?” said Adam, now looking up at the big jagged hole in the ceiling of The Landlord’s Bedroom.
Bardin was blowing his whistle and directing the other clowns at laying out bowls and tins to spread all over the floor to collect the water. He snapped at everyone who was not actively involved in this operation that they were just getting in the way. Joby went down to the kitchen, where he found Josh scraping out the remains of the apple crumble from a big glass dish.
“Anyone’d think you don’t get fed around here”, Joby grumbled.
“Here”, said Josh, tapping him on the shoulder with the spoon “I overheard those two the other day. You know, Julian and Adam. They’re a right pair when they get together ent they!”
“For fuck’s sake, Josh!” Joby exploded “We get piss-all privacy round here at the best of times, and you go around spying on people! You’ve got no fucking shame you haven’t, none at all!”
“Hey hey”, said Josh “No need to take that tone you know! Since when did you get so bleedin’ pious?”
“What’s all the yelling about in here?” said Kieran, coming through from the bar.
“Either he goes or I do!” Joby bellowed, pointing at Josh, and then exited the room.
“What’s all this about?” said Josh, who had been ordered to stand in the ramshackle new “granny flat” a few hours later.
“You must know summat”, said Josh.
“Dunno a thing”, said Joby “Kieran just said we was to come here. It’d better be good. I’ve had about all I can take of your pretty face for one day!”
Kieran walked into the room lugging a holdall with him. He put it down on the floor.
“Right”, he said “I think I’ve got all your things together”.
Josh ripped open the bag and rooted through it’s contents.
“You been handling my things?” he said.
“Ach stop carrying on like a violated virgin!” said Kieran “This is your new home. I was just helping you to move in that’s all. Come along, Joby”.
Joby followed Kieran out of the building. Josh sat on the floor staring at his meagre belongings for a few minutes, until Piers came in, also clutching a bag.
“Has he thrown you out as well?” said Josh.
“I elected to come”, said Piers “I’ve always thought it would be rather jolly to live next door to a pub. Oh it’s not so bad, old chap. We can have some fun here”.
“What do you mean by ‘fun’?” said Josh, looking at him warily.
“Oh not that!” Piers laughed “I’m not like Julian”.
“You can never be too sure with you public-school lot!” said Josh “He’s got no bloody right! That fucking little Irish muppet! He’s been bad news all along he has! Our Joby would never have gone the way he has if it wasn’t for him. Blimey, he never used to know what to do with women let alone a bloke!”
“I sometimes think there is something of the supernatural about Kieran”, said Piers.
“He ent bleedin’ human that’s for sure!” said Josh.
Piers pulled out a bottle of brandy from his bag.
“Would you care to join me?” he said “This is Julian’s. He doesn’t know it yet, but I did a little light-fingered lifting from his desk”.
Josh managed to unearth two cups from inside a cabinet. They mopped them out with handkerchiefs and then poured out the brandy.
“I see someone has put an extra camp-bed in here”, said Piers “How thoughtful. I’m afraid I don’t share their penchant for bed-sharing”.
Josh grunted and took a healthy swig of the brandy.
“Blimey, that’s not bad stuff!” he said.
“You can be certain that Julian wouldn’t drink just any old rubbish”, said Piers.
“You didn’t get any of his cigars as well did you?” said Josh.
“Didn’t have time I’m afraid”, said Piers.
“He does himself proud over there don’t he!” said Josh “Brandy, cigars, all his lady-boys all around him”.
“I’ve always known that wherever he was Julian would land on his feet”, said Piers “I really do think this could be a blessing in disguise. I was getting rather tired of sleeping in the hold. But here, we have total freedom to do as we wish. This could be a somewhat charmed life, don’t you think?”
“Only one thing missing”, said Josh “Women”.
“But that could change if this Festival goes ahead”, said Piers.
“You mean ….?” Josh hardly dared voice the words “We might get show-girls here?”
“We can but dream can’t we?” said Piers “Oh it’s so nice to be able to mention such things without having Julian making some brutal, sarcastic remark at my expense!”
“Oh you often get that with the likes of him”, said Josh “These old queers can be nasty pieces of work on the quiet”.
“He was always a little demon”, said Piers “When we were at school all the boys were scared stiff of him. I could never understand why Adam wanted to get mixed-up with him. I know Julian did make him wretchedly unhappy at times”.
“If you ask me he needs a dose of his own medicine”, said Josh “Someone to give him a good hiding for a change!”
“That wouldn’t work”, said Piers “Julian would twist it round to his own advantage. He is totally debauched! I’m always amazed he doesn’t get on better with our French friend, Monsieur de Sade!”
“Oh God, he’s a right one he is ent he!” said Josh “I don’t think there’s nothing he hasn’t done on the pervy front! No wonder they kept locking him up! I really don’t understand our Joby though. I’m really disappointed the way he’s turned out! I think the Irish muppet’s put some kind of spell on him, bewitched him, that’s the word. I knew he was bad news the first time I saw him. I should’ve thrown him out of the house!”
“And now he’s thrown you out!” Piers laughed.
“Oh hilarious!” said Josh, pouring out another brandy.
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