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At lunchtime they sailed into Port West, and civilisation lay sprawled in a narrow line ahead of them like a coloured necklace. After the vast expanses of ocean and fog, it was a very welcome sight indeed. Particularly so as the island containing the notorious Bone-House was hidden out of sight behind a rocky headland. They had barely dropped anchor when a small launch arrived and spirited Gimmit away to a hot cell in the police station.
"If the vampires don't get him, malaria will", said Adam "I've heard it runs rife in the cells here at this time of year".
Kieran had hoped Angel would contact him that morning, but the vampire remained conspicuous by his absence. Kieran suspected this was deliberate. Angel was the only one on their side after all who probably knew what accounted for Gimmit's behaviour. And so Angel was going to milk this privileged position for all it was worth. Kieran didn't like to contemplate what the vampire might demand in return for such information.
Another launch brought Governor Brinslee to the ship. Kieran was delighted to see him. Brinslee was a large, jovial man, and could be guaranteed to lighten the situation.
"Mr President, you get thinner everytime I see you", Brinslee roared, when he entered the canopied area on the main deck which had been marked out as his reception area "Domino is going to be pig sick with envy that you achieve such a bone-bag figure so effortlessly".
"Where is Domino?"
"Oh ... er ... yes I'm sorry about that", said Brinslee "He had business commitments. But he said he might pop over and give you the proper greetings tomorrow".
"You look like you've been eating for the pair of us", said Kieran, prodding the Governor's outsized stomach.
"Yes well you know how it is. All those state dinners, lunches, buffet suppers. I sometime think my job is nothing but eating in front of people, as though I'm some glorified food-taster for the entire port", Brinslee noticed Adam and Joby standing at the back of the area "Adam, I don't know how you do it, but you never seem to age".
"Hello Brinslee", said Adam, shaking hands with him.
"I wish I knew your secret", said Brinslee "And our Joby of course. How are the plans for the blue rose coming along?"
"Had to abandoned", said Joby, glumly "Plague in the City put paid to all that".
"Pity. Great pity. I was looking forward to receiving my first cuttings", Brinslee moved on to Hillyard and Ransey "Hillyard, I could do with a valet as good-looking as you. Tell me how much Kieran pays you and I'll poach you from him. I'm serious now. I can be quite ruthless when I see something I like".
"Tempting", said Hillyard "But you can look after yourself. Mr President needs watching".
"Every moment of the day", said Adam.
"Sounds like they think you've been a naughty boy Mr President", said Brinslee.
"I try me best to be", said Kieran "Although I fail miserably at times".
"And here's my favourite boy", Brinslee held out a white paperbag to Lonts "I've got something for you. Toffee apples made by my own fair hand. I upset my kitchen staff by insisting on doing them late last night".
Lonts snatched the bag and proceeded to munch on the first toffee apple without saying a word.
"Lonts!" said Adam, in a scandalised voice "Say something!"
"Thanks", Lonts mumbled.
"Nice to see they're appreciated", said Brinslee "I wish Domino had his attitude towards food. All he does is nag me about my diet. Not healthy that. Not the way he carries on. He even weighs himself in the middle of the night to see if he's put anything on since going to bed!"
"Sounds obsessed", said Kieran.
"He is", said Brinslee "Just one of his many obsessions at the moment. Anyway, that's quite enough about him. I hope no one here's dieting, because I've booked us a table at the best sea-front restaurant in town. It'll be a huge boost to morale you showing your face there Kieran. All the talk about plague and Angel's return has got everyone quite scared. But you'll make them forget all that I'm sure".
"You make me sound like I'm going to do a strip on the table", said Kieran.
"That's optional", said Brinslee.
Port West was hot and noisy, a perfect antidote after the stressful gloom of the voyage. An area had been roped off for their use in the seafood restaurant. Lobsters were personally selected from a large water tank in the middle of the room, and then boiled in front of their eyes. This upset Lonts, who wished he'd stayed on the ship with his toffee apples. To try and disguise his ravishing good looks from any lecherous locals Adam had made him wear an old cap of Joby's pulled down over his eyes, but Julian said it made Lonts look more like jail-bait than ever. Adam could only sadly agree.
"Ways to make Lonts look ugly", he said, over his crab salad "Perhaps I should start up a competition on it. Answers on a postcard please".
"Get him to lose his temper", said Joby "He looks pretty ugly then".
Lonts pulled off the cap and flung it on the table.
"It's too small for my head Adam", he said.
"I don't know why your head's so big", said Joby "There's naff all in it".
"Great tragedy", Brinslee whispered to Kieran "With looks like that he should be out breaking hearts, instead ... well put it this way I'm glad he's got you lot. I'd hate to think of that face being locked away in some loony-bin".
"That'll never happen again", said Kieran "We were too trusting of those places in the old days. I know what happened under Gabriel was extreme, but even so we won't risk putting him in one again. We owe it to him not to do that".
"Adam's very good with him isn't it he?"
"The best", said Kieran "He has so much patience with him".
"Kieran!" Lonts yelled down the table "Have you told Governor Brinslee about how I rescued Adam from Gimmit, who'd turned into a werewolf last night?"
"Fucking brilliant Lonts", said Joby "Tell everyone our business!"
"Yea shut up Lonts, or you'll start a panic", said Hillyard.
"But I thought he'd be interested", said Lonts.
"I was going to tell you the whole story Brinslee", said Kieran "Particularly as Gimmit is at this moment languishing in custody in one of your police cells".
"Is he indeed?" said Brinslee "For being a werewolf?"
"We're not certain what the poor lad is", said Kieran "It's more likely he's suffering delusions he's a werewolf. He did go a bit crazy last night, but he was easily sedated, and there were no hairy transformations".
"A bit hard to tell", said Hillyard "As he's normally so hairy anyway".
"It'll be interesting to see what happens to him tonight", said Kieran "I'm going out on the tiles with Joby, Hillyard and Ransey..."
"That's a very good idea", said Brinslee "It'll make everyone here feel more at ease about everything if they see you out enjoying yourself".
"And towards dawn we'll probably call in at the cop shop", said Kieran "See how Gimmit's survived the night. Find out how solid all this werewolf stuff is".
At the end of the meal Brinslee was going back to the ship with Adam, to have a quiet evening catching up on gossip. The quartet of Kieran, Joby, Hillyard and Ransey were going to start the evening's festivities immediately. There was an awkward moment when Lonts decided he wanted to go with them.
"You are definitely not coming along", said Joby "We're going out to enjoy ourselves. Let our hair down. We don't want to spend the night looking after you".
"I won't be any trouble Joby, please!" Lonts pleaded "I know all about sex now so I know what to be careful of, and I promise not to pee myself. Please!"
"Tell him Adam", Joby roared "He's not coming. I've been looking forward to this night for ages, and I'm not having him ruin it".
"We'll make it up to you tomorrow Lonts", said Kieran.
"I want to come!" Lonts cried.
"He's getting tired", said Adam "I'll get him back to the ship".
"I'm not a baby", Lonts went on "I want to come".
"People'll be staring at you all evening", said Joby "You know how much you hate that. And how long will it be before somebody tries something, then you get scared, and start screaming for Adam".
Lonts's shoulders sagged in recognition of the truth. He jammed his thumb in his mouth and squelched on it noisily.
"Joby hates me", he mumbled "He always has".
"Seems like we're back on familiar ground", Kieran sighed "Never mind Lonts, think of the hangover you'll miss!"
Brinslee sat on deck enjoying the lights of the town reflected in the water. It had just gone dark, but the heat was still as intense as it had been all day. He was shaken out of his reverie by Adam reappearing, bearing a tray on which stood a bottle of brandy and a pot of coffee.
"It's nice to be able to drink without being nagged", said Brinslee, accepting the entire bottle which Adam offered him.
"Domino sounds worse than ever", said Adam, sitting down next to him.
"He's been acting strangely lately".
"It'd be nice to hear of someone who's been acting normal!" said Adam "Except that'd be too far-fetched I suppose. Still the usual mix of diets and affairs I take it?"
"I try and stay out of it", said Brinslee "I've learnt the hard way that it doesn't pay to interfere. Over the years I've tried again and again to get through to him, telling him to be himself, but he never listens. I've had men on my council advising me to have him put aside, but I can't do it. I can't treat people like chess pieces, which is what they expect. I know he's not rational, but I care for him and that's all there is to it".
"A bit like me with Lonts", said Adam.
"Oh Lonts is alright", said Brinslee "He's a credit to you Adam, don't let anyone tell you differently. He's a good boy".
"He can be a little brat", said Adam "Dreadfully spoiled. But that's because he's the baby of the family".
"Are relationships amongst you lot still as complicated as ever?"
"You can say that again!" said Adam, stretching back in his chair "It's all such a tangled web now though that we couldn't even begin to unravel it".
"Tell me something", said Brinslee, swirling the brandy in his glass in a contemplative fashion "Is Kieran curious about the Bone-House?"
"Now why do you ask that?"
"Not exactly guesswork. Quite logical really".
"What do you know about the Bone-House?"
"It's rumoured to have been haunted for many years", said Brinslee "It's got such a bad reputation of late that even the fishermen won't go out that way".
"I suppose if Caln's taken up residence there it's not terribly surprising they should feel like that".
"And that's a bad situation Adam. What's Kieran going to do about it?"
"A spot of vanquishing I expect", said Adam, testily.
"I know it's not easy for you Adam".
"You can say that again! Damn it, why can't we all have solid boring relationships these days? Why do we constantly have to worry about losing the ones we love?"
"Because that's the way the world's gone", said Brinslee "None of us can feel secure for a moment. Doubtless you like the fantasy of coming home to Kieran in a nice little house at the end of every day?"
"Yes I do. Except where I'm supposed to fit Lonts and Joby into all that I don't know. Let alone Julian!"
"Strange things have been happening here", said Brinslee "Cattle found mutilated, with their throats torn out, and there have been much more disturbing instances as well. I haven't let this become public knowledge, but a man in hospital here, in for purely routine tests, woke up one day to find his right leg had been amputated".
"What do you mean?"
"It was nothing to do with the hospital, that's what I mean. It was a nice clean amputation, very professional, but no one in the hospital had had anything to do with it. And he certainly hadn't been in for anything like that. Since then similar things have happened a few times. All in the same way. Patient wakes up in private room, to find arm or leg has been taken. All very clean, and they didn't feel a thing. Hospital knows nothing of it. It's causing quite a panic. I've left full reports in Kieran's despatch notes. It's not good Adam, not good at all.
"And nobody's noticed anything?"
"Not a damn thing. That's the most frightening part of it. No one feels safe".
"And no one's been out to the Bone-House?"
"You've got to be kidding! You wouldn't get anyone out there for a comfortable pension. There's a great deal of distrust in this town at the moment, everyone wondering who they can trust. All I can say is I'm glad Kieran's here, it might help to calm the public mood".
They had tried lizard-racing, inventing bizarre drinks, beetle-racing, watching eunuch strippers (not for the faint-hearted), worm-racing, hardboiled egg eating competitions, but by far the best thing was just solid drinking. They had intended to do a crawl to as many bars in the town as they could find, but found that getting from one to another wasted valuable drinking time, so they sat in an alcove in the "Crunchy Clipper" and concentrated their attentions on sampling as many of its wares as possible.
"Like strawberries", said Kieran, after downing the best part of a large pint of a regional beer "It tastes like strawberries. Never noticed that in a beer before".
"You're imagining it", said Joby "I've never noticed a beer tasting of strawberries".
"It requires imagination", said Kieran, pushing his hat to the back of his head "I never thought I'd get the chance to do this again. Get pissed in a bar I mean. If I don't drink the place dry tonight I'll only have meself to blame. In fact, we should let our inhibitions go tonight. Hold nothing back. It may be the last chance we'll get for a while".
"I hope you're referring to the delights of alcohol and nothing else?" said Ransey.
"Whatever you want Ransey old love, as Adam would say", said Kieran "Don't you have any sexual fantasies Ransey?"
"How can he have?" said Joby "He's still a virgin".
"Virgins have sexual fantasies", said Kieran "Or at least I did when I was one".
"I find it hard to believe you were ever one", said Ransey "It's like Hillyard here. Some men just seem to have been born sexually active".
"Joby's the eternal virgin at heart", said Hillyard.
"That's not fucking true", Joby exclaimed.
"Name your favourite sexual fantasy then", said Hillyard "You've got five seconds to name something that turns you on, and you're not allowed to say women as that's cheating".
"Chocolate ice-cream and strawberries", said Joby, hastily.
"Does food count?" said Ransey "If so, I could join in this game".
"In what context, Joby?" said Kieran, teasingly "Come on, you can't go bashful now, or you forfeit your drinks for the rest of the night".
"You all think I'm too embarrassed to say don't you?" said Joby "Well actually I'd like to be smothered in melting chocolate ice-cream, and then roll around on a bed of strawberries, so that our flesh was completely discoloured by the end of it".
"Why?" said Hillyard.
"Because it's totally daft that's why", said Joby "And I'd have to forget myself to do it, and I've always had trouble forgetting myself when it comes to sex".
"Not that I've noticed", said Kieran.
"I'm gonna get another round in", said Joby.
"I'll give you a hand", said Ransey.
Once they were alone Hillyard surreptitiously slipped his hand up the back of Kieran's vest, and traced his fingers along his spine.
"Joby's not watching is he?" said Kieran.
"Caught in the crush at the bar", said Hillyard "He won't be able to see a thing. Anyway, wouldn't you like to get him a bit jealous? Add a bit of spice to the relationship".
"It doesn't need any extra spice! And Joby jealous isn't worth it I can tell you that. He'll either nag me non-stop, or go into a sulk for a week. And I don't want to upset him tonight".
"Why tonight in particular?"
"A little secret between you and me", said Kieran "Sometime over the next couple of days I'm going to the Bone-House".
"Not on your own you're not", Hillyard protested.
"Well I was rather hoping I could find someone to go with me".
"All of us I expect", said Hillyard "We're like a pack of dominoes us lot. One goes down, everyone follows suit. If you go Joby'll go, I'll go, Ransey'll go, Adam'll go. If Adam goes so will Lonts. I think you'll have a fair amount of back-up somehow".
"I remember being told way back in the early days that I can't fight evil alone".
"You won't be. You'll even have Angel on-side. Except I wish you'd stop letting him take blood from you", Hillyard indicated the scars and bruises on the insides of Kieran's arms "Your arms are beginning to look like a heroin addicts".
"It's not for much longer", said Kieran "He's a useful informant".
"You two look all serious huddled together", said Ransey, placing a tray of beers and brandies in front of them.
"Champagne cocktails", said Joby sourly, slamming down his tray "Compliments of the management".
"They must have heard my plans", said Kieran, facetiously.
"What plans?" said Joby.
"Don't you worry about that now", said Kieran "We're going to have some rollicking fun over the next twenty-four hours. You mark my words. We'll need it".
"Joby wake up", Kieran shook him gently "The bar's closing. It's time to leave".
"They're shutting early aren't they?" said Joby, blearily.
"It's half-past-five", said Kieran "It's daylight".
"Are we going home then?"
"After we've looked in on Gimmit at the cop-shop. See how he survived the night".
They all paid a drowsy visit to the police station, and were informed by the duty guard that Gimmit had been restless at around three a.m, but otherwise had had a peaceful night. They went away tired but satisfied.
"You were lucky he didn't demand to see him", said the Town Constable, addressing the duty guard twenty minutes later "How we would have fobbed him off I don't know. This is going to be very embarrassing for us when it gets out".
"But we never saw the going of him sir", the duty guard protested "He was securely locked up in his cell when we checked on him at two-thirty. There was that strange whistling noise at three, and when we looked through the peephole he was pacing about, but otherwise was fine. When I checked again at three-thirty the cell door was wide open, and he was gone! No one could have opened that door but me, I really don't understand it. And I was awake all the time, no one could have got the keys from me without me noticing. I don't understand it".
"We can't afford for this to get out", said the Town Constable "We'll have to plead complete ignorance for as long as we can. But the fates help us when the first murders start happening, as they most definitely will".
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