By Sarah Hapgood

Bengo was like a dog with two tails arriving at Wolf Castle early the next summer, the summer after the dreadful winter at Marlsblad. The train journey across the Thet Mountains had only exacerbated the anticipation to sky-high levels, mainly because they were travelling in extreme luxury. Hillyard’s renewal of wealth had meant some considerable travelling in style, with them hiring a whole railway carriage to themselves, and even having a sunken bath in one of the compartments, which came complete with gold-plated intercom connection to the train staff. Bardin though, as ever, was a thorn in Bengo’s side. He simply couldn’t relax to enjoy the new prosperity.

“Just what is your problem, Bardy?” Bengo asked his partner repeatedly, but answer came there none. Simply because Bardin had no answer.

The only explanation was that the Marlsblad winter had been so gruelling and so emotionally traumatising that Bardin simply couldn’t switch off from it. He had become mentally and physically geared up totally to the dangers that had surrounded them constantly in the forest around Marlsblad, geared up so much that he couldn’t let go. The others lectured and cajoled him, had risqué games in the sunken bath, and Julian did what Julian always did best, gave him a sound thrashing. By the time they arrived at the village station nearest Wolf Castle Bardin was at least subdued. In fact he acted like someone recovering from a particularly long and debilitating illness.

Their reception at the station was incredible. The villagers greeted them with effusive displays of affection. Kieran was coming back to the area, to live permanently. The village had lived in the shadows for a long time. After the terrible winter of the comet the Ghoomers had ransacked the place, and the Gorgon had arrived at the Castle to wreck havoc as well. For a long time after that the village had been effectively deserted, that is until Phyllis had arrived, to provide a home for Tamaz’s children. There were a few villagers around during their occupancy, but no one could forget that they were Ghoomers, and this leant a doleful air to the place. Many years went past. Phyllis grew old and died, the children grew up and eventually fled the Castle, each going their separate ways. The Castle was empty once again.

The railway had opened at the village some time previously, and after the Ghoomer children had left the Castle, people gradually moved to the area again, and a fairly thriving community sprung up there. The past was being pushed into the past, and now Kieran’s arrival could only hasten in a new future.

And then the first post arrived, and Kieran went down to the village to collect the mail. In the meantime life at the castle went on as usual. Phyllis had organised the installation of an outdoor swimming-pool for the Ghoomer children, and Rumble was assigned to clean it up and get it into some kind of useful order. Like Marlsblad, Wolf Castle had induced a whole raft of memories for the older Indigo-ites, and Adam had unwisely talked about some of them. When Bengo heard that Ransey had been sexually abused by the Ghoomer women, he was distraught. It reminded him too much of Bardin’s longstanding secret about the sexual abuse of his childhood.

“It was a long time ago”, said Ransey, when Bengo took him in his morning coffee. Ransey was docketing all the household keys in the library. “I didn’t mention it at Starhanger for the simple reason that Hillyard is far better at handling all this kind of thing at all. It does not bother me at all, do you understand, it does not bother me at all”.

“But it bothers me!” said Bengo “I can’t handle this kind of evil, I just can’t handle it at all”.

“It’s irrelevant”, said Ransey “I really do feel that, Bengo. It is entirely irrelevant now. There is no point us having some group therapy session about all our past wrongs, because I do not feel it has any bearing on the here and now. You have to let it go”.

Kieran returned from the village with the mail consignment. To his great disappointment he couldn’t find Joby immediately. This was for the simple reason that Hillyard had come from the stables and found Joby alone in the kitchen. He had taken him up to Julian’s room, and appropriate recreation had ensued.

“I’m going to say this once”, said Hillyard, as they lay together on the bed afterwards “You’re the special one. You know that”.

“Alright Hillyard”, said Joby “You don’t have to go on about it”.

“Yeah but I wanted to say it, just this once”, said Hillyard “Coming back here has provoked it. But I won’t keep on. I knew it would be enough to say it just the once”.

“Why though?” said Joby “I just wanna know that, why though?”

“Well for one thing”, said Hillyard “You’re bloody sexy, and for another, you’ve never asked me for anything”.

“Oh Hillyard!” said Joby.

There was a loud rapping on the bedroom door.

“It’s alright”, said Hillyard “It’s just Julian”.

“It can never be JUST Julian!” said Joby.

“Joby”, came Kieran’s voice “Joby, come out of there!”

“Shit, it’s Kieran!” said Joby.

“Are you going to be alright?” said Hillyard.

“Yeah, he’ll just yell at me a bit”, said Joby.

It was a source of irritation to Joby that Kieran had, once again, managed to acquire for them the smallest bedroom in the house. Kieran had managed this at the Governor’s house in Aspiriola, and had now managed it here in Wolf Castle. Joby had dressed hurriedly and gone around the atrium to the much-reviled (on his part) little bedroom. Kieran was sitting on the edge of the bed, clutching a sheet of paper in his hand.

“You look a picture of decadence”, said Kieran.

“I look bloody ugly!” said Joby, having a look at himself in the shaving-mirror.

“Not so ugly that Hillyard didn’t carry you upstairs”, said Kieran “Lonts told me, he had seen you”.

“Behave yourself, Kieran”, said Joby “You know there’s no one more beautiful than you”.

“Strange”, said Kieran “I never think of myself as beautiful. I look in the mirror and just see a scrawny bugger with big eyes”.

“What’s in the letter?” said Joby “It’s not from Levka is it?”

“No”, said Kieran “Far worse. It’s Aleister. He’s coming to the village. He’s starting up a commune here, comprised of women”.

“The jammy sod!” said Joby, causing Kieran to laugh “What’s to worry about in that, Kiel? At least it’ll keep him out of mischief!”

“Because it’ll go pear-shaped”, Kieran sighed “They always do. We seem to be the only ones who can get this sort of thing right”.

“Nah, there must be others”, said Joby “We just don’t hear about ’em, ’cos good news doesn’t travel so well as bad. Anyway, perhaps women is a good idea. They might knock him into shape. It always seemed to be the men who came off worst with Crowley!”

“Bengo!” Bardin appeared in the doorway of the dining-room at sunset, just as Bengo had been supposedly setting the table for dinner “This has got to stop!”

“What has?” said Bengo.

“All this fretting over the past”, said Bardin.

He strode into the room, went up to Bengo and slapped him rapidly three times round the face.

“What did you do that for?” said Bengo.

“To try and bring you to your senses”, said Bardin “What we have with all of us is more than a lot of people get in their entire lifetimes, and we have a whole eternity of it, and you’re worrying about stuff that happened decades ago!”

“I can’t help being concerned about people I care for!” Bengo blubbed.

“But forget what happened decades ago, that’s what I’m saying!” said Bardin”You’re not helping me or Finia or Ransey or Hillyard, by going on about it. Now get on with setting this place up, you know how Julian goes on if the meals are late”.

He left the room, and Bengo, gulping down tears, continued to set the table.

“Haven’t you finished that yet?” said Joby coming through from the still-room.

“I got interrupted”, Bengo sniffed “Bardy came in here and slapped me round the chops”.

“What for?” said Joby.

“For getting too worked up about what happened to Ransey here years ago”, said Bengo.

“Well he’s got a point there”, said Joby “Ransey won’t thank you for harping on about it. We’ve just gotta get on with it. You can help best by just being Bengo”.

“Oh yes the stupid clown”, said Bengo, bad-temperedly pulling off his pinny and stamping on it “That’s all I’m good for, in fact I’m not good for anything …”

“Pack it in!” said Joby “Or you’ll get your bum smacked!”

Bengo turned round and stuck out his posterior, at the same time blowing a raspberry. Joby tipped him upside down, put him across his knee and spanked him very soundly.

“That was a stupid way to carry on”, said Joby, afterwards “I don’t know what’s got into you, but I’ll put it down to stress, ‘cos that’s what Adam keeps saying it is. We’ve been through so much lately. You’re just like Kieran, no one expects you to be anything other than who you are, I wish you’d just accept that”.

“I’m sorry”, said Bengo, sitting on Joby’s knee now with his arms round his neck “I’ve always been bloody awful, just think of all the tales Bardy’s told you about when I was a kid, I was a bloody pain in the neck”.

“You’re being too hard on yourself”, said Joby “You had a tough upbringing”.

“No more hard than yours”, said Bengo “You had your brother to put up with, and your mother”.

“Yeah”, said Joby “But you were getting clouted with custard pies every night”.

“And three matinees a week”, Bengo giggled “Sometimes it got me so I actually cried on stage. Fortunately the audience thought it was all part of the act”.

“Shit Bengo, that’s awful!” said Joby “No wonder sometimes I feel I’m too hard on you!”

“No you’re not firm enough”, said Bengo “You should spank me much more often”.

“Don’t you get enough of all that from Julian?” said Joby.

“I can take any amount of it”, said Bengo “Every day if you like, you’re very good”.

“And you’re impossible”, said Joby, kissing him “Worse than Kieran!”

“Bardy, you found your way here alright”, said Bengo, when he went up to the Red Bedroom later that evening.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Bardin, who was wearing a blue nightdress that Finia had made up for him.

“Just you’ve had to be walked here by Finia every evening so far”, said Bengo “Even though our room is at the top of the main stairs”.

“Well I’m here now!” Bardin snapped “And there’s a storm brewing”.

“Oh goody”, said Bengo “We can sit up later and watch it”.

“Does that mean that for once we can have the bed-curtains open?” said Bardin “I thought we were going to sitfle every night”.

“I just liked the cosiness of it”, said Bengo.

“What’s this I’ve been hearing anyway?” said Bardin “Hal and the other clowns are starting up a restaurant in the village? Where the hell did they get the money from? They certainly haven’t been asking Hillyard for any, or I’d have known”.

“They’re doing a t.v advert”, said Bengo “For washing powder”.

“What the fuck would that lot know about laundry?” said Bardin “And who was brainless enough to hire them?”

“Somebody came up with the idea that clowns must get through a lot of soap-flakes, ‘cos we get so mucky”, said Bengo “That’s the gist of the advert. Adam said it was quite good, and you’ve got to admit it shows they’re not scrounging”.

“How long have you known about this?” said Bardin.

“A little while”, said Bengo “Oh c’mon Bardy, I think this proves they’re o.k”.

“Since when did you become so bloody Christian about them?” snapped Bardin.

“Because they’ve never pestered Hillyard for money”, said Bengo, getting into bed “They’ve lived on their savings up to now, and now it’s running out they’re starting up their own business. I don’t care what you say, Bardy, I admire them for that. It would have been so easy for them to keep coming cap in hand to us for money, and they haven’t”.

Bengo rolled over onto his side.

“Bengo!” Bardin cried, plaintively.

Bengo rolled back over to face him.

“I don’t want to be awful to you, Bardy”, he said “You’ve got such a sweet little face, but all you’ve got to do is turn up for a meal on opening night, I don’t see what’s the problem with that”.

“It’s Hal”, said Bardin, pathetically.

“Just let him get on with it”, said Bengo “I won’t let him approach you”.

“It’s a storm, a storm!” Lonts cried, later that night.

“Oh Christ”, said Joby, waking up way before his time “I’ll kill him“.

“ Joby!”! Lonts burst into their bedroom “Hello Kieran. It’s a storm!”

“You don’t say”, said Joby “Anyone’d think we’d never had one before!”

“Adam said he’s going to serve tea down in the atrium”, said Lonts “And then we can watch the storm”.

“Great”, said Joby, when Lonts had gone “His brain never ceases to amaze me, even after all these decades!“

“At least he talks to you like a human being”, said Kieran “I just get this dreadful formality”.

“You’ve gotta expect that with the younger ones”, said Joby “They’ve only known you as the Icon, unlike me, Adam and Hillyard who knew you as the skinny, smelly little brat straight off the banana boat”.

“I was never smelly!” Kieran jokingly protested “We had several bathrooms in our guest-house!”.

“And all of ‘em the size of a broom cupboard, from what I remember”, said Joby “Let alone the burglar-alarm that kept going off in the middle of the night!”

“We had trouble with that one”, said Kieran “But it’s true, Joby, you’re really loved and respected by the younger ones, Great Uncle Joby. I’m just treated as a remote figure. Whereas you get Bengo begging you to be MORE firm with him!”

“I know”, said Joby “I’m gonna be worn to a bleedin’ frazzle with his antics I really am!”

Joby went over to the window and pulled it in slightly. He gave a visible start at one point.

“What’s the matter?” said Kieran.

“Nothing”, said Joby “I just thought I saw a shape on the lawn”.

“A shape on the lawn?” said Kieran, getting out of bed.

“It was just a trick of the light that’s all”, said Joby “Easy to do in a storm like this, it was nothing more than that”.

“Reinforcements are here”, said Hillyard, as he and Toppy carried fresh tea into the atrium.

Bardin had come downstairs in his bath-robe, as he felt that his nightdresses should only be seen in public on very special occasions, to boost morale. Hillyard picked him up in his arms and twirled him around.

“Hillyard, come and help me open the front door”, said Adam, sternly.

“Can’t you open it yourself?” said Hillyard.

“The big brass lock mechanism is too complex”, said Adam “And I want the door open so that we can watch the storm”.

“Now you’re for it”, muttered Joby, as Hillyard walked past him.

“What have I done now?” said Hillyard, as he helped Adam to unlock the front door in the lobby.

“Don’t tease Bardin”, said Adam “I saw you leering at Bengo …”

“You tell me how NOT to leer at Bengo”, said Hillyard “He comes downstairs wearing only a skimpy shirt, what do you expect?”

“I know”, said Adam “But you were teasing Bardin to cover up your embarrassment”.

“Not entirely”, said Hillyard “It does Bardin good to be given some horseplay like that, he gets too uptight and prim otherwise”.

“I can never sort you out can I?” said Adam.

“What’s going on between you two?” said Julian, coming out of the library.

“Nothing”, Adam snapped “And what were you doing in there?”

“Looking for some cigars”, said Julian “Why aren’t there any on the desk in there?”

“Because that desk is Ransey’s work-place”, said Adam “And he doesn’t smoke”.

“Well I want some cigars putting in the box on it”, said Julian.

“It’d be no good, Julian”, said Hillyard “He’d only empty ‘em out again, he says he wants one part of the castle free from your filthy old cigar. His words not mine”.

“We’ll see about that”, said Julian, going through into the atrium.

Finia was giving out some details of the castle’s history to Bengo and Bardin in the old smoking-room. The clowns were appalled to hear that Kieran had once had a meeting with Angel in here.

“Not only that”, said Finia “But Angel once transformed himself into a beautiful girl and appeared in the Red Bedroom to Ransey, in order to torment him”.

“The Red Bedroom?” Bengo exclaimed, in dismay “Our room?”

“You two have too much imagination”, said Finia.

“Of course we have”, said Bardin “We’re creative artistes”.

“Can you perform one of your voodoo exorcisms in here, Finia?” said Bengo.

“No!” Finia snapped “Angel’s not here now is he!”

A clap of thunder greeted this remark.

Many of the Indigo-ites were concerned about Madame de Sade living in the one-roomed hut in the woods. Even Julian had saddled up Snowflake and gone down to see her, and been quietly appalled by the squalor that she was reduced to living in. He had much sympathy for her having to live cheek-by-jowl with her husband, Josh and Piers. Although he did detect that A Certain Something was developing between her and Hegley.

Adam threw out an invite for her to visit the Castle whenever she wanted, adding that she would simply adore the kitchen, as it was so “delightfully rustic and Provencale”. Madame de Sade did indeed adore it, and the rest of the Castle as well. Julian’s fit of charity though did not extend to actually inviting her to live in the house with them, as it would mean her menace of a husband coming too. Instead Bardin hit upon the idea of clearing out the rooms above the stables, and converting them into a little self-contained flat. Wielding his whistle he marshalled Rumble, Farnol, Hoowie and Dobley into action, and they were put on a very strict works regime, punctuated at regular intervals with two short, sharp blasts on the whistle, which signified that a tea-break was to be grudgingly allowed for five minutes.

Business came to a crashing halt though when Farnol dropped an old picture on his foot, causing the nail on his big toe to turn black. A trip to the doctors down in the village had to be hastily arranged. “Nanny Adam”, as Julian sarcastically called him, accompanied him down there.

“I suppose that means lunch will be at any old time”, Julian snapped, standing at the top of the main staircase as Adam prepared to depart.

“Lunch will be when it usually is”, said Adam “Joby is in charge”.

“Exactly”, said Julian “So it will be at any old time”.

“Only if you go down there and upset him!” said Adam “He’ll take umbrage and go on strike, and I warn you, Jules, that if that happens, I shall be very cross indeed!”

“Is there any part of the house I AM allowed in?” said Julian.

“Well you could stay in your room”, said Adam “Sometimes living with you is enough to make me turn straight!”

“Hah!” shouted Julian “I cannot think of anything more unlikely!”

Farnol was brought back in the dog-cart, after having had the blood drained out of his big toe, and being praised by the doctor for having such astonishingly flat feet. Lunch was laid out in the dining-room on schedule, but they were interrupted halfway through by a ring at one of the side doors. Toppy was ordered to go and see who it was, which disgruntled him as he deeply disliked talking to anyone outside of the family. It was the postman bearing a letter of special delivery … addressed to Dobley.

This caused grave consternation at the lunch-table, as where Dobley was concerned it could be just about anything. Dobley scanned the contents with a look of total terror on his face, and then, with a shaking hand, passed it over the table to Ransey. Dobley was being sued for tax evasion, on earnings going back nearly 15 years. Considering that these 15 years covered his era of enormous t.v success in Magnolia Cove, the sum concerned wasn’t exactly trifling.

“What am I gonna do?” he wailed, sitting on the carved wooden settle in the lobby “I just keep being piled under more shit all the time”

“It’s nothing to worry about, man”, said Farnol, sitting next to him “It’s a lot of money, but it’s a drop in the ocean for Hillyard. He’ll help you out “.

“That’s not the point”, Dobley sniffed, turning the letter over and over in his hands “I’ll never get accepted back now, not after all the shit. Scandal, nervous breakdown, lousy comeback performance, and now tax evasion! It’s just one damn thing after another. I’ll be lucky if I’m allowed back into show business this side of the 45th century!”

“There’s more life than bloody show business you know!” said Farnol, his usually amiable demeanour snapping.

“That’s true, Dobley”, said Bengo, who was supposed to be collecting up all the dirty plates in the dining-room, but couldn’t resist sneaking out to see what was going on. Rumble had followed on behind.

“We have a decent life up here don’t we?” Farnol went on “This is a nice place, and we can do whatever we want. Most people would be only too happy to swap with us”.

“And we’re not on the theatrical treadmill anymore”, said Rumble “No rehearsals to worry about, or matinees, or gala performances, or publicity stunts”.

“Oh I used to hate those!” said Bengo “They seemed to get more and more desperate every time!”

“And not having to worry about money”, said Rumble “The freedom in that alone! Not just wages, but box-office takings”.

“I know”, said Bengo “We only had to have a duff couple of weeks, and everyone was worrying about closure. Awful!”

Dobley lurched from the bench towards Bengo.

“Everybody loved you didn’t they!” he shouted, irrationally.

“Your audience loved you Dobley”, said Bengo.

“Until he ballsed it all up”, said Rumble, in a forbidding undertone.

Bardin advanced on them blowing his whistle.

“What’s all this?” he snapped, when he had separated his lips from the whistle.

“Dobley’s having one of his turns”, Bengo sighed.

“Work”, Bardin thundered “Work is what he needs. Back to it, all of you, and if you”, he glared at Farnol “Could manage it without half-crippling yourself, we might just get somewhere!”

That afternoon things took a deadly turn for the worse though. During the lengthy siesta, when Joby and Bengo were canoodling on the sofa in the little sitting-room off the kitchen, (which had supposedly been set aside for Adam, but he rarely got the chance to use it), they were interrupted by a disturbing sound of distress from Tamaz near the back stairs. They dashed out to find Dobley trying to literally drag Tamaz up the stairs. Bengo grabbed Tamaz, and Joby unceremoniously punched Dobley so hard in the face that he fell back violently against the wall.

“Take Tamaz into the kitchen”, Joby ordered Bengo “And put plenty of honey in his tea”.

The little clown did so, and Tamaz, for once, didn’t object to being escorted off.

“You’ve really done it this time”, said Joby to Dobley “This is how you repay us is it? You’re no better than bloody Sade!”

“I admit I’ve always had a pretty low opinion of you, Dobley”, said Bardin, sitting behind Ransey’s desk in the library a short while later “But even I never thought you were capable of attempted rape!”

“Attempted rape?!” Dobley exclaimed, sitting opposite him, and looking like a man in the last throes of a terminal disease.

“Well you weren’t dragging Tamaz upstairs to read him a bedtime story were you!” said Bardin “We will tolerate a lot from you, but not that!”

“I’d had a bit to drink …” said Dobley, feebly.

“What fucking excuse is that!” said Bardin, slapping the table.

“What do you expect?” said Dobley “There’s booze all over this house, everywhere I turn …”

“We’re not saintly enough to all go on the wagon just to save you!” said Bardin “I know you’ve got a problem, but what you tried to do to Tamaz …”

“He’s a Ghoomer”, said Dobley “You saw the ones at Starhanger …”

“Tamaz isn’t like them!” said Bardin “They were fiends ….”

“He’s been a fiend in his time!” Dobley protested “I’ve heard all about what he got up to years ago”.

“He was a lost soul then”, said Bardin “And he’s not now, he’s one of us. Me and Adam are going to go down to the Doctor and see if he can arrange a clinic for you somewhere, Hillyard’ll pay, money’s not a problem”.

“More rehab?” said Dobley “I’ve done rehab! It didn’t work!”

“Then we’ll try it again!” Bardin shouted back.

Bardin reached the library door, and then paused. He stood for a moment, uncertain whether or not to say what was on his mind, then thought better of it and left.

“I wanted to tell him to sling his hook, once and for all”, he said to Joby, a few minutes later in the pantry.

“Why didn’t you?” said Joby.

“Kieran came into my head”, said Bardin.

“Eh?” said Joby.

“I didn’t think he would like it”, said Bardin.

“Quite frankly I don’t think he’d give a toss at the moment”, said Joby “Dobley’s crossed the Rubicon. He’s stopped being just a pain in the jacksey, and’s become a public menace instead. It’s different now. The sooner we get him away to a bloody clinic the better!”

“How’s Tamaz?” said Bardin.

“He’s o.k”, said Joby “Tough little wotsit. Julian’s taken him for a walk round the garden”.

Bengo loitered in the doorway, wiping a bowl with a tea-towel.

“I should think that’s well and truly wiped by now!” said Joby “Go and do another one”.

Bengo shuffled into the kitchen, reluctantly.

“How’s he getting on these days?” said Bardin, like an anxious parent checking up on his child’s progress with the headmaster.

“Bengo?” said Joby “Yeah he’s doing alright. He’s a good worker, ‘cept he needs a bit of chasing sometimes”.

“That was always the case”, said Bardin.

They went into the kitchen, where Bengo was scowling, annoyed at being forcibly left out of the conversation.

“You must always do what Joby says”, said Bardin, bossily.

Bengo put down a bowl, and briskly slapped Bardin lightly three times round the face, exactly as Bardin had done to him several days before.

“What was that for?” Bardin squealed.

“Revenge”, said Bengo, picking up the bowl and the tea-towel again “I’ve been planning it for ages, I wanted to catch you when you were least expecting it. Ideally, I would have a custard pie conveniently to hand, but as I haven’t, I had to improvise”.

“You wanna watch out”, said Joby to Bardin “He’s also come up with the idea of pushing you in the pool with all your clothes on!”

“Oh what did you tell him that for?” Bengo exclaimed “I wanted it to be a surprise, now he’s gonna be permanently on his guard!”

“Well it means you’ll have to use your initiative a bit more don’t it?” said Joby.

Bardin twirled his whistle in a threatening manner, and then stormed out of the room, colliding with Adam in the doorway.

“Well don’t say excuse me will you!” Adam shouted after him “Really, that boy’s manners are absolutely atrocious sometimes!”

“I know”, said Bengo “He should be severely punished”.

“I didn’t think Jules and I were particularly lax in that department with any of you”, said Adam “Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to matter how often Bardin is punished, it doesn’t seem to improve his manners any!”

Lonts had been out hunting in the forest with Mieps for most of the day, and so hadn’t yet heard about the incident with Dobley. Adam had the almost impossible task of breaking it to him when he got home, and in a way that he hoped would stop Lonts from tearing the entire building down around their ears. Joby’s suggestion of nipping down to the village for an “elephant tranquilliser”, was not deemed terribly helpful. Instead, all that could be done was to parade Tamaz in front of Lonts a few times to show that he hadn’t come to any actual bodily harm. Tamaz helped a great deal by saying that even if Dobley had succeeded in getting him up the stairs, he would now be a heap of old stones. Bengo said that a heap of old stones would be a vast improvement.

Somehow word reached Julian that the clowns were planning a suitable public humiliation for Dobley, ideas for which were bound to be in great supply. Julian ordered them all into the atrium, and said that enough anarchy had broken out for one day, and that where Dobley was concerned, he should simply be confined upstairs until a suitable clinic could be found for him. Julian blamed Bardin for encouraging such subversive behaviour, (“not worthy of a Captain”) and ordered that he should come upstairs forthwith. Bengo came instead.

“Do you know what he said?” said Julian, making a tea over a spirit-lamp in his room, and talking to Kieran, whom he had managed to intercept on his way back from the bathroom with his Bible “When I said to Bengo, ‘surely you’re afraid of coming up to me in my mood’, he said I wasn’t as frightening as Bardin!”

“Bardin terrifies him when he’s in a mood”, said Kieran.

“Not only that”, said Julian “But apparently I’m not even as frightening as Joby! Now I’ve heard everything!”

“Joby’s not frightening”, said Kieran “He’s perfected his scowl to a fine art, but he’s a pussy-cat really. I’ve never let him get the upper hand with me”.

“Oh no?” said Julian “Is that why you gave up smoking when he ordered you to?”

Kieran was spared from having to think up an answer by a knock on the door. Joby opened it an inch and peered round.

“You can come in you know”, said Julian “I don’t charge admission!”

“Adam says he’s bringing dinner forward half-an-hour”, said Joby “He says he think it might calm everybody down”.

“Good idea”, said Julian “Do you want some tea?”

“I haven’t got time for tea”, Joby growled.

“Joby, get your arse in here and have some tea”, said Kieran.

Joby skulked into the room.

“See”, said Kieran, triumphantly “It’s me who wears the trousers”.

“Not at the moment you ent”, said Joby, as Kieran was sitting there in only his sumptuous new purple silk dressing-gown, the one that Adam said made him look like a depraved Cardinal.

“That wind’s getting up outside”, said Kieran, strolling over to the window overlooking the front of the house.

“Only to be expected from time to time right up here”, said Julian.

“It doesn’t feel right somehow”, said Kieran, pensively.

“Oh Christ!” said Joby “You probably think it’s Crowley rustling up a cyclone to announce he’s coming!”

“That would be quite appropriate for him”, said Julian “Considering what an old windbag he is!”

Kieran and Joby were walking round the upper storey of the atrium afterwards, heading generally in the direction of their bedroom, when they met Hillyard halfway round.

“I don’t know what you lot’d do without me”, he said.

“You’re having one of those days are you?” Joby groaned.

“I do every filthy job that’s going round here”, said Hillyard “I pay for Dobley to be locked up, and now I’ve got to pay his bleedin’ tax bill as well!”

“Hardly you paying it”, said Joby “Might be your money, but it’ll be Ransey doing all the paperwork. I spect you don’t even know what a tax bill looks like!”

“I’m not sure I do either”, said Kieran.

“Figures”, said Joby.

“I’m going to go and put me feet in the bath”, said Hillyard.

“Yeah, best place for ’em and all if you ask me!” said Joby.

“Daft old tosser”, he added, when Hillyard was out of earshot.

“Ach he’s just letting off a bit of steam”, said Kieran “Dobley’s gotten to all of us”.

“What are you gonna be up to now?” said Joby.

“I’m not sure”, said Kieran “Sit quietly in the room I expect”.

“And brood on the bleedin’ weather knowing you!” said Joby “No, come down to the kitchen and give us a hand instead”.

“I’ll only get in the way”, said Kieran.

“No you won’t”, said Joby “Adam’s always complaining he doesn’t see enough of you during the day. Come on”.

This was to be Dobley’s last night in the Castle. He was going to be collected from the station very early the next morning. A combination of Hillyard’s wealth and Bardin’s emphatic assertion (by telegraph) that Dobley should now be considered a public menace, had managed to secure him a room at an exclusive clinic in the mountains beyond Krindei. In the meantime Dobley was to be confined to the bedroom he shared with Farnol, Rumble and Hoowie overlooking the swimming-pool at the eastern end of the house. Ransey took him up his food at dinner-time, and even substituted a spoon in place of a knife and fork.

After dinner Bardin sat in the atrium with Rumble, and did a lot of sighing and puffing. He and Adam had arranged to escort Dobley down to the station at dawn, and he was dreading what could well turn out to be a highly strained and emotionally charged time. Rumble did a crossword in a desultory fashion, and listened to the wind in the chimney. In spite of the dark clouds and the high winds it was a sultry evening. Bengo wandered through the atrium in a dreamy fashion. As he went past Bardin noticed that the back of his shorts were ripped open.

“Hey!” Bardin shouted at him, causing Rumble’s pencil to skid across the page “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Just strolling round seeing what’s what”, said a bemused Bengo.

“You look like a picture of obscenity!” Bardin thundered “What if Dobley was to see you like that?”

“So what if he does?” said Bengo “It’s not me he’s after!”

“Steady now”, said Rumble, wryly, as Bardin looked as though he was going to expire.

“Anyway I thought he was locked up at the moment”, said Bengo “In his room”.

“In OUR room”, said Rumble, pointedly.

Bardin gave him A Look and then continued his onslaught on Bengo.

“And those shorts are too damn tight anyway”, he said “They must be at least a size too small”.

“I know”, said Bengo, as though explaining things to a halfwit “That’s why they got torn”.

“So why did you wear them then?” Bardin exclaimed.

“Because they make me feel sexy”, said Bengo.

“GET UPSTAIRS!” said Bardin “I shall be up in a moment”.

“To do what?” said Bengo.

“Sew them up!” said Bardin.

“I’m glad you two are gonna take your argument elsewhere”, said Rumble, when Bengo had gone upstairs “It looked like it could go on all night!”

“I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do with him”, said Bardin.

“I’m sure you’ll think of something!” said Rumble.

Bardin called in at Finia’s sewing-room at a corner of the house, to borrow some needle and thread. When he got up to the Red Bedroom he found Bengo leaning out of the window, watching the clouds amassing.

“You’ve got an arse you could park a bike in!” said Bardin.

“I’d rather you parked something else there!” said Bengo.

“Will you stop being suggestive!” said Bardin.

“Why should I?” said Bengo “Dobley’s gonna be gone from here tomorrow”.

“Yes”, said Bardin, threading a needle “And then we’ll have Old Sade living over the stables”.

“He won’t be allowed in the house though will he?” said Bengo.

“No”, said Bardin “But that won’t stop him from trying! And it’ll be someone else I have to try and keep you away from”.

“You over-react, Bardy”, said Bengo “You seem to think everyone in the world fancies me“.

“They do!” said Bardin “Tell me someone, one person, who doesn’t”.

“Hal”, said Bengo “He fancies you!”

“I told you I didn’t want that mentioning ever again!” said Bardin “Now come here”.

“Ooh!” Bengo giggled.

Bardin tipped him over and began to carefully sew up his shorts.

“This reminds me of the torn trousers sketch we used to do”, said Bengo.

“I hope that was a bit cleaner”, said Bardin “Our audience were disgusting enough as it is, without any added encouragement!”

“Oh I think it was very tasteful”, said Bengo.

“Bengo”, Bardin sighed “Why is there butter on your arse? Did you sit in the churn or something?”

“Joby walloped me with one of those things we use to knock the butter into shape, that‘s how my shorts got torn in fact”, said Bengo “Don’t tell Adam, he’ll have a go at us for being unhygienic”.

“I’m not bloody surprised!” said Bardin “Some of the antics you get up to down there …”

“Oh you’re just jealous”, said Bengo.

Bardin gave him a sharp slap on the behind, and Bengo gurgled.

“You must want me to wear these again”, said Bengo “Or you wouldn’t be going to all this trouble to sew them up”.

“No I just thought it’d be a bit of fun”, Bardin smiled.

“Ooh!” said Bengo, again.

Bardin cut the thread and tied up the loose end. Then he spanked Bengo many many times, and with great severity. Afterwards they both collapsed on the bed in a heap of giggles. Such a wave of light-hearted lustiness swept Bardin easily into sleep. A few hours later though he awoke with a start, and remembered that he and Adam had to take Dobley to the station at the first grey light of dawn.

Dobley didn’t make this task any the easier. He cried and bewailed his piteous state all the way there. He even tried to resort to blackmail, by saying that if they sent him away like this he would expose them and their lifestyle to the world’s press.

“I can’t imagine for one moment you would be telling them anything they haven’t heard before!” said Adam “Many people have tried to rubbish and ruin us, Dobley, and as you can see for yourself … we are still here”.

“People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”, said Bardin.

“What do you mean by that?” Dobley demanded to know.

“What I mean by that is that your involvement with the Starhanger crowd makes you very vulnerable to any finger-pointing going on”, said Bardin.

“Not that we would resort to such spiteful methods”, Adam sighed “It’s not our style. Doubtless we will see you again sometime, Dobley”.

“No flamin’ doubt about that I expect!” said Bardin, when they had closed the main gates behind them, on their return to the vicinity of Wolf Castle “What was that phrase Joby used to use about Codlik?”

“The return of the bad penny?”, said Adam.

“Yes, that’ll be Dobley!” said Bardin “Just as we’ve safely forgotten he exists his mournful face will reappear at the back door, blithering on about who else has done him wrong!”

A shopping-trip to the village was organised for later that morning, and the party comprised of Adam, Joby, Bengo, Toppy, and Hillyard was to drive them down. It was market day in the village, and Adam mainly wanted to plunder the stalls for fresh produce. Joby got waylaid by a middle-aged woman who wanted to enthuse about how much she adored Kieran.

“He’s a man who needs a lot of touching”, she said.

“He gets plenty of that!” said Joby.

Meanwhile Bengo had wandered into a nearby antique shop, and was captivated by some of the items on display therein, saying how nice it was to now have a big house they could fill up with as much junk as they wanted. Toppy, for once, was in accordance with him, although he squirmed at the use of the word “junk”. Hillyard benevolently agreed to fund whatever they required, and the cart returned home laden with newly-acquired treasures.

“Bengo!” Bardin roared, when he saw all the treasures assembled in the atrium “What have you been doing?”

“Shopping”, said Bengo, as though humouring an idiot “I thought we could pick up a few new pieces for the house”.

“A few?!” said Bardin “You must have bought the entire shop!”

“Not quite”, said Hillyard.

“The man in the shop said I obviously had a good eye for this sort of thing”, said Bengo “He said he knew an expert when he saw one”.

“He knew a soft touch when he saw one!” said Bardin.

“That’s not very kind, Bardin”, said Lonts “I think they’re all lovely pieces”.

Bardin was at a loss for words, and was mercifully prevented from the necessity of answering by Julian yelling at him from above to come upstairs at once.

“You’ve only got yourself to blame, Bardy”, said Bengo, feeling guilty all the same.

He went upstairs nearly an hour later, and found Bardin in the Red Bedroom, wrapped in an embroidered throw that Julian normally kept festooned over a side table. Bardin chucked a cushion at him as soon as he came in the room, hitting him squarely in the face.

“Well it was a silly way to carry on, Bardy”, said Bengo “It’s not as if we can’t afford it, and Hillyard says we have a duty to encourage local trade. What’s the point of just sitting on money, he said. Not that I expect you can sit on anything at the moment!”

“Very funny!” said Bardin.

“Did Julian say much to you?” said Bengo.

“A lot”, said Bardin “He said I was just being shitty because it was Hillyard doing the paying, and that he wasn’t going to tolerate it any longer, etc etc, and how Hillyard is the soul of generosity”.

“He is”, said Bengo “You are a great big idiot!”

“Thanks”, Bardin snapped “I really need someone else to stick the boot in right now!”

“Well every time I think you’ve got over all this Hillyard nonsense, you go and start it again!” said Bengo.

“It’s not turned out as easy as I thought”, said Bardin “I think I’ve got over it too, and then something goes and happens. I’m sorry about the stuff, Bengo, you’re all correct of course. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t buy things”.

Bardin slumped dejectedly against the window after he’d said this.

“Oh Bardy!” Bengo rushed over to him “Do you want me to rub some cream into you?”

“Yes”, Bardin mumbled.

Bengo went over to the dressing-table and began to root around in one of the top drawers.

“Do the others like all the things?” Bardin asked.

“Yes, even Ransey does”, said Bengo “Particularly the drinks cabinet. He wants it to stay in the atrium, and Adam’s going to root out a cocktail recipe book he says we’ve got somewhere, so we can all play with it”.

Bardin went downstairs and found the cocktail cabinet the centre of attention in the atrium. He felt he couldn’t take its charms just yet though and wandered through to the back of the house, accompanied by Hoowie.

“Peace, love, peace, love”, Hoowie chanted at him, having been told that Bardin was in one of his states.

“Dobley’s not the only one who can be sent off to a clinic you know!” Bardin snapped at him.

“You can’t send me away”, said Hoowie, triumphantly “I haven’t done anything wrong, not like him anyway”.

“Go and annoy someone else!” Bardin roared at him.

Hoowie slunk away, giggling.

“What was that shouting all about, Bardin?” said Adam, when Bardin got into the kitchen.

“Hoowie was driving me round the bend”, said Bardin, sitting down gingerly on a hard kitchen chair “I’ve threatened to have him put away as well”.

“Oh you can’t do that, old love”, said Adam “Hoowie is vastly improved these days. He keeps himself clean and reasonably tidy, and he doesn’t go taking his clothes off in public anymore, and the villagers really seem to have taken to him”.

Bardin had to reluctantly concede that this was true, particularly amongst the women, though he couldn’t for the life of him see why, not Hoowie, with his scrawny beanpole frame, too much hair and big teeth. Adam and Joby were making jellies, using a set of copper jelly-moulds that Bengo had acquired in the antique shop.

“We’re having a little soiree this evening”, said Adam “Just us lot”.

The jellies were delivered to the dining-room and served with antique silver jam spoons, also one of Bengo’s very recent acquisitions.

“God knows what people would think if they saw us living like this”, Bardin grumbled “This is hardly a vow of poverty is it!”

“We haven’t taken a vow of chastity either!” said Joby “And don’t suggest we do, ‘cos that’d be the end of the pink nightie for you!”

“Or sewing up Bengo’s shorts”, said Mieps.

Bardin grumpily agreed to try and lighten up for the rest of the evening, and to a certain measure he succeeded. It was very pleasant to have the Castle to themselves, and he realised quite how badly Dobley’s presence had hung over the place. He was unnerved at one point when Toppy confided in him that he was “working on something that will surprise you all”. Bardin felt rather alarmed at this, as though Toppy had announced he was opening up a bomb factory in the wine cellar. Bengo airily dismissed his concerns though, saying that anything Toppy was up to wasn’t likely to turn out to be very dramatic.

Later that evening Bardin went up to the bathroom, and walked in on Kieran, who was struggling to do up his trousers after a drunken visit to the loo. Bardin went over to help him.

“Are you alright now, Bardin?” said Kieran.

“I’ll be o.k”, said Bardin “I don’t know what comes over me sometimes”.

“You’re a worrier”, said Kieran “I know what that’s like. You had too much responsibility at too young an age”.

“It is hard to let go of the reins sometimes”, Bardin admitted.

Kieran skilfully manoeuvred him into the Red Bedroom.

“We’ll come in here”, he said “My bed’s not as comfortable as yours”.

“Well then we should get you a new one”, said Bardin.

“Not just yet”, said Kieran “I don’t want to give Joby the satisfaction of me admitting that I didn’t manage to get the best room for us. He’s given me a hard enough time about it as it is!”

Bardin was agreeably surprised by the deftness and speed with which Kieran removed his (Bardin’s) clothes.

“You’re very sexy”, said Kieran, kissing him lustily all the while.

“I feel I must warn you though”, said Bardin “My arse is not looking very sightly at the moment”.

“Neither’s mine!” said Kieran, cheerily.

“Although most of the time I doubt you can tell mine from my face!” said Bardin.

Kieran smacked his hand.

“Now that’s enough of that”, he said “You’re worse than Joby sometimes!”

“Just as I think I can’t adore you anymore”, said Bardin “I do”.

Kieran kissed him gloriously, noisily and messily. Bardin found himself wishing he was wearing copious amounts of lipstick, so that it could all get messed up spectacularly.

“’Lord Toppy’s Guide To Gracious Living’”, said Rumble, the next morning at breakfast.

“What?” said Bardin, wincing with a hangover.

“That’s Toppy’s surprise”, said Lonts, sounding very gloomy indeed.

“What are you all talking about?” Bardin cried.

Rumble passed over a copy of the local newspaper, folded over at the appropriate section.

“It appears that our Toppy is going into journalism”, said Adam, from the other end of the table.

“Can somebody PLEASE tell me what all this is about”, Bardin pleaded.

“I have got a job writing a weekly column for the local newspaper”, said Toppy, with great importance.

“I must admit I’m very surprised, Toppy”, said Adam “You’re normally so shy of the outside world”.

“I can work from home”, said Topy “They’re supplying me with a typewriter. All I have to do is submit it to the village newspaper office once a week, and one of the clowns can take it down there”.

“Oh we can can we?!” said Bardin.

“Gracious Living?” said Bengo.

“I realise you have no idea what that is”, said Toppy “And it seems that not many around this neighbourhood do either, so I thought up the idea that I would do a weekly advice column. I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time. If we had stayed in Marlsblad I would probably have done it there as well, another place very short of ideas on the finer way to live if you ask me”.

“Does it tell us how to be a total bitch as well?” Bengo snapped.

“Now that’s quite enough of that”, said Adam.

“He started it, Adam”, said Bengo “Telling me I don’t know about gracious living! I bet I know more than him!”

“ A likely story!” said Toppy “I caught you blowing your nose on the tea-towel the other day!”

“Oh Bengo you didn’t!” said Adam “I’ve told you about that before, it’s frightfully unhygienic you know”.

“That’s nothing”, said Bengo “Hoowie chews on the dishcloth sometimes”.

“What?” Adam exclaimed “But that’s terrible, he might get some dreadful disease!”

“It won’t do the dishcloth any good either!” said Hillyard.

“All this is going on in the kitchen?” said Ransey to Adam “I thought you might keep better order than that”.

“Oh be quiet, you old fool”, said Adam “We’re talking about Toppy’s new column”.

“What are you going to write about week-in week-out, Toppy?” said Lonts.

“I shall do a seasonal guide to what constitutes fine living”, said Toppy “The right foods to eat at which time for instance, what is acceptable and what is not, how to do a silver service dinner-party, that sort of thing”.

“Why couldn’t you have done all this when we was hard-up?” said Joby.

“It doesn’t pay a great amount”, said Toppy “I am doing it more as a sort of public service I suppose”.

“Yeah I dunno how people get by without knowing whether the milk should go in first or not!” said Joby.

“Are you going to practise on us, Toppy?” said Lonts.

“I might need to experiment sometimes”, said Toppy.

“Not that blasted banana trick again!” said Bengo.

“For the last time it is not a trick!” said Toppy “It is etiquette, the correct way to eat fruit”.

“Peel it and stick it in your gob”, said Hillyard.

“Lord Hillyard’s guide to living!” said Julian “Gracious or otherwise!”

After lunch Bardin had taken a siesta under a tree in the garden, along with Hoowie, Farnol and Rumble. At around three o’clock he strolled into the atrium of the house on his own, having directed the others back to the rooms above the stables, and was somewhat stupefied to see a strange-looking person sitting coiled up on one of the chairs.

“Who the hell are you?” Bardin barked at him.

“Oh what a positive delight to meet you at long last!” squeaked a bald-headed skinny young man with a falsetto voice.

“I said, who are you?” said Bardin “And are you aware you’re trespassing?”

“Hardly trespassing, darling”, said the person “We’re now neighbours, just moved into an old farmhouse further down the mountain, to the north of here. Paying a neighbourly call that is all”.

A horrifying thought trod purposefully across Bardin’s mind.

“Are you with Aleister Crowley?” he asked, in a hoarse voice.

“That is so”, said the person, giving a little murmur of satisfaction.

“I thought he was into women these days”, said Bardin “Unless you are …?”

“I’m a big bitch, darling, but that doesn’t make me a woman you know”, said the person.

“Hard to tell, not with that voice!” Bardin growled “Are you a castrato?”

“All vegetables firmly in place, darling”, said the person “Are you pleased or disappointed?”

“It makes no difference to me whatsoever!” said Bardin, forbiddingly.

“I am there to supervise the girls on the domestic front”, said the person “You wouldn’t believe how lazy some of them can be, thoroughly pampered, I think they expect cooking and housework to be done by magic! I really don’t know where the Master would be without me to keep an eye on things, living in total squalor I expect, total squalor”.

“What has he sent you here for?” said Bardin.

“To pay you neighbourly dues”, said the person “To let you know he is now in his new abode. My name is Sasha by the way”.

He extended a slim, white hand. Bardin shook it with the greatest reluctance.

“What a sheer unadulterated pleasure to meet the great Bardin at long last”, said Sasha “I’ve read your biography you know”.

“I wasn’t aware it had been published!” said Bardin.

“Oh yes, absolutely ripping read, darling”, said Sasha “What a childhood you had! My heart was wrung for you, positively wrung”.

“What did he say about my childhood?” Bardin snapped.

“Just how hard you had to work, darling”, said Sasha “And how deprived of affection and love you must have been“, Sasha dropped his voice to a sympathetic whisper “Of course one can see it accounts for an awful lot now”.

Bardin narrowed his eyes at him as though he was imagining which was the best way to boil Sasha alive. Instead he seized the handbell which was kept on the mantelpiece and used it to summon the others into the atrium. Sasha was despatched back down the hill soon after.

“That’s all we need”, Joby had said, as they prepared dinner that evening “Another bloody Victor on our hands!”

“He seems a bit more together than Victor was”, said Adam “Mind you, that wouldn’t be difficult I suppose! Even Dobley was more together than Victor was!”

Bengo had remained silent through this conversation, and moodily peeled the potatoes at the sink. He seemed unhappy that evening, but the others just assumed he was as disgruntled as they were at Crowley’s debut in the neighbourhood. But early the following morning he disappeared. He had got up as usual, and Bardin just surmised that he had gone down to the kitchen as usual to help with the family breakfast. But he didn’t turn up in the kitchen, or anywhere else.

For the rest of the morning the others got steadily more and more concerned. This simply wasn’t like Bengo at all. It wasn’t unknown for Kieran or Tamaz to suddenly take off in solitude around the estate, but for Bengo it was virtually unheard of. Toppy suggested that perhaps Bengo had gone back down to the village to haunt the antique shop, and so Bardin nagged Hillyard to drive him down there. The antique shop owner’s face had lit up on seeing them, assuming that Bengo, the best customer he had ever had, couldn’t be far behind. No, unfortunately, he hadn’t seen him today. Back home Toppy came up with another suggestion that perhaps Bengo had gone into the woods to see Madame de Sade, with whom he was a firm favourite. There was no sign of him there either, although Piers did put in a few choice moans about how long the flat above the stables appeared to be taking.

By half-after-noon Bardin was practically chewing the furniture with worry. Adam debated quietly with the others as to organising various search-parties, informing the village Constable, and plying Bardin with brandy. All at the same time.

Bengo strolled back into the atrium as though he had only popped out to the chicken-run. He looked rather pleased with himself, and completely oblivious to any worry on the part of the others. Bardin almost wept with relief when he saw him, and then smacked him so hard about the face that Bengo fell over backwards. Ransey frogmarched Bardin into the Smoking Room to calm down.

“You went down to see Crowley?” said Joby, when Bengo had been dumped in an armchair “By yourself?”

“I went down to warn him”, said Bengo, proudly, as Adam applied a cold poultice to his red cheek “To stay away from here. I couldn’t stand the thought of living in more bloody anxiety, wondering when he was going to turn up. I didn’t think it was fair on any of us, not after everything, and certainly not fair on Kieran”.

“You shouldn’t have gone down there alone”, Kieran barked “And certainly not without telling any of us first”.

Kieran rarely got authoritative, but when he did it could be quite forbidding. Bengo quailed and gave an “ooh!” of alarm

“It was very irresponsible, Bengo”, said Adam.

“Irresponsible?” yelled Julian “I don’t trust myself to speak at the moment”.

“Oh good!” said Adam.

“I’m going into the dining-room!” Julian bellowed, for good measure.

“You’re not cut out to be a one-man enforcement unit”, said Joby to Bengo.

“What did Aleister say when you told him all this?” said Adam.

“He didn’t say anything”, said Bengo “Just gave me one of his supercilious smirks”.

“That was quite some clout Bardin gave you, old love”, said Adam “I’m amazed someone so slight of build has such a powerful thump”.

“He’s always been like that”, said Bengo “Once, on stage, well you know how they do a theatrical slap? You just sort of mime it, and someone stands in the wings and smacks two blocks of wood together, well he did it for real once. I thought my jaw had been dislocated!”

“Serves you right”, grunted Joby.

“What made you do it?” said Hillyard “Why didn’t you tell us where you were going? You just vanished into thin air, it was as if you’d fallen into a black hole!”

“Because I thought that if I told you where I was going”, said Bengo “You’d have stopped me”.

“Too right we would!” said Joby “You alone with Crowley!”

“I wasn’t alone with him”, said Bengo “His women were there”.

“What were they like, Bengo?” said Adam.

“Alright”, Bengo shrugged “A bit grubby, don’t look like they keep themselves clean, mind you the mess they’re living in I guess it’s quite hard to do so. One of ’em used to be a showgirl apparently, but God knows when that was!”

“I think we’d better have some lunch now”, Adam sighed.

“Is HE having some?” said Tamaz, meaning Bengo.

“After all his exercise this morning I think that would be a good idea”, said Adam.

“He behaves outrageously and he gets food!” said Tamaz “I bet I wouldn’t!”

“Nonsense”, said Adam “We’ve never starved you, Freaky, not even when you were in the cage!”

Lunch, in Adam’s words, was a rather gloomy affair. Hardly anyone spoke, which was little short of miraculous and had never been known before. At Ransey’s insistence Bengo and Bardin had been seated at opposite ends of the table. Afterwards Julian ordered that Bengo be sent upstairs to his (Julian’s) room. Everyone knew what that meant. Bardin realised how angry Julian was and felt very sorry for his little friend. It made him forget his own anger and determine to be kind to him when he finally emerged. He later found Bengo looking very sorry for himself in the Red Bedroom.

“What did he use?” said Bardin.

“The cane”, Bengo muttered.

“Shit!” said Bardin.

“I thought you’d be pleased about that”, said Bengo, boot-faced.

Bardin thought he’d better gloss over that, and changed the subject.

“We’ve had an invite”, he said “That blasted restaurant is due to open in the village, next week”.

“And we’ve been invited to their opening night?” said Bengo.

“Not quite”, said Bardin “The dress rehearsal in fact. I think they want to experiment on us. Just us lot, before the public are admitted”.

“Well I guess we’ll manage to fill the place on our own, it‘s not very big from what I‘ve seen”, Bengo sighed “Do the others all want to go?”

“Yes, but out of macabre curiosity I think”, said Bardin “Adam said it’ll be nice to eat a meal he hasn’t had to cook for once, but I warned him that the likelihood of us actually getting any food served might be remote!”

“Well I confess old love I haven’t actually managed to read the whole article”, said Adam, down in the kitchen “I found it … well to be brutally honest I found it somewhat heavy-going”.

“Boring”, said Joby, bluntly.

“I was trying to be rather more tactful, Joby!” said Adam.

“For chrissake Toppy, does it matter whether napkins are folded in cardinal shape or swan shape?” said Joby “I mean it’s hardly a matter of life and death is it!”

“It is to Toppy”, said Lonts, gloomily.

“It’s cardinal’s hat anyway, not cardinal shape”, Toppy snapped.

“You’ve got it completely wrong anyway”, said Julian, who was rooting through the biscuit tin, having complained that the lunch was inadequate.

Toppy gave a gasp.

“Yes”, said Julian, relentlessly “Folding napkins into silly shapes is distinctly middle-class and bourgeois, but I guess that’s the audience you’re aiming at and they won’t know any difference!”

“Aren’t you supposed to use a napkin at all then, Julian?” asked Lonts, innocently,

“Freshly laundered napkin, folded and tucked through a solid silver napkin holder”, said Julian “THAT is the correct way, the ONLY way. Damnit Toppy, I thought you’d been well-trained. Next you’ll be saying they should be called serviettes!”

Adam gave an exaggerated sharp intake of breath.

“Or made out of paper”, Joby remarked, morosely “With novelty pictures on ‘em. My Gran used to have them at Christmas-time. Bits of holly or reindeer on ’em”.

Adam burst out laughing. Hillyard stomped in through the back door carrying two dead baby pigs over his shoulder.

“Oh no”, said Bengo “Where did they come from?”

“Butchers in the village”, said Hillyard, unceremoniously dumping them on the kitchen table “I thought we could have suckling pig tonight”.

“Oh you did did you?” said Adam “And what about if I don’t want to do suckling pig tonight?”

“Then I’ll do it”, said Hillyard.

“Shit!” Joby exclaimed, in horror.

“You won’t!” said Adam to Hillyard “You can take them into the pantry and chop them up though, and do it now before Patsy comes in and sees them. It must be a horrible sight for a vegetarian”.

“Nah he must be used to it by now”, said Hillyard “Here, I’ve heard some really interesting gossip down in the city”.

“City?!” said Joby.

“Apparently old Crowley’s come here for a specific reason”, said Hillyard.

“Yes, to make a bloody nuisance of himself no doubt!” said Adam.

“No”, said Hillyard “He’s teaming up with Sade to make a film”.

“But they hate each other!” said Adam.

“I don’t spose that matters in business”, said Hillyard.

“What would those two jerks know about movie-making?” said Joby.

“And who is going to finance this little masterpiece?” said Adam “Not you I hope?”

“They haven’t approached me if that’s what you mean”, said Hillyard.

“Yet”, said Joby, darkly.

“I don’t know who’s doing it”, said Hillyard “It must all still be in the early stages. But what I heard was that Sade’s going to be doing the script, and the old tosser’s going to direct it”.

“I absolutely shudder to think what it’s going to be about!” said Adam “Aleister was involved with some of the Silling Productions stuff ….”

“Which Sade was involved in as well”, said Joby “Christ, how could we forget all that! They’re gonna be starting it all up again!”

“They made some really sick stuff”, said Bengo.

“Calm down”, said Hillyard “They haven’t got the money this time that they had with the Silling Productions stuff”.

“These kind of perverted efforts don’t need big budgets, Hillyard”, sighed Adam.

“Good job ennit”, said Hillyard, shouldering the pigs again and heading for the pantry “’Cos they ent going to get one!”

“I don’t think Hillyard will want to get involved with all that”, said Julian, as he and Adam had a brandy at twilight in his room “It’s not his scene, and anyway he’s too busy playing Mr Bountiful to everyone around here. Have you heard that he’s ordered a new car?”

“What do we want with a new car?” said Adam, who had recklessly left Hillyard to baste the suckling pigs down in the kitchen.

“All your darling little helper’s big idea”, said Julian.

“Oh he’s not buying something else for Bengo?” said Adam “Bardin will go into another strop, we‘ve only just got him out of the last one!”

“No, Joby”, said Julian “Apparently Hillyard said he’d better get the truck cleaned up for our night out at the clowns’ restaurant next week, and Joby remarked, in his usual charming way, that ‘ennit about time we got summat better than that clapped-out old ice-cream van’, so Hillyard has obliged him. You know he can’t resist those big grey eyes!”

“Well I suppose a new car might be fun”, said Adam, cautiously “What sort is it?”

“Sounds quite classy”, said Julian “A bit like the one Crowley had, when we went back to 1905 and stayed at Boleskine. Only this has got red leather seats. I don’t think we’re all going to fit into it at once though”.

“As they are 17 of us I should think that’s rather unlikely, Jules!” said Adam.

“So some will have to go down in the dog-cart”, said Julian.

“Or the clapped-out ice-cream van”, Adam giggled.

The hand-bell was rung vigorously downstairs.

“That’ll be time for the pig-fest”, said Adam.

Hillyard was gleefully carving up the cooked pigs in the dining-room when they went down.

“I don’t know what’s so astonishing”, he was saying “I cooked a really good meal in this dining-room once before, years ago”.

“Yeah I know”, said Joby “I still can’t get over it!”

“Did you have to leave the heads on?” said Kieran.

“That’s the best bit!” said Hillyard, slicing into the cheeks of one of the unfortunate animals “Really juicy and tender”.

“Perhaps Kieran might like to sit at the little table in the corner”, Bengo suggested, with the very best of intentions.

“I’m not sitting over there on me own!” said Kieran “It’ll look like I’m in detention!”

“Little Jack Horner!” said Joby.

“I suppose I’m just going to get sprouts as usual?” said Kieran.

“Look if it’s gonna upset you that much”, Joby sighed “I’ll come to the kitchen with you and we can have bread and cheese or summat”.

“How magnificently brave and self-sacrificing of you!” said Julian.

“Joby, I can’t ask you to do that!” said Kieran.

“Have we got any apple sauce?” asked Hoowie.

“You don’t have apple sauce with suckling pig”, said Adam.

“But we always have apple sauce with pork”, Hoowie protested.

“Yes, but not with suckling pork”, Adam repeatedly, patiently.

“Why not?” said Hoowie.

“Hoowie!” Bardin barked.

Hoowie gave a mildly disgusted look, one which he had been practising in front of a mirror lately, in order to inflict on the clowns when they got too much for him. He called it his “withering look of contempt”, in actual fact it looked more like an illustration for a bad case of trapped wind. There came a ringing at the front door bell.

“Oh who’s that?” said Joby “It never fails! As soon as we sit down to eat, it always bleedin’ happens”.

“Hoowie, go and answer the door”, said Bardin.

“Why have I gotta answer it?” said Hoowie.

“Why does nobody answer it instantly when they’re told?” said Bardin, waspishly “Go and answer it, it’s your turn”.

“Well I haven’t noticed you having your turn anytime”, Hoowie grumbled, as he thumped out of the room.

“I wonder who it is this time”, said Joby, gloomily.

It was Father Levka.

“What a terrific evening you laid on for us!” said Joby, walking round the upstairs part of the atrium with Kieran a few hours later “First, we get a lecture from you on eating meat, and then we get a blow-by-blow account of Rasputin’s castration operation!”

“Hey now I didn’t know he was going to turn up this evening”, said Kieran “I didn’t invite him here”.

“No you never do, but they still come!” said Joby.

“Hardly Kieran’s fault, mate”, said Hillyard, who was walking behind them like a prison officer seeing two charges to a cell.

“Ach take no notice”, said Kieran “He just wants to let off steam, I’m used to it. My shoulders are broad”.

“Now they aint”, said Joby.

“He was a bit graphic weren’t he?” said Hillyard.

“Graphic?” Joby exclaimed “I’m surprised he didn’t start showing slides! I nearly squirmed off me chair! What a complete nutter! What did he go and do it for?”

“He says he’s felt better since it was done”, said Kieran “He’s lost all his negative masculine urges he says”.

“Bloody good innit!” said Joby “’Cos he couldn’t do anything with ‘em if he was getting ‘em!”

“Negative urges, Joby, negative”, said Kieran “He means he’s lost all the aggression in his personality. He can now focus on other things”.

“Like what?” said Joby.

“That remains to be seen I suppose”, said Kieran, with understandable caution.

“I keep thinking of that towel bit”, said Hillyard “You know, when he said that after the operation he looked across the room at a towel, and his bits were lying on it, all bloody and …”

“Hillyard!” said Joby.

“Well I can’t get it out of me head!” said Hillyard.

“I can’t get it out of mine either!” said Joby “I don’t need you reminding me of it!”

Joby kicked open his bedroom door.

“I’m just glad he’s not staying here that’s all!” he shouted “I don’t think I could face him over the sausages at breakfast!”

A welcome diversion occurred the next day when the new car was delivered. Most of the day was taken up with joy-rides being arranged around the local countryside. Joby had a further grievance because he didn’t get the opportunity to go out on one of these. His moment didn’t come until the following day when Julian invited him out as he was returning from the chicken-run.

“Adam’ll moan if I skive off now”, said Joby.

“Oh don’t be such a big girl and get in!” said Julian.

Joby summoned Hoowie over and handed him his pinny and the bowl of eggs. Julian drove across the tracks which ran across the fields to the south of the castle, through the tiny hamlet of Stoat’s Hollow which had once, centuries ago, been part of the castle estate, and then up to a rocky promontory which overlooked the untamed wilderness which stretched to the horizon in the very far distance. Julian took advantage of a clump of bushes in the vicinity to get his reward for taking Joby out, and then afterwards they sat in the back of the car and got re-attired in a leisurely fashion. Julian lit a cigar and offered it to Joby.

“I know you don’t smoke”, said Julian “But try this, it’s the best of the lot, cost a fortune but smells absolutely divine”.

“Kieran’ll never let me forget it if I smoke”, said Joby “Not after the way I’ve gone on at him at times”.

“How will he possibly know?” said Julian “I certainly won’t tell him”.

“He’ll know”, said Joby, darkly.

“If he starts”, said Julian “Just bash him over the head with his Bible!”

Joby laughed and took a draw at the cigar, which reduced him to a violent coughing fit.

“How the hell do you smoke like that all the time?” he spluttered “Your lungs must look like dried-up dog’s turds by now!”

“Rubbish”, said Julian “In stamping good form for my age, all thanks to the little blonde goblin. I do like these moments when I get you to rebel, you don’t do it nearly enough. You seem to have spent your entire adult life being henpecked by Kieran and Adam, talk about being caught being a rock and a hard place! They both need a hard time to keep them in their place”.

“I don’t think anything’s capable of keeping Kieran in his place!” said Joby “Anyway I get me own back sometimes. Bit like Bengo. I said to him the other day, when we was working in the pantry, I said I dunno how he puts up with Bardin when he’s one of his motor mouth moods, and he said oh he gets to play the boss in bed sometimes and that makes it all worthwhile”.

“Bardin does rather enjoy being dominated sexually”, said Julian “He wants to be vulnerable, but he normally can’t bring himself to be, he needs a lot of working on”.

“Well I guess we got the time for it”, said Joby.

“We have indeed”.

“You’ve been smoking, I don’t believe it, you’ve been smoking, after everything you’ve ever said to me!” said Kieran, pouncing on Joby almost the moment he got back into the castle “The sheer brazen brass nerve of the man, you take the biscuit!”

“It’s the stench of Julian’s cigar that’s all”, said Joby.

“Yeah be fair, Kieran”, said Hillyard “My clothes have reeked of it after I’ve been talking to him sometimes”.

“Oh no it’s not”, said Kieran “He’s been smoking, it’s no good him trying to lie to me. I’m never going to let you forget this one, not for the rest of eternity!”

“Things are gonna be a bit different from now on”, said Joby, loftily “For years and years I’ve done everything you say, and not a word of complaint has passed my lips …”

“Not a word of complaint?!” said Kieran.

Hillyard looked equally sceptical.

“But it’s gonna be me calling the shots from now on”, said Joby “And don’t give me all that crap about you being 3 months older, it makes no odds at all. Now I’m going back to work”.

Joby sauntered towards the back of the house.

“What’s come over him?” said Kieran to Hillyard.

“He’s spent an hour with Julian!” said Hillyard “Come on, let’s go and do some work in the stables, the horses must be thinking we’ve forgotten ‘em. He’ll get over it, he’ll never be able to keep it up for one thing, the he-man stuff. He wasn’t born for it, not with those legs”.

“What’s his legs got to do with it?” Kieran laughed.

“Well they’re all sort of bony and lard-white”, said Hillyard.

“That’s because he never shorts”, said Kieran.

“Yeah, no bloke with legs like that can start pretending he’s a caveman”, said Hillyard “Stands to reason”.

“I’m going to be quoting you on all this”, said Kieran.

“And if he starts on me I’ll carry him up the back stairs again!” said Hillyard.

The night of the dinner at the clowns’ restaurant came round. Tamaz appeared downstairs in the atrium attired in a low-cut figure-hugging bronze satin dress, which Finia had made for him in between his grand project (life’s work?) of repairing every single curtain in the castle. The dress was meant to be a treat for Tamaz, who so rarely got the chance to be glamorous these days. Whilst the hot weather was on he spent most of his time wandering about the castle grounds in his underwear. It was feared that when Sade moved into the rooms above the stable he might even have to stop doing this, particularly if Sade’s new business partner, Aleister Crowley, took to hanging around the place.

The dress met with almost universal approval, apart from Bardin, who said he looked like he was attending a film premiere in Krindei, and it was completely over-the-top just to visit Hal’s greasy spoon.

“You’re just jealous”, said Tamaz “Because you’d like to wear it really! Anyway, you can’t, you wouldn’t be able to fill the top of it!”

Tamaz swept out of the castle with his trademark haughty disdain. Bardin blushed. Bengo fussed around him, patting and tucking him to make him look presentable.

“Take no notice, Bardy”, said Bengo “It’s not as if he’s got much up top either! Sometimes he carries on as though his knockers were enormous, and they’re gnat bites really. Mieps’s are much fuller”.

Bardin made a noise which sounded like “harrumph”.

“You will behave this evening won’t you, Bardy?” said Bengo.

“What do you mean?” said Bardin “Why do you do this every time we go out? You always act as though I set out to behave like a complete delinquent!”

“It’s not that”, said Bengo “It’s just that this restaurant-thingy means a lot to the other clowns, they’ve staked all their savings on it. It’s their lifeline out of show business. We must encourage them as much as possible”.

“They’ll be offering you a job if you’re not careful”, said Bardin “I can’t imagine any of them is much cop at cooking. I dread to think what we‘re going to get tonight!”

“Apparently they’ve got some top chef down from Aspiriola”, said Bengo “They’ve asked him to come down to show them the ropes”.

“How could they afford him?” said Bardin, suspiciously.

“He’s not being paid”, said Bengo “He read about the restaurant in a newspaper and offered his services”.

“What, just like that?” said Bardin, even more suspiciously “I mean, professional people do that all the time don’t they, offer to work for nothing!”

“One magic word you should know about by now”, said Bengo “After years in showbiz anyway. Publicity. He thinks he’ll get a lot of publicity if he comes here and offers to be a trouble-shooter for a restaurant in Kieran’s village, particularly one run by an old theatrical set. There’s been a lot of interest in it all apparently, loads of magazines want to do articles on it, even the t.v is interested”.

“Who told you all this?” said Bardin.

“Shag”, said Bengo “I got talking to him down the market the other day”.

“That must have been the longest conversation he’s ever had!” said Bardin.

“Bit gloomy ennit?” said Joby, as they all crept as cautiously as they could into deathly quiet main room of Hal’s Restaurant.

“I think it needs a bit more lighting in here”, said Adam.

“Can’t have that”, said Bardin “The customers might be able to see what they’re getting!”

“Now Bardin really!” said Adam.

“Yes Bardy, we spoke about this”, Bengo complained “We’ve barely even got in through the door!”

“Alright I won’t say another word … for the time being”, said Bardin “But you can bet I’ll be saying ‘I told you’ so when we get home this evening!”

A young man with five o’clock shadow on his face crept out of the gloom, clutching an armful of menu’s. He silently pointed at the large circular table in the middle of the room.

“I take it he wants us to sit down”, Adam sighed.

With a feeling of quiet forboding that was increasing by the minute, the Indigo-ites all seated themselves around the table. The hairy young man shoved menu’s into their hands. He paused briefly when he reached Bengo.

“Are you Bengo?” he asked.

“Yes”, Bengo replied, nervously.

The hairy young man gave a look of acute disgruntlement and returned into the back room from whence he had come.

“What was all that about?” said Bengo.

“Jealous, you twerp”, said Bardin “Doesn’t want any other good-looking blokes around, seen it all before”.

“Was he good-looking then?” said Bengo, innocently “I could hardly see him in this light!”

“I was going to ask if we could have a little aperitif”, said Adam “But he vanished before I could say a word”.

“I’ve eaten in some depressing places in my time”, said Ransey “But this one looks like it’s going to carry off the prize!”

“I suppose we really should try and give them a chance”, said Adam, uncertainly.

“Is there anyone else around?” said Hillyard.

“Yes, where’s this super-dooper top chef then?” said Bardin “He seems very quiet”.

“I thought you said you were going to shut up, Bardy”, said Bengo.

“Oh be like that then!” said Bardin, rustling his menu indignantly.

“I had a really stressful dream last night”, said Hoowie “I dreamt my arm had got disconnected from my body”.

“Well I suppose your brain’s been disconnected from it for years!” said Farnol, and he let out a rip-roaring burst of laughter which seemed in serious danger of shattering the entire building. The unprecedented noise must have alerted Hal, who drifted uncertainly out from somewhere round the back. He came slowly towards them as though he was being jerked along awkwardly on casters. There was something approaching a horrible leer on his face. Bengo had been planning to be extra kind to Hal (to make up for anything nasty Bardin might get up to), but he swiftly changed his mind.

“Where did you get your front-of-house from?” said Rumble, breaking an awkward silence.

“He’s from the village”, said Hal “We hired him, on a sort of try-out basis”.

“You’d have done better with a girl”, said Bardin “They’re always better for getting the punters in”.

“We couldn’t get one”, said Hal, which was no surprise.

“H-how is the chef getting on?” said Adam.

“He’s very good”, said Hal, despondently “A perfectionist. There might be a little wait for your food though. If a dish isn’t 100% he … he tends to throw it straight in the bin”.

“That seems an awful waste, old love”, said Adam, who quite often cobbled together potential disasters to make a perfectly respectable dish, a practise he had become quite skilled at during their days of poverty.

“Yeah, there are people starving in the world”, said Joby “Probably”.

“He has said that even if customers don’t get any food at all”, said Hal “It doesn’t matter, as he won’t serve a second-rate dish, he has his reputation to think of”.

“And I have my stomach to think of!” said Hillyard.

“Don’t the customers get any say in all this?” said Ransey, who didn’t at all like the way this evening was shaping up.

“He says we’re not going to get any food?” said Tamaz, aghast.

“Be quiet, Freaky”, said Adam “Can we at least have a little drink to be going on with?”

“Of course, if that’s too difficult”, said Bardin, tartly, when Hal looked flummoxed.

“I’ll send out The Boy”, said Hal, and effectively ran off.

“It’s no good looking at me like that”, said Bardin to Bengo “This place is a shambles”.

“Everybody has to learn, Bardy”, said Bengo “Even you had to learn how to be a clown”.

“Way back when”, said Rumble.

“At least I haven’t tried to open a restaurant!” said Bardin.

“Good job too”, said Bengo “Because everybody would be too scared to go in it!”

“Do you two want splitting up?” said Julian, who was trying to control his hunger-pangs with a cigar.

“What do you want then?” said The Boy, somewhat snottily, when he reappeared.

“To go home would be nice”, said Rumble, glumly.

“Make it bourbon all round”, said Julian.

“What do you want in it?” said The Boy, sounding, if at all possible, even more surly than he was before.

Julian looked as if he would have to be physically restrained in the face of such insolence.

“Neat”, said Adam, stepping in hurriedly “As it comes”.

Mercifully The Boy managed to pour out the bourbon without any significant mishap, and handed it round. As he walked past Bardin he let his hand rest briefly, but meaningfully, on Bardin’s shoulder.

“Now what’s the plank up to?” Bengo squawked, when The Boy had returned to whatever grim corner he had come from.

“Just ignore him”, Bardin hissed, taking a hefty slug of the bourbon.

“Ignore him?!” said Bengo “I bet you wouldn’t be saying that if it was me he was touching up, all hell would be breaking loose!”

“The silly sod thinks I’ve still got some influence in show business”, said Bardin “That’s why he was touching me up. He must think I keep a casting-couch up at the castle!”

“Oh”, said Bengo, as recognition finally dawned “Is he a wannabe then?”

“Yeah”, Bardin grunted “That must be why he applied for the job here”.

“Perhaps you should suggest he applies to Mr Crowley for a part in his new film, Bardin”, said Lonts.

“After the abominable service we’ve had here this evening”, said Bardin “I might just do that!”

Some considerable time elapsed and there was still no sign of the food they had ordered. Not only that, but everyone else on the premises seemed to have vanished off the face of the earth too. At a quarter-to-ten Hal reappeared, looking utterly wretched. Not a good sign.

“There may well not be any food this evening”, he said, in a doom-laden voice “No dish has yet to pass muster, and he’s just rammed a bowl of rice-pudding over Shag’s head”.

“Well really!” said Adam “What possible excuse was there for that?”

“S’alright”, said Hal, lugubriously “The rice-pudding was cold”.

“I don’t suppose he got it right”, said Bengo “Amateurs always think that sort of thing’s easy, and it’s not. You can tell amateurs because they don’t realise that custard pies have to have a proper base, to make sure they don’t disintegrate in the air, and that the distance you chuck it as of paramount importance”.

“What’s the best distance then?” said Hillyard.

“Six-to-eight feet”, said Hal.

“And the stance is all important”, said Bardin. He got up and positioned himself like a shot-putter.

Mutton Broth came in through the main doors, carrying several bags of sugar. He gave Bengo a rapturous reception. It soon became clear why.

“Dimples can cook this evening”, he said.

“Bloody cheek!” said Bengo “You invite me down here for dinner and then expect me to cook it! What a nerve! I’m going home”.

The evening broke up without a sign of the celebrity chef, not even any obligatory shouting and swearing from the back room. Hal looked so dejected that Farnol was moved to pity, and assured him that he thought all would turn out well in the end … although quite when that end was going to be was anybody’s guess.

A nasty surprise awaited them when they drove back through the main gates at Wolf Castle. Somebody had set up a folding camp-bed on the west-facing lawn, and was contentedly snoring under the stars, oblivious to the bats whirling overhead in the deep gloaming.

“I don’t believe it!” Joby yelped, from the front passenger seat of the new car “It’s bloody Rasputin! What does he think this is, a camp-site?!”

“Now that definitely isn’t my fault”, said Kieran, who was sitting on Joby’s lap “I told him he wouldn’t be able to sleep at the castle”.

“So he decides to sleep in the grounds instead”, said Hillyard, who was driving.

They all pulled up in front of the main doors, got out of the various vehicles, and stood around uncertainly.

“I suggest we leave him there for tonight”, said Adam “It’s going to cause us even more trouble to go over there, wake him up and move him”.

“He couldn’t get more irritating if he tried!” said Joby.

“Oh I’m sure he could!” said Adam.

“Perhaps I should go and speak to him”, said Kieran.

Joby grabbed him by his shoulder and propelled him into the house. For good measure he also grabbed Tamaz, who popped out of his dress in the process. The rest of the evening (what was left of it) was passed by Ransey cooking bacon rolls and salad.

“He’s still out there”, said Hillyard, when he bumped into Kieran outside the upstairs loo early the next morning.

“I’d noticed”, said Kieran, clutching his purple silk robe around him.

“How’s Joby taking it?” said Hillyard.

“Well he’s being his usual, cheerful, positive self”, said Kieran.

Suddenly there was the sound of three rifle shots, one after the other in quick succession.

“Is Mieps shooting rabbits again?” said Hillyard. (Mieps had got into trouble during their early days at the house by shooting at rabbits on the lawn from the landing window on the back stairs. Adam had had to point out that this wasn’t “terribly safe, old love”).

The culprit this time was in fact Joby, who was found, standing at the window of his and Kieran’s room, ejecting spent cartridges from the rifle that was kept under their bed.

“Were you trying to shoot Father Levka?” said Kieran, with a distinct note of hope in his voice.

“Just trying to scare him”, said Joby “I thought I’d give him a little wake-up call. I wasn’t firing actually at him, I was firing into the air. He fell off his camp-bed though”.

“You’re not safe with that”, said Hillyard, going to take the rifle from him.

“This is ours”, said Joby, hanging onto it “You’ve got your own”.

“What was all that about?” said Julian, who had summoned Adam into his bedroom “I heard gunfire. Has the old girl betting potting rabbits again?”

“No”, said Adam, who was trying not to laugh “I’m afraid Joby decided to wake Father Levka up in a rather unorthodox way. He fired their rifle into the air”.

“I don’t know what you’re laughing about”, said Julian, whose lips were also puckering.

“You’re absolutely right of course”, said Adam “It’s not remotely amusing at all. Joby shall be severely reprimanded”.

“Make sure you do”, said Julian “Is the mad monk still in one piece?”

“Sadly, yes”, said Adam.

Ransey was also somewhat amused by the incident, but wouldn’t have admitted it, even under torture. He called Joby into the library and gave him a lecture on responsible gun-control, all of which Kieran eavesdropped on delightedly from outside the French windows.

When Ransey had finished with him, Joby was called by Adam into the little peppermint-coloured sitting-room next to the kitchen. Somehow, in the way of these things, they wound up on the sofa eating chocolates.

“Ransey didn’t threaten to take the gun away then?” said Adam, in surprise.

“Nah”, said Joby “He insists Kieran keeps it under the bed for security”.

There was a frantic drumming of fists on the sitting-room door, and Bengo urging them to let him in.

“No, go away!” said Joby.

“He sounds rather distressed”, said Adam.

“If he’s messed up the batter pudding again”, said Joby “He’ll be distressed alright!”

“I’d better open the door”, Adam pulled himself up from the sofa. Joby deftly tugged at his sarong and it came away in his hands.

“Oh you little wretch!” said Adam “Are you alone, Bengo? Only I‘m not decent you see!”

“Yes”, Bengo bleated “Oh please let me in!”

Adam unbolted the door, and Bengo hurtled into the room. He slammed the door shut behind him and threw his arms round Adam, as though he was grabbing a life-belt. He then started pummelling on Adam’s chest with this fists. He looked so comical that Joby laughed.

“Oh that’s the worst thing about being a clown”, said Bengo, miserably, now leaning over the back of an armchair “You get really upset and people think it’s funny!”

“Well perhaps if you told us what was the matter, old love, it might help”, said Adam “And stopped bashing me up!”

“Father Levka …” Bengo began.

Joby, who had made some effort to get off the sofa, immediately fell back onto it again with a heavy groan.

“What about him?” Adam sighed.

“He came into the kitchen”, Bengo wailed “And he started chasing me all around the table, and making these sort of gargling noises. He was like a madman”.

“You weren’t in any danger”, said Joby “There’s nothing he can do anymore”.

“A man doesn’t need a dick to be dangerous, Joby”, said Adam.

“No”, said Joby “But it helps”.

“You did the right thing, Bengo”, said Adam “Bardin will approve. Where is Levka now?”

“Somewhere in the castle”, said Bengo, glancing round him wild-eyed.

“O.K, I’ll go and find him”, said Adam.

“Er … Ad, you might need this”, said Joby, chucking the sarong at him.

Adam re-attired himself and wnet through into the atrium, which was bereft of human life.

“Where the hell is everybody?” he pondered aloud, before seizing the hand-bell from the mantelpiece.

Toppy answered his summons, drifting out from the still-room.

“Father Levka is at large in the castle”, said Adam “Where’s Patsy?”

“Over at the stables I think”, said Topy “With Hillyard”.

“Run over and keep him there”, said Adam.

“Yes of course”, Toppy scootled off.

“What’s all the racket about now?” said Julian, shouting down from the balcony.

“Father Levka has disappeared into the building”, said Adam “I’m going to fetch Ransey”.

Ransey, and gun, were dug out of the library. By this time Julian had joined them. The three of them headed to the back stairs. Tamaz yodelled from above and came hurtling down the stairs, half-running half-falling. He grabbed Adam round the knees when he reached him and managed to dislodge the troublesome sarong again.

“He’s in the loo!” Tamaz shouted, pointing upwards.

“Right”, Ransey trudged purposefully up the stairs, pursued by Tamaz.

Adam tried to get dressed again, not helped by Julian, who had decided to get playful.

“For crying out loud, Jules, this is hardly the right time!” Adam exclaimed.

“Of course it is”, said Julian “They don’t need us to sort that old wretch out. How’s about coming along to my room for a bit?”

“Not now!” said Adam, firmly.

“Oh come on, you know there’s no one quite like you”.


“Come to my room after lunch”.

“Oh very well”.

Adam got to his feet and had managed to make himself decent just as Ransey reappeared on the landing. He solemnly marched Father Levka down the stairs, as though he was taking him out to face a firing-squad. Adam flattened himself against the wall to let them pass. As they neared the bottom of the stairs Levka paused and said imposingly to Julian “I only came in to use the toilet!”

This phrase was bandied about at the lunch-table, amidst great hilarity. Bengo though blamed himself for having so drastically misconstrued the situation, and at one point the got so distraught that he got up to leave.

“Sit down!” barked Bardin.

Bengo sat down.

“You did nothing wrong, old love”, said Adam “We can’t have any old Tom, Dick or Rasputin treating our house like a public convenience! There’s no knowing where it might end!”

Adam spent most of the afternoon in Julian’s room, and at 5 o’clock they both reappeared, as the clock in the atrium was chiming, walking down the main staircase with their arms draped around each other. At the bottom they found Piers ambling around the atrium, staring upwards.

“Is any old fool allowed to wander in and out of here now” said Julian “I’m starting to wonder if we’re owned by the National Trust!”

“What are you doing here, Piers?” said Adam.

“I came up to see how our new accommodation was coming along”, said Piers “Seems to be taking some considerable time”.

“There is rather a lot to do”, said Adam. “Just been looking up at your gargoyles”, said Piers, who had clearly been drinking (no surprise there). He pointed up at the small carved faces which leered at them from the bottom edge of the balcony “That one looks like a nigger!”

“I would rather you didn’t use words like that in this house, Piers”, said Adam.

Julian got up without a word and headed towards the main entrance.

“Jules?” Adam queried.

“Do what you like with him”, said Julian, without pausing “Brain him with the bloody poker if you wish!”

“You really know how to put the mockers on a fine afternoon, Piers”, said Adam “Come through to the smoking-room, before you say something else to offend someone!”

In the smoking-room Adam was tempted to turn the soda-siphon on him. Instead he poured out two glasses of its contents, added ice from the bucket, and nothing else.

“No gin?” said Piers.

“Not wasting it on you, no”, said Adam, going over to the mantelpiece and placing his own glass on it “What’s happened to you, Piers? You used to be such a nice man. Wouldn’t wilfully upset anyone, and now …”

“Being nice didn’t get me anywhere”, said Piers.

“Neither does being permanently drunk”, said Adam “Take it from one who knows”.

“I made a thorough balls-up of my life, Adam”, said Piers “Couldn’t even do the one thing that was expected of me. Produce an heir”.

“I would rather have hoped that, even in our old time”, said Adam “Such a feudal attitude would be dying out”.

“You know it hadn’t”, said Piers, bitterly “It was all resting on me. I was the only one stopping the family line from dying out, and I let it. My grandfather once had a go at me, not long before he died in fact. He was old and frail by then, but it didn’t stop him letting rip at me. ‘We’ve bred nothing but poofters’, he said ‘you’re no better than your brother. And you know what that means, boy? The family line dies with you’”.

“Good riddance, I would have said to him!” said Adam.

“I didn’t have your courage, Adam”, said Piers.

“Your grandfather was a rude, cantankerous, old man”, said Adam “He had all Julian’s worst traits, but none of Julian’s charm and sense of humour. He once told me that becoming an artist would mean I was of ‘no bloody use to society whatsoever’! What utter garbage he talked! As if it damn well matters how long a house stays in one family! That’s nothing more than a chain-letter mentality!”

“I did try to get a wife”, said Piers “But no one was interested. I think Mother put them off”.

Adam gave a snort of laughter.

“I know I wasn’t a pansy”, Piers went on “At least I don’t think so, apart from a bit of silly stuff at school, you know the sort of thing”.

“Yes, I have very fond memories of that silly stuff!” said Adam.

“I always liked women”, Piers continued “But I never knew what to do with them. Their brains are a mystery to me”.

Adam had to bite down the retort that “most people’s would be!”

“So you see being nice has done me no favours”, said Piers “My father was nice, and he was treated abominably by Mother”.

“Piers, you really mustn’t use your mother as proof positive that the entire female sex is awful”, said Adam “That would be grossly unfair. My Father was downright evil. He beat me up, he said vile things to me that no adult should say to a child, but I have never assumed all men are like him! We all have baggage from the past. God knows, all of us here have enough of it between us, but you have to let go of it. It makes no sense to carry it around with you forever, none at all. Coming into this time gave us all a new lease of life, you must see it that way. All your grandfather’s rubbish makes no sense in this time at all! Who cares if the old ancestral home has disappeared down a mine-shaft, or been demolished by a herd of stampeding elephants?!”

Adam knew that if Lonts was in the room he would have hooted with laughter at that one. He wanted his presence very badly. Bengo and Bardin walked past the window. Bengo paused to look in, but Bardin bossily ushered him on. Shortly after, just as Piers had tediously got onto what a wonderful adventure death will be, Julian gave a tap on the door, and Adam went out to speak to him.

“I’m sorry I abandoned you to him”, said Julian “But I wouldn’t cope with him, and I thought you’d be able to do it better”.

“He’s impossible, Jules”, Adam whispered “He’s dug himself into a hole, and there seems to be no way of getting him out of it”.

“That’s because he hasn’t got the wherewithal to get himself out of it”, said Julian “This is going to get worse you know, when he moves in over the stables. He’ll be in here every 5 minutes, moping about like a wet weekend. He’ll make Dobley seem like the Laughing Cavalier by comparison!”

“Hey!” Hillyard shouted down from the atrium “I want a word with you!”

“Which one of us is he talking to?” said Adam, as Hillyard pounded down the main staircase.

“Me, undoubtedly”, said Julian “He never speaks to you like that”.

“Oh it has been known”, said Adam “Sometimes”.

“You left that room in a right state”, Hillyard plodded up to them “It looks like old Sade’s been having one of his orgies in there!”

“Nonsense”, said Adam “It would be in a far worse state if that was the case!”

“I went to all the trouble of putting a dust-sheet on the floor”, said Julian “So as not to mess up the carpet, and all I get is a complete bollocking in return!”

“Yeah, but you haven’t tidied it up again have you?” said Hillyard “And your pyjamas are in the wash-basin in the bathroom. I spose you want me to wash those as well?”

“Not at all”, said Julian “I’ll send Toppy up to do it”.

“I’ll come and tidy up, Hilly”, said Adam “It will seem like a holiday after dealing with Piers!”

“I’ll show the wretch out of the building”, said Julian “We seem to be constantly evicting nutcases from the premises today!”

Hillyard caught up with Adam halfway up the main stairs. He put his hand over Adam’s on the banisters.

“I must say, Hilly”, said Adam “If you’re about to proposition me then don’t waste your time, old love. As you know, Julian can get rather vigorous, and I’m feeling a tad satiated for the time being!”

“Worth a try”, Hillyard shrugged.

“Why don’t you try Joby?” Adam suggested.

“Nah, I think he’s in a strop with me”, said Hillyard “Because I tried to take their gun away this morning”.

“Well you’re following me like a stray dog”, Adam giggled, as they wandered into the corner room shared by Julian, Mieps and Hillyard. Adam collected up the dust-sheet, and Hillyard helped him to fold it.

“Ah how very domestic and cosy you look”, said Julian, coming into the room “Piers has been conducted off the premises, and Bardin is grizzling that he wants his dust-sheet back”.

“Haven’t they finished the painting yet?” said Hillyard.

“Very nearly”, said Julian “And jut to give you another feeling of impending doom, he says that the rooms will be habitable as from tomorrow”.

“Oh dear”, said Adam, with feeling. Their new neighbours moved in at dawn, waking everybody up by bringing all their belongings up from the forest in a couple of wheelbarrows. A few hours later Kieran was working alone in the stables, when he felt a clammy hand over his mouth. Crowley not only had him locked in this unsavoury embrace, but he began to thrust impatiently at Kieran’s behind. Kieran had the strong impression that none of this was particularly motivated by lust, but by some insane power craze on Crowley’s part. None of it, in spite of the fevered panting and thrusting, felt especially sexual. Kieran felt angry and revolted by the whole thing.

The whole sick-making pantomime was brought to a halt by Hillyard coming into the stables and, on seeing what was going on, threatened Crowley with a pitch-fork, much as he had once done to Angel back at the Town House at Toondor Lanpin. He stood by anxiously as Kieran vomited into a bucket.

“You’re alright”, said Hillyard “He’s gone, went out the back door”.

“Jaysus, he moves like a focking cat!” said Kieran, who had retched up the meagre contents of his stomach, and now was down to pure bile “Christ, I’m angry, how the hell does he think he’s going to get away with that?!”

“Making a point was he?” said Hillyard “They say rape’s all a power-game”.

“I wouldn’t say it all is”, said Kieran “But it is with him. I don’t think he even fancies me particularly. He just wants to corrupt me. He and that mad French loon upstairs have probably hatched a bet between them, as to who can soil me first”.

“I think you should go back into the house”, said Hillyard, gently.

“Where’s Joby?” said Kieran.

“He went out mushrooming in the wood with Lonts, Tamaz and Bengo”, said Hillyard “I said to ‘em that autumn may well be just around the corner but it’s still too early for all that, but they wouldn’t have it”.

“Will you send Joby upstairs when he returns?” said Kieran.

Hillyard prowled the estate restlessly for the rest of the morning. There was no sign of Joby’s return, and he was beginning to feel very impatient with him. Eventually he decided to go and check up on Kieran again in his room. He found Kieran standing strangely against a wall, clutching his robe around him. He looked like a puppet that had been left abandoned on a hook.

“Kieran, are you o.k?” said Hillyard “I’ve just seen Julian, he was peculiar as well”.

“That’s because he’s just thrashed me”, said Kieran.

“He did what?” Hillyard exclaimed “Bloody Crowley tries to rape you, and he gives YOU the thrashing?!”

“He always said he’d thrash me like a dog if I put myself in Crowley’s path”, said Kieran, moving stiffly across the room “No one can say Julian’s not a man of his word now can they!”

“But you didn’t put yourself in Crowley’s path”, Hillyard protested “He came and got you!”

“You’ll have to take that up with Julian”, said Kieran.

“Shit”, said Hillyard “A little thing like you and all! Christ, I’m going to have words to say to him. He’s gone too far this time, he bloody has!”

“Can you massage some cream into me?” said Kieran, slipping the robe from his shoulders.

“You look like a slab of rare steak”, said Hillyard.

“A very scraggy slab!” said Kieran.

“Ah the first avenging angel appears”, said Julian, when Hillyard burst into their room a short while later “I am now the villain of the place undoubtedly. Ready to be cast into the outer darkness”.

“Why?” said Hillyard, simply “Why did you do it?”

“It was the only way I could think of to get it through to Kieran the danger he is in”, said Julian “I know the likes of Crowley and Sade. I’ve met their sort before. They see defilement as yet another game to spice up their dreary pointless lives. Can you see any other way of getting it through to that boy the danger he’s in?”

“Yeah, but Julian …” Hillyard began. “Sweet reason won’t work with him”, said Julian “He will simply brush it off in his usual fey manner. I suppose when nearly all your adult life you’ve had people calling you the Vanquisher of Evil, that becomes somewhat inevitable. Get it into your head, Hillyard, I don’t want Kieran changed! I can’t stand the thought of it!”

“Neither can I”, Hillyard mumbled.

“SO DO YOU SEE WHAT I’M DRIVING AT?” Julian shouted.

“YES!” Hillyard shouted back.

“GOOD!” Julian shouted again.

“But Kieran’s under no illusions about Crowley or Sade”, said Hillyard.

“No”, said Julian “And what I’ve done to him today should ensure he doesn’t forget that either!”

Kieran had gone to bed for the afternoon. When he woke up again he heard rain drumming against the window, and smelt cigar smoke. He cautiously looked to one side and found Julian sitting in an armchair by the bed, a cigar in one hand and the dreaded razor-strop in the other.

“I thought I was having a terrible dream”, said Kieran “And woke up to find it was real!”

“Ransey’s left you some tea by the bed”, said Julian.

“If you’ve come in for Round 2”, said Kieran, easing himself into a sitting-position and reaching for the tea-cup “Don’t bother, you’ve virtually crippled me and made me bed-ridden”.

“Splendid!” said Julian, getting up and prowling around the room.

“I expect we have what the psychologists call an abusive relationship”, said Kieran, caustically “You realise that back in our time I could have got the cops on you for what you’ve done to me?”

“You can in this”, said Julian “No doubt the Town Constable would be absolutely delighted to be given something to do. I hope he’s a good card-player. I will need some form of diversion whilst I’m in the cells”.

“I wouldn’t give you the satisfaction!” Kieran growled.

“Don’t you keep an ash-tray in here?” said Julian.

“Joby won’t allow it”, said Kieran.

“I thought we’d tamed him on that little matter”, said Julian, bringing over the big china bowl from the wash-stand to serve the purpose. He lit a cigar for Kieran.

“Joby’s not as easily brought round as all that”, said Kieran “Well you’ve certainly found a foolproof way of keeping me out of trouble haven’t you? Like the time you tried to break me legs at Midnight Castle!”

“Monstrous exaggeration”, said Julian “I hope you don’t feel humiliated”.

“No I don’t feel that”, said Kieran “Humiliation is what Father Gabriel did to me at Mundaba Heights”.

“I know”, said Julian “One of the best things Ransey ever did was blasting the guts out of him”.

Voices were heard out in the corridor. Lonts’s bass baritone and Adam’s soft tones. The door opened gently and Adam came in, holding his hand behind his back.

“Oh”, he said “You’re in here, Jules”.

“Is there a single room in this house where you don’t say that in such dismayed tones?” said Julian.

“Lo-Lo thought you might find Snowy a comfort, Patsy”, said Adam, tucking the bear in next to Kieran “He meant well”.

“Tell him I’m very touched and honoured”, said Kieran.

Julian suddenly got to his feet and stared askance at Adam.

“Oh what is the matter now, Julian?” said Adam.

“Come and see me in my room shortly”, said Julian, inscrutably, as he made for the door.

“He’s not going to start on you now is he?” said Kieran, who was clutching his cup and saucer like a defensive weapon.

“God knows!” said Adam “I’m as perplexed as you are!”

“Bardy, will you stop pacing up and down?” said Bengo, who was trying to set the table for supper in the dining-room “All I can hear are your feet. It’s getting on my nerves”.

“Don’t tell me you two are falling out as well”, said Joby, bringing in a small tray with a decanter of port on it and setting it on the table “That’s all we’ll bleedin’ need!”

“Am I still Captain around here or not?” said Bardin, plonking himself down on a chair, and twirling his whistle around wildly.

“Oh hell, not that one, not NOW!” said Bengo “I’m going to shove a custard pie in your face, Bardy!”

Bardin gave a whimper of protest.

“We haven’t got one”, said Joby.

“Then I’ll make one”, said Bengo “Just for him!”

“No you won’t, you’ll get on with the table”, said Joby.

“Well what am I supposed to do around here?” said Bardin “I might as well go and live in the abandoned hut in the woods!”

“Right, you do that”, said Bengo “And then you can sit around all day in your pink nightie, and I’ll put your make-up on for you!”

Bengo stamped out of the room, back to the kitchen, leaving Bardin sitting there like a cross little boy.

“He can be a right nasty little sod when he puts his mind to it”, said Bardin.

“We’re all at odds today”, said Joby “Don’t take too much notice. What’s your problem anyway?”

“I just feel I could have done something to stop Kieran getting beaten”, said Bardin “That perhaps I could have stopped Julian”.

“If you can think of a way of stopping Julian you’re a better man than I Gunga-din!” said Joby.

“I guess you’re right”, Bardin sighed.

Julian chafed at the bit all through supper, because Adam hadn’t been to see him. When the meal was over Adam went and sat on the sofa on the landing outside Julian’s door.

“Have you deliberately kept me waiting?” said Julian, when Adam finally came into the room.

“No”, said Adam “Just getting some energy together to deal with your little foibles. What on earth was all that about earlier in Patsy’s room?”

“It suddenly occurred to me”, said Julian “That you’re in danger from Crowley too”.

“Not at all”, said Adam “I have no intention of putting myself in the wretched man’s way, and if he tries he … well he might get rather more than he bargained for. Anyway, I think you’re being a tad paranoid, old love. Why should he be interested in ’corrupting’ me? It’s not possible”.

“Because you’re innocent too”, Julian snapped.

“I haven’t been that from a very early age”, Adam smiled “And you should know, you saw to it!”

“Innocent up here”, Julian tapped his head “You went through a period of being moribund, all thanks to me I know. The booze and …”

“I don’t really see the need to open up old graves, old love”, said Adam.

“No”, said Julian “O.K, but you know what I’m saying”.

“Julian, we’re ALL in a state of spiritual innocence up here”, said Adam “If we weren’t … well we wouldn’t be who we are. We would be like Codlik”.

“Yes well he’s certainly one old corpse I have no wish to resurrect!” said Julian.

“Nice you’ve turned up for work this morning”, said Joby,, as he and Adam tidied the kitchen after breakfast the next day. Bengo was cleaning the still-room. “You’ve spent so long upstairs lately I was starting to wonder if you’d become Julian’s full-time sex-slave!”

“Stop being gobby”, said Adam “Or I’ll take down your trousers. No on second thoughts, you can take Julian’s coffee up to him”.

“After the way he’s behaved lately he can whistle for it”, said Joby.

“No he can’t”, said Adam, putting the cup on a tray and handing it to him “Go on!”

Joby departed with the coffee. Adam busied himself returning various items to the pantry. When he emerged he found Crowley standing silhouetted in the doorway to the outside world.

“How the hell do you have the brass nerve to show your face around here?” Adam was furious. He found himself literally shaking with rage. It was an old and unwelcome sensation. “I warn you for your own safety to leave now, Aleister. I am in no mood for casual banter”.

“Oh dear”, Crowley gave an unpleasant chuckle as he slithered into the room “And what will you do if I don’t go?”

“It’s advisable for you not to find out”, said Adam.

“Physically threatening me, Adam?” said Crowley “Tut tut. I should warn you I boxed at Cambridge, dear boy”.

“I don’t care if you played hockey at Roedean!” Adam spat, and he dealt Crowley a punch right in the eye.

Crowley retaliated by thumping Adam on the nose, sending him sprawling over backwards onto the kitchen floor. Adam felt a warm trickle of blood seeping out of his nostril. Crowley pounced on him, and he nearly suffocated under his bulk.

“Hey, what’s going on?” said Joby, coming into the room looking slightly dishevelled, with his apron slung over his shoulder.

Adam delivered an almighty punch into the small of Crowley’s back, severely winding him. Crowley rolled over, gasping like a dying fish.

“Has the silly bastard gone?” said Adam, now sitting at the kitchen table, holding a handkerchief to his nose.

“Er … Lonts threw him out into the yard”, said Joby “Literally. Like a nightclub bouncer he was! You were pretty impressive too. That was a bloody good punch you delivered him. Where did you learn to fight like that? Public school I spose”.

“Not quite”, said Adam “Prison”.

“It was brilliant”, said Joby “I could use that move on Josh when he next plays up”.

“No you won’t”, said Adam “The last time you two had a fight you came off considerably the worse for wear. Damnit, I suppose this means that Aleister will inflict another of his tedious magic tricks on us. Remember that plague of black cats on the sloop? We were cleaning up for ages!”

Lonts came in through the back door.

“I sent the dogs after him just to make sure he left”, he said.

Joby noticed that Lonts’s knuckles were grazed.

“Have you been fighting as well?” he asked.

“I just gave him a thump to be going on with”, said Lonts.

“Is he still alive?” said Joby, who couldn’t believe that anyone could take a punch from Lonts, and live.

“Of course he’s still alive, Joby”, said Lonts “That’s why I sent the dogs after him!”

“Really, this is all getting rather farcical”, said Adam.

“Is Bengo in here?” said Toppy, drifting in.

“He must still be in the still-room, if you know what I mean”, said Adam “Is Bardin looking for him?”

“No, but he will be soon”, said Topy “Some more of Bengo’s antique shopping has been delivered”.

“That’s all we need!” said Joby.

The rest of the day felt more and more surreal. Hillyard came upon Madame de Sade in the stable courtyard, and warned her, in no uncertain terms, to keep her husband under control. If he entertained any ideas of behaving like Crowley, Hillyard warned, he would be in for a nasty surprise. Hillyard had no idea what form this nasty surprise would take yet, but he was certain that Ransey would be able to think of something.

At dusk Julian called Bardin into the Smoking Room, and they had a heart-to-heart, basically along the lines that Julian wasn’t trying to dethrone him.

“I guess I’m missing the sloop”, said Bardin “It’s hard to feel like a Captain when you haven’t got a boat. I’m alright though, except Bengo’s giving me a hard time. No wonder I felt despair when I was a kid and he was introduced as my comedy partner! A lifetime of being manacled to Bengo!”

“Rubbish”, said Julian “I cannot think of two people more fitted to be married to one another!”

“Kieran!” Joby shouted, standing in the doorway of their bedroom, after an early night had been called for “Kieran!”

“Can’t I even have a crap in peace?” said Kieran, emerging from the loo at the other end of the corridor “What’s the matter with you now?”

Joby grabbed Kieran’s arm and bundled him along the passageway.

“Hey, hey, I’m still feeling tender”, said Kieran.

“Sorry”, said Joby, releasing him “But take a look at this”.

There was a wooden china cabinet filled with willow-patterned china in their room.

“When did this appear?” said Joby, as though the cabinet had magically materialised itself. He seemed entirely oblivious to the strain and trauma there had been in getting the thing shifted up the back stairs.

“Must be one of wee Bengo’s acquisitions”, said Kieran.

“Well what’s it doing in here?” said Joby.

“Perhaps there was no room for it anywhere else”.

“So they put it in the smallest bleedin’ room in the castle!”

“For fock’s sake Joby, it’s only a china cabinet”, said Kieran “Do you think it’s going to leap out in the night and bite your or something?”

“Do you want some more cream massaging on you?” said Joby, perceptively.

“Yes please”, said Kieran.

They were in the middle of this delicate operation when Bardin appeared in the room wearing a very ill-fitting grey silk suit on over only shorts. It was at least two sizes too small, which considering Bardin’s slender, petite build, was quite astonishing.

“Jaysus, who was that made for?” said Kieran.

“You?” said Joby to Kieran.

“You’d think he’d know my clothes size by now wouldn’t you!” said Bardin.

“Another of Bengo’s purchases I take it?” said Kieran.

“And it’s grey”, said Bardin “It would be very bad for my street cred as a clown to wear a grey suit! It must have been made for a bloody midget! Do you want to try it on, Kieran?”

“I’ve never worn a suit”, said Kieran “I’ve always made it a point of honour”.

“Pretty classy bit of cloth though”, said Joby “I bet that weren’t originally off-the-peg”.

“I dread to think what he’s going to order next”, said Bardin.

“Good job he wasn’t around when credit card’s were at large”, said Joby “Or you’d have never known peace of mind”.

“What were credit cards?” said Bardin.

“Don’t matter”, Joby sighed.

“Are you reading Toppy’s column?” said Bardin, when he went along to the Red Bedroom and found Bengo absorbed in the local newspaper.

“No he’s cut it out”, said Bengo “Says he wants to start up a scrapbook, turn it into a proper book eventually”.

“What’s he going to call it?” said Bardin, hanging up the grey suit “’Lord Toppy’s Cure For Insomnia’?”

“Don’t you like your new suit, Bardy?” said Bengo.

“Well it might help if it fit me!” said Bardin, sitting down on the chair next to Bengo “What’s so blasted absorbing in the paper?”

“I’m reading the problem page”, said Bengo “They’re doing a special on relationships”. “There’s original”, said Bardin, sarcastically.

“Got a proper psychiatrist in to do it”, said Bengo “He lists all the signs that show a relationship is in danger”.

“And I suppose we fit every one of them?” said Bardin.

“Not at all”, said Bengo “He says the most dangerous sign is when a couple stop arguing, as it means they no longer have any interest in one another. Not much danger of that happening to us!”

“If that’s his benchmark it doesn’t look like we’re ever going to be in danger!” Bardin snapped. He wriggled his foot under the bottom of the newspaper “Is lack of sex a bad sign too?”

“Most likely”, Bengo giggled.

He put the newspaper down, and came over and sat on his lap.

“It should be sitting on you”, Bardin grumbled “I swear you’re gaining weight again. I’m surprised they can get your pinny round you in the kitchen!”

“Oh who’s a dweet liddle thing!” Bengo cooed, grabbing Bardin’s cheeks in both hands and tweaking them painfully. Bardin laughed.

“My God!” Bardin leapt out of bed a few hours later, and clung to the post at the bottom in terror. The room was shaking all around him, as though a giant toddler was using the whole house as a toy, and was smashing it petulantly up and down on the nursery floor.

“Bardy!” Bengo gasped, struggling into consciousness “What is it? Is it a quake?”

“It’s Crowley”, said Kieran, a few doors along “Listen”.

Amidst the horrendous crashing and banging could be heard a deep male voice getting louder and then fading again at regular intervals, like an old inadequate radio-set.

“The old bastard”, said Joby, standing next to the china cabinet which was shaking violently.

“Now there’s no need to be alarmed”, said Kieran, fumbling his way out of bed.

“No need to be alarmed?!” Joby exclaimed “We know what he’s capable of with his blasted magic, Kiel!”

“Maybe”, said Kieran, beginning to get dressed “But I still think he’s small potatoes. He’s not on a par with Angel. He’s not even on a par with Codlik when it comes to being a bloody nuisance!”

“Where do you think you’re going?” Joby asked.

“I’ll do a Blessing”, said Kieran.

Joby groaned and rolled his eyes.

“And I’ll get Finia to do a voodoo exorcism”, said Kieran “We might as well have all bases covered. Why don’t you go and make us all some tea?”

“I don’t know how the bloody hell we’re supposed to work in these conditions”, said Joby, now down in the kitchen, where a terrified Toppy was rescuing the crockery from the dresser and placing it carefully on the floor.

“Well at some point it must ease”, said Adam.

“I wouldn’t bank on it”, said Joby, morosely.

“No it must do, Joby”, said Adam “Aleister will run out of energy for one thing. It must be taking him enormous mental willpower to cause all this”.

“I hope you’re right”, said Joby.

He went to the back door and pulled it open. To his surprise (as Crowley’s hocus-pocus tended to concentrate the mind somewhat) he found it was raining outside, more of the hot and sultry monsoon weather.

“At least with it raining so hard it’ll put out any fires he thinks of starting”, said Joby.

“Yes, that’s it, look on the bright side, old love”, said Adam.

Kieran came into the kitchen to commandeer some bags of salt. He stared pointedly at Joby.

“What are you staring at me like that for?” said Joby “You look like a vindictive goblin!”

“Just hoping you’re alright that’s all”, said Kieran.

“He will be absolutely fine”, said Adam, insistently “Joby, why don’t you and Toppy check there’s no damage in the passageways?”

“Yeah alright”, said Joby “Come on then”.

Toppy took Joby’s arm along the back corridor which led to the door which opened onto the stable-yard. Joby knew Toppy was only doing it to comfort him, but it made him feel like an old man in a nursing-home being taken to the toilet by an over-officious nurse. He used an excuse to inspect the vibrating hot-water pipes overhead to disentangle himself. By the time they reached Finia’s sewing-room, which was in one of the corner turrets, it was clear that Crowley’s Magick, rather like a tumultuous thunderstorm, was slowly ebbing.

“Where did all this stuff come from?” said Joby, as he collapsed onto the sofa, surrounded by reams of shimmering satin material.

“I expect it’s just more of Bengo’s shopping”, said Toppy, perching primly on the arm of the sofa “Finia can make dresses out of I expect, for himself and Tamaz”.

“You never know what’s gonna appear next in this house”, said Joby, feeling the gorgeous smoothness of the silver satin.

“That quite suits you”, said Toppy.

“Behave yourself!” said Joby.

Finia came into the room carrying one of Julian’s most expensive cigars in his little hand, because the sweet, heady smell was supposed to be quite conducive to exorcisms.

“It’s fading”, he said “I don’t know whether that’s our work or Crowley is just getting tired”. “Crowley’s imminent death with any luck!” said Joby.

The interrupted night’s sleep was resumed. Joby awoke in the early grey morning to hear someone prowling around on the gravel directly underneath their window. He slipped out of bed and went to look out. All he saw was a man’s large, bulky shape disappearing around the side of the house, in the direction of the stable-yard.

After a late breakfast Adam was alone in the kitchen, idly leafing through an old recipe-book, when Madame de Sade appeared in the doorway, clutching a shawl around her shoulders.

“It feels like it’s getting cooler”, she said.

“Autumn is just around the corner”, said Adam “You will find that the winters up here can be quite severe”.

“Like Marlsblad?” she asked, with some trepidation.

“Very like Marlsblad, I’m afraid”, said Adam “Are you alright, old love? You look a little tense”.

“I must speak with you, Adam”, she said “In private. It is most important”.

“Then let us go out into the garden”, said Adam “This house is far too easy to be overheard in”.

He took her out into the middle of the west-facing lawn, where Father Levka had pitched camp. There was an old bench facing the house, free of nearby bushes and trees, and thus no chance of anyone concealing themselves in the foliage to eavesdrop.

“Meester Crowley came round to see my husband early this morning”, said Madame de Sade.

“Yes, they do seem to have formed a rather unholy alliance”, said Adam “Particularly as I can’t imagine there is much loved lost between them”.

“Donatien despises Aleister”, said Renee “He says he wants so desperately to be an aristocrat, when in fact he is a common little man”.

“But I suppose they’re united in wanting to corrupt Patsy … Kieran”, said Adam.

“They have come up with a plan”, said Renee “To get Joby …”

“Stop right there”, said Adam “I have been round this track before. They have realised that to destroy Pats … Kieran, they need to corrupt or destroy or lure away Joby. It’s all been tried before, Renee, by experts”.

Adam knew that Crowley and Sade had discovered something vital though. If anything happened to Joby he strongly suspected, in fact he had always known it, right from the early days at Henang, that Kieran would go completely insane.

“You don’t know the height of their … depravity”, said Renee “Aleister wanted me … wanted me to do the corrupting”.

Adam saw a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Renee, who at one time had enjoyed a somewhat vicarious sexual relationship with Crowley (whom she had adored), during their Starhanger days, was feeling extremely betrayed by his latest outlandish idea.

“I see”, he said.

“Donatien lost his temper with him”, said Renee “Said he was perverted. Aleister said he found this hypocritical from a man who had indulged in every vice there is”.

“I guess it is rather”, said Adam “But at least your husband didn’t go along with it. We have to be grateful for small mercies I suppose!”

“But he might!” said Renee “He is capable of forcing me to do anything. He has in the past. He made me do things I didn’t know I was capable of doing. Ridiculous things”.

“Why don’t you just leave him, Renee?” said Adam “You did before, in your own lifetime. You went into a convent”.

“Witnessing the Revolution at first hand gave me the courage to do that”, said Renee “I was battle-weary after that. Seeing all that bloodshed on my own doorstep … well I no longer had the strength and the patience to cope with Donatien’s unreasonable demands”.

“Can’t you do it again though?” said Adam.

“Here there is no convent with thick stone walls to hide in”, said Renee “There, I could just send out a message that I did not wish to see him, and he had no choice but to obey. But also, a part of me wants to be here to protect Kieran, if I can”.

“Well you needn’t worry about being forced to seduce Joby”, said Adam “I can safely say there is no one on God’s earth who is harder to seduce than he is! Come back into the house with me, and we’ll explain the situation to him”.

“No I can’t!” Renee gasped “It would be so improper!”

“Alright”, said Adam “I’ll explain the situation to him, and you can sit in the kitchen with a nice cup of tea … or hot chocolate, if you prefer”.

Adam found Joby lying on the sofa in the peppermint sitting-room, reading a gardening magazine and noisily squelching on a pear.

“Madame de Sade is here”, said Adam.

“What the hell does she want?” said Joby.

“I do wish you’d try and be a bit nicer to her”, said Adam.

“Why should I?” said Joby, getting up to chuck the remains of the pear in the grate “She’s no better than Myra Hindley!”

“Oh no that is far too harsh!” said Adam.

“Adam”, said Joby “She used to procure little girls for her old man!”

“’Procure’ is rather an inflammatory way of putting it”, said Adam “And they were teenagers, not little girls. She hired them to work as maids at the chateau”.

“Knowing full well what he intended to do to ‘em!” said Joby.

“Joby”, said Adam “I know you won’t accept this, but it was different in their time. Renee was brought up to be completely obedient to her husband”.

“She still must have known right from wrong though!” said Joby.

“Oh since when did you turn into a bloody ‘Daily Mail’ reader!” Adam snapped “There is precious little point judging somebody by what happened in the 18th century, particularly when we need her on side now. She’s worried, Joby. She thinks Sade may pressure her into luring you away from Patsy”.

Joby gave a short, sharp laugh.

“Well that should be interesting to see!” he said “She hasn’t got a hope in hell of succeeding!”

“I can’t imagine why she would want to!” Adam retorted.

“So what do you want me to do then?” said Joby.

“Just be a bit tolerant of her that’s all”, said Adam “If you know what’s going on, and you and she can discuss it … in a civilised manner, then that will be an enormous weapon on our side. That is all”.

“I have been shouting for you for ages”, said Julian, crossly, as he finished shaving in his bathroom.

“I didn’t hear you”, said Adam, unrepentantly.

“What were you doing on the bench in the garden with that demented old Frenchwoman?” said Julian.

“Oh, and she speaks so highly of you!” said Adam “You’re as bad as Joby! She is trying to help us, Jules. Her vile husband has been given an idea by Aleister. So far he’s resisted it, but Renee is afraid he might come round to it”.

“What idea?” said Julian.

“In order to destroy Patsy, Renee is to seduce away Joby”, said Adam.

“Hah!” said Julian “The best of British to her in that case, she’ll need it!”

“I know, it’s really too absurd”, said Adam “Sometimes I think that if we’re not careful we’ll end up living in one of Sade’s damn novels!”

“’Les Liaisons Dangereuse’”, said Julian.

“No that wasn’t one of his”, said Adam.

“I know that!” said Julian, impatiently “But it’s the world he knew. French aristocrats playing games with people’s lives because they had nothing else to do”.

“And of course our lot were NEVER like that were they!” said Adam, sarcastically.

“We must have been better than them!” said Julian “Because we survived, damnit! No scaffolds or tumbrels for us”.

“Perhaps our working-classes were just more tolerant”, said Adam.

“After prolonged exposure to Joby over many many long years”, said Julian “I find that extremely hard to believe!”

Bardin organised a brainstorming session of himself, the other clowns, Toppy and Hoowie in the dining-room later that afternoon. He quietly thought to himself that this was the triumph of hope over experience, but he felt that they had to be seen to be doing something, or the Oldies would look as though they were trying to do all the problem-solving.

“The problem is this house”, said Toppy, unexpectedly, as Bengo bustled around the table pouring out cups of tea for everyone “It’s too big and it’s too conspicuous”. “I thought you liked it being too big”, said Bardin “It means you can lay out your butler fantasies”.

“Apart from when it comes to answering the front door”, mumbled Rumble.

“If we lived somewhere smaller”, said Topy “Where we could sort of fade into the background”.

“What, a nice 3-bedroom semi you mean?” Bardin snapped “All 17 of us, plus all the animals?!”

“How the hell can we fade into the background, man?” said Farnol “Wherever we are stick out like a sore thumb!”

“It seemed to work at the Old Mill-House in Marlsblad”, said Toppy.

“You hated the Old Mill-House at Marlsblad!” said Bengo.

“And I wouldn’t exactly say we kept out of trouble there!” said Bardin.

“How does moving to a smaller house help us to protect Kieran from the likes of Crowley and Sade?“ said Rumble.

“We wouldn’t have them right on our doorstep!” said Topy “Able to get in out and out of the house whenever they wanted, through any door and window they can find. And it’s not just them is it? With this house, anyone, like Father Levka for instance, can easily find out where Kieran is”.

“They can find out wherever he is anywhere!” said Bardin, irritably.

“We should just kill Crowley or Sade”, said Bengo, which at least achieved the unprecedented feat of reducing the table to silence.

Bardin looked so shocked he appeared as though he might be in danger of needing medical treatment.

“Bengo!” he gasped. “Well I’m sorry Bardy, but that’s the way I feel”, said Bengo “I’m going upstairs”.

He aimed a kick at the sideboard on his way out of the room.

“I don’t know what’s come over him”, said Bardin.

“The kid has a point though”, said Rumble.

“Don’t you start!” said Bardin “I’m going up to see to him”.

When he got upstairs he found Bengo had undressed and was lying on their bed. The rain was hammering against the window. Bardin silently went up to him and felt his forehead.

“You’re hot”, he said “I’ll get Finia up here to take your temperature”. “I’m not ill, Bardy”, said Bengo “It’s just very muggy around here that’s all”.

“Well the way you behaved downstairs certainly wasn’t like you”, said Bardin. “Yes it was”, said Bengo “I have no tolerance for evil these days”.

“There’s no reason why you ever should have!” said Bardin.

“No, but I won’t tolerate it for a second these days”, said Bengo “Not these stupid idiots who just want to play games with people’s lives”.

“You always were tougher than me really”, Bardin sighed, and sat down in a chair by the bed.

“It’s not tough to say these things”, said Bengo “After all, it’s just talk. I wouldn’t be the one who had to do it would I!”

“No and thank God!” said Bardin “That’s not what Bengo’s are for!”

They walked down the back stairs to the kitchen hand-in-hand. Adam and Lonts were sitting by the stove. Lonts smoking his pipe, Adam reading a global newspaper. Joby was noisily sweeping out the corners of the room.

“Hello old loves”, said Adam “There’s some tea in the pot”.

“If it’s not too stewed”, Joby grunted.

Adam gave a tut of annoyance.

“And a letter has arrived for you, Bardin”, he said “It’s on the dresser”.

“Who could be writing to you, Bardy?” said Bengo, excitedly.

“Probably just another old showbiz has-been wanting a handout”, said Bardin, opening the letter and turning to the last page to see who it was from “Oh fuck, that’s all we need. It’s from Dobley”.

“How is he getting on?” said Adam.

“He sounds even more bonkers than when he went in!” said Bardin, after quickly scanning the contents “’There are things going on here that no one will openly talk about’, in other words he’s still bloody paranoid and imagining things!” “Oh lor”, said Adam “I guess some of the medication they might use won’t help”.

“’There are zombies in the mountains at night’”, Bardin continued “’They have put stainless steel doors in the outer walls to stop them getting in’, more likely to stop him getting out! ‘I keep dreaming that they have broken in and that they are biting me’”.

Bardin slapped down the letter on the table in annoyance.

“Perhaps Dobley’s telling the truth, Bardin”, said Lonts.

“Not likely, Lonts”, said Bardin “He never has before!”

“But strange things can happen in the mountains, Bardin”, said Lonts.

“Yeah, it can produce people like you!” said Joby.

“But it’s true”, Lonts persisted “We were always hearing strange stories in Kiskev”.

“And I’ve heard strange ones round here”, said Bengo.

“I’ve heard enough craziness from you for one day!” said Bardin.

“I was talking to Shag recently”, said Bengo “And he said a lot of the locals round here believe there’s some kind of she-creature walking the forest, and that anyone who sees her doesn’t live to tell the tale”.

“That sound suspiciously like a throwback to the days of Freaky’s mother”, said Adam.

“If anyone who sees this creature doesn’t live to tell the tale”, said Bardin, with forced patience “How does anyone know about it?!”

“I don’t know, Bardy”, said Bengo “I’m just repeating what Shag said”.

“You spend far too much time gossiping!” said Bardin.

Bengo looked desolate.

“Lo-Lo”, said Adam to Lonts “Get out the biscuit-tin, and let us chew over the prospect of zombies … on top of everything else”.

“It’s a three-pipe problem”, said Joby.


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