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By eight-thirty that morning the sun had banished any lingering dawn chill away, and the day was well set on its smouldering path. On the harbourside a steady line of horse-drawn carriages snaked slowly towards the boat that was to be home to all the passengers for the next two nights.
The whole process was interminable as each carriage took an age to be divested of its occupants and baggage. In one carriage Joby sat with his cap pulled down over his eyes, feeling as though he was enduring the worst hangover he had ever experienced. Every time the carriage moved another few feet it seemed to pick out every bump in the concrete. Next to him Kieran scanned every passenger he could see as intently as a fictional detective trying to pick out the murderer in a whodunnit. It was not a reassuring thought to know that someone in the locality meant him enough harm to merit a verbal warning from a complete stranger. As it was, he couldn't see any trace of the little dark-haired man who had imparted the ominous warning.
Adam, meanwhile, was watching them both. His heart sank. This was not a good start to the holiday. Joby was obviously psyching himself up to complain about everything, and someone might have the knives out for Kieran. On top of that Hillyard kept lurching dangerously towards his shoulder as though he was about to be sick on it.
"You look terrible", Adam snapped, as Hillyard gazed at him through his uncombed hair.
"At this moment", said Hillyard, laboriously "I just want to be lying on my bed, gazing up at the ceiling".
"How many cabins have we got?" said Kieran.
"Two", said Adam "I asked for three, but there were limited spaces".
"I hope you're sharing with Hillyard", Joby grunted.
"At this moment nothing would give me greater pleasure than to refuse and make you do it", said Adam "But there's a limit to how much of your moaning I can take".
A volley of complaints went up the long queue as a closed carriage hurtled past at breakneck speed, and commandeered the front place.
"Wanker!" Joby bellowed "Fucking queue-jumpers!"
"We're all going to get on the boat so I don't know what everyone's complaining about", said Adam.
"I wanna get me head down", Hillyard groaned.
"Oh just unscrew it and take it off", said Adam "No one'll notice any difference".
"It's a nice-looking boat", said Kieran "Like an old Spanish galleon, but with all mod cons".
"I hope you like it Pats".
"I'm sure it'll be lovely", Kieran smiled at Adam, reassuringly. He was only too aware that if the slightest thing went wrong on this trip Joby and Hillyard would be sure to make Adam suffer for it "You and me'll enjoy ourselves anyway".
"You could've both enjoyed yourselves in Marlsblad", said Joby.
"And there wouldn't have been so much moving around involved", said Hillyard.
Their carriage gradually rolled to the front of the queue. Kieran helped Hillyard to alight from it, followed by Adam. Joby resolutely stayed put.
"I don't want to go", he said, stubbornly.
"Joby, you're holding up the focking queue!" Kieran hissed.
"I don't care. I don't want to go".
"I'll talk to him", said Adam "Patsy, you and Hillyard sort the bags out".
"It's no good you starting on me", said Joby, as Adam climbed back into the carriage.
"And what do you plan to do, sit here until the snows come?" Adam exclaimed.
"I have a bad feeling about this trip".
"Maybe, but now is not the time to brood on it", said Adam, aware of the growing unrest in the carriages behind them "Move your arse Joby or I'll kiss you in front of everyone!"
In the corridor outside the first-class cabins Kieran stood amongst a sea of luggage. There had been a last-minute change, the steward had informed him. Adam had originally booked a couple of second-class cabins, but when the shipping company found out that the Vanquisher of Evil was on the passenger list they had been upgraded (at no extra charge) to a first-class stateroom.
"But surely someone else will have booked this?" Kieran protested, standing outside the door.
"I am sure they won't mind giving it up for you", the steward fawned.
Kieran didn't share his confidence. Gratitude for beating the Devil only went so far, and he felt it didn't include being thrown out of your stateroom. This feeling was intensified when another passenger stormed past him, and in so doing literally knocked him off his feet. The steward was mortified, and gingerly retrieved him from his sprawling position on the floor.
"Some people have no manners", he said, apologising breathlessly.
"Perhaps it was his cabin", said Kieran, trying to catch a glimpse of the figure that had stormed past, but he was lost in the dim light at the end of the corridor by now.
"I know who he is", said the steward, crossly "He sails with us regularly. He conducts business in Lixix. Between ourselves I always dread having him on my cabin list. He's one of those passengers that expects the earth but never tips you for it. All I can say is I'm glad I don't work for him all the time. I hear he gives his staff a very difficult time".
"What's his business then?"
"I'm not entirely sure, although he's very 'in' with the Ministry, so whatever it is it ensures him friends in high places. The usual jobs for the boys. Still, when you become President, I'm sure you'll root out all that kind of thing".
"I might not become President", said Kieran, continually astonished that the exact details of a private conversation between himself and the current President were seemingly known to every man and boy in the City.
"But you must", said the steward "We're counting on you".
Adam and Hillyard hadn't been as lucky as their friends. Although also ensconced in the first-class section, they had been given a cabin that was normally reserved for the personal attendants of dignitaries. It was small and claustrophobic, with one porthole and no bathroom.
"God help us if the air-conditioning breaks down", said Adam "We'll boil to death".
"Do you want to go on top?" said Hillyard, looking wistfully at the narrow bunk-beds stacked against one wall.
"What an enticing offer Hillyard!" said Adam "And your beauty is so overwhelming today I shall find it very hard to refuse you".
"Sarcastic bastard. Make your mind up. I'm fit to drop".
"I'll take the bottom one. I don't feel like cocking my leg to that extent everytime I want to get into bed".
Hillyard hoisted himself onto the top bunk and collapsed onto his back. The mattress sagged dangerously beneath his weight, and Adam immediately had reservations about having chosen the bottom bunk.
"I'll pop across and see how the other half are living", he said, and left Hillyard to die in peace.
In the stateroom across the way Joby had shaken off his depression, and instead was euphoric about the luxury of the cabin he was sharing with Kieran. It was huge, with bow-windows, a king-sized double bed, bathroom and a even a small private deck.
"I should be cursing you Joby", said Adam, standing in the middle of the cabin and looking around him "If it wasn't for you I could be in here with Patsy. As it is I have to share a rabbit-hutch with Hillyard".
"It's only for two nights", said Kieran.
"Yea", said Joby "And if it gets too unbearable across the way you can come and sleep on our deck if you like".
"Thank you, I'm deeply touched".
He had barely been on-board for a couple of hours before Adam concluded that the boating life wasn't for him. Everything that happened conspired to irritate him. Due to Kieran's elevated status they were offered complimentary cocktails in the bar. After having informed him in a loud voice that "you can't have one", Joby had commandeered Adam's for himself. To add insult to injury no one seemed to be able to make decent coffee.
Kieran and Joby had got bored with the bar-area surprisingly quickly, although Adam suspected this was due to Kieran getting fed up with being stared at. In the end they brought a bottle of a highly-toxic spirit and took it back to their cabin with them, to drink on the privacy of their own deck. Although he had been invited along too, Adam felt that no one really wanted an ex alcoholic along at a serious drinking session and declined.
After they had gone Adam felt horribly alone. The atmosphere in the bar, which had been like an electric overload during Kieran's presence, dissipated sharply when he left, leaving behind a palpable sense of gloom. He couldn't help feeling that the whole trip was a terrible mistake. They were used to Kieran in Marlsblad and wouldn't have stared at him there. We should've gone there, thought Adam, not be holed-up on this tub with a bunch of poseurs.
The rest of the passengers certainly did leave a lot to be desired. Men with money, and not enough to spend it on. Men who had grown soft and spoilt through living a life bereft of real challenges. Men who talked about their business ventures as though they were fighting sabre-toothed tigers in the jungle. Adam felt he had nothing in common with them. At one point it looked dangerously as though he might get adopted as a pet by the head barman, who prided himself on being a frustrated intellectual and had been impressed by the sight of Adam's sketchpad and his influential friend. Adam blew his chances though when after listening to an extraordinarily pretentious monologue about how the barman "went positively limp" during the final movement of his favourite concerto, Adam had replied "how terribly inconvenient for you". Kieran and Joby would have laughed at this. The barman didn't find it funny.
Decidedly fed up by now Adam retreated to the top deck. He settled himself on one of the lounge chairs he found there, and tried desperately to see if there was anything of the coastline that he could draw, but they were too far out to sea. Admittedly the water looked a delicious sparkling blue, but there was a limit to how long you could gaze at it for.
"When we get near Lixix the porpoises swim alongside us for a while".
Adam looked up to see who had spoken. Standing near him was the little dark-haired man who had giving Kieran the mysterious warning at the camp-site. He was carrying a folding-table under one arm.
"Who are you?" asked Adam.
"My name's Paul", he said, practically bowing as he spoke.
"Unusual to hear another Biblical name these days. Are you a time-crosser?"
"No, it's my adopted name. I changed it about a year ago".
"I see, so does that mean you're one of the growing band of religious zealots?"
"Not really. Well ... sort of. It's hard to explain".
"What was all that about in the woods this morning? Who means the Vanquisher harm?"
"M-my employer", Paul said, nervously "Please don't let on to him that you know me. Or that you know Noni either".
"Noni is a colleague of yours?"
"Yes. He has an even worse time of it than I do".
"He didn't strike me as the happiest of people", said Adam "So why do you both continue to work for this person, whoever he is?"
"I can't explain that now", Paul unfolded the table, and began to arrange four chairs around it.
"You can at least tell me what terrible things he intends doing to my friend".
"I can't. Not at the moment. It would take too long to explain. Do you play bridge?"
"I haven't played it for years".
(Over 2000 in fact! he thought).
"But you can play?"
"I suppose so", Adam shrugged.
"Will you make up a bridge four? I was sent to find someone to make up the set. Please say you will", Paul said, desperately.
"Who else is playing?"
"Me, Noni and ... him".
"Who is 'he'? I'm beginning to feel like I'm discussing the Invisible Man!"
"His name's Gabriel".
"Oh lor, is it? Another one like you?"
"He's a very successful businessman. W-with a lot of influence in the City. I'm his secretary. I also help him to run a religious group he's founded. He's very clever that way. Under his influence religious groups will soon be made legal again".
"If he's some kind of evangelical missionary", said Adam "Why does he intend harm towards the Vanquisher?"
"It's not as straightforward as that. You don't understand".
"Too right I don't!"
"He's coming up now", Paul peered over the railings at the deck below "Please, I ask you two favours. Don't let on that I've met you before this moment, and don't mention that you're in the Vanquisher's party".
"It seems I'm going to get precious little fun out of this card game", said Adam, wishing he'd gone back to his cabin. Even lying directly below Hillyard's snoring bulk for the rest of the afternoon would have been preferable to this.
The enigmatic Gabriel was a peculiar-looking creature. Adam could see little of him beneath his voluminous black coat, broad-brimmed hat and scarf clutched close to his mouth and nose. How he didn't boil in all that get-up was a mystery to Adam, and he couldn't have looked more out of place on the ship if he'd tried. Neither did he seem to be in the best of health, as Noni escorted his feeble footsteps across the deck. Apart from a slight flickering on his face as their eyes met Noni gave no indication that he and Adam had met before. Adam decided to play along with the little farce.
"You play bridge?" said Gabriel, after removing his scarf from his face. His voice was surprisingly soft and clear, and most surprisingly of all, young. From his initial appearance Adam had thought he was an old man, doddering on the brink of his grave. Now he revised his opinion. When Gabriel removed his scarf Adam guessed him to be in his late twenties. His face, although horribly emaciated and skeletal, was not old.
"I can", said Adam, feeling shaken.
Adam's psychic abilities were nowhere near as finely-tuned as Kieran's, but he could still sense an incredible psychic power emanating from the gaunt creature opposite him. In fact, after a while he began to feel as though the man was slowly draining him of his vitality, absorbing his energy like blotting-paper.
The game was played with the utmost seriousness. There was no room for small-talk. Noni and Paul were quite visibly terrified of their employer, and didn't even like looking directly at him. Adam could understand their reluctance. Gabriel seemed to wear his skin as though it was a suit, and one two sizes too small at that. His lips were chapped, and the eyes ... the last time Adam had seen eyes like black marbles they had belonged to a vampire.
"You don't seem to have good concentration", said Gabriel, in his girlish voice "I'm glad it's Noni partnering me and not you".
Adam tried to think of an excuse to leave the table, but couldn't. Normally if he'd been fed up, he would have made a curt apology and simply left, but now he felt nailed to his chair. This man was draining him!
After the longest half-hour of his life he was extremely relieved to see Joby appearing at the top of the steps.
"Your friend the head barman said you was up here", he remarked, cradling another bottle of the lethal spirit in his arms "We've ordered some decent coffee for you on room-service if you want to join us".
"Yes, I'd like that", said Adam.
"We are in the middle of a game", said Gabriel.
"What are you playing?" asked Joby.
"Oh", said Joby, immediately sounding disinterested again.
"Joby, I can't find my sketch-pad", said Adam.
"It's here", Joby picked it up from a nearby chair "Are you alright?"
"I will be soon".
"Who was that bunch of jerks then?" said Joby, as he and Adam walked slowly back to the first-class area "Particularly the Prince of Darkness. What did he look like, dressed up like that in this heat?"
"Joby, I have to tell you, he means Patsy harm", said Adam, pausing to lean on a railing and get some of his energy back "I haven't a clue who he is, or what his hidden agenda is. All I know is that he has one, and it worries me. So if you want to go on about how we should have gone to Marlsblad I will meekly listen".
"Oh come off it! Anyone could see the man's a complete poseur. He probably gets his kicks out of dressing up in black and scaring people. Ignore him. After all, nothing's gonna give him a bigger kick than to go around threatening Flannery".
"I can't help but feel it's starting again", said Adam "I feel a blackness nearby. Patsy is in danger".
"Bollocks! Angel's dead. The vampires are dead. One nutter at large doesn't mean civilisation's under threat again. Oh come on Adam, snap out of it or you'll upset Flannery".
By the end of the day Adam had nearly been persuaded that all was really normal. He had spent the evening sitting on Kieran's deck and enjoying the tropical breezes. He was also relieved that Kieran seemed to slow down his drinking when he was around.
"As treasurer on this trip", said Adam, picking up the second empty bottle "I shall refuse to pay your bar tariff if you order another bottle of these tonight".
"Spoiler", said Joby "It's my birthday tomorrow".
"Yes I know", said Adam "You'll be twenty-two, and if both of you want to see twenty-three you're going to have to cut this down".
"We could be doing far worse things", said Kieran.
"That's a matter of opinion!"
"Bit rich coming from you anyway", said Joby.
"Yes, and I know from bitter experience that boozers are rotten company", Adam exclaimed "How would you like me to loll around getting pissed all day? I'll tell you, you'd hate every minute of it. It's miserable and boring".
"Can't we have just a couple of drinks?" said Kieran.
"Yes, but you don't leave it at that do you!" said Adam "If you keep this level of drinking up, and I'm talking to both of you, then I shall have to assume you've got my problem, and I'll ban any drop of it coming near you. Why on earth do you want to drink like this?"
"Because it's fun getting pissed together", said Kieran.
"And he can't do that with you", said Joby.
"No, we have a different kind of fun", said Adam "Far more enjoyable. But then he can't do THAT with you, can he?"
"Don't be mean to Joby, Addy".
"Why not? He's mean to me".
"Do you know", said Joby "I've only ever passed out once through being pissed, and that was on a toilet floor".
"Fascinating", said Adam.
"I suppose you drank to get unconscious", said Joby "How long did it used to take you?"
"If I was very desperate, about half-a-minute".
"A tumbler of whisky or brandy filled to the top", said Adam "And downed in one go can knock you out instantly if you're lucky. It wasn't unknown for me to do it that way".
"That's sad", said Kieran "Very sad".
"I'm surprised you didn't end up with brain damage", said Joby.
"Well I think I must have done, otherwise why do I spend my time hanging around with you two brats!"
Adam lay back on the deck, which was still warm from the day's hot sunshine. Kieran and Joby lay down on either side of him, and commandeered half his chest each to lay their heads on. Kieran was soon asleep, although Joby stayed awake and showed a disturbing tendency for flicking one of Adam's nipple-rings.
"Dangerous having these things on Ad", he said "If someone took a dislike to you they could just grab both of 'em and yank 'em as though you were a chest of drawers. That'd be quite painful, wouldn't it?"
"Don't go getting ideas you scrawny little bastard. People have committed murder for less than that".
"That weird bloke you was playing cards with earlier", said Joby "You don't really think he means Flannery harm do you?"
"I don't know, but let's just say I haven't seen anything about him that I'd trust. I'll be glad when we're off this tub and out in the desert. Hopefully we'll shake him off there".
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