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Adam spent a sleepless night on the bottom bunk in his cabin, staring up at the sagging mattress overhead. He couldn't get Gabriel and his cowed attendants out of his mind, and his thoughts ranged from fear of the mystery stranger to anger. He had no wish to live through another experience of losing Kieran to dark forces, and resented Paul for putting that dread back into his mind.
To make matters worse the air-conditioning broke down at six o'clock, and made any further attempts at sleep impossible. After spending an inordinate amount of time re-arranging his pillow he gave up any hope of rest and got out of bed. He had finished shaving and was trying to make cabin-service understand a simple request for a pot of coffee (not easy to do when using an antiquated brass speaking-tube), when Hillyard rose from the dead.
"Look at this thing!" Adam exclaimed, ramming the stopper back into the tube "Talk about the dark ages. I don't know why they don't just issue us with tin-cans and bits of string, and then we can play telephones. We'd have about as much success communicating".
"You've made a mess in here", said Hillyard, gloomily surveying the wreckage on the wash-stand "But you never clean up after yourself do you?"
"I'd seriously worry if I was you Hillyard", said Adam, poking the other man's flabby chest "Already getting tits at your age".
"We can't all be stick-insects like Kieran can we?" Hillyard snapped "How much longer have we got on this thing?"
"One more night".
"It hasn't been much of a holiday so far".
"Well whose fault is that! You've been unconscious for most of it".
There was a gentle tapping on the cabin-door.
"I suppose it's too much to ask that this is my coffee arriving", Adam opened the door to find Paul standing there, glancing around him nervously as though he was a fugitive from justice "Not another bridge game I hope?"
"I must talk to you. Can I come in?"
"Sometimes I wonder why you don't wear a mask the way you carry on", Adam stood back to let the little man in "More death threats is it?"
"Are you staying at Lixix when we get off the boat?"
"Who wants to know?" asked Adam, suspiciously.
"I need to know if I am to help you. I would not advise you to stay at Lixix", Paul paused, and re-arranged a pile of clean towels that he was carrying "He's very angry that you broke up the game yesterday".
"No, please listen to me. He dislikes you already, ever since he found out you're in the Vanquisher's party. I can't stress to you how much he hates the Vanquisher. He resents him so much".
"And what sort of thing is he going to attempt at Lixix?"
"I can't say".
"Oh for fuck's sake", said Adam, angrily "You keep doing this! Giving me dire warnings and then refusing to give me any information. I'm beginning to find it very irritating indeed".
"I think he's trying to help, Adam", said Hillyard.
"And I don't need your contribution", Adam pulled open a cupboard and extracted a small wrapped parcel "I'm going to take Joby his birthday present. As for you Paul, I don't know what your game is but go and play it elsewhere. Your boss doesn't scare me. In our life we've come up against real bastards, not day-dreamers in fancy dress! I don't know what he does to scare you so much, but you can tell him from me it's not going to work on us".
After Adam had slammed out of the cabin Paul looked sheepishly at Hillyard and tried to mumble an apology.
"Don't worry about it", said Hillyard "He's always unreasonable. To be fair I think it must be quite worrying having the Vanquisher of Evil as your lover. He must never feel really safe and secure".
"Then you and Adam aren't ...?"
"No!" Hillyard gave a snort of laughter.
"Oh", Paul looked relieved "I'm sorry I upset him. I'm trying to help, but ... well I suppose I also feel I'm betraying Gabriel".
"That's your boss I take it?" said Hillyard "And he's threatened Kieran?"
"You don't know the half of it", Paul began to weep "I never thought he would go this far. It all seemed such a game".
"What did? It might help to talk about it. I won't bite your head off like Adam did".
"I've been here too long", Paul brushed away his tears "I must be getting along. You're kind, I can tell that. Thank you for tolerating my eccentricities".
"Are you going to be alright?" asked Hillyard, in concern "Gabriel's not going to knock you about is he?"
"I don't think he's strong enough for that at the moment. He's feeling under the weather. He's blaming it all on an inferior cabin and the close proximity of the Vanquisher. Thank you for your concern though".
"That must have cost a fortune Adam", Joby held up the gold fob-watch to the light.
"Do you like it though?"
"Yea it's great", said Joby, watching it twirl round on the end of its chain "I can hang it from the shed-door on my allotment, and then I'll know when it's time for a break".
"And when you're old and have a paunch, you can wear it on your waistcoat".
"You didn't buy me anything expensive like that for my birthday", said Kieran.
"What would be the point?" said Adam "You'd only lose it".
"Do you know what he got me Adam?" said Joby, in disgust "A carton of cigarettes!"
"But you've given up haven't you?"
"Exactly. I gave up three months ago, not long after his birthday in fact, but he's never noticed".
"Nobody tells me anything", said Kieran.
"Oh Patsy you are priceless", Adam laughed "You don't just live with Joby, you share a bed with him, and yet you never notice anything about him".
"Yes I do! It's just that he's never smoked in bed, and that's the only place I've been seeing him lately", Kieran protested.
"But I thought you were supposed to be highly psychic?" said Adam.
"I'll make it up to him somehow", said Kieran.
He got little chance to do any making-up for most of that day, as Joby spent it fishing with Hillyard on one of the decks. Kieran failed to see the pleasure in this activity at all. He tried watching the sport but grew bored at the sight of rows of men lined up regimental-fashion, and flicking lines backwards and forwards.
"Patsy, what are you doing here?" said Adam, sharply.
"I'm beginning to ask meself that", said Kieran "Joby and Hillyard both get unbearable when they're doing this. They seem to declare war on each other. What's the matter with you? You look worried".
"I'm alright", Adam sounded uneasy "Why don't we go and have a cup of coffee?"
"I'd prefer to go back to my cabin. With you".
"I still want to know what you're sounding narked about. Don't you approve of fishing either?"
"Come on", Adam firmly guided Kieran away by his elbow. As they left he cast one last look in the direction of the top deck, from where Gabriel had been watching them with unhealthy interest.
Adam kept Kieran safe with him all afternoon. Whilst he had him behind the cabin door with him, he felt he was keeping him out of Gabriel's way. The boat now felt uncomfortably like a dead-end in a maze, with Gabriel pursuing them down it.
"I was going to suggest a couple of nights at Lixix", he said "Now I'm not so sure".
"You're not seriously going to let this Gabriel cretin dictate to us how we enjoy our holiday?" said Kieran "You said to me yourself that I'm bound to get nutters getting the hump about me. We've come all this way now Addy so we might as well enjoy it".
"It seems a shame that you have to hide away in here".
"I thought I was being with you, not hiding", said Kieran "Anyway I'm meeting Joby later for a birthday drink, so I won't be hiding then".
The birthday drink turned out (predictably, Adam felt) to be a birthday bender. Joby initiated Hillyard into the mysteries of a drinking contest which involved each of them taking it in turns to be a "victim", whilst the others invented revolting cocktail concoctions for him to imbibe in one go. When Adam made his excuses to leave the bar halfway through the evening Kieran was in the middle of teaching the others how to jig.
"Oh it's you again", said Adam, encountering Paul on the steps leading down to the cabins.
"I wish you'd think twice about staying at Lixix", said Paul.
"Oh give it a rest. Where is the scarecrow this evening anyway?"
"Gabriel? He's not very well", said Paul, tapping a covered enamel basin that he was carrying "I've just been making up a tonic for him".
"Has he got something serious?" said Adam, hopefully.
"Just feeling a bit run down. His vitality isn't always all that it should be".
"Well anytime you want any assistance", said Adam, opening his cabin-door "Just say the word and I'll pop along and put a pillow over his face".
"Did you see that flashy suit Hillyard was wearing this evening?"
"As he was standing next to me I'd have had a hard job missing it", said Kieran.
"Where the hell did he get it?" Joby fell back on the bed, and inhaled the tropical night air coming through the open window.
"Down the market. Hillyard's good at picking up a bargain".
"We must be getting near Lixix. I can sometimes hear other boats out there, particularly the hooting of the tugboats".
"I know, I quite like that sound", Kieran selected a blossom from a vase on the table and tucked it behind his ear "It's comforting at this time of night".
"Do me a favour Flannery!"Joby exclaimed "You look like some geisha boy with that posy stuck in your ear".
"Oh yes? And what do you know about geisha boys?"
"I've heard about 'em", Joby ran his hands through his hair wearily.
"How is for you at the moment Jobe, in this new life we lead?"
"It can't be easy".
"I'm alright", Joby stretched out his hand towards Kieran "As long as I've got you".
Kieran climbed onto the bed next to him and nuzzled his ear with his lips. Joby normally responded with a quick peck on the lips or stroking his hair. Kieran was considerably surprised therefore when Joby suddenly got him in a clinch, and kissed him with such energy that Kieran almost felt as though he was drowning.
"Have you been saving up for that one?" said Kieran, coming up for air.
"I've missed you lately", Joby replied "You haven't been down to see me on the allotment. The potting-shed's not the same without you there".
"I stayed away because I thought I was becoming a menace".
"Pillock. I don't know where you get these ideas. Must be Hillyard's fault. He encourages you to hide yourself away".
"Nonsense, you're beginning to sound like Adam".
"I have missed you though".
"Would you like your real birthday present now?" Kieran started to slide Joby's pants down gently "Or do you want to save it for another year?"
"One day I'll surprise you and take you up on it".
"Why not now? You're like a stick of rock down there".
"It might ruin things between us".
"That argument's wearing a bit thin", said Kieran "Do you really think it'd ruin things after all this time?"
"No. But what about Adam?"
"It won't change anything Joby. We'll all go on the way we always have. Nothing can change that now".
"I don't see why. It's me you're with", said Kieran.
"I'd like to", said Joby "I want to just let go, but I'm scared. I love you though, so just give me a bit longer".
"I can live with that", said Kieran, and he fell asleep contentedly in Joby's arms.
Paul opened another tub of strawberry ice-cream and scooped it into a china bowl. Noni watched him as though he was performing a life-threatening operation. Paul looked up and noted that Noni's usual anxious expression looked even more worried than usual.
"You get off to bed", said Paul "I'll take this into him".
"I hope he don't ask for more before we dock at Lixix tomorrow", Noni drawled "That was the last of it they had in the galley".
"Get off to bed", Paul repeated.
"I appreciate it".
After he had gone Paul switched off the light in the small galley attached to the stateroom. When they had first been relegated to this suite Paul had been terrified that it wouldn't have all the amenities they had demanded. But most things required were in place. Even so, the last-minute change of accommodation had done nothing to endear the Vanquisher to Gabriel.
Paul carried the bowl through into Gabriel's bedroom. The chamber was shuttered and dark, apart from a small spotlamp at the foot of his bed. In spite of the air-conditioning, which still worked in here, it was stifling in the room. Gabriel lay naked on the bed, apart from a disinfected rubber cloth which was draped across his private parts.
"Have you seen him this evening?" he asked in his soft voice.
"He was in the bar for a while with his friends", Paul passed the bowl over to him "Is your throat still bad?"
"It's no better at all. The ice-cream seems to soothe it though. Where is he now?"
"In his cabin I suppose".
"You watch him tomorrow. See where he goes. He shouldn't be hard to follow. Just pursue the trail of drinking and sodomy".
"Do you want to meet him Gabriel? I'm sure you'd only have to ask".
"When I'm ready", said Gabriel "He will come to me eventually. You'll see".
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