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"You haven't slept all night".
"Did I disturb you?"
"No, I was pretty restless myself", Joby propped himself up on his elbow and looked down at Kieran beside him "I get shit-scared when I think how close that bloody thing got to you".
"It's Paul you should feel sorry for. What a rotten way to go".
"At least it was quick. Even so, he was a brave 'un. He can't have given himself time to think about it".
"The witch-doctor said there would be an attempt on my life before the day was out, except I think the snake was intended for Paul all along".
Kieran remembered sitting in the room whilst the Constable pointed out the air-vent near the floor, from which the reptile had emerged. The air-vents opened into every room in the hotel, and it would have been simple for anyone in any of the rooms to have put the snake through their own grille and sent it on its way. This now had the authorities thoroughly confused though, as this implied it was a random attack, an act of psychotic madness on someone's part, but not a deliberate murder directed towards a specific individual. Kieran couldn't help thinking he knew differently. They were no more going to find the snake-fiend, than they were likely apprehend Noni's killer.
"Somebody must have overhead you saying to us on the stairs that you were going to call in on Paul", said Joby "And then popped the snake through the grille".
"Still no guarantee the snake would have gone into Paul's room", Kieran rubbed his eyes wearily "Adam was right. He said just before we came to bed that this was getting like 'Ten Little Indians'".
"Kiel", said Joby, quietly "You know you said you'd told the witch-doctor you'd go to Mundaba Heights alone if necessary, you didn't mean it did you?"
"To protect you lot I would, yes".
"Yea well I've been thinking about it lying here. And I wouldn't let you go".
"I warned you about this bossiness yesterday Joby".
"I don't care. I wouldn't. Both me and Adam agreed, when you went off alone to fight Angel, that we'd never let you do such a thing again. And we meant it".
"Not even if it meant ridding the world of Gabriel?"
"You can get rid of him just as well with us there. You don't seem to realise how much I love you".
"But Joby darling", Kieran kissed him "I do".
They lay together in the stillness of the dawn. Only a couple of hours previously the hotel had been swarming with authority figures. Nobody could remember so much activity after midnight in a long while, it almost made them forget the howling noise. Now though, all was still again. They had returned to their rooms, blocked up the air-vents with whatever was to hand and gone to bed. Now, at this unearthly hour, the room had become suffused with the startling pink glow of dawn.
"You don't know how much it means to me just to be able to hold you like this", said Joby "And be relaxed about it. I always felt guilty before 'cos it gave me a boner".
"You're a daft old eejit and I love you for it. But I'm glad you don't have to carry your guilty conscience around with you anymore".
"No, I can get on with caring for you properly now".
"And I'll take care of you too".
They dozed for an hour and were woken again by Adam, Hillyard and Ransey strolling into the room followed by a breakfast trolley the size of a small ship. Joby was furious at this invasion on his privacy, particularly as there was only a mosquito net protecting his naked body from Hillyard's gaze.
"What are you doing in here at this unearthly hour Adam?" Joby snapped, trying to get into his grey silk robe without giving too much away.
"The management wants us out straight after Noni's funeral".
"Have we been ordered to leave?"
"Not in so many words", said Adam "But they've made it quite clear that they regard us as some kind of jinx on the hotel".
"But that's not fucking fair!" Joby wailed "It's their fault for letting snakes roam at large in the building. Kieran could have been killed".
"I know that!" said Adam, who had been kept awake most of the night by this very thought.
"And you just stood there I suppose and meekly let 'em give us a load of crap?" Joby exclaimed "Well your parents wasted a fortune on your education didn't they? I thought public schools were supposed to teach you a sense of leadership?"
"If you'd shut up for a moment and let me explain, you might not feel as great an urge to snap at me. Patsy is determined to sort Gabriel out, so the sooner we set off for Mundaba Heights the sooner we can get it all over with. So my idea is we set off after Noni's funeral this morning, and then we can be at the old temple by nightfall. It's a convenient pitstop in the jungle".
"Old temple?" said Hillyard.
"Yes it's some disused temple to an old jungle god a few miles beyond the village", said Adam "We won't be disturbed there. Since religion was outlawed the locals seem to have developed an even greater superstition about the place. Won't go near it after dark, that sort of thing".
"I don't like the sound of the place either if you describe it like that", said Joby.
"You don't have to come then", said Hillyard.
"He's coming alright", Adam snapped "As far as I'm concerned he doesn't have any choice. Now he's Patsy's lover too he has to take equal responsibility for him with me, so that means no prima donna acts of threatening to abandon us in a fit of pique, which I've had to listen to many times before".
"When did all this happen then?" said Hillyard "Everybody bedding Joby I mean?"
"What's it gotta do with you!" Joby bellowed.
"Take no notice Joby", said Adam "Hillyard's been celibate for nearly twenty-four hours now. He's feeling the strain".
"C'mon hurry up you lot, these eggs are getting cold", said Ransey, spooning a large portion onto his own plate.
"I really don't know how you keep your trim figure sometimes Ransey", said Adam "You must burn it all off thinking up balance sheets".
"I ordered an extra surprise too", said Ransey, reaching down to the bottom shelf of the trolley, and extracting a bottle containing a clear liquid "Thought we might need some psyching up for Noni's burial. This is the local firewater. Strong enough to blow your socks off, if you're wearing any".
He poured a measure into everyone's coffee, apart from Adam's and they gratefully downed it.
"It's hardly decent if you all turn up stinking of alcohol", said Adam, sulkily.
"Rubbish", said Kieran "No self-respecting Irishman would dream of burying someone without getting pissed as well".
Noni was buried shortly before noon. His casket was adorned with a simple spray of orchids. Up until then it hadn't seemed real to anyone that he was actually dead. All through the short religion-free ceremony in that sun-baked graveyard on the edge of the desert, Adam was constantly reminded of the first time he had set eyes on Noni. How stunned he had been by his beauty as he stood in the woodland clearing. Death forgives most faults in the deceased, and now it was only his beauty that was remembered. That such a specimen of physical perfection should now be a corpse was an idea that was too painful to contemplate.
"Such a waste", said Adam, as he and Kieran left the graveyard ahead of the others "If only ..."
"Don't say it", said Kieran, softly "Life's full of those bastards, the 'if only's'".
They drank to Noni back at the hotel, in a session that became increasingly despondent when they kept remembering how he had died. It was obvious more than ever that something had to be done about Gabriel, and it was whilst they were discussing this that they heard the air-buggy drone overhead. This was still considered to be an event in Husgalonghi, and one which always drew the locals out into the street.
"That'll be Gabriel", said Ransey "You can set your watch by him".
"Good grief, I never asked!" said Adam "Have you ever been to Mundaba Heights, Ransey?"
"But you worked for him for fifteen years".
"Makes no odds", said Ransey "He never took any of his regular staff out there, he kept the Mundaba house fully staffed with a different crew. And the expenses of the Mundaba house never fell into my province, even though I was chief accountant. Gabriel doesn't trust anyone. He was certainly always careful never to trust any one person with knowledge of every aspect of his life. The Mundaba staff are a closed book to the rest of us, along with his lifestyle there. I learnt early on never to ask him about it".
"Are you coming with us? Or did you want to stay on for Paul's funeral?"
"I can help Paul best by coming with you. I may not know anything about Mundaba Heights, but I do know Gabriel, and so I may be some use to you at times. You never know".
That afternoon Kieran and Joby made arrangements for Paul's burial, amid regrets from Kieran that no one was going to be there for it. They then arranged for a commercial traveller to take their own horse back to Lixix, as they had decided to travel entirely by foot in future.
They left Husgalonghi after the worst heat of the day had passed, and followed a vaguely-defined trail through the jungle to the nearest clearing, which held the Diamond-Eyed God. He was so called because no one could remember his true name, and there were real diamonds in the hollows of his eyes. It was a testament to the superstition surrounding the place that no one had ever tried to steal these, not even visitors to the area.
"There is something about it", said Kieran, leaning on the moss-covered altar in front of the statue "Something that tells you to keep off".
"Come on, let's get back to the others", said Joby, who found he had trouble looking the statue directly in the face. There was something about the shiny, brittle eyes and the hard stone features that reminded him of drawings he had seen of the Gorgon.
They had set up camp in a clearing a little way beyond the shrine. To Joby's relief a kink in the path meant the statue couldn't be seen from where they were staying.
"I don't like it here", he said, glancing nervously around him at the massed green foliage.
"You do surprise me", said Adam, sarcastically.
"I feel too vulnerable", Joby continued "And why haven't we seen any animals yet? I find that odd for a start. I thought the jungle was supposed to be full of them. Apart from those bloody tropical birds, who never let up squawking for a moment, we haven't seen any".
"You wait 'til it gets dark old love", said Adam "It'll be really scary then".
"This is supposed to be your job", Joby dropped a bucket of kindling down next to the fire "I don't know why I'm doing it".
"I'm sorry", said Kieran, vaguely "I got sat here in a dream. You should've said".
"It doesn't matter", Joby sighed, and sat down next to him "Adam says if I moan anymore he's gonna chuck a bucket of cold water over me".
"You'd better watch out, he probably would".
"Yea, but moaning keeps me sane. I know I've said it before, but I don't like it here".
"Well it's only for one night".
"Do you get the feeling Gabriel knows exactly where we are all the time. I know I do".
"Stop winding each other up", Adam snapped, appearing in front of them "We've already sussed out for ourselves that this place is eerie Joby. We don't need you to keep labouring the point".
A scream went up from some nearby bushes. Hillyard suddenly dived out of them, carrying a ragged shirt over his arm.
"How the fuck did this get here?" he yelled "This is my shirt! The one I wore to the brothel the other night, one of my things that got nicked".
"Did you just find it in there?" said Kieran.
"Yea. Draped over one of the ferns as though someone had just taken it off. That's crazy!"
"Looking at the damage that's been done to it", said Adam, holding the garment up and inspecting the vicious claw-marks in the back "I would be grateful if I were you that I wasn't the last one to wear it!"
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