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Adam felt as though it was beginning to become a daily occurrence, being summoned to see Brenfar in his office. He had no idea what had brought on this latest terse request for his presence, and he found it annoying. He was already speculating about how soon they would all be fit enough to resume walking, because that meant they could then leave the resort. He also regretted using so much of Brenfar's hospitality over the past couple of days, as it gave him the distinct impression they were being bought. But he reasoned that he had had no choice, it was either that or watch his friends die from hunger.
When he entered the office Brenfar was nowhere in sight. Instead the ageing red-haired eunuch was desperately trying to key out of a file on Brenfar's personal monitor. The eunuch couldn't have looked more guilty if he'd tried.
"Trying to get into his bank details?" Adam joked, whilst secretly thinking what a mess the eunuch looked. His red hair hung uncombed over his face, and his body was covered by a dirty silk wrapper, reminiscent of the sort of one worn by a courtesan who'd seen more lucrative days.
"Are you expecting to see Brenfar?" said the eunuch, nervously switching off the terminal.
"He asked to see me", said Adam "Or rather he told me I had to see him".
When Brenfar came through the door the eunuch panicked even more, and cast surreptitious glances at the terminal to make sure that all was as it had been before he started interfering.
"You're supposed to be organising tonight's supper-party", Brenfar snapped at the cowering creature "And look at you, you're not even dressed yet! Now go on, hop to it".
The eunuch scuttled out of the room via a door in the far wall.
"I know what you're thinking", said Brenfar, once they were alone "He is a bit on the cheap side, but a eunuch's better than the alternative anyday".
"I'll take your word for it", said Adam "You said you wanted to see me".
"Yes", Brenfar sat down behind his desk. He indicated for Adam to sit also, and Adam perched himself on a corner of the desk in a gesture of dumb insolence "It's about your little friend, the lunatic".
"If you mean Lonts then say so", said Adam "What about him?"
"I'm disappointed in you, Adam. You gave me your word that he would behave and keep a low-profile, and then I learn that he's upsetting some of my customers and causing a disturbance in the bar".
"Lonts hasn't been in the bar, not since we first arrived", said Adam.
"He was in there late last night".
"Only briefly ..."
"He started flirting with a group of commercial travellers. They tell me he was drunk. As if that wasn't bad enough two more of your friends started a fight with the other guests".
"The well-built one, and the skinny dark-haired one", said Brenfar "From what I've been told Lonts appears to have an over-excitable, uncontrollable side. Now listen, I do keep a stock of pills here, tranquillisers. Perhaps whilst he's here ..."
"You are not doping Lonts. How the fucking hell dare you! I'm grateful for your hospitality to us Brenfar, but you're exceeding your authority. Lonts does not need pills or injections, and I'm damned if some jumped-up bartender is going to start playing doctors with him. If you're that concerned about him, then I'll keep him out of sight for the rest of our stay, which I intend to make as short as possible".
"The next settlement is a journey of at least three days away. You'll never make it without supplies, not in the desert heat. And I don't wish you to leave. It's a privilege to have you here. But as I said I have my other guests to think of".
"He will be no further trouble", said Adam, getting up to leave "But I won't have him doped. He's been ill-treated enough in his life".
"Admit it, Adam", said Brenfar "You can't control him. You've got a time-bomb on your hands but you're too proud to admit it".
"Lonts will be alright", said Adam.
"Oh-ho, just what I like", said Brenfar "A man with a mission".
"He just needs love that's all".
"And just how much longer are you going to be able to keep that love pure, eh?" said Brenfar "It's unhealthy that's what it is. A middle-aged queer with a young and virginal halfwit! Something's got to give there eventually".
"Are you in league with Gabriel?" said Adam.
"No", said Brenfar "I am not in league with Gabriel. Here, we run by our own set of rules".
"Are you a time-crosser then?"
"Now why do you say that?"
"You called me a queer. I've not heard that expression used in that way by anyone who was born here".
"No, I was born in this time. But that doesn't mean I have to accept its rules and way of life. As I said, we do things differently here".
"A eunuch is only a man with his cock cut off", said Adam "He is still a man, contrary to outward appearances. You still sleep with a man, Brenfar. That makes you as big a queer as me!"
"He has the mind of a woman", Brenfar protested "That is why he chose to live as a eunuch. He is a woman".
"He might well have the mind of a woman", said Adam "But however much you savour his cockless body, and dress him up in women's clothes, he is still male, Brenfar. He is no more of the female sex than you or I. Back in my time people could change sex completely, but I can assure you it takes rather more than castration and transvestism to do it. He hasn't even got tits for fuck's sake! He is a freak Brenfar, you sleep with a freak. Now who's the biggest queer?"
"I will pretend this conversation never took place", said Brenfar, looking snake-eyed "For both our sakes. Now I don't want Lonts seen in the bar again. See to it that he stays out of sight of the bar customers as much as possible".
Adam hauled Joby out of bed and slammed him against the wall of the bedroom. He got a firm grip around his throat and was crashing his head against the wall. Meanwhile Kieran scampered around him yapping like a terrier, trying desperately to pull Adam away.
"For God's sake Adam, what's the matter with you?" he cried.
"He was supposed to watch Lonts last night", Adam screamed "Both him and Hillyard, the useless fuckers, couldn't keep an eye on him between them".
"Leave Joby alone!" Kieran clawed at Adam's arms and finally managed to break his grip on Joby "You bastard Adam! How dare you treat Joby like this!"
"He was meant to be looking after Lonts", Adam roared.
"It was those fucking sales reps", said Joby, hoarsely "They got him pissed. I know me and Hillyard should have watched him, but ..."
"These things happen Adam, with the best will in the world".
"These things happen!" Adam cried "Don't you realise what could have happened to Lonts?"
"Of course I realise", said Kieran, angrily "But it didn't, and we'll all be extra careful in future. Now get out of here, I'm really focking annoyed with you. It seems you care more about Lonts than you do about me and Joby put together".
"Patsy, that's not true".
"Get out of here Adam, and don't come back until you've got that filthy temper of yours under control".
Adam left without another word. Joby only relaxed his rigid pose of terror when the door had slammed shut.
"Are you alright?" said Kieran, leading him gently over to the bed.
"I think I'll live", said Joby, massaging his neck "I'm glad he doesn't lose his temper like that too often".
"He's a typical Scorpio", said Kieran "It's the sting in the tail. Knowing Adam though, he'll be so contrite later you'll practically be able to wipe your feet on him".
"It's bloody Lonts", said Joby "He's nothing but a fucking headache. I bet he won't get into trouble for last night".
"I should hope not, the mood Adam's in at the moment. Lonts's bum would get well and truly cooked".
"Serve him right if it did", said Joby.
"You don't mean that".
"No I spose not", Joby sighed "It's just sometimes I wanna despair I really do. That we've got Lonts hanging round our necks forever is a thought that depresses me no end".
"He's got no one else", said Kieran "And he can't look after himself, so we have to do it. Anyway I think he's getter better. After all, he talked about Kiskev last night without bursting into tears once".
Adam went for a swim to try and work off some of the pent-up aggression inside him. He was horrified by how he had flown at Joby, and he could only put it down to one of his rare "blackout rages", as he called them, fits of temper that were so severe he didn't realise what he was doing until it was too late.
He had the pool to himself this morning, and he sliced up and down it determinedly, trying to think of a way to rid himself of the beast inside him. He had checked in the bar before going to see Joby, and had learned from the barman that the sales reps had departed abruptly after breakfast. Frustrated that he couldn't wreck punishment on those who most deserved it, Adam had settled for his next target.
He now floated on his back in the middle of the pool, and felt like screaming up at the hot blue sky. The entire morning had been a catalogue of disasters, and he now felt so angry by everything that had happened that he could understand why Lonts gave into violent tantrums sometimes. He knew before the day was out that he'd have to persuade Kieran and Joby that they were still the best thing that had ever happened to him. He also knew that it wouldn't be at all easy to convince them after this morning's shambles.
"How are the flying potatoes today?"
The voice, old and sophisticated, seemed to come out of nowhere. Adam pulled himself upright and for a moment couldn't see anyone. His eyesight cleared slowly after the strain of looking up at the sky, and he saw the elderly man from the restaurant, still wearing his fedora, sitting on a rock by the side of the pool.
"That won't happen again", said Adam, swimming to the side.
"I don't need reassuring, my boy", said the man "I enjoy a joke as much as the next person. Do you have a towel I can pass you?"
"No", said Adam "It was an impromptu swim. I'll dry myself on my shirt. In a little while".
"You can feel quite safe to come out, I won't attack you", said the man "I'm eighty-eight you know. I lost the urge for all that many years ago".
"Eighty-eight?" said Adam, hauling himself out of the pool "That's quite an age to be proud of these days. Most men don't seem to make sixty".
"As your charming little friend pointed out last night, I am very very old. Practically a legend in my own lifetime", the man held out his liver-spotted hand and Adam shook it, feeling at a distinct disadvantage in his nakedness "My name is Selis by the way".
"Adam", he said, pulling on his shirt without bothering to dry himself first "It's quite unusual for me to be called 'my boy' these days".
"Yes it's nice to have young people around here for a change. It is the one thing I miss by living here all the time. The company of the young".
"Did you come down here when Gabriel took over?"
"I certainly did, and very glad I did from what I've heard of the City these days. There are more dead than living there at the moment apparently. An absolutely criminal waste of life. It is the Massacre all over again".
"Can't he be stopped at all?"
"That is something we are all working on", said Selis, cryptically "In our hearts".
"Why do only elderly people stay in this resort usually?"
"I don't really know. It is expensive, so perhaps we're the only ones who can afford Brenfar's rates, and it is rather out of the way. A bit too off the beaten track to appeal to most young men. It is always a refreshing change when a young person drops in at the bar though. We all get quite excited about it, pathetic old fools that we are. So you must forgive my friends all staring at you last night".
"I understand now".
"I must confess I also couldn't help overhearing you during dinner. Your little friend ... he's the Kiskev Survivor isn't he?"
"Yes he is", said Adam, uneasily.
"What with him AND the Vanquisher of Evil, we do seem to have some celebrities in our midst at the moment".
"Yes", Adam felt extremely nervous all of a sudden "If you'll excuse me Selis, I've got things to do".
"Certainly my boy. Doubtless we will see each other again. Legba go with you".
"Lovely animals aren't they?" said Hillyard, who was feeding an apple to one of the shiny desert steeds stabled at the back of the resort.
"Yes", said Adam, unenthusiastically.
"I wish humans were as uncomplicated as animals sometimes".
"That comment was for my benefit was it?" Adam snapped "Perhaps if you took more interest in Lonts situations like last night and this morning wouldn't happen!"
"He's better off with you", Hillyard mumbled awkwardly, and moved onto the next horse "I'm no good at close long-term relationships anymore. I think I used all that up on Stombal. I'm really fond of Lonts, like I am of all of you, but he needs devoted care and affection, and frankly mate, I don't have it any more".
"That's all very well Hillyard, but I have my two to think of!" said Adam "Patsy practically accused me of neglecting them this morning".
"He was upset that's all, he didn't mean it. You care about Lonts don't you?"
"Of course I do. I feel like I've adopted him, but I'm not a bottomless pit of love either you know".
"You'll do better than me".
"Looks like I have to doesn't it?" said Adam "Do you know the funny thing about my meeting with Brenfar is that I almost finished up feeling sorry for the bastard".
"He so desperately wants a woman, and that tatty eunuch he's with ... well he kids himself it's the real thing. It'd be like me taking some flat-chested skinny young girl and pretending she was Patsy".
"Yea. I was going to say I see what you mean, but I don't really", said Hillyard "Hey, I've got something to show you".
Hillyard led Adam into a shed at the end of the row of stables. Inside were a couple of covered wagons. The wheels and canvas coverings were all intact.
"I found these earlier", he said "All mod cons inside, well a stove and a couple of bunks anyway".
"Wouldn't it be easier to travel in this than on foot?"
"Oh yes, I can just see us sneaking one of these out without Brenfar knowing about it! And we'd trudge steadily up the road, and he'd catch us up in about ... oh, half-an-hour?"
"It was just a thought", Hillyard snapped "Are you alright?"
"I think so", said Adam, feeling decidedly unsteady "I feel a bit faint and nauseous all of a sudden. I must have caught the sun bad. My left eye keeps flickering, I can't seem to control it".
"Do you want me to walk you back to your bungalow?"
"I should be able to make it. I'll see you later Hillyard".
Adam stumbled back across the complex. He saw that Lonts was sitting with Ransey on his verandah. The boy was curled up in a chair with his thumb in his mouth, whilst Ransey wrote in his diary. Reassured that someone with a brain was minding Lonts, Adam went and hammered on Kieran's door, annoyed to find that it was locked against him.
"Who is it?" Joby barked, from inside the bungalow.
"It's me", Adam replied.
"Oh come on you little bastards, let me in".
Adam paced along the verandah until he came to the open window. He tugged open the bamboo shutter as wide as it would go and then pulled himself up over the ledge. He practically fell into the darkened room.
"If you're going to lock me out", he said, struggling to his feet "At least make sure the window's shut as well!"
"Fuck off Adam", Joby screamed, retreating to the far side of the bed, with Kieran sliding along behind him.
"No I will not", said Adam "Look, I'm very sorry for what happened earlier. Extremely sorry in fact. You can tie me to the bedpost and thrash me if it'll make you feel better".
"That won't be necessary", said Joby.
"I'm relieved to hear it", said Adam "I'm a coward when it comes to pain".
"You can dish it out though", said Joby.
"Consummate bully you see", Adam began to unbutton his shirt.
"That doesn't mean you can stay".
"I have to", Adam climbed into the centre of the bed and flopped down on the clammy sheets.
"Jeez Addy!" said Kieran "Your skin's red-hot. I could fry an egg on you".
"I don't feel well", said Adam, as his eyes blurred over completely and sweat streamed down into his hair.
Joby soaked two flannels in cold water and lay them over Adam's face and chest, but the burning persisted. Adam complained of feeling sick, as though there was liquid rust in his stomach, was how he described it.
"Joby, go and see if you can find anyone that's remotely like a doctor in this place", said Kieran.
Adam waited until Joby had left the room, and then squeezed Kieran's hands in his.
"It's not a doctor that can help me Patsy", he said, weakly "Only you can do that".
"What the hell's happened?" said Kieran.
"I think I've been hexed", said Adam, swallowing with difficulty "Cursed. The old man we saw in the restaurant last night".
"The one in the hat?"
"I was talking to him just after I ran out of here. As we parted he said 'Legba go with you'. I didn't think anything of it at the time, thinking it was just some weird greeting in this part of the world. Now I've remembered. I read a book on it once. Voodoo. Legba is a Voodoo god, and I think I've just been cursed in his name".
"Curses only work if you let them", said Kieran "Tell yourself it's not real, that it has no power".
"I can't Pats, I don't have the strength".
"Adam for God's sake ..."
"Stay with me Patsy. I think you can fight it for me".
"Of course I'll stay with you, but it has no real power Adam. It's just words".
"You've felt my skin, does that feel like imagination to you?"
"It's a fever that's all", said Kieran "There must be all sorts of things you can pick up around here that can cause that. We'll get you through it somehow".
Joby ran into the bar and found Hillyard to be the only customer there, staring moodily into his beer. He couldn't make any sense at all of what Joby was prattling about, but the fat barman was quicker on the uptake.
"There's no doctor here", he said "The nearest one will be in Pepuaah, and that's nearly 1200 miles away".
"What the hell do you do when someone gets sick then?" Joby cried.
"We have our own ways", the barman shrugged.
"Well tell me what they are, who can help", Joby implored "Adam's very ill".
"It's the Lord's will", said the barman, and moved away.
"I don't believe it!" Joby exclaimed "Oh why the fuck couldn't one of us have been a doctor, instead of all the useless skills we have got between us".
"Did you say he's been hexed?" said Hillyard.
"Yes, by that poncy old man we saw in the restaurant".
"Alright, now calm down. We can pull him out of it. Kieran's presence'll be a great help. We'll get it sorted".
By nightfall Adam was oblivious to what was going on around him. He could vaguely make out the shapes of faces hanging over him, but he hadn't a clue who they were. He felt as though he was lying in some gondola-type boat and was being steered through endless dark tunnels. He wanted to get out, to stop the boat from going any further, but he had the disturbing sensation of being completely devoid of any energy whatsoever. The nauseous feeling was overwhelmingly strong, and he would have been sick if he'd only had the energy to do so.
Kieran sat next to him the whole time, and tried to bully and cajole him out of this terrifying state. Meanwhile Joby and Hillyard were kept busy filling up bowls with clean water, changing sheets, and swabbing Adam down.
Adam spent the night seeing a lot of people he had no wish to see. They paraded in front of him, hurling abuse at him and demanding to know why he couldn't be different to what he was, or more like how they wanted him to be. He re-lived every sadistic beating his father had ever given him, every moment of shame and self-disgust that had been caused by his drinking, and the endless months when he had sat in prison and waited for letters from Julian that never came. He wept and begged for understanding from all the ones who should have tried to understand, but never did. By dawn he was yelling and screaming at them instead.
"I think the dam's breaking", said Hillyard "His temperature's going down, and he just might scream his way out of it".
"I hope he comes out of it soon", said Kieran "I can't bear to see him this upset".
Adam stopped screaming and thrashing about eventually, and subsided instead into a deep, almost coma-like sleep. In his dream he was back in the Loud House, running around it pushing everyone he cared for out of the broken windows, and then instantly regretting it. He whimpered and sobbed. Kieran held onto his hands even more firmly.
Ransey pushed open the door and took in the dawn scene inside the sick-room. There were bowls and jugs all over the floor, and piles of damp towels. Adam lay rigidly on his back, his fists clenched round Kieran's hands.
"What's the news?" Ransey whispered.
"He should be alright", said Hillyard "It's just a matter of time. Where's Lonts?"
"I need to talk to you", Ransey beckoned Hillyard out onto the verandah, and closed the door before speaking again "Lonts has gone missing".
"What?" Hillyard exclaimed "You were supposed to be minding him!"
"I was", Ransey cried "I popped into the bathroom for a moment, I even left the door ajar, but he must have slipped out then".
"When was this?"
"A few minutes ago. I wanted to make sure he hadn't come here first".
"He can't be far then".
"What's happened now?" said Joby, appearing in the doorway.
"Lonts has bolted", said Hillyard.
"The little bastard!" Joby roared "I'll kill him when I get hold of him".
"You'll have to get to the back of the queue", said Ransey.
"He must be around here somewhere", said Hillyard "We're going to have to split up and look for him. Come on, there's no time to lose".
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