Zilligot Bay. November. Early summer in the extreme southern hemisphere. Joby and Bengo were sitting having a drink in the back yard of the inn that they had once run, many years before. Bengo was feeling rather emotional.
“Oh blimey”, said Joby “A lot of fun this is turning into”.
“I know”, Bengo blubbed “You’ve got a sad-faced clown for a companion”.
“I’ll say”, said Joby “It’s like going out for a drink with Stan Laurel!”
“It’s just that I’m feeling really emotional”.
“You don’t say!”
“Coming back here has resurrected so many old memories”, said Bengo “Even if it does look completely different to how it was when we had it”.
“Not half”, said Joby “Whoever runs it now is a complete control freak. Did you notice, in the main bar, all the spines of the menu’s were pointing in the exact same direction? Anyone’d think Toppy was running the place! It makes me wonder if, every time a customer moves one, somebody runs out of the back room and straightens it!”
“A bit different to when we ran it”, said Bengo “Oh Joby, we should never have left here”.
“From what I vaguely recall”, said Joby “We didn’t have much choice at the time”.
“I know”, said Bengo “But it’s hard seeing the town so different. It’s a bit like The Village Of Stairs. It’s got sort of … sophisticated”.
“Seems to be the way the whole world’s gone”, said Joby “Makes me more glad than ever that we didn’t call in at The Bay on the way down. Probably find that’s gone all sophisticated too. One thing you can be sure of though. There won’t be nothing sophisticated about The Horn when we come to go round it”.
“I know”, said Bengo, uneasily “I’ve got a bit of a confession to make”.
Joby felt like joking that it was Kieran who took confessions, but he didn’t want to put Bengo off his stroke. The little clown was clearly very anxious about something.
“It’s the Horn”, Bengo swallowed “I think I’ve got stage-fright. Really awful PARALYSING stage-fright. I know we’ve done it before but …”
“We’ve all got a touch of it”, said Joby “Hardly surprising really, it’s a dangerous place. You don’t have to be ashamed of feeling nervous you know”.
“I don’t want Bardy to know”, said Bengo “He’ll have a go at me, tell me to pull myself together”.
“You can’t tell me he never got stage-fright?!” said Joby “I’m pretty certain he did”.
“Ooh yes“, said Bengo “Do you remember the Clowns’ Festival we did at Magnolia Cove?”
“Vividly”, said Joby “I still have nightmares about it!”
“Well Bardy got so scared just before we were due to go on”, said Bengo “That he couldn’t do his own make-up. I had to do it for him. Oh bless him. You should’ve seen his sweet little face”.
“Yeah, bet it was a picture”, said Joby.
Hillyard came out of the back door of the inn, carrying a pint of beer.
“FINALLY got served”, he said, coming over to them.
“Took us a while as well”, said Joby “Nobody seemed to want to appear. Perhaps they were hoping we’d go away in case we messed the menu’s up!”
“No the problem I had”, said Hillyard “Was the idiot behind the bar didn’t want me to tell him what I wanted”.
“Eh?” said Joby
“He wanted to guess it instead”, said Hillyard “God, if I was Julian I’d have torn his head off. I’d have said I came in here for a drink not to play ruddy guessing-games!”
“If he had to deal with Julian he’d probably be being treated for shock right now!” said Joby.
“God, this place brings back some memories don’t it?” said Hillyard, gazing round the courtyard.
“Oh don’t you start”, said Joby “I’ve already had enough of all that with kiddo here”.
“Well it does”, said Hillyard “Over there was where Mieps got her leg caught in that mantrap”.
“Yeah I’m sure he’d love to be reminded of that!” said Joby.
“And over there we had that old caravan”, said Hillyard “You and Kieran spent the night in it once, along with a load of guns from what I remember. Why was that?”
“Dunno”, said Joby “Knowing Kieran we were probably on the lookout for demons!”
“Oh it was wonderful”, said Bengo, starting up again “We were here at the end of the world, with our little pub”.
“And all our customers were old men!” said Hillyard.
“Watch out!” Joby exclaimed “Bardin!”
“Where?” said Bengo, jumping around in his seat.
“I was pulling your leg”, said Joby “Trying to stop you bawling all the time!”
Over on the galleon Ransey took Kieran into the dining-room. Kieran pulled up short when he saw that Ransey had laid out their entire collection of guns on the table.
“I want you to help me clean them”, said Ransey.
“Me?” said Kieran.
“And why not you?” said Ransey “It all might help to remind you that the world isn’t all about prayers and spiritual contemplation all the time”.
“Shame”, said Kieran “If it was we wouldn’t need all this rubbish! Have you taken all the bullets out of them?”
Ransey looked at Kieran as if he’d quite happily knock him senseless.
“I’m not going to dignify that question with a response”, he said.
“Well accidents can happen you know“, said Kieran, now shamelessly winding him up.
Ransey silently handed him a cloth, and Kieran obediently sat down to polish a pistol.
“You didn’t fight Angel with prayers and contemplation”, said Ransey.
“No I used my bare hands”, said Kieran.
Ransey was temporarily stymied by this comeback, but he rallied.
“And it wasn’t what finally disposed of Father Gabriel”, he said.
“Ransey, what is all this about?” said Kieran “You normally go to great lengths to condemn violence, this glorification of it isn’t like you at all. The only times you’ve used these wretched instruments of death have been as a last resort”.
“I know”, Ransey paused and ran his hands through his hair “The truth is I’m dreading you giving me Absolution. I’m scared what it might pull out”.
“It’s not about me being cruel to you”, said Kieran “Or trying to bully you. It’s just a soul-cleansing, so you don’t have to carry it around with you for years on end, like you did when I first knew you. It’s to help you, not to force you to justify yourself. I’m not an out-and-out pacifist. I don’t believe in peaceful means at all costs. When Angel attacked me, on more than one occasion, I fought back. I didn’t turn the other cheek. If I had done that, all those years ago at The Loud House, he would have destroyed me and feasted on my carcass. And a fat lot of use I’d have been to everybody then!”
“Indeed”, said Ransey “It would have destroyed Joby and Adam as well, and Hillyard would have probably thrown himself into some decadent lifestyle to dull the pain, and ended up dying of some bloody awful disease”.
“Well, let’s not dwell on that”, said Kieran “The important thing is the fight still took place, even if technically I did lose. Jaysus! Going back to the Weather Rock is going to bring back some memories!”
“Coming back here has too”, said Ransey “Nostalgia doesn’t get any easier the longer we live. It just makes me more and more awed by all that has gone before”.
Hoowie bounded into the room and immediately grabbed one of the guns, dramatically aiming it and firing it at the floor.
“Put it down”, said Ransey “At once!”
“Oh don’t panic”, said Hoowie, reluctantly handing it over “I knew it wasn’t really loaded. After all, you wouldn’t be cleaning it with the bullets in it would you?”
Bardin was passing the door at this moment, armed to the teeth with whistle and clipboard as he supervised the last-minute preparations for the journey. He stopped in horror at the sight of Hoowie holding a gun.
“Don’t ever let me catch you with that again!” he roared.
“I knew it had no bullets in it”, Hoowie protested “I wouldn’t have messed around with it if it had!”
“I don’t trust you to understand the difference between a loaded gun and an unloaded one”, said Bardin “Ransey, why are you doing this in here?”
“Because it’s convenient”, said Ransey “Would you rather I did it up on deck with the whole town looking on?!”
Bardin was spared from answering this by the sudden appearance in their midst of Tudde, carrying his bag and his gun.
“I’ve just come to say goodbye”, he said “I’m on my way up into the hills above the town. Want to make some progress before nightfall”.
“Will you be alright?” asked Bardin.
“I can cope with the wild”, said Tudde “Up there it doesn’t’ seem as if 60 years have disappeared overnight. Whereas in civilisation there are constant reminders”.
“There are“, said Bardin “We’ve found that ourselves”.
“It’s probably best if you guys were on the move soon as well”, said Tudde “I’ve overheard things in the town”.
“What sort of things?” said Ransey.
“Oh just folks speculating about who you are”, said Tudde “As long as it just stays as that it’s fine, but you don’t want them putting two and two together”.
Ransey had already figured this out for himself when they had first arrived back in Zilligot Bay. He had often found that Tudde had too much of a “if you ask me”, “tell you what” kind of personality. He was glad Tudde was leaving.
Kieran went up on deck with Tudde to wish him farewell.
“Why are you looking at me like that, Tudde?” said Kieran, after Tudde had been staring intently at him.
“I guess I just can’t make you out”, said Tudde “I’d better be on my way”.
After supper that evening Bardin stood at the porthole in his cabin, listening pensively to some soft guitar music which was wafting over from the inn. Near him Bengo was sprawled in an armchair, rustling his way through a newspaper like a noisy mouse on the prowl.
“Bengo”, said Bardin, when he couldn’t contain his curiosity any longer “Why are you reading a newspaper? You never read anything”.
“Just catching up on any gossip”, said Bengo “Showbiz gossip”.
“You’re not gonna believe this“, said Bengo, pointing at something at the bottom of a page “But somebody’s restarted the Cabaret! There’s an advert here for their Christmas show”.
He passed the paper to Bardin.
“’IT’S BACK’”, Bardin read “’AND IT’S EVEN MORE DISGUSTING AND SHOCKING THAN IT EVER WAS BEFORE’”.
“That wouldn’t be too hard“, said Bengo “We were pretty pathetic most of the time”.
“’WILL INCLUDE LIVE OUTDOOR EVENTS’”, said Bardin, continuing to read “’SUCH AS A MAN BEING USED AS LIVE BAIT IN SHARK FISHING’. Are they raving mad?! Even we never went that far!”
“You can bet your life though”, said Bengo “If we had it would have been Muggins here who was used as the bait!”
“Don’t be ridiculous”, said Bardin “Ully would never have allowed it. Anyway, where’s the comedy in that, that’s what I want to know. It’s not comedy, it’s macabre spectacle”.
“Plenty of the stuff in the Cabaret was just macabre spectacle”, said Bengo.
Bardin threw himself into the opposite armchair, as though the effort of trying to understand modern comedy had got too much for him, and had filled him with despair. Bengo got onto the hearth-rug and put his chin on Bardin’s knees.
“Bardy”, he said “Why don’t you put your pink nightie on tonight? Who knows, this might be the last chance you get to wear it for the next few weeks”. “You have the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen”, said Bardin.
“Ooh!” said Bengo.
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