Lichfield was there of course, and Constantia, radiant as ever. Galloway had chosen
to go with them, so had Eddie, and Tallulah. Three or four others had also joined the
It was the first night of their freedom, and here they were on the open road,
travelling players. The smoke alone had killed Eddie, but there were a few more serious
injuries amongst their number, sustained in the fire. Burned bodies, broken limbs. But
the audience they would play for in the future would forgive them their pretty
"There are lives lived for love," said Lichfield to his new company, "and lives lived
for art. We happy band have chosen the latter persuasion."
"There was a ripple of applause amongst the actors.
"To you, who have never died, may I say: welcome to the world!" Laughter: further
The lights of the cars racing north along the motorway threw the company into
silhouette. They looked, to all intents and purposes, like living men and women. But then
wasn't that the trick of their craft? To imitate life so well the illusion was
indistinguishable from the real thing? And their new public, awaiting them in mortuaries,
churchyards and chapels of rest, would appreciate the skill more than most. Who better to
applaud the sham of passion and pain they would perform than the dead, who had
experienced such feelings, and thrown them off at last?
The dead. They needed entertainment no less than the living; and they were a sorely
Not that this company would perform for money, they would play for the love of their
art, Lichfield had made that clear from the outset. No more service would be done to
"Now," he said, "which road shall we take, north or south?"
"North," said Eddie. "My mother's buried in Glasgow, she died before I ever played
professionally. I'd like her to see me."
"North it is, then," said Lichfield. "Shall we go and find ourselves some transport?"
He led the way towards the motorway restaurant, its neon flickering fitfully, keeping the
night at light's length. The colours were theatrically bright: scarlet, lime, cobalt, and
a wash of white that splashed out of the windows on to the car park where they stood. The
automatic doors hissed as a traveller emerged, bearing gifts of hamburgers and cake to
the child in the back of his car.
"Surely some friendly driver will find a niche for us," said Lichfield.
"All of us?" said Galloway.
"A truck will do; beggars can't be too demanding," said Lichfield. "And we are
beggars now: subject to the whim of our patrons."
"We can always steal a car," said Tallulah.
"No need for theft, except in extremity," Lichfield said. "Constantia and I will go
ahead and find a chauffeur." He took his wife's hand.
"Nobody refuses beauty," he said.
"What do we do if anyone asks us what we're doing here?" asked Eddie nervously. He
wasn't used to this role; he needed reassurance.
Lichfield turned towards the company, his voice booming in the night: "What do you
do?" he said, "Play life, of course! And smile!"
IN THE HILLS, THE CITIES
IT WASN'T UNTIL the first week of the Yugoslavian trip that Mick discovered what a
political bigot he'd chosen as a lover. Certainly, he'd been warned. One of the queens at
the Baths had told him Judd was to the Right of Attila the Hun, but the man had been one
of Judd's ex-affairs, and Mick had presumed there was more spite than perception in the
If only he'd listened. Then he wouldn't be driving along an interminable road in a
Volkswagen that suddenly seemed the size of a coffin, listening to Judd's views on Soviet
expansionism. Jesus, he was so boring. He didn't converse, he lectured, and endlessly. In
Italy the sermon had been on the way the Communists had exploited the peasant vote. Now,
in Yugoslavia, Judd had really warmed to his theme, and Mick was just about ready to take
a hammer to his self-opinionated head.
It wasn't that he disagreed with everything Judd said. Some of the arguments (the
ones Mick understood) seemed quite sensible. But then, what did he know? He was a dance
teacher. Judd was a journalist, a professional pundit.
He felt, like most journalists Mick had encountered, that he was obliged to have an
opinion on everything under the sun. Especially politics; that was the best trough to
wallow in. You could get your snout, eyes, head and front hooves in that mess of muck and
have a fine old time splashing around. It was an inexhaustible subject to devour, a swill
with a little of everything in it, because everything, according to Judd, was political.
The arts were political. Sex was political. Religion, commerce, gardening, eating,
drinking and farting-all political.
Jesus, it was mind-blowingly boring; killingly, love deadeningly boring.
Worse still, Judd didn't seem to notice how bored Mick had become, or if he noticed,
he didn't care. He just rambled on, his arguments getting windier and windier, his
sentences lengthening with every mile they drove.
Judd, Mick had decided, was a selfish bastard, and as soon as their honeymoon was
over he'd part with the guy.
It was not until their trip, that endless, motiveless caravan through the graveyards
of mid-European culture, that Judd realized what a political lightweight he had in Mick.
The guy showed precious little interest in the economics or the politics of the countries
they passed through. He registered indifference to the full facts behind the Italian
situation, and yawned, yes, yawned when he tried (and failed) to debate the Russian
threat to world peace. He had to face the bitter truth: Mick was a queen; there was no
other word for him. All right, perhaps he didn't mince or wear jewellery to excess, but
he was a queen nevertheless, happy to wallow in a dream-world of early Renaissance
frescoes and Yugoslavian icons. The complexities, the contradictions, even the agonies
that made those cultures blossom and wither were just tiresome to him. His mind was no
deeper than his looks; he was a well-groomed nobody.
The road south from Belgrade to Novi Pazar was, by Yugoslavian standards, a good one.
There were fewer pot-holes than on many of the roads they'd travelled, and it was
relatively straight. The town of Novi Pazar lay in the valley of the River Raska, south
of the city named after the river. It wasn't an area particularly popular with the
tourists. Despite the good road it was still inaccessible, and lacked sophisticated
amenities; but Mick was determined to see the monastery at Sopocani, to the west of the