By the time that Freddy and Zip arrived back at the commune, Hal had worked himself into such a lather of vicarious excitation that the girls and most of the men were in a state of utter exhaustion, lying naked on the lawn where they had dropped. The convoluted contortions through which he had put them throughout most of the afternoon had, however, failed to have the slightest effect on his vestigial equipment, although his libido had swollen to such immense proportions that he felt as if the top of his head might come off at any moment.
Lividly he watched the clapped-out van scream up the drive and skid to a stop. Freddy piled out of the driver’s seat and ran trouserless into the farmhouse with a single-minded purpose while Zip took his hands slowly from in front of his eyes, although his face still retained the rictus of horror that it had assumed during Freddy’s madcap drive from the outskirts of Rossiter. Even the sight of so much naked flesh, vibrating and heaving on the lawn, failed to excite his interest.
Panting and tight-limbed, Hal walked over to Zip and peered in through the open passenger window. “WHAT THE BLOODY HELL …!” he shrieked. The outburst acted as some sort of catharsis on his strung-out emotions and, as his knees gave way, he fell to the ground threshing about in a frenzy of orgasmic impotence. It took Zip by surprise, who gazed down at Hal writhing beneath the van, and wondered whether to get out and shove a stick in between his teeth to stop him doing irrevocable damage to his tongue.
When he eventually dragged himself upright again, cross-eyed and with the tip of his tongue (miraculously unmarked, Zip noticed) poking from the corner of his lips, Hal was in a calmer frame of mind and looser-limbed to the point of de-ossification. Before he could speak again, however, Freddy shot out of the farmhouse with hastily packed suitcase in hand, vaulted into the Porsche tucked away in the corner of the open barn adjacent, and screamed off down the drive without so much as a backward glance. Two dozen pairs of eyes, in varying conditions of consciousness, followed the car’s progress until it disappeared from sight around the bend in the track.
Hal watched it go, open-mouthed, clinging onto the door-frame of the van then, with a fervour that had Zip drawing away in revulsion, planted a huge kiss on his forehead. “OH, HALLELUJAH, LORD, HALLELUJAH!” he roared and staggered away to the farmhouse, sobbing and gesticulating to the heavens.
One by one the prostrate devotees disentangled their limbs and tottered off after Hal leaving Petal, alone in the centre of the lawn, gazing wistfully at the dust spume left by Freddy’s departure, and pouting. Her nipples were like brass thimbles and, seeing them, Zip pounded his head on the van windscreen.
Returning like a bolt from the blue, Freddy’s consciousness had struck him such a hammer blow that his head had scarcely stopped spinning since he had upended a dish of curry over someone whose face he had thought vaguely familiar in the Chinese take-away back in Rossiter on his hasty way out of the door. The other face in the shop had been only too awfully familiar and Freddy’s bowels did another back-flip at the thought.
The past few weeks seemed like a half-remembered dream to Freddy. His last clear thought was of banging his head in the kitchen of the commune, followed by a hazy recollection of increasingly frenetic bouts of naked gambolling where ‘look but don’t touch’ seemed - illogically - to be the rule. Now Tony Kwan had intruded and brought Freddy right back to where he had started from. In it up to the nostrils! And lost, to boot!
Freddy suddenly remembered that he had absolutely no idea where he was in relation to Cousin Archie’s. By a superhuman effort of will he forced his heart to stop bouncing around his rib-cage and drew into the side of the road, pulling into one of the few flat spaces he had seen for miles, and reached for his road-map.
Staddon Hall was a hand-written dot encircled in red and, for all Freddy knew, could be plus or minus five miles either way and it was only by dint of a systematic process of elimination that he eventually traced his way back to a main road so that he could actually start looking for it.
When he did finally find it, in the late evening, it resembled not so much a Stately Home as a Builder’s Yard, and he wondered what on earth he had come to. Then Carmen walked out of the main gates …and the wonder ceased.
Arthur Ying’s wonderment, on the other hand, had increased by the minute ever since someone had chucked a bowl of curry over him earlier that afternoon. The smell still lingered, even after two showers, and Cherry Lin’s apparent entanglement with the O riental mafiosi puzzled - and hurt - him. That there was nothing in the association he had no real doubt but, all the same, to find that the instrument of his discomfort in the motorway cafe a few weeks ago was hell-bent on forming an alliance with his fiancee was more than a little disorientating. And there was certainly no forgetting that face.
Added to which, the extremely heart-felt cry of “OH, FOOKIN’ ’ELL!” uttered in a broad Yorkshire accent as its owner and his hippie companion rushed by him in the Take-away, had a disturbingly familiar - and bowel loosening - ring about it and left him in no doubt as to the identity of the fugitive. There was also the small matter of the untrousered state of the Yorkshire man to contend with. Ying felt himself suddenly to be the unwitting centre of a maelstrom of events that would see him sucked, screaming, down the plug-hole if he was not very, very careful.
Tony Kwan had found himself very much in the same position. Once again, he had allowed Lappitt to escape. The very unexpectedness and extreme circumstances of the encounter had a great deal to do with it, no doubt, but that was unlikely to cut any ice with the Old Man. Disentangling himself from the welter of limbs, Kwan had picked himself up from the floor of the Take-away and rushed out after Freddy and Zip, only to see them disappear on two wheels round the corner in an ancient, decrepit van painted in bright but rusting psychodelic designs.
Murmering vile Chinese imprecations, he had run back into the shop, colliding with Ying who was staggering about blindly, clawing curry from his face, shot him a murderous look, and taken Cherry Lin by the shoulders, asking her urgently where the stranger was from and had he said where he was going.
“’Ere!” Ying had spluttered. “You leave her alone!”
“Stop it!” Cherry Lin had shrieked.
Louisa had just screamed at the top of her voice, bringing Old Father Lin running in from the back room with a lethal looking meat cleaver in his hand.
Glaring malevolently at Ying, Kwan had let go of his lapels and fired a rapid gabble of Cantonese at Father Lin, bringing him up to date with all the relevant facts. Lin had been galvanised into action. He had berated the girls, sent Cherry Lin packing off to her room and throwing Louisa her coat, had pointed her out through the door. Grabbing Ying by the scruff of the neck he had thrown him out after Louisa, slammed and locked the door and, taking Kwan by the shoulder, hurried off to a telephone.
No. Reviewing the events with the benefit of a clear and clean head, they still made very little sense to Ying some hours later. Hours that had seen every attempt to contact Cherry rebuffed in no uncertain terms by the Lin clan. Events had turned out to be very, very puzzling indeed.