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Mike Arram

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  1. Mike Arram

    Chapter 19

    Next up in the series ‘Henry in the Outfield’ a school story with spooks.... and cameos from Nathan and Justin. Thank you all for following.
  2. Nathan Underwood is an upper middle class boy who loves gardening, it’s his life’s work, but in the flower beds of Matt and Andy’s Highgate home, he encounters Justin Macavoy, street kid and petty criminal on day release. The shock of it means that neither boy will be the same ever again.
  3. ‘How do I look, Nate?’ asked Justin. ‘You just love dressing up, you vain babe you.’ ‘Come on … how does it look?’ ‘Brilliant as usual, but not as fantastic as when you’ve got nothing on.’ Justin laughed and fixed the flower in Nathan’s buttonhole. They were in full morning dress. They were also very much in love. They kissed, then left their room hand-in-hand and went to find Matt or Andy. It was a glorious October day, the sun was shining and the older couple was preparing to celebrate their civil partnership. ‘Now we’ve got a kid, Andy,’ Matt had informed him, ‘I’ve got to make an honest man of you.’ Andy was at the bottom of the stair, fretting. ‘Morning dad,’ Justin greeted him. ‘When’s the car coming?’ ‘It’s already here. You’d better go. You’re supposed to be there early to hand out programmes and stuff.’ ‘Sure dad.’ Justin, followed by Nathan, kissed and hugged Andy, then ran laughing down the steps and into the waiting limousine. It whisked them to a plush country hotel in High Barnet that was licensed for the celebration of partnerships. Matt had taken it over for the weekend, expanding its capacity by erecting a small town of marquees around it. Dave Evans, who had masterminded the whole thing, was in organisational heaven. Dressed in a morning suit, he was pacing the grounds with a mobile glued to his ear, while simultaneously haranguing the caterers. A small orchestra was tuning up in the function room. The other ushers were congregating round the doors. ‘Morning, Your Serene Highness. Morning, Ed.’ A friendship was being nurtured. Ed, one of the Peacher twins, and Prince Fritz were chattering away as only young teen boys can. They had become instant mates when they first met on the yacht at Nice. ‘Ya see, Justy,’ Ed had said the previous night, ‘we’re two heterosexual kids in families full of queers, so we gotta be friends … but just friends, okay?’ ‘Yes, Justy, having gay brothers can put a lot of pressure on you,’ Fritz confirmed. ‘Tell me about it,’ added Carl White, sitting close by and already a little drunk. ‘I had to shag every available girl in Northampton to establish my straight credentials when I was seventeen. It put me off my training. You gay guys just don’t realise what you put us through.’ ‘Me nose bleeds for you all!’ Justin blew them a very gay kiss. Ed and Fritz had the programmes sorted and were awaiting the first guests. As the most high-profile celebration to date of a gay partnership in Britain, it was to be a major occasion. Cabinet ministers, actors and producers were to be there in numbers, as well as friends and family. When the registrar arrived, she got into the swing of things by adopting an academic gown and wearing a hood. Nathan checked over the desk down the front with her to make sure all was in order. The supporters came in soon after. Carl White and Terry would stand for Matt. For Andy there would be his brother Peter, together with a new guy Justin did not know but had heard a lot about, an old friend of Andy’s called Paul Oscott, a tall and gangling bespectacled man who looked a bit harassed. Paul had stopped off at the back to talk with Dave Evans. ‘So Andy tells me you’re a father now, Paulie?’ ‘Yup. Haven’t slept for two months … look at the bags under my eyes. It’s been so bad that jet lag means nothing to me nowadays, it’s my normal state.’ ‘What did you call him?’ ‘Can’t you guess? Matthew Andrew Oscott, of course. He’s beautiful, takes after his mum.’ ‘Couldn’t Rachel come?’ ‘She’s back in work, her mum’s staying with us in Washington to babysit little Mattie. You’ve got to come to the baptism; it’s in the new year.’ Justin leafed through the programme as he was waiting for the first guests, searching for his name. There it was, ‘Ushers: HSH the Prince of Tarlenheim, Mr Edward Peacher, Mr Justin Peacher-White, Mr Nathan Underwood.’ Justin was gradually getting used to his new name and quite liked it. With a smile he looked at the front cover: ‘A Celebration of the Civil Partnership between Sir Andrew William Peacher KBE and Dr Matthew Anthony White CBE’. The honours had come unexpectedly in the aftermath of the kidnap, Andy for services to young people and the disadvantaged, Matt for services to the media. There had been a reception for Andy at 10 Downing Street and then the trip to the palace. The PM had let it be known that the Home Secretary, who had come out himself a decade before, had put a lot of pressure on him to properly honour high-profile gays in public service. The Home Secretary was to be there that day, having gotten quite chummy with Andy. ‘Hey, Gramps!’ Justin called, as Tony White, Matt’s father, wandered in. ‘Hullo, yer scamp!’ He was happy to have taken on the role of grandparent to Justin, who was the sort of lad he could understand – unlike Matt, as he freely admitted to Justin. ‘Always reading, that lad, so very clever. Made you nervous about talking to him, sweet though he always was.’ After the formal adoption, Justin had enjoyed a happy weekend with Matt’s mum and dad in Northampton, being spoiled rotten by the woman he was happy to call ‘Grandma White.’ They had sent him a card and present on his birthday. ‘Have yer seen Dick Peacher?’ ‘Not yet, Gramps.’ Tony White and Richard Peacher had a strangely warm relationship for two such wildly different men, brought together by the homosexual liaison of their sons. ‘I’ll go and see if I can find him outside, then.’ Justin suddenly noticed that arrivals were beginning and called the team to order. Soon they were busy handing out programmes and directing the uncertain until they finally had everyone settled. While they awaited the arrival of Matt and Andy, the orchestra was playing away at light classics, and almost against his will, Justin found himself humming along with the tunes. Matt and Andy did not want to do the wedding thing by marching up the aisle. Andy flatly refused to contemplate carrying a bouquet, which he thought was silly. The point about gay relationships, as far as he was concerned, was that they weren’t marriages, they were something different. He had no intention of imitating the straights, he said, preferring to establish new traditions to fit new circumstances. So they had decided to come in from the side and take up positions in front of their supporters, where they would make their promises and sign the legal documents. They entered to great applause from the witnesses. Andy had insisted on wearing his order with rose-pink ribbon, star and badge, leading Matt to don the red ribbon of his Rothenian order as well as the badge of his CBE. They looked very distinguished, although, as usual, ill-matched in height. The orchestra played subdued mood music while they made their promises, holding hands and kissing at the end. Then there were hugs with the supporters behind them and embraces with the families. The orchestra struck up a march – not Mendelssohn – and they exited slowly, shaking hands with the guests, and hugging and kissing the boys keeping the door. ‘Love you, dads!’ Justin told both of them with tears in his eyes. ‘Love you too, son, and so very proud of you!’ was the emotional reply as they hugged him. *** Noticing that Ramon was off dancing with Andy somewhere, Justin finally got Terry to himself late that night in the corner of a lamp-lit marquee. He had seen Terry a few times, but never to talk to on his own. Terry looked well, at least. ‘How you doin’, Uncle Terry? No … really.’ The reply came with a quirky smile. ‘Okay. And that’s about all I can say, sweet babe. I had to take a year out from my course at JAC. Thass not too bad, as I was year ahead of Ramon anyway, so we’ll both be juniors together. But it’ll be a while before I’m fit for dancing again, and that’s a real pain. I’ll always be a bit nervous of the splits too.’ ‘Does it … y’know, slow you down in bed?’ ‘Losing one of me balls? No, actually it doesn’t. They put a prosthetic in, so I’ve kept me balance in the scrotum department. I can still get it up and squirt to order. I’ve lost me confidence in other ways, however. I resigned from PeacherCorp Security, although Richard Peacher’s made me a director and given me a payoff that means I’ll never need to work again. But I just seem to want to stay at home and read, or go out and jog, or – best of all – lie in bed late with me Ramon. It’ll take time, I suppose. Now, what about you, me favourite teen babe?’ ‘I’m okay, Uncle Terry. I doan like thinking about that time in the cellar, but I doan have nightmares about it. You can’t miss a so-called dad you never had, and he was a shite sort of bloke in any case. World’s better off without him.’ ‘You seem very settled with your Nathan.’ ‘E’s a good man, and such a safe one. I’ve stopped needing to shove him about, which is good, because he shoves back if I does anyway. We’re gettin’ very mature now. We just sort of snuggle together, laughing and having fun. We doan need sex three times a night like we did, only twice a night now. Do you s’pose that means we’re gettin’ old? ‘The college is hard goin’ but I’m better behaved than some of the others on me course. And whoever thought they’d hear me say that? ‘Then there’s Matt and Andy. They’re so … dadlike, is that a word? Sort of concerned and funny and generous, just like you want dads to be. They’ve changed me, made me feel wanted and happy.’ ‘They did the same for Paulie … you met him?’ ‘Yeah … he’s a bit of an egghead, innee?’ ‘Oh yeah, although so’s Matt.’ ‘But when you look like Matt, you doan think of ’im as a clever bloke, just as an amazing face … and the rest. I saw him nude the other day. Couldn’t take me eyes off him.’ ‘Watch out, Justy, it’ll be incest next if you’re not careful.’ Justin actually blushed. ‘Nah … he’s not like that, me neither. He’s too … sorta in the moment and controlled, know what I mean?’ ‘You still working for that nice Mr Anderson?’ ‘Oh yeah, we’re still a team, Nate and Mate. I got a raise last week. We’re goin’ on holiday over Christmas to Rothenia, payin’ for our own tickets an’ all. Oskar, Will and Fritzy’re takin’ us skiing in the Rothenian Alps. I never went skiing before. Nate’s takin’ me to the practice slope in Hendon. He’s learnin’ to drive. His dad’s buying him a car when he passes, and then I’ll be learning too.’ ‘So are we happy now?’ ‘Blissful, Uncle Terry. Can we come and stay wiv you in America next year some time? Andy’s gonna give us a lift in his jet.’ ‘Yeah, it’d be great.’ ‘And can we do sex in a foursome?’ Justin grinned lasciviously. ‘Wha …! Who told you?’ ‘Pete let it out. He said Tim and Ramon had an itch and wanted to scratch it, so you and Pete decided to go along. Sounds wicked. I’d love to give it a try. I’d really like your …’ ‘No. Forget it. Absolutely not! Totally no way! You’re a very naughty boy, you know that?’ ‘Yeah, so they say. But not as naughty as you, according to Pete … nine inches, wow! I’d love to see that. I’d love even more to feel it inside me.’ ‘Calm down, tyke. Remember what happened with Pete and Tim. I’m pretty sure the group sex didn’t help them in the end. If I’d been thinking with something other than me dick last year, I’d have realised it said nothing good about Tim that he initiated it.’ ‘Yeah, but I’m not Tim. I doan wanna be laid by half the western world.’ ‘You might mention it to Nathan then.’ ‘Er … perhaps not.’ ‘Just trying it on, like I thought.’ ‘Nate does know Tim sucked me off in the Caribbean, though. After hearin’ what he gave Pete, I was worried he mighta given me the same thing, and I mighta passed it on to Nate. So we both got tested and came up clean. Whatta relief! But Nate wasn’t at all happy.’ Justin sat quiet for a moment and, Terry thought, began looking unusually pensive for him. ‘Uncle Terry?’ ‘Yes, me babe?’ ‘How long do you think me and Nate’ll last?’ ‘What’s worrying you, little one?’ ‘Gays doan have a good track record in relationships, do they.’ Terry smiled gently. ‘Depends on the gays, but no, we don’t.’ ‘Then how much time have Nate and me got?’ ‘Hard to say. Me and Ramon have been going for three years, and we don’t get less in love as time go by. Matt and Andy have been together now for seven. They ain’t ever going to split up. But Pete and Tim, they were fragile. Though I didn’t see it coming any more than they did. The point is, little babe, it’ll last as long as you both want it to and are willing to work at it. Tim lost it, you may not. And I say you, not Nathan. He’s the rock. You have to decide whether you want to stay anchored to him. So think twice about foursomes, babe, or cheating on him. My … that was almost wise wasn’t it? Don’t think Matt could have done better. A brush with death doesn’t half give you perspective.’ Justin kissed Terry before making his way across the floor among the dancing couples. He smiled to see Nathan and Ramon together. He wandered out of the marquee into the evening. As the music got fainter, muffled laughter drew his attention to two dark figures close together between two clipped bushes. Both were tall, with the light shining off their blond heads: Oskar and Pete, and they were kissing. So a new boat was being pushed out on to the ocean of relationships and into the tides of chance. Still, Oskar will have an advantage over the rest of us, Justin thought. If Pete takes one step out of line, a grey spectre will certainly be there to tell on him. Justin walked back into the marquee, laughing gently to himself. Nathan met him at the entrance, eyes shining. They kissed. THE END
  4. Terry was not happy with Justin’s idea about meeting up with his father, but could hardly argue against it. He pointed out that everybody was now vulnerable, including the kids in the house. They could easily end up as hostages, even if Anson didn’t look upon them as targets. But Justin and Nathan came back fiercely saying they had lives to lead, and there was no way of knowing how long the house would be under siege. Finally, they compromised on Terry’s being allowed to drive Justin to Ealing to surreptitiously check out his dad. After father and son had their time together, Terry would link up with Justin and bring him back home. Another problem cropped up when Tim suggested a visit to a pub on Saturday evening. In the end, Justin and Nathan dodged Terry and Jenna to take the American over the garden wall so they could stumble through the back lanes to the village. Tim was by turns morose and artificially cheerful that evening. The boys were sure it was because his relationship with Peter was on the rocks. He had already been informed curtly that, when they got back to the States, Peter would be moving his stuff out of their shared house in New Haven. They were not inclined to condemn Tim too much. Justin in particular had a good deal of sympathy for him, especially as he’d been one of those who had been tempted by and fallen to the man’s sexual allure and good looks. When Tim was in the loo, he said to Nathan, ‘He won’t be on his own too long, I’ll bet.’ ‘Maybe not, but losing Pete Peacher won’t look good on his sexual CV. He might try selling his story to the press for a huge amount, although I can’t imagine Terry letting him get away with it. He’s proved he can’t be trusted. I wouldn’t trust him even if I went to bed with him. He’s nice and he’s funny, but he doesn’t seem to think past the end of his cock. I need a boy I can trust to be my partner, not just my sperm injector.’ ‘Iss not true for everyone.’ ‘I know that, but it’s true for me. Is it true for you, Justy?’ Justin paused and thought. ‘This may not be the best time to tell you, but I let him suck me off one night in the Caribbean.’ ‘What? Justy!’ ‘Don’t get all uppity on me, Underwood. I did it and I ain’t sorry. It seemed right at the time. But I still think I’m faithful to you. And hey, if Terry and Ramon, say, or Will and Felip wanted to get together with us for some fun, what would you do?’ ‘I dunno, Justy … they’re a bit on the old side. I’d not be happy about it, I think. But Tim I’d not trust. How many other men has he been involved with behind Pete’s back, and … this is the awful bit … has he always taken precautions?’ Tim returned at that point, and the air between him and Nathan became frosty. They soon left and returned to Matt’s house, where Terry was furious with all three of them. *** Sunday came. Matt and Andy disappeared early to church, taking Nathan to drop off in Winchmore Hill. Jenna drove. Terry and Justin went in the other direction, following the North Circular Road westward through the light weekend traffic. The dog walkers were out on the common, strolling the tree-lined avenues, and throwing balls for their pets on the lawns. It was humid and overcast. Terry parked on a side street. He and Justin slowly ambled across the grass to the houses on the farther side. When they found the right street and pub, Justin walked straight in while Terry continued past. Justin’s heart was suddenly beating high and he felt very nervous. His father hadn’t sent a picture, just told him to look for a dark-haired man of about six feet, dressed in denim and carrying a Sunday paper. Justin was early, so he settled down with a half of lager. He was well-built these days and shaved daily, so he was not often questioned as to his age. With the appointed hour approaching, it was all Justin could do to stay still in his seat. The clock passed twelve, and there was no one. Justin had sat where he could check out the main entrance. At twelve-fifteen he suddenly realised there would be no father appearing that day. If the man had planned to come, he would have been punctual, or even early, for such a momentous meeting. No man would play power games with time in that sort of situation. Justin felt a little sick with the reaction and, he admitted to himself, with the further evidence that his father was not a man to be relied on. He stood up and left. Terry, standing nonchalantly further along the street, raised his eyebrows when he saw Justin, who shrugged. The two of them had started back to the common when a white van pulled up a little further along the road. As they walked alongside it, the back doors burst open and two men in black jumped out. Justin froze, but Terry had his gun out with an impressive display of reaction time. He levelled it at the two men, who apparently were armed only with truncheons. It was a standoff, until a polite cough from behind Justin introduced a third player in the situation. ‘I’d put the gun away, Terry, there’s a good fellow.’ ‘Why, Anson, you fucker?’ ‘Cos otherwise I’ll have to shoot the boy’s brains out.’ Terry looked back. Justin was standing with Anson’s gun at his head, Anson grinning happily over his shoulder at Terry. Terry dropped his gun and raised his hands. ‘In the back with him, lads. And you, kid, you too.’ Anson shoved Justin into the arms of one of his accomplices, who had retrieved Terry’s gun from the ground. Once Terry and Justin were cuffed and gagged in the back, the van drove off and kept going for as much as a quarter of an hour. When it stopped, bags were placed over their heads and they were shoved stumbling into an echoing space, down some narrow stairs and into a room. A door slammed behind. After they were forced to sit, the cuffs were taken off and their arms tied competently to their chairs. Everything had so far been done in silence. Suddenly Anson’s voice snarled, ‘So Terry, we meet again. A cliché, I know, but in the circumstances it’s the best I can do. You’re going to be here quite a while, and it won’t be the most comfortable period of your life, either. That’s a pity, really, because it’ll be the last bit of your life, too. ‘Okay lads, I’ll take it from here. Off you go.’ Steps retreated and a door opened and closed. There was a moment’s silence before Anson got busy. He removed Terry’s clothes, efficiently cutting off his shirt and jacket, but left the hood and gag on both of them. Then he too went out. Time passed in darkness and fear, made more acute by the urgent pressure building up in Justin’s bladder. Finally the door opened again. His hood and gag were removed and he blinked, although the light was dim in the room. Terry, still hooded, sat a foot or two away from him. There was a steel mortuary table with restraints in front of them, its present purpose all too obvious. Justin looked at Anson, the man who had ruthlessly tortured two Afghan teenagers. He could have no illusions what the man was planning, and it almost caused his bowels to open. Anson was dressed in denims as Justin’s supposed dad was going to be, and he looked like the description. What had been left out was the cold and perfectly self-possessed look in the man’s eyes. ‘Hello Justin. This is a old undertaker’s business, which I’m renting. It came with some useful stuff. So Justin, sorry to disappoint you about the family lunch in the pub. A necessary deception to get Terry into my reach, and I don’t suppose you’ll forgive me, but I’ll have to live with it. ‘Are you tellin’ me you’re actually me dad?’ The man gave a snort of amusement. ‘What do you think? ‘Fraid that’s a mystery you’re gonna be taking into the afterlife, Justin. Anson’s my mother’s name as it happens, the one under which I enlisted in the services: Lieutenant J.M. Anson RM, officer and gentleman.’ ‘If you want me to believe you’re me dad, lemme go, and let Terry go too.’ ‘Oh I can’t do that! Too much history. Too many scores to pay. No, Terry isn’t leaving here alive, or even in one piece.’ ‘Then you’ll have to kill me with him.’ ‘That’s the plan, son, that’s the plan. I can’t let a witness survive, so you’ll have to die as well, but at least for you it will be quick and uncomplicated. Not so for Terry here.’ Anson replaced the gag, but not the hood. ‘And now the fun begins …’ He replaced the cuffs, cut the ropes, and with impressive strength hauled Terry up across the table, cuffing him underneath so his backside was open and vulnerable. ‘Just like old times, eh Terry? You were always a brilliant lay. Now what am I going to do with this sweet boy of mine?’ ‘For Chrissake, leave the kid alone! He’s done nothing to you.’ ‘Ah yes, but he means a lot to you and it’s clearly mutual, so it just adds to my fun to see how the things I do to you affect him. It’ll be great hearing you beg. Now I’m not quite ready to fuck you, I need you to be already missing afew body parts first, so in the meantime enjoy this.’ He inserted a black butt plug hard and deep. Then he repositioned Terry, cuffing him to the table on his back, spreadeagled and exposed. ‘I’ll see you later, boys. Try to get comfortable. I’ll be back.’ Terry looked at Justin compassionately. ‘I’m so sorry, sweet babe, so sorry.’ ‘Terry, we’re not going to get out of this, are we?’ ‘No, babe. Although I wish there was something positive I could tell you, all I can say is that sooner or later it must be over.’ ‘This is shit. My life was so good, and this mega-cunt’s gonna take it from me for no other reason than he’s mad.’ ‘Get resigned, kid. It’s a terrible hard thing, but if you resign yourself to whatever horrors he inflicts, they won’t mean so much.’ ‘You know he claims to be me dad. He’s lying, isn’t he?’ There was a long pause as Terry gathered his strength. ‘Dunno, son. It’s possible I suppose. His mate Laurie always called him Johnny, which I thought was a code name, but perhaps it may have been his real name after all … Jack can be short for John. Whether he's really the man your mum was talking about, though, doesn’t seem likely now.’ ‘Is he … going to, y’know, cut you?’ ‘Don’t think about it, Justy. Your own imagination’ll help him torture you. Concentrate on breathing and saying goodbye to everything you know. Can I just start by saying goodbye to you, you beautiful boy. I’ve been so proud of you, as proud as a proper father could be, and I love you so much it hurts. Watching you triumph over your shite life and transform into the thoughtful, funny and loving boy you are has been such a privilege. I love you, Justy, you’re the babe of babes, and you’re a thousand times the man Anson is.’ Tears were streaming down Justin’s face by now. He couldn’t think of a thing to say. It was quite a long time before Anson returned, still naked. He came up to Justin, bent down and went to kiss him. Justin turned his face away, until a stinging slap that set off fireworks behind his eyes forced him to take the attention. ‘Got no respect for your old man, have you, Justy?’ ‘Don’t call me that, it’s reserved for people who I care for. You’re just a lump of shite. Let Terry go.’ Anson gave him a considering look. ‘Your concern for him isn’t going to endear him to me. He’s got to die after all he’s done to me, and the fact that he’s got your affection is just one more reason to kill him.’ ‘Go fuck yourself!’ Justin croaked. Another slap left him with his ears ringing. Anson then turned on Terry. He introduced a trolley containing batteries and wires into the room. and proceeded to hook them up in a sickly imaginative way. Justin tried to close his ears to the screams and pleas, but they went on and on, for hours. Terry passed out several times and eventually couldn’t be revived with any ease. Justin sat stunned as Anson kissed Terry’s drooling mouth. The room was full of the stink of burning flesh. Anson left Terry lying there. As the hours passed, Justin got more and more thirsty and hungry. At some time his control over his tortured bladder gave way, and the smell of his piss-soaked trousers added its acrid tang to the atmosphere in the room. Terry was still unconscious when the dreaded rattle of the door handle announced yet another session of torture. Anson appeared, dressed in overalls now, turned on a water source and hosed down Terry’s body. At last Terry coughed, spluttered and groaned. His eyes opened. ‘Hullo, Terry. I want you awake for the next bit.’ Anson uncuffed him and simply rolled him on to the floor, where he flopped with a heavy thump and lay unable to move. Then Anson hauled Justin up from the chair. He could barely stand, so Anson heaved him bodily on to the table on his back and restrained him. Anson looked down on the boy with a mad smile, kissed his cheek lightly, and said, ‘Justy, you have been a bad boy. It’s about time a father took you in hand. Oh and you’ve wet yourself, so we’d better have these off you.’ Justin heaved on the table in desperation. He could guess what was coming next. A sharp knife slit his clothes and the rags were thrown to one side, leaving him lying naked on the cold metal surface. Then his balls were gripped and cruelly twisted. He writhed and gasped. Anson left him to attend to other business. There came a dragging sound as Terry was hauled over the floor to a chair. It was as he was being pulled up that Terry made a superhuman effort and grappled with Anson, seizing him by the throat. They swayed and staggered across the room where Justin could not see them. He heard cursing, a clatter as if a tray of instruments had been overturned, and heavy breathing. Suddenly a male voice cried out in agony. Justin strained at his bonds, to see with horror a bloodstained Anson rising unsteadily to his feet, a knife in his hand. He stared round, eyes wide, and focussed triumphantly on Justin. At that moment his attention switched to the door. There came a crash and a detonation as the room filled with smoke and laser lights. Dark bodies moved in the gloom amid swearing and several flashes. Shouting surrounded Justin. Strong arms released him from his restraints and cradled him gently. ‘Terry, Terry!’ he shouted, ‘I gotta get to Terry.’ But he was carried out into a passage, stretchered and taken at a run up some stairs to an ambulance. It raced away screaming into the night, a doctor and paramedics labouring over him as it went. *** Shock and sedatives kept Justin from regaining consciousness for twenty-four hours. When he finally awoke, he found himself in a hospital ward. A hand was holding his, and he turned his head to see Nathan sitting beside him. He tried to smile, but only managed a grimace. ‘Hi, babe,’ he croaked. ‘Oh, Justy, I thought I’d lost you!’ and Nathan was sobbing on top of him while Justin patted his head weakly. Nathan mastered himself and pulled back. ‘Sorry, Justy. Hope I didn’t hurt you.’ ‘Nah. Everything hurts, specially me bollocks. You couldn’t avoid it. No sex for weeks, I’d guess.’ He paused as his mind sent image after image pulsing back into his head. He sat up abruptly. ‘Terry! Where’s Terry?’ ‘Easy, my babe! He’s here. He’s in intensive care. He’s not great, but he’s alive.’ ‘Thank God. Oh, he’s such a hero! Christ, what he went through! What he did! And that fucker Anson?’ ‘Dead. They shot him as they burst in. They were taking no risks. Six in the head, a copper told me.’ ‘Good. Nate, I’ve decided to believe in religion, just so I know the evil bastard is in hell where he needs to be. But Terry, what’s happened to him?’ ‘Anson did terrible things to him … well, you know that … and knifed him in the gut, deliberately slashed him wide open. But the doctors got to him in time. He was in theatre for three hours. They’ve stitched him up. He’s lost some bowel, and the electrical torture meant he’s lost a testicle too. He’s got third degree burns over parts of his body. They’ve done grafts.’ Justin lay back appalled. ‘If they’d come any later, I’d have been much the same. Christ, my balls ache!’ Nathan looked as though he was going to vomit. He stood up abruptly and walked to the window. It was night time outside. ‘What day is it, Nate?’ ‘It’s Wednesday. He had you from Sunday to early Tuesday morning.’ ‘How in hell did you find us?’ Nathan looked troubled. ‘It’s a long story, babe, and some of it will be difficult to take, so if you don’t mind I’ll leave it for a while. Andy said to keep it quiet and not to tell you.’ ‘Where is …?’ But his question was answered by the arrival of Andy and Matt themselves. Andy dripped tears all over him and kissed him. Matt just sat next to him, gave him a tender embrace and held his hand. Justin tried to tell them how he was feeling. They in turn had more news of Terry, who had been stabilised and would be kept sedated for now. ‘Ramon’s with him, willing him to pull through. He’s strong, Justy.’ ‘Tell me about it. His last effort to take Anson down was superhuman. He’s like a hero of legend. I love him so much.’ ‘We all do, Justy,’ agreed Andy. ‘We owe him far more than we can ever repay. There’s talk of the government giving him an award of some sort, someone said it was the George Medal.’ ‘Andy?’ ‘Yes, kid?’ ‘When I was strapped to that chair, waiting for a horrible death …’ ‘… please, Justy.’ ‘Hear me out. I kept running over the regrets I had about my life. The biggest one was that I refused to let you and Matt adopt me. I wanna put that right. I want to be your kid for good and all. I wanna wipe out the memory of that monster who claimed to be my dad and was gonna kill me.’ Andy smiled hugely at him. ‘You sure?’ ‘Yes, dad.’ Andy started at the application of the term to him, then smiled through the tears. ‘Let’s do it, son. I kept the paperwork somewhere. So the world gets a new Peacher boy.’ ‘A Peacher-White, I think.’ ‘Of course. You’re our kid alright. You’ll do exactly what you want and not listen to us at all.’ *** The press was alight. The kidnapping had made news across the world. Therefore, when Justin left the hospital three days later, he was besieged by a mob of cameramen and reporters wanting to know all the gory details. Having foreseen just such a possibility, Andy had called upon his lawyers to run interference and issue statements. No one got near Justin, who was whisked directly to a plane and flown out with Nathan and his adoptive parents to the Peacher yacht, then moored off Nice. Richard Peacher was waiting as the helicopter landed, and shook Justin’s hand warmly. ‘So, my boy, it appears I’m a grandfather at last.’ Justin looked at him seriously. ‘Only if you want to be, sir.’ ‘Son, I doubt if I could be prouder of any grandson of my own blood than I am of you. It’s an honour for us to have you in the family, and you can use my name with my blessing.’ ‘Thank you, sir. You don’t know what that means to me.’ ‘Come into the main lounge. I flew over a lot of your friends, who’ve been waiting for you to get here. It’s about time for someone to explain to me – as much as to you – what really happened that Sunday.’ Justin followed his new grandfather into the lounge, to find it full of his favourite people. What surprised him was the large Rothenian contingent, with Fritz, Oskar, Will and Felip sitting together. They grinned at him, and Fritz waved cheekily. Justin was also startled to see Peter Peacher there. ‘Hey, Uncle Pete. Shouldn’t you be in Yale or something?’ Peter came over, hugged and kissed him, then held him by both hands and told him how sorry he was at what had happened. ‘Thanks, Pete. What … no Tim?’ A spasm crossed Peter’s face. ‘No. No Tim. You won’t be seeing him again.’ Matt began organising people through some double doors into a board room. Everyone took seats randomly except for Justin, who was ushered to the top of the table. Andy sat on one side of him, Nathan on the other. ‘Justy, we waited to tell you the full story till we could get Fritz and Oskar here. You’ll know why soon enough. So, where do we start? Sunday we saw you and Terry off to what we thought would be a meeting with your long-lost father in Ealing. Just after midday we had a call from Strelzen. It was Oskar, who had better continue the explanation.’ Oskar looked at him with a smile. ‘Mine is – as you know, Justy – an old family, going right back to the early middle ages. Some strange tales are told of it, strange even for my homeland, a place of many uncanny stories. This one began long ago, in the wars between the Hussites and the last Rothenian duke, Waclaw III, when a Bohemian army besieged the old castle at Tarlenheim. The count then was my ancestor Jerzy Cerescu … I think you would call him “Black George”. I could tell you how he got his name, but it would put you off your dinner. ‘So there was the Bohemian army camped in the river meadows round our castle, with Count Jerzy inside, feeling pretty good. He had plenty of food, and the old castle of Tarlenheim was very much … what do you call a castle that cannot be taken, Will?’ Will stirred. ‘I think you mean impregnable.’ ‘Yes, impregnable. Not much chance for the Bohemians, who were becoming desperate. Winter was closing in and they still had to get past our castle to penetrate the Husbrau region and sack Modenehem. So they decided to break the castle’s spirit. They rounded up the locals and began executing them quite horribly, one by one. And of course they always killed friends or relatives of the defenders. They also paraded the next day’s victim before the walls in order to prolong the agony … and people wonder why Rothenians and Czechs do not get on. ‘Now it so happened that on the seventh day they paraded a young woman as the next victim. And it also happened that her father was in the garrison. He saw the horror awaiting her and broke down. On guard duty that night, he slipped out of the castle, and arranged with the Bohemians that he would secretly open a postern gate to them the following night, if they would spare his daughter. ‘Count Jerzy was a grim man, who always lined up the garrison to watch the torture and execution of the victims – to remind them, he said, why they were fighting such animals, and to “do honour,” as he also said, to the sufferings of a compatriot. That day his keen sight noted that there had been a change of victim; a dark-haired young woman was killed and not a blonde. He immediately suspected something. ‘Now another thing about the count was that his mother had been a lady aristocrat from the Byzantine Empire, a granddaughter of the empress Theophania, of whom strange tales are told: that she was a seer and a sorceress and other such things. Certainly she had foreseen her own death and made many other predictions that had come true, the way these prophecies do, with people not realising the truth of them till after the event. The bishop of Modenheim was a little reluctant to bury her in his cathedral as a result. ‘Nothing strange had manifested itself in the count’s life until then, but that night his mother’s blood boiled up in his veins, as we say in Rothenia. While he nervously paced the walls expecting treachery, he realised he was being followed by a hooded figure in a grey cloak, which he could see out of the corner of his eye. When he turned to confront it, however, it was gone. No one else could see it. Then he knew it was a spectral manifestation of power and purpose, and indeed he feared it was a prophecy of his own death that night. Yet as he paced the parapets he noticed a strange thing: the figure was interested in others, not him. He observed the figure pause at each sentry, nod slowly at him, and pass by. But when the count came to the postern gate where the traitor stood guard, the spectre halted and this time threw back its hood, revealing a gaunt and terrible face. It pointed at the traitor, nodded to the count and was gone. ‘Being a decisive man, Count Jerzy had the guard arrested. On being questioned with instruments, the guard soon broke down and confessed his complicity. The count then prepared an ambush for the Bohemians. When they penetrated the defences, they found themselves trapped between bowmen and doused with boiling liquids. Hundreds of them died, and the siege was raised.’ ‘Wow,’ exclaimed Nathan, ‘and the father and daughter?’ ‘Rothenian tales rarely have happy endings, Nathan. The count hung the father. The Bohemians butchered the girl in retaliation for their humiliation. ‘The grey spectre has appeared several other times in the history of my family. The Field Marshal Prince of Tarlenheim, who fought for the Empire in the Seven Years War, received a visit from it in his tent on campaign in Bavaria in 1755. He was led out into the dark in time to detect a night attack on his position by French grenadiers, who would have killed him. ‘I would set less belief in this story were it not that my own father, while interned in a labour camp under the Communists as a young man, was once visited by the spectre. It seemed several agents provocateurs had been put in the camp to detect conspiracy. He woke in the deep quiet of a moonlit night to find a gaunt, hooded figure pacing the barrack room. It paused at each bunk, nodded and continued until it stopped at the one next to his. There it pointed at the bunk’s occupant, a young man with whom my father had got very friendly, and dropped its hood. My father went pale with the dread of that moment as he told me the story when I was a boy. With the moonlight full on it, he could see that it was white and fleshless, he said, with the true horror of treachery etched upon its visage. And indeed my father, knowing the significance of the vision, would not again confide in that young man, who betrayed several others in the camp to the secret police and to their deaths.’ Matt stirred, thanked Oskar and looked at Justin. ‘The next bit of the story belongs to His Serene Highness. Fritzy, will you continue?’ Fritz looked suddenly far too serious for a young teenager, yet he spoke up in his light tenor voice as cool and confident as ever. ‘Do you remember, Justy, the day we said goodbye in the hall of the Tarlenheim palace in Strelzen? I came running down the stairs and gave you all the traditional blessing. As I was going along the line and kissing you, I realised that something very odd was happening. A misty, grey-hooded figure was standing behind each of you as I did it, and bowed toward me as I kissed you. I tried to ignore it – I thought I was seeing things – but it became less misty at each kiss. And when I came to the last person, it was as clear as if it were one of you. In ragged grey sacking it was, and when I went to kiss the last of you, it dropped its hood and revealed its white face and dead black eyes. It held its shrouded hand over that man’s head, and was gone.’ ‘I remember now, but the last of us was … Tim. My God. You think …?’ ‘Oskar took me aside after you went, and I told him what I thought I had seen. Then he recounted the legend of the spectre and we discussed what to do. But that was not the end of things. The spectre was seen walking in the palace daily from then on, always at midday, and not just by me. Oskar saw it too.’ Oskar picked up the thread. ‘It was the Sunday and by that time I was always with Fritzku at noon, knowing there might be a visitation. We were in the breakfast room, and as the clock was striking the hour the thing was there with us again. That day it did not just appear and stalk away, it looked full at us and dropped its hood. I saw the white face too, as my father had done before me. It was I think a personification of betrayal … in the view of Ernst Tokvats, one of our great writers, the worst of all sins. In the countenance of that phantom you could see everything that was repulsive in the act of treachery. I have to tell you I have resolved in future to attend mass and confession more regularly.’ Fritz added, ‘That last time – for it has not appeared again – the thing did not just look at us. It pointed with its swathed arm at the clock in the breakfast room. That gesture told us the betrayal had already happened, it had happened in England, and Tim had been responsible for it in some way.’ Oskar nodded. ‘I immediately put through a call to Terry, but there was no answer even on his priority number. Then I contacted Matt, to whom I tried to explain everything as logically and convincingly as I could. He listened, and it is now to him to take up the story.’ Matt looked around the table. ‘It was a weird call to take, but I couldn’t regard it as a hoax. Oskar is as sane and practical a man as I have ever met. Besides, in the mood the Highgate house was in, I was expecting some imminent disaster. So I got Jenna, who was by then quite alarmed not to have received Terry’s periodic check-in call. She went looking for Tim and found him pacing in the garden. He must have read something in her eyes, because he refused her polite request to come and talk to us in the lounge. At that point, as Jenna does, she became less polite, and he accompanied her anyway. ‘So there we were and there he was, not knowing how to proceed. Tim is not a criminal, however, and was very on edge, while Jenna is an experienced and clever interrogator. It was an education to watch her. She began by gently questioning him about his movements since he had been in London, and anyone who had approached him about us and our activities. He swore he’d had no such contact. Then she gave a pretty detailed description of Anson and asked if he recognised it. By then he was sweating, but he claimed he’d never seen the man. She coolly told him that her information was otherwise, that she knew of several meetings. Then she stunned me: “So how was Anson blackmailing you, Tim?” she asked out of the blue. ‘He denied it, but he was flushed and panicking. Every time he denied it, she told him he was lying, that she could smell the lies on him, and that his only chance to avoid charges of conspiracy to murder was to talk then and there. And he talked. ‘He was shaking and his voice was inaudible at times, but it had all begun on a wild night in New York when Tim had been seduced in a seedy club in Greenwich Village by an underage boy prostitute. There were pictures and threats and it soon became clear that there was a mastermind behind it. Tim began feeding Peacher information to his contact, either that or face exposure, the end of his university career and a period in incarceration. Anson contacted him directly for the first time in Strelzen, not just pumping him for information but forcing him into some pretty demeaning sex acts too. It was through Tim that Anson had daily information on our movements, so he could set up the kidnapping of Terry.’ Justin butted in at that point. ‘So, his stringing along about being me father, he must have begun that from prison.’ Matt nodded. ‘Yes, he was a clever man. He spotted the story in Gay Universe and took a chance. I don’t believe he was your father, Justy. I’m even willing to arrange for a DNA test on his corpse to clear that nightmare out of your life.’ ‘No wonder there were days between his replies and my questions. But how did he know about me mam and stuff?’ ‘He had agents, contacts and money. I’m sure they located your mum’s friends and bribed them to give all sorts of details of her early life and boyfriends. How sure are you that your mother wouldn’t have told her drinking pals what she told you in hospital?’ ‘Can’t know for certain, can I? Me poor mam.’ ‘So Anson knew where you’d be at midday that Sunday, and Tim let him know it would be just you and Terry. Having already rented his torture chamber in Uxbridge, all he needed was his victims. You walked right into his ambush.’ ‘But how did the police find us? Don’t tell me the spectre turned up again.’ ‘No Justy, that was the one good thing Tim was able to do for us. He had Anson’s mobile number, and once he gave it to us, we were able to pass it on to Jenna’s contacts in the Met and MI5. Within two hours they had a GPS fix on each location the mobile had called from during the past month. It took a while, but eventually the police identified several premises he regularly used. They found you in Uxbridge on the Monday night, and a SWAT team took Anson out, a process less dangerous because Terry was trying to save you and kill him at the time.’ ‘What’s happened to Tim?’ ‘On bail, awaiting trial for conspiracy,’ put in Peter ‘That’s not fair, Pete’ objected Justin, looking hard at Peter. ‘He was a victim too.’ ‘I suppose he was, although I’m convinced he could have handled the whole thing better if only his character hadn’t been so weak. I’m not mad at him anymore, though. I feel sorry for him. I’ll even help him if I can, but whatever there was between us is over now. I agree with Oskar that betrayal’s the worst thing you can do. Tim betrayed me in more ways than one.’ ‘Whaddya mean?’ said Justin. Peter looked uncomfortable with his father in the room but went on, ‘Tim had been getting increasingly promiscuous and careless. I don’t know where he got them or when, but he picked up gonorrhoea and chlamydia and passed them on to me, the fool. So now I’m under medical supervision until I get rid of them.’ Richard Peacher looked more than a little stern at this. ‘Yes, dad, I’m sorry. I told you I’d be careful when I came out, but I guess I chose the wrong partner.’ When he saw how concerned his father was, he added, ‘It’ll be okay, dad, they’re curable. I’ll live to choose the wrong man again.’ Richard Peacher stared stonily down the table. ‘At least the man Anson, or Whittaker, or whoever he was will never trouble us again. I’m sorry for you, Justin, to have to live with the memories he’s given you. But you’ll recover, I know, and you’ve got new parents who love you very much. Sylvia is in London, and she tells me that Terry is conscious again and recovering, though whether he will want to continue in his old job I rather doubt. As long as he’s still with us, I could ask no more than that. He’s swearing he’ll be in Virginia to begin the new semester with you, son. When are you off?’ ‘At the weekend, dad,’ said Andy. ‘Justy and his Nathan need to get back to Highgate too. Justy’s starting college … going to school voluntarily for the first time in his life.’ ‘Then let’s enjoy what time we have together, friends and family.’
  5. They continued to have a very good time in Rothenia, which Justin privately concluded he liked even better than the Caribbean. Matt and Andy did the great churches and castles. Tim and Peter disappeared into the nightlife of the Strelzen scene and slept all day, emerging heavy eyed and staggering in the late afternoon. ‘You been bit by Count Dracula here in Transylvania, ’ave you?’ Justin could not resist asking. Justin and Nathan for their part had a different sort of holiday, one that did more to gain them the approval of Matt and Andy. Felip and Will took them waterskiing and diving in the blue waters of the great inland Lake Maresku, and climbing in the Rothenian Alps. Nathan began picking up the language, in which he made hesitant small talk with Fritz, who sometimes went with them. Oskar took them to his gym and on one weird day to the Spa in the hills west of Strelzen. ‘What, we have to get naked? In public?’ shrieked Justin. ‘Are you shy, Justin?’ Oskar teased, standing like a Greek god of love in the changing room. A sniggering Fritz, himself looking like an adolescent Cupid with feathery pubic hair dusting his crotch, peered round his brother. ‘Justin … it didn’t bother you at home.’ Nathan, who had shrugged off his clothes quite unselfconsciously, was doing his best not to smile. With a sigh Justin dropped his pants and snatched at a robe. Nathan grabbed it away from him, making him chase naked round the changing room to recover it. ‘Pervert!’ he hissed at Nathan, then reluctantly smiled. They wandered out into the sunny grounds. Before long Justin felt reasonably at ease, though he noticed that he and Nathan were among the few to have a pale swimsuit line. They splashed about in the outdoor spa pool for a while, then found a comfortable shelf where they could lie out in the shallow blue water and watch the naked world go by. Justin started commenting on the passing male butts, and finally saw a real classic in dark olive skin, belonging to a well-muscled man of about twenty. ‘Ooh,’ he observed, a little too loudly, ‘makes your mouth water.’ He flushed red when the butt’s owner shot an amused glance back over his shoulder and came towards them. ‘You are English boys, yes?’ ‘Er … yeah,’ admitted Justin. ‘You like my ass?’ ‘Er …’ ‘That is okay. I think you are gay, is that right?’ ‘Yeah, it is.’ ‘I too. You are quite something yourselves. Are you eighteen yet?’ ‘Just about, Nathan nearly is.’ ‘You are beautiful, Nathan. I wonder if you would be interested in modelling for my firm if you are staying for any time in Rothenia? There’s good money in it, and we are very interested in adding Westerners to our list.’ Nathan smiled a little uneasily. ‘And what sort of modelling would that be? Does it mean I take my clothes off?’ ‘That is what male models usually do.’ ‘What, all of them?’ The man smiled. ‘Only if you want.’ Justin was beginning to enjoy Nathan’s embarrassment. ‘Who’s shy now, Nate?’ Then he advised the stranger, ‘I’m his manager. How much are we talking about here?’ The man smiled again. ‘The audition shoot is free and if we take it, then there is 300 US dollars. After that we can talk further. You like to come visit our offices, they are on Rodolferplaz, number 12 by the Leuwenpasacz, fourth floor. We’re called Falkemodel, just turn up and ask for …’ ‘Ahoi, Radik,’ interrupted Oskar, who had come up on them unexpectedly. ‘Oh! It is you, Oskar.’ ‘It certainly is. Are you talent-spotting for Hendrik still?’ ‘I am … are these friends of yours?’ ‘Yes they are.’ ‘Aah. Well. Nice meeting, you boys. Remember the offer.’ ‘Goodbye, Radik,’ said Oskar dismissively. Radik smiled to himself and strolled off. Justin looked fascinated. ‘What was all that about?’ Oskar sat down between them. ‘Hm. Radik’s a scout for Falkefilm, looking for gay porn actors.’ Justin whooped. ‘Fantastic! What, really?’ ‘I’m gonna be sick,’ groaned Nathan. Justin chortled. ‘This is amazing. I could have sold me Nathan into sex slavery! Are they the bunch you worked for, Oskar?’ ‘They are indeed. The modelling is just the first step. Next thing you know, you would have been on all fours in front of a camera, with another guy working his dick into your lower bowel.’ ‘You wouldn’t recommend it, then?’ asked Nathan. ‘No, I would not, although it has its upside, and Falkefilm is not the worst of employers. But, as you have seen, I still live with the consequences.’ Justin looked thoughtful for a moment. ‘That DVD you did with Will wasn’t too bad. You two were so into each other, it was amazing.’ Nathan reluctantly agreed. ‘Yes. In some ways that day when I performed with Will was the best day of my life, but to get there I had to lie and cheat. In doing so, I lost the one man I have ever truly loved.’ ‘You love Will still?’ ‘Yes I do, but it is too late now for me. He and Felip found each other, and they make a great couple. I don’t even know why I am telling you this, but it may be because it was here in this very place that I finally worked out how I felt about him. I fooled myself that, when the whole episode with Falkefilm was over, I could still keep him, and that he would forgive me how I had tricked him into porn stardom.’ ‘But Fritz said you had a new German boyfriend.’ ‘Did he now? I had a brief fling in Dresden with a German academic who was doing a study of the East European porn trade and had sought me out for an interview. But I soon realised it was the idea of sex with a whore that he was in love with, not me. You see, boys, that is the downside. In the porn world, you become a commodity and not a human being.’ Nathan looked moved. ‘That’s sad, Oskar. But we think you’re brilliant. You’re cool and funny, and of course you have a butt to die for too. You’re our friend, and we’re glad you are.’ Justin gave an affirming nod. ‘Yeah … you’re our mate, Oskar, and you’re an awesome brother to young Fritzy.’ Oskar smiled and took them round their shoulders to kiss the tops of their heads. ‘You are good boys.’ Then they separated and went in search of Fritz, who was running round with other boys in the play area, climbing up ladders and shooting down waterslides. * * * That night in bed, Nathan and Justin discussed their conversation with Oskar. Nathan had been deeply saddened by it. ‘You want to think there’re happy endings in life, specially here in this country, so famous for romance. But poor Oskar is on his own, and he’s so very beautiful.’ ‘Well, you can see why a bit.’ ‘How’s that?’ ‘He’s a little scary as well as gorgeous. He’s so bright and so witty and so together. He puts off normal people.’ ‘As well for him that we’re abnormal, then, isn’t it?’ decided Nathan. ‘If only we could do something for him, but he’s too much above the likes of us.’ ‘I dunno. He seemed genuinely touched when we told him how much we liked him. I think it’s all front with Oskar. He’s not so superior. He’s just lonely like the rest of us.’ ‘You can’t be lonely, Justy. You got me and Matt and Andy. We all love you, and I’d die for you … really I would. Just give me a chance. But this is all about your dad again, isn’t it.’ ‘You’re too damn clever for me, Nate.’ When the boys finally emerged from under their bedclothes the next morning, they discovered that Terry and his Ramon had arrived at the Tarlenheim palace, though they were staying elsewhere in the city. Matt and Andy were in a deep discussion over something with Terry in the hall. Terry barely acknowledged Nathan and Justin when they turned up, which was unusual – they knew he was very fond of them. They headed for the kitchen and a late breakfast. After half an hour Terry and Ramon appeared. ‘Morning favourite teen babes, sorry I couldn’t greet you properly in the hall, but something’s come up and I had to talk to the guys about it.’ He kissed them both affectionately on the cheek, and they hugged him and then Ramon. ‘Having a good time here in Never Never Land?’ ‘S brilliant, Uncle Terry,’ enthused Justin. ‘You won’t believe the things we been doing. I love this place. Oskar and Fritz are really cool.’ ‘That’s great. Look, babes, we need to have a serious word and that soon, before you go back to London. There’s been a … situation, and it’s taking up all me time at the moment. Shall we meet in Rodolferplaz this afternoon? Do you know Liberation? Yes? Well there’s a place across the Wejg from Erotic Dream City called Café Manhattan. See you there at five. Okay? Must dash.’ And he was gone, leaving the boys confused. Ramon looked unhappy and shrugged. ‘He’s been like this for the past week. Something’s got his goat and he won’t tell me what’s going on. Matt said you’re going to wander the city today. I suggest you take along your cell phones and keep your eyes peeled. Terry’s been acting as though there was a spy behind every bush these past few days. I thought he’d be less twitchy here, but he’s just as bad, worse in fact. I’ve never seen him like this before. He’s usually cool under pressure.’ Justin was intrigued and faintly alarmed. He deduced that, for something to rattle Terry, it must be very big indeed. But then he realised Terry had brought no additional security with him to Strelzen, which hardly indicated an imminent threat. So it must be something else. Justin and Nathan strolled into the city centre and very soon got bored. In the end they cruised the Wejg, something they knew Matt and Andy would have disapproved of. The hustlers closed in on them outside a strip bar, where Justin got into a bargaining session over admission. Nathan was reluctant and nervous, especially as one Somali latched on to him and tried to get him interested in going fucky-fucky with the girls: ‘You big man. They go two or three together with you. You make them happy, maybe they not charge, eh? Big man.’ ‘Justy … please!!’ he pleaded. ‘Come on, Nate. I got him down to 200 krone. What each? No, I meant together. Jesus, what a bunch of criminals!’ A big crowd of passing British drunks distracted the hustlers, allowing the boys to slip away. In desperation, Nathan dragged Justin into a reasonably innocent-looking Irish sports bar, with shamrocks and Irish tricolours everywhere. The barman gave them a sharp glance, but served them each a Czech beer. They sat in a dark corner, looking at the big screen where a premier league game was playing. ‘Phew, Justy, what were you going to do if we’d got in? It was girls not boys going to strip. You straightening up on me or something?’ ‘Nah, Nate. I juss missed the sleaze. Thought I could sink to me proper level for a bit.’ Nathan downed his beer very quickly, he was so flustered, and went for another. As he did he noticed something on the other side of the long bar. When he got back he said, ‘Justy, I’d swear I saw Tim with some bloke down there.’ ‘Nah. He’s back at Fritzy’s place. They’re still sleeping off last night, the shockin’ stop-outs.’ ‘Go and look.’ Justin stood up and ostentatiously craned his head round. ‘Nope. No one that looks like Tim, although there’s a youngish guy you might have mistaken for him.’ ‘Odd,’ said Nathan, ‘I could have sworn it was him, though now you mention it, he was with a hard-looking bloke you just couldn’t imagine Tim associating with.’ ‘No hard-looking bloke down there either. Terry’s got you spooked, Nate.’ They spent two hours in the bar, beer following beer. Eventually they sauntered out, weaving more than a little, to join the press of the Wejg, which they found hilarious this time rather than threatening. They emerged into Rodolferplaz and carried on towards the palace. About half way up the square, after Nathan had tripped over the tram lines and fallen flat on his face, Justin suggested they dip their heads in the big central fountain. ‘Oh fuck,’ Justin muttered as his head emerged dripping from the water, ‘it’s the cops!’ Two blue-uniformed city policemen were heading purposefully in their direction from across the square. Justin grabbed Nathan under the arm and they headed, supporting each other in a pantomime of casual sobriety, in the opposite direction. They crossed the street to the eastern face of the square, where they ducked into an arcade. Peering round the corner Justin saw the police still following. He dragged Nathan onwards and through some big glass doors. There was a lift. ‘Fuck, Nate, you know where this is?’ ‘Wha …?’ Justin pressed the fourth-floor button, and the doors closed behind them. ‘Where we going?’ asked Nathan, coming round a little. ‘Escaping the cops, babe. Oh … and looking for a new career for you.’ ‘You what?’ The doors opened and they found themselves in a plush waiting area. A receptionist looked up and smiled. It was obviously not unusual here for strange young men to appear out of nowhere. ‘Ahoi?’ she greeted them. ‘This Falkemodel?’ Justin asked. She shifted effortlessly to English. ‘Yes, do you have an appointment?’ ‘Er … this guy called Radik said that me mate here would make a good model and suggested we come for a trial.’ ‘A moment,’ she said. ‘Please take a seat.’ Nathan collapsed dazed into a deep leather chair. Justin carefully examined a wall filled with stylish monochrome pictures of male models. ‘Look Nate, iss Oskar. Dun he look gorgeous, and fuck me, iss Will and Felip too, even gorgeouser! Come on, me mate, we gotta get you on this wall of fame. Half the family’s here already.’ Nathan was coming round fully now. ‘Justin,’ he hissed urgently, ‘this is not funny. Matt’ll kill us. If I wanted to model, I could do it through his contacts. This is a hard-core porn factory, you insane dickhead!’ The receptionist called them over and offered two forms to fill out. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘Mr Willemin is not in today, but we’ll be interviewing Thursday morning. Fill in the forms and we’ll be back to you. Okay?’ ‘Phew,’ exhaled Nathan, ‘that was a close one. Let’s fill these in and get the hell out of here as soon as we can.’ They scribbled some reasonably imaginative personal details and were just about to take the lift down when a voice cracked out from down the corridor. ‘Justin! Nathan! What are you two doing here?’ ‘Oh crap,’ groaned Justin, ‘Felip.’ Felip had collared them both before they could enter the lift and escorted them past the bemused receptionist into a side room. ‘This had better be good,’ he growled. They looked at each other, and Justin decided on the truth as the only way out. ‘Hmm,’ repeated Felip. ‘So you were a little drunk on the Wejg, staggered on to Rodolferplaz, attracted the attention of the police and dodged into Leuwenpasacz and up here. It is, as I think you say, a likely story.’ ‘S the truth!’ affirmed Justin, outraged. ‘It really is,’ echoed Nathan. ‘But you knew what this place is, didn’t you?’ ‘Well, yeah,’ allowed Justin. ‘And you couldn’t resist a look, could you?’ ‘Well, no,’ Nathan admitted. ‘Give us a break, Felip.’ ‘No … but judging by the smell on you, I’d better give you a black coffee. That much of your story seems to have been true at least.’ He led them back through the waiting area and up some narrow stairs to a studio space. Nathan stood open-mouthed as a naked, muscular and attractive young man carrying a dildo wandered past, with a curious look at the boys and casual wave at Felip, who waved back. ‘What sort of weird place is this?’ Nathan wondered out loud. ‘Some people’s idea of heaven, I think. In here.’ Felip took them into a small kitchenette, where he poured out two coffees from an urn. Justin had to ask, ‘Whatchu doin’ here then, Felip?’ ‘Camera work today. There’re a number of training sessions going on, as you can see. I was just taking a break. It’s a lot of work holding a camera to record ninety minutes of oral sex.’ ‘I’ll bet,’ agreed Justin virtuously. ‘You movin on to anal now then?’ ‘No, Justy, you cannot watch.’ ‘Aw … come on.’ ‘It would put the boys off, which would hardly be fair to them. Adrien is only doing this for the first time. He’s nervous enough without two teenagers coming in to stare at him while a guy who is almost a complete stranger puts a dick inside his ass.’ ‘I wouldn’t mind,’ Justin wheedled. ‘That is what worries me about you, Justin. I believe you. But you are under the legal age here in Rothenia, so the case does not arise, does it?’ ‘We’ll be off then, iss nearly time to meet Terry anyway. Er … I don’t suppose there’s any need to mention this to Andy or Matt, is there?’ ‘You have to be kidding!’ *** Terry was waiting, tapping a pack of cigarettes on the table of the café. There were several stubs already in the ashtray in front of him. But he smiled warmly when he saw them. ‘Good to see you, sweet babes. Take a seat. Now, I’ll bet you want to know what’s going on, and why I needed to see you two in particular.’ ‘Sure do, Uncle Terry,’ said Nathan this time. Terry smiled a little at the adoption of the nickname by yet another of his teenage admirers. ‘You remember, little ones, how I said last March that a man called Mike Anson was in prison because I put him there, and that he was about to be released? You do? Good. Well he’s out. Now that should be neither here nor there, but to date we’ve registered three attempts by him and his circle to penetrate Peacher security. The bugging of Matt’s Highgate house was the first, but you two frustrated it. That seems to have been the work of professionals in the security community who were hired by Anson. ‘I didn’t mention this at the time, but I immediately ordered a sweep of the house in Annandale, which turned up some new and very sophisticated bugs infesting the property. So it seems from this that Anson was getting ready to boost his intelligence on Matt and Andy. I think I know who did it for him, and although they weren’t Anson’s employees, they were certainly from elements sympathetic to him. ‘The second attempt we detected was the team sent to try to make trouble on St Kitts. This was an odd one: again the agents did not belong to Anson’s own team. Barry Antrobus – that was his real name – was a fringe figure on the edge of the London underworld, but with a record of freelance extortion and blackmail. That may have been why he was so good with the camera. I know his employer was Anson, though, because he mentioned contact with one Laurie or Lawrence Mattheson, Anson’s former SAS sergeant and right-hand man. But you scotched the plot again, little Justy, like a professional. I was so proud of you.’ Justin beamed, then asked, ‘You said three attempts. I doan’ remember frustrating a third one.’ ‘No. This is new. It involves Anson himself. He was let out of Doncaster high-security prison at the end of May. I had him tailed, although it was a waste of time and money really. He slipped my men within two hours of leaving the prison gate, almost as if he was expecting the attempt. That in itself was disturbing. By then, though, a pattern was emerging. The git is after all of us: me, Matt, Andy and anyone we love. He’s after vengeance, and nothing’s gonna stop him till he hurts us bad. He’s gonna come at us from any and every direction till he tastes blood, preferably mine. He hates me like poison.’ ‘So is this why you’re on edge?’ asked Nathan. ‘Yes. You’ve got to know quite how bad a man he is. I told you how he tried to kill me and Ramon in France that time, and it was only luck that save me then. He would have got away with it too. He set it up to look like an accidental death during extreme sex, followed by a suicide. But I didn’t tell you why he got cashiered from the marines and the SAS. It’s not nice, and once you hear it, you’ll know exactly what sort of monster he is. ‘He was operating in Afghanistan, where he and Laurie captured the teenage sons of one of the warlords, sixteen and fourteen. He tried to get the guy to surrender himself in return for their release. The guy refused, despite what Anson threatened to do to the boys. He tortured them steadily for days, broadcasting their screams and pleas for mercy on the mujahedeen frequency continuously. When that did no good he let them go.’ ‘Uh? I thought you said he was merciless.’ ‘Oh he was. He first got the older boy to sodomise his brother, before leaving them tied to a tree naked, bleeding, with the video of their tortures hung round their necks.’ ‘Oh my God.’ Nathan and Justin looked about ready to throw up. ‘Yes. He should have been locked up then and the key thrown away, but the CIA protected him. They were not too unhappy – the father shot himself when he saw what Anson had done to his boys. They’d used Anson’s skills before and wanted him available for future use.’ ‘And this sadistic psychopath is after us? Oh crap!’ Justin had gone pale. ‘You want to know the worst? He’s successfully penetrated our circle. I don’t know how, but he’s got someone close to Matt and Andy working for him. A lot of info’s been fed back to him about our movements and domestic set up.’ ‘But how do you know?’ ‘I bought Laurie Mattheson, of course. If Anson can get a mole so can I. Laurie was totally broke, and Anson’s a cruel bastard even to his supposed friends. Gave him enough cash to prevent starvation, and treated him like shit. You gotta remember that Anson is a total sadist. He loves hurting and humiliating people, and he can kill without compunction. Not a nice person to work for, especially if you’ve let him down, which Laurie did on more than one occasion. Richard Peacher told me to dig deep, so I found Laurie through Antrobus and made him an offer he wasn’t going to refuse.’ Nathan smiled. ‘So now you have intelligence on Anson and his men, great!’ ‘Well I did, for a while.’ ‘What?’ ‘Laurie was inept, and at one level you can understand Anson’s attitude towards him. I had a few weeks access to him, during which he told me a good deal about Anson’s state of mind, his plans and some of the boasts he’d let slip regarding his agents in Peacherland. Agents, plural, you notice. He’s riddled the organisation with leaks, or so he claimed to Laurie, God rest his soul.’ ‘You mean …’ Justin gasped. ‘Found floating in a reservoir in the Lea Valley last week. Nasty eh? He was missing several organs, removed before death unfortunately … quite horrible really. Anson tried to make it look like a motorboat propeller accident. It didn’t fool the police, though.’ ‘Jesus wept!’ ‘Serious, innit babes, so serious that I’ve gone to the police in the UK and the USA. They’re taking it seriously too. Anson is now a wanted man with an Interpol warrant for his arrest. Unfortunately he’s not the sort of man who will be taken easily. You’re heading back home to Britain after this Rothenian holiday, and Highgate’ll be under police surveillance and protection until Anson’s run to ground. Andy and me will soon be back in the USA, where I’ve got the resources to protect him best. Jenna’s finally back off holiday, which is good. She’ll join us in London. I have a feeling he’ll choose to follow us to the USA, although that may be vanity. He hates me more than all the rest of you put together.’ ‘But that’s not what’s bothering you most, is it,’ Nathan observed. ‘No,’ Terry admitted, ‘it’s the fact that one of our own is in with the monster, has sold out to him. You see, Anson has a lot of money, millions of dollars, from his various enterprises, some legitimate and others not. He has the means to do what he wants and to buy what he wants … but who has he bought, and how close to us is that someone?’ ‘And you know it can’t be us.’ ‘You came too late on the scene, my babes. It can’t be you. To be honest, I’m glad at least I’ve got you boys to talk to. I can’t tell a lot of this particular thing even to Andy and Matt.’ ‘How do you know he’s not here, Terry?’ Justin had to ask. ‘I don’t know, and maybe he is. It worries me more than a bit, as I haven’t got my team here. But on the other hand, he can’t have many Rothenian contacts.’ ‘But he’s got his insider, and he may be with us, you thought of that?’ ‘It keeps me awake at night, babes.’ ‘I suppose you’ve got a checklist?’ ‘About twenty-four possible people on it, including me old mate Jenna. That bastard Anson’s even got me suspecting me closest aides. He’s crippling me ability to do me job. Anyway, babes, things are at such a pass that I’m recruiting you two as deputies. You are now me two internal security agents in Highgate. You have to keep your eyes open, and even snoop on my behalf.’ Justin was on the verge of saying it was cool, until the look in Terry’s eyes persuaded him otherwise. Nathan was so disturbed by this package of bad news that he said nothing when he noticed Justin take a cigarette from Terry and light up. *** When they got back to the palace, Felip had obviously been there before them, judging by the stern look in Andy’s eyes when they met him in the hall. He delivered a surprisingly articulate and forceful tongue-lashing for such a quiet and kindly man, leaving Justin wilted and Nathan on the verge of tears. They sat disconsolately in their room, with Justin, for the first time he could remember, feeling the pain of having disappointed someone he loved. They were grounded for the three days they had left in Strelzen. Making the best of it, they hung round with Fritz, who seemed delighted with their punishment. Since it meant he had them to amuse him non-stop, they spent a lot of time with his trains in the attic. They missed the chance of a second club night at Liberation, and had to watch as everybody else went out – apart from Oskar, who had a deep-seated aversion to the club, for some reason. They ate dinner with Oskar and Fritz. Although the dress was casual, Fritz still gave them a formal little speech at the beginning of the meal and proposed their health and the health of all guests. Because he did it in English, they finally understood what he was saying. Then they had a quietly enjoyable meal, with Oskar and Fritz very keen to hear their stories of London life. Oskar in turn gave them his. He had spent several months working as a cleaner in North London and had not taken to the place at all, unsurprisingly, though there were other parts of England he seemed to know and like. ‘So were you learning English there?’ Justin was intrigued. ‘No … I was on the run,’ said Oskar. ‘Really, from the cops?’ ‘No … from myself.’ ‘Uh?’ Nathan smiled. ‘Leave him alone, Justy. It’s personal to Oskar.’ ‘No offence, Osk.’ Justin gave his number one grin, so Oskar knew he was being sincere. ‘Osk? You called me, the former prince of Tarlenheim, Osk?’ ‘Well, Oskar’s so formal. Still … if you prefer Marc …’ ‘Osk would do, I suppose, but in this country it’s shortened to Osku.’ He gave them such a gorgeous smile that Justin would have fallen in love with him then and there if Oskar had not been such an old guy, as well as foreign. Fritz skipped off to bed at nine-thirty as usual. Before he went he pronounced some formal Rothenian phrases, looking them straight in the eye while he did so. Oddly, it gave Justin a strange feeling, almost as if the words had been spoken to him in a great cathedral in front of a huge congregation. He shook his head. Oskar poured them some wine. ‘It is not the good wine the palace cellars once had from our own vineyards at Terlenehem, or the famous vintage Tokay that my ancestors laid down. The Communist apparatchiks of the old days had quite a taste for good wine. But I’m slowly stocking the cellars up again, though it is mostly bulk-bought French Bordeaux. However, Helge has gone into partnership with a local viticulturalist in Husbrau, and they have begun resetting the vineyards near our old castle at Terlenehem which we’ve finally recovered from the government. In a few years we may have our own white wines flowing again, the famous Rothenian Tavelner. Since I have made my pile from TV, she says she’s going to make hers from agriculture.’ ‘Yay for Helge,’ Nathan approved. ‘If we can come again, I’d really like to see the vineyards.’ ‘Nothing I’d like better than to show you, Nathan,’ Oskar replied. ‘I hope you both will be coming again soon.’ ‘Sure will, I love this place,’ enthused Justin. ‘Hey Osku! How are you feeling now?’ Oskar was touched at the concern from the boys, who were both looking seriously at him. ‘Fine thank you, Justin. I was low that day at the Spa when we talked, but life goes on, as it must. It has been good having Matt and Andy and the rest of you around here in this big old house this summer. It has taken my mind off things. Maybe I will come to London again and give the city a fair chance this time.’ They smiled, for in some ways Oskar did seem a lot cheerier that evening. After a couple more glasses of wine, he even started reminiscing about his time at Falkefilm shooting porn movies. He made it seem rather more fun and interesting than Andy would have liked, had he heard. They went to bed uncomplaining at eleven, and had no idea when the rest came in from the club. However, the state of Peter and Tim at breakfast was woeful. They had bags under their eyes and a headache so obvious it was like a personal, dark cloud over each of their heads. Justin and Nathan arrived in the breakfast room piously sober and offensively cheerful. It was soon apparent that there had also been a row between the two American boys. The silence between them was oppressive, and after eating a bite of toast Peter left abruptly, bumping into Oskar on his way out with no more than a mumbled apology. Oskar looked at the younger boys, who shrugged. Tim, staring moodily into his black coffee, had nothing to say. What had happened came out later in the morning. Matt was the one who had the lowdown. Peter had gone looking for Tim and found him in the loos with his lips round the penis of an older man. ‘Oh?’ Justin asked. ‘Was he hard-looking, with his hair buzzed short?’ ‘No idea. I didn’t see him. Why do you ask?’ Nathan answered for him. ‘I thought I saw Tim in a bar on the Wejg with a guy who looked like that. It was a couple of days ago … y’know, the day of our binge. Justy didn’t see him and didn’t believe me, but, well, maybe …’ ‘God. You think that this has been going on since we got here?’ Justin shrugged. ‘Tim is a bit insatiable, Matt.’ ‘Has he come on to you and Nathan?’ ‘Not to Nathan, but yes, he has tried it on with me a couple of times.’ Matt looked very troubled. ‘This is going to cause serious ructions. I caught the tail end of it, when Pete was shouting into Tim’s face. I gather that if they ever resume sex, it won’t be unprotected again. “You lying SOB,” “You pox-ridden slut,” were just two of the choicer epithets Pete was employing.’ ‘Epi … whats?’ ‘Never mind. Let’s hope it was just the drink talking, or whatever else they were using. I’m afraid Tim may have been on more than just alcoholic stimulants last night.’ Matt smiled at them. ‘D’you know? Those two are turning out to be far more trouble than you, Justy. And they don’t have your excuse.’ *** Friday came, the day of departure. Andy and Matt were in the palace courtyard hurrying Nathan and Justin along, leaving Tim sitting moodily on the step next to his bags. Peter Peacher was nowhere to be seen. Terry had turned up to mastermind the departure and hitch a lift back to London on the Peacher jet, while Ramon had already begun the long flight to Houston to see his mother. Peter finally appeared with Oskar and went up to Andy to announce generally in a stilted sort of way that he would be staying on for a day or two and then flying directly to the States. Everyone exchanged glances except Tim, who looked down between his legs. Oskar ushered them into the hall to take the traditional Rothenian farewell. A footman appeared with small glasses of fruit wine on a silver tray, offering one to each person who was leaving. Fritz, looking flushed and handsome, came tumbling down the stairs He went up to each one, looked him in the eyes and said a few Rothenian words, before asking him to bend down to be kissed on the forehead in completion of the blessing. Justin received not only the kiss on the forehead but also a hard embrace and a kiss on each cheek too. Justin hugged Fritz back. The last in line was Tim, but when Fritz looked smiling into his eyes, he suddenly frowned and became momentarily pale, and did not kiss Tim’s forehead. Although Tim seemed not to notice, Oskar stared at his brother, clearly very startled. *** Driving to the airport, nobody seemed to want to say much. The flight to Britain was equally uneventful. At Northolt, however, they were greeted by a veritable motorcade, including a van full of Peacher security and a police motorcycle escort. Justin and Nathan rode in Terry’s car, in which Jenna was waiting with a stack of files and a lot of urgent whispers that the boys were not supposed to hear. Justin stared out the car window as the police escort ran every set of lights and stopped the cross traffic so they could drive through, before sweeping past them to the head of the convoy again. ‘This is awesome,’ he hissed at Nathan. An armed and flak-jacketed police guard stood outside Matt’s house, while Jenna and Terry did the presidential thing of covering Andy and Matt as they left their car. Both men walked with dignity to the front door, and Justin admired Andy’s restraint in not turning at the top of the steps to acknowledge the small, watching crowd. Justin had no such reservations and did a passable imitation of a head of state entering a summit conference, before Terry collared him and hauled him inside. ‘Come on, Uncle Terry. I was juss havin’ a laugh.’ ‘Very amusing, Justy.’ Back in their own room at last, Justin spread out on the bed while Nathan was checking his plants. ‘There’s a definite humour deficiency in this house at the moment, Nate.’ Nathan grunted. ‘I don’t see how we’re going to get back to work at this rate. I can’t have a copper with a machine gun frightening Mrs Westcott when we do her garden on Monday.’ ‘Has anyone asked Terry how this is gonna affect our daily activities?’ ‘I’m not going to fail my modules in my HND, or get fired by Mr Anderson, just because a psycho is out to kill us hideously with a blunt knife. There are more important things in life than death, and one of them is living it.’ ‘Let’s see what’s in the e-mail inbox. Hey, iss something here from me dad.’ ‘What’s he say?’ ‘He says he thinks it’s time to get together and meet properly. He suggests I go out to see him for Sunday lunch at this pub he knows just off Ealing Common. He says the food’s good. What do you think?’ ‘Well, maybe it’s about time. Am I invited?’ ‘Sorry Nate, I think he means the first meeting just to be one-to-one.’ ‘S’okay. But you’d better tell Terry. I’ll go and make Sunday lunch for the folks back in Winchmore Hill. I worry that they’re not getting any square meals since I left home.’ ‘So here we are again,’ declared Justin, patting the bed beside him, ‘back where we started. Give you any ideas, does it, Nate?’ ‘Ideas? You only have dirty ones. But I tell you what, you know that scene with Will in that DVD, where he rode Oskar’s cock? I can’t get it out of my mind. Wanna give it a go?’ ‘Hang on … I’ll be naked in a sec. Whoops, there you go. Jesus, you stripped as fast as Superman. So you sit on the sofa, yeah, and I get up here. Christ, you’re stiff as a poker already, and they called me Animal. Got the lube? Iss by the side there. You put it there when you poled me on the sofa before we left.’ ‘Okay Justy. I’ll hold you under your arms, and you put your feet on my lower thighs just above my knees. Reach under and get my dick in your hand … wow … ooh … wow! It’s in place, now lower yourself slowly. Oops, slipped out. Aw, that’s fantastic. Okay chavvy babe, bounce, and squeal for daddy!’
  6. ‘What, here?’ cried Justin. ‘We’re staying here? It’s an effin’ palace!’ ‘Yes,’ Matt replied, a little smugly, ‘we’re staying here and it is indeed a genuine palace. It belongs to a friend of ours.’ The rented BMW rumbled over the cobbles of Radhausplaz and under a big arch in the grand and rusticated frontage of an enormous house, which took up the biggest part of one side of the square. They emerged on to an inner courtyard, where a couple of other cars were parked. Nathan had his Fodor’s Rothenia out. ‘The Tarlenheim Palace on Radhausplaz was built in the 1740s as a townhouse for the counts, later princes, of Tarlenheim (see p.76). Until recently it housed the transport ministry but was restored to the family in the late restitutions. The external sculpture is particularly notable. Closed to the public except on National Day.’ ‘You love this, dunyu Nate,’ grumped Justin. ‘Takes me back to the times mum and dad dragged me round castles and cathedrals when I was little. I pretended I hated it, but really I didn’t.’ ‘He’s just like me,’ snorted Matt. ‘Stuff adopting you, Justy. I’m going to adopt Nathan.’ Justin raised his eyes to an unsympathetic heaven in disbelief. As Terry was unloading the car, a very cool and beautiful man appeared at the top of the steps. Really beautiful. Not in the Matthew class, mind you, but he certainly had something going for him. And Justin recognised him. He was the guy … what was his name? Marc Bennett … who had been screwing Will Vincent in the porn movie the two boys had enjoyed so much. The newcomer kissed and hugged Matt and Andy. He did not move towards Terry, with whom there was plainly some history. Matt introduced Justin and Nathan. ‘Boys, this is Count Oskar zu Terlenehem, a good friend and my business associate here in Rothenia.’ ‘Pleased to meetcha, Mr Bennett,’ quipped Justin. The count looked appalled. He said in very good English, ‘There is no escape! Even babes in arms know of my other life.’ Matt scowled. ‘Justin, that was hardly tactful.’ Justin was totally unabashed. ‘You know me and tact, Matt. S’okay, your lordship. I’m just a young deviant wiv a criminal record. Doan’ mind me.’ Giving him a hard look, Oskar growled, ‘I don’t doubt you’ll come to a bad end, boy, so I won’t be too hard on you.’ Then he laughed and flicked his blond fringe from his eyes. Justin smiled sunnily back. He liked this man, who was obviously as mixed up as he was. Following the count up the steps, Justin found himself taken round the shoulder and hugged by Terry. He looked up at the security chief, who was smirking down at him. ‘Nice one Justy.’ Inside the door was a marble and pillared entrance hall, with two enormous pottery stoves in corners. Classical sculptures stood on plinths and several eighteenth-century paintings of Venetian scenes hung on the walls. A footman in a green-striped waistcoat helped Terry pile the bags in a corner. Justin stood looking around, open-mouthed. He didn’t notice when the rest of the party disappeared – Terry outside to deal with the car, the others somewhere inside – until he suddenly realised he was alone. Having no idea of where he was supposed to go, he stepped though the nearest doorway and found himself in a long corridor, with doors opening off to the left. Through very tall windows on the right he spied an internal courtyard. He tried the first door, but it was locked. The second door opened into an elegant panelled dining hall, the table set with crystal and silver. No one was around, so he retreated to the corridor. At that moment a young man appeared at the far end. He stopped when he saw Justin and said something in a foreign language. ‘Sorry,’ said Justin, ‘I’m English.’ ‘Oh … English. Hullo. Who are you?’ The kid, who could only have been in his early teens, was clearly good with languages. ‘Name’s Justin. I’m wiv Matt and Andy.’ ‘Okay. Cool. Where are they?’ ‘Dunno. I lost them in the entrance hall. Who are you?’ ‘I live here, I’m Fritz.’ Justin looked the boy over: cheap jeans, a faded tee-shirt and Nikes. Must be one of the servants’ kids, he assumed. Fritz looked him over in turn. ‘Would you like a tour? We’ll find your friends eventually, I think.’ ‘Sure.’ Fritz led him up an unsuspected staircase concealed behind some panelling. They emerged in a series of tall state rooms giving on to the square below, furnished with a mixture of antiques and comfy sofas. There was a grand gallery full of portraits of kings, counts, ladies and soldiers from several centuries. Finally they came to a ballroom with gigantic hanging chandeliers. Fritz chatted all the way. A really nice kid, Justin thought, with wavy blond hair and a tanned face. Thank God Fritz didn’t try to tell him the history of everything they passed, as Matt or Nathan would have done. Instead he showed Justin the secret passages, the hanging armour and weapons, and the mouseholes. He also introduced him to the cats. ‘There seems to be no sign of the other visitors,’ Fritz said at last, ‘so they can only have gone over to the kitchens for a drink and snack maybe. I shall take you down there.’ ‘Don’t get into trouble on my account,’ Justin demurred. ‘It is no trouble.’ Fritz led him down a wide, stately staircase, through a side door and into a narrow corridor. Following the scents of coffee and fresh bread, they eventually approached a low cellared kitchen filled with English voices. Justin stopped and said, ‘Thanks Fritz. You’d better go off and find your mum and I’ll take it from here. Don’t want you getting into trouble.’ Fritz laughed, and called out in Rothenian. In response the count appeared, a wide grin on his face. ‘Ahoi, Fritzku, zei Angliske verrn?’ ‘Ano, Oskar.’ Matt and Andy came through together. Matt made what looked very much like a brief bow towards the boy. ‘Hullo, Serene Highness. I see you found him.’ ‘Yes I did, Matt.’ Justin was bemused. ‘Okay, will someone tell me what’s up? I’m missing something.’ Matt smiled. ‘Fritz here is Oskar’s younger brother, Friedrich Franz von Tarlenheim, otherwise known as Franz, prince of Tarlenheim and lord of all he surveys.’ ‘What …? I thought that was Oskar.’ ‘It’s complicated, but no, the prince is Fritz. Oskar is his guardian.’ Justin stared at the boy. ‘Do I have to call you Serene Highness?’ ‘No, you call me Fritz. I like that. Do you want to see my train set?’ ‘Wouldn’t say no.’ ‘Cool. It’s up in the attic. See you later, everyone.’ He took Justin off with him, both now chatting ten to the dozen. Justin spent most of the rest of the day with Fritz, much admiring his huge train set, which took up most of the musty space under the palace roof. There were stations, tunnels, sidings, viaducts and bridges. Fritz did all his own modelling, although he bought the rolling stock. He had also wired up the electricity. ‘You’re brilliant,’ Justin finally said, a stationmaster’s cap on his head and envy in his heart. ‘Thank you, Justin. Fun, isn’t it? I suppose we’d better get down for dinner. Willemczu will be here too.’ ‘Willemczu?’ ‘My good friend Will Vincent. You have met him?’ ‘Oh yeah. Didn’t he used to be your brother’s boyfriend?’ ‘Yes. They were so once. But Willemczu is now living with Felip. They are both my friends. Felip takes me fishing on weekends.’ ‘Who is Oskar seeing now?’ ‘There is a man, I think, a German. I have not met him. He sounds very boring, though, some sort of professor. I had better change. It will be black tie. Do you have a suit? I can do my own tie.’ ‘Yeah, but I have to get Andy to do mine.’ At the outset, dinner was a bit frightening. Young Prince Franz took one end of the table. With perfect aplomb and a dignity far beyond his years, he stood at the beginning of the meal to welcome his seated guests with some formal Rothenian phrases. and to propose an opening toast, following the custom of his land. It was abundantly clear that, despite his youth, he merited much respect already from the adults who came into contact with him. He was to his station born, it seemed. The other end of the table was occupied by a very fine-looking woman, his sister and guardian, the countess Helge, in crimson taffeta and diamonds. Oskar took up the middle with Will, Terry and Felip, the latter nearest Fritz. Opposite them were Matt and Andy. Nathan sat next to the countess and Justin next to Fritz, which suited them both down to the ground. Fritz looked boyishly handsome in beautifully cut evening dress, with the red ribbon and medallion of an order of chivalry around his neck. Justin wondered if all kings and princes were as funny and pleasant as this intelligent, kind and unassuming young man. In answer to Justin’s questions, Fritz described his early life as an ordinary village boy in the Rothenian countryside, climbing trees, feeding chickens and going to the local school. He was twelve before the family finally reclaimed its lands and assets from the government, and thirteen when Oskar abruptly resigned the title of prince and count to him. ‘So you see, friend Justy, I had no time to learn to be haughty and proud. But they are sending me on a course next year.’ He looked straight-faced at Justin, and they both collapsed, howling with laughter. A few minutes later Fritz was in complete hysterics when Justin told him the stories of how he earned his ASBOs. ‘Sewage … that’s what we call fumacij. And you flooded a government office with it? You are so totally cool, Justy.’ He wiped the tears from his eyes. Everyone else on the table had by now stopped talking to smile indulgently at the laughing pair. Prince or not, Fritz had to depart for bed at nine-thirty. Everyone rose when he took his farewell with some other formal words in Rothenian. Will, Felip and Matt bowed their heads to the prince as he kissed his sister and left. Justin switched his attention to his other side. ‘Hey, Matt, what we going to do this week?’ ‘Pete and Tim will be here tomorrow sometime. I get my medal, as you call it, on Saturday. In between we’ll do a bit of tourism.’ ‘Christ, not castles and stuff again.’ ‘Only for us. Nathan wants to see the big gardens in the city, which you may think is more like it, eh? So you can go off with him and wander. You shouldn’t have much of a problem, there’s a lot of English spoken here. It’s a very safe city, although the trams are tricky. But Will can tell you how to manage them. He’s a genuine native now, living with Felip up in the Sixth District, above the river.’ *** Early the next morning, a Thursday, three boys left the side door of the Tarlenheim Palace. Since it was the summer holiday from school, Fritz had said he would love to be Nathan’s and Justin’s guide round the city. ‘I’m still getting to know it,’ he explained. ‘Helge and I live most of the year at a house we have in the north in the small city of Modenehem. That’s where I’m starting at the Gymnazium – what you call high school – in September. It’s Oskar who lives in Strelzen, where he’s close to Will and their company offices in the Staramesten. He does a lot of entertaining of media and government people here. Now he’s so well off, he pays for the domestic staff.’ They bought day passes at a kiosk with the ‘funny money’, as Justin called it, and hopped a tram clanging its way eastward. Eventually they reached a huge open square in the centre of the city, the Rodolferplaz. They dropped off the tram as it screeched to a halt half way up towards the old royal palace. They spent the morning mooching around the square and the main shopping street, the Mikhelstrasse. They lunched in one of the many McDonald’s outlets in the city, arguing intensely as to whether the fries were quite as crispy and the chicken sandwich a bit more spicy than back home. ‘I have never been outside Rothenia,’ observed Fritz, ‘and you have been to America, to the Caribbean and now here too, Justy.’ ‘Well, you gotta come back and see us in London, mate,’ replied Justin. ‘Absolutely,’ agreed Nathan. ‘After all, Matt and your brother are obviously big friends, Fritzy.’ ‘Oskar is very funny about London, where he spent several months last year living in what sounded like a hovel. He was back in England again only a few weeks ago thoygh in another place called I think Norfolk. He has friends there I think. Myself, I would like to visit London and Buckingham Palace – although, with the number of English tourists and stag parties in Strelzen, you wonder what’s the point. Most of London seems to end up here during the summer.’ They looked across the restaurant at a party of English twenty-somethings still the worse for wear from the previous night’s binge on the Wejg, the red-light area of the city. One of them was wearing leather hot pants and pink, furry deely-boppers. Nathan shook his head. After lunch, Fritz took them down to the Botanical Gardens by the river, where they followed Nathan round as he enthused. They passed the rest of the afternoon helping Fritz buy a PS2 game in a brand-new city mall west of Mikhelstrasse, where they were happy to contribute their considerable experience of what was good value. They were amazed by the low prices. When they got back to the palace, they found the decibel level had increased substantially with the arrival of Peter and Tim from the USA. The two had got in on an overnight flight and were completely trashed, although Tim said he had been out for a stroll. He had never been in Rothenia before, and he loved it, he claimed. *** On Friday morning, Fritz knocked on their bedroom door, asking if they were decent. ‘Quite good looking in fact,’ Justin called out. Fritz laughed and came in. ‘It is ten o’clock. When are you getting up? Willemczu will be here in half an hour.’ Nathan looked at the prince’s grinning and quite unfazed face. Fritz must know why he and Justin were naked in the same bed. ‘Fritzy, you’re aware that Justin and I are boyfriends. Does it bother you at all?’ Fritz laughed. ‘You are two gay boys, I understand that. My brother and Willemczu were boyfriends too, so I realise you do sexy things together. Sexy? Is that right? Well anyway, it doesn’t bother me. You have not made the pass at me, have you? But you might tell me what it is you do together. Is it the wanking or the sucking, and do you push your dick up Justin’s ass? Yes?’ Justin was sniggering now. ‘Er … I’m not sure I want to go into that sort of detail. Where did you pick up your vocabulary? Not in school, I’ll bet.’ ‘Helge does not understand the Internet as Oskar does. After I got past the block she installed, I found some interesting sites.’ ‘Why am I not surprised. So you went looking at gay porn?’ ‘Not really. It is very boring. Always the same things. More interesting with the girls.’ ‘That’s good news for the future of the Tarlenheim dynasty.’ Nathan threw off the covers and padded nude into the bathroom. Justin sat up and clasped his ankles. ‘Nakedness doesn’t bother you either, I see.’ ‘In Rothenia, being without clothes is not a big thing. If you go to the Spa here in Strelzen you’ll see hundreds of naked people.’ ‘Okay, push off, Fritzy. I’m going to wash my Nathan’s back.’ ‘Ah … the sexy thing. Don’t make too much noise.’ He went out laughing. ‘An odd boy that,’ Justin mused as he came up behind Nathan to brush his erection against his lover’s muscular buttocks and move it gently over the warm skin. ‘Shower, Nate?’ ‘No. Let’s be sexy. Push your dick up my ass and I can do the wanking.’ *** Will Vincent was pacing the entrance hall when they finally appeared. Fritz, smiling to himself while playing with a Game Boy, had his feet propped up on a rather elegant banquette. ‘Ready lads? Thank God. I thought we’d be having lunch here. Fritzku says you want to see gardens, so I thought I’d drive you down to the agricultural college at Festenberh. It’s well worth a visit, as the botanical gardens and plantations there go back to the eighteenth century, and indeed were planted by Fritzku’s family. Although they lease it to the government, it’s still their house. No problem about admittance.’ In fact, the Director of the college was awaiting them when they arrived after an hour’s drive out of Strelzen. He shook hands very seriously with Fritz, and called him Szeren Hochheit throughout the conversation, which was mostly in Rothenian. Nathan was off to the greenhouses like a shot, with Fritz tagged along to make sure he did not get in any linguistic trouble. Will, not being that keen on plants, hung back with Justin on the path. ‘You used to be a teacher dinya, Will?’ ‘Yes.’ Will looked surprised. ‘Did I mention it?’ ‘Nah, I can tell. You got that way of talking to people as if we’re an audience. Like you wanna educate us or somethin’.’ ‘Er … right. Actually, you’re not the first person to tell me that. It really pissed off an ex-boyfriend – which is one reason why he’s an ex, I suppose, that and the fact he was a complete bastard.’ ‘You like living abroad?’ ‘Here I do. I love this country, and I’m glad to be a citizen of it now. It’s done so much for me and my lover Felip and I feel more grounded here as a result. It’s the need to be hitched that we gays get all anxious about. I’ll bet you’ve noticed it already.’ Justin was surprised, but recognised what Will was on about. ‘I guess I have. You mean wanting to get married and stuff. Not that I fancy walking down the aisle with me Nate … though he’d do a good bouquet, grow it himself probably. Mostly I’m anxious about Matt and Andy, and where we stand. They’re not too happy with me search for me biological father.’ ‘How’s it going?’ ‘We’re talkin’. I’m just not sure how to take it to the next level, or even if I wants to. Matt’s idea for a holiday was a bit of relief. Meant I didn’t have to worry about it for a few days.’ Justin went quiet, his thoughts far away. Then he perked up. ‘Terry’s some bloke, innee?’ Will brightened too. ‘You admire Terry, then?’ ‘Oh yeah … he’s seriously special. Me hero. You like him too, dunya?’ ‘Christ, yeah. He saved my life in Rothenia a year or so ago … literally. If he hadn’t been there, I’d be six feet under right now.’ ‘What a guy.’ Justin’s spirits lifted. He had finally decided to talk his anxieties through with Terry, who would know what to do. Justin and Will wandered slowly round to the greenhouses and found Fritz sitting outside, complaining it was too humid within. He and Will crossed back over the lawns to look at the grand house of Festenberh, looming on the hilltop, which Fritz had never visited before. Justin hung around the doors until a sweating Nathan emerged carrying a wad of seed packets the head of botany had given him. ‘Hey, Justy. You okay?’ ‘Fine. We goin’ now?’ ‘We only just got here, babe. We’ve not seen the formal gardens yet.’ *** Justin was a very good boy that day. He was interested in gardens, although not in the theoretical and scientific way his lover was. So he patiently followed Nathan around and even asked intelligent questions and made relevant observations. But it tired him out. He slept in the back of the car, sagging on Nathan’s shoulder, as Will drove them back to Strelzen. Nathan smiled down at him, touched by quite how good he had been. After dinner and Fritz’s disappearance to bed, Matt announced that it was club night for anyone who wanted to go. Nathan’s and Justin’s hands shot up, and they dashed to their room to get changed. Pete and Tim were already dressed. Will and Oskar said they would go along despite all the unwanted attention they expected, which they would put up with for the sake of their friends. So six other young men were waiting in the hall when Nathan and Justin reappeared, ready to party. Only Felip and Terry were opting out. Terry had detailed two of his guys to tail the party in a car. ‘They’re straights, poor bastards, so they won’t go inside Liberation, but they’ll be there to cover you when you get out. Me old mate Hendrik says he’ll have his meanies looking out for yer in the club, awright?’ A black limousine deposited them in a very different Rodolferplaz from the daytime one that Nathan and Justin had visited the day before, full of tourists and office workers. The southeastern corner was now densely packed with throngs of men. Some were drinking gangs heading down to the neon and strip bars of the Wejg. Others were gays queuing up for Club Liberation, surging towards the blue-lit foyer under the eyes of a squad of hulking Rothenian bouncers. The four teens were all eyes. Matt, needless to say, got a huge amount of awed attention. He was signing tee-shirts in the queue before they reached the bouncers. The admission was waived for him, as well as for Oskar and Will, who were recognised as friends of the owner’s. After Andy paid for the rest, they were allowed inside the packed club. Lights rippled and flashed across the dance floor. Dark groups occupied the bars and tables. The noise was deafening. Andy dragged Matt straight on to the floor, with Will and Oskar following. The boys took a table. ‘Hey, it’s waiter service!’ approved Pete. ‘And what hunky waiters, too,’ he added in an undertone which Tim couldn’t hear. They ordered drinks and scanned the floor. Most of the clientele seemed to be British, American and German, although Czechs and Rothenians were in evidence, especially among the younger, slimmer element. ‘You been to clubs a lot in the States?’ shouted Justin to Tim, over the noise. ‘We sneak down to New York from time to time to sample the scene,’ Tim hollered back. ‘Like this, is it?’ ‘No … here’s a bit old fashioned compared to the States, but it’s nice enough. Seem to be a lot less drugs circulating, from what I can see.’ Beers arrived, and they sat soaking up the atmosphere, which was relaxed and friendly, quite unlike the danger and darkness of the club that Justin and Nathan had penetrated in Camden. Nathan was tapping the table to the rock rhythm and finally asked Justin to come on the floor with him. Justin grimaced. ‘Nah, Nate. I don’t do dancin’. Don’t think I could.’ Nathan looked disappointed. But Peter took him by the hand and dragged him off with Tim. The next thing Justin saw, they were moving together in a group off beside Matt and Andy. Oskar and Will were dancing very close too, farther out onto the floor. Although it was by his own choice, Justin still felt left out and forlorn. A slow Scandinavian electronic number started and still they stayed on the floor. Now Justin was annoyed, feeling everyone was staring at him. The group had divided into couples, so he expected Nathan would come back. Suddenly he noticed his lover with a stranger – a dark, slim man – moving sensuously, although they weren’t in a clinch. He was furious. The music changed and Andy bounced down by him. ‘Come on Justy, won’t you dance with your dad?’ Then he caught sight of the expression on Justin’s face and changed tone. ‘Justy, what’s upset you?’ ‘Nathan’s dancing wiv that foreign whore over there …’ Nathan was in fact talking to Peter off to the side of the floor. ‘… well he was, anyway.’ ‘Justy, you can’t blame Nathan for wanting to dance. Matt took his time about getting on the floor with me too. But I waited for him to feel comfortable with the idea. And just cos a boy wants to dance with your Nathan doesn’t make him a whore.’ ‘Matter of opinion,’ Justin grumbled. Andy frowned, grabbed his hand and dragged him resisting towards the lights and music. ‘Dance!’ ‘How?’ ‘Feel the movement, kid.’ Andy pulled him into a crowd of aimlessly swaying men and began doing so himself. Justin tried to copy him, but couldn’t quite get it. He was red and sweating, but at least no one was staring at him. Peter and Oskar were dancing next to them, which helped. The music mercifully changed back again to a slower rhythm, and Justin’s heart lifted when Nathan appeared behind Andy to take his place. Andy retired smiling. Nathan held Justin close, nuzzling his ears and kissing him, and suddenly movement was not a problem. Justin’s fingers crept past Nathan’s waistband and pulled him close. When Nathan cooed in his ear, ‘Oh, I do love you, chavvy babe,’ Justin finally saw the point of dancing, as his lips brushed his lover’s cheeks and sought his mouth. They danced on, making their love a real thing to those around them. Matt and Andy stood watching them from a distance, with a glint in their eyes not too far distant from parental pride. They all returned to the table, which was beginning to attract a lot of attention. News had spread that Jason Williams and Marc Bennett, the Falkefilm porn gods, were in the club. They drew some men, while the presence of supermodel Matt White and the billionaire Peacher brothers on the same table drew others. Dozens of mobiles were taking pictures of them, and camera flashes lit them up from time to time. ‘Why are they staring at us too?’ asked Nathan, alarm in his voice. ‘We’re not famous.’ ‘Ah, but Nathan,’ Oskar answered with a quirky smile, ‘celebrity is like measles. Hang round with someone who has it, and you’ll catch it too.’ ‘Tell me about it,’ agreed Peter. ‘From the moment I was in Teen Vogue at fifteen, they never let me go. When it got round I was gay, they just took pics of Timmy babe too. It’ll be in half a dozen US mags by the weekend that I was clubbing in Strelzen.’ ‘Iss like living in a goldfish bowl.’ ‘Sure is, Justy, sure is. But you get used to it, don’t you Oskar?’ ‘It is inconvenient, but yes, you do get used to it, in all its foolishness. I’ve made Hello two issues running … well, it was my fault. I had to go to Cannes for the film festival, where we had a documentary in the running for an award. After learning that I went to all the parties, they started linking me with Princess Caroline of Monaco, just because we had a drink together. Don’t they know I’m gay, for heaven’s sake?’ Peter was curious. ‘What’s she like?’ ‘A very lovely lady with such tragedy in her life, natural and friendly, I thought.’ ‘Dad also knows her, and is asking her and her new guy over to St Kitts for his birthday party. Say, Oskar, why don’t you come too? I’d really like that.’ Oskar smiled, clearly touched. ‘Thank you, Pete, I’d like that very much myself. In the meantime, how about another dance? Maybe then Hello will get the right idea about me, do you think?’ The two tall, blond, muscular young men slid through the crowd and out on to the floor, followed by a lot of eyes. Justin looked round for Tim but couldn’t see him. He grinned at Nathan, who grinned happily back. ‘What are two kids like us doin’ hangin’ out wiv the jet set, Nate? Well, you belong here a bit: you are one of the upper classes, aintchuh? But me … this is insane me bein’ here, completely nuts.’ ‘All we have to do is enjoy the ride, my chavvy babe. Soon enough we’ll be sitting in the back of classrooms at Hornsey College or digging ditches for Mr Anderson. The longer we stay here, the more attractive that seems.’ Justin excused himself, shouldered his way through the crowd of fans and found his way to the toilets. He was being stared at all the time he was pissing into the porcelain, although it was his prettiness as much as the company he was keeping that gained him attention, as he knew well. An American guy stood next to him. ‘Hi!’ ‘Er … hi. ’Scuse me, but this isn’t the best time for a conversation.’ Nothing daunted, the American continued, ‘See you were sitting with those amazing guys. You an actor or something?’ ‘No … I’m a gardener.’ The American looked offended. ‘No need to get snippy, kid. Just asking.’ He went off in a huff. ‘And I was just replying.’ Justin zipped up. It seemed the truth did in fact set you free after all. As he was returning to the floor, he noticed Tim just at the entrance to the darkroom, fingering his mobile phone. Justin came up behind him, curious. ‘Who you ringin’, Tim?’ ‘What the fuck …? Jeez, you crept up on me there, man! No one. Not ringing anyone, just putting more credits on the damn thing.’ But Justin knew the look of someone caught out, and Tim was definitely discomposed. However, it was not Justin’s business. He peered into the darkroom, which was already occupied by several groups. Not especially interested in the action, he tore himself away from the peep show and wandered back to the floor. Nathan and Matt were dancing together. Oskar was still with Pete, moving very nicely as it happened, two blond demigods quite away in a world of their own. Tim had disappeared again, a pity, as Justin was psyching himself up to ask for a dance. They did after all have some history of intimacy, and Justin could still feel Tim’s skilful mouth on his dick that night on the yacht. He was horny enough by then to fancy the idea of a foursome with the American teens, though he guessed persuading Nathan might be a lost cause. Meanwhile, he stood leaning up against the wall, tapping his feet to the music and admiring his Nathan from a distance. *** It was the changing of the guard at the presidential palace at the north end of the Rodolferplaz when two chauffeured limousines pulled through the great gates into the forecourt. Soldiers in blue uniforms presented arms and state policemen in black saluted as the cars drove under the arch. It was all very scary and exhilarating. An undersecretary of state and Mr Pokolosky, the chef de protocole, were waiting to welcome everyone. As Matt and Andy emerged, they were met by a volley of flashlights and the whirring of cameras. Oskar and Fritz received similar attention. Fritz was looking very fetching in morning dress. He was also wearing the full insignia of the Noble Order of the Red Rose, since medieval times a privilege of the counts of Tarlenheim as hereditary lord high marshals of Rothenia. Oskar insisted it was time the old ways were reasserted in their country, so Fritz, who always liked the idea of making a fuss, had donned the sash and put the heavy, glittering star on his chest with pride and a twinkle in his eye. Mr Pokolosky looked disconcerted for a moment when he saw it, but then smiled and nodded at the young prince, who grinned back. Herr Pokolosky bowed the Tarlenheims into the palace with very real respect. The group walked up staircases and through tall corridors till they came to a set of doors where members of the presidential guard in full dress stood to attention. Drums beat a smart tattoo as they approached the old royal throne, on whose steps stood President Maritz, a tall and distinguished figure. Oskar and Will Vincent stood behind Matt as his sponsors. The rest of the party took the front row of seats. Justin, quelled for once by the grand parade of state panoply, stood almost to attention next to Nathan, the two resplendent in their morning suits and grey gloves. After the national anthem played, the president approached the podium and made a brief speech. When he had finished, Will whispered to Matt, who moved forward to have the star of an officer of the order placed on a ribbon around his neck. The president shook his hand and kissed him on each cheek. Then it was Matt’s turn to acknowledge the honour bestowed on him, which he did in graceful and very appropriate English, translated by Will. There was much applause and drums beat again. They all had their pictures taken with Mr Maritz. Afterwards, a chamber orchestra struck up to signal the beginning of the presidential reception. White-jacketed waiters circulated drinks and canapés, while more substantial fare was available on buffet tables. Justin had the privilege of meeting his second head of state in six months. He was almost getting used to it. ‘Nice old geezer,’ he commented later. ‘Spoke really good English, and even knew a fair bit about gardening.’ He and Nathan had talked about their plans for a market garden to the president, who had invited them to have a look at the palace gardens anytime they wished. Rothenian TV cameras had recorded the event, so in the evening they watched the whole thing unfold again on a news feature intercut with clips from Matt’s documentary and an assessment of its world impact on Rothenia’s image. The relationship between Matt and Andy Peacher was of course left discreetly unmentioned. Will translated for the boys. ‘Don’t we look amazing?’ enthused Tim. ‘You’d better have taped that, Will.’ ‘State TV sent it to me on DVD this afternoon. I have friends in the newsroom. I’ve got copies for all of you.’ ‘They made a bit of fuss over Fritzy’s being there too, didn’t they?’ asked Nathan. ‘Yes. The aristocracy is becoming fashionable again in Rothenia. I’ve got a feature on the stocks about it: Central Europe’s resurgent upper classes. It deals with their persecution under Communism and their slow reclamation of the assets stolen from them. The Tarlenheims make a good story, but there are plenty of others even in Rothenia, never mind East Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland. I have buyers lined up for it in the UK and USA. Fritzku’s going to be interviewed and get a fee, aren’t you?’ ‘Certainly,’ agreed Fritz. ‘I want the money for a new Flying Scotsman with Pullman carriages. Hornby import. Very good.’
  7. June passed into July. Against everybody’s expectations, Justin’s determination not to smoke held firm. His temper was often foul as a result, but Nathan was more than willing to put up with it. He did start fighting back in his own way, however, refusing to be hurt by argument and making subversive comments, which as often as not defused the problem. They had a routine by now. They had become a permanent gardening team after Mr Anderson finally recognised the nature of the link between them. Although he said nothing about it, and didn’t seem really to mind, he was careful about the teams he put them with. Like a good manager, he knew which of his people would be uncomfortable with gay workmates. It saddened Justin and Nathan a little that he never sent them out with the other two boy apprentices. A few of the older employees also had picked up the rumour, and once or twice made half-humorous comments about their relationship. Fortunately, Nathan was very popular around Andersons, and Justin was fast becoming the same because he was turning into such a hard and steady worker. So they were never at any time made to feel resented. Andy was around Highgate nearly all the time, working from Matt’s study there, while Matt was at his offices in Camden most days. They and the two boys reunited for dinner, a ritual Justin was learning to value very much. There was something indefinably resonant of real family life about them. Matt and Andy usually had a lot to say about their activities that even Justin found interesting. Afterwards the four of them quite often sat round and watched TV. Justin, who by then had developed a real desire to please his foster parents, quite enjoyed curling up with his head in Andy’s lap. It was a position he got quite to like, as he knew it made Andy go all soppy and paternal. Once or twice a week they all went out for a film, or made an evening at a pub or at one of the discrete North London clubs. Other times the two boys hit the gym or the pool. It was a secure, comfortable life and Justin liked it, very much. Justin was changing and growing. Physically he was filling out and getting stronger, as the end of adolescence and the gardening work had their inevitable effects. With his metabolism shifting and his hormones no longer partying quite so hard, his emotional flare-ups were slowly becoming rarer. Even his language was shifting towards the softer tones and accent of his lover. There was nothing now left of the Animal of Seven Sisters. Andy looked at him one day and saw a tanned, fit, mature and socially confident young man, no longer the pinched and aggressive street urchin. He smiled to himself and kissed Justin as they passed in the hall. When Justin looked at him surprised, he grinned and said, ‘You look so good, kid. Proud of you.’ Justin almost succeeded in looking bashful. One Saturday the boys slept late, as usual. Eventually feeling the need to go scavenging in the fridge, Justin started down the stairs wearing only his boxers. He was surprised to be confronted by another dark young man coming up. It was Tim Caird, who did a double take. ‘That you, Justy?’ ‘It is.’ Tim gave him a frankly admiring once over. ‘Wow … who waved the magic wand over you?’ ‘When did you get in, Tim?’ ‘Last night. Pete’s in the kitchen. We’re gonna do the London scene for a few days. A bit of excitement before we have to think of the new semester.’ ‘No one said.’ ‘No one knew. Pete and I went for it as a last-moment thing. To tell the truth, it was a good way of escaping from my folks. We went with them to dad’s cabin near Blowing Rock. Not a good idea, as it turned out. My nasty little brothers are getting increasingly shitty and homophobic. We got tired of the perpetual inane innuendo.’ ‘Good news for us then, innit? Hope you got time for a deprived foster nephew.’ ‘I heard you might be thinking of becoming a genuine nephew.’ ‘I’m still thinking about it. I haven’t given up the idea of adoption, I just don’t know if I’m ready for it yet, or ever will be.’ ‘A new little gay Peacher boy for the media to fasten on to?’ ‘It’s not that.’ ‘Then what?’ ‘It turns out I have a real dad out there after all. I’m hoping to find him one day. Only then will I be able to make that sort of decision.’ ‘Fair enough.’ Tim suddenly brushed his hand up Justin’s inner thigh, slowly, his fingers poised below the bottom of his boxers, ready to go further. Justin recognised the coy but passionate look in the other’s eyes. He’d seen it before in St Kitts. Tim had been sizing up Justin’s body as they talked and his interest was clearly more than friendly. Justin’s penis twitched and thickened, his body tingling with a sudden desire. Then he remembered Andy’s look on hearing what this same randy teen had done with Ramon and Terry. He discovered in himself a loyal core that didn’t want now to disappoint his foster father, hot though Tim undoubtedly was. But how to get out of the seduction Tim was busy scripting in his head, and with which his own body would be only too happy to collaborate? ‘You think you can give us a hand?’ he asked coolly. Tim smiled hopefully. ‘Sure thing. Where do you want it?’ ‘Ha ha,’ Justin responded in a matter-of-fact manner. ‘Problem is, I’ve developed haemorrhoids. Too much … well you know what. I need someone to apply the medication for me. Nathan’s still asleep so I was looking for Andy.’ ‘Oh. Oh!’ The passion instantly evaporated from Tim’s eyes. ‘I … I’d better leave that for Andy. It’s a parental-care sort of thing, isn’t it?’ ‘Guess so. Okay, well, see you later.’ Justin trotted on down the stairs with a wicked grin back in residence on his face. He bumped into Terry as he turned a corner. ‘I’ll be happy to help,’ said the security man. ‘Er … what with?’ ‘The haemorrhoid cream. I’ve had some experience of piles.’ ‘You were listening, weren’t you, you bastard.’ Terry laughed loudly. ‘Don’t you want me finger up your arse? What a lad … but you certainly did throw a bucket of cold water over Tim, at least. Well done. Come and have some breakfast. We need a chat, criminal babe.’ Peter Peacher was at the breakfast bar devouring a plate of eggs, bacon and mushrooms provided by Mrs Atkinson. Between bites he was busy chatting her up. He knew from his experience in his own and Andy’s homes that the balance of power in a large household resided with the housekeeper, whom he wanted to have on his side. He was quite terrified of Mrs Fuentes, Andy’s American housekeeper, who definitely felt a mission to control him and was not floored by his looks, as most women were. It had to be said that Peter was doing a very good job of charming Mrs Atkinson, who literally twinkled at him. There was definitely a cooler look on her face when she handed Justin his ritual morning bowl of Cheerios. Justin himself had for once failed in the charm game. He guessed it might have something to do with his habit of wiping up ejaculate with his used underpants. Terry quietly ushered him out to the sunny patio, taking a coffee with him. ‘Now, me babe, what’s up?’ ‘Like what exactly, Uncle Terry?’ ‘Don’t play innocent … I read Gay Universe on the plane coming over.’ ‘Aw right, the dad thing.’ ‘Are you sure you know what you’re doin’ here?’ ‘He’s me dad. I got a right to learn something about him, if I can. I’m realistic, though. I’m not expecting him to suddenly turn out to be the model father I always wanted. Most likely he’s a complete jerk and a loser. But I gotta know, Terry.’ ‘Put it that way, Justy, and I can’t disagree with you. If the Gay Universe publicity don’t work, what you going to do?’ ‘I don’t know. I thought maybe you might have ideas.’ ‘I might. But we’ll see how your first try goes. I hope you get what you want, but from my point of view, you’ve got to beware of opportunists. There are lots of men out there who would take advantage of you in a heartbeat to get close to Matt and Andy and their money. You could be a tempting target for a con artist. You need to do some careful checks that men calling themselves Jack Whittaker are what they seem to be.’ ‘Well, yeah, I realise that. I won’t let anyone get near me unless they can prove who they are.’ ‘And how will they do that?’ ‘Me mam told me one or two things about Jack Whittaker that only the real one will know. That’s as good a check as any, I think.’ Terry looked pensive. Eventually he said, ‘Okay then. The best of luck to you, Justy. I hope you find what you’re looking for.’ *** As luck would have it, a packet arrived that very morning from Gay Universe, enclosing a thick wad of letters addressed to Justin. He went through them with Dave Evans in Matt’s garage office. Matt said Dave had huge experience in dealing with his mail, which attracted more than its fair share of nutcases. ‘Okay. Three piles. Nice fan mail … which I’ll answer for you if you like. It’s the biggest pile, I’m glad to see. I’ve got the classy shots Gay Universe took of you. Sign copies of the ones out that weren’t published with the article, and I’ll send them. ‘Seriously?’ ‘Oh yeah. You’re famous now, kiddo. Then there’s the next pile: perverts and obvious shysters. The things this guy wants to do to you I’ve not even read on the Internet. Four are asking for cash, and two of them don’t even pretend to be your dad. Which leaves just this one.’ Dave waved the letter. ‘You want to take it away and have a good look at it, Justin?’ Justin nodded, and accepted the open slim manila envelope, with a Sheffield postmark he noticed. Nathan was throwing a Frisbee with Peter on the lawn out the back, where he could hear them laughing and whooping. As he had half expected, the two had hit it off in much the same way he had been drawn to Tim. He went up to the bedroom to sit at his desk and open the brief typed note. ‘Dear Justin,’ it said, ‘I read the article in Gay Universe and recognised the Macavoy name immediately. You will be Lisa’s boy and yes, I am your father. I’m not sure whether it would be wise to meet. I have had nothing to do with you all your life, something I can imagine you might hold against me. There were reasons, however, and if you would like to discuss them, my e-mail address is at the bottom of the page. J.M. Whittaker.’ Justin read it twice. The guy, whoever he was, knew his mum’s name, which was not mentioned in the article. That indicated he might indeed be the man himself, although it would be feasible for a determined con man to have found that out. But why bother? Justin pondered whether to discuss it with his foster parents or with Terry, but decided not to. This was his business and his alone … well, maybe Nathan’s too, a little. He would talk to Nathan. Dinner that night was a lively and hilarious affair with four boisterous teenagers around the table. Afterwards, Justin took Nathan by the hand and led him up to their room. Showing him the letter he asked simply, ‘What should I do, Nate?’ Nathan replied equally simply, ‘E-mail the guy. Give him the chance to explain himself, then make your mind up if you want anything else to do with him.’ ‘What shall I say?’ ‘I dunno. Tell him a little about yourself, what you’re doing and stuff. But not too much. I suppose you gotta decide what sort of relationship you want with him.’ ‘I don’t wanna live with him and be a fake family. I love Matt and Andy too much, and I know they love me because they’ve proved it again and again. But it would be nice at least to talk to my biological father.’ Nathan and Justin sat and pondered what to type into the blank e-mail box open in front of them on the screen. ‘Dear Dad …?’ suggested Nathan desperately. ‘Nope,’ said Justin firmly. ‘He’s just a sperm donor at this point. He ain’t earned the right to affection from me.’ So he typed, <hi. it’s me, justin. i got your letter. maybe you’re right about meeting being a bad idea. but i want to know a little bit about you anyway and why you left my ma. she said you were gay. so why did you sleep with her?> They looked at the message, and then looked at each other. ‘Okay?’ Justin asked. ‘Looks good to me,’ agreed Nathan. Justin sent the e-mail on its way. Then they shut the computer down and went to join the rest downstairs. Matt was buzzing with something, and he had got Andy excited too. He was handing around flute glasses of champagne and had two ready for Nathan and Justin. ‘Boys, I have an announcement. This morning I received a phone call from the Rothenian embassy to tell me their government has decided to honour me with the title of Grand Officer of the Order of the Rose of Rothenia.’ ‘Cool,’ said Peter. ‘Does this mean you’re gonna be a knight or a lord or something?’ ‘Not in today’s decadent world, no,’ Matt admitted, ‘but it’s got a lovely red ribbon and a pretty medal. It’ll go so well with evening dress. I looked it up on the web.’ ‘Why you, Matt? Pardon me for asking,’ Nathan said apologetically. ‘Not at all. It’s for services to the Rothenian media industry. My company made a major documentary on the country – huge international success, you may have seen it. No?’ Nathan and Justin shook their heads. ‘Well I have a DVD of it somewhere. Did wonders for their tourism industry, apparently. Then I got involved in the promotion of a new Rothenian media empire, which has just taken over half the Czech TV channels. The Rothenians aren’t that fond of the Czechs, and they’re a bit delighted to be controlling the airwaves over Prague. You remember my friend Will Vincent who was here a few weeks ago? He’s the main man. He was British, but he’s just taken out Rothenian nationality so he can become chairman of the company. He’s got a lot of influence with the government.’ ‘So when are you gonna get your medal?’ asked Justin. ‘In a fortnight, Justy. And we’re all going. In August, Andy will be leaving for the States and the start of his senior year at JAC. Since we won’t see him again till nearly Christmas, apart from the Thanksgiving holiday, we’re going to make a summer holiday out of it. You’ve got some time owing from Andersons, so there’s no reason you both can’t come, is there?’ Justin looked puzzled. ‘But where’s Rothenia? Is it in Europe?’ ‘It’s east of Bavaria and south of the Czech Republic. Quite a large country. Twelve million people at least. Central Europe’s gay entertainment capital has its headquarters in the capital, Strelzen. It’s a beautiful city. You’ll enjoy Club Liberation if we can sneak you in there one night.’ ‘Cool! Sounds good already.’ Nathan grinned; he loved travel. So did Peter. ‘Can we come too? Uncle Terry says the sex industry there is really something.’ Andy gave Terry an old-fashioned glare. Terry tried to look innocent, a lost cause. ‘We won’t stop you, if you really want to join us,’ Andy told Peter. ‘To be honest, it would be nice to have family there for the investiture. Matt’s dad refused point blank. The only way we could get him to America was because at least they speak English there. Rothenia was a hopeless case. His brother Carl, however, said he’d try his best to be there for the ceremony, though he has commitments. If you’re coming, it’s morning dress. The Rothenians are a very formal people, you know.’ ‘Great,’ crowed Justin, ‘more new togs.’ He had developed a passion for clothes, which Andy and Matt very generously supported. He and Nathan between them were colonising a spare room with their overflow, causing Mrs Atkinson to complain that they needed far more wardrobe space. Before they went to bed, the two boys booted up the computer one more time, but there was no message from Justin’s father. Four days went by before a reply entered the inbox. ‘Not that prompt a correspondent, is he?’ mused Nathan when they saw the address. ‘Seems not. Maybe he’s not sure what to say. Okay, here goes.’ <Dear Justin, I am so glad you contacted me. I’m not at all surprised at the question. When you were conceived, I was a Royal Marine officer cadet. I knew I was gay alright, but gayness did not then go down too well in the forces. I had been in school with Lisa, your mother, who had a thing for me. She became my token girlfriend and I slept with her on leave – to establish my straight credentials more than anything else. Her getting pregnant wasn’t part of the plan. Neither of us were organised about prevention. It just happened. When it did, there was a row and I told her the truth, that we could never live together because of my sexuality. I was gone long before you were born, and the terms on which we parted meant there was no chance I would ever play the part of your father. Besides, I was abroad most of the time. I didn’t resign my commission till last year. I hope that answers your question, Justin. It doesn’t show me in a good light, especially in view of what happened afterwards to you. But we were young and stupid. If that’s a lame excuse, it’s the only one I’ve got. Jack> ‘So your dad was a soldier, an officer too. That’s pretty cool, Justy.’ ‘It’s a good enough answer to the question too. Doesn’t try to excuse the inexcusable, at least.’ ‘Are you going to answer it? ‘Yes, I will. He seems intelligent.’ <hi it’s justin again. ok, i understand why you got my mam pregnant and maybe why you left her and went away. didn’t you ever get curious about how i was doing? have i got grandparents on your side? have you got a partner? what are you doing now?> Nathan smiled. ‘That’ll keep the dialogue going for a bit.’ Justin pressed the send button. The reply came three days later. It appeared his father was not in a relationship and never had found much time for them. Yes, Justin had a grandfather and grandmother in Staines, as well as an uncle in Melbourne and an aunt still living in Islington. At present his father was between jobs, doing some consultancy work on the side for friends. He didn’t say what the consultancy was. Justin took to the keyboard once again. <hi, jack. are you living in london or where are you? you’ll know from the press that me and my nathan are in highgate. we’re very happy and love each other very much, and we don’t fight much … well we do a bit, but we’re learning to deal with it. andy and matt are brilliant to me. i love them loads and don’t want to upset them by being too open about the fact that we’re talking on line. they’d be cool about it i suppose, but why worry them? so what do you do for a living?> This time the answer came back within twenty-four hours. <Dear Justin, I’m glad you managed to find two such great guys to take care of you, although I’m amazed it could have happened. You must tell me one day. As for what I do – when I have a job – I’m in computer systems. Fortunately my contracts tend to be profitable, if short term, so I can be between jobs for quite a while. Since I travel around a lot, I rent a service flat when I’m back in London. At the moment I’m in Ealing, just off the Common, not a bad place, although small. Jack> They chatted daily from then on. Justin learned that his father, now thirty-five, was still very much into the scene, and often went clubbing with a set of mates. Remembering his and Nathan’s adventure several months earlier in the club in Camden Town with … what were those guys’ names? Frank and Clive? … Justin hoped his dad wasn’t as predatory as those two. He had dark hair like his son’s, not grey yet and not dyed. He worked out, which Justin supposed meant he was pretty fit looking. Justin told described his gardening and his job, and – so far as one could tell over the web – his father seemed genuinely interested. Justin was just puzzled as to how to take things further, or even if he wanted to.
  8. A few days later, following Will’s return to his home in Strelzen, the interview happened. It was loads of fun. The boys posed for a photographer in the designer lounges of Matt’s house and in the summer garden. The only clothes they were talked out of were their shoes and socks. They even did a formal ‘family portrait’-style picture with Matt and Andy. Copies of the shots were all over Justin’s board. The next day a cloud settled over Highgate when Nathan and Justin had their first serious difference of opinion. It began with a kiss. Justin did try to be good. If he had to have an early morning smoke, he hung out the window or slipped away to the garden. On that occasion, however, he lit up in the bathroom, the only place in the house without smoke alarms. When Nathan came in behind him, Justin wanted a kiss, but Nathan shied away. ‘Wha …?’ Justin felt a twinge of rejection and didn’t like it. ‘You’ve been smoking in the house, oh Justin!’ Nathan was scolding his lover. It was not something he did in general, but he had been surprised into it. Justin kicked automatically into aggression. ‘So! If I wanna fag, I ‘ave a fag. No skin off your nose. Whatchu coming all heavy for? You’re not me dad. I never had a fuckin’ dad!’ Without any intention on his part, Justin’s face twisted back into the sneer not seen there for several months past. His delicate features were distorted by the grimace, and he no longer looked the pretty boy he was. Nathan recoiled, unable to say anything, just staring. With Justin, that was the worst thing to do, because his aggression had to be met and subverted. Being more mature, Matt and Andy understood what was necessary, but such behaviour was alien to Nathan. ‘Why you starin’ at me like that? You think you’re too good for me, doan’ you? Iss not just the smoking. All the time you’re criticisin’ me and doin’ me down! I’ll never be good enough for you, Lord fuckin’ Underwood. Get the fuck out of my life, you superior git!’ He pushed past Nathan and into their room, slamming the door behind him. In the kitchen later they were still not talking. Nathan was floundering. Indeed, having no idea what to say without making things worse, he looked woebegone. Justin’s anger was feeding on itself, and he took Nathan’s unresponsiveness as a further accusation. Matt came in, scented the emotional storm, glanced at the two boys and left without a word. It had to happen sooner or later, and they would have to sort it out on their own. It was a silent couple that boarded the Andersons van. They spent the whole day doing no more than grunting at each other. They went their separate and miserable ways for lunch, by which time it was not just Nathan who was desolate. Justin’s anger had boiled off into space, leaving him depressed and guilty. With guilt came further emotions, and for the first time in his life he hinted to himself that he might just possibly have a share in the blame for a situation. Then he too became woebegone. At three-thirty he looked across at Nathan with a sad expression. That was all Nathan needed. He leapt on Justin, hugging him frantically. ‘I’m so sorry, Justy. I must be hard to live with.’ ‘No, iss not you,’ came the smothered reply, ‘iss me and me temper. I’m juss not good enough for you, Nate. I try, but iss too hard.’ ‘I know you try, Justy. It’s why you’re such a hero to me.’ ‘Wha’? Me a hero? Come off it!’ ‘Well yeah. What you’ve done and how you’ve changed this year are seriously heroic. You’re all I want and more. You’re good enough for me alright. I love you.’ ‘Oh God. And I love you too, so much. Thass it! I’m givin’ up them smokes as of now.’ ‘Eh!’ Nathan was impressed, but alarmed. ‘You think you can?’ ‘I gotta. Iss bad for me health. And you doan’ like kissin’ an ashtray, do yah?’ ‘Okay, Justy. But we’ll take it easy. Tell you what. How about you come to the gym with me this evening? Exercise may help take your mind off things.’ Justin grinned. ‘Done.’ So they worked out on frames and running machines, sweat pouring off their bodies. Afterwards, discovering the changing room was empty, they had daring sex standing naked in the middle of the benches, their passion heightened by the imminent possibility of discovery. There was also the fact that it was their first experience of the sweet sex that follows on from a lovers’ reconciliation. ‘God. That was better than ever!’ Nathan groaned after unloading in Justin. ‘I wanna faint.’ ‘Don’t take your stiffie outa me. Iss all thass holdin’ me upright.’ ‘We’ve got to get dressed. Someone could come in at any time.’ ‘Okay, okay. But iss late and the place is almost empty. Do me again.’ ‘No, you nutter. You can do me before we go to bed.’ Justin was hard put to stop himself from dragging Nathan down any dark lane they passed on the way home. His passion for his lover amazed even him. When they were finally safe in their room, Justin practically crawled inside Nathan, who was smiling up at him from their bed. He came almost immediately, in fountains. ‘Ooh Justy! You disappointed?’ ‘No, embarrassed. That was almost a premature ejaculation. But hell, I’m not deflatin’. I’m ready to go for it again.’ He came almost as copiously twenty minutes later. The two boys slumped and then slept, too exhausted even to turn out the room lights. Justin woke and felt around for the fag packet on his bedside table. Then he remembered: on the way home from the gym, he had ceremonially thrown it off the Hornsey Viaduct. He had a moment’s reluctant regret before he caught sight of Nathan’s sleeping face and breathed out a sigh. He would overcome it, yes he would, for Nathan. Justin ate a huge breakfast, which was unusual for him. Nathan always had a big fry-up, and he silently made another after noticing how hungry Justin was. ‘Do you think this is your body’s way of handling withdrawal symptoms from the nicotine?’ Justin belched with no embarrassment at all. ‘Scuse me. Yeah. Food takes me mind off the craving. But we better go and do something again tonight so I can work off all the extra carbohydrates and then … dunno, maybe we could do some extra stuff in the shower, know what I mean?’ ‘I remember someone telling me that if you can last out the first week, you got a good chance of kicking the habit.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Yeah. Also that withdrawal will make you crabby and horrible to everyone round you.’ ‘So how will yer tell the difference?’ ‘Don’t be hard on yourself, Justy. You’re great to be with … most of the time. You’re gloriously mad and funny, and so sexy. When you really want it bad, you get this look in your eyes like there’s a fire burning behind them. Gives me the chills.’ ‘I doan’ deserve you, Nate. I really don’t.’ Another hard day’s labour helped, as did a swim in a local pool after work. They had dinner at home with Matt and Andy. ‘So, what’s up, Justy?’ asked Andy. ‘There’s something different about you … something not hanging out the side of your mouth.’ ‘I gave up the ciggies,’ he bragged. ‘It’s been twenty-four hours now …’ ‘… and counting,’ Nathan added. ‘Yeah, I’m embracin’ health, clean livin’ and plenty of exercise.’ ‘Absolutely,’ rejoined Andy. ‘Matt and I can hear you two working out sometimes. It’s impressive.’ ‘Sorry to make you guys feel inadequate.’ Matt guffawed. ‘It’s a phase, Justy. We went through it too. It evens out eventually. But at the moment it’s good that you can’t get enough of it. And yes, it does make us feel inadequate …’ ‘… as did Pete and Tim in their turn,’ Andy chipped in. ‘God, were they insatiable. The bed in Annandale had to be resprung when they left for university. They couldn’t get enough of each other.’ ‘Yeah, so Pete said. No wonder they …’ Justin stopped and suddenly flushed. Andy looked immediately suspicious. The slip had been noticed. ‘No wonder they … what? Justin! Did they talk you into bed with them on the Speculator? Just the sort of thing Pete would do.’ ‘Er … no.’ ‘What were you going to say?’ ‘Nothin’. Honest.’ ‘Who have they been sleeping with then … uh-oh! I bet I know … Ramon and Tim have a thing, I noticed, as do Pete and Terry for that matter. They had a foursome, didn’t they?’ Justin was bright red. ‘Not sayin’.’ ‘You don’t have to.’ Andy shrugged at Matt. ‘I could have guessed. That Terry should have known better, he’s supposed to protect Pete, not shag his brains out. If my dad ever discovered them, not all that Terry has done for the family would save his ass.’ Justin was distraught. His face was not only flushed, but Nathan saw with some anxiety that it was pinching into the sort of dreadful grimace that went with an outburst. Then he noticed something even worse, that tears were starting in the boy’s eyes. ‘Andy,’ he pleaded, ‘you won’t tell on Justin, will you? He didn’t mean to let anything slip and you tricked it out of him. Please say you won’t tell.’ When Andy saw Justin’s tears and the fear in Nathan’s eyes, he was moved. ‘No I won’t. And you’ve done nothing wrong, Justy. It’s not that I didn’t have suspicions … Pete is as randy as a ferret on heat, while Tim is so sex-obsessed he can be very dangerous. As for Terry, well, we all know his history. It’s Ramon’s participation that really surprises me. No, I’ll keep it to myself and hope the four of them can continue to stay out of each other’s pants. If the press ever heard of it … but at least Terry would never let that happen, which I suppose was why Pete carried it so far with him.’ The boys left, Justin silent as they climbed the stairs. He was furious again, and the anger was clearly directed at Nathan. ‘Waddya poke your nose in for! I’m not a kid, Nate! I doan’ need you to wipe my arse. I coulda dealt with it.’ Nathan’s heart sank again. ‘Sorry Justy, I didn’t mean to …’ ‘You’re always treatin’ me like a kid.’ Nathan’s heart was wrung. It hurt so much when they fell out, and he still had no idea how to deal with his lover in a bad mood. ‘No … I didn’t mean anything like that. It was just the look on your face, I felt so sorry for you. I only wanted to help, Justy! Please.’ Justin scowled at him. When the door had closed behind them he snapped, ‘You’re on the sofa.’ Nathan found he had no choice but to curl up in his boxers with a throw-over on top of himself while Justin occupied the bed. He was at last beginning to discover that he too could be resentful, and he very much resented this treatment. He drifted off in a haze of hurt and confusion. He awoke an hour later to find a warm and naked body snuggled against him, clasping him with its arms. A kiss landed on his nose. Justin whispered in his ear, ‘I knows yer awake, Nate. I’m sorry. I’m a cunt. I doan’ know why I treats you like I do. Maybe it was watchin’ all those bastards treat me mam like shite over the years. Maybe I doan’ know any better, but I’m sorry.’ Nathan was possessed by feelings strange to him till now. He threw the cover off them both, picked up Justin effortlessly and dumped him back on the bed. He ripped down his own boxers and forced back Justin’s legs. It was more than passion he felt this time, it was anger too. Without any preparation he pushed his dry erection hard into his lover. Justin arched under him with the pain as Nathan’s big, blunt cockhead forced aside the lips of his anus. The surprise came when Justin began urging him on. ‘Yeah, thass right, Nate, hurt me. It makes me feel better. Hard. Thass it. Fuck me like the cunt I am!’ With that Nathan thrust into him brutally, tearing into his rectum, taking out his own pain by punishing Justin’s hole. He spurted hard into his lover, before falling on him. Justin held him and stroked his hair, kissing his face. ‘I needed that,’ he gasped. Nathan clutched him wonderingly. ‘Why?’ ‘Cos you treat me too nice, Nate. You gotta fight me, or I’ll just piss on you. I’m that sort of bloke. You gotta learn or we won’t last. I feel it. I may still love you, but I’ll lose respect for you. Act like a carpet and I’ll walk all over you on the way to the door.’ Nate rolled off his lover. ‘I don’t know if I can do that, Justy. In my world, confrontation and argument mean you’ve failed, you’ve surrendered to the worst side of yourself. I can’t recall seeing my parents argue with real anger. I can’t even remember them ever telling me off. Argument is painful. It means hurting someone back, and I can’t abide hurting anyone.’ ‘… except greenfly.’ ‘Greenfly are evil and must be exterminated, as also slugs. But that’s not the same thing at all. The idea of deliberately hurting you makes me feel horrible.’ Needing to clean himself, he suddenly sat up and flicked on a bedside light – and was horrified at what he saw. ‘Look, I got blood on my dick. Your blood! I’ve torn you! Oh God, this is awful!’ Justin stared at him coolly. ‘No iss not. Happens a lot, we both know it. Between two lovers iss as common as a nosebleed or chapped lips. I’ll wash me arse in cold water; it’ll sting, go away and be forgotten, just like our arguments will if you realise that the love underneath can’t be hurt. You gotta grow up, Nate. The world’s not always nice, and you can’t change that juss by bein’ so nice yourself.’ Nathan went to wash his genitals in the bathroom. Justin followed, asking him to look at his anus and rinse it. There was little damage done, just a slight tear to his pucker. Although it had bled, it was already clotted and ready to be washed clear. Nathan knelt and kissed the damage he had done to his lover, then worshipped his small, smooth buttocks with licks and kisses. Justin stood and enjoyed the attention, smiling into the mirror. They eventually embraced and returned to bed, sleeping in one another’s arms till the alarm woke them the next morning. On their way to work, Nathan hopped out of the van and picked up a copy of Gay Universe from a newsagent. The lady at the counter gave him a warm smile. ‘Sorry, love, I’ve not got a bag to put it in. Will you be alright carrying it like that?’ Nathan smiled back. ‘It’s okay … glad to be gay.’ ‘Bad news for the girls, dear,’ she added. Mr Anderson saw the magazine and did a double take, then gave the boys a really close look. They smiled back at him and snuggled together in the back of the van. He shrugged. Although they weren’t on the cover, they had a three-page spread inside. There were lots of pictures, including a nice one of them on the carpet, leaning back against a sofa, barefoot, Nathan clasping Justin round the waist. Justin smirked. ‘Doan’ we look sweet? Just the sorta lads any long-lost dad would be keen to meet. Read out wha’ they said about me and me background.’ Nathan complied. ‘Justin’s mother died of cancer only a couple of weeks ago, leaving him a theoretical orphan. But he knows the name of his father, a gay North Londoner called Jack Whittaker, whom he is very eager to trace. “Not that I intend leaving Matt and Andy’s care,” Justin said. “They’ve been brilliant and I can’t imagine my life without them. They’ve taught me so much about how to be a gay teenager and proud of it. But knowing my father may be out there somewhere, perhaps still living in London, fascinates me. I’d like to meet and talk to him at least, although I’m not looking for a relationship unless he wants.”’ Nathan laughed. ‘They left out all the “fuckings” you put in every third word, and made it grammatical too.’ ‘Ha ha,’ scoffed Justin. ‘So now we’ll see what happens.’
  9. Justin and Matt arrived in the very early morning at the Highgate house. Justin felt as though he had truly come home when they hauled their many bags out of the taxi and into the hall. He now had more clothes than he knew how to deal with. Matt and he sorted through them. They were all clean, as the yacht’s laundry system was ruthless. You just had to drop a pair of socks and they were washed and pressed. After that experience, Matt wanted to get the question of dirty laundry in his own house sorted. ‘Face it Justy, you’re going to be here for a while. We each do our own laundry, although the cleaner will do the ironing. Tomorrow I’ll explain how the machine works.’ ‘Urgh. Do I really have to come to terms with life?’ ‘Yes,’ said Matt decidedly. Unfortunately for Justin, Fate took Matt literally the next morning. A ring on the doorbell brought Matt groggily to the front door at eleven. He’d fallen into bed under the influence of jet lag, as had Justin, still somewhere beneath the duvet in his own room. Matt blinked at the black woman on his doorstep. ‘Yes?’ ‘It’s Tanya Thompson, Dr White. You remember me?’ ‘Oh … right. Yes. Justin’s case officer. I wasn’t expecting you. Was there an appointment?’ ‘No. But I’m glad to catch you. Is Justin around?’ ‘He’s flat out in bed. We flew in from St Kitts at three this morning.’ Tanya smiled. ‘The idea of Justin in high society on a tropical island is, to say the least, amusing.’ Matt invited her in. ‘He was very good, y’know. He made a lot of friends, and took millionaires, billionaires and prime ministers in his stride.’ ‘How do you feel about fostering him now? ‘We love the boy. For all his aggressiveness, he’s brave, funny, clever and dauntless … and he’s getting better every day. He can learn.’ ‘The kid needed just one break, and you seem to have given it to him. I’m so pleased. But I’m not here just to touch base. His mother’s ill.’ ‘Oh … I’m sorry. Is it serious?’ ‘It’s terminal.’ ‘What! When did this happen?’ ‘She was taken into hospital two nights ago, after she collapsed in a pub in Manor Park. When they put her through tests, they found her riddled with cancer. It had metastasized into her brain.’ ‘God! How long has she got?’ ‘Not very long, I think. Justin will need to be told. Now, I’m willing to do it if you’d rather.’ ‘What? Er … I’ll get him and we’ll do this together.’ Matt raised a reluctant Justin from the warm pit into which he had burrowed and got him to dress and come down. ‘Oy … Tanya,’ he greeted her, still a little dazed. ‘It wasn’t me, whatever it was. I was outa the country.’ ‘I know, Justin. My, do you look handsome now … the hair, the tan, the clothes. Nobody’d recognise the Animal of Seven Sisters.’ Matt placed himself close to Justin on the sofa. Justin asked, ‘So whassup?’ ‘It’s your mother, Justin. She’s very ill. She’s in hospital and the doctors don’t give her very long.’ ‘Uh! Wha …? You’re kiddin’. Can’t be right. She’s always sayin’ there’s somefink wrong with ‘er, but there never is.’ ‘It’s cancer, Justin, the unsuspected and fast-working type. It started in her pancreas. It’s a matter of days, not months.’ ‘Aw, jeez, no. Where is she? I need to be there. Matt …?’ ‘I’ll get the car round now.’ Matt drove Justin through the busy streets to the North Middlesex General. It was twelve-thirty by the time they arrived, and Justin had hardly uttered a word. His heart was pounding as they traced their way through the maze of corridors to find his mother’s ward. There were six beds, all but one of them occupied by elderly women. Mrs Macavoy lay in the sixth bed by the window, linked to a drip feeding morphine into her system. She was asleep. Justin stared down at his mother, who looked like a hollow shell of the woman he had known. Never robust, she now seemed to have collapsed inside. Her hair was lank, her breathing laboured. He sat by the bed, and the movement caused her to stir. ‘Ma?’ She struggled to turn. ‘Justy? That you?’ ‘Iss me, ma. How you feelin?’ He took her cold hand. ‘I been better, son. You been abroad. How was it? I’m glad you’re back. They said I’m not gonna get better.’ Justin told her about his time in the sun, the things he’d done and seen, and the people he’d met. He talked and talked to her in a way he had not done since he was nine years old, knowing that his chances to do so would soon be gone for good. Eventually he was able to say the things he had to say, and ask the questions he had to ask. She died late that night as Justin dozed beside her. He woke to find her hand lifeless in his. Before calling the nurse, he studied her still body for a few minutes. You only got one mother, and this had been his, in all her imperfections and weaknesses. But she had nonetheless been his, and her passing took something out of his life which could not be replaced. . The nurse held his shoulder for a while and told him he could have more time if he wanted, but he shook his head. He wandered out into the corridor, where he discovered Matt, asleep on a bench with his rolled-up coat under his head, looking surreally beautiful in this place of sickness and death, like an angel come to visit. Justin, very moved, bent down to awake him gently. He blinked and looked a question. ‘She’s gone, Matt.’ He sat up, took his foster son in his strong arms and kissed him. They sat there a while, until eventually Justin put his head on Matt’s shoulder and wept silently. When he subsided, Matt rose and took him out to the car. Then he went back inside to the reception desk, where he made the necessary arrangements about the body. ‘We’ll take care of the funeral and stuff, Justy. Leave it to me. I’ve rung Andy and he’s on the way back now. I also took the liberty of ringing Nathan. He’s waiting for you in Highgate. He’ll be staying for a bit.’ Justin murmured his thanks and said nothing else till the car drew up outside the house. Nathan was at the door. They looked at each other, Justin amazed at how beautiful his boyfriend was and how he could have forgotten it. Then they were in each other’s arms and hugging, banishing Justin’s feeling of hollowness. There remained still another soul that loved him unconditionally. He would not need to sleep alone again. Nathan had told his parents that he was leaving for Justin, who needed him. His bags and possessions were stacked in the hall, and Justin’s room in Matt’s house was his now too. *** The funeral was in the Dominican priory in Muswell Hill, Matt’s and Andy’s place of worship. Justin and Nathan sat in the front pew of the baroque church, two movingly handsome boys in neat black suits, openly holding hands. There were a lot of mourners, not just Matt and Andy but all their circle, including Terry, who had flown in specially. Mr and Mrs Underwood came, which impressed Justin, knowing how upset they had been when Nathan had left them for him. Justin’s social workers and his mother’s neighbours were there too. The priest who took the service did a fine job. Because Mrs Macavoy’s acknowledged Catholicism justified a full requiem, Andy paid for a choir and musicians and Matt selected the music with the help of some clued-up friends. The end result was ordered, solemn and beautiful: a poignant contrast to the chaotic life it celebrated. The two boys led the mourners out behind the coffin and stood at the church door hand in hand as it was loaded into the hearse. There were masses of flowers. There was to be a cremation and a scattering of ashes. ‘Okay, Justy?’ murmured Nathan. ‘Yeah, Nate. It was beautiful, wasn’ it?’ ‘I’m not one for churches much, but that was something special. I’m sure your mum would have been pleased.’ ‘Yeah. Nothing like a grand farewell, is there?’ They assembled at Matt’s house after the committal at Golders Green. Waiters circulated and the buffet tables were full. It was a warm day, which encouraged people to spill out into the garden. Tanya caught up with Justin and murmured her regrets. He thanked her. ‘So what now, Tanya? What happens to me?’ ‘You’re now in council care, Justin, and stay fostered if you want. Mr Peacher and Dr White certainly don’t mind. In fact, they’d be very upset if you moved on.’ ‘What if I’ve got more family? They might have an idea that I should be in their care.’ ‘But … do you?’ ‘Before she died, me mum told me who me dad was. What if I found him?’ ‘That would change things. Legally, he could ask for control, although his long history of indifference would tell against him. Aren’t you happy here? You seemed to be.’ ‘Losing your mum when you’re a kid changes your ideas. Now it turns out I still have one parent somewhere. Iss important to me to find the man.’ ‘Then talk to Matt and Andy. If anyone can help you, it’ll be them. Who is he?’ ‘She said he was a young guy called Jack Whittaker. She had known him in school and he had got her pregnant, but then wanted nothing to do with raising a family. It turned out he was gay, which may explain a few things.’ Tanya shook her head. ‘It’s not a hereditary thing, Justin.’ ‘No? Well, whatever. He should be curious that he had a gay kid at least.’ *** Late that night, after everyone was gone, Nathan and Justin were alone with Matt and Andy in the big lounge. The French windows were open to let in the cool night air and the lights were on in the garden flat. London hummed with city noise outside. The two couples were in the same pose: Andy and Justin lying back on their boyfriends’ laps on facing sofas. Nathan was stroking Justin’s hair gently, looking fondly down at him, just soaking up the very real pleasure of being close to his lover and not having to leave him. Matt broke the ice. ‘Justy, Andy and I have been thinking. We’ve talked it through. We’re ready to adopt you, if you’ll let us. We want you to know that we’d like to take more than temporary responsibility for you, that we’ll always be here for you … that we love you.’ ‘Yes,’ added Andy, with a broad grin, ‘this is the point, Justy. You might not be the sort of kid we’d have chosen to have or dreamed about, but maybe this is a lesson to us that we didn’t really know what was good for us. You have been good for us, and we can’t imagine now not being part of your life. Please say yes, punk. Make our day.’ Justin did not answer at once. ‘Would this mean I become Justin Peacher?’ ‘You could if you wanted to, although it sounds a bit odd. We just want you to be our Justin, and Justin Macavoy was the name your mother gave you.’ ‘Would it mean that I get yer money when you die?’ Matt raised his eyebrows. ‘Well, yes it would, at least some of it.’ ‘That would make me very rich, wouldn’t it? You’re both rollin’ in it.’ ‘It’d be an awful lot more than a lottery win, that’s for sure. But we intend to outlive you, so don’t worry about it: the rate you smoke, I don’t fancy your chances,’ added Andy, with a glint in his sharp blue eye. ‘But it would mean our taking some responsibility for your financial future, and we’re happy about that. We’ve both got far more money than we could ever use. You’re a good use of it, Justy.’ Justin remained pensive. ‘I do love you both, you know that. But two things: I wanna find me real dad and until I do, I don’t wanna think about being adopted. The other thing is that, if I did let you go ahead, what would people say ’bout me? “He was suckin’ up to them two fabulously rich queers just to get hold of their cash. He’s no more than a petty criminal grown up to be an ambitious con artist.” No. Iss as generous an offer as I’d expect of the two of you. But I can’t accept.’ Andy had sat up now, and was leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, as was Matt. Finally he said, ‘If anything proved how much you’ve grown, Justy, it was what you just said. Okay then. We accept your reasons, but we’ll not let you forget the offer was made.’ *** Terry had gone to visit his parents immediately after the funeral, but returned four days later. He had decided to disable the bugs installed by Anson’s team in Highgate. For weeks some very sophisticated electronics had been feeding innocent random domestic noises into them. Now he had fried the sensors with an electronic pulse, a process which fascinated Nathan. Terry was hanging round the garden when the Andersons van returned with the boys. Justin had finally been given a full-time job by Mr Anderson and a funded apprenticeship. He was to start his Ordinary National Diploma in Horticulture in a couple of months with the new term in September. The two boys were full of fun, despite a hard day cutting the grass at a series of school playing fields. Justin launched himself at Terry and hugged him hard. ‘Uncle Terry!’ ‘Ooh, you stink, Justy,’ was the reply he got. ‘Yeah, we’re gonna have raunchy sex in a sec … wanna watch?’ ‘Tempting, but no thanks. I want to be able to keep me supper down. Hi Nate! How’s the marriage going?’ ‘Brilliant, Terry. Waking up day after day next to the boy I love is happiness you just can’t buy. Even if he does fart like a pig and smoke like a bacon factory.’ ‘And you love it too, yer pervert. Yeah, but there’s somethin’ even better than sleeping together … iss wha’ we do before we sleep. He ploughed me three times last night. It was drippin’ out me ears by the time he finished. Total stud, me Nate. Got more of a hose than a dick.’ ‘Boys, boys, boys. Moderation in all things. You’ll wear out your body parts.’ ‘Crap. We’re teenagers. Our hormones doan’ understand the meaning of the word. And from what Pete was tellin’ me, moderation wasn’t something you ever understood when you wuz our age, either.’ ‘Then I will have to tell your foster fathers, who I expect will be most displeased.’ Justin made a very rude noise, and the two ran up the stairs, the door of their room closing behind them with a bang. Terry shook his head, but gave a tolerant smile. ‘Kids,’ he muttered to himself. * * * Matt had become desperate. The laundry was beginning to get on top of him, and the huge demands made on his fridge and cupboards by the appetites of two active and healthy teenagers were outstripping his ability to shop. Biting the bullet at last, he had employed a housekeeper. Mrs Atkinson was a quiet but unflappable woman who had already got the cleaner under control, and was standing up well to the demands of Matt’s highly unconventional household. She was even beginning to insist on proper meal times. The only emerging problem was the attitude of Dave Evans, who viewed her appointment as a reflection on his oversight of the house from the garage. Everyone had drifted into the dining room by seven, and despite what they had told Terry, Justin and Nathan were now clean and barefoot in fresh casuals. With Andy still in Highgate, he and Matt took up opposite ends of the table. Nate and Mate, as they liked to be called, sat down one side, while Terry and a man strange to the boys sat opposite. Matt did the introductions. ‘Nathan and Justin, this is Will Vincent, a business associate of mine and also a close friend. He’s stopping over in London for a few days, so be nice to him. Will, these are the two lads who are complicating our lives enormously at the moment.’ ‘… but in a nice way,’ added Nathan sweetly, smiling at Will. ‘Dave sends greetings,’ Matt continued, ‘but refuses to come into the house as long as Mrs Atkinson is here, which is also complicating my life. Nate and Justy, he asked me to pass on a message for you. It’s from the features editor of our old friends at Gay Universe, wanting an interview – strangely, not with me or even Andy, but with you two.’ ‘What?’ they exclaimed simultaneously. ‘Oh yes, the gay press has developed an entirely predictable interest in you two celebrity teens.’ ‘Wow! We’re celebrities now.’ Justin grinned broadly at the idea. ‘It’s not what it’s cracked up to be, Justy,’ cautioned Matt. ‘You’re telling me,’ added Will Vincent. He seemed to be recalling something painful. The teens stared at him. When he smiled at them, he suddenly looked awfully familiar, although Justin couldn’t work out why. ‘The fact that two high-profile gays like Andy and I have fostered a gay teenager who is in a relationship with another boy has caught the attention of people in that section of the gay community which watches soaps. It’s mostly prurience, and you’ll have to expect the questions will deal with little more than your raging hormones and your sex life.’ ‘Yeah,’ interjected Justin, ‘but that is all there is to talk about, innit?’ ‘Not at all, Justy. Anyway, I told the editor I’d speak to you, but cautioned him there will be no skin shots unless you want and unless I can veto them. And there’s to be no feature at all if you say you want to pull out. If you do that and they don’t keep off your backs afterwards, we have lots and lots of lawyers from our favourite chambers of Rottweiler, Doberman and Co who will have some very cogent arguments as to why they should.’ ‘Me and Nate’ll think about it then. You okay with it, Nate?’ ‘I’m not sure, but we’ll talk.’ The conversation turned to the impact the media had made on their lives, even if they hadn’t wanted it. Andy told his story about how he’d been outed when he was nineteen, and how the nastiest fringe of the press had nearly destroyed him. Terry didn’t have such problems, he said, for he moved in the shadows. The main problem the press gave him was how to keep the paps away from his employers. ‘Mind you, sometimes celebrity can be fun, don’t you think?’ He winked at Will, who blushed. Justin studied the man. He was good looking and obviously worked out, but there was something else about him that was attractive as well. He projected a mixture of shyness and sexiness that was a decided turn-on despite his age. Justin recognised the face too. ‘Ere, I knows you, doan’ I? I seen you in mags.’ ‘Oh Christ … there’s no hiding it even from kids! You’re a dirty little tyke, aren’t you?’ ‘He is,’ interjected Terry. ‘Waddya mean?’ Justin was instantly full of suspicion. ‘He means, criminal babe, that you’ve been looking at gay porn. Will also answers to the name of Jason Williams, porn star extraordinaire. So when did you run into him?’ ‘Aw … now I knows.’ Justin sniggered. ‘Yeah, it was in a stack of gay mags I found in a burned-out garage. Wanked over them for days, I did. So, Jason, you still in porn?’ ‘No, he isn’t,’ declared Matt. ‘He’s now CEO of a very respectable and successful media business in Central Europe. He’s just bought three TV channels in the Czech Republic and Rothenia.’ ‘But I keep myself off the TV screen, believe me. And I daren’t go near gay clubs … unless, that is, I want a thrilling night.’ ‘How’s Oskar doing?’ Terry asked, with an aside to Justin, ‘That’s his former boyfriend, a very famous porn god called Marc Bennett. You’ve doubtless wanked all over him too.’ ‘Oskar’s helping run the TV side of things now; he’s just opened the Prague office. I was hoping he might be coming here too, but he said he’s got too much on his plate right now to let him get away. He’s become very secretive of late. It may be because he’s found a boyfriend, we think. He’s cagy about letting on who it is, which means it’s probably someone very common and he’s embarrassed.’ Will looked at Justin and smiled. ‘Oskar’s a genuine aristocrat, born a prince no less, and sometimes a bit too conscious of it for his own good.’ ‘How’s your Felip doing?’ ‘He’s a cameraman. Mostly legit. But against my advice, he’s still taking work on for Falkefilm. He says he gets more of a buzz from filming copulating men than documentaries on economic stagnation in Slovakia.’ ‘Oh,’ quipped Terry, ‘then Max Wolf still lives.’ ‘Yeah, but not in front of the camera, at least. It’s that Hendrik. He still has a lot of influence over his former porn models. They can’t think of him as someone who exploited them when they were young and vulnerable.’ ‘Now he’s a weird one,’ said Terry. ‘I liked him, though. Nice bloke in some ways. He asked me to join him at his villa on the Croatian coast this summer. Probably wanted to talk me into doing wicked stuff for him … maybe he fancied me as a porno star too. If only I’d met him when I was a teen … I’d have been as good as Oskar, I bet. Maybe not as good as you, Will, but still up there with the best of the Rothenian boys.’ The talking, laughing and stories went on for a good two hours. Justin found the meal fascinating, as much so as the adults round the table, their lives and bizarre experiences. Secrets of the security world, the manoeuvres of media empires, and the kinky sexuality of the Central European porn industry went past him in baroque procession. In the middle of it all was Terry, whose life touched every aspect of it. He told the story of how he had saved Will from the grips of a porn king and a devilish trap set by some very clever men. He was like some hero of ancient days: endlessly resourceful and courageous, totally cool and confident. More than ever, Justin felt the tug of Terry’s world. They ended up in the lounge with glasses of wine and spirits. The adults were still going strong at ten when Nathan yawned and prodded Justin with his foot. The demands of the gardening job sent Justin to bed now at times he would never have tolerated during his time on the streets. As they were ascending the stairs hand in hand, Terry called up and threw them a DVD box that Nathan fielded. The cover had a picture of a nude Will in a clinch with another nude and beautiful young man, backed by a view of an ancient city. The cover said An American in Strelzen. Terry put his finger to his lips and winked. Nathan protested at setting it going in their room, and found plenty to make fun of in the opening scenes. When the sex began, however, his mouth fell open and he said no more. His hand was soon inside his boxers fondling his own member. Justin threw off his clothes, lay out and stroked himself. Soon they were side by side, naked and stroking each other as scenes of hot and amazingly passionate copulation played out before their eyes. By the time the last ejaculations spurted on the screen, Justin was impaled on Nathan’s cock, bouncing up and down, while Nathan stared round his slim body at the film. After their own climaxes, the boys looked at each other. Nathan said, ‘Well if gardening ever gets boring, I know what I fancy doing.’ ‘Yeah, but only wiv me, lover. I wanna talk to Will tomorrow. Got a lot of questions for the bloke.’ They nestled together naked and satiated in the dark. Before they fell asleep, however, Nathan asked, ‘Justy babe, you’re up to something over this Gay Universe article, aren’t you?’ ‘Er … why d’you say that?’ ‘Cos, my babe, I can read you. There was a little furrow of concentration on your forehead when you were thinking about it. It’s a sign there’s a clever idea brewing in that pretty head of yours.’ The bedclothes rustled as Justin rose up on his elbows. ‘Okay. So I am. Me dad is Jack Whittaker. What do we know about him? Only that he’s gay. What’s the biggest circulation gay mag in the UK? Only Gay Universe. The sad story of little orphan Macavoy is going to get out, along with his desire to meet his long-lost father. We may get a response or we may not, but issa start, innit?’ Nathan pulled his lover close and gave him a lingering kiss on the mouth. Letting Justin go he said quietly, ‘In that case, my chavvy babe, I’ll go along with the interview.’ There was silence, followed by a small voice: ‘I love you, my Nathan.’ ‘And I love you, my Justin.’
  10. Justin stared narrowly at the shore as the boat curved into the harbour, slowed and stopped at a set of steps to the quay. The crewmen’s faces were blank, without their usual smiles, according to their orders. Justin climbed out on to the steps with every appearance of nervous reluctance. Andy came close behind him, guiding him with a hand on his arm. On the quay a Land Rover was waiting, with one of the Santa Barbara Peacher guys at the wheel, looking as mean as he was paid to do. ‘Can I struggle and scream a bit?’ Justin muttered out of the corner of his mouth. ‘No. Behave. Struggling comes later.’ The car ran them slowly through the crowded city. ‘We’ve picked ‘em up, Mr Peacher,’ said the driver, looking in his wing mirror. Justin peeked in the driver’s mirror, and by angling himself, caught an anonymous older-model Ford bumping after them through the badly paved streets. There were at least two men in it. The Land Rover climbed up into the hills behind the city, following a road hemmed in by trees. Although the Ford fell well back, the turns occasionally revealed it, some way behind. Eventually they reached the place Terry had selected, an old gang-master’s house just inside the Peacher estate. It was near the road, but obviously on private property. The Land Rover dropped them off and continued up to the mansion by a rugged side track. Andy and Justin stood waiting until they heard the Ford approach. As it came in sight, Andy grabbed Justin roughly and hauled him resisting into the hurricane shelter under the house. Once inside they took a breather – or rather Justin had a nervous cigarette. ‘Okay?’ Andy asked. Justin flipped his mobile and punched Declan-Barry’s number. There was a prompt answer. ‘Hello?’ ‘Hey! Where are you? The bastard’s got me closed in a cellar under this house. He’s gone off upstairs to get ready, he said. I doan’ like this place. There’s chains and frames and some horrible machines.’ ‘S’okay kid, we’re not far away. How d’ya get in?’ ‘He took me through a storm door from the outside. It’s locked and solid. I’m trapped.’ ‘Can we get in upstairs?’ ‘I think so. Look. He’s made me take these pills and I feel fuckin’ weird, like I’m floatin’. I ain’t got long. You said you’d stop him doin’ things to me. Christ, he’s comin’ back …’ Justin rang off. Andy raised his eyebrows. Justin looked disgusted. ‘The bastards. They’re quite happy to sell me not-quite-fifteen-year-old arse down the river. They’re gonna let you have your wicked way with me, you pervert, just so as to catch you with your trousers round your ankles.’ Andy frowned. ‘Terry was right. Looks like serious blackmail is their aim. I expect they’ll wait to burst in here, cameras flashing, until they think I’m deeply into you. This way then, Justy. Let’s get ready for them.’ Silence fell in the dark cellar. Justin started whistling to himself. After about fifteen minutes they heard a slight snapping, as of a forced door or window upstairs, then the slide of stealthy footsteps. To two men in the urgency of copulation, the sounds would not have been audible. Andy started loudly faking the moans of passion, while Justin let out regular, high-pitched squeals. Finally they exchanged glances: time to retreat. They exited through the outside door to the cellar, locking it solidly behind them. The empty white Ford was visible a short walk down the road. There was a muffled shout inside and the crash of breaking wood, followed by an ominous clang upstairs in the house. ‘Well. I think that went okay,’ growled Andy. ‘We seem to have caught us some blackmailers.’ Terry strolled out the front door, accompanied by two hefty-looking men. ‘Hope you locked the storm door behind you, Andy.’ Andy listened to the dull banging coming now from the cellar. ‘Yes. I seem to have done. Everything on camera?’ ‘Yup, boss. From their breaking and entering on your dad’s property to the vandalism on the stair door. Oh … and they were stupid enough to come armed.’ There was a muffled pop from inside the cellar, followed instantly by a gong-like sound from a metal door. ‘Deary, dear. Shooting the lock off ain’t gonna work when the lock’s on the outside. You’d think they’d have known better. Still, that’ll be caught on camera too. Get’s better all the time.’ ‘How long till they cool down?’ ‘Dunno. Don’t care. I’ll leave them without food and water for a day or two. Zeke and Alex here will keep an eye on them. They’re not going anywhere. When they’ve had a chance to think about things, it’ll be time to talk with them. I need information as to who they work for. They’ll cut a deal.’ Justin looked with admiration at this cool man, impossible to faze. I wanna be him, his mind was saying. ‘Are you on the government apprentice scheme, Terry?’ ‘Criminal babe, I ain’t looking for trainees. Ask me again in four or five years.’ Terry keyed his radio. As they were waiting for the Land Rover to reappear, Andy grinned salaciously, which made him look something like a naughty little boy. ‘Tell me, Justy. Those noises you were making. Are they what Nathan hears when he screws you?’ For once, Justin blushed. *** ‘Wow!’ was Nathan’s closing comment after Justin told him the full story. ‘That Terry is something else. So he hid behind a metal door he had got fitted at the top of the cellar stairs. When they broke down the stair door and rushed in looking to find Andy doing very weird things to you, my Justy, he slammed it shut and locked it on them. Are they still there?’ ‘Yup. It’s dark here now. There’s nothin’ in the cellar but dust and bare stone walls, not so much as a window, and they’re sealed in by two thick iron doors designed to resist hurricane-force winds. Basically they’re screwed … I wonder if there’re scorpions on this island?’ ‘Where are you now, Justy?’ ‘I’m on the yacht. We’re havin’ a party and we’re all dressed up in our dinner togs. The city mayor and the police chief were invited, as well as the prime minister. Iss real plush … wish you were here, Nate, I really do.’ ‘Never mind, lover, when you’re back, we can party on a paddle boat at Southend.’ ‘I’d love that. I think I’m gonna be returnin’ home soon. Terry’s gonna interrogate those guys tomorrow, and depending on what he finds out, he’ll come back to Britain and bring me. Matt’ll be with us too.’ ‘You’ve had a good time?’ ‘Awesome, Nate. But I miss you real bad. Tim and Pete are cool, but they’re a couple and a bit too … I dunno … smart for me. Though Ed and Harry are fun, they’re still kids, and I gotta mind me mouth in front of ’em. Terry clipped me on the ear for saying “fuckin’ ’ell” once too often. I forgets. Everybody’s so nice. But I juss wanna be back in the garden wiv me beautiful boyfriend, and gettin’ ploughed by his beautiful dick too. I ’aven’t ’ad so much as a wank in days.’ ‘Christ, the way your balls manufacture the stuff, there’ll be an explosion in your trousers soon!’ Justin laughed, kissed down the phone and rang off. Pocketing his mobile, he looked round at the social groups while sipping a glass of punch. On the stern deck, which was strung with lights, stewards were circulating trays of exotic and expensive food. He was on his own at the rail, but not too bothered about it. He was ready for bed in any case. He put down the glass and slowly made his way to the stairs. ‘Night, Terry,’ he said as he passed his hero. ‘Night, criminal babe. Hey, you wanna come with me tomorrow for the interrogation?’ ‘Can I? Wouldn’t miss it for the world, Terry. Sweet dreams.’ *** Zeke and Alex had drawn their impressive guns, as had Terry, who placed it on the table in front of him. Justin stood well back. Terry had set up an intercom in the cellar before the entrapment, and he switched on the set from upstairs. It had been two days since the would-be blackmailers had been locked behind the iron doors. Zeke said they had been a bit noisy to begin with, but by then had been quiet for thirty hours. ‘Morning’ fellers!’ Terry said cheerfully into the intercom. ‘Now, I know you’re receiving me, so just say hi back.’ There was a crackle followed by a hoarse rasping voice. ‘Go to fuckin’ hell!’ ‘I’ll take that as a “hi” then. Bet you’re so, so thirsty now, Barry, ain’t you?’ ‘Let us the fuck out!’ ‘Why?’ ‘Whaddya mean, why?’ ‘Gotta have a reason to, boys. You tell me what I want to know, and then maybe we can part amicably. Don’t, and for all I care you can stay there till you rot. After all, it was your choice to break in, wasn’t it? No one forced you.’ There was a long pause. ‘Give us something to drink, then we might talk.’ ‘Sorry boys, that’s not even on the table. Talk or not talk, that’s the choice. Talk, and we’ll let you out – minus firearms, of course. Don’t talk and … I’ve got a lot of other jobs to get on with, believe me.’ ‘Who the fuck is this?’ ‘Why should you care? Just say that Peacher Security has been watching your piddling operation for a while. You think you can keep your curiosity a secret in a small place like this, a small place where Mr Peacher is so very big?’ ‘Was that little bastard working for you?’ ‘The little bastard – as you call him – is older than he looks. He works for me, yeah. One of my best agents.’ Terry grinned at Justin, who gave him a comical look back. ‘Tell me about it, he suckered us good and proper.’ ‘So now you’re in a talkative mood. Let’s get down to some basic issues. Your name is …?’ ‘Barry McGuire.’ ‘Not Declan?’ ‘No.’ ‘Well, we’ll go along with Barry for a while, but research has not yet established that you really exist, Barry. Which is a bit awkward as I don’t like talking to myself. But if you are “Barry” I need to know who you work for.’ The answer came back too quickly. ‘No one. I’m a freelancer. The sting was all my idea.’ Terry drew in a deep breath, ‘Barry, Barry. A thing you need to know about me is that I can hear lies in people’s voices. You’re lying to me, which destroys my confidence in you. Even had I not known that, my reason would tell me you’re lying. No one hangs round St Kitts on the off chance of enriching himself if a perverted billionaire should happen to fly in and attempt to sodomise an underage teen. You had a mission, Barry boy, and you had money too. So cough up.’ A long silence ensued. In the end, Terry turned off the intercom. ‘Any hope of a coffee, boys?’ ‘Yes sir, Mr O’Brien,’ replied Alex brightly, and disappeared. Terry cradled the mug when it arrived, looking meditatively out the window. ‘What’s the chances they’ll talk, Terry?’ asked Justin. ‘Oh … they’ll talk alright. Never underestimate the power of thirst. By now they’d drink their own piss if they had a container to pee into. Odds are that one of them’s already had to take a dump in the corner. Must be getting really squalid down there, as well as hot and sweaty.’ Terry flipped the intercom again. ‘Had time to think, Barry boy?’ ‘Look …’ The voice was at last showing the edge of desperation. ‘… if I did talk, if I did have anything to say, how do I know I’d be safe? You’re not the police. You don’t have the resources to protect me from the people who might take exception to my blabbing.’ ‘Maybe I’m a better judge of that than you. Names.’ ‘OK. It’s Barry Antrobus. That’s my real name. In here with me are Tom Rendquist and Alfie Pearson.’ ‘And you work for …?’ There was a subdued hubbub behind Barry. There was disagreement amongst the captives. Finally Antrobus said, ‘If you want that information, the boys and me want some guarantees.’ ‘So ask away.’ ‘A flight to wherever we want off this island, and money to disappear for a while.’ ‘You gotta cheek, mate.’ ‘Fine. Look at it this way. We’re dead if we stay down here for another twenty-four hours, and just as dead if what we tell you gets back to our employer. So why not die with the satisfaction at least of pissing you off, you bastard?’ ‘Tsk. I’ll make a phone call.’ ‘What about that water … for Chrissake!’ ‘Be in touch.’ Terry rang a number and had a muttered conversation. He turned to Justin and asked ‘So Justy, what would you do with them?’ ‘Me? I dunno. Wouldn’t trust ’em, that’s for sure. I’d check their information before I let ’em loose.’ Terry called up the cellar again. ‘Hello, boys. I can get you some of what you want. A flight off the island, wherever you want to go. But don’t expect a fortune when you get there. Ten thousand dollars each is the best we can do for you. Take it or dehydrate, it’s up to you.’ There was a grumbling and finally Antrobus answered sullenly, ‘Deal.’ ‘Okay. Question one. Who put up the money for your surveillance?’ ‘Guy called Lawrence Mattheson. He works out of London, an ex-marine I think, but I don’t know much else about him other than that he’s very much in there with the security community.’ ‘Okay. Question two. Was Andy Peacher your target?’ ‘Him and his queer friends, yeah.’ ‘And the reason for this?’ ‘Money, Mattheson said, but he was lying. There was more to it. The look on his face when he talked about the Peachers was an education. He hates your bosses, especially some guy called O’Brien.’ ‘Would that be Terence O’Brien?’ ‘Dunno. He just cursed the name when he was pissed once. He wants to pay off a score.’ ‘That’s very helpful, Barry. Now we’ll proceed to a little trade. In a moment, one of my boys will be opening the upstairs door. He’s armed. Hell, we all are. Throw out all your weapons and we’ll throw back in a big jerry can of nice, cool, refreshing water.’ ‘What about releasing us?’ ‘That’ll happen, but not till tomorrow, if you continue being co-operative.’ Snapping off the switch, he nodded at Zeke, who disappeared with Alex. There was the clang of a door, silence and the door clanged back again. A grinning Zeke reappeared with several guns in his hands. ‘Thass it for today, Justy. We need to get back to the yacht and make some calls and stuff. We’ll be there in time for lunch. I need to chat with Sylvia Peacher too. She’s still maintains a lot of contacts with the security world, so iss time she got involved. She used to be my boss, y’know. I’ll see if the chopper’s available.’ They strolled together comfortably up to the main house and sat out on the veranda, waiting for the helicopter from the Speculator to arrive. ‘You did real good, Justy. If I didn’t say so, I’m saying it now. What a little actor you are, and what a cool head you got. Andy was dead impressed, and so was I.’ Justin blushed at the admiration. ‘Iss me criminal background, Uncle Terry.’ ‘Uncle Terry! Thass what Pete and Tim call me.’ He cuddled Justin and kissed his hair. ‘Problem wiv that?’ Justin asked. ‘No. Not at all. I like you quite as much as I like those boys. I’ll be sorry when you go in a couple of days’ time. You brighten things up, criminal babe.’ ‘I’ll miss you too, Uncle Terry.’ *** Justin was already missing Terry when the door of the jet Matt had chartered was sealed behind him. It wasn’t as big and powerful as the Peacher transatlantic jet, but it would have them back in the UK in eight hours. The engines began whining and the world outside the windows moved. Handing him a portable player and headphones, Matt told him to amuse himself. Andy would be staying on for a few days more, and Terry could not return without him, especially as he himself had put Peacher Security on high alert. Matt had meetings in London he could not miss. ‘So what are we going to do with you Justy, after your adventure in Wonderland?’ ‘It was fun, wasn’t it, Matt?’ ‘London may seem boring now.’ ‘Nah. ‘Sides, Nathan’s in London. I need him so bad.’ Matt smiled at him. ‘You’re so cute when you say things like that, Justy. It’s just like me and Andy. Have you two boys any plans for the future?’ ‘Apart from screwing each other on every possible occasion? Well, yeah. I really do like working for Andersons, even without Nathan. We wuz talkin’ about when Nate finishes his course, that we would go down to his uncle’s in the country and run his garden centre. I think thass what we’ll aim for. His parents doan’ like it, but iss what we want, livin’ in a rural cottage like, me wiv me hay fever, and Nate wiv his potted plants and greenhouse. It’ll be luverly.’ Justin twinkled at Matt, who could not but laugh.
  11. Mike Arram

    Chapter 35

    LOL. Don’t think Terre Nouvelle had dogs, more’s the pity. But I know what you mean.
  12. Mike Arram

    Chapter 4

    Yes it has, on AD and CRV. This is a somewhat revised version
  13. In the morning, Justin found breakfast on the stern promenade. The choice of dishes offered was too much for a guy who only wanted a bowl of Cheerios. It took him a while to find something that looked like them amongst the gleaming steel and silver heaters, masses of platters and myriads of jugs laid out on the white-draped tables. In the end a smiling steward gave him a hand. He decided a cup of coffee would help get his day going, especially if he shovelled in the sugar for an extra buzz. Two of the Yale boys appeared and sat across from him. He was friendly toward them but answered their enquiries noncommittally, being far more interested in the twinkling blue sea, where early-morning jet skiers and paragliders were already out. The waves had got a little stronger overnight, with white foam appearing at the foot of the low cliffs he could see up the coast from Basseterre. There was also a slight motion in the deck under him. When the Yale boys announced they were going scuba diving with Tim and Peter on Black Coral Reef, they neglected to ask him if he would be joining them. In the circumstances, he was not bothered by the omission. Justin had to decide how to spend his own day. Loafing round the small city seemed like a plan if he could find who to ask to get him on shore. He knocked on Andy and Matt’s cabin door. ‘You asking for permission?’ Andy attempted with little success to hide his amusement. ‘Nah … well, whatever.’ ‘That’s a first, Justy. Use your cabin phone to ring the bridge. They’ll sort a boat for you. Oh, and tell them when and where you want to be picked up too, or it’s a big fuss signalling from the harbour master’s office. You’ve got a watch, haven’t you? Money? No? Matt, give him some dollars. Oh … and don’t spend it all on cigarettes, though they are a lot cheaper here.’ When Justin reached the gangway, the yacht's tender was waiting for him with a crew of respectful but smiling Filipinos. He sat at the back and clutched his favourite straw hat as they shot away towards the harbour. The big catamaran ferry from Nevis was arriving just then, and as they swept past its towering metal walls, he looked up and waved to the grinning faces peering down. After dropping him off on the quay, the tender roared off on its return trip to the yacht, lying white, sleek and handsome beyond the bay. He made his way into the city through an impressive arched building. Staring at the crowds of tourists and locals, he decided that, apart from the sun and the deep blue sky, there was something strangely resonant of his native London in the racial mix. The low houses and bars had verandas, and he eventually took a seat outside a relaxed-looking drinking hole, where he ordered a coke from a smiling waiter. He watched people go by, suddenly aware that he had no idea what he wanted to do or where he might go. His preferred style in life had always been just to turn up anywhere and let things happen. Then he noticed a guy at the next table – about Matt’s age, British, with a cheerful face – staring at him. The guy caught his eye. ‘You from North London, mate? I twigged the accent.’ ‘Yeah,’ Justin confirmed. ‘You too?’ ‘Southgate. I like the hat.’ ‘Iss been a hit on the boat.’ ‘Oh. You’re on a liner? Didn’t know the QM2 was at Port Zante this week.’ ‘Nah … it’s that boat out there … the white one.’ ‘Wow! Isn’t that the Peacher yacht that anchored last week? Are you a Peacher kid? Thought they were all Yanks.’ ‘Well, no … iss a long story.’ ‘Do you know Andy Peacher and Matt White?’ ‘You gay then?’ ‘What, me? Nah. But you read about them in the celebrity rags.’ Justin’s natural evasiveness, cultivated in many police interview rooms, kicked in. ‘You here on holiday, mate?’ ‘Yeah, but with a bit of business too. I’m a photographer part time. I sell a few of me pics. Here … this is some of me work.’ From a backpack under the table he pulled a portfolio containing a number of pretty impressive scenic shots, as well as some beach-model photos, male and female. ‘Neat,’ Justin complimented him. ‘If you doan’ mind, I could take one or two of you. You got a spare half hour? No charge … but no fee either.’ ‘What would you use ’em for?’ ‘I sell ’em on to catalogues and brochures for wallpaper shots. Pretty people with camera faces ain’t as common as you might think. Not every looker takes a good picture, but there’s something about you, kid. You might well do.’ ‘I keeps me clothes on though.’ ‘Sure … I’m not that sort of photographer.’ ‘Also, you gotta send me copies.’ ‘Done.’ They exchanged names. His was Declan, he said, Irish on his mother’s side. He talked a lot on the road to the beach. Eventually he pushed a bit. ‘You din’t say why you were on the Peacher yacht.’ ‘Din’t I? Me mum’s the younger kids’ nanny, so I got taken along for the ride. Neat innit? Freeloadin’ in the Caribbean while me mates are swimming in Camden Lock to keep cool.’ Declan laughed. ‘So do you get to see any of the first-class passengers?’ ‘Only from a distance, like. I stays down in the crew cabins, but we got access to the pool and gym sometimes, when the ship’s empty of guests, and they let me come ashore too when I wants.’ Justin’s criminal mind had been ticking over, but now it went into gear. He suspected this guy. He added slowly, ‘Mind you, that Andy Peacher’s an arrogant little bastard.’ ‘Oh … why do you say that?’ ‘Ee found me at the pool side at a permitted time. Said he din’t like it, no matter the hour. Then he had me told off by the first officer and confined below decks. When me mum complained that I din’t do anyfing wrong, he was real rude to her and said that kids’ nannies were two a penny. She’s thinkin’ of telling them where to shove the job. The crew reckon he’s a total shit. Poncing round like a little queen and touchin’ up the younger hands. There’s one of ’em goin’ after ’is dad for sexual harrassment.’ ‘An’ he’s not interested in a nice-looking kid like you?’ ‘Doan’ know about that … ’ee had a hardon when ’ee saw me in me cossie. An ’ee got pissed off wiv me at the pool when I wouldn’t go wiv ’im to ’is cabin.’ ‘Christ, what a predator. You can’t be of legal age yet.’ ‘Nah … not quite fifteen, though I’m big for me age like.’ Declan, intrigued, in the meantime had found the wharf he wanted to use, and very professionally choreographed Justin in some poses on the old timbers down by the water. Whatever else he might have been, he was a genuine photographer. Telling Justin to lose the hat and deck shoes and open his shirt, he took more pictures with a beach background of a pensive boy gazing moodily out to sea. ‘Have a look, kid.’ Justin stared at the digital images. They were good, really good, catching a delicate charm about his face and figure that he’d never dreamed he possessed. ‘Look, let me do some face shots, with and without the hat. You’re better than a lot of boy models who get paid for this, in my opinion: natural poise, pretty smile and wide grin. Really nice. You done your hair up stylish too.’ ‘Whatchu gonna do wiv ‘em?’ ‘I might show them round and see if an agency would be interested in you. I receive a commission if they are. You can’t lose by it. Juss give me a forwarding address for the prints and any follow-up.’ Justin gave his mother’s address in Holloway. He was still working out whether this guy was all he seemed, when Declan said the words that confirmed Justin’s suspicions. ‘You can’t stand them Peachers, can you?’ ‘Nah …’ Justin replied fluently, ‘… hate ’em. They humiliate me mum on a daily basis.’ ‘Then maybe you can pay ’em back. I do a bit of work for the papers, not just picture stuff, but I feed ’em information. Here’s me card wiv me mobile number on. If you get wind of where they’re goin’ and stuff, and when, and if there’s anything juicy about trouble on the boat, lemme know straight away. If you can slip me names about the boy Andy Peacher harrassed, giss a ring.’ ‘Yeah, but wass innit for me, Dec?’ Declan brought a wad out of his back pocket. ‘Here’s three hundred dollars, mate. There’s more where that came from. Just ring, okay?’ ‘Cool!’ Justin enthused. ‘I’ll be here tomorrow. Maybe I’ll see ya?’ ‘I’m always round the quay.’ Justin walked away feeling very pleased with himself, though still full of questions. He was an accomplished and convincing liar, as his teachers, the Metropolitan Police and his mother could all attest. The deception he was engaged in now was not just troublemaking, it was fun too. He imagined it was something Terry O’Brien would approve of, and he’d even made three hundred dollars doing it. He strolled the streets and looked in the many craft shops for something to give Nathan. Finally he found a brilliant necklace in a surf shop. He spent most of his day’s earnings on it, which seemed like a good use to make of the money. It was also the first time he could recall buying a gift for anyone other than his mother. It was his conscience which was accusing him of doing it out of guilt over Tim’s blowjob the night before. *** The tender was waiting for Justin on time, bobbing easily up and down on the oily swell from the sea. He hopped in, to be grabbed and steadied as he staggered on the boat’s rise. The crew cast off and they skipped out over the water, kicking up spray. He sat back, enjoying the ride, and as he ran up the companionway to the yacht, he felt he was returning to somewhere he belonged. No one was around. The Yalies were all out on the dive boat, so he retreated to his cabin for a wank and a snooze. It was six when he woke up. He showered and changed to swimming trunks, putting cargo trousers over them and slipping on a pair of flip-flops. He left his hat on the table. The twins were on the pool deck, splashing around. ‘Hey!’ they called. ‘Hey back,’ Justin replied, sitting and dangling his feet in the water. ‘You coming in?’ they asked. ‘Okay.’ He dropped his trousers and cannonballed into the water on top of them. ‘That’s really juvenile,’ sniffed Harriet. ‘You’re Justin. Momma Sylvia said you’re related to us, but you’re not called Justin Peacher.’ ‘No, Harry,’ Ed corrected her, ‘Sylvia said that Andy’s fostering Justin, so he’s sort of our foster nephew. That right?’ Justin grinned as he bobbed in the water. ‘Yeah. Thass it! Uncle Ed and Auntie Harry.’ They laughed. ‘Weird. Your mom and dad dead then? You an orphan?’ asked Harriet. ‘No. Me mum’s fine when last I heard. She’s just not able to take care of me.’ The twins shrugged off the problem. ‘Can we call you Justy, like Andy does?’ ‘That’ll be cool.’ They talked about starting high school in August, visiting their ‘real mom’ in Washington soon for a week, and life in the Peacher compound in Santa Barbara. Ed saved him from drowning when Justin ventured too far into the deep end and lost his nerve. But he redeemed himself by playing all sorts of games. As they were splashing about, the dive boat returned and the rest of the passengers drifted past. ‘Gotta go, kids. But I’ll see ya later.’ He put on a robe over his dripping swimsuit, and went to find the person he thought could advise him best. ‘Pete!’ he called. ‘Hey, Justy.’ ‘You gotta mo? Iss important.’ ‘Sure. Come into the aft lounge.’ Peter was in just singlet and shorts, looking remarkably cool and hunky, his bleached and tangled hair making him seem like a gay fantasy of a surfer. Justin wondered how Tim could be eager for sex with anyone else when he had a lover like that. They sat on a bench next to an open picture window, through which a cool breeze was blowing. Justin quickly recounted his adventure in Basseterre. Peter listened quietly, raising his eyebrows occasionally. When Justin finished, Pete reached over and ruffled his hair. ‘Terry would be proud of you, Justy.’ Justin grinned from ear to ear with the praise. ‘You get these guys hanging around all the elite resorts. At first hearing it sounds as if this one’s a freelance looking for dirt. Poor bastard must have thought he’d hit a stream of pure sewage with you, buster. Still, there is one odd thing.’ ‘Whassat?’ ‘He wanted to know about our movements. They’re usually only interested in rumours and pictures … preferably scandalous ones: nude sunbathing, kissing the wrong girl or boy, that sorta thing.’ ‘So?’ ‘So, maybe this is Anson at work, looking to put moles under the Peacher lawn. You might have been quite a gift for him if you had been what you were pretending to be. Makes me wonder if Terry is really Anson’s target after all.’ ‘Should we contact Terry?’ ‘Yeppers, I think we should. Leave it to me, Justy. By the way, have you ever gone diving?’ ‘Wha … me? Nah. I can barely swim.’ ‘That’s no problem. Tell you what. Meet me at the pool after and I’ll fit you up with the gear and teach you some basic drill. Then you can come with me and Tim out to the coral reefs tomorrow and we’ll give you some more instruction.’ ‘Jeez. That’d be the best, thanks bro!’ * * * The next day found Justin in flippers and wetsuit jacket, fifteen feet below the surface of the Caribbean, amusing a lot of passing fish by blowing streams of bubbles from his mask. The sand below him was white and the rocks and anemones a kaleidoscope of colour. He swam easily and confidently now, Tim and Peter watching him carefully, lazing along just above him. This was indeed the best. His one lingering fear was of the sharks the films he had watched told him must be lurking there somewhere. For luck, he patted the knife strapped to his bare thigh. He was still bubbling, although in quite a different way, when he got back to the Speculator. The Yale boys, who had been dumped on shore that morning and looked a little the worse for wear following their afternoon in the bars, were leaving the next day, so that night a barbecue in their honour was being held in the Peacher house on shore. ‘You’ll take the chopper in with me, Justy,’ said Andy, to whom the whole tale of Declan the Dirt-digger had been told. ‘We don’t want you being observed in our social circle coming off the boat. We may have to make use of you again in your alternative persona.’ Before the party started, Justin rang Nathan. ‘Evening babe … it has to be before midnight where you are.’ ‘It’s eleven. The boy can learn. I’ve been waiting up for the call. What did you do today?’ Justin told him. ‘Oh Justy, that’s so brilliant. I love scuba diving. Maybe one day we can do it together, you and I …’ ‘… and the sharks.’ ‘There weren’t sharks! You’re making it up.’ ‘Not in the sea, maybe, but I met one on land, a real basking shark looking for blood in the water.’ ‘Go on.’ Justin filled him in. ‘So you think this is all tied up with what you saw and heard in Highgate that night?’ ‘Pete does – you’ll love Pete, he’s a lot like you, Nate. We may be seein’ Terry soon.’ They kicked the idea around for a while, until eventually Nathan signed off with a kiss down the phone line. ‘Take care of yourself, my mad little Justy babe.’ The barbecue was not like anything Justin had experienced in a North London back garden. It had waiters, chefs and Caribbean musicians. Justin and the twins climbed a tree, where they sat in the branches with plates of food, swinging their bare legs and chattering. Ed and Harriet brought to the surface the long-suppressed little boy in him and gave it an outing. After having missed out on most of his childhood, he had finally found a place and company where he could briefly reclaim it. The fireworks display took him by total surprise. It was stunning, like the big public ones he sometimes watched at a distance over Central London. Here, however, it thundered and exploded right overhead, detonation after detonation, colours blooming on top of more colours, banishing the tropical darkness and silencing the cicadas. Exhausted after what had perhaps been the most wonderful day of his life, Justin slept that night in the Peacher mansion, an impressive eighteenth-century plantation house on a hill above the inland jungle of the island. He woke late to tropical bird calls and the flutter of curtains in the morning breeze from the sea. He went in search of breakfast in shorts and tee-shirt. ‘Morning, criminal babe,’ said Terry, looking up from his paper in the dining room. Justin whooped and launched himself on his favourite security agent to give him a tight hug. ‘Christ Terry, when did you get in?’ ‘Early this morning. Iss all your fault, so it better be good. Have some breakfast first. Why not try the cantaloupe or the grapefruit?’ ‘Yuk. There’d better be Cheerios.’ They grinned at each other. Justin suddenly felt his day had been made. As he munched down his bowl of cereal, he responded as best he could to Terry’s very thorough interrogation. When it finished, he asked, ‘So tell me, Terry, who is this Declan bloke?’ ‘No idea. I got lots of sources in the tabloid world – I need to, as the scandal sheets give us plenty of grief – but they don’t know any photographer called Declan anything. So I got a couple of me people down in Basseterre looking for him this fine morning. When we get a picture and some information as to where he’s staying, we may learn more. You did good, Justy. I couldna done better meself. Thass twice now you’ve been a diamond. I won’t forget it, sweet babe.’ Justin smiled into his breakfast. This was the sort of approval he wanted to hear. It gave him a glimpse of something important he might accomplish with his life. When Terry ran out of questions, he sat back and tapped his teeth reflectively. Then he gave Justin a big grin. ‘Now, my little delinquent babe, I ’spect you wanna be naughty again. I think a brisk walk down into town would be a good idea later. See if you can meet up wiv Declan Whoever and draw him out. We need more information before I can assess whether he represents a threat greater than the usual. You up for it?’ ‘You need to ask?’ ‘You’re an imp, Justy! No I don’t. I know you’re eating this up. Just don’t forget that you could be hurt.’ At eleven Terry drove to the outskirts of Basseterre in a jeep and dropped Justin at the top of a street leading down to the harbour. He radioed for a boat to pick the boy up at one in the afternoon; gave him a serious look and told him to take care. Justin strolled down the street. He was the perfect image of an ingenuous young tourist, backpack over his shoulder, beanie hat shading his face, his eyes flickering everywhere on the pretext of taking in the sights. He found the bar where he had met Declan, but the man was nowhere around. He took a seat nonetheless, got a chilled coke and watched the world go by. He could see the yacht, white and impressive beyond the bay. In the end he gave up and moved on to do touristy things. As he was mooching around one of the many gift shops near the central post office, he caught sight of the back of a familiar head. ‘Hey … hey, Tim!’ he shouted. Tim looked back surprised. ‘Hello, Justy. What’re you doing here?’ ‘Hanging … thass all. What about you?’ Tim looked momentarily disconcerted. ‘Oh, you know.’ ‘No,’ Justin responded, and then remembered the smell that hung round the local cafés. ‘Oh, hang on, maybe I do know. You been buying … stuff?’ ‘Maybe,’ Tim replied evasively. ‘Er, gotta go, Justy. I’m picking up a boat out to the yacht in fifteen minutes. See ya later, okay? Unless you want a lift?’ ‘Nah … mine’s coming in at one. See ya.’ Justin smirked. It appeared he wasn’t the only bad boy on board the Speculator. Oddly, it hadn’t occurred to him to buy marijuana. It was difficult enough getting tobacco on board. As he was standing thinking about the chances, a familiar voice hailed him in the accents of North London. ‘Hey … Justin.’ ‘Hi, Declan. Didn’t think I’d see ya again.’ ‘Fancy a drink?’ ‘Sure.’ Justin was led into the dark interior of a serious bar. There was a scent to the air that caused Justin’s nose to tingle. ‘Can you get pot ’ere?’ ‘You use that shit?’ ‘Aw yeah. Come on. At my age and a Londoner? Whatchu think?’ Declan laughed. ‘Any news for me?’ he asked abruptly. ‘Depends what you mean. The crewman bein’ harrassed by that little blond arsehole was fired yesterday and flown back to Manila wiv a payoff.’ ‘Pity.’ ‘Yeah. But Andy came on to me again. He wants to screw me little butt so bad. He’s disgusting. ’Ee had his sweaty hands all over me, tried to fiddle wiv me dick an all through me shorts. I ran for it in the end when his boyfriend turned up. They’re an odd pair. I think they both wanna do me at the same time. Iss a bit scary. I told me mum I wanna go home. I doan’ fancy this. I doan’ like poofs, and this makes me sick.’ ‘Jeez. Sounds like they wanna use you like some sex toy. Did he offer you money?’ ‘Nah. But he more or less said that if I din’t lay it out he’d get me mum fired.’ ‘Shit … he wants to do this on the boat with all the rest of the people there? ‘He said he knew somewhere nice and quiet on the island where we wouldn’ be bovvered, where ’ee ’ad some … whadee call it? Equipment, ’ee said.’ ‘Fuckin’ ’ell! Like the bloody Marquis de Sade.’ ‘Oo?’ ‘Never mind. Look, Justin, I can help. I got friends who can make the little pervert pay for what ’ee’s trying to do to you. Whatchu got to do is this. Go along wiv him. Try to get him to tell you where his little love nest is. Lemme know, and when he takes you there, we’ll be waiting.’ ‘You woan’ let him do things to me, willya? Iss horrible wha’ he says he’d like to do to me. Urghh. Makes me shiver.’ ‘No, no, Justin. I mean, you’ll have to be in the same room as him, and maybe let him start. But then we can move and sort him out, the perv. You okay wiv that?’ ‘Yeah … but can I trust ya?’ ‘Course. And there’ll be money for you too, lots of it. How about five thousand dollars, how does that sound? Worth a grope or two?’ ‘Now you’re talkin’! Okay, you’re on. But you promise you woan’ let him … do stuff to me?’ ‘Course.’ ‘Okay … I’m trustin’ you now.’ ‘Giss a ring this afternoon.’ *** Justin made his way down to the quay and waited for the tender, which came skipping across the waves, the crew waving as they saw him. As soon as he was aboard the yacht, he went looking for Andy to fill him in on the latest development. ‘This is new,’ Andy said. ‘I mean, I’ve had the press go after me, even making things up, but this is a step beyond. It’s entrapment, and it’s going a lot further than even a tabloid hack would.’ ‘Where’s Terry?’ ‘He’ll be along when he’s talked to his people in Basseterre. Meanwhile, let’s go and tell Matt and Pete.’ Terry arrived late in the afternoon and joined them in the lounge. Justin told his story again, with many interruptions from Andy, who was deeply amused by his foster-son’s depiction of him as a half-crazed paedophile. ‘Justy, you’re a real artist,’ Terry complimented him. ‘Also, you’ve read too much internet porn for a kid. But there’s no doubt Declan the Dirt-digger swallowed it all – hook, line and sinker. Andy’s right too. This is no ordinary press harassment.’ He gave a picture to Justin. ‘Is this Declan?’ ‘Yup. Thass the guy. You found him?’ ‘I didn’t, but two of my guys from Santa Barbara located him from your description and tailed him. He’s in the Coconut Tree Hotel. Nice. Three stars. He’s registered as Barry McGuire. My people are running a check on that name, but it might just be another false identity, I’d guess. He’s been hanging with these other two guys. Any recognition?’ They all shook their heads. ‘So there’s a team at work here. Obviously a deal of money behind them, too. Iss looking more and more like Anson’s at it once again. I’m gonna have to hand him another upset, poor guy, cos we’ll have to take out this team too. They’re too persistent and too dangerous.’ ‘Wha …? You gonna shoot ’em? Cool!’ ‘No, Justy, you know very well I’m gonna do nothing’ of the sort. We aren’t the police or the CIA. We gotta be a bit more subtle than that. We’ll just entrap the entrappers. I’ve devised a scheme which amazes even me by its very subtlety.’
  14. A fortnight went by. The boys worked together daily, and Justin even went into Hornsey College with Nathan on his day releases. Hanging round the college coffee bar, he ran into one or two of his more clued-in former street mates, who barely recognised the new Justin but definitely approved. ‘Fuck me, Animal, you look like a million quid.’ ‘Yeah, I gone on the game. I’m a high-class rent boy now. I can recommend it. Wanna intro to me pimp?’ On weekends they swopped between houses, although of the two, it was Matt’s that was now the happier. Justin had achieved a first in his life and become popular with a houseful of adults. They joked with him, and were happy to chat. As he opened up further, a deep inner stream of fun began to emerge in his character. Popularity had become real affection by the end of a fortnight. Happiness was infectious, and its effect on Matt and Andy was noticeable. They took pride in Justin, and tried to get him and Nathan to come out on their social duties where they could. The climax of the fortnight was a black-tie premier in Leicester Square, where they followed Matt and Andy up the red carpet, though they didn’t quite have the nerve to walk hand-in-hand as the older couple did. They did publicly neck in the reception that followed, however, and got a mixture of strange and approving looks. At three in the morning, as the limo was taking them back to Highgate, Justin was fast asleep. Matt looked lazily – and a little blearily – at Nathan. ‘You know we fly out on Sunday, don’t you? Are you going to be okay without your boyfriend for a few weeks?’ ‘Course. Justy’s never been abroad. It’d be selfish of me to resent his chance to travel for once. Where’re you taking him?’ ‘To Andy’s place in Annandale to begin with, then – I dunno – probably down to St Kitts to meet Peter, Andy’s brother, and his lover Tim. This is vacation time in the USA and the boys are soaking up the sun. The new Peacher yacht will be anchored off Basseterre by now.’ ‘Poor Justy. What a life of wealth to have to get used to!’ Smiling indulgently at his sleeping boyfriend, Nathan gently lifted his hand and kissed it. He woke him as the car pulled up at Matt’s house. ‘We’re back, lover.’ ‘Wha …?’ ‘Highgate, and it’s bedtime.’ ‘Oh, right.’ They made their way to Justin’s bedroom, which was filling up with more of Nathan’s plants. Nathan began undressing. ‘It’s our last night together, Justy. And the results of the tests on both of us said we’ve been good boys.’ ‘You first then, Nate. I want you in me bareback … oh, I’m so gonna love this!’ They sighed and groaned out their love for each other till the sun came up, then slept in each other’s arms till midday that Saturday. Their parting was difficult for Justin, who’d had too little real happiness in his life to want to give any up. He wished he could cry, especially when he saw tears in Nathan’s eyes. He touched them with respectful awe, realising they were a lover’s tears shed for him. He kissed them away. A short while later Nathan’s father arrived to chauffeur his son home. Justin did not resent Matt’s holding him by the shoulder while he watched longingly through the window as Nathan disappeared. Indeed, in his unhappiness he cuddled into his foster father on the sofa and let him stroke his hair. He kissed Matt and Andy on the cheek before he went to bed, and was kissed gently back. ‘We love you too, y’know,’ they said. He nodded, and as he did so, he looked at them and gave a woeful smile. He found he needed something new for him: reassurance and comfort. Once you get used to being together with another human being, to giving and receiving back affection, its absence does strange things to you. In Justin’s case, it made him vulnerable and needy in ways he had not known before. Matt and Andy understood that, and he knew they did. As he went upstairs he found the tracks of tears running down his own cheeks for the very first time he could remember in his life. * * * The bags were already in the hall when he woke. Terry and Jenna were travelling too, and the limousine was purring outside. A minivan driven by Dave Evans, the PA, waited behind to carry the luggage. Justin dressed casually for the flight, getting more and more excited. The doors closed and the convoy pulled away. Sitting in the back seat between Matt and Andy, he asked, ‘Where we flyin’ from?’ Andy said, ‘An airfield in Northolt.’ ‘What, not Heathrow or Gatwick? I thought thass where all the transatlantic flights lifted off from.’ ‘Not this one. And it’s less of a problem getting to it, as it’s just off the North Circular. We’ll be there in half an hour, and in the air in forty-five minutes.’ Justin was disappointed. He had so wanted to see a huge international airport. The disappointment evaporated, however, as the car turned into an airfield and he saw the large, sleek private aircraft on the tarmac. ‘Jeez! It’s your own jet! You got your own jet! So cool!’ ‘Actually it’s my dad’s, but yeah, it’s ours for today at least.’ Immigration officials were on hand to give their documents a cursory check before sending them on their way within ten minutes of arriving. Justin’s eyes widened when the long-distance plane lifted into the air, kicking him in the back with the power of its ascent. As it rose high over North London, he was glued to the window. All his young life had been played out on the small patch of ground disappearing below him. ‘Okay, criminal babe,’ suggested a grinning Terry, ‘how ‘bout cards? You play blackjack?’ Terry’s grin did not last. ‘You’re cheating, yer little sod!’ ‘Bad loser,’ was the only reply from an intent and intense Justin. * * * The luxury of the flight was matched only by the subdued fun in the cabin. The food and drink were plentiful, served by a team of stewards on hand to cater to their every need. Justin was even allowed a beer. Everybody seemed to be in a good mood. Terry was returning to his boyfriend and Jenna to her husband, so they were full of good humour. Matt and Andy, bubbling, simply enjoyed travelling. Even though the world was taking Justin further and further from his lover as it turned, still he was conscious that Nathan would be thinking of him day and night. His mobile was topped up and ready for long conversations. Flying in across Chesapeake Bay and up the Potomac, the jet curved gracefully in to a landing at Dulles. Although Justin again was glued to the window, his view was blocked by low clouds, which also made for an alarmingly bumpy descent. He found cold sweat on his forehead when they finally came to a halt. A minibus conveyed them all to Immigration, where Matt took Justin’s passport and walked him through the gates of the hall. They all met up again outside the terminal concourse at the convoy of black cars with Peacher drivers, which whisked them away to the big house in Annandale. Justin watched as America flowed past him: strange road signs, wooden houses, and yellow school buses driving on the wrong side of the road. It was just like the films, but unlike. Andy’s house was really big, with a huge pool out back. Justin was introduced to Mrs Fuentes, the housekeeper, who assigned him a much larger room than the one he had in Matt’s place. It came with a widescreen TV, antique lamps and flower arrangements. A maid unpacked his case, folded the clothes and hung them in the closet. Not wanting to wait around while she did it, he decided to explore the house and grounds. Terry and Jenna had disappeared into their own worlds, and he soon missed Terry a lot. Dinnertime found him a little dozy but still up to sparring with Matt and Andy, who began filling him in about the Peacher family, its personalities and its history. It was fascinating stuff, especially the figure of Peter Peacher, Andy’s younger brother. ‘You think you’re a problem, Justy?’ exclaimed Matt. ‘He put the family in an uproar for years. You may have terrorised Upper Holloway, but he caused the California National Guard to be called out four years ago, when he staged his own kidnapping. There were road blocks all along the Pacific Coast Highway.’ ‘God, don’t remind me of it,’ groaned Andy. ‘Funny thing is, he had it in for me too,’ Matt mused. ‘I wonder what it is about me that brings out the worst in adolescents?’ ‘Yer lack of spots, Matt.’ ‘I wish that were it. I never got on with my brother Carl at that age either. It must be me, I suppose. But eventually Pete got his act together and in his junior year found his Tim, a lovely lad who’s civilised him amazingly, just the way Nathan did for you. He’s quite a star now. You’ll likely be seeing him in a few days on St Kitts.’ ‘Does he know about me?’ Andy smiled. ‘Oh yes. I e-mail him regularly about my new delinquent. He’s looking forward to meeting you. ‘Oh sod! We’ve not done anything yet about beach gear for you. I’ve got to get on to campus tomorrow. Matt, can you sort it?’ ‘Sure, not a problem. My last makeover of Justin was generally admired. A few pairs of shorts and flip-flops won’t be a challenge.’ In fact, the shopping took most of the day. The two of them drove from mall to mall and, much to his own surprise, Justin enjoyed himself. ‘Thing is, Matt, iss a good way to see the Americans in their natural environment.’ They were sitting in the food court of a giant mall on the outskirts of Washington. Justin had bought piles of cotton trousers, board shorts, sandals, flip-flops, loose shirts and tee-shirts of all sorts – even one or two hats that caught his fancy. ‘You’ve got a few classy pairs of swimming gear, baggy and otherwise. Do you swim, Justy?’ ‘Nah … never got round to it at home. I wuz always absent from school when they did swimmin’ lessons.’ ‘We’ll see if Andy’ll help you in the pool this evening. He’s an excellent swimmer.’ Andy tried to teach Justin to float, with no great success. In the end he said they’d just have to keep working on it. The next day Matt had a try, with better results. ‘Fact is, I found swimming difficult when I first tried. It took me a long while to gain confidence. I think I’ve got a better idea of the problems than Andy, who’s part dolphin.’ By the end of the sunny Virginia afternoon, Justin was floating and splashing happily just out of his depth. ‘Of course it would help if you could stop having erections when I touch you,’ Matt complained. ‘They’re overbalancing you.’ ‘Hang on, I’ll go jerk off behind that bush.’ ‘Wait. Christ, put your shorts back on! You’re a bad lad!’ ‘Thought for a moment I was goin’ to do it, didnya? Nice dick though, innit?’ Matt, ignoring the prick teasing, hauled out of the pool and ordered drinks, admiring the boy while he carried on splashing around. Justin was irresistible when he was having fun, for under the tarnish of the abused delinquent there was still the cheerful little boy he had never been allowed to be, bubbling to get out and play. * * * The dark green mountains of St Kitts swung below them as the helicopter turned to approach its landing on the deck of the yacht MV Speculator, Richard Peacher’s new toy, moored well off Basseterre harbour. It was more of a small liner than a yacht, with a helipad and resident copter behind the tall black funnel. The crew was unloading even before the rotors stopped turning. Cool as only a slim, attractive boy can be, Justin got out, shades in place, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, baggy shorts and flip-flops. He had topped the lot with a round, broad-brimmed straw hat set back on his head. Matt had done his hair for him and, unable to stop himself, had pecked him on the lips when he finished. Justin scoffed, ‘Can I seduce you, Matt?’ ‘Be good, you randy imp! Go and seduce the boys on St Kitts. You won’t find it too hard, looking the way you do. You’re just too cute in that hat.’ A handsome woman in her mid-thirties, carrying a small toddler, was waiting for them. Matt and Andy went over to hug her and kiss the child. ‘Sylvia,’ said Andy, ‘this is Justin, whom we’ve fostered. Justin, this is Mrs Sylvia Peacher, my stepmother, and my baby sister Elaine.’ Justin gave his cheeky street grin, always guaranteed to charm older women, and said, ‘Pleased to meetcha.’ Sylvia smiled back. ‘Welcome aboard the good ship Speculator, Justin. What a name to give it.’ Andy chuckled. ‘I didn’t think dad had a sense of humour.’ ‘It was Peter, naturally. Your father guffawed for ten minutes once he got it.’ ‘Where is Pete?’ ‘On the island with Tim and a crowd of fraternity brothers he brought along with him for the week. They’ve gone to look at the fort. Dinner will be at seven, white jacket and black tie.’ ‘Great,’ enthused Andy, then caught the alarmed look on Justin’s face. ‘It’s okay, Justy, you’re sorted. Matt had a suit tailored for you just before we left. It was to be a surprise.’ ‘Justin, you’re in the cabin next to Matt and Andy’s. They know where to go, so follow them. Your bags should be there already. It’s drinks on the stern promenade in twenty minutes. Bye, guys.’ White-jacketed stewards circulated with silver trays under the awning that protected the deck. The sun sparkled on the clear, blue waters while gulls screamed overhead. The low houses of Basseterre with their coloured, corrugated roofs climbed up the hill opposite. Justin watched as a ferry slipped its moorings at the long quay to move out past the yacht, saluting it with three tremendous blasts on its horn. The yacht’s reply was even more impressive. Justin smiled and waved at the laughing people lining the ferry deck, who waved back. He sipped on something called ginger ale that tasted like nothing he’d ever tried before, served in a glass crammed with vegetation and clinking with ice. A speedboat approached the yacht from the harbour, bouncing across the waves. Its pilot brought it elegantly alongside the companionway so a group of five or six young men could clatter up and dash towards the stern. Peter Peacher was easy to identify. He was blond and naturally pale like his elder brother, but far better built and decidedly handsome. He swept the crowd, saw Justin, and plunged towards him, only to stop abruptly in front of him, put his hands on his hips, and comically size him up. ‘So, hi there, foster-bro!’ ‘Uh … hi,’ responded Justin, a bit taken aback. ‘You gave Matt a hard time, didn’t you?’ ‘Er … yeah, I did.’ ‘Me too. He brings out the worst in good-looking boys. It’s his perfection. It gets up your nose. You are nice looking, too … a lot like my Timmy. So is it true you’re a criminal?’ Justin smirked. ‘Only a petty one.’ Peter laughed and put an arm round his shoulder. ‘Come and meet my Timmy babe. Nice to have another gay kid on board … top or bottom?’ ‘Bottom mostly. Is this the sort of things gays ask each other?’ ‘Nah, I’m just salaciously curious. You don’t look like the guy who goes under. You seem too aggressive for that.’ ‘Iss overcompensation.’ ‘What did you think of Terry O’Brien?’ Justin got enthusiastic. ‘He’s me hero. Awesome bloke!’ Peter smiled. ‘Mine too. That guy changed my life. I date everything that’s gone right for me from the day I met him.’ When Peter laughed happily at the memory, it was instant affection as far as Justin was concerned. He liked this man. Tim, on the other hand, rocked him when they were introduced. More pretty of face than classically handsome, Tim was darkly tanned and of a height with Justin. His smile was a little secretive, as if they were already sharing a private joke. The sudden sexual fixation Justin felt was something new to him. Even Nathan had taken a while to arouse him. Tim’s slim and elegant brown legs – with very little hair on them, Justin noticed – below his cargo shorts and above his sockless trainers turned Justin right on, making him ache to see the rest of that body, very much. Tim was talking with easy confidence to a group of strapping males, rather bigger than either of them, who had to be part of the Yale set. Justin hung round on the fringes of the group for a while, but couldn’t find an entry. Bored, he wandered off back to the rail, feeling suddenly out of it. Matt and Andy were nowhere to be seen. Sylvia was chattering with two younger kids, the twins he’d heard about – what were their names? – Ed and Harriet. He stared down through the sparkling depths of the perfectly transparent water, seeing fish float past in shoals. He wondered whether there were sharks. Someone joined him at the rail. ‘Love the hat!’ It was Tim. Justin smiled a little shyly, a first for him. ‘Hi.’ ‘It’s gorgeous out here, isn’t it?’ ‘Hmm. I never thought I’d ever see it.’ ‘What?’ ‘The sea.’ ‘You mean you’ve never seen the sea before?’ ‘Nah. Only from the jet when we came over. Seen it on the telly, ’course, but that doan’ prepare you for the smells and the sounds. S’fantastic!’ ‘You seem to be handling this all very well, Justin.’ ‘Call me Justy, Tim. Me mates do. Matt and Andy are cool guys, once you get used to ’em. They’ve been really good to me and as long as they’re around I’m okay.’ ‘The Yale crowd were a bit much, though, weren’t they?’ ‘Yeah … well, it can’t be expected to have big rich lads like that interested in talkin’ to me.’ ‘Oh, I dunno.’ Tim’s voice was low and intimate. ‘I think you’re really interesting.’ Now I wonder what that meant? Justin thought. ‘Cheers,’ he said, uncertain if he dared push things on a bit. ‘You’re pretty amazing too, if you don’t mind me saying.’ Tim dropped his eyes and smiled the smile. ‘I don’t mind it at all, especially from you, Justin.’ Justin smiled back. ‘How long you and Pete been an item?’ ‘Since junior year in high school. He kept me from being bullied, then came out in order to defend me. He was so cool about it, and what a god, eh?’ ‘He’s totally fit. It must be amazing havin’ sex with a guy who’s got a bod like that.’ ‘What’s your boyfriend like?’ ‘Not too unlike Pete, though not quite so big or muscular. Nate’s my rock. Anything good in me is built on him.’ Tim looked impressed. ‘I don’t think anyone could put their love better, boy or girl. There’s a lot more to you than rumour lets on, Justin.’ ‘Justy.’ ‘That’s cool. Tell me how you and Nathan met.’ Justin spent the next half hour recounting the story of his arrest, his forced labour at Andersons, and how he found himself in Nathan’s arms. Peter brought them drinks and stayed to pick up the thread of the story. He was particularly interested in the bugging of the house in Highgate. Justin paused. ‘So yer know all about this guy Anson, do you?’ ‘Oh yeah. Did you hear the story of how Terry took him down?’ asked Peter. ‘Nah, just hints like.’ ‘It’s quite sexy. He told us in Santa Barbara when we were ratted and we were …’ Peter looked at Tim. ‘Can I tell him?’ ‘He’s your foster bro. It’s time you decided whether you trust him or not.’ ‘Okay. Justy, this must not go further. Andy, Matt, and my dad and stepmom do not know this, but Tim and I have done group sex with Terry and his boyfriend Ramon, couple of times now.’ ‘Jeez! Have you had Terry’s huge dick up …?’ ‘Oh yeah!’ ‘What? Both of you?’ ‘Absolutely. Although not simultaneously, big though he is.’ ‘Wow! Envy … envy. So, er … you were saying about how he took down Anson?’ They were still talking intently when the chief steward appeared at Mrs Peacher’s shoulder with the announcement that dinner would be served in half an hour. She clapped her hands and told the party it was time to dress. Justin, Tim and Peter headed to their cabins. When Justin got the suit off its hangers, he found it fitted like a glove. He managed everything, even the crimson cummerbund, apart from the tie. He tried to follow the instruction card, and was just panicking when Andy knocked on the door to check on him. ‘Do me tie, Andy, or I’ll be in tears soon.’ Andy obliged and brought him next door into his and Matt’s cabin where there was a big mirror. He covered Justin’s eyes till he had him in position.’ ‘Okay, Justy, let me get your hair right. Now you can look.’ ‘Oh me bleedin’ God!’ Andy and Matt were proudly contemplating a glamorous boy in immaculate tropical evening dress. He almost burst into tears. ‘Not just cute now, Justy,’ Matt told him. ‘You’ve crossed over into downright handsome.’ ‘Thass me, innit?’ ‘It’s you, you heart-breaker. Let me get a picture.’ They walked him to dinner in the ship’s large wardroom, where he was seated between Tim and Pete, opposite the captain. He was intrigued to see at last the great Richard Peacher himself down the table, next to his wife. Now in his early fifties, Peacher was thought by some to be the richest person in the world, although many disputed it. Catching the man’s eye, Justin suddenly felt very small. He chatted to Peter and Tim with growing intimacy, thankful they didn’t push down his throat the fact that they were students. They had the same modesty and lack of self-consequence he found so endearing in his Nathan. They spent their time being funny and outrageous at their end of the table. The captain was guffawing at their humour, while Matt and Andy were deeply grateful to Peter for taking Justin under his wing. Only the Yale boys were uncomfortable. They had clearly hoped to monopolise the billionaire’s son, as well as freeload. Justin also decided – with justifiable smugness – that he looked better in evening dress than any of them. He had no more qualms about sit-down dinners. If Matt hadn’t been all too obviously monitoring his alcohol intake, he would have been perfectly happy. After the dinner, people drifted away into the tropical night, with its stars blazing in the sky above them. The Milky Way was spread across the heavens like a river of pale mist. Justin, who had only ever seen the orange and obscured night sky of a great city, was quite amazed. Tim had come out with him. ‘It’s fantastic, isn’t it, Justy?’ Justin had never been aesthetically moved before in his life, but now he was. His soul was awake and he held his breath as he gazed at the points of light burning like diamonds in the velvet of the firmament. He shivered, not with cold in that tropical night, but with the inhuman beauty of Creation. His hand blindly sought Tim’s, and was gripped. ‘London and Holloway seem to belong to a different universe, all the grey streets, damp and fog. I keep feelin’ I’m gonna wake up soon in me bedroom in me mum’s flat, and it’ll all have been nothing but an incredible dream.’ Tim was very close to him. Taking him round the waist, he whispered, ‘It’s real alright, Justy, as real as you and I, as real as the feelings I think we have for each other.’ Justin realised with amazement that he was being seduced by another boy, one who turned him on rather too much. ‘What about you and Pete?’ ‘Pete knows how horny I am. He shares me with his friends. He was sucking me as Terry took me from behind … my idea of heaven, at least till I saw your pretty face and slim bod.’ He closed and their lips met. Tim’s small pink tongue licked at Justin’s, whose own duelled back without quarter. As the passion of their kiss deepened, Tim’s hand snaked inside Justin’s trousers, scrabbling to grip his all-too-obvious erection. Justin was not fighting the moment, although a part of him was tapping its foot, its arms crossed and frowning, while Nathan and Pete stood behind unhappily. Tim was on his knees now, his lips closed around Justin’s penis, sucking it deeply into his mouth. Justin seized the back of his head and began to thrust back in rhythm. After only a few minutes, Justin came forcefully, and Tim rose to share his ejaculate with him, feeding it back in a renewed liplock. Justin swallowed his own semen and licked into Tim’s mouth. Eventually they separated, Tim replacing Justin’s now flaccid member inside his trousers and zipping him up. Tim patted Justin’s crotch and grinned. ‘Gotta do this again, Justy, oh yeah … and maybe more. Night.’ He left, whistling to himself. Justin had managed to get hold of cigarettes, and lit up one as he looked over the side at the phosphorescent water. Retrieving his mobile he rang Nathan’s number. ‘Justy!’ he heard a sleepy voice say, ‘Oh Justy, thanks for ringing.’ ‘Oops. What time is it where you are?’ ‘Four in the morning.’ ‘Ohmigod! I’m so sorry. I’m crap at maths.’ ‘Doesn’t matter. I’m just so glad to hear you. Wassup?’ ‘Well, Nate,’ he began, ‘you won’t believe this …’ He talked for twenty minutes.
  15. Justin got the next issue of Hello and was disappointed. He finally found the photo in one of the gay magazines that Matt’s agent sent round, a new celeb glossy. There he was with Nathan, grinning, following Matt and Andy out of Poivre Vert. The caption identified them as an unknown gay teen couple and delicately implied that Matt and Andy were sleeping with them. ‘Bastards,’ he snarled, going off the idea of celebrity. Still, they did look hot. He blew the image up on Dave’s colour copier and tacked it to a board a workman had installed, where he’d already mounted lots of pictures of Nathan he’d begged from his lover. Nathan had gone home after Poivre Vert and their last sleepover with the intention of coming out to his parents. He was not surprised to learn that they had already made the correct deduction about Justin. They might not have been happy, but had put no obstacles in the way of further visits. Still, Nathan had been depressed for days after the big conversation, which was very unlike him. For all his brass neck, Justin was reluctant to go out to Harlesden Lodge. Worried that he might be intruding into private grief, he put it off. It had been a week since he had seen his lover, though they talked frequently on the mobile. But today was the day Nathan did Matt’s garden, so they would see each other. Justin had got into a routine of sorts at Matt’s house. It was not a good one. He woke late and showered. He talked to Nathan on his mobile, then played games or listened to music. After the invariable first cigarette in the garden, he might wander into the village. If Terry was around he sought him out to share a smoke and have a long conversation, for Terry was fun and educational to talk to. On a few occasions they went out for a drive. Andy sometimes too chatted, and they began to get easier with each other. Justin recognised that the kindness was genuine and appreciated it. Matt was a different case entirely. If he was not at his offices in Camden, he just ignored Justin or snapped at him about leaving the place a mess. There was a problem there, and Justin came to realise that he wasn’t the one responsible. Still, if he was kicked, he kicked back harder, and Matt often came out of their skirmishes bruised and fuming. Mr Anderson arrived with Nathan, who mustered a big grin for his boyfriend. Justin had been waiting on the drive for twenty minutes, chain smoking. Anderson looked startled. ‘Justin? Why are you here?’ ‘I live here. I’ve been fostered by Mr Peacher.’ ‘Blimey! That’s a bit of luck for you, son. I’m delighted for you. Really.’ ‘Cheers.’ Justin had put on working gear. Overriding Nathan’s objections to gardening alongside him, he spent the morning cutting grass, trimming and pruning. ‘I really missed this. D’you think Mr Anderson would take me on again? He won’t have to pay me much.’ Nathan smiled. ‘Justy, it’d be an idea if you did get a job. It must be boring to idle round the house all day long.’ ‘Oh … mostly. But the fights with Matt liven things up. He’s a pushover, and I got lots of time on me hands to think up insults.’ ‘It’s his house, Justy, you should back off.’ ‘Nate, I don’t start the rows. Iss not in me nature to walk away from a fight either.’ ‘Animal.’ ‘I’ll bite your dick.’ ‘Later.’ They kissed long and hard. At lunchtime they raced into the house, threw off their boots and galloped up the stairs, almost knocking Andy over. ‘Sorry!’ ‘Scuse me!’ Later, lying naked together with the scent of their semen and mingled sweat heavy in the air while enjoying gentle moments of kissing and stroking, Nathan asked dreamily, ‘So why do you think Matt’s got it in for you so much?’ ‘Jealous of me looks, y’think?’ ‘Must be a reason.’ ‘I dunno. You’re better with this sort of thing. Can he see me as a rival?’ ‘Why?’ wondered Nathan. ‘Well, maybe he thinks I’m coming between him and Andy.’ Nathan stared at him and shook his head. ‘Nah.’ ‘Could it be he fancies me and is high on sexual tension when I’m round him?’ ‘That’s your huge ego talking, Justy.’ ‘Or he just got bumped into the arrangement by Andy and couldn’t say no?’ At last Nathan looked as though he was in agreement. ‘Now you may be on the right track. He’s got a lovely home, a brilliant life and masses of cash. Suddenly his boyfriend drags this gutter kid with huge personal problems …’ ‘… and a perpetual hardon …’ ‘… and a perpetual hardon – along with a gorgeous boyfriend of his own – into it. Stands to reason he’d be a bit pissed at you. So what you going to do about it?’ Justin was astonished. ‘S not my problem!’ Nathan grimaced. ‘Look, Justy. You didn’t create it, but it is your problem. It’s time to start relating with other people than just me. Throw the bloke a line. Help him come to terms with it.’ ‘What … be nice to him?’ ‘No … well, yeah. That’s part of it. More to the point, try to teach him you’re not just a filing cabinet full of ASBOs and aggression. Hiding behind the Animal there’s a real Justin who’s brave, cool, affectionate and beautiful. He’s the Justin I love, the Justin Andy and Terry have recognised. Stop running from the fact that you’re a really brilliant human being, against all the odds.’ Instead of continuing the repartee, Justin went quiet and pensive. Nathan snuggled closer to him and waited patiently for a response. Justin played with his hair and kissed his head for a while. ‘Nathan?’ ‘Justy?’ ‘I’m not what you want me to be. I really am not a brilliant human being. I’m selfish, foul-mouthed, arrogant, violent and deeply fucked up by years of abuse. People like me shouldn’t even be allowed on the same planet as someone like you, Nate. I can’t be trusted. I’m not good, or kind, and I’ve never done anything for anyone else in all me life. About the only thing to be said for me is that I can make you laugh.’ ‘Even if all that were true, Justy – and I don’t admit it for a moment – the point is that unlike some people who’ve had your disadvantages, you do know yourself. ‘Cos you do, you’re changing. You’re doing it so fast I doubt your mum would recognise you now. You are brilliant, and I love you for it.’ They showered away the sweat of their coupling, and went back down to the garden. It being the afternoon for weeding, they were down on their knees side by side while Nathan patiently taught Justin which plants were weeds and which were not. After an hour, Justin burst out, ‘I think I got an idea about Matt.’ ‘Great. What is it?’ ‘I’ll tell yer later.’ At the end of the afternoon they hung round waiting for Nathan’s ride. When it came, Justin begged straight-faced to be taken on again. ‘Please, Mr Anderson. Don’t tell me you don’t need the help. Nathan’s often on his own. You don’t even have to pay me.’ Anderson looked thoughtful. ‘Well, I won’t say you’re not a good worker, Justin. You’re learning the essentials quickly too. I can’t take you on permanently, but it is true that we’re run off our feet at this time of year. But only on a weekly basis, right? And you’re on basic.’ ‘Legend!’ He and Nathan grinned at each other and high-fived. ‘Seven-thirty tomorrow in the driveway. You’ll be doing the herb garden at Ireton House down the road.’ * * * When Matt returned home just after Nathan left, he found Justin sitting on the stairs waiting for him. He put his briefcase down, looked the boy over coolly and asked him pointedly if he’d had a productive day. Justin ignored the needle in the remark. ‘I got a job today.’ Matt was taken aback. ‘Oh. Er …wonderful.’ ‘Yeah. Ol’ man Anderson wanted me back. Good, eh?’ ‘Well, yes. It’s very good.’ ‘Pleased wiv me?’ ‘I wouldn’t go quite so far.’ ‘Wassa problem wiv me, Matt?’ ‘How long have you got? Smelly. Horny. Untidy. In my house.’ Justin mastered his first impulses, remembered how much he loved Nathan, and asked mildly, ‘Matt, iss not my fault that I’m here, is it? Anyways, could ya do me a favour?’ ‘What?’ ‘Run me down the Seven Sisters Road. I wanna see me mum.’ ‘Can’t Terry do it?’ ‘He’s out wiv Andy.’ ‘How long will it take?’ ‘Juss half an hour or so.’ Matt shrugged and got his car keys. Justin continued his campaign as they tooled down Archway Road in the powerful little Mercedes. ‘You got family, Matt?’ ‘Mum and dad, and a younger brother, Carl … the Olympic distance-swimmer.’ ‘They must be proud of both of ya.’ ‘So they say … but we’re proud of them right back. They were brilliant parents.’ ‘I never knew me dad. In fact, I doan’ think me mum’s quite sure which of half a dozen blokes he was.’ Matt looked uncomfortable. ‘Oh … really?’ ‘First bloke I can remember in our flat was the first stepdad, black guy. He liked shagging her in front of me while I was playing with me toys on the floor. Said he got off on it. He had to go, although not before he’d broken one of me arms. He got off on beating me up too, even if he was always sorry afterwards. ‘The second stepdad was a bit nicer … least he had lots of cash and made me mum happy, which was the problem. He got his thrills screwing me little arse when I was nine and ten, but I couldn’t tell cos I’d ’ave ruined things for mum. So I took his dick most nights and didn’ say a word. Didn’ even mention the blood when I shit. ‘Now the third stepdad …’ Matt pulled into the kerb. ‘Stop please, Justin.’ ‘He was just a useless loser, nothing much shockin’ there, ’part from stealing me mum’s cash and leaving us wivout any money for food. When I was twelve, I had to beg outside a chippies or starve.’ ‘Why are you telling me this?’ ‘Thought we could become mates, like. Tell each other a few funny stories. Get to know each other, sorta thing.’ ‘Is it all true?’ ‘Iss in me file, just ask Tanya … apart from the anal rape. I was only able to start talking about that with Nathan. Hey … and I talked to you about it, I must be cured, doanchya think?’ ‘You’re teaching me a lesson, aren’t you?’ ‘What, a thick, useless layabout like me, teach a brilliant god like you anyfing?’ Matt looked sheepish. ‘It’s worked. I apologise.’ Justin gave Matt an odd look. ‘I’m not askin’ for an apology, Matt. I juss wanted you to know how much crap I’ve had to tunnel through to get this far. I still live in a dark place, Matt. What Nathan’s teaching me is that there’s light and air outside, and I might get there one day with him. His love is what’s pulling me out. If there’s anyone you should apologise to, it’s that boy. He knows how hard a job I am. He needs your help.’ ‘Do you still want me to take you to your mum’s.’ ‘That’s where we were goin’, wannit?’ They drove off in silence, and Justin directed Matt to what he said was a reasonably safe area to park. ‘Want me to come with you?’ ‘Yes, please.’ It was not what Matt was expecting. The television was turned off when he entered, and the small flat was tidy. Justin’s mother looked reasonably respectable. She was a small woman in her mid thirties, smaller than Justin, but as dark of hair and pale of skin as he was. She looked worriedly at her son. ‘Has he been good?’ She obviously regarded Matt as an authority figure, along with the social workers and police that Justin had also brought into the house. ‘He’s doing well, Mrs Macavoy. He’s got a job off his own bat, and isn’t causing any problems. He also has a nice boyfriend …’ ‘I never knew he was gay. He hung round girls so much and there was that Jade girl who said he got her pregnant. So she was lying … the little bitch!’ There was a red spot on each pale cheek as she defended her son. ‘I knew he didn’t. He was a good boy at home. It was those friends of his, talking him out of going to school and egging him on.’ ‘If I could just get him to tidy the kitchen after he uses it …’ Matt looked at Justin, smiling at him for the first time since fostering the boy into his house. When Justin smiled back, Matt acknowledged to himself at long last that there was more to him than just a lost delinquent. How else would a boy like Nathan have fallen for him? As they left the flat with plenty of assurances that Justin would keep in touch, especially from abroad, Matt flipped his mobile and had a muttered conversation. Once in the car, they drove straight into town and headed down to Knightsbridge. ‘Where we goin’?’ Justin finally asked. ‘You need a haircut.’ ‘I do?’ ‘A proper styling. You’ve got fine thick hair and it’s just growing straight out of a crewcut. It’s messy.’ ‘You’re big into hair, then?’ Matt grinned. ‘It’s my weakness, as Andy will tell you. Justin, I am sorry. All the bad temper has not been your fault. It’s Andy. When he’s in crusade mode there’s no stopping him. He never really bothered to ask me if I was ready for a big responsibility … and you are a big responsibility. We have to house and feed you now for some time to come. We both travel a lot. More than that, Andy’s in the USA for two thirds of the year, and I’m the one on whom the whole thing will fall. He can’t take you with him when he goes. He says he asked me if it was alright, but he just assumed it was. I promise, though, I’ll come to terms with it … if you just promise not to mess my house up. Okay?’ ‘Deal,’ agreed Justin. ‘Now here we are at the best hairdressers in Europe, and you have an appointment in five minutes. I’m their favourite customer, so they could fit you in.’ Matt simply left his car outside, despite the yellow lines. Justin thought he was showing off and demonstrating he could be a bad boy too. The salon, in a converted bank, was large and busy. There was a receptionist, and as soon as Matt appeared, the owner and two acolytes emerged to hear his requirements. They looked Justin over, pursed their lips and directed him to a chair. He was uncomfortable. When he was released half an hour later, he stared gobsmacked at himself in the sheet mirrors. He looked like a male model. His hair now curled in different places than before, and looked unaccountably … right. He had been given a styled fringe that made him appear both boyish and incredibly cool. One of the acolytes was tutoring him in how to maintain the look, to which he was only half listening. The other half of his mind had fallen in love with his own reflection. Matt walked him to a neighbouring late-opening designer clothes store, and handed him over to the staff. He was kitted out in leather and denim, with great care and phenomenal expense. Then Matt drove him to a fashionable café-bar full of good-looking, well-heeled people, and sat him down behind a cappuccino. ‘So okay, what does this prove?’ Justin asked. ‘Look in the mirror and what do you see?’ ‘A very cool Justin Macavoy.’ ‘And what are other people doing?’ ‘They’re staring at us.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Cos you’re very beautiful. They had posters of you all over that barbershop.’ ‘Actually, it’s you as much as me they’re staring at, especially those girls and boys over there, because you’re beautiful too. And now the big question: Do you feel any different from the Justin Macavoy who looked in the mirror in your mum’s flat two months ago?’ ‘No, apart from the fact that I love Nathan.’ ‘So the lesson is what, Justy?’ ‘Dunno. Well … these people, they see the image you just created, not the real me. Is that what you mean?’ ‘You could put it that way. But you could also say that Justin Macavoy the chav was never more than a step away from the cool Justin sitting opposite me. He just had to find out how to take the step. And, yes, it’s the love of Nathan that did it. When you two emerged from the bathroom in my house that afternoon hand in hand, I’d never seen a more gorgeous sight in all my days. You were flushed and utterly besotted with each other. I was dead envious. You only ever get a few moments like that in your life. What I’m saying, Justy, is that the clothes and the stylists do nothing more than point out what’s already there. You’re an amazing boy, and love’s what’s bringing it into focus. Any chance you might give up smoking?’ ‘Nah.’ * * * Andy was equally gobsmacked. ‘Wow! I leave him with you for half an hour, Matt, and look what you do to him!’ ‘Justy,’ said Terry, ‘You’re amazin’. Like a boy-band star, not that you weren’t good lookin’ before, but … damn! What a bit of money can do.’ ‘Thass good, cos tonight I’ve got the toughest thing of all to do. I’m gonna meet the in-laws as Nate’s lover. Can you run me there in the big car?’ ‘What? No, I don’t do chauffeur ’cept for Andy. But Jenna will, she’s even got the Peacher uniform. I’ll have the car round for you in ten. Do they know you’re coming?’ ‘Nate said iss supper in an hour and, since he’s making it, I’m welcome. I’ll take a bag. I may stay over.’ They all waved him off from the door. The big black limousine pulled up next to Nathan’s parents’ cars. Jenna, under orders from Terry, hopped out and opened the door for Justin. The house door was already standing wide, permitting the state arrival of Justin Macavoy to be witnessed with as much amazement as amusement. Nathan kissed him on the cheek and held him round the waist. ‘Gee Justy, when did you turn into a rock god?’ Justin kissed him back with a smile, catching the troubled looks on the faces of Nathan’s father and mother at these demonstrations of homosexual intimacy by their son. A cough at his shoulder preceded a request from Jenna, who was hamming up the subservience. ‘Shall I take your bag in, Master Justin?’ Justin gave her a lopsided look. ‘Thank you, Jenna. That will be all.’ There were handshakes all round in the hall. Professor Underwood looked his son’s boyfriend over. ‘Justin, when you said you were being fostered in Highgate, I didn’t quite realise either what sort of boy you were, or who the fostering was being done by.’ Mrs Underwood gave him a cool look. ‘There’s clearly a long story ahead of us tonight. Nathan said he would not tell us till he could do it with you. But first, you two say you love each other?’ The boys took each other’s hand, almost as if looking for comfort. ‘We do,’ Nathan confirmed. ‘You’re neither of you adult yet. How seriously do you expect us to take this declaration?’ ‘It’s everything to us, Mrs Underwood,’ replied Justin. ‘I’m not going to try to convince you. You can believe us or not, but it’s real alright.’ ‘How far have you gone?’ she asked. ‘All the way,’ said Nathan, ‘We’ve been having full sex for several weeks now.’ ‘You take precautions, I hope.’ ‘Yes. We’ve not been reckless.’ ‘Justin needs to be tested for STDs.’ Justin gave her a cold stare. ‘You take it for granted that I was the one who initiated the sex.’ ‘As it happens, it was I,’ Nathan corrected, cold in his turn. ‘And we’ll both take the test. I think, mum and dad, you’d better get used to the idea that Justy and I are sexual partners, that our relationship isn’t simply going to go away. I’m not a victim here. Justy isn’t exploiting me and using me for his sexual satisfaction. I’m as sure as I can be that this is love between two men, not infatuation.’ When the Underwoods looked unhappy, Justin had the grace to feel sorry for them. This was not the way they had supposed their golden boy would turn out. First he wanted to be a gardener, then he formed a homosexual attachment to a delinquent. They went into the dining room, where Nathan sat him down between his parents while he brought in dinner. Neither of the adults seemed to have much idea what to say to Justin, despite their being a professor and a QC. He was unable to relieve their embarrassment. Eventually Nathan finished serving and invited them to eat, which they did in silence. Occasionally, one or the other cleared their throat and heads bobbed up, only to drop down to the food again. Nathan caught Justin’s eye at one point and shrugged his shoulders. As they were finishing off his ale-and-beef pie, Nathan said deliberately, ‘You look great, babe, what did they do to you?’ The endearment caused an appalled look to appear on Nathan’s father’s face, and he dropped his fork on his plate. Justin smiled faintly and gave an edited version of his visit to his mother and Matt’s decision to accept him as a foster son. ‘Point is, Matt was fighting against it. When he changed his mind, he went a bit over the top to prove the point that he was sorry, so he had me done over to look like a male model. We may ’ave to do shoots together.’ Nathan looked pleased. ‘So you did sort that problem out, Justy. I’m so proud of you. I knew you could do it. You see, mum and dad, it’s not been easy for Justin to deal with Matt and the others, but he’s come through brilliantly. He’s shown his quality, and why I love him so much.’ ‘Tell me how it was that you ended up in the care of one of the richest men in the western world, Justin,’ Mrs Underwood asked. Between them, Justin and Nathan recounted their story. Of course they left a lot of it out, but even so, it gripped the adults. By the time the tale was finished, the atmosphere had eased considerably. ‘I suppose you’ll be sleeping together tonight,’ Professor Underwood remarked. ‘Yes,’ replied his son, without any uncertainty. ‘Very well. Then so be it. We’ll just have to get used to it. Go to bed boys, Mary and I will clear the plates.’ ‘So that’s it?’ Justin wanted to know as they lay together after a vigorous bout of sex to celebrate their reunion. ‘The in-laws are happy wiv me?’ ‘I wouldn’t go quite that far, but they’re coming to terms with it. God, I love your hair, Justy, and the gear and those boots, fantastic! Think Matt will take me shopping too?’ ‘Nope, iss me who’s his special friend,’ Justin informed his lover smugly.
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