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Mark Arbour

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  1. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 36

    Daventry and von Beckendorf's sister, who is all of 15? Shit, I'd probably get censored off this site. 🙂
  2. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 36

    And a quality I wish I could master.
  3. February 1, 1801 Kiryanovo Usadba St. Petersburg, Russia Granger stretched out in his bed, feeling languorous after having spent his evening last night talking to Daventry. He’d gotten to bed very late, but had been drunk and horny enough to wake von Beckendorf up and fuck him. While he’d been as much fun as he always was, Granger had not had a chance to spend any time with von Beckendorf this morning, and that worried him, lest the young man feel neglected. That worry caused him to stir, to sit up in bed as a prelude to going to seek out his Teutonic lover, when von Beckendorf saved him the trouble by breezing into Granger’s room. “Good morning,” Granger said pleasantly. Von Beckendorf did not return his smile, but instead looked very sad. “It is not a good morning, at least not for me.” “Why is that?” Granger asked with concern. “I must leave at once,” he said, sitting on the bed next to Granger. “I have orders to go to Moscow.” “Who issued these orders?” Granger asked a bit nervously, wondering if the Tsar was sending him there as punishment. Then again, from what he had gathered, being sent to Moscow was not generally considered a bad thing. “Count von der Pahlen,” von Beckendorf said. “I am riding under sealed orders, on a mission he says only I can fulfill.” “That is quite an honor,” Granger said, hiding his skepticism. To Granger it was obvious that von der Pahlen was sending von Beckendorf away, much as his own government had sent Valiant and her crew away after she’d returned from Rhodes. “Perhaps, but it means that I must bid you farewell. I must leave at once.” “I am wondering if you can spare just a few minutes,” Granger said in his most alluring way. He tossed the covers back and rolled over onto his stomach, exposing his naked backside. He could feel von Beckendorf smiling, then he could feel the rough texture of his wool uniform, then finally he felt von Beckendorf’s cock as it gently penetrated him. In a brief but satisfying tryst, they said goodbye in the most intimate way possible. “And now, after such a wonderful interlude, I must go,” von Beckendorf said as he stood up and pulled up his pants. Granger hastily put on his robe, then got out of bed and embraced von Beckendorf. “I am sorry to lose your company, but I understand you must do your duty. I will miss you, though.” “I will miss you too,” von Beckendorf said. “You mentioned that you needed the services of a jeweler.” “I do,” Granger confirmed. “I have dispatched a servant with a note to my sister, explaining what must be done.” “You can trust her?” Granger asked. “She is my sister,” von Beckendorf asserted, acting insulted. “I meant no offense,” Granger replied with a grin. “I have two brothers, and I don’t trust either of them.” Von Beckendorf smiled back. “I can trust Dorothea, and so can you. Do not let her youth fool you into believing she is naïve.” “I truly appreciate you finding someone else in Russia I can trust,” Granger said. “If I do not see you before you return to England, think of me, and write to me. I will not forget you, but I worry that you will forget me.” “I will never forget you,” Granger pledged earnestly, as he held von Beckendorf’s hands in his. Their eyes locked for a minute, both of them cringing internally at the pain of this departure, until von Beckendorf blinked, causing a tear to fall from his eye. He turned on his heel and almost fled from the room, and then he was gone. Granger felt an incredible loss with his departure. Von Beckendorf had helped him along on almost every step of his way since they’d met in Arensburg, and he had grown to trust the Baltic German. Granger knew that if von Beckendorf told him something, it was the truth, although he knew that the man had no qualms about holding back relevant information. Von Beckendorf had represented security to Granger, and now that he was gone, so was Granger’s relative lack of worry about his current situation. Granger summoned Winkler to help him get ready and took pains with his appearance, sensing that he would need to look his best on this day. He used that preparation to focus his mind and managed to banish his sadness over von Beckendorf leaving to the recesses of his brain, knowing that he’d have to summon it back later and grapple with it. He descended the stairs and was directed to the library, where he found Daventry sitting at a table studying the contents of the metal boxes Granger had brought. “Good morning, George,” he said pleasantly. “Breakfast this morning is a casual affair. Please, help yourself.” He gestured to a table with a buffet of sorts set up. “Good morning to you as well,” Granger responded, then helped himself to a goodly amount of food. He took it and sat at the table opposite Daventry. “I heard your German was dispatched to Moscow,” Daventry said. “I just learned of that shortly before he left,” Granger replied. “I am sad to see him go. He has been a trusted guide during my time in Russia.” “Maybe that was one of the reasons he was sent away,” Daventry said. Granger’s brows furrowed, wondered if this Count von der Pahlen was so Machiavellian as to try to deprive Granger of a close friend and make him more vulnerable. Granger wondered if von Beckendorf’s sister would prove competent enough to help him out. “I think it was rather so no one will know I am here,” Granger mused, amazed that he could be so bloodless about such a wrenching decision. “I know that it vexes you, but I can see why such a plan was necessary,” Daventry said. “I think there were alternatives to shipping him off,” Granger said, and was irritated that he could hear his own anger in those words. “So when von Beckendorf returns to Court, what is he to say to the Tsar?” Daventry asked. “And when his dragoons talk, and rumors get out that he assisted you in violating the Tsar’s command that you are banned from Russia, how is he to respond?” Daventry’s logic was unassailable. Granger was intensely annoyed with himself for allowing his emotions to completely override his judgment and instincts. His love for von Beckendorf had blocked his ability to foresee their parting. “Those would have been difficult questions to answer while still avoiding a firing squad,” Granger agreed ruefully. “Still, it would have been nice to have at least been given some notice.” “You have all just arrived, and by dispatching him and presumably his men as well on the following morning, there would be little chance of the knowledge of your presence leaking out,” Daventry said. And again, he was right. The longer the dragoons were here, the more of a chance they’d have to talk to people. They were probably on their way to Moscow, and von Beckendorf’s sealed orders probably directed him to ensure they kept their mouths shut. “I am intrigued by your count, who has so clearly thought through all these contingencies,” Granger said, referring to von der Pahlen. “You will find him to be quite wily, and quite capable of betraying others so they take the fall rather than him,” Daventry said. “At the same time, he is polite in a German way.” “In a German way?” Granger asked. “It is my own term, and my own perception,” Daventry said. “Germans can be just as cultured as French, Spanish, and Italian gentlemen, but they lack the smoothness of their Latin brothers, and are just a bit tackier as a result.” Granger pondered that and realized that he’d subconsciously drawn the same conclusions. “I wonder where we English land on that scale,” Granger joked. “We would hope we are like the Latins, but are probably more like the Germans,” Daventry said ruefully. “Although I would credit you with being much more like a Latin.” “I appreciate that compliment, and will return it,” Granger said, since Daventry was quite accomplished in a public setting. “Not as compared to you,” Daventry said. “I did not travel to Mitau to call on His Most Christian Majesty, yet you did.” “Such proud, foolish people,” Granger said, shaking his head at the emigres. “If they are lucky enough to get another chance at power in France, they would be well-advised to learn some lessons from the revolution,” Daventry said. “That is what concerns me,” Granger responded. “I do not see recognition of that in any of them, and I sense instead a stubbornness that blocks their ability to moderate their views.” “His Majesty’s government does not seem overly enamored with the Bourbons, so it is quite possible they will not get the chance to make a blunder of returning to France,” Daventry said. “Perhaps, but I would wager that Russian, Austrian, Spanish, and German monarchs are quite certain the Bourbons should regain their throne,” Granger opined. “That is certain, yet it is British gold that oils their military machines, so we have more influence in this matter than one would imagine.” “You are suggesting they are whores?” Granger asked playfully. “And we English are their pimps,” Daventry said, making both of them laugh. He opted to change the subject. “These boxes you have brought me are invaluable. No matter how this mission ends, I will make sure the government knows that you made the right decision, bringing them to me.” “It is good to be right once in a while,” Granger joked. “You said you were going to abscond with some of my diamonds and rubies,” Daventry said, gesturing at the packets of gems. “I think that you would be hard pressed to validly claim those as yours,” Granger countered. “They are my responsibility, in any event,” Daventry said. “I am going to engage a jeweler to make a star for the Tsar,” Granger said. “George, you’re rhyming as if you were a poet,” Daventry joked. “I am quite talented,” Granger riposted. “The star will be for the Knights Hospitaller.” “And what will this star look like?” Daventry asked. “I have made a drawing,” Granger said, and pulled that item out of his jacket pocket. “It will consist of a Rhodian star made of diamonds and lined with rubies, and then superimposed on it will be the crest of the Knights.” “You’re an artist as well?” Daventry challenged as he looked at Granger’s detailed drawing. “I did nothing more than copy the design from a very old book I found in one of the castles we stayed in for a few days,” Granger said. “You will probably remember from your history lessons that the Teutonic Knights and Knights Hospitaller were all but united at one time.” “I spent most of my efforts on Greek and Roman history,” Daventry said. “As did I, but fortunately there was an old Baron who educated me,” Granger said with a smile. “That crest looks like a St. George’s cross,” Daventry noted, drawing their attention back to Granger’s design. “It does,” Granger agreed. “I plan to send this star to His Imperial Majesty along with a letter apologizing for making him look like a buffoon in front of the populace of his capital.” “I suspect you will phrase it a bit differently than that,” Daventry noted with a grin. “I have also been working on that,” Granger said, and pulled out the draft of his letter. Daventry read through it and his expression became more and more surprised as he did. “I think you have done a masterful job with this,” Daventry said, as he handed the letter back to Granger. “You’ll probably want to get the Count’s feedback as well.” “I will do so, when I eventually meet him,” Granger said. “You have not even been here a day, and the Count is too busy plotting and scheming to drop everything just to call on you,” Daventry joked. “I rather think I’m important enough to warrant such attention,” Granger replied with faux arrogance, making them chuckle. “I don’t understand how this Maltese star is going to make a difference,” Daventry said. “I have learned that the Tsar has been incensed by the refusal of Spain and Portugal to recognize him as the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller, and that was in no small way responsible for the eviction from Mitau of King Louis,” Granger noted. “That was what upset him?” Daventry asked. “That is what I have been led to believe,” Granger said. “The ambassadors of Portugal and Spain were banished from St. Petersburg and escorted to the border when their governments refused to acknowledge that he was the Grand Master.” “It is sometimes difficult to fathom the sensitivities of eccentric monarchs,” Daventry sniffed. “I am going to guess that having foreign dignitaries recognize him as such will make a highly favorable impression.” “That is brilliant!” Daventry said, then got more thoughtful. “Assuming, of course, that our government is willing to grant the Tsar legitimacy in that role.” Granger shrugged. “If we succeed in our mission, it will not matter. If we fail, we will probably end up dead or in jail.” Daventry nodded. “Politicians rarely quibble when someone is successful and they can claim the credit.” “Indeed,” Granger agreed. “So tell me of this Count von der Pahlen.” “He is probably the advisor most trusted by the Tsar, and when he is in favor, has a great deal of influence,” Daventry said. It was clear from his tone of voice that he was impressed. “He is the military governor of St. Petersburg and the inspector of six military districts, which means that he has a great deal of control over the army. I believe he is also the governor of the Baltic provinces, although I am not sure how that is titled.” “An impressive array of offices,” Granger noted. “Ah, but that is not all,” Daventry said. “He is a member of the Imperial Council and of the Board of Foreign Affairs. His sympathies on Malta are probably with the Tsar, since he is the Grand Chancellor of the Knights Hospitaller.” “Does that exhaust the honors this man has amassed?” Granger asked. “I have neglected the most important post: he is the chief director of mail.” Granger looked at him curiously. “That means that he has access to everyone’s letters and that has made him the de-facto head of the Tsar’s secret police.” “Well, for someone who is that exalted, I will make allowances for him not immediately calling on me,” Granger joked, making Daventry chuckle. “I spent a lot of time with him on this journey, as you might imagine, and I must tell you he is most difficult to pin down. He is manipulating much of his plotting through Nikolay and Valerian Zubov. I am not sure if you met their sister, Olga, in London?” “Ah yes,” Granger said, remembering her. “I saw her at the opera. She was with Whitworth.” “When Whitworth was evicted from Russia, Olga went with him. She was his mistress.” Granger raised an eyebrow. “She had planned to marry him, but no one had bothered to explain to her that Whitworth was already betrothed to the Duke of Dorset’s widow.” “That must have been a bit uncomfortable for Whitworth,” Granger said, chuckling. “Indeed it was,” Daventry said in his animated way, the way he spoke when he was imparting juicy gossip. “Olga supposedly extracted 10,000 pounds from the Dowager Duchess of Dorset in order to make her go away.” “So she is back in Russia?” Granger asked. “Not quite,” Daventry said, grinning. “She stayed in England and set her sights much higher than Whitworth. When I left, she was one of the Prince of Wale’s mistresses.” “Are her brothers just as ambitious?” Granger asked. “They are,” Daventry confirmed. “They have a feel for how the Court works, and are well placed in their roles as von der Pahlen’s henchmen.” “Why would von der Pahlen do this, plot against the Tsar? He has almost unlimited power. Surely he wouldn’t risk that?” Granger asked. “In August of last year, the Tsar dismissed von der Pahlen and forced him to relinquish all of his offices,” Daventry noted. “Then in October, the Tsar returned them to von der Pahlen, and elevated him to his position of favor again.” “Von der Pahlen was unwilling to trust his fate to someone so mercurial,” Granger concluded. “Or insane,” Daventry said with a grimace. They pondered that for a minute, then Daventry took their conversation in a new direction. “I think that when you meet the Count, and anyone else for that matter, you should claim ignorance about these plans.” Granger noted that even Daventry was reluctant to blatantly utter the word ‘coup’. “And why is that?” Granger asked. “Your military background will make you more popular with the Tsar than I am, and if you profess a lack of knowledge, it lets you cut a more respectable figure than me,” Daventry said. “As if that is not already the case,” Granger joked. “This much is certain,” Daventry said, chuckling. “So I am to be the figurehead, while you are working behind the scene to make things happen?” Granger asked, not a little annoyed at being consigned to a lesser role. “In a sense, yes,” Daventry replied candidly. “Can you not see the logic behind such a strategy?” Granger grimaced as he pondered that, and in the end, he realized Daventry was right. He was to be the polished courtier and accomplished warrior, with no apparent role in the coup. “So dealing with the Zubov brothers is your affair?” “It is,” Daventry asserted. “I can see what you are saying, but I suspect I will end up feeling much as I did when I was a prisoner in Paris. I was the star of the salons, but I was still a prisoner,” Granger said. “George, I will tell you everything that is going on, and you can trust me to keep you informed, but if I do that, you must then be somewhat duplicitous when dealing with other people,” Daventry said. “Can you do that?” “You mean I will have to lie,” Granger concluded. “Possibly,” Daventry said. Deception as part of war was one thing, but straight out lying was a bit tougher to grapple with. Granger found it interesting that Daventry had no such scruples, and it made him wonder if that was the reason for Daventry effectively sidelining him. They said nothing as Granger pondered things, and Daventry took that opportunity to return to rummaging through the metal boxes. Granger wondered if absolving himself of knowledge and involvement in this coup smacked of cowardice, in that it may seem he was avoiding it to escape being shot if they were found out. Granger put aside his initial pettiness over being excluded and thought about what Daventry proposed. Did Granger really want to be involved in all the details and intrigues revolving around this great plot? His answer to that was an unequivocal no. He had no wish to spend hours on schemes and drama that he would then have to lie about if he were cornered. What Daventry was offering him was the opportunity to be aware of what was happening without knowing too much. Further, this type of operation was something Daventry was much more familiar with than Granger was, and it was incumbent upon Granger to trust his fellow peer. When they had engaged the Russian battleships not more than a few miles from where Granger was now sitting, Daventry did not interfere or offer advice, because he had recognized Granger’s expertise as a naval officer. It was important that he do the same thing in this situation. “I understand what you are saying, and appreciate you explaining it to me,” he said, causing Daventry to look up from the contents of the box. “I will conduct myself as you have directed.” “Excellent,” Daventry replied. “This way, once you are rehabilitated in the eyes of the Tsar, you can practice being a good courtier.” “I have more recent practice than you,” Granger said with a smile. “I went to Mitau to call on His Most Christian Majesty, while you blatantly snubbed him.” Daventry rolled his eyes. “I cannot see how a trip to Mitau would have been worth my time.” Granger rang the bell on the table to summon a servant, and passed the word for Winkler. “I will show you just how valuable that trip was.” Winkler arrived and Granger asked him to bring him the diamonds he’d acquired from the duchesse d’Angouleme. “I suppose you’re going to produce one of the members of the French Royal family, bound and gagged,” Daventry joked, making Granger laugh. “No, they would have merely been a major inconvenience,” Granger joked back. “It is not easy to transport an unwilling human long distances in frigid weather.” “It is if you have an incredibly posh sleigh,” Daventry noted. Upon their safe arrival here, Winkler had reunited the diamonds with their box. He carried it into the room and handed the carved case to Granger. “Thank you, Winkler,” Granger said. “Of course, my lord,” he said. “Will you gentlemen want dinner soon?” Granger looked to Daventry. “I would relish a good meal,” Daventry said. Granger nodded his agreement as well. “I will inform the butler, my lord,” Winkler said, and left them alone. Granger handed Daventry the box. “This is quite impressive.” “To be truly impressed, you must open it up,” Granger said. Daventry did so, and his eyes bulged when he saw the diamonds. Granger had learned that Daventry had an appreciation for precious stones after they’d captured a bunch of them in Rhodes, so it was not surprising he would appreciate their beauty. “George, these are incredible! There are very few people in England with diamonds this exquisite!” “They were a gift from Tsar Paul to the Duchesse d’Angouleme to celebrate her wedding,” Granger said. “That would explain them,” Daventry said. “Paul would not want to appear cheap when dealing with other royal families. Russians are sometimes insecure about such things, since they were known as a backward nation for many years.” “His gift reflects on him,” Granger agreed. Daventry picked up each piece and eyed it carefully, taking into account its weight as well as the quality of the stones. “These diamonds are worth thousands of pounds,” he pronounced. “How much did you pay for them?” “Five hundred guineas,” Granger said. Daventry stared at him, stunned. “It seems like I got a good bargain.” “That was definitely worth a side trip to Mitau,” Daventry said. “The Duchesse found herself in a position where she needed money, but she could not sell the Tsar’s gift to her to a Russian subject lest she offend him. I was at the right place, at the right time, and probably the only foreigner with five hundred guineas available to squander on diamonds.” “There are many things about you that amaze me, George, not the least of which is your incredible luck,” Daventry said. February 3, 1801 Kiryanovo Usadba St. Petersburg, Russia “It is a pleasure to meet you,” Granger said, as he bowed to Nikolay Zubov. As was the norm in Russia, they were all speaking French. Nikolay Zubov could almost be a giant, he was so tall. Probably forty years old, his whole being exuded physical strength. His face was not as compelling, with a hooked nose and high cheekbones that made his face appear puffy. “I think I am lucky to make your acquaintance,” he said with a somewhat sinister smile. “This is my brother, Valerian.” “Your lordship’s reputation precedes you,” Valerian said, with a bow. “As does yours,” Granger said with a knowing grin, bowing to this man who was entirely different than his older brother. He had once been considered the most handsome man in Russia, and Granger guessed that he still was. The man had to be around thirty years of age, and had lost a leg in battle. The lack of that appendage made him even more attractive, as if to accentuate that he was the gallant general who risked all for his Emperor. “Then I fear I am truly at a disadvantage,” Valerian said in a flirtatious way. It took all of Granger’s vaunted self-control not to let the man’s considerable charm have a visual effect on him. “I think it would be ill-advised for you to meet with the banker until Lord Granger has met with the Tsar,” Nikolay said to Daventry, evidently reverting to the subject of their conversation before Granger had walked in the room. His brusque change of topic was boorish at best. “I do not think we have the luxury of waiting that long,” Daventry objected. “And I do not fancy meeting with a firing squad,” Nikolay snapped, revealing what was rumored to be his hot temper. Granger could sense that his attitude toward Daventry was causing his fellow peer considerable irritation, so he stepped in before he could provoke Nikolay into a duel. “I do not think you will have long to wait,” Granger said. “And when will you be ready to send a letter and this bauble to the Tsar?” Nikolay asked him in a nasty way. “General, there is no reason for you to treat me so rudely, and with such disrespect,” Granger said in his most haughty of ways. “I quite agree,” said a voice behind Granger. “I think an apology is in order.” Before Granger turned to see who had spoken those words, he saw the ashen faces of the Zubov brothers. Nikolay immediately fell into line. “I must beg Your Lordship’s pardon.” “Quite so,” Granger said, unwilling to let this man off the hook. He knew that if he backed down now in any way, he would have a much more difficult time with Nikolay in the future. He turned to greet this new arrival who had instilled immediate fear and awe into the Zubovs. “Count von der Pahlen, please allow me to introduce my friend, Viscount Granger,” Daventry said. Granger studied this man who moved gracefully toward him, pausing at just the prescribed distance to exchange bows. He was of average height, and of average build, and moved with the grace of the courtiers at Mitau. If a cat took human form, it would probably look like von der Pahlen, Granger thought, then stifled that thought, lest it make him laugh. The Count wore a white jacket with a cravat tied in such a way that would have earned the approval of Beau Brummel, and had a number of medals pinned to his chest and hanging from his neck. “Welcome to Russia, Lord Granger,” he said smoothly. “I understand your trip was not too arduous.” “Thank you, Your Excellency,” Granger said. “I fear I fared better on my journey than you did.” “We are used to the cold, whereas Lord Daventry was less acclimated to it,” he said, giving Daventry a friendly jab. “You were quite lucky to snap up the Duke of Courland’s vozok. There will be many covetous eyes on that vehicle.” “That bodes well for my purse, then, as I will hopefully get a good price when I must sell it and return to England,” Granger said. “As if money were something you had to worry about,” von der Pahlen said. “Perhaps you will be willing to share the completion date of the Hospitaller star for His Imperial Majesty, and then you can join me for some refreshments while these gentlemen continue their discussion.” “It would be my pleasure, Your Excellency,” Granger said, then addressed himself to the group. “The jeweler has promised he will have the star ready by the day after tomorrow, and I have a calligrapher working on my letter, which will be completed by the end of the day.” “Thank you, my lord,” Nikolay said. Granger nodded to him, then followed von der Pahlen from the study and into the drawing room. Granger poured them both a drink, then they sat in chairs arrayed at a ninety-degree angle, with a table in the space between them. “I think it is very courageous of you to travel to St. Petersburg,” von der Pahlen said. Granger had the feeling he was dealing with someone who was similar to Talleyrand, but not as polished and not as smart. “As Your Excellency noted, traveling in my vozok was relatively painless,” Granger said with a smile. “I felt it was necessary to deliver news to Lord Daventry, and to try and see if I could heal the wounds between our countries.” “An interesting mission for you, since you are a Royal Navy officer, and it is that entity which has caused so much mischief,” he said. “When one is in a fight for survival, one does not always have the option to let neutral nations trade with one’s rivals with impunity,” Granger responded. “Yet now Britain finds herself friendless,” he said, with faux sympathy. “We English have learned that being friendless does not preclude us from being victorious,” Granger said. “For your sake, we will hope that history repeats itself,” von der Pahlen responded.
  4. Northern Exposure January 31, 1801 Krasnoye Selo, Russia Granger looked out the window of his room and gazed at the Trinity Church. It was a very pleasing structure, done in baroque style and painted a light-yellow color, and looked as if it could quite easily be German but for the small onion dome on the spire that topped its rotunda. They had arrived here two days ago, and had been welcomed by the local priest, or whatever such a chap was called in the Orthodox Church. He was decidedly more friendly that the Bishop in Yamburg had been. They’d left that city after staying two days and found that Granger’s caution had been unnecessary. General von Driesen had evidently never found out Granger’s true identity, or if he had, he had done nothing to pursue them. Von Beckendorf had seemed annoyed at having to stay longer in the unpleasant confines of Yamburg and in the presence of an even more unpleasant bishop, but Granger was willing to write off a day’s delay over a very real potential threat. Other than their encounter with von Driesen, the trip had gone so smoothly it had initially made Granger nervous. Normally he would be concerned that such ease was designed to lure him into a trap. In this case, however, he decided that Russia was too big, too bureaucratic, and too disorganized to hatch such a comprehensive plot. The only organization possibly capable of such an endeavor was the secret police, and since von der Pahlen headed that up, Granger was willing to believe they’d be a help to him rather than a hindrance. Von Beckendorf entered into the room in an abrupt way, carrying a piece of paper. He was smiling and looked excited. Granger marveled at his irrepressible charm and his seeming inability to remain stoic. “I received a message from the Count!” he exclaimed. That was not surprising, but it was welcome. Von Beckendorf had dispatched a man to take a message to von der Pahlen three days ago, and then had sent another man off with a similar message when they’d arrived here. Von Beckendorf had been very nervous and uptight, being this close to the capital with no real direction on where they should go. It certainly wasn’t the smart thing for them to just breeze into St. Petersburg and stay with his family, who would then be implicated by Granger’s presence. It seemed as if all doors were closed until they had some direction from this mysterious Count. “And what did he have to say?” “He instructed us to go to Kiryanovo Usadba,” he said. “That is less than 20 miles from here. I just told Winkler and my men to prepare to leave at once.” “Excellent,” Granger said, resolving to keep his questions unasked in order to expedite their departure. He ignored the beehive of activity that was packing up their baggage and loading the vozok, knowing Winkler would see that his things were handled correctly. Instead he went with von Beckendorf to take his leave of the priest who had been so hospitable. The man was very kind, and it was pleasant to see the look of shock followed by gratitude when Granger gave him a guinea to compensate him for their room and their food. Fortunately, he understood their need for haste and did not unduly delay them with endless statements of thanks. When they were safely on the road, Granger looked at his watch and noted that it had only taken thirty minutes from the time von Beckendorf had entered their room for them to make good their departure. “We will be able to arrive at Kiryanovo tonight,” von Beckendorf said, his eyes dancing with excitement at having almost completed their journey. “And what is this place, this Kiryanovo Usadba?” Granger asked. “An usadba is probably equivalent to what you would call a manor house. This one is owned by Princess Yekaterina Romanovna Vorontsova-Dashkova,” he said, as if that name should have meaning to Granger, other than sounding strange because every word ended with an ‘a’. Granger’s blank stare prompted him to explain. “She was Empress Catherine’s closest friend and was very helpful when Tsar Peter was overthrown.” “That would not have endeared her to Tsar Paul,” Granger mused. Von Beckendorf had made it clear how much Paul had detested his mother and admired his father, so anyone who was clearly in her camp would not be a friend of the Tsar. “It did not,” von Beckendorf said sadly. “After the Empress died, the Tsar forced her into a miserable exile in Novgorod, although it is rumored His Imperial Majesty has recently relented and allowed her to go live on her estate near Moscow.” “That is most unfortunate,” Granger said, although within the rough and tumble world of Russian Court politics as he understood them, that seemed like a rather light sentence. “So she will not be at Kiryanovo?” “No,” he confirmed. “She has rented it out, and apparently Count von der Pahlen is the person who has acquired that lease.” “He did not have a property here in the capital?” Granger asked, surprised. “Kiryanovo is some five miles or so from the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, so it is a bit on the outskirts of town,” von Beckendorf explained. Granger pondered that was similar to the distance from Carlton House to Kew Gardens. “And while the Count has his own properties, renting Kiryanovo gives him a place to meet with people where he will not be seen doing so.” “So this is, in essence, his headquarters for his plans for Russia’s future,” Granger concluded. Von Beckendorf got uncomfortable when he said that, as he did anytime talk of a coup came up. They never called it that but couched their language in innocuous terms such as Granger had just used, but it was the same thing, and they both knew it. “It is,” von Beckendorf agreed. “Is Lord Daventry there?” Granger asked. He’d been so focused on his journey to St. Petersburg, and on enjoying von Beckendorf, he’d almost forgotten Daventry was presumably here. “I would imagine he is, but I have no confirmation of that,” von Beckendorf said. Granger now smiled and his mood became as ebullient as von Beckendorf’s. Just thinking of Daventry reminded him of how much Granger valued their friendship, and how lonely he’d been after Daventry had left Valiant. He’d certainly had companionship since then, and he had developed a very close relationship with von Beckendorf, but it wasn’t the same as his friendship with his fellow peer. There were few people in Granger’s world that he could fully trust, and Daventry was one of the most reliable of those. “If he is not there, I wonder where else he would have gone?” Granger mused out loud. “I am sure he is just fine,” von Beckendorf snapped. Granger paused from musing about Daventry and stared at his traveling companion, who looked quite angry. He met Granger’s eyes, then turned his evil glare away and stared out the small window. Granger blinked in surprise, wondering what had suddenly made von Beckendorf so angry, when he realized that it wasn’t anger, but jealousy. “Fritz,” Granger said, using his Christian name. He grabbed his arm gently to make sure von Beckendorf heard him. “Daventry is like a brother to me. There are no romantic feelings between us.” Von Beckendorf glanced back at Granger furtively, and the whole situation embarrassed both of them since von Beckendorf had exhibited jealousy and Granger had figured it out. “It is good to have people like that in your life,” he said loftily. “It is indeed very good,” Granger agreed. “I’ve known him since I was a young boy, and we attended school together.” “He was not in uniform when I met him,” von Beckendorf said. “Is he a soldier?” “I did not continue my formal education, but instead joined the navy when I was quite young. Daventry went on to study at Cambridge, and then joined the diplomatic corps,” Granger explained. He decided that calling Daventry a diplomat of sorts was the best description at this point. “That would explain why he was dispatched on this mission,” von Beckendorf mused. “I did not get to spend much time with him, but he is quite handsome, and seemed very charming.” “He is both of those things, and I suspect that within short order he will work his way through the ladies of the Court,” Granger said ruefully. “I think he will find that easy,” von Beckendorf said. “People are not overly worried about fidelity or other such mores that would truncate one’s promiscuity.” “I had envisioned things as being different than that,” Granger said, thinking out loud. His impression of Russia so far was of a country that was a generation behind the rest of Europe, or at least England and France. Everything about it seemed old fashioned, especially the clothing, which was hopelessly out of date by British standards. Even the soldiers wore uniforms that were more like those Frederick the Great’s troops would have worn. He had assumed that was a reflection of a conservative society, and that had sparked him to guess that personal morals were more valued. That evidently was not the case. “I mentioned that the Tsar is quite fond of the army, and likes his court to reflect that,” von Beckendorf said. “I think you will find it a blend between what we saw in Mitau and an army camp.” “Then the women are merely camp followers?” Granger asked, using that term instead of calling them whores. “It is not as bad as that, but it can sometimes seem that way,” von Beckendorf said. “Russian ladies from good families usually marry quite early.” “Why is that?” Granger asked, although there were a multitude of possible reasons. “For some women, being married early gives them an easy explanation should they suddenly become with child,” von Beckendorf said with a wry grin. “That would be convenient, especially if the husband was not overly concerned that the child may or may not be his,” Granger said. Von Beckendorf shrugged. “Most do not. As long as the man is from a good family, it will be a good baby.” Granger was amazed at his casual attitude, then pondered that he’d adopted Elizabeth with no public scandal. The only difference is that he got upset about it, whereas von Beckendorf was insinuating that many men here did not. “How young are most women when they are married?” “Quite young. My sister, for example, who is a maid of honor to the Empress, was married last year when she was fourteen to Count von Lieven.” “That is quite young indeed,” Granger agreed. “You are not married?” It was odd that had never come up before. “No,” he said ruefully. “Soldiers marry later in life, after they have shown they can survive on a battlefield and are less likely to leave a widow behind.” Granger chuckled at that statement. “That is often how it works in England, but I was married when I was just a lieutenant and 19 years old,” Granger said. “I am surprised since you are a younger son,” he said. “My wife decided that she wanted me as her husband,” Granger said with a smile, remembering how determined Caroline had been. “She seduced me, and that left her father little choice in the matter.” “That must have increased the size of her dowry,” von Beckendorf noted with a grin. “Indeed it did,” Granger said. “I am confident that you will like her. I hope you can get to England in the future to meet her.” “I think it will be a few more years at least before I am married, but who is to say,” von Beckendorf said philosophically. “It would be nice to have my own establishment, but I have friends who detest their wives, so that is a concern.” “I have friends like that too, and in fact Lord Daventry had a most contentious relationship with his wife up until recently,” Granger said. That was a fact that was well known in society, so he wasn’t revealing any of Daventry’s personal secrets. “He may opt to stay in Russia,” von Beckendorf joked. “I am sure he will enjoy himself, but I am confident that he will head back to England as soon as he can,” Granger said. “I received word when I was in Visby that his wife had died.” “He will probably appreciate his freedom,” von Beckendorf said thoughtfully. “He probably will, although he didn’t let being married restrict his activities all that much anyway,” Granger said, and they both laughed at that. They spent the rest of their trip reminiscing about their childhoods, something Granger rarely did. They arrived at Kiryanovo Usadba just as the sun was setting, a convenient event that had sometimes not been possible on their trip. There had been a number of evenings when it had gotten dark, and they’d had to slow their pace considerably while the dragoons held torches to light the road ahead. Granger studied this palace that von der Pahlen had claimed as his headquarters. He found it to be out of proportion, with a large, square main building, rising over two levels in height, flanked by two curved single level buildings on either side, to make the entry court shaped like a horseshoe. To Granger, the architecture seemed a jumble. There were classic Ionic columns painted white, making them stand out a bit too starkly against the light yellowish-orange paint of the rest of the palace. Over twenty wide steps led up to the entry on the main level creating a massive porch, with the whole thing making the house look as if it had an open mouth. Finally, except for the Ionic columns, everything about the main house was square, with nary a curve to be found. That contrasted starkly to the two curved wings, which also had arched windows. The vozok came to a smooth stop, and there was a footman waiting to open the door for them. Von Beckendorf strode confidently past him and up the steps, with Granger at his side, aping his pace. As soon as they reached the double entry doors, and not a moment too soon, the doors opened to let them in. As soon as they were past the threshold, the doors shut. Granger assumed that Winkler and their staff would go in the servants’ entrance. The warmth of the interior was welcoming, although like many palaces it was a bit drafty. Granger decided that the vozok was probably warmer. A butler was there to greet them, and he began a conversation with von Beckendorf in Russian. Granger stood there waiting impatiently when he spotted a familiar figure in the room just beyond the entry. “Boles!” Granger said, probably a bit too loudly. The man looked at him oddly, then smiled and rushed over to greet Granger. “My lord! We did not expect to see you here!” The butler started speaking urgently to von Beckendorf, even as he looked at Boles, making it obvious he was unhappy about a servant appearing unrequested in the entry. An evil eye from Granger, and equally nasty words from von Beckendorf, quickly dispelled the man’s outrage. “Where is Lord Daventry?” Granger asked. “He is upstairs, my lord,” Boles said sadly. “He is ailing.” “He is alright?” Granger asked, almost in a panic. “Take me to him.” “Right away, my lord,” Boles said. Granger deserted von Beckendorf and the butler and followed Boles, although Granger was walking so fast he was forcing Boles to adopt a very fast pace. “His lordship has had ill humors since before we got here.” “Do they know what ails him?” Granger asked. “McGillivray thinks it is a winter cold,” Boles said skeptically. “Lord Daventry has refused to let us summon doctors and has been most difficult with the butler you just met.” “I shouldn’t wonder,” Granger said, shaking his head with a smile. Daventry would not be a cooperative patient. “Over the past few days, he’s gotten a bit better, so we didn’t insist, my lord,” Boles said. “Insist?” Granger asked, and actually chuckled. Boles led him up to a door, from behind which Granger heard a very loud sneeze. Boles merely raised an eyebrow and opened the door. “Where’s that damn vodka!” Daventry groused. Granger saw him lying in a bed, propped up by pillows, looking like a dowager who was making ready to receive morning visitors. “After a more civil greeting, I will be happy to pour you a drink,” Granger said evenly. Daventry stared at him and blinked in amazement. “You look so angelic George. If I am dead, I surely can’t be in heaven.” Granger strode to the bed and took Daventry’s hands, holding them warmly in his. “I fear I am destined for hell as surely as you are.” Daventry withdrew his hand in haste, grabbed a handkerchief, and sneezed loudly. “You are liable to sneeze out your brains.” “I daresay it wouldn’t take much force,” Daventry said glumly. “It’s this damn ailment. This is what I get for riding in a freezing sled all the way from Riga.” “A sled?” Granger asked. “It was like a carriage transferred on top of a sled, with windows so thin they might have been paper, and gaps in the door to let in almost as much of a breeze as if there were no door at all,” Daventry grumbled. “Surely there was some better conveyance available?” Granger asked mischievously. “According to the Count, this is how the Russian upper classes travel in the winter,” he said, sneezing. “When did you get here?” “Just this moment,” Granger said calmly. “You do not seem worse for the wear of such an arduous trip,” Daventry noted suspiciously. “I was less of a miser than you, and acquired a vozok,” Granger said. “It is also a carriage on a sled, but it was sumptuously upholstered in velvet, marvelously sealed off from the outside, and had a stove in it to keep it warm, much as I had in my cabin aboard Valiant.” “You are an evil man to throw your good luck in a dying man’s face,” Daventry grumbled. “You are not dying,” Granger said. “Although I’m sure you’re milking this illness for all it’s worth.” “I am not,” Daventry agreed, “but it has not been pleasant.” “I am glad you are recovering,” Granger said. “Perhaps when we travel to our next destination, I will allow you to ride with me.” “Which leads me to the question at the foremost of my mind, which is what are you doing here?” Daventry asked with a hint of playfulness. “It seems that your plans were so poorly laid out that I had to follow along and repair them,” Granger teased. “They were not my plans, although they are poorly laid out,” Daventry said in an annoyed tone. “I was sent here without the tools to implement my orders, and the Count is skeptical we will succeed without them. I fear that this entire venture has been nothing but a dangerous waste of time and effort.” Granger suddenly noticed Boles standing there, watching their interaction. Boles got exceedingly nervous as if he’d been found guilty of eavesdropping. “Boles, would you see that I am allocated a room near to this one, and please have my bags sent up here immediately.” “Of course, my lord,” he said, and began to all but flee from the room. “And ask Winkler to see me as soon as possible,” Granger added, his words trailing after Boles as he exited the room and closed the door. He sat on Daventry’s bed next to him. “I have much news to share with you.” “And I with you,” Daventry said. “You may have traveled all this way only to face a firing squad with me.” “I have a plan to save us, and if it does not work, we will die together,” Granger said, and held his hand again. “I will go to hell in good company,” Daventry said, making them both laugh. “When I arrived in Visby, I was informed that Angus Cochrane had been sent looking for you but had become sick with gaol fever.” “I know him well,” Daventry said. “As did I,” Granger said, and got a puzzled look from Daventry. That was transformed into sadness by Granger’s use of the past tense in his response. “He was stationed in Rio de Janeiro when I was there. He was dispatched back to England under my orders.” “Did he recover?” Daventry asked, even though he already knew the answer. “He did not,” Granger said sadly. “The governor graciously spirited me ashore as quickly as possible. Cochrane and I were only able to exchange a few words before he died.” “That is a shame,” Daventry replied. “It was,” Granger agreed. “I tried to do the right thing for him. We had a rather grand funeral for him and buried him on Gotland.” “I’m sure his family will be pleased by your efforts,” Daventry said soothingly. “And what was this message that Cochrane was carrying for me.” “This is his coat,” Granger said, as he stood up and removed the garment. “You are pilfering clothes from dead comrades?” Daventry asked. “You must be desperately worried about your wardrobe.” “I think you will find this coat is much more valuable than anything you have, or probably will have,” Granger said, raising an eyebrow. Daventry felt the fine wool fabric. “It is nice, but not that nice.” “That is because you have not seen all of its features,” Granger said. Granger showed Daventry a section with a metal box in it, getting a raised eyebrow from his fellow peer, then gently removed the stitching to reveal the box. He handed it to Daventry. “This would perhaps make your point if one could open it,” Daventry said. Granger took out his watch and attached to the fob was the key to the box. “When I met Cochrane, he reached into his mouth and pulled out this key. That’s where he had hidden it,” Granger said reverently. Granger took the box from Daventry and opened it with the key, then set the box next to him. He watched as Daventry read the note from Pitt, then glanced at the contents of the box. While he was rummaging through them, Granger pulled out the second box and opened that as well. “This changes everything,” he pronounced. “Once we sell these jewels and get the banker to advance us money on the strength of these notes, we will have enough money to implement our plan.” “And what is our plan?” Granger asked. Daventry hesitated, which infuriated Granger. “I have traveled all of this way to make the mission a success. I have a right to know what that mission is.” “Yes, your tough journey in your heated, velvet-lined sled,” Daventry said with a scowl. “We are going to overthrow the Tsar.” “And how will you do that?” Granger asked. “He will be cornered in his palace on an auspicious night, and forced to abdicate, just like his father was,” Daventry said. “Will he be murdered?” Granger asked, horrified at that possibility. “No, at least that is not the plan,” Daventry said. “He will be allowed to live in a remote palace under heavy guard.” Granger knew that was almost certain not to happen. No reigning Tsar could afford to have his predecessor, who had abdicated under duress, live on as a constant focus of the opposition. “Presumably his son will see to his father’s safety when he assumes the throne.” It was a foregone conclusion that Tsarevich Alexander would become Tsar. Having an uncontested heir to the throne made the chances that this plan would succeed just that much more likely. “I wonder if the Prince of Wales would be so charitable to his father.” “I would hope that the Tsarevich is less self-absorbed than Prinny,” Daventry said dubiously. In the end, all of this rationalization was just that, a way to make this plan less abhorrent to the plotters. With Russia as an avowed enemy, the survival of Great Britain was in question, and that made the decision to proceed with the plan imperative. “I have a use for some of the jewels,” Granger said. “I think that before you go and give away my jewels, you should explain what they are going to be used for,” Daventry said playfully. “And I would question whether they are your jewels, since I am the one who brought them here,” Granger joked back. “Which leads us to the reason I am here.” “Yes, now that you mention it, you haven’t explained your presence to me,” Daventry said, enjoying their banter. “My purpose was twofold,” Granger said, getting more serious. “Even with Cochrane alive, it would have been difficult for him to get these to you. I was only able to achieve that with the assistance of Baron von Beckendorf.” “The handsome colonel we met in Arensburg,” Daventry said. “The very same,” Granger agreed. “Having traveled that route with the Count, I can see how without a trustworthy and knowledgeable guide, Cochrane’s journey would have ended in disaster,” Daventry noted. For Cochrane, it had indeed ended in disaster, but Daventry was presumably alluding to the contents of these metal cases falling into unfriendly hands. “What was your second purpose?” “It has been hypothesized that you will not be successful if the Tsar maintains his animosity toward us,” Granger said. Daventry gave him a skeptical look, which Granger addressed. “How would you meet with bankers and the others you will need to work with if you are at risk of being arrested at any juncture? Will you just hand over thousands of pounds to von der Pahlen with no oversight?” “It would be difficult,” Daventry acknowledged. “I am here to try and win the Tsar over so he doesn’t hate us,” Granger said. “That will be one of your more impressive achievements, if you pull it off,” Daventry said. “I have a plan for that, as I said,” Granger replied. “Before we talk about that, there is other news I must convey to you.” “Go on,” Daventry said nervously. “I received a letter from Caroline as part of the dispatches waiting for me in Visby,” Granger said. “Your wife is dead.” Such news shook Daventry to the point that his emotions were clearly visible on his face. His expressions ranged from happiness, to sadness, back to happiness, and then to guilt. “That is unfortunate.” “Caroline said that she didn’t grieve when she heard of your wife’s death, and she couldn’t imagine you would feel much grief either, but said that it left her with a feeling of emptiness. Those thoughts mirror my own,” Granger said. “That is a very astute observation on Caroline’s part,” Daventry said. “If this would have happened a year ago, I would be dancing with joy, but now that we had made our peace with each other, it is a bit sad.” Granger paused for a minute to let Daventry contemplate the death of his wife. “She died in childbirth,” Granger said. Daventry’s sadness vanished and his eyes lit up in excitement. “She had just given birth to your son.” “And he is healthy?” Daventry asked nervously. “He is. Robert Charles George Daventry is a very animated boy, and Caroline said that he will probably end up being like you, such is his charm,” Granger said with a smile. “So there is a new Lord Astley,” Daventry mused happily. The barony of Astley was Daventry’s subsidiary title just as Ryde was Granger’s. And just as William was known as Lord Ryde, so Daventry’s son would be formally known as Lord Astley. “Indeed there is,” Granger said. “Your wife was quite clear in her will about how he was to be raised. She picked his names, and stated that in your absence, Caroline and I were to raise him.” “And Caroline honored her wishes,” Daventry mused. “Your late wife had asked her to stand as Astley’s godmother, and was told that I had already agreed to be the godfather, even though you had not asked me yet,” Granger said, pretending to be snitty. “I knew you would not refuse my request,” Daventry said starkly. “You were right,” Granger said. “For all of our fights and conflicts, in the end my wife did her duty,” Daventry said thoughtfully. “That has earned her my obligation to honor her memory, both to posterity and to our son.” “I think that her actions, as transmitted through her will, were designed to elicit just that response from you,” Granger said. Daventry looked at him curiously, as if to ask him to explain. “Her parents had stepped in and were going to raise your son, but her will explicitly excluded them and placed him in our household.” “I wonder if being a mother would have made her a better person,” he said, thinking out loud. “I don’t know,” Granger said, then grinned. “Will being a father make you a better person?” “Probably not,” Daventry replied, making both of them laugh.
  5. October 12, 2003 Escorial Palo Alto, CA Brad It was quite the unusual crowd at dinner this Sunday. I briefly scanned those present, noting that there was almost an apprehensive feeling. I felt the need to try and fix that problem, but since JP was the host, it fell to him to set the tone. My eyes moved past Will and Darius, both so well turned out, and fixed on JP. It was one of those surreal times when we communicated with just our eyes, with him giving me the slightest nod of permission. I smiled, then stood up to get everyone’s attention. “Welcome everyone. This has been an amazing weekend, getting to know Mike and Beverly, Colin, and Christopher, and now meeting Kat and Magi. For the first time in my life, I’m not ashamed of that part of my heritage, of the Carmichael side.” “I could not agree more,” Mike said in his stiff but vaguely friendly way. “A toast, to family.” “To family,” we all repeated, as we lifted our glass and toasted ourselves. Just then the staff brought out the salad. I was distracted by a loud sound of alarm, and saw Kat with her mouth open, recoiling from the table. “Toxins!” she said in terror. “Oh for Christ’s sake,” Beverly said, putting down her knife with a slight thud. “No, no,” Magi said to her soothingly. “It is good. It is safe. I can tell these things.” “You’re sure?” she asked, looking at him with an expression that almost contained awe. “I am sure. There is nothing toxic here.” “Well then,” she said, and started eating, with all of us staring at them in amazement. I finally got my wits about me and started eating, which prompted Jake to do the same thing. “You know, when I walk in here on a Sunday night, I have no idea what the dinner is going to turn out to be like,” Jake said. “That must bother you,” I said, worried. “No way,” he said with a smile. “I love it.” “Dude, stop,” Will said, giving us an annoyed look for being a bit too romantic at this family dinner. “Whatever,” I said, mimicking him perfectly, so perfectly Darius cracked up. “So besides visiting opium dens, what did you do while you were in India?” Beverly asked Kat in her cattiest voice. “You would do well to open your soul a bit,” Kat snipped back, and it was the strangest thing. When she did, she reverted back to the Philadelphia mainline housewife she must have been. I intuitively knew that I was looking at this other side of my aunt. “I’m glad you enjoyed your time in India,” Mike said, intervening. “Magi and I are moving back here, and we’re going to live up in Napa Valley,” Kat announced. “It will be wonderful to have you close by,” Stef said, being polite. I wondered pessimistically if that may be one of his worst judgements ever. My new aunt seemed to be quite headstrong and dramatic. “And what will you be doing in Napa Valley?” Beverly asked coolly. “We’re building a siddhi temple, a place for people to find their hidden Siddhi,” Kat said, sounding stoned. This Kat was the crazy hippy aunt, not uptight suburban aunt. “What is a siddhi?” Will asked. It was typical of him to boldly ask questions when his curiosity was aroused. “It is a special skill, or strength,” Magi explained smoothly. He was very attractive, both physically and charismatically. “Everyone has one. Perhaps it is the ability to be lighter than air. For some, it is the ability to travel from one place to another instantaneously, or even to a different time. For others, it may be the ability to enter into someone else’s mind and body, to truly feel and see what they see.” “So you can train someone to fly, time travel, or be a mind reader?” Will challenged. Darius had to cover his mouth to avoid laughing at Will doing the same thing he did to JP: distilling grandiose phrases down into simple concepts. “It is not quite like that,” Magi said in a condescending way, one which showed how much Will had irked him. “Do not patronize me,” Will snapped back. “I meant no offense,” Magi said smoothly. “Perhaps later, we can take some time and I can explain how the principles work.” “Maybe,” Will said, even as I could sense him calming down. This Magi guy was a pretty smooth operator. I could see him convincing denizens of Napa and beyond to shell out a bunch of money so they could learn to see through walls or whatever other supernatural power they wanted to acquire. “Well it sounds nice, but are you sure this isn’t just a different way of saying brothel?” Beverly asked with faux innocence. “Why do you always assume everything has some sexual meaning or innuendo? I think it is people like you, who are so uptight and repressed, who we can help the most,” Kat said, reverting to uptight suburban mode. “How will this temple support itself?” Beverly responded, as if she hadn’t heard what Kat just said. “It will serve as a hermitage for those who want to find this inner, hidden skill,” Magi said smoothly. “We will use the profits from that aspect of our ashram to help those in need.” “So it is a charitable venture?” Stef asked. “It is, structured as a church under your Internal Revenue Code,” he replied. “I should have known that’s why you came back,” Beverly accused Kat bluntly. “Did you already run through all of Paul’s money.” I remembered that Paul was Kat’s first husband. “It was our money, not Paul’s money,” Kat snapped back. “And no, I did not.” Perhaps I had that mind-reading skill, or maybe it was just obvious that she wasn’t being entirely candid about that. It was a good bet that she’d burned through a bunch of her net worth. “Such an establishment must not rely solely on one person,” Magi said. “It must be a group effort.” “Not a dime,” Beverly said to Mike, pointing her finger at him. “You’re not giving her a dime.” “How sad, that someone so rich should be so ungenerous,” Kat said in a quasi-philosophical tone. “Such greediness is so unattractive.” Before Beverly threw her knife or fork at Kat, Stef intervened. “If it is a charitable venture, I would be willing to be part of your team, as it were.” “That is very nice of you,” Magi said, grinning from ear to ear. “Do you have a budget?” Will asked him. “A balance sheet?” Christopher started snickering at that, nascent businessman that he was. “Of course we have those things,” Magi said soothingly, but it was a good bet he was mentally scrambling on what those things were. “You’ll need them if you’re going to get funding,” Will asserted, and glanced at Stef meaningfully, explaining that these two needed to jump through the same hoops any other charitable venture should. “They will be provided,” Magi promised. “Thank you for your generous offer of help,” Kat said gracefully to Stef, even though she seemed to hurl the word ‘generous’ at Beverly. “You are welcome,” Stef said. “In exchange, perhaps you can teach me to travel back in time, to when I was a young man again.” He’d said that last sentence with a distinctable trace of melancholy. “If you want to see yourself as a young man again, you have only to look at your grandsons,” JP said affectionately. “I think that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said about me,” Will said. John and Darius nodded in agreement. That Hallmark moment was broken up by the sound of musical strings, and that prompted me to get ready to propose to Jake. As soon as we’d finished the main course, which we’d just done, a single violinist was supposed to walk in, playing some romantic ditty or another, and that would be my cue to speak. “I sense we are about to be serenaded,” Claire said, with an eyebrow raised to question what was happening. And then, instead of my single violinist, an entire Mariachi band came out. In addition to the guy I’d asked to play the violin, there were two guitarists and a trumpeter. They were playing a romantic ballad, one that was almost artistic enough to be opera, while simultaneously being down to earth. I was really impressed that they’d done this; this was way more than I’d asked them to do. The music wasn’t overly loud, but in the confines of the Great Hall, the volume was amplified as the sound waves bounced off the beautiful oak walls. As soon as they were finished, I started to stand up, when I felt Jake all but jump to his feet, shocking the shit out of me. This was definitely not going according to my script. I glanced over at Will who smirked back at me, and it was then that I realized he and Jake had hijacked my proposal. It was not a little annoying to have this whole event I’d had planned out completely go off the rails. “I’d like to ask for your attention, please,” Jake said. God, he had such a deep, sexy voice. “The floor is yours,” JP said. “Will, Darius, I’d like to ask, on behalf of you and your brothers JJ and Matt, for your permission to marry your father,” he said formally. Darius and Will stood up and looked directly at Jake. “You have our permission, and our blessing,” Will said. I’d just been sitting there, kind of dazed, mentally pouting because things hadn’t gone how I wanted them, when it dawned on me what Jake had done. He’d made sure to include my sons in our marriage, and he’d done it at its conception. Jake reached down and held out his hand, and when I took it, he pulled slightly to urge me to stand up. He dropped down on one knee and looked up at me with a smile. “I’m nervous that what you’re going to do next isn’t really suitable for all this company.” That made everyone laugh. “You always were a bit of exhibitionist, no?” Stef taunted. “You are?” Jake asked me with a leer. I frowned because I was embarrassed, and I knew that I had to be blushing, when Jake pulled me back into the moment. I stared into his blue eyes and felt nothing but love for this man who understood me so well, and who, despite grappling with his own insecurities, tried so hard to make me happy. “Brad Schluter, will you marry me?” “Yes, Jake Pike, I will marry you,” I said, and pulled him onto his feet and into my arms. I kissed him, and even as I heard the noise as everyone else clapped for us, we were alone in our own world, and I was happy.
  6. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 4

    Dammit!😀. Thanks for the info. I won’t make that mistake again
  7. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 4

    I thought Woolwich was on the north bank. I could be wrong (and I hate that). 🙂
  8. October 12, 2003 Escorial Palo Alto, CA Brad “This has been a wonderful weekend,” Beverly said, as she took a drink of her cocktail. “I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed yourself,” I said. “I was pretty nervous at first, but I’m really glad that you and your sons are now part of our life.” “Speaking of sons, Will and Colin got back about an hour ago,” Mike said. “I think they are in the process of getting ready.” “Did Chris have fun last night?” I asked, wondering what he did. “Evidently he did,” Mike grimaced. “He was hung over again this morning,” Beverly augmented. She seemed much less worried about that than Mike. “He told me he was excited about being here next semester.” “That’s good,” I said. I couldn’t think of how the results of this weekend could have possibly been better, which of course made me nervous and uptight, waiting for the next shoe to drop. JP came strolling out into the courtyard. “I wanted you to know that your aunt was just passed through the gates.” “Terrific,” Beverly said sarcastically, getting a dirty look from Mike. “Let’s go greet them,” Mike said, and stood up to follow JP to the foyer. JP and I stood in the background while Mike and Beverly advanced down the steps to intercept the car that pulled up. It was a non-descript Ford, the kind that one gets from Hertz. A man who appeared to be of Indian descent exited the driver’s side. He looked to be in his early thirties, was wearing khakis with a light ivory tunic that was reminiscent of those Gandhi had worn, and was very handsome. He opened the passenger door and out jumped a woman who must be my Aunt Catherine. She was short, about 5 foot 3 inches tall, and probably weighed about 180 pounds, so she was clearly overweight. She reminded me of Kathy Bates in “About Schmidt” with long gray hair that was a bit mussed. She wore a loose-fitting sari that was a color that almost matched the man’s tunic. She immediately bounded forward. “Mike! How great to see you! It has been much too long!” “Good to see you too, Kat,” he said, giving her a warm hug. “Beverly,” Kat said guardedly, as they kissed each other on the cheek in a very reserved manner. “Kat,” Beverly responded, with a distinct lack of warmth. I opted to step forward, and as soon as she saw me, she gasped. “My God!” she exclaimed. “Brad Schluter,” I said, and held out my hand to shake, but instead she grabbed it with both of hers. “It’s as if I’m looking at my brother,” she said, and a tear fell from her right eye. “I’m told I inherited his good looks,” I said in a pleasant way, trying to make this less awkward. “You did,” she said. “It’s as if he were cloned. I’m Catherine, but you call me Kat.” “I will do that,” I said, smiling at her. “This is Yogi Magi,” she said, introducing me to the man who was with her. I’d noticed that he’d already given Mike and Beverly perfunctory greetings while I was talking to Kat. “It’s nice to meet you,” I said, and shook his hand. “The pleasure is most certainly mine,” he said, with a marked Indian accent. “This is my father, Dr. JP Crampton,” I said, bringing JP into the fold. “Welcome to our home,” he said. “We’ve set up rooms for you and hope you will be our guests tonight.” I thought that was funny, since he certainly hadn’t extended an open invitation. “How very thoughtful,” Kat said. “Let me show you around and let you get settled in,” JP said in his courteous but gentle way. “Excellent,” she said, then held my hand and spoke to me. “Come with me.” “My pleasure,” I said. I sensed that she didn’t want a tour, she wanted to spend time with me. “I can take them to their rooms,” I said to JP. He told me which rooms they’d been allocated, then addressed everyone. “We will see you at dinner.” I led her off, with Magi following behind us, almost as if he were a servant, which I found terribly awkward, but I went with it. “I wish my parents were still alive. Meeting you would have brightened their world.” “I don’t know anything about them, not even where they lived,” I mused, almost to myself. “Our family is from New Castle, New Hampshire, which is probably why so many have been sailors,” she said. “It’s basically a suburb of Portsmouth.” “I’ve never been to that part of New Hampshire, so I know nothing about it,” I said, although if I were being honest, I’d admit that I couldn’t even remember going to any part of New Hampshire. “It’s a lovely peninsula that juts into Portsmouth harbor and out into the Atlantic. Our home is right on the coast,” she said wistfully. “When we’d have a storm, which was often in the winter, the winds were so strong it was hard to keep the house warm. At least until we finally installed dual-pane windows.” “I imagine,” I said. “It’s strange to have this side of my heritage that I know almost nothing about.” “I am truly sorry you were excluded,” she said. I shrugged. “I was adopted by this family, and I’m one of them now. It probably would have only confused me.” We got to Magi’s room, so I paused to show him in and familiarize him with how things worked, then we moved on and I showed Kat her room. “You say that, but that’s not true,” she said. “I can read your aura. I can see the blackness there, showing the scars of your past.” “It hasn’t been easy,” I said uncomfortably, since I didn’t like people I knew diving into my soul, much less people I’d just met. “Alexandra has that effect on people,” she said, almost spat out, in anger. “That woman leaves nothing but darkness in people’s lives.” “On that we can agree,” I said. “My late husband Paul called her the Destroyer, and if it weren’t for her children and grandchildren, we’d have had nothing to do with her,” she said. “I’ve been impressed with Mike and his family,” I said, to see if she’d share her opinion about him. She smiled, as if to acknowledge that I was digging. “Your assessment of them is a good one, although Beverly can be a challenge at times.” I smiled back. “I’ll let you get settled in. Dinner is at 7, but you may want to join us on the terrace before then and meet everyone.” “I’ll see you then,” she said, without specifying when ‘then’ was. I left her alone and wandered back to my room, feeling that same dazed and confused feeling I usually felt when confronted with my Carmichael connection. I found Jake in our room, finishing up a phone conversation. I smiled and nodded at him as I went into the bathroom, giving myself an opportunity to freshen up while also giving him some privacy for his chat. I’d just finished washing my face and hands, and putting my hair back in order, when Jake came in. “Did you have a nice conversation?” he asked me. “It was strange, just like they always are when I think about this side of my family I barely know,” I said. I could sense that he was uptight about something. “What’s wrong?” “I need to go out of town tomorrow,” he said. He seemed annoyed by it, which was unusual, because he normally got pretty ginned up when he was heading out on a case, but those reflections didn’t help me hide my grimace, which got a typically annoyed counter-reaction from him. “Where do you have to go?” I asked calmly. “Back to Vegas,” he said. His tone was one that was defiant, as if he were taunting me to start an argument. “How long will you be gone?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he said, in a really bitchy way, which I let totally slide past me. “I was thinking of going to New York for a few days,” I said, even though I hadn’t planned to do that at all. “I was just thinking it would be nice to be back when you got here.” Now it was his turn to grimace. “What are you going to do in New York?” “I thought I would check up on JJ, spend some time at Triton, and enjoy the town a little bit,” I said. That last phrase was a blatant dig, one I couldn’t resist, since it implied that I might sleep with someone else. I was determined that he not think that this deal with us was a one-way street, and that if he wanted the space to fuck around, I was going to do that too. In reality, I wasn’t all that anxious to have sex with anyone but him, but my pride wouldn’t allow me to settle down and be the only one of us who was monogamous. “Enjoy the town,” he said in a pissy way. “Yeah, there’s a lot to do in New York, and I know a lot of people there,” I said casually. “A lot of guys,” he said. “You’re not going to hook up with other people while you’re gone?” I challenged, my voice getting louder. “It’s different for me,” he said. “I only do that if I have to, for work.” That was so ridiculous I started laughing. “Then you either need a new job, or you need to get a grip on me being with other people too.” “That’s not fair…” he began to argue. “It’s totally fair, and you know it,” I yelled, setting him back on his heels a bit. “I could make up excuses about it being for work too, but would that make you feel any better?” He said nothing, so I pushed him out of the way and stormed past him. “Wait,” he said, stopping me in my tracks. It wasn’t so much the word, but the pleading tone of his voice that did it. “What do you want?” “What do you mean?” “I mean, if you could choose how we are, together, our relationship, how would it be?” he asked. I walked over to him and held his hands in mine. “If I were able to choose, we’d be together, you and me, and neither one of us would fuck around with anyone else.” “I didn’t think I’d ever be at that point with someone, where I wanted to and was willing to make that kind of commitment, but I am now. That’s what I want too,” he said. “Really?” I asked, stunned. He nodded. “That’s what I want, but I don’t know how to make it happen. I love you, and I trust you, but I don’t know if I could let myself be that vulnerable, since I’d have to give up my practice.” “I can see that,” I said sympathetically, as I got his point. He’d witnessed my break-up with Marc, and even though that had ended relatively well, he would have seen how Marc reacted to being tossed to the curb. “It sucks for us, because it’s not the same as it is for heterosexual couples. If we weren’t gay, we could get married, and that would pretty much spell things out.” “So marry me,” he said. I blinked in surprise at that, while he just stared back at me. “I don’t think that’s an option,” I said, even as my mind reeled at that suggestion. “It’s been legal in the Netherlands for a few years now, and just this year it was legalized in Belgium,” he said, telling me things I knew. “But it’s also legal in Canada.” “Gay marriage is legal in Canada?” I asked. “Toronto made it legal in June, and British Columbia followed in July,” he said. I wasn’t quite sure how I missed that momentous news flash, but I had. “We’re not Dutch, Belgian, or Canadian,” I said, reminding him of the jurisdictional boundaries. “So,” he said. “We can go to Canada and get married. It won’t be legal here, but it will still be a marriage. I don’t know about you, but that would be pretty meaningful to me.” “It would be meaningful to me too,” I agreed. “And even though it isn’t legally valid, we should still get a pre-nuptial agreement worked out.” “You’re worried I’m a gold digger?” he demanded, getting outraged pretty quickly. “No,” I said calmly, and put my hand on his shoulder. “Think about marriage. It’s two pieces. There’s the love and commitment part, and I’m completely ready to do that with you. Then there’s the property aspect. If we do a pre-nup, that gives you security, just in case things don’t work out. That way you haven’t given up your practice only to find yourself alone and unemployed with no income.” He nodded and looked down, then looked back up and smiled at me. “So are you asking me to marry you?” “When the time is right,” I said, and smirked at him. I gave him a quick kiss. “I’ll meet you down there.” Before he could stop me, I was out the door. In order to really do this right, I needed to propose to him in front of my entire family, and tonight was the perfect opportunity. I went straight to the kitchen to talk to the staff and see if they could make my proposal extra special. I swore them all to secrecy, hoping to surprise not just Jake, but everyone else as well. October 12, 2003 Escorial Palo Alto, CA Will Colin and I headed back to our rooms using my standard tactic when trying to avoid having conversations with family members: I told one of the cooks we were home and asked them to call my father and Grand and let them know, then hurried around the back way before the staff could alert them and they could react. “I feel like we just made some major escape,” Colin said, as we slinked into my room and shut and locked the door. “Sometimes it seems that way,” I said, and gave him a nice kiss. He broke off our kiss and looked at me nervously. “I want you to do something for me.” “Sure,” I answered automatically. “I want you to fuck me,” he said earnestly. “Cool,” I said, grinning at him. I didn’t see why he thought that was such a big chore, but I’d gladly oblige him. “Um, when I tried it before, uh, it kind of hurt too much,” he stammered, exposing his reason for being nervous. “So you’re telling me that you may puss out on me, and leave me with a hard dick and blue balls?” I asked. “Dude, I’d never leave you with a hard dick and blue balls. I’d definitely take care of those,” he said. “You can do this,” I said to him seriously. “I’ll try,” he said nervously. “Do or do not, there is no try,” I said, doing a stupid Yoda from Star Wars imitation. He laughed at me, then we both got serious again. “Promise me you’ll go through with it.” He looked at me oddly, then scrunched up his face in irritation. He knew as well as I did that if he made that commitment, he’d do it; there was no way he could back down and be a coward, at least in his own mind. “I’ll do it.” “Bitchin’,” I said with a smile. It really wasn’t a huge chore to top a hot guy like him, but it did take a lot of effort. As I loosened him up and got him ready, then when I slowly pushed into him, my mind kept flashing back to the first time I’d topped Jeff, and how he’d coached me through it. Thinking of him made me smile and gave me the extra drive and stamina to actually work my massive dick into Colin. “God that hurts,” he said, panting. “Dude, just relax. I’m going to stay still for a bit and let you get used to me,” I cooed into his ear. “Alright,” he said skeptically. It was hard to do that, to stay really still, without either cumming or losing my erection, so to keep myself hard, I started to make some small movements. It seemed like with each microthrust, he got a little more relaxed and into it. “Better,” he said, breathing regularly now. “Better?” I asked with a smile. “No, this is better.” I started pistoning in and out of him, going slowly so he could feel my dick slide in and out of his ass, while I watched his reaction carefully to adapt my speed. I took his hand and put it on his dick, and he took the hint and started stroking himself to full hardness. Once he was there, I really started to fuck him. “Holy shit!” he exclaimed pretty loudly. It was one of the cutest things about him, in that when he got really excited, his voice got much louder. “Fuck yeah!” Then he was with me, stroking himself off frantically as I fucked him. I actually had the presence of mind to note that his stamina was much longer when he was getting fucked. The stimulation of his tight virgin ass, combined with a very long time of working with it, had pretty much brought me to the edge. “Gonna cum!” I growled, and then my whole body quaked as I shot my load up his ass. It was one massive orgasm, the kind that almost made me feel as if I were alone and he was just a receptacle. I finally came down from my euphoric haze to find him staring up at me, crazed. “Your turn.” I gently thrust my dick against his prostate while I stroked his cock, for once hoping that he’d come quickly. My dick was staring to tingle, almost a ticklish sensation, when he finally got there. “Fuck!” he shouted, and shot his load all over his chest and abdomen. I nursed him along, then gently pulled out and collapsed on the bed beside him. “That was incredible!” “I liked it too,” I said, smiling at him. “I am so glad I did that with you,” he said earnestly. “You made it so awesome. It hurt, but not too bad, but damn, was it worth it.” “Thanks,” I said shyly, even though my sexual ego had just taken a huge positive bump. “It was my pleasure.” That was kind of a lie, because breaking in a guy like him was fun but a lot of work, but even if it wasn’t the most pleasurable sexual act, it was totally rewarding. “You just opened up a whole new world for me,” he said wistfully. I was kind of worried about that, because I wasn’t sure, if he embraced being a bottom, he’d also embraced the need to use condoms. “Do I need to have the safe sex talk with you, or do you have that down?” I asked, partly teasing. “Yes Mom, I got it,” he said in an annoyed tone, accusing me of being parental. That prompted me to look at my clock. “Dude, Aunt Kat is probably here by now!” “We’ll see her at dinner,” he said languorously until he turned and looked at the clock too. “Fuck.” “We’ll do that again later,” I teased. I grabbed a towel and wiped us off, then we got up and took a shower together. He wrapped his towel around his waist, not bothering to get dressed, and started to head over to his room. I was impressed that he was being that bold about it, about leaving my room wearing almost nothing. Just before he opened the door he paused and looked back at me. “I need to spend some time with Chris and my parents.” “That’s fine,” I said. “I’ll see you at dinner.” As soon as the door closed, I started working furiously to get ready for our dinner. I opted for a classic Sunday night dinner outfit: gray slacks and a blue blazer. Normally my hair had a wind-blown look, but to match my outfit, I gave it some extra gel to wrangle it firmly into place and make it look more formal. I studied myself in the mirror, knowing that I’d be under close inspection not only from my mystery great aunt but from the fashionistas in my family, and decided that I was ready. I walked up to the kitchen first, like I usually did, and saw my father talking to Carlos, the guy who was like our butler, in a frantic way. I walked over to them and got a dirty look from my father. “I’ll be done in a minute,” he said to dismiss me. “OK,” I said, raising my eyebrow at him, then walked over to the table and snagged some carrots from the vegetable trays. I watched him using my peripheral vision, as he finished up his conversation and strolled toward me. “Sorry, I was just finishing up some things,” he said, as he joined me and snagged a piece of celery. “You look nice tonight.” “Thanks,” I said. “What are you planning?” “It’s a surprise,” he said. “I’ll see you at dinner.” He turned and walked out of the room, leaving my curiosity unsatisfied. I glanced over at Carlos, who sensed that I was about to grill him and he all but fled the kitchen, leaving me and Carmen, the cook, alone. “So what’s he up to?” I asked her in Spanish. “I am told I must not say,” she objected. “You can tell me,” I said, cajoling her. “I promise you won’t get in trouble.” She looked around nervously, then whispered in a frantic way. “He is going to ask Mr. Jake to marry him at dinner.” “Really?” I asked, pretty surprised by that. She nodded. “Cool,” I said. “Mr. Jake is a nice man,” she said. “He is, and he is good for my father,” I agreed. I gave her a quick hug, then went out to find my father. I was walking through the entry hall when I ran into Jake instead. “Have you seen your father?” he asked. “Just did,” I answered. “He was in the kitchen.” “He’s up to something,” Jake said. I didn’t respond. “You know what it is?” “He wouldn’t tell me,” I answered honestly. “But you still know,” he said in an accusing way. “Well yeah, because the staff likes me better,” I joked, getting a chuckle from him. “Your dad always treats the staff really well,” he countered. “Yeah, but I spend more time with them,” I said. “Usually in the kitchen.” I shrugged. “I’m a growing boy.” I was hoping to use that as my exit line but he moved closer to me, as if to physically stop me with his presence. “So tell me what he’s up to,” he demanded. “Why would I do that, and ruin his surprise?” I asked. “Because then I’ll owe you a favor,” he said. “That could get expensive,” I said in a slutty way. “A favor that doesn’t involve incest,” he said. “For it to be incest, you’d have to be married to my father,” I said, to see how much he knew about things. “He almost proposed to me this afternoon, then stopped,” Jake said, and let his guard down. My father was clearly planning to make this a big production, so it was a special event, but by keeping Jake in the dark, he’d filled him with doubts and exacerbated his insecurities. “Then now you know what he’s running around planning,” I said with a smile, one that he fully returned. I was just about to finally escape from him when he put his hand on my shoulder. “I have an idea, and I need your help,” he said. “Dude, now you’re up to two favors,” I said. “What’s your plan?” October 12, 2003 Escorial Palo Alto, CA Brad I stood on the terrace, chatting with Stefan, and enjoying a gin and tonic. “What are you so excited about?” he asked me. “Nothing,” I said, annoyed that he could read me so well. Will chose that moment to walk up and join us, conveniently saving me from trying to convince Stef that I wasn’t excited. “You look very good tonight,” Stef told Will, even as he touched the sleeve of his blazer. “I am wondering if this is a result of your excellent wardrobe, your naturally good looks, or the glow you seem to have.” “Probably the glow,” Will said. “I topped Colin this afternoon. Got his cherry.” “And did he enjoy it?” Stef asked, even as I internally cringed at the complications a relationship between Will and Colin would dump on our family. “Duh,” Will said, which was funny enough to make me laugh. “My goal is to be as good at sex as you are.” “According to some, you have already achieved that goal,” Stef said with a hint of bitterness. It still irked him that Buzz Dalby had found Will to be more fun in bed than him. “But I don’t have your experience, or your ability to read people,” Will said. “I’m not sure about experience,” I said, giving Will a bad time. “You’ve got to be closing in on his numbers.” “I’m trying,” Will said, to taunt me. “Experience is a good thing,” Stef said, intervening on Will’s behalf. “Practice makes perfect.” “I’ll fill you in on all the details later,” Will said to Stef, as if to exclude me. JP came up and that seemed to inject respectability into our conversation. “Good evening,” JP said languidly. “It is a very good evening,” I said. The door opened and I saw Colin step out onto the patio, looking stunningly handsome in a light gray suit. “I’ll be back,” Will said, and went over to greet him, getting a giggle from Stef. “We are clearly not as alluring as that handsome young man,” JP observed. “Will is probably just going to make sure the poor boy isn’t sore,” Stef said. JP looked at him curiously. “Will topped him this afternoon. Evidently it was Colin’s first successful experience with being penetrated.” It was hilarious to see JP get annoyed at Stef’s discussion of his grandson’s sex life. “Well I’m sure that was an eye-opening experience for both of them,” JP said. I was trying not to laugh my ass off, when Kat and Magi came out. “There you are!” she said loudly and hurried over to see us. “I trust you are comfortable?” JP asked, ever the good host. “Everything is wonderful,” she said to him. “Thank you for your hospitality.” “It was our pleasure,” he said. “Please allow me to introduce you to my partner, Stefan Schluter.” “What a pleasure,” she said, and grasped Stef’s hands firmly. “I have always wanted to meet you.” “Then it appears today is your lucky day,” Stef said, smiling to make it a joke. “Magi, you must read their auras,” she said to her sidekick. “He’s better at it than I am,” she commented in an aside to me. “That might be interesting,” Stef said, encouraging them, although I wasn’t too sure that was such a good idea. Magi stared at me, while everyone else looked at him, including me. It almost seemed as if his eyes were rolling back into his head, and he held his hands out as if to touch an orb about two feet away from me. It was very strange, both because I was the center of attention, and because he was emanating an energy that almost made me feel as if I were tingling. Will chose that moment to come join us with Colin in tow. Magi opened his eyes and lowered his hands. “Well?” I asked to prompt him, since he seemed nervous. “I see three strong colors in your aura,” he said. “Black is there, and that is sad, because it signifies past problems, unreleased anger, or grief. It is not as strong as the other two colors.” “Terrific,” I grumbled, understanding why Beverly found this so annoying. “The second color is light blue, which is an indicator of intuition and honesty,” he said. “The final color is a bright yellow, which usually means the individual has a fear of losing control.” “I can see that,” Kat said, as if to validate her own abilities, but her words were drowned out by laughter coming from Will and Stefan, and a chuckle from JP. “How very accurate,” Stef finally said, after he got his laughter under control. I just gave him a dirty look. Magi focused his attention on Stef next. “You have many colors, including a little black, but the most dominant are lavender, orange, and silver.” “What does that mean?” Stef asked. “Lavender is the color of dreamers, of those with imagination, while orange is usually related to the reproductive organs, and signifies extensive abilities in that area. Silver is the color of abundance, which could be material or spiritual,” he said. “Well that seemed to be spot on,” I said, while Stef nodded. He was obviously pleased by this reading, which was irritating since mine had been so crappy. Magi then turned to JP and went into his mini-trance again. “I see in you the colors of the sun,” he said, before he even opened his eyes. “You have strong orange-yellow colors, which indicate high intelligence and suggest you are a perfectionist. Then there is the gold, lots of gold, which is very unusual.” “What does that mean?” Kat asked. “Someone with lots of gold in their aura is quite powerful, psychically speaking, and has innate wisdom, inner peace, and intuition,” he answered. “That is very impressive, JP,” Stef said. “It is a shame he did not find more orange in there.” “I am quite happy with my wisdom and inner peace,” JP said with a smile. “I haven’t introduced you to my son yet,” I said to Kat. “This is Will.” He’d been in the background, so she hadn’t really seen him yet. She rushed forward and held his hands, much as she’d held mine. “I feel as if I am looking at two versions of my brother. You look like him when he was in college.” “Thank you,” Will said politely, if awkwardly. “Wait, do not move,” Magi said. “You,” he said to Will. “Stand here.” He guided Will so he was standing in between JP and Stef.” “What?” Will asked, not a little annoyed at being maneuvered around like a chess piece. “I have never seen this before,” Magi said, as he held out his hands in his aura pose. “What?” I asked, sounding a lot like Will. “Putting him between these two, he is like a fusion of their auras,” Magi said. “This is fascinating. It is like he is an exact blending of the two of them.” “No bright yellow for me,” Will said, winking at me, getting a frown in return, and a laugh from everyone else.
  9. January 18, 1801 Hermann Castle Narva, Governate of Estonia “This journey has been much easier than I thought it would be, my lord,” Winkler said as he trimmed Granger’s hair. “Indeed,” Granger agreed. With the vozok, it had been almost pleasant. They had traveled each day from dawn until they reached their next stopping point, which was usually a nice manor house, a castle, or a palace. It was obvious that von Beckendorf and his relatives had traveled this road many times by the way that their hosts were so friendly. There had been warm welcomes, with a hospitality Granger found to be as good as anywhere he’d traveled. Many of these places had saunas, and that had enabled Granger to refresh himself while recovering from the cold, although with the vozok, he remained warm for most of the journey. “Please hold still, my lord,” Winkler admonished. “I would hate to have you remove an ear, so I will comply with your request,” Granger said playfully. “I am hoping we can continue on our way today.” They’d been in Narva for three days now, having been forced to stop their journey as a snowstorm enveloped the lovely town. The two of them simultaneously looked out the small window in their room. “It seems that the snow has stopped, my lord.” “Then let us hope that is a good sign,” Granger said. “There, my lord,” Winkler said, finishing up his trimming job. They both gazed at Granger’s handsome reflection in the mirror. “You have become quite accomplished at cutting hair, Winkler,” Granger said, admiring his steward’s talents. “Thank you, my lord,” Winkler said. There was a clattering of hooves in the courtyard, and the fact that the noise was heard despite the blanket of snow caused Granger to arise and walk to the window, with Winkler trailing after him. They looked into the courtyard and saw a dozen hussars along with a nice coach, which was just now coming to a halt. Granger watched as two men alighted from the vehicle, with one of them wearing insignias that suggested he was a general, while the other was much younger and was most likely a major. Granger assumed that the major was probably the general’s aide de camp. All of them wore dark green uniforms that were different than von Beckendorf’s. “It appears we have a visitor,” Granger observed to Winkler. “I will see if I can find out who that is, my lord,” Winkler said, and scurried out of the room. Granger shrugged, since there was nothing he could do about this new arrival, and after a quick glance in the mirror to make sure his appearance was correct, he sat down and continued with his writing. He used his spare time to work on a draft of his letter to the Tsar, which he planned to deliver to His Imperial Majesty once he was in the environs of St. Petersburg. It was frustrating work, trying to find the right balance between being slavishly apologetic while also not demeaning his position as a peer of the realm. He scanned the latest page of his efforts with disgust, wadded it up and threw it in the fire. There was a scratch at his door, followed by the entry of von Beckendorf. “I noticed the arrival of a well-turned-out general,” Granger said with a smile. “That general is von Driesen,” von Beckendorf said, his smile fading at the mention of this officer who was obviously senior to him. “He is demanding to meet you. He has already engaged in a heated argument with me in his efforts to steal our vozok.” “I am hoping he was unsuccessful?” Granger asked. “I told him that I was on a special mission for Count von der Pahlen to convey you to His Imperial Majesty,” von Beckendorf said. Granger stared at him, confused, wondering why an American merchant would warrant such treatment from the Tsar. “I told him you were a banker,” von Beckendorf added. “Bankers are given such special treatment in Russia?” Granger asked with a chuckle. “When His Imperial Majesty needs to raise money they are,” he replied. “He is not convinced, but the mention of the Count will probably persuade him to leave us alone.” “Why is that?” Granger asked. He knew Count von der Pahlen was a person of some influence at Court, but not to the degree that he would warrant cautious treatment by a general. “Count von der Pahlen heads up what is the Tsar’s personal police force, or secret police if you will,” von Beckendorf said. Granger hid his annoyance that von Beckendorf had not seen fit to tell him before of von der Pahlen’s true role in the Russian government. “Why did that not matter to the general in Arensburg?” Granger asked. “Because that general wasn’t aware of the extent of the Count’s influence, while this general is,” he replied. Even if Granger had fancied being annoyed with von Beckendorf, the young Colonel’s good humor would have stopped him. “Do you have any guidance for me?” Granger asked. “His aide has been to America, to New York, so I would expect they will try to discern if you are who you say you are,” he said. “Remember that their goal is to find something suspicious enough to commandeer our comfortable conveyance.” “Then I will attempt to pass myself off as an American banker,” Granger said with a great degree of skepticism. “I think your training sessions with Jacobs have worked well, but then again, I can’t understand what you’re saying,” von Beckendorf joked. Jacobs had coached Granger on the differences in American and British dialect, with the two biggest being the way the letters r and a were treated. Americans tended to pronounce the r, while the English did not. With the letter a, the English used an ‘ah’ sound while the Americans used a stronger ‘aaa’ like the bleating of a sheep. Jacobs had a much more casual way of speaking, but Granger was led to believe this was more of an indication of his social standing and his time in the wilderness, and that those in cities would form sentences much as he did. Not having to reinvent his grammar was a thankful relief. “We shall see,” Granger said dubiously. He stood up and walked out of his room to find Winkler waiting for him and instructed him to make sure their things were packed and loaded into the vozok. Von Beckendorf augmented that order by conveying to his servants that they were to be ready to depart as well, dragoons and all, as soon as possible. After that, he followed von Beckendorf through the castle to a chamber where a dismounted hussar stood guard. The guard eyed them carefully, then opened the door to usher them in. Von Beckendorf led them into the commandant’s office, a fact Granger was aware of because he had spent much time visiting with that interesting man during their stay. Evidently the General had opted to take it over, and the commandant had not objected, at least not effectively. It was probably significant that he was not in the room. “General von Driesen, Major Rostov, may I present Mr. Albert Ryde.” He spoke in French, which was the language Granger perceived as being almost exclusively used by the ruling class in Russia. “Welcome, Mr. Ryde,” the general said with a wily tone. “Thank you, General,” Granger replied. He didn’t have to worry about his accent when they spoke French, so that made things much easier. “I understand you are an American,” Major Rostov said, speaking English well enough to convince Granger he was fluent. “I spent much time there.” “How wonderful to be able to speak English,” Granger gushed in that language. “Where did you live when you were there?” “I spent most of my time in New York, with a brief sojourn to Boston,” Rostov said. “Those are big cities, but not as big as where I hail from,” Granger said. “I’m from Philadelphia.” Rostov questioned Granger about that city in an innocuous but probing way, but Granger’s stay there had given him more than enough knowledge to answer the man’s questions effectively. When their conversation was done, Rostov turned and yammered to von Driesen in German. Von Beckendorf gave Granger a sly wink to tell him he’d effectively convinced them he was a Yankee. “And why are you going to St. Petersburg?” the general abruptly asked Granger. “I was commanded to appear there in order to meet His Imperial Majesty, and to discuss my mission with no one, begging your pardon,” Granger said politely. “Surely such caution isn’t necessary when talking to one of His Imperial Majesty’s generals,” von Driesen said arrogantly, with just a hint of malice. “If that is the case, general, I would have thought His Imperial Majesty would have included such an exception in his directives to me,” Granger said, yielding not an inch. “Quite so,” the general said, clearly irritated. “And where are you bound?” Granger asked, just to make himself more annoying. “We are heading to Mitau, to send the French pretender and his leeches packing. They will be leaving Russia immediately,” the general said. The general did not seem overly compassionate and he didn’t seem to have a strong sense of chivalry, making Granger feel sorry for the emigres and their monarch. Being turned out of Mitau by this man would undoubtedly be unpleasant. “An unfortunate time to compel them to travel,” Granger noted boldly, all but accusing the general of being inhumane. “That is not my concern,” he snapped. “I will do as His Imperial Majesty commands, as will they!” Granger almost laughed out loud at how horrified the French at Mitau would be if they heard this man declaring that the King of France, as they saw him, would obey the commands of the Tsar, true as that state of affairs may be. “And that is what I am trying to do as well,” Granger said evenly. “In any event, they will survive,” he said. “A good journey to both of you.” “Thank you,” Granger said. He bowed politely, with the general and Rostov returning his gesture, then left the room. “Trouble for your French friends,” von Beckendorf said as they headed to the courtyard. “They knew this was coming,” Granger said fatalistically. “Let us hope they used that time to plan for such an event.” “I am willing to guess that rules of etiquette blocked them from making much progress in that regard,” von Beckendorf said with a chuckle. “They are probably still arguing over who gets to hold the door to the king’s carriage when he leaves.” Granger laughed at his pleasant German companion. “Or who is responsible for packing food for dinner on the trip,” he added. They paused to take their leave of the Commandant, then went into the courtyard to their waiting vozok. Von Beckendorf’s dragoons and von Driesen’s hussars were milling about, fraternizing with each other. The uniforms of the dragoons were much simpler and as a result seemed more warlike to Granger, while the hussars wore tunics that were so ornate it made them seem as if they were palace guards and not real soldiers. The camaraderie between the dragoons and hussars seemed to cause von Beckendorf much alarm. He barked orders to his men and they departed with inordinate haste, tearing out of the courtyard and across the bridge into Russia proper. Von Beckendorf leaned forward and had his servant relay to the coachman to increase their speed. Granger stared at him, a bit surprised at their sudden need for urgency. “The dragoons with us know who you are, and it is likely they will have told their friends the hussars as well.” Granger nodded, understanding quite clearly the reason for their haste. “And you are worried that riders will be coming after us to halt us?” “That is exactly what I am worried about,” von Beckendorf said. He was in a panic, and as Granger had noted before, he tended to act a bit erratically when he was flustered. He tried to peer out the window, but he couldn’t see behind the vehicle. “We are doing all that we can, so I would submit that you should relax and remain calm,” Granger admonished. “If we are apprehended, you will be in grave danger, and I will most likely be shot,” von Beckendorf spat, his panic increasing. “In a situation like this, it is important to anticipate what your enemy will do, such as the general is our foe,” Granger said calmly. “I told you that he will send hussars after us and order us to halt, and he will follow at a more leisurely pace in his carriage,” von Beckendorf said, frustrated at restating the obvious. “How will they search for us?” Granger asked. “They will follow the road to St. Petersburg,” von Beckendorf told Granger, with a tone that suggested Granger was an idiot. “His hussars will be faster than us, even in our speedy vozok,” Granger noted. “You are telling me things are hopeless,” von Beckendorf said a bit despondently. “No, I am telling you that we need to get off this road,” Granger said. “This is the only road to St. Petersburg,” von Beckendorf objected. “Then we will have to delay our trek,” Granger said. “We need to find a place where we can hide out, a place where we will not be revealed.” “Won’t the hussars just continue to scout the road for us?” he asked. “The General’s orders are to go to Mitau and evict King Louis from Russia,” Granger said. “I doubt they give him the leeway to spend a day or two searching around Narva for me.” “That is probably true,” von Beckendorf agreed. “What is to prevent him from leaving a squad behind to arrest us?” “Who would he leave that would be able to do that?” Granger asked. “You are senior to Rostov, so the troops will be faced with conflicting orders from a colonel and a major. Your dragoons will obey your orders, and the hussars will most likely obey as well.” “They would,” von Beckendorf agreed. “And ponder this,” Granger said, prefacing his next statement. “The general had us in his hands, and both he and his aide allowed us to deceive them and escape. I doubt he will spend noticeable time chasing us when his own role in this episode is not flattering. I suspect that he will search for the day, then press on and order his men to forget the whole affair.” Von Beckendorf stared at him in surprise as he digested Granger’s reasoning. “I do not understand how you are so good at this,” von Beckendorf said to Granger, with the admiration dripping off his words. Predictably enough, such adoration made Granger uncomfortable. “To win a battle, you must understand how your enemy thinks,” Granger said simply, then changed the subject. “Is there a place close to here that will serve our purposes?” “Let me look at the map,” he said. Granger helped him spread out the one showing their current environs, then watched as he studied it carefully. “Here! Yamburg!” “Yamburg?” Granger asked. “It is only twelve miles distant. There is a cathedral there. My cousin is the bishop,” he said excitedly. “How many of your men can you trust?” Granger asked him. “I can trust my men,” von Beckendorf objected. Granger recognized that he’d slightly offended his friend, so he opted to take a different approach. “Here is what I think we should do,” Granger said. “We should keep the most loyal of your troopers with us, those who would not reveal who I am or where we are. Men you would trust with your life.” Von Beckendorf nodded. “I would keep seven of our twelve men with me.” “Excellent,” Granger said. “Then we should send the other five back toward Narva, with orders to delay anyone who comes after us.” “Should we not send the more loyal ones?” he asked. “No,” Granger answered firmly. “They will not know where we are to reveal us, and they will probably obey orders initially to delay our pursuers. In any event, even explaining their orders and talking about us will cause them to waste time.” “What of the others?” he asked. “We will send two others ahead to the cathedral to make sure they are ready for us, and to make sure that there is a place to hide both us and our vozok. The others we will retain for our safety,” Granger said. “I understand,” von Beckendorf said. He made to rap on the front window to stop the coach, when Granger stopped him. “We will not have much time to explain things. I would recommend that you dispatch the five first, and then you can have one of the men from the forward group sit in here so we can talk while we are on our way.” Von Beckendorf nodded. “I will do just that.” He rapped on the door and told the coachman to stop. The effect was immediate, with the vozok jerking and sliding a bit as the coachman put on the brakes a bit too zealously. As soon as the coach had ceased to move, von Beckendorf jumped out. Granger watched him through the window as he beckoned the dragoons over. It was impressive how quickly he managed to get the five least-reliable men to tackle their mission. As soon as they rode off, he spoke to one of the other men. Just as Granger was about to get frustrated at how much time they were wasting, those men pulled their horses around and dashed off in the opposite direction. A few more words, and then von Beckendorf hopped back into the vehicle, and it began moving, picking up its pace quickly. “That was quite fast,” Granger said with a smile. “I took your guidance to heart,” he replied. “I was able to relay the plan to the men easily enough, and that way I do not have to share this vozok with anyone but you.” He gave Granger a lustful look as he said that last phrase. “That is a wonderful benefit,” Granger said, although his libido was seriously dampened by the urgency of the moment. “The dragoons that are with us will follow the vozok,” he said. “I am surprised you do not have some in front and some in back,” Granger mused. “In this case, they will ride over our tracks, and hopefully obscure the sled marks,” von Beckendorf said with a proud grin. “That is very good thinking on your part,” Granger said. Von Beckendorf smiled proudly at Granger, and his expression made Granger think he would try to initiate a sexual tryst, but in the end, it was not sex that was on his mind, but a focus on their current crisis. Granger pondered that von Beckendorf had the makings of an excellent first lieutenant, or whatever the Russian military equivalent was to that Royal Navy rank. He was quite capable of taking a plan, filling in the details, and executing it, but he lacked the steadiness to hatch one under fire. Von Beckendorf pulled out the maps of the remainder of their journey and began to plot out how to make it to St. Petersburg without being apprehended. “I think that after today, we will be able to continue to make good time,” von Beckendorf concluded. “Perhaps,” Granger said cautiously. Von Beckendorf looked at him with annoyance at having his rosy outlook marred. “If von Driesen does discover who I am, as I noted, he will probably not have the ability to wait around and hunt me down.” “Exactly,” von Beckendorf said. “It is possible that he may dispatch a few men to alert people along our route. He could do it in a way that does not reflect badly on him,” Granger noted. “What makes you think that?” he challenged. “Because that is what I would do,” Granger answered. “Von Driesen is not as smart as you are,” von Beckendorf said, making both of them laugh. “The general will not need much force to turn out the Bourbons in Mitau. He has more than enough men to do that and dispatch a small squad to at least shadow us. And since our destination is known, that will make their job that much easier.” “Then how will we escape them?” he asked. “I am not sure,” Granger said, staring at the maps in puzzlement. The road they’d traveled on was good by Eastern European standards, but there weren’t any other options than this route. “It seems that we must either try to outrun them, we must wait until they tire of looking for us, or we must travel at night.” “At night?” he asked, stunned. “That would be very dangerous.” “Perhaps,” Granger said, as he pondered that plan. “If there were enough moonlight, and we went at a slower pace, it may be possible.” “Perhaps,” von Beckendorf said, repeating Granger’s word as he thought about that option. They had made remarkably good time on their trip thus far, but today the going was much slower due to the considerable amounts of snow that had fallen. The blizzard they’d sat out at Narva had blanketed the roads and the countryside with precipitation, and the winds had blown it into drifts. The winds had continued on during the day, and would probably blow snow across the road behind them, doing more to cover their tracks than the dragoons’ horses did. They arrived in Yamburg just as it was starting to get dark, which was very convenient since that way they attracted less attention. Granger mused that if they wouldn’t have been delayed by their meeting with von Driesen in the morning, they probably would have gotten here well before sunset, and been much more obvious. One of the dragoons from the advance party had returned to guide them in, so they were able to travel directly into the town, and into a barn adjacent to the cathedral. They exited the vehicle and found that the barn was big enough to house their horses as well, and there was even some fodder for them. Von Beckendorf took some time to thank his men, and to give them orders to take care of the horses. Granger gave them some money to buy food and drink in the town, while von Beckendorf admonished them to keep their mouths shut about Granger’s presence. Having accomplished that, von Beckendorf led Granger out of that structure and into the blistering cold air of Yamburg. As soon as they emerged from the barn, Granger saw a large cathedral with those uniquely Russian onion dome towers. It was too dark to identify much more than the towers, so he could not get a feel for what the rest of the structure looked like. Von Beckendorf did not lead him to the cathedral, but rather to the rectory next to it. It was a nice house with lights flickering through curtained windows and smoke coming from multiple chimneys, giving off a warm and inviting impression. They entered the house, and the reception they received was just the opposite of what the outside appearance would have suggested. A young man wearing a simple black robe frowned at them and said nothing, just motioned for them to follow him into the next room. There they found a roaring fire, with the welcoming warmth offset by the frosty demeanor of an older man probably in his fifties, wearing a purple robe with a white mantle, who was sitting behind a table. He did not deign to rise to greet them, but instead stared at them in a hostile way. The young man who had escorted them into the room stood behind the older man, his arms folded, glaring just as hatefully. The old man began to speak in Russian, his volume rising with each word, until he was all but yelling at von Beckendorf, who stood there silently, an expression of contempt on his face. Von Beckendorf raised an eyebrow and looked at his fingernails in an amused way, all but ignoring this old man who finally ended his rant. Granger could not tell if the yelling stopped because he had finished, or because he had exhausted himself. Von Beckendorf walked slowly toward the table, with Granger walking next to him, more to see what was going on than to be part of the discussion. Von Beckendorf put both of his hands on the table and leaned in so his face was within two feet of the older man’s and began to speak to him in Russian. Based on the stench of the older man’s breath and body, Granger thought von Beckendorf was sacrificing a lot for that gesture. Von Beckendorf’s tone was menacing and sinister, one that Granger would have found intimidating were he in the older man’s position. The two men on the other side of the table slowly began to change their attitudes. Their expressions went from being angry, to listening with skepticism, to one of increasing fear that ended almost in terror by the time von Beckendorf finished. The old man snapped something to the young man, who hurried out of the room. Von Beckendorf stood erect and switched to French. “Lord Granger, I would like to introduce you to Bishop Dolokhov.” “It is a pleasure to meet Your Grace,” Granger said. Von Beckendorf had used the time they’d spent in the vozok when they hadn’t been having sex to familiarize Granger with the customs and forms of address at the Russian Court. He found it odd that a bishop was accorded the same honorary address as a duke would receive in England. “It is my pleasure, my lord,” the Bishop said obsequiously. “I am sorry if I did not provide you with a warmer welcome when you arrived, but I will endeavor to make up for it.” “Think nothing of it, Your Grace,” Granger said politely. “I have sent my aide to bring food and drink, and to see that your men have food and shelter,” he said. “Your Grace is too kind,” von Beckendorf answered. “Would it be possible to repair to our rooms for a few minutes?” “Of course,” he said bombastically, and rang a bell. That caused a young woman to appear. He belted out instructions to her in Russian, then Granger and von Beckendorf followed her up the stairs. She led them into a chamber with a single bed that was the size of one and a half cots, nodded, and exited. While it was unlikely that this woman, who was to all appearances a chambermaid, spoke French, Granger waited until she was gone and the door was shut before he spoke to von Beckendorf. “Can you translate that conversation?” Von Beckendorf chuckled. “He was unhappy that we were here and that we were being pursued, and he is probably even more unhappy that he will have to provide us with food and drink, as well as fodder.” “He was afraid that he would be arrested?” Granger asked. “Initially,” von Beckendorf said. “Then I explained that I worked for Count von der Pahlen, and that I was on a personal mission for him and the Tsar to bring you to St. Petersburg. I reminded him of what can happen to people, even bishops, who cross the secret police, and I explained to him the penalties should he or his people reveal our identities or presence.” “You appeared to be convincing,” Granger said. “I thought he was a relative?” Von Beckendorf shrugged. “A distant cousin, not so close that he could not spend time in Siberia.” Granger laughed at that. “Let us go down and see what he has decided to feed us.” Granger was surprised to find that the food was good. He and von Beckendorf were joined by the bishop and his aide, who chattered away about the town and their cathedral. He had dined on largely Germanic dishes when traveling through Courland and when staying in Narva, but this was more native Russian fare, or at least that is what Granger assumed. The conversation was pleasant at first, then became tedious, then became outright challenging as the two men grilled Granger on the rites and customs of the Anglican church. Granger feared that he had not done a very good job of answering their queries, and that his lack of conviction about religion was apparent. It was a relieved George Granger who was finally able to escape upstairs with von Beckendorf to their room to engage in a very unholy sexual extravaganza.
  10. I try to target every two weeks, but I don't always meet that deadline. That's especially true when I'm in a part of the story that requires a lot of research. The next chapter is in editing now, though, so it shouldn't be too long.
  11. It was in this story, Chapter 26. I don't think he was that much smoother this time around. He hasn't quite acquired that art yet.
  12. October 12, 2003 Bristol, CT JJ I almost chuckled to myself since it was close to midnight and here we were, lying in bed after yet another awesome fuck, just like we’d been this morning. Just like then, I was on a high, but tonight Carullo seemed even more uptight. And people thought I was moody. “What’s bothering you?” I asked. He gave me an odd look, as if to question whether I actually wanted to hear him tell me, but I glared at him and he relented. I mean, I didn’t really want to hear him ramble on about stupid shit, but I wanted him to not be so fucking uptight, so if the price for that was listening to him whine, I’d pay it. He sighed. “I’m worried about Toby and Tab,” he said. I restrained myself from getting pissed off that he’d let their issues ruin his mood. I’d thought his stress was over something important. “Tab is so pissed off about this she can barely see straight, and Toby just feels guilty.” It was like he’d totally immersed himself in their lives and their drama, so now in exchange for some home cooking he got a bunch of stress. It was amazing to me that he’d developed such close ties to these people in such a short period of time. This was a good reminder that there was a downside to having friends. “I don’t see how you’re going to be able to solve either one of those problems,” I said. My response was logical but probably insensitive, so I decided I’d better ramble on some more to make sure I didn’t piss him off. “Tabitha said Toby is a shitty construction worker because he’s a perfectionist, but he’s not fast. I told her that he needed to work for rich people, who would appreciate quality over speed.” He nodded as he pondered my words. “Sometimes you like it fast,” he said, and leaned down to nibble on my ear, making me giggle. “Sometimes,” I agreed, and felt myself starting to get horny again. “I just hope they can work things out, especially since they got this baby on the way. They want me to be the kid’s godfather.” He made it sound like that was a big deal. It was pretty important to Alex when it came to baptizing Freddy, so maybe there was more to this than I knew. “That’s quite an honor,” I said, hoping I was right about that, even as I wondered if I even had a godfather. Religion wasn’t a big priority for my family, so they’d probably just forgotten that. It’s not like they paid that much attention to me anyway. “Yep,” he said, then decided to change the subject, probably to get us out of this funky place where we worried about the strength of his friends’ marriage. “I think your plans for the condo are pretty kick ass, but you really don’t have to do that.” “I’ve made some changes,” I said. “Want to see?” He yawned, since it was late, but curiosity got the best of him. “OK, let’s look at them, then I have to get some sleep. Work in the morning.” “Sucks to be you,” I teased. I pulled out the folder I’d gotten from the realtor and handed him a copy of the marked-up floorplan. He looked at it, confused. “What’s this?” “I decided that it made more sense to put the money into a house instead,” I said, like it was no big deal. “A house?” he asked, getting annoyed. “You bought a house?” “Well yeah,” I said. “I mean, we can stick a bunch of money in the condo, but this way you have more room, and there’s space for Tabitha and Toby if you want to include them.” “You can’t just go around buying people houses!” he said, with his voice loud enough to almost be a shout. “Do not yell at me,” I yelled, ironically enough. He glared at me and then collapsed back onto the bed, shaking his head. “I don’t get this. I figured you’d be happy. I can do something nice for you and help out your friends at the same time.” “You don’t get it,” he agreed, with his voice quieter now, but even though his volume was lower, his tone told me he was pretty irritated. “I know you mean well, but you just walk in and start rearranging lives, like we’re all characters in Sim City.” I wasn’t into computer games, but I knew about that one because of Will. He took perverse pleasure in building a city and then watching a tornado rip it up. I really didn’t see why Carullo thought I couldn’t turn people into Sims. I’d watched my relatives do that plenty of times, to throw money at other people’s problems to make them go away. “You’re saying you don’t want to be one of my Sims?” I asked playfully, trying to nudge him out of his bad mood. “It makes me feel like I belong to you,” he said. “You dress me up, buy me a car, and buy me a house, and in exchange we fuck.” “Really?” I asked, getting extremely pissed off at him. “So that’s it? That’s the deal? You fuck me because I buy you shit? Is that it?” “No, that’s not what I meant,” he said, in full retreat now. “Well that’s what you said!” I just glared at him. “I do nice things for you because you’re important to me and I like you, and I want to make your life better. And in return, you tell me that you’re not really my friend, you’re just a whore doing tricks.” I was so done with this bullshit. I started to roll over to get out of bed and leave, although I had no idea how I’d do that since I couldn’t drive, when he stopped me. I struggled, but that was pointless since he was so much stronger than I was. “Let me go!” I yelled. He pinned me down, with his full weight on top of me, and it infuriated me that I was hard as a rock at having him dominate me like that. “Listen to me! Let me explain!” “What is there to explain?” I demanded. “I didn’t pick my words well,” he said. “I’m sorry.” That really pissed me off, because it was really hard for me to stay mad at him when he apologized. He knew that and built on it. “I’m really sorry. You did a nice thing for me, and it freaked me out, and I didn’t react like I should have.” “I did,” I said, so annoyed that he’d taken the wind out of my sails. “Now let me up.” “You don’t really want that,” he said, as he ground his own hard dick against mine. “Do you?” “No,” I moaned, and then he kept me pinned down in one form or another and fucked my brains out. Afterward, he fell asleep almost immediately, while I stayed awake with my moods ranging from confused to annoyed to elated. October 12, 2003 CA Highway 17 Scotts Valley, CA Will “Dude, I don’t know what part of this weekend has been the most amazing, but driving this car is definitely one of them,” Colin said as he downshifted the Ferrari and tore around a slow-moving SUV. “If you say it’s better than meeting me, I may have to cut your dick off later,” I said, kind of joking. He glanced over at me and grinned, showing me his dimples. This guy was just too fucking adorable. “You are the best part of this awesome weekend. Better than the Ferrari, and better than surfing.” “Good answer,” I said. The Ferrari climbed up Highway 17 effortlessly, and I decided this was probably one of the most fun roads to drive on if there was no traffic. As usual, though, there was traffic. We didn’t say anything, we just enjoyed the ride. Today we’d gotten some awesome waves, and for some reason, Colin was an entirely different surfer. He had good timing, good form, and was pretty creative with his maneuvers. “You surfed a hell of a lot better today than yesterday. What’s with that?” “Guess I was more chill,” he said casually. “Because your parents weren’t there?” I asked. He gave me a dirty look, even though that was an obvious conclusion. “Dude, I wish I had a relationship with my dad like you have with yours,” he said. I paused and stared at him incredulously for a good ten seconds, then started laughing. My reaction annoyed him, and that just made me laugh even harder. “What the fuck is so funny?” he demanded. I finally got my laughter under control and pondered how to answer him. “We’re good right now, but we’ve had some hellacious fights,” I told him. I thought I’d mentioned that before, but I wasn’t sure that even mattered. I’d pretty much guessed where he was coming from. He wanted me to bare my soul a little bit before he bared his, so to make things easier, I obliged him. “When I was 14, my father and I really got into it.” “What about?” I shrugged. “I have this deal where I need to be in control of my own life, and I get pretty defensive when that’s challenged. And he challenged that.” If my relatives had heard me explain things that way, they’d have found that description to be the understatement of the year. “I mean, he is your father,” Colin reasoned. “He sort of does have control over you.” “No, he really doesn’t,” I said, sounding cocky, but then realized that I was being sincere. “I destroyed his entire wardrobe, Robbie’s too, then poured acid all over their cars. I cut most of their shoes in half, and ran away for a couple of weeks, and they couldn’t find me until I decided to come home.” “You mean with all their money and connections, they couldn’t track you down?” he asked, surprised. “I’m pretty organized and pretty thorough when I plan shit,” I said. “And you’re fucking brilliant,” he said with admiration. “Thanks,” I said dismissively, even though it was a huge ego boost to hear that from him, so big it made me blush a little bit. “I tried to work things out with him, but it just didn’t work. I ended up filing for emancipation, going to court and everything. So I’ve legally been an adult since then, and that’s why he doesn’t have much control over me.” “Jesus Christ!” he exclaimed. “We fought with each other right before 9-11,” I said sadly, remembering that horrible time. “Then we fought like crazy earlier this summer when he was dating this guy named Marc.” “Was he a douche?” Colin asked, referring to Marc. I told him about all the drama this past summer, then didn’t say anything, pausing to let him know it was his turn to talk. He drove on for a mile or two in silence, then finally spoke. “My dad’s pissed at me.” “What for?” I asked, as he seemed to want me to. “For being gay,” he said bitterly, but there was obviously a lot of sadness buried there as well. “I didn’t think your father had a problem with gay people?” I asked, confused. I wasn’t getting a homophobic vibe from my new uncle at all. “He doesn’t have a problem with gay people, he has a problem with me being gay and being in the navy,” he spat. “How’d he find out you were gay?” I asked. “He said he had his suspicions, but when he saw us together, that pretty much gave it away,” he said, and gave me a cute-as-fuck grin. “Sorry,” I said, worried that I was the cause of these problems. “It’s no big deal,” he said. “It was probably good for me, because it reminds me that I have to not be so obvious around guys I like.” For a split second I got jealous, then that emotion faded. Our relationship wasn’t like that, where we were at a point to be exclusive, and I wasn’t sure we’d ever get to that point. “So he doesn’t want you to join the navy because he thinks you’ll be unhappy?” I asked, wondering if Mike’s rationale was the same as mine. I could see him being worried about his son in an environment where he had to hide who he really was. “No, he doesn’t want me to join the navy if I’m gay because that may damage his career,” he said, even more bitterly, as if that were possible. “God forbid that someone would find out his son likes dick and decide to delay him getting his flag.” “Flag?” I asked, confused. “Flag rank, when he gets promoted to rear admiral,” he said. “Dude, you’d make a great rear admiral,” I joked. “I’m glad you think so,” he said, cracking me up. “Why would that damage his career?” I asked. “Going into the navy, I have a lot of huge advantages because of our heritage. I run into officers that still remember our grandfather, and my father is a rising star, so all that influence gets me perks,” he said. I rebelled against the notion that he’d have that much privilege in the navy, then mentally slapped myself since I had the same advantages in other fields where my family was influential. “Alright, I can see that, but why would that damage him?” I didn’t get the connection. “Because he’s putting his influence behind me, and if it comes out that I’m gay and I get dishonorably discharged, it makes it look like he deceived the navy, that he lied,” he said. “No one’s going to believe he didn’t know I was gay when I joined the Navy.” “He’s worried that you’ll be obvious at some point and out yourself,” I concluded, finally coming around to what he was saying. “Yeah, and don’t ask don’t tell only works if you don’t’ tell,” he said. “You know, maybe if guys like him had worked harder to make it easier for sailors to be gay, he wouldn’t be in this situation,” I said. I mean, he was part of the hierarchy, so couldn’t he do something about it. “If he could change that rule, he would,” Colin said, which seemed to remind him of some of his father’s positive qualities and mellow him out. “Wonder if he told my mom? Guess I have to have a talk with her.” “She already knows,” I said, dropping that bomb on him. “What?” he asked, and looked at me when he did, causing the Ferrari to swerve briefly out of our lane and onto the shoulder. That was pretty fucking scary, since there wasn’t much room between the road and the huge concrete median, and he’d come really close to sideswiping that massive structure. “Fucking drive,” I snapped, since he’d totally freaked me out. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly, and then applied himself to driving even better. He slowed down a bit, and even pulled over into the slow lane and drove really mellow, so much that it was annoying the fuck out of me. Driving slowly was something that grated on my nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard. I distracted myself from that by watching him more closely. I was willing to bet his reaction just now was how he was at home, where his parents bitched about something, and he resolved to do a better job, then totally focused on doing just that. He was like a parent’s wet dream. He must totally crave approval from his father. I’d kind of been comparing his relationship with his father to my relationship with mine, but it was probably more accurate to compare it to my relationship with Grand. And if Grand had admonished me about something, especially about school, I’d be pretty fucked up, and I’d probably work my ass off to get back into his good graces. “How do you know my mom knows?” he asked, pulling me out of my mental daydream. “She told my father on their drive over to Santa Cruz, and he told me, and now I’m telling you,” I said. “Dude, I feel like I’m in middle school again,” he said, which made me laugh. “That’s just what I said!” We laughed for a bit, then I told him what I’d heard. “She busted you fucking around when you were in high school, but she didn’t say anything to you about it.” He thought about that for a bit. “I was messing around with a friend of mine. I think I was blowing him, and I thought I heard the door. I kind of spazzed until my buddy told me I was hearing things.” “He probably just wanted you to get back to work,” I said with a leer. “That’s exactly what he wanted,” he said in a cocky way, as if he gave great head. He still had a lot of work to do in that area. “I wonder why she never said anything to me.” “She told my dad that she had tried to raise it as an issue, but you didn’t seem to want to talk about it,” I said, then decided to try and help out my new aunt, who seemed to be a good person. “I told him I thought that was pretty fucking cool, for her to let you figure things out without pressuring you or forcing you to have an embarrassing as fuck conversation.” “True that,” he said. “I kind of remember her hinting around about it now. I guess I shut her down pretty hard.” “When you get a chance, talk to her about it,” I said. “I mean, now that it’s out there, it shouldn’t be too painful.” “Good point,” he agreed. “So how did you leave things with your father?” I asked. “He told me I should reconsider my plans for joining the navy, and I told him that I was loving it, and there was no way I was doing that,” he said. “That’s it?” I asked. “Yeah,” he said, only it sounded more like ‘duh’. “We both made our points, we disagreed, so there’s nothing more to argue about.” I stared at him a bit amazed at how they handled that. Shit, that kind of a conversation with my father would have probably sparked a major battle, but then I remembered to compare the situation to me and Grand; we would both agree to disagree, then pout about it. October 13, 2003 Bristol, CT JJ I lay in Carullo’s bed, trying to figure out what to do. He had a digital clock that looked like it was from the last decade, informing me that it was 10:00am. I’d promised him that I’d be here when they delivered the washer and dryer, and I’d more or less told him that I’d stick around and have dinner with him, but I was still really annoyed with him, so those commitments were fighting against my desire to call for my car and head back to New York. My bladder forced me out of bed, so I got up, sighed, and went into his nasty bathroom to pee. When I was done, I looked in the mirror expecting to see my pudgy reflection staring back at me, only the view of my face was blocked by an envelope taped in the middle of it. It said “Jay” on it and reminded me of the note he’d taped to the mirror in Tribeca when he left. That added sadness to my annoyance, sending my moods reeling. I ripped the note off the mirror and took it back into the bedroom, then paused to take my morning pills. I wondered how long it would take these fucking pills to work; I wondered if these fucking pills would ever work. I grumbled to myself then read his note. Jay, I was planning to come by and pick you up around noon and take you to lunch. You’re welcome to stay as long as you want, but please don’t plan to leave before 7pm tonight. I know that’s asking a lot, but I’d really appreciate it if you could work your schedule out to do that. John It dawned on me that Carullo was doing a pretty good job of playing me, of saying just what I wanted to hear to make me happy. That was probably a good thing, I decided, laughing as I did. I used my better mood to propel me into action and managed to get ready in time to let the delivery guy in to install the washer and dryer. There were two guys, and one of them seemed to want to have an extended conversation with me, but I was civil and no more, and he finally got the message. They finished up and I ushered them out, pausing to admire the new appliances, even though I had no clue how they even worked. Darius was probably the only one of the three of us brothers who knew how to do laundry. I went back up to the kitchen and since I was here alone, I had time to really digest how awful this condo was. I ran my Gucci loafer across the nasty linoleum, then let my eyes move up to take in the hideous oak-colored cabinets and green Formica countertops. It was stunning to me that I was trying to save him from this squalor, and all I got was a ration of crap for it. That was so typical of my life. My brothers do shit like this for friends or people they’re dating, and everyone thinks they’re the most awesome people in the world, while I do it and I get bitched at for trying to turn people into my Sims. I didn’t see what was so terrible about letting me make Carullo’s life better and helping out his friends. Shit, he should be falling down onto his knees, thanking me for saving him from existing in this dump and for helping out his friend who couldn’t even hold down a job. My mind went round and round on that topic, until I had worked myself into a veritable fury. Fuck Carullo, fuck his friends, and fuck Connecticut. It was time for me to go home. I’d already set up my car to pick me up at 7:00, but I so didn’t want to be here. I reached for my phone and was about to change the time when I felt the whole house shaking from the garage door going up. It was like this place was built out of sticks. That had to be Carullo, so I decided to wait to call until I had a chance to yell at him and work off some of my anger. I heard the downstairs door open, and then I heard him talking. “Holy shit! These are fucking awesome!” He must have noticed the new washer and dryer. I stood up and glared at the stairway, even as I heard his feet pounding as he ran up them. He had the total inability to do anything in a quiet or deliberate manner. The door to the stairs flung open and Carullo burst into the room. He was carrying a bouquet of flowers, red roses, and had a huge smile on his face. “That washer and dryer are amazing!” he said to me this time. “I’m actually looking forward to doing laundry.” His happiness was starting to erase my anger and my bad mood, which ironically enough irritated me even more. God, I was such a convoluted mess inside. “I’m glad you like them,” I said coldly. “Next time you come visit, you’ll have to try them out,” he said, refusing to let my crankiness bother him. It was so frustrating to have my bad mood be completely ignored. “I’ve never done laundry before, so I wouldn’t have a clue what to do,” I said with disdain. “I’ll teach you,” he said playfully. “It’s a skill I’d never use,” I said, still refusing to be cajoled out of my anger. He finally got that and mellowed out, then spoke to me seriously. “I didn’t know if you liked flowers or not, but they seemed like a good way to apologize for being a fucking ingrate, and to thank you for coming to visit,” he said, handing me the roses. The only time I’d gotten flowers before was when I’d gotten a bouquet after a skating performance. I took them and looked at them, kind of stunned by the gesture, then inhaled their pleasant aroma. It was such a nice thing to do, and it reminded me of what a really good person Carullo was. I felt my anger transform into guilt, and then as if to further damn me as someone who was completely fucked up, tears started flowing out of my eyes. “What’s wrong?” he asked, gently. He took the roses from my hand and put them on the table, then hugged me, letting me bury my head into his shoulder. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m just so fucking moody. Sometimes my emotions just rage out of control.” “I have the perfect cure,” he said. He lifted me up and tossed me over his shoulder, once again worrying me that he’d hurt himself by toting my obese ass around, and hauled me up to the bedroom. In what was an organized frenzy, we undressed, and he treated me to some serious sexual healing. We were lying there in bed, panting after it was over, with me almost euphoric after that romp. “Thanks,” I said. “I’m better now.” He laughed. “Any time. It was truly my pleasure.” “What time to do you have to be back at work?” I asked, assuming he’d just taken a lunch break. “I took the afternoon off to spend with you,” he said. “Really?” I asked, completely shocked. “I did,” he affirmed. “You didn’t have to do that,” I lied. “I know I didn’t have to, I wanted to,” he said. “Let’s get dressed and I’ll take you out to get some food.” I had been ignoring the fact that I hadn’t eaten anything all day and I was starving as a result, so that was an easy sell. “It should only take me fifteen minutes to get ready.” “Fifteen minutes?” he challenged, since I rarely got ready for anything that quickly. “Fifteen minutes,” I confirmed, vowing to slash various steps in my grooming process to make that deadline. “Prove it,” he said, and looked at his watch. “Go!” I gave him a dirty look, but he just tapped the face of his watch as he smirked at me, so I jumped out of bed, threw on my clothes, and managed to finish getting ready just in time. Of course, it had only taken him five minutes, and he was in the kitchen waiting for me. “Made it,” I announced, as I arrived downstairs, ready to go. “Good job!” he said, giving me a huge grin. “Will you bring that info on the house?” “Alright,” I said a bit apprehensively. Was he planning to argue about this at lunch? I ran up and grabbed the folder, then we went to the basement and got into the Acura. “I love this thing,” he said, referring to his car. “Thanks again.” “I like it too,” I said, since it was a much more pleasant ride than his Buick. “You’re welcome.” “The people you bought the house from called Toby this morning and offered him a job,” John said. “What a coincidence,” I said, like I had nothing to do with it. We pulled up to an Italian restaurant, and he ushered us in where he was greeted by the person who seemed to be in charge. It was a little more upscale than the place he’d taken me to in Little Italy, but not much. They did have a few separate little rooms, and the manager led us to one of them. It was very private, which I thought was probably a good idea, since we had a record of arguing at restaurants. “I found this place when I first moved up here,” he said pleasantly. “Had to make sure there was decent Italian food around. It’s pretty good.” “I’ve learned to trust you on these things,” I said with a smile, determined to make things pleasant. I scanned the menu and found something that looked like it wouldn’t fatten me up too much, then we ordered. “Thank you for all that you’ve done for me this weekend,” he said, and reached over to hold my hands as he did. “I feel really bad about how I reacted.” “I just wanted to do something nice for you,” I said defensively. “I wasn’t trying to make either one of us whores.” He shook his head. “You buying me a house and a car, it just seemed like a big commitment, even for friends.” “I wasn’t asking you for anything in return,” I snapped. “That’s not how this works.” “I get that now, and I’m sorry that I made you feel that way,” he said, and a tear fell out of his left eye, making me mellow out considerably. “It’s just that when it happened, it freaked me out. I told you how I have these weird commitment issues because of…because of Joey.” I nodded, then leaned over to wipe away his tears. “We both are pretty fucked up and have issues. I’ll make you a deal. You put up with my weirdness, and I’ll put up with yours.” He smiled. “Deal,” he said. He made me stand up and gave me a big hug, in addition to shaking my hand as if to seal the arrangement. “Now show me those plans of that house you’re building me.” “As long as you realize you have limited input on decorating,” I joked.
  13. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 14

    Thanks so much!
  14. Mark Arbour

    Chapter 30

    That approach rarely works on a very bright and independent minded boy, although this difference of opinion is central to this story.
  15. Thank you so much! I did more research on this story than any other CAP book, primarily because I knew that this was such a pivotal event in many people's lives and I didn't want to get it wrong.
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