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    Invnarcel
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Forces - 7. conflict of interest

- seven -

Stanley told me he was in love with me, that he'd been in love with me since we met. I figured he'd try to seduce me for the sake of manipulating the imaginary article I was writing. This farce was taking things to a whole new level. Even if it'd been someone other than Stanley I wouldn't have believed it. My ingrained lack of self-value made me confused at the idea. How could someone possibly see something in me to love when I can't see myself at all.

I'm merely fine dust, mist in the shape and space of a person. What could you be transfixed by?

I don't count as a human being. However Stanley said one thing which made me think it could be possible he was telling the truth: we're the same. Hadn't I thought that? That somewhere we connect at a deep, pathological level. I don't ever feel emotional pain like everyone else does, I don't have empathy for people I don't know. So am I on the psychopathy spectrum? Could he sense that?

Or maybe I've been completely wrong and decided things about Stanley in my head based on everything I knew before we met. I was attributing every bit of evidence and information to George's film buff theories: Stanley Milton is a psychopathic killer.

He definitely has mental problems, but it could easily be a simple case of a behavioral or borderline personality disorder. Throwing rubbish at ducks and trashing his teacher's house are signs of maladjustment, but it's not like he's cut open animals and played with their intestines. His teacher Mrs Seaborn never related any accounts of Stanley antagonizing other students. His sister said he only gets violent when he's attacked first, or being dramatic while resisting arrest. He rarely goes out of his way to hurt others and is instead polite and a charmer. I've not seen pettiness or meanness from him. He's weird in that he's incredibly reckless, yet has no interest in sadism.

I sat hunched atop my hotel bed, back against the headrest. Fresh from a shower, dried though my hair was damp. A glass of just ice-water in my hand. I'd taken Panadol after getting back. I always brought stuff like that when packing: Panadol, band-aids, bug spray, sunscreen, etc. I was thinking about the lake, the beautiful folksy nature and colours of the water. And Stanley's confession.

The reason I can't see him react to things normally or show judgment is cause he's dazzled by me.

The reason he's always happy and smiling all the time is because he's with me.

The reason he acts up and does shitty things is because his parents always bail him out; he wants to get away from their safety at times.

He's not asking me for anything, he wants to do what I tell him.

He told me he's had two relationships that lasted years, longer than anything I've had, so perhaps he is capable of love after all. If not, he's found a way to address every concern that could indicate full-blown psychopathy as opposed to whatever it is he may have. If he wants to make me love him, he's stage-managed our first kiss and his love confession to be in beautiful places. The mirror room art exhibit of infinite reflections, the iridescent lake in woodland. Calculating moves to coincide with events and manipulate the serendipitous hope that neurotypicals associate with soul-mated love.

He loves me, he loves me not.

I pulled out my phone to ring Stanley. If he agreed to obey me I can use that to get something I need, as a pre-emptive counter-manipulation of sorts.

"I hope you're feeling better." His voice was sing-song through the receiver.

"Yeah." I took another sip of water while holding the iPhone to my ear. "Can you take me to your house? I want to meet your parents."

"Oh absolutely!" No hesitation, but there never was with him.

"I'll just get dressed then we can go?"

"I'll pick you up in fifteen minutes!"

He was happy to drive me places, happy to pay for things for me. Maybe it wasn't about getting his name and face in the paper after all. I ended the call and got up, started getting dressed. I'd been here five days, Adam's body was discovered one week ago. After coming back I'd need to gather all my underwear and socks, find a laundromat in town. Mr Tourvel had told me to get a quote from the parents, so that's what I was going to try and do.

The blue Ford Mustang convertible whipped up and I walked over, again he leaned over to open the door for me. I blushed ridiculously at the supposed context. Not a show of manners, not being opportunistic, but genuine affection that guides one to all manners of small sacrifices from which pleasure is derived. I wasn't used to being treated well by other gay men. Even favours were given with self-interest in mind, or used for conflict leverage. He was smiling like always. Could he really be smiling for love? I fought off the blush as much as I could, but it didn't fully leave as I sat beside him. Closing my door and buckling up.

"Alright, Milton residence it is!" the car sped off and we made for the direction of Highfair.

It was the bluest I'd ever seen the sky, and still so pale. Like a faded polaroid. We crossed that industrial bridge and the wide river looked more friendly. We made our way into town, I loved the old architecture of the houses. Victorian era, or even older. There were churches that'd rusted green like in cities. The road became more uneven, we were heading up an incline and away from the bundled buildings. When we reached the gate to the Milton residence I couldn't even see their house, the property must be huge. Phillip leaned over and thumbed a button to talk to someone.

"It's me, guys!" he greeted.

A camera was focused on us. The gate started to open, then we were driving up the path and across land to his parents' house. It was a mansion, of course. White and cubic, not old or Grecian. It was vast, left of the house I could see a walkway leading through a garden-forest with bridges, motes and stepping-stones. A couple of racing go-carts sat to the right, blue and red. We parked and got out, the garage was half-open and I could see a half-dozen other quality cars all shiny-new. The big entry doorway opened and a white-dressed – servant? – was there to greet us.

"Do your parents know I'm with you?" I murmured to Stanley as we walked up the steps.

"I didn't tell them I was coming. I come and go here all the time."

The front room was like a cavern. I remembered all those town people in Lochdale talking about Stanley walking the shop streets all the time, but after seeing this place I couldn't imagine why he'd ever leave. We were offered something to drink but I declined.

"You sure, Phillip? Cordon here makes a wicked kiwifruit cocktail. His gin and tonic's not bad either."

The reedy Cordon dipped his head, accepting the complement graciously.

"I'm fine, thank you though."

"You may leave us, good man." The dismissal sent him off to some other duty and I frowned at Stanley incredulously.

"Are you always in this good a mood?"

"Birds are singing and flowers are bright. It's better than any drug, being in love. I thank you for that." The greens in his rounded, dumpling-shaped eyes seemed honest. Assured like a contented sigh, not as if he was trying to convince me.

"Oh, you mean about being in love with me? I thought that was a joke."

"I'd never" he stepped up to me seriously "joke about such a thing."

"Okay." I said.

"Let me show you our movie room." He took my hand and happily led me away from the stairs, the elevator, down a smooth grey hallway and into a home theatre. It was long and had several rows of sofa-seats. The front wall was a screen.

"Wow, cool."

"There's a gym upstairs. Some rooms for recreation, I bet Mum and Dad are up there."

We went back to the lift and got in, Stanley thumbed the little button for level three. He checked his phone and I noticed the screen: seventeen missed calls. We started smoothly ascending.

"Was that your parents, calling you all those times?"

"Well my dear Mum is a worrier."

"I can understand why. You said you love your parents, right?"

"Absolutely, I love my Mum very much!"

"How about when you were in school?"

"Of course! I loved my Mum and all my teachers too!"

"Like Mrs Seaborn? I got an interview with her a few days ago."

"Ah Mrs Seaborn," there was never any hesitation with Stanley, he always spoke assuredly "We got along like a house on fire! She was my favorite person in the world!"

"Do you love Mrs Seaborn more than your own mother?"

"Absolutely, there's no one in the world I loved more than Mrs Seaborn!"

The elevator stopped with a ding, the doors opened. Stanley headed out and I followed. When he answered that question he looked and sounded as honest as always. There was no change of countenance, no sign of sarcasm. Mrs Seaborn never said anything about getting along well with Stanley to me. His answer to my question had been automatic.

The tables were huge, the spaces were huge. In the living room was a giant glittering table of black marble. There were cooks working in the kitchen. Stanley led me to a balcony outside, it was wide like the turret-passage of a castle. The distant mountains looked extraordinary from up here – a high-up gust was blowing a cloud of snow from the capped tops. Pink rose bushes sat in pots at regular intervals. We walked around the mansion and the stone balcony widened, there we found Mrs Milton in a bathrobe. She was lying on a sunbathing recliner with a coconut-berry cocktail in one hand, scrolling on an iPad with the other.

"My dear Mum! How are you?"

"Stanley," she lifted sunglasses to peek at her smiling son. With similar facial features she reminded me of her daughter, always donned up and hiding while giving me information at our meetings. "Who is this?"

"This is my good friend, Phillip!" Stanley beat me to my introduction.

"How do you do?" I said.

"I don't think we've met. How do you two know each other?"

"Phillip transferred to my college and we're doing the same major. We get along extremely well so I've been showing him around town."

"Is that so? Mr Greenblatt was your father's associate, and when we called again he said you were at college once last fortnight and didn't show up to any classes."

"Well it's thanks to Phillip that I showed up at all." He laughed off her comment, unbothered.

"At this point I'd rather you make no promises instead of lying to me." She went back to focusing on what she was doing. "Your sister Rachel is getting married in Japan on the twenty-seventh, I want you to stay out of trouble until then."

"Alright," still smiling.

"Phillip, was it? I'll get Cordon to make you something to drink."

"That's okay-" I was telling her, Stanley turned and pulled my sleeve.

"I want to show him the rest of the house! Bye Mum!"

It was more than Stanley and his parents who lived here, obviously. Cooks, waitstaff, hired hands all had their quarters in the Milton mansion. The aesthetics were earthy blacks and greys, some rooms were shades of beige and warm brown. Lights faded on as soon as you walked into rooms without windows. The tiles to the bathroom were heated. It was like another world for me, Stanley seemed as underwhelmed as usual. There was no showcasing nor modesty, just walking me through all the places because I was his curious guest.

I had such little hope of getting an interview, or quotes, that I'd not even brought my pad. Mr Tourvel wanted me to get something, so unfortunately I'd have to try. My conversation with Stanley in the elevator and some other nudges were making me waver. I needed to get Claire to help me get in touch with his exes. People he'd been intimately involved with would definitely know his true nature. Claire would balk if she ran into me here, but I needed to know. And what in God's name happened in Berlin?

We'd just left the gym, full-sized with all kinds of equipment when Cordon caught us by the door.

"Your father's home, Mr Milton."

He went back to work while the two of us made our way to the elevator.

"Your Dad owns a boat company, right?"

"Yes, Milton Sails. He also buys and sells properties."

The elevator opened and out stepped a weary man in a black suit. His face was lined and hair grey, but those green eyes popped.

"Stanley."

"Welcome home, Dad!"

"Staying out of trouble?"

"Yes, this is my friend Phillip!"

He stepped forward to shake my hand. Both he and his wife seemed beyond exasperated in the presence of their son. War-weary, and yet there seemed to be a determination in this man. Paternal care? Even so, could it be called admirable if their desire to protect their troubled son led them to cover up murder? Or was it for the sake of the company and reputation that they were complicit in such a criminal offense?

"I've not met this friend."

"Perhaps you could talk to him about your work, I'm sure he's very curious."

"Oh no, he's just come home," I looked from Stanley to his Dad "I wouldn't want to disturb you in your own house."

"Well time is money, and there's always an opportunity cost. That's thinking like an economist. Phillip was it? What do you do?"

"I'm going to be frank, Sir." I spoke quick before Stanley could cut me off. "I'm new to town and Stanley has agreed to show me around this past week. I'm a journalist for an Eastland newspaper, the Maudlin Times."

"A journalist," he looked cautious. Cordon approached and wordlessly handed him a glass, gin and tonic, then left. We started walking into the living room. "And what might you be reporting on?"

"The piece was going to take a general look at Lochdale," in my head I was scrambling "as well as Adam Creson's death."

"Yes, a real tragedy that." He opened his wallet to fish out a card. "Now Stanley, I think your mother and I would like to enjoy our afternoon without press nosing around the house. If you'd be so kind as to escort him out. And Phillip" he offered me a creamy card that I took limply "if you'd like to get in touch with us for your paper I request you call our lawyer."

I consented with an awkward head dip. Stanley and me went back to the elevator and made our way out, I was still holding the card as we exited through the huge front door. I slipped it into my pocket.

"Sorry my folks weren't more helpful." Stanley said as we got back into the convertible.

"It was to be expected." I sat down in the nice leather and buckled up.

There, I tried. The part of the paper concerning Stanley's parents would say 'the Miltons declined to comment and said further questioning was to be done through their lawyer'. I'd not seen George today, but would have to give him that tip about Kelly Mettler I received. It was probably nothing, but he could find her through the phonebook so we could rule it out for sure. We drove back through the town, across the bridge, and back into the woodland cottage.

We took a side street on the way back and Stanley pulled up to a look-out and parked. The car was quietly rumbling as we stared out over rooftops and forestry. The mountains, a sliver of lake, far-off mist. He stretched and then shut off the engine. I was pensively massaging my chin while staring out and thinking. When Stanley lowered his arm it came to rest over my shoulder.

"I wish I could do more for you," he spoke tenderly. "With you I feel lighter than the air I breathe. I'm going to treasure this car forever, it'll look beautiful just from having the memory of these days, us driving around town together."

"Did you kill Adam Creson?"

"I did not."

"Why are you smiling?"

"I haven't got arrested since you came here. Isn't that proof of what I said? I love you and you've changed me. This isn't lip-service anymore, I know I've lied in the past but I am a perfect gentleman. I'll never do those things again, thanks to you."

"I thought you were a maverick."

"I'm a maverick and a gentleman."

"I need to stretch my legs." I couldn't look at him. I unbuckled my seatbelt and got out of the car, walking over gravel and away. The grass was long, there was an old stone monument and a brick block, public toilets.

I huddled into my jumper, stared out at the scenery over tall weeds. I'd not been by myself for a full minute before Stanley appeared at my side. A light touch down my arm, his attempt at soothing me. I felt so suspicious, I took a breath and tried to relax.

"I'm sorry about this, about acting strange when I'm around you. I wish I could help it, it's my fault. I think this happens to some people, once a lifetime, we meet someone that we love so absolutely that we could never be with them, act normally around them or even have a proper talk. Ridiculous, but it's one of life's peculiarities. I'll just be dumb and happy around you now, and then when you go I'll remember these days always. I'll be happy to have a tame and solid relationship one day, the love I feel for you can only exist as ridiculous turbulence, like a glimpse at heaven. I can't imagine us together in those mundane, Earthy ways."

What pretty sentiments being absolutely wasted on me.

I took his hand and gave a slight smile. He leaned in and pressed soft lips to mine. I let myself be carried away by this silly fantasy he'd created. Stanley was still assuring me that he was expecting nothing, that he'd continue to behave and be helpful. That he'd be happy to have met me even after I go. It removed the pressure as I wondered whether it was true, whether he'd fooled himself. Was it a crush he'd deluded himself into making bigger? Was he prone to intense fixations that were abandoned once he got distracted by the next thing? Was this the calculation of an emotionless insect brain so disinterested in everything, even its own safety, that it got carried away by a whim?

Or was Stanley a quirky guy who genuinely loved me? When I pictured us together I could see him always causing trouble to some degree: casual stealing, being too friendly to the wrong person. The inverted narcissist in me would love the challenge his issues would demand. Moving through life together and me managing the drama that would result. He'd engage me without actively wanting to harm me or press me down. And who wouldn't want to be with someone who was glowing with happiness, struck by euphoria and awe at being in your presence? That's the type of light that can't help but rub off on others.

Even in this 'moment' – kissing him right now – my brain never stopped thinking these thoughts. Stanley went to cup my face as we moved our mouths, his tongue sliding in. Hand on my waist and moving up under my shirt, my skin was warm under his touch. Then he was holding my belt, tugging. I stepped away from him and the sweet smell of his cologne. His taste in my mouth.

"What is it?"

"I'm a journalist and you're my source. I'm investigating a murder case that you're a suspect for."

"But I have an alibi?"

"Not a very good one."

"Phillip please!" and suddenly he was exasperated. "I've already said I'll do whatever you say. If you were to want me back, I'd treat you tenderly and submissively forever! The power you have over my thoughts and actions scares me, I can only beg you to not abuse it. But if any painful request makes me more worthy of you, how could I say no? I've not done anything wrong with you here, and that's my proof. I've made mistakes in the past but hasn't everyone? You can refuse my love, but don't say it doesn't exist when it's full to bursting out of my fucking chest." he clawed at his shirt.

"Alright, alright. I'm sorry." I raised my hands, then added my own confession "I like you."

Nerves made me swallow after I said it, because despite being the right thing to say to defuse him, it was also true. I did like Stanley. I was attracted to him, had started getting hard when he touched my bare skin. He relaxed at my assurance, but internally that anxiety was transferred to me.

Stanley smiled and leaned forward to kiss me again.

-  。-

Copyright © 2020 Invnarcel; All Rights Reserved.

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Stanley is hopelessly taken in by Philip and I believe him! But he is already accepting Philip's eventual departure?  Stanley is not accustomed to not getting what he wants but here, he seems to have already given up! Why???

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