After waiting a while until it reached a decent hour, Adam took the number, and borrowed Daniel’s room so he could make the call privately.The phone rang five times before it was answered.
“Hello?” a deep inquisitive voice answered.
“Hi”.Adam said abruptly, suddenly realising he had no plan mapped out for this conversation, and that he hadn’t slept in 24 hours.
“Can I help you?”
“Yes” he said confidently.“Maybe”. He was stumbling already.“Yes.I hope so”.The man on the phone waited patiently.“Sorry.My name’s Adam.Umm, this is a bit of a strange call.”
The man breathed heavily.“It’s not uncommon for me to get strange calls.”
How to phrase this delicately?
“Are you training somebody up to be a dog?”
The man paused.
“That’s a strange question.”
“Yes, it is I suppose.But, the fact you haven’t hung up already gives me some hope.”
“Of course you know what a strange question invites?”
“A helpful answer?” Adam said hopefully.This conversation was already more weird than he had anticipated.
“You’re curious about being trained yourself then?”
“Trained? What? Oh. No!” He hadn’t considered that the conversation might take that turn.
“Oh.An overly keen denial.Curiouser and curiouser.”
“Look, can you just tell me if you’ve got a human dog?”
“Well aren’t we all dogs and all dogs the same as us?Didn’t Mark Twain say the dog is a gentleman?”
Adam’s face turned to confusion.
“What?Look, somebody I know has disappeared, and we think Steve might know where he is, and I’d really like to speak to him if there’s any way that would be possible?”
There was a pause on the line.
“I don’t see how that would help” the man answered, measuredly.
“Have you ever tried asking a dog a question?”
“Ok. Fine.But you do know Steve, and you know where he is?”
“Yes and no”.
“What?Look, his ex-boyfriend has stolen thousands of pounds and completely disappeared.If we don’t find him, it’ll be the police knocking on your door next and they’ll want him in for questioning.Please, I just need Steve, for an hour to see if there’s any way he can help us find this guy.”
“His name is Wolf” the man replied calmly.
“My dog is called Wolf.”
Adam shrugged his shoulders.“Ok.”
“And in return for an hour of his time, will you commit yourself to an hour of training?”
“What?”Adam’s fuzzy brain thudded, trying to compute the question.“No!”
“Ah well.It was worth asking.”
“So can I come over this afternoon?”
“Very well”.The amused lilt in the man’s voice vanished.He gave the address quickly to Adam, who frantically grabbed the nearest pen and wrote it on his hand.
“Be here at three.I’ll give you one hour out of my training time.That will be all”.
The phone rang off.
Adam collapsed back onto Daniel’s bed and shut his eyes.He had a headache already.
Adam decided to go alone to see Steve.The block was only ten minutes’ walk across town, and the fresh air helped to open his sleepy eyes a fraction wider. They had spent a soporific morning drinking tea and half-heartedly playing cards as they killed time until the meet.
When he got there and buzzed up, the front door to the building opened without any greeting from the intercom.He took the lift to the fifth floor and found the door to the flat he was seeking.
His heart was pumping hard.There was no knowing what to expect.He’d left the address with Ali and Daniel in case anything happened.He thought of that Baz Luhrmann song from way back.Do one thing everyday that scares you.Baz probably hadn’t meant this though.
He took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
After a few seconds it slowly opened wide and Adam was invited into the corridor by a silent gesture.He stepped inside and the door started to swing shut behind him. The man walked down the corridor towards a room at the back, leaving him standing alone in the hall.The front door thudded shut making him jump. His nerves were all over the place suddenly.
With the door closed, he noticed how dark it was.The blinds must have been down in every room and his eyesight didn’t adjust quickly to the dark, making him feel even more vulnerable.And that pervasive smell, what was it?Some kind of smell of dog, he concluded.Dog food.That was it.The weird mashed up generic processed meat smell.There was no getting away from it. Then there was the heat in here, why did it need to be so hot? And the clutter all around, rainbow flags and leather accoutrements, random papers and what looked like dog toys, littering the floor in the hallway.It amounted to an intensely uncomfortable space.His head was pounding.He wanted to get out.
The man reappeared and behind him trotted a young guy on all fours, wearing nothing but a jockstrap.
The man looked at his watch.
“Okay.This is a time out from training.”
Adam wasn’t sure who he was addressing.
“You’re going to help this man, but you’re to be back here in one hour.Don’t be a minute late, or someone will have a very unpleasant evening”.
Steve looked unhappy, but with that, the man disappeared into the back room and shut the door.Adam checked his watch.It was 3.05pm.
The figure on the floor looked up and Adam saw the familiar face.
“Jesus Steve, go put some clothes on, quickly. Let’s get out”.Steve looked up and scowled, but reluctantly went through to the other room and Adam heard him dressing himself.
By ten past they were out on the street.
Adam spoke as they walked, retelling the whole story about Paul, trying to get his words out in a rush, in between worriedly checking his watch as the minutes dropped away.
They passed a couple of cafes which Adam suggested they head into, but each time Steve indicated that they should carry on.At everything Adam told him about the story, he seemed to nod his head and look unsurprised.It was 3.21pm when they reached a place that Steve indicated he wanted to go into.He still hadn’t said a word.
They went inside the dark jazz bar.As they first walked in, Adam thought they must be the only people in there, but as they waited at the bar for two teas, his eyesight adjusted to the low light and he saw a few figures sitting alone or in pairs in the booths around the back and side.There was background jazz music playing, but no live band until later in the evening.
“Steve, you know you can speak now?”
Steve looked at him, hardly seeming to understand.
“You’re out of that…world, for an hour at least.I really need you to speak.”
He nodded, but failed to utter anything.
Adam looked at him expectantly but there was nothing.He looked at his watch. 3.25pm. He took the drinks and they headed for a free booth.
As they walked past, Adam failed to notice the lone man in the booth to his right, but then a familiar voice spoke his name.
Adam shook his head like coming out of a daydream.
“Thom, hi.What are you doing here?”
He looked down and saw both of Thomas’ hands carefully nursing a large glass of whisky, but hardly registered how early it was for such a large measure.
Thomas looked sheepish.“Oh, just passing the time of day…” he nodded his head firmly, “…you know”.
Adam looked at his watch again.3.27pm. There was no time.
Thomas looked up at Adam’s friend.
“Have we met before?”
Steve smiled for a second, looking almost smug.He stared into Thomas’ eyes and gave a short barking sound.
Adam saw Thomas’ eyes widen in realisation.
“Right. Sauna.Yes”.He gulped.
“What?” Adam asked, looking suspiciously between them.
“Nothing.Long story.Well, not long, but weird.Maybe another time”.
“Yes” Adam said, seizing the opportunity.“We’ll leave you to it.”
They found a booth at the far side, several away from Thomas’.
“Steve, please, this day has been fucked up in so many ways.Please say something.”
Adam’s eyes shot open.
“You spoke. Oh, thank fuck.”
“I haven’t spoken any words in the last week.He’s been training them out.”
Adam looked pitifully at him.
Steve screwed up his face.“Don’t give me that look.It’s what I asked for.I wanted this. Maybe not forever, but for now”.
Adam felt beyond understanding.
“I don’t exactly care what you think.But it’s amazing to give up everything and not have to worry about human problems.”
“But isn’t it… I mean, don’t you…” He realised he had no framework upon which to have this conversation.
“When I’m in puppy mode, I don’t think about rent, or bills, or making dinner, or going to work, or cleaning, or washing, or keeping up with friends, or remembering people’s names, or anything.I have a master who takes care of everything and all he expects from me is loyalty and obedience.And they’re… easy.”
Adam shook his head.There was no way he was going to get his head round this.Especially not today.
“Can we talk about Paul?”
“I don’t have to think about Paul either when I’m with Master.”
“Yeah, ok, well, I see the advantage of that”.
Adam looked at his watch.It was 3.34pm. He shook his head.
“Steve, we’ve got like, no time, but is there anything you can remember from when you guys were dating that seemed suspicious?Or that might give us any clues on the real story, or where he might be?”
Steve paused.“If there was, why would I choose to help you and not him?”
Adam exhaled.Why could nothing be easy?
“I don’t know.Because he robbed his friends of thousands of pounds and lied to everybody, about everything.”
Steve looked unmoved.“I don’t exactly judge my boyfriends on usual standards.”
This was frustrating.Adam’s face hardened.
“Well how about the fact that he treated you like shit.He constantly criticised you and undermined you.He used you and he tossed you away when he was done.He lied about you and then he made out that you were the liar.Why would you do anything for him?”
Steve’s face hardened back.
“I knew the person he was and I chose to date him. I’m not a victim Adam.I choose the life I choose”.
Adam put his face in his hands.
“It’s almost quarter to four” Steve said.“I have to go in five minutes.I’m not getting punished tonight.Especially not for you”.
“Steve, I need more time.We’re at a dead end.Would it kill you to be late?”
Steve looked him in the eye.“He’ll punish me.I’ll get beaten.”
Adam had barely slept in the last 30 hours and his already rocky emotional state was shaken again.A feeling of nausea passed up his body.
“For fuck’s sake, why would you go back for that?”
“I choose what I choose Adam.He won’t harm me, just enough to teach me.It only works because we both give up a lot.He takes on running two people’s lives.All I have to give is obedience.I’m not going to be late”.
Adam returned his face to his hands and breathed out deeply.This was a waste of time.
He put his hands back on the table.His hair was all sticking up from the number of times he’d run his hands through it.
“You know what? You’re right.I give up.I’m nothing to you.You have no reason to care.I guess you have to stick with the people you know in this big stupid city.And if you’re new here and you put yourself at the mercy of strangers, then sometimes they’re going to take advantage, and sometimes you’ll regret it.I guess that’s just what happens.Come on, let’s go”.Adam started to stand up, but Steve didn’t move.Adam slowly returned to his seat.
Steve was quiet for a moment.His gaze seemed to examine Adam for a few seconds, then his face relaxed.He gently put a hand on one of Adam’s.
“They don’t always take advantage”.
Adam smiled and nodded.If nothing else, then maybe this was peace with the whole affair.
“Have you got your phone?” Steve asked.
Adam nodded and pulled it out of his pocket.
“It’s 3.48pm Steve.You should get back to your man.”
“Can I borrow it for a second?”
Steve took the phone and rapidly moved through the screens, typing away.He looked utterly engrossed in something.Presumably he didn’t get to do much IT geeking on all fours.
After two minutes he returned the phone to Adam.
“Check your emails when you get home.This is one for the kindness of strangers.I fished it from Paul’s inbox one day.He never knew.I have to go now though”.
Adam walked out with him, and Steve quickly said goodbye and raced off down the street.
Back at Ali and Daniel’s Adam quickly had his emails loaded up on Ali’s laptop, and they all gathered round as he opened the mystery document.The silence in the room was thick with possibility.
Ali was first to react.
“Paul Griffiths - CV” she read aloud, sounding a little disappointed.
“Yeah” Daniel said, intrigued.
“That seems less dramatic than what I was hoping for.”
“Shit, but look at this stuff”.Adam said, scanning down the two pages.“This might be the first shreds of truth of his life.Where he went to school, employment history…”
“Why would it be real though?” Ali said, unmoved by the new evidence.
“If he was applying for jobs, I guess” Adam reasoned.“And look, none of this is the stuff he told any of us”.
Daniel grabbed his laptop and fired it up alongside Ali’s.
Ali moved in closer.“So he was working for a law firm, called Coopers”.
“Shit, Coopers” Adam said.“He talked about doing some work on the side for them.”
“Check this though.He worked full time for them as a fucking legal secretary” Ali said.
“What level is a legal secretary?” Adam asked.
“No idea, but it’s got to be way below a lawyer.”
Daniel typed it into google.“They’re fairly high level, but yeah, they don’t have lawyer qualifications.”
“Wait.He never even went to Uni.” Adam said.
Daniel looked across.“Really?”
“He was only 24 as well” Daniel said.
Adam looked for a date of birth.
“The school years” Daniel said.
The sum took twice as long as it should, but Adam got there.“Shit, you’re right.”
“The confusing thing though”, Daniel said, “is the address.”
Adam looked at the address in the top right corner, listing a property in Shrewsbury.
“What do you mean?It’s got to be his mum and dad’s place hasn’t it?”
“Yeah, you’d think.That’s what I was just looking at though.I searched the electoral register online.But the registered name there is Diamond.Not Griffiths”.
“Oh Jesus.So we’re right back where we were six weeks ago.Without a sodding clue”.
Adam pushed the laptop back, then stood up and walked across and collapsed on the sofa.Only adrenaline was keeping him alive at the moment.
“So what next?” Ali asked.
“Fuck knows” Adam said shaking his head resignedly.“Maybe the whole thing is a double bluff.Maybe he knew Steve would check his inbox and so he threw a curveball in there by writing a CV with an entirely fake address on.I mean, he’s already invented a press article and recreated work emails on his computer, for my benefit.Maybe evil masterminds actually really exist, and you find them lurking on gay bloody roomshare adverts in Manchester. I mean, who knows how far it goes.Maybe Steve was in on the whole thing.Maybe the dog guy was too.Maybe everyone is.Maybe this is all a TV show and I’m the unwitting star and millions of people around the world are watching and laughing at how ridiculous it is, and how fucking stupid I am that I haven’t guessed that none of it’s real yet.
He looked up and saw Daniel smiling.
“Am I being hysterical?”
“I don’t know.I’m beginning to think we’re just not going to win this fight.He’s too smart for us.”
They each looked at one another and contemplated it.This was surely the last clue.The last step on an adventure, which was now sure to end in failure.
“Wait one second” Ali said, slowly.
She went back to the laptop and started typing.
Daniel looked at the screen.“Land registry?”
“Yeah baby, i’ve used it at work before.I’m sure you can get information on properties here”.She clicked on a link on the front page, and then typed in the postcode and house number listed on the CV.
Daniel stood behind her, watching intently.
“Ok, it costs £4”.
“Here” Daniel said, bundling his debit card to her.
She typed in the details and sent the order.
The confirmation screen came up with a single small file.
“This is it” she said, opening the attachment and scrolling down the one-page summary.
“Shit” she said, conclusively.
“Adam, come look…” Daniel said.
Adam expected nothing, and so was surprised at the reaction.He stood and stumbled across to the table.The attachment didn’t say a great deal, but two thirds of the way down the sheet, it explained that the address listed on Paul’s CV had been bought in 2005 for £110,000 by Tony Diamond and
Ali and Daniel both turned to Adam, who was shaking his head.
“Shit the bed” he said.“You’re a genius.We’ve bloody found him.”