"I only ever get to see the inside of cabins," Morgan had watched Gregoire enter their small space.
The man looked at him. "You know, I'm beat. It's hot and I'm tired, and you're complaining."
"Yeah, I'm complaining. I got reason to complain. Who was it arranged all this?"
Gregoire sat down on the empty bed and bent down to untie his shoes. Without looking up, he said: "Ask your brother."
Morgan already knew it was Clint who was responsible, that it was their only way out, but he wanted to voice his frustration.
"When do we actually get somewhere?"
Gregoire stretched out on the bed and glanced over at the boy.
"Another few days."
"To where, exactly?"
"Where?" Morgan thought to himself, where the hell is Caracas?
"La Guaira, to be precise."
"Gregoire, I have no idea where that is."
The man laughed and turned his back to the kid.
"Don't worry about it."
Despite the age difference, Morgan had grown to like the guy, he was easy to get along with and nothing seemed to bother him. He wondered how long he'd been doing this. How long he'd been on this ship, or others like it. It made him think about Bennie. He'd been the only real friend he had in that home, the only one he could half-trust. Half-trust, because Morgan could never completely trust anybody, except Clint, of course.
"You want off this ship?"
Gregoire had propped himself up on the bed and when Morgan looked up, he noticed the man looking at him.
"No offence Greg, but yes."
He wondered about this guy. Clint had told him he had nothing to worry about with him, and so far that had proved to be true, but...
"But not just anywhere, am I right?"
Morgan had to think for a moment.
"I'm not sure about that. Maybe just anywhere right now, because here is how I imagine being in prison is like."
Gregoire chuckled at that.
"Kid, this is like a luxury hotel compared to prison."
Morgan stared at him, thinking he must have some experience of prison to say that.
"You wouldn't last five minutes locked up. And your brother wouldn't be able to help."
Now he had all sorts of images going through his head. He had quite a strong imagination, which is why Clint always told him he was good at telling stories. But there are two sides to a coin and when he started thinking about what being in prison might be like, well he really did not want to go there.
"So don't come down on things too hard," Gregoire continued. "They could be much, much, worse. And anyhow, it must be better than where you were before."
"Maybe. Yeah, maybe you're right."
"What's the joke?" Gregoire was sitting up on the side of his bed now.
"I'm just thinking about The Captain, and it made me smile. Like you got to admit it's pretty damned weird this whole trip."
Gregoire got up and moved across the small space between them. He sat down next to the boy and turned his head to look at him.
"It is not the most strange thing I have seen," he said.
"Then I guess you must have been around a lot?"
"You like The Captain?"
"He's okay. But..."
"Yeah, I know," Gregoire interrupted. "You would never have chosen to do it."
"No, I reckon I wouldn't have."
"Still it worked out good. You don't dislike The Captain and he treats you well."
Morgan thought about that. It did just about sum things up. He even enjoyed himself sometimes, it wasn't entirely a one way transaction.
"I think you could do something for me. For all of us. If you're willing?"
"What d'you mean?"
"There's this guy I know in Caracas. A South American businessman; and he needs to get a contract signed. He contacted me. Explained. He's willing to pay to get it done."
"But where do I fit in?"
"There is a guy who has to approve this contract, a lawyer. You know, the usual normal suit, works in a big office, married with kids. Probably kids your age. Anyway, that's not important. Except it is."
"Now you're confusing me."
"No, you're a smart kid."
Gregoire let his hand squeeze the boy's thigh.
"This guy takes timeout to enjoy himself in gay clubs. Well, one club in particular, where the owner makes sure he gets what he's after. Not a totally gay club, but, what do you call it? Free and easy?" The man grinned.
"So here's the deal. You pick up the guy. Take him to one of the bedrooms. I'll arrange things with the owner. You'll be like, new in town, wanting a job."
"So you take him to one of the bedrooms. One we've set up with cameras. Your brother bursts in discovering what's going on and threatening the guy with the police. You are fifteen, yes?"
"Good. So your brother and you get paid off and using the recording, I get the contract signed."
He sat back against the wall feeling rather pleased with the whole game he'd just laid out.
"Everybody's selling my ass," Morgan grinned as he said that.
"But it's a good plan, yes?"
"Yeah, yeah, sound. How much do you think it's worth?"
"You get whatever you can from the guy and we split the payment for the contract."
"Yes, Gregoire, the contract. How much?"
"Two thousand dollars, American."
"For you. Two thousand for you, two thousand for me. Okay."
"I'll talk to Clint."
"No need. I already did. He's good to go, as you Americans say."
"I'm outta here. Catch you later."
He opened the door and closed it behind him, shutting away the dense claustrophobia.
Getting out of the tiny cabin was an escape of sorts. The endless deep bass pounding of the ships engines seemed to resonate inside his head, like a monotonous rumbling, not even comparable to a drum beat, it was simply a groaning sound.
He knew The Captain's quarters very well, he'd been there often enough, and now he was left alone frequently. Either he was trusted, or more probably he couldn't do anything wrong, because on a ship there's nowhere to run.
Standing gazing out through the porthole Morgan watched as the sea rolled past, cresting in little white waves. Turning to look back in the room, he sighed, sitting down on the leather Chesterfield. He couldn't even be bothered to switch the television on and drew his knees up to his chin, thinking about what could happen next.
The ship hardly gave any impression of movement, it was an endless voyage. Like a needle stuck at the end of a record, grating, and unable to lift itself up. That was exactly how he felt, but he sensed also a certain boredom had installed itself in The Captain, things were not quite the same.
La Guaira was not a big port, it was not even exotic, but for the boys it was like a breath of fresh air. An air that moved in a barely felt breeze, carrying the hint of the sea in its salty odour, yet promising something else with the screeching of the parrots. The three of them, Clint, Morgan, and Gregoire, were the last to walk ashore, except for The Captain who watched everything from the bridge. For some unknown reason Morgan stopped to look back, as if he were saying goodbye, which although he didn't yet know it, he was.
They followed Gregoire to the far end of the dock yard and clambered over a low wall. There was no going through the gates, Clinton and Morgan had no papers. Once outside, which was not very difficult to achieve, they came to a colourful beach side park laid out in swirls with little bushes and a huge centre piece statue. A man on a rearing stallion dominated the area immediately in front of them and behind him the flags of half the world moved ever so slightly in the offshore breeze. Entering an open covered pavilion the three of them sat down on the broad stone steps. In front was a white concrete balustrade and beyond, the ocean. They were almost alone, apart from a couple leaning on the wall and looking out to sea.
The place was incredibly clean and not at all how Morgan had imagined South America would be like, but then he hardly had a clue as to where exactly Venezuela sat on the southern half of the continent.
"Bienvenido a Venezuela," Gregoire grinned at them.
"So what now?" Clinton asked.
"I know a little pensión. It's a short walk."
"And?" Morgan wanted to know more.
"Well, we get settled into our room, get something to eat and drink. Then we'll see. I will need to contact someone."
"You mean the guy who wants this done?"
"Him, yes. But someone else, also, who has the camera to fix in place. Leave it to me."
They had little choice, wasn't this all too familiar, moving from one game play onto another, never really finding a way out.
"How long do we have here?" Clinton desperately wanted to get a handle on things.
"At least four days, maybe five, depending."
"Yeah, don't worry."
The pensión was, Morgan guessed, a small hotel or boarding house, but not run down, clean, if a little old. It was like nothing he'd seen before, because all the rooms gave onto a central rectangle open to the sky and filled with plants and an old fountain that no longer worked nor had any water in it. Their room was on the first floor, which had a covered corridor running all around and from where you could lean over the wooden balustrade and look down into the garden below. Or at least what once would have been an impressive internal garden.
A large ceiling fan moved the air slowly around the room. Morgan lay back on the bed and stared up at it, watching the large blades spin as the thing wobbled, wondering if it would stay attached, or spin off and fly through the room. He was reassured that it was turning slowly.
"I've got a funny feeling about all this," Morgan told his brother whilst not taking his eyes off the ceiling fan.
"You always feel weird about everything. Forget it, We're here aren't we? Venezuela. You never imagined, huh?"
He didn't reply. It was Clint's usual way of being reassuring, trying to make everything sound as if it were somehow all part of a master strategy.
El Mirador was a mix somewhere between stark industrial and tropical chic, which means it had a concrete block entrance and large metal duct pipes running the length of the ceiling, but was awash with colour and had a VIP lounge with tables and plush seating. The dance floor in the centre was packed with a mixed crowd of young to middle aged, men and women, it was in no way an exclusively gay nightclub.
Morgan's eyes, once adjusted, took in the scene and landed on a young couple swirling together off to his left. They were obviously gay, but then the couple next to them, an older man with a woman in a tight purple dress, were not.
Gregoire slid ahead through the crowds to find a table in the section of the place reserved for parties. That is groups who had, presumably, reserved. They were met by a handsome young man who immediately had a brief conversation with Greg that neither of them could hear.
He left and was back a few minutes later carrying a tray. Three tall glasses and three bottles of Zulia, a local beer which was quickly and efficiently set out in front of them on the table. The server pulled a bottle opener from his side pocket, flipped off the tops, smiled, and moved onto the next table. Sitting on the plush upholstered curved seat, they had a good view of the rest of the lounge as well the dance floor.
Gregoire poured his beer into the glass, sat back and savoured the cool liquid. Morgan was conscious that he was obviously too young to be here, but they'd got in with no trouble. Cautiously, he copied Greg and his brother, filled his glass and tentatively sipped the yellow liquid. He'd only ever sampled beer once before and hadn't liked it. He still didn't, and quickly put the glass back down on the shiny round table in front of them. The flashing lights bounced off the surface, reflecting the changing colours from the dance floor, moving in time with the beat of the music. It felt like being wrapped in a cacophony of sound, the people and movement lending the anonymity of a forest of bodies, obscuring their presence, aided by the low, ever changing lighting.
"He's over there," Gregoire touched Morgan's arm and nodded.
Peering across the tables in the direction Greg had pointed, they saw a group two tables away, which looked to be three people, two men and a woman. Another, large, well built man was hovering, standing over the group.
"The guy standing is Juan-Jose, the owner of this place," Gregoire spoke into Morgan's ear. "He'll come and get you and introduce you to that man he's talking too."
Morgan tried to make out the features of the man that Juan-Jose was leaning over, but it was impossible. Then he was caught out by the large man turning back to look in their direction. Suddenly there was a connection, as if there were a thread linking them across the people and tables in between. Juan-Jose gave a sign and Gregoire pushed Morgan to get up and move.
Apprehensively, the boy stood and walked carefully between the other tables towards Juan-Jose and the mark as Greg referred to him. He didn't know the other man's name or what might follow. As he reached the table the couple stood up and left, leaving Morgan, Juan-Jose, and the man, Eduardo Phillipe, alone. Juan-Jose wrapped a massive arm around the boy's shoulder and hugged him to his side as he spoke to Eduardo. Morgan understood nothing, except the man's name.
Juan-Jose pushed Morgan towards Eduardo: "Sit," he told him, then turned and left.
Morgan sat down at the table, watching the owner make his way over to Gregoire and Clinton.
"You're an American boy?"
Eduardo had the smell of expensive aftershave as he leant towards Morgan. Not that he knew what expensive aftershave smelt like, only that was the impression he got. Eduardo wore a suit and crisp white shirt that almost glowed blue in the lighting.
Morgan nodded and felt the palm of the man's hand come to rest on the top of his leg.
"Are you nervous? Perhaps you would like a drink?"
All Morgan could focus on was the hand that gently squeezed his leg and slid over and around, creeping slowly upwards along the inside of his thigh. Before he could reply Eduardo's fingers were touching his manhood which despite everything, was solidly erect.
"You're excited and a little worried." Eduardo looked him directly in the eyes. "Don't be. I know you are new, but relax." The man smiled.
"So Gregoire," Juan-Jose was sitting next to Clinton, leaning across to talk. "Everything is set, with one small change." He grinned.
Gregoire had an air of tension in his voice.
"Our friend," Juan-Jose spoke secretively to Gregoire and Clinton. "He wants both of them."
He looked directly at Clinton.
"Both?" Gregoire questioned, surprised, not quite understanding the change to their plan.
"Both boys. You," he was still looking at Clint. "You and your brother together. Go join them." He said that with a tone that brooked no come back.
Gregoire nodded, and Clinton stood up. He moved through the tables to join his brother and Eduardo. Juan-Jose watched a moment before leaving Gregoire sitting alone. The music grew louder and the rhythm more frenetic, the dance floor was packed with the gyrating bodies of men and women swaying in time to the music. When he looked up from his beer and back to the other table, he saw that Eduardo and the boys were no longer there.