Scottish Dance

by Michael Gouda

"I've got a week's leave," said Sergeant Keith Hatch of the Metropolitan Gay Liaison Force, "starting in a fortnight's time. What shall I do with it? Paint the bedroom? Clean out the attics? Re-tile the roof?" He smiled his lop-sided grin, sprawling on the sofa and looking as helpless as a twenty-five year old copper with short cropped hair and a responsible job could possibly do.

"You're useless at DIY. Let's go away somewhere," suggested his partner, Phil.

"You'll be working," said Keith.

"Sod that for a lark. Filling shelves at Tesco's? I can get a job like that anywhere. I'll give my notice in. Get another when we comeback."

"You're feckless," said Keith and affectionately directed a kiss onto the upturned mouth which was smiling up at him. "Feckless,incompetent and adorable. How will you ever become Supermarket manageress with an attitude like that? Where do you want to go?"

"Brighton?"

"Full of piss-elegant queens," said Keith.

"Two more won't notice, then! Er . . . Bermuda!"

"We could afford to stay there for perhaps half an hour - and then we'd have to walk back."

"You choose then."

"What about the Edinburgh Festival? Lots of drama. Fringe events. Bugger ballet. Experimental stuff. Could be interesting."

"I'll need a new skirt."

"They call them kilts up there," said Keith. "And are your legs good enough to wear one?"

"Never had a complaint yet," said Phil, pulling up his right trouser leg to expose a shapely calf. "Royal Stuart tartan or pink organdy- "

"Don't do that," interrupted Keith. "You'll have me overcome with lust and desire."

"Suits me," said Phil.

Both young men had that easy attitude to each other which comes from living together, getting on well together, knowing each other's moods and feelings. They had shared their lives for almost six months now and life seemed to be good and uncomplicated.

"What about Alan?" asked Phil, his eyebrows suggesting a genuine concern.

"Alan? Alan Forrest? What about him?"

"He's got a holiday coming up soon. What do you say we ask him to come with us?"

"How come you know so much about my ex-boyfriend?" asked Keith.

"He rings me up from time to time," said Phil casually. "We chat. He's feeling a bit down at the moment. Colin's left him."

"Constable Plonk! I'm not surprised. They weren't really suited."

"Oh come on, Keith," said Phil. "Be fair. Colin may have been an unambitious, scared-to-come-out-of-the-closet policeman but he was good for Alan. Alan needs someone. He gets really low when he's on his own."

Keith felt a little guilty. He was so happy with Phil but he still cared for Alan in a gentle, almost brotherly sort of way. He told himself he should have kept in touch more regularly. He couldn't remember the last time he had phoned Feltenham, which was where Alan lived. It had been at least six months since he and Phil had both been down there on a case involving a kidnapped child.

He ruffled Phil's dark hair. "You're a good kid," he said. "I'll ring him tonight."

"Kid, yourself," retorted Phil. "I'll show you who's a kid," and he advanced on Keith, fingers outspread to grab hold of sensitive parts of his body. Keith squealed in a most un-Sergeant-like manner and they wrestled together on the sofa until it creaked alarmingly.

"Mind the fixtures and fittings," said Keith.

Phil settled in Keith's lap.

"I love you," he said.

"I think you prove that most nights," said Keith, "and at other times too."

"No I don't just mean the sex . . "

"I know," said Keith and kissed him on the mouth.

The telephone rang.

"Shit," said Phil. "Just when I was getting comfortable." He bounced up and down experimentally.

Keith groaned. "You're heavy," he said. "You're putting on weight."

"I'm not," said Phil outraged. "I'm still sylph-like!"

"Will you answer that bloody phone!"

Phil gave him one last heavy-weight bounce and got up. He picked up the receiver. "Hello," he said, "Maison Hortense, High class brothel! Do you wish to make an appointment?"

Keith sighed. He wondered what sort of an explanation he would give if the caller happened to be his mother. He looked affectionately at his lover. A shock of light brown hair, ruffled now after their recent tussle, grey eyes, most times sparkling with an impish sense of misbehaviour, generous mouth and, whatever he had said a little time before, a slim, still-adolescent body even though he was well into his twentieth year.

Phil was giggling. "Hello, Alan," he said. "We was just talking 'bout you. Keith wants you to come with us up to Scotty-land. You know kilts, haggis and whatever's under those hairy sporrans."

Keith smiled. It was just like Phil to say that it had been Keith's suggestion that Alan be included even though he had never even thought of it.

"You can?" Phil was saying. "You will? Great! Yes, fortnight's time, for a week. Don't know. You'll have to speak to the lady of the house for all the arrangements. Hang on. I'll pass you over." He nodded to Keith. "Speak to you in a bit, doll!" He held out the receiver.

"Alan, good to hear from you," said Keith. "Sorry to hear you and Colin have split. How do you feel about coming up to Edinburgh with us? I've got some leave. Phil, the shameless hussy has decided to chuck in his job."

"Yeah. I'd like to," said Alan, his usually quiet voice even more subdued than usual and Keith realised how much the break-up with Colin had affected him.

"Look," he said, "do you want to come up here before we go? There's plenty of room and you could be company for Phil when I'm on nights next week."

"I'd like to but I'll need to work if I'm taking a week off,"said Alan, and Keith couldn't but compare this attitude with Phil's less responsible one. Alan had grown up, matured so much from the gauche boy, lacking in confidence, that he had been when Keith had first met him.

"OK," said Keith. "We'll see you Friday week. Ring us to tell which train you'll catch and we'll meet you at the station. Take care. Phil sends his love." He rang off.

Phil lay sprawled on the sofa looking enticingly available.

"What do you want?" asked Keith. "Supper or sex?"

"Yes please," said Phil and opened his legs invitingly.

* * * * * * * * * *

A bright sunny Saturday morning, two weeks later the train deposited the mat Waverly Station and lugging their suitcases, they turned left down Princes Street. The Festival had truly taken over. Young men and women with fliers approached them as soon as they emerged from the station and pressed their handouts on them. "A new play by . . .", "Experimental dance and drama performed by . . .", "A solo performance by . . . . .," "Mime artist . . . ."

A young girl was playing a tin whistle by the side of the road and two youths wearing clown make-up juggled impressively with some beer bottles on the pavement.

"I've never been so popular," said Phil, graciously accepting everything that was offered to him. "Where's this place we're staying? The best hotel in town?"

"You'd be lucky to find anywhere available in Festival time,"said Keith and steered them left by the Art Gallery. They started up the hill towards the Castle.

"Ah," said Phil, "Special quarters in Edinburgh Castle."

Alan smiled and Keith was pleased to see that the break from Feltenham was already having an effect. He had said very little on the journey up in spite of Phil's banter and Keith's more gentle prompting.

"We were very lucky," said Keith. "A mate of mine in the Force has a sister who's got a flat which she always rents at Festival time. The people who booked it had to cancel and he persuaded her to let us have it."

They climbed steadily upwards, passing the Park on their right hand side. The grassy slopes were decorated with young people in various stages of undress, sunning themselves in the summer warmth.

"Look at that," said Phil appreciatively pointing at a dark young man who, legs akimbo and coffee cream body spread out to the sun, was wearing only the briefest of sky-blue speedos. They clasped his genitals in a most beguiling manner.

"I'll bet the City Fathers wouldn't be too pleased about that," said Keith.

"Bet half of them are gay anyway. So how much further do we have to lug these suitcases?" asked Phil. "I'm beginning to regret bringing so many ball gowns. Or shall we have a rest here in the Park. Perhaps Alan could go over and chat to that hunk."

"Not far now," said Keith. It's in one of those tenement buildings through there." He pointed to a narrow alley which branched off from the road and which almost immediately broadened into a small square around which stood tall buildings, seven or eight storeys high. They were built of grey stone and looked a little forbidding. He led the way through a doorway which opened into a narrow hallway and then to flights of stairs with landings off each one where front doors led into the flats.

"Top floor, I'm afraid, lads," said Keith. "But think of the view when we get there."

"Oh me heart!" said Phil in a falsetto, clutching at his chest."Where's the bleeding lift? I'll have a miscarriage if I have to climb all that way every time."

"Fucking poofters," said a voice in a very un-Scots-like accent from behind them. Keith thought it sounded as if it had its origins in Camden Town in London. Two young men, paunchy from too much beer and too little exercise had followed them in. Their faces expressed disgust as they pushed by them and went on up the stairs.

Phil waited a little while until they were just possibly out of earshot and then exclaimed in an outraged tone. "Well! Takes one to know one."

"Don't upset the locals," said Alan.

"Hardly local," said Keith. "Did you hear that accent? London and not far from where we live, I should think."

They reached the top flight of stairs and Keith opened the door to the flat. It was small but quite adequate. A living room, a tiny kitchen, two bedrooms, each with a double bed, and a bathroom. It reminded Keith of the flat he had once had in Feltenham and in which Alan now lived.

"Great," said Phil when he saw the double beds, "Now Alan can 'drag back' some trade and be ravished in the comfort of a Queen size bed!"

Keith looked at Alan quickly to see how he took this teasing but he was smiling. Obviously Alan was quite used to Phil's mischievous, slightly camp sense of humour and Keith thought back to the time when he had wondered a little apprehensively how the two of them would get on. He needn't have worried. In some ways they understood each other better than he did.

"OK," he said, deciding the two boys needed organising. "We'll unpack and then go and look for some food."

"Gay," said Phil suddenly. He had gone over and was standing by the window staring out into the road below.

"Gay food?" asked Keith. "I don't think there is any specifically gay food. Pink meringues perhaps - Cucumbers, in some circumstances."

"No," said Phil. "That sign down there. It says 'Gay' and then something else but it's hidden by the wall."

They crossed to look.

Alan said, "Bet you 50p it doesn't mean what you think it does. Not in Edinburgh surely!"

"Done," said Phil. "Come on let's unpack before Keith has a fit and then we can explore."

A City is a City is a City but Edinburgh was as different as could be from the London Keith and Phil had left a few hours before - and indeed from Regency Feltenham, Alan's home town. The traffic fumes might have been the same but the dour grey stone of the buildings gave a Calvinist feel to the street. Even the Festival didn't seem to have spread up to this part, the Royal Mile, between Edinburgh Castle perched high on its dead volcanic core and Holyrood House at the bottom, looked somehow severe, lacking in frivolity but it had a character all its own, gritty, down-to-earth, no nonsense - and Keith liked it.

"Where's this gay place of yours?" asked Alan.

"Let's see," said Phil. "Our flat's up there." He turned and pointed to the high tenement house behind them, "so the notice should be over there. On the corner of down that alleyway."

They crossed the road and turned into the narrow entrance. On the wall was a notice in mock Gothic script, 'Gay Gordon's' and in smaller letters, 'Everything for the Gay World/Man about Town'. In the window of the door were some advertisements for gay videos, books and in bold letters -"Gay Internet Cafe - £2.50 an hour on the Net - Gay Sites a speciality!"

"There you are, " said Phil. "You owe me 50p," and Alan rummaged in his pocket to find a coin.

"OK." said Keith. "Now that's settled, what about food?"

"Oh let's just have a look in first," said Phil, and pushed open the door.

There were some tables in the centre of the one large room and a bank of computers down one side with office type chairs in front of each unit. Along the back wall was a counter with a coffee machine and some cakes and open sandwiches in a protective transparent case, and behind it some shelves with videos. More shelves occupied the third wall with books, fiction paperbacks mostly. Keith noticed Felice Picano and Alan Hollinghurst amongst the names of authors. There were also some magazines, Zipper, Hunk, Steam. Several of the chairs at the computers were occupied and at one of the tables were seated two men - obviously engrossed in each other - as they didn't even look up as the three entered.

A broad-shouldered man, middle-aged, with thinning ginger hair stood behind the counter and smiled in welcome. He was dressed in untrendily tight jeans and a green woolen sweater. It was so unusual for a shop-keeper to take notice of customers that Keith warmed to him immediately.

"Hello, I'm Gordon," said the man. "Can I help or are you just browsing?"

"Let's have a coffee," said Phil and sat himself down at a table where he could look at the computer screens. One was obviously logged onto a gay site and was showing pictures of some interesting duos performing acrobatic copulation.

"Wow. Look at that. Keith," he said. "Do you think we could . . . .?"

"Only if I was double jointed or had a considerably longer member than I actually have," said Keith.

"It's a very nice 'member'," said Phil. "Don't you think so, Alan?"

Alan smiled but was saved from answering by Gordon's arrival with a tray of coffees.

"How long has the cafe been here?" asked Keith.

"About six months."

"I'm surprised to find a place like this in Edinburgh," said Keith."Was there much opposition?"

The man smiled. "Sure was," he said. "Still is, in fact."

"And is it popular?"

"Festival time it gets really full especially in the evenings, but other times well . . . you know . . . we struggle along." He went back to the counter.

"Look at that!" Phil drew their attention to the pictures appearing on the screen. "Surely that's impossible," he said. "I wouldn't mind having a try though."

Their eyes were riveted to the screen so they didn't see the pair come in. All they heard was the noisy commotion from the counter.

"Nah, we don't want any fucking help from a dirty old poof like you," said a voice, raised high in real, or assumed, anger and they turned to see the two youths who had followed them into their tenement building earlier and who were now obviously responding to the same civil offer that Gordon had made to Keith.

"Age is supposed to bring wisdom and understanding," said Gordon mildly. "I hope eventually it will do the same to you."

The two men obviously were not sure whether they were being insulted or not. Perhaps they did not even understand what Gordon had meant.

"We wanna go on the Net," said the shorter of the two, an unpleasant looking youth whose dark moustache almost hid a mouth seemingly permanently set in a sneer. "I suppose you can get something other than this fucking queer stuff."

"The Internet caters for all tastes," said Gordon. "But I think you'd be more welcome at one of the other Internet cafes in town. Where the clientele isn't so specific."

The first youth spoke again. "Are you telling us we can't go on here?" He asked belligerently. "You got something against us straights?You just want to feel our arses?"

"I certainly do not," said Gordon with such emphasis that it was impossible for the two not to realise they were being snubbed.

"What's wrong . . . ?" started one and then even he realised that finishing the question would have been liable to misinterpretation. He resorted to abuse. "You fucking queer!" he shouted. "I ought to fucking well smash you!"

Keith sighed and stood up. "Don't get involved," said Phil but once up Keith knew he had to carry on. He went over and stood behind them at the counter.

"I think it'd be better if you left," he said quietly.

The two wheeled round, sizing him up. Keith, though slim, looked tough and his crew-cut hair gave him a rugged, sturdy appearance. His voice held a tone of authority.

"Oh yes," said the one with the moustache, "and if we don't, I suppose you're going to arrest us."

"If necessary," said Keith, and took out and showed them his warrant card. He had no authority here in Scotland but they were unlikely to know this. "Conduct likely to lead to a Breach of the Peace."

The two youths shuffled, obviously trying to find a way to exit without losing face. Eventually one said. "Come on. Let's get out of this faggot farm. Stinks of fucking fairies."

They left though not without a final 'We'll get you, you fucking faggot' as they went out through the door, seemingly more addressed to Gordon than at any one else.

The cafe settled down to its former peaceful state, though the two guys sitting at the table and staring into each other's eyes, had scarcely moved.

"Thank you," said Gordon. "Though I could probably have handled it myself. I've seen a lot worse."

Keith smiled. "We'll come back later," he said. "Come on, children, let's go."

"Ooh, Daddy," said Phil, lisping atrociously, "you are so big and strong. Thank you for saving us from those rough men."

Keith smacked him playfully on the arm and they went out into the sunshine in search of a meal.

* * * * * * * * * *

The Devil's Column Production of 'Achilles and Patroclus'. The advertisement stared down at Keith from the wall in front of him while they munched away at their food. The two boys had their backs to it. They had decided on a Vegetarian Restaurant and Alan and Keith had chosen salad - it was warm outside - while Phil was tucking away into an appetising looking, and smelling, cheese and spinach pie. Keith rather wished he had ordered that too. It was a pleasant enough eating place, almost old-fashioned - the sort you wouldn't find in London anymore, with real table cloths, red check, made from material, not plastic, on the tables.There was a big window and they could watch the people walking by outside. Obviously it supported the Festival as the walls were covered with posters advertising events and a large notice announced that tickets for performances could be bought at the cash desk.

Keith looked at the two sitting opposite him. As he had done before, he thought how alike they looked, might indeed almost have been brothers but it was only their youth and high spirits that were similar. Physically there were many differences. Alan's hair was darker, his eyebrows were thicker, his nose straighter without the little tilt at the end which gave Phil such a cheeky, appealing look. Alan's chin was a little firmer, his smile broader. Alan in fact had matured since Keith had last seen him. His shoulders were now wide and he looked less like an overgrown school boy, more like a man.

Keith noticed the advertisement again above their heads. There's was something vaguely familiar about the name. At last he mentioned it and Alan looked for the first time.

"That's right," he said. "The Devil's Column. It's a landmark on the hill above Feltenham." He turned and had a closer look at the small print advertisement.

"There you are," he said. "Its a Feltenham College production. I bet some of the guys I went to school with are in it."

"Does that mean we've gotta go and see it?" asked Phil, his mouth full. "Who's this 'Chillies and Pancakes' duo anyway?"

"Achilles and Patroclus. A pair of Ancient Greek guys," said Keith."Fought together in the Trojan War, fell in love but they were both killed before the end."

"Ah! a comedy," said Phil. "Perhaps it'll be a musical."

"Did I tell you I was in 'Guys and Dolls' at school?" asked Alan, knowing the response it would get.

"Hundreds of times," said Phil with a mock groan.

"We could go this afternoon," said Keith. "There's a performance starting at 2 o'clock. What do you think?" He speared a piece of tomato on his fork.

"OK by me," said Phil.

"Alan?"

But Alan didn't answer. His attention seemed to have been caught by someone or something on the other side of the room.

"Alan," said Phil and gave him a poke in the ribs.

Alan sort of came to with a start. "It's him," he said. "The hunk! The one we saw in the Park."

"Where?" asked Phil, and Keith started to look round.

"Don't stare," said Alan. "He's looking this way."

"Where?" repeated Phil.

"Over there. At the table by the door. Surely you recognise him."

"I don't think I looked at anything but his speedos," said Phil.

A dark-haired, olive complexioned young man was indeed looking across the room in their direction. He was wearing a light blue shirt which emphasised his tan. His face was long and serious, the eyes from the distance appeared dark, under thick eyebrows. As he opened his mouth to take a bite, his teeth were white.

"Can't I have a look?" asked Keith plaintively.

"No," said Alan and Phil together.

Phil added, "He's certainly interested in someone over here. All you've gotta do is chat him up."

"I'm not very good at that," said Alan. "Not without a couple of pints of beer inside me."

"You want to be subtle but sophisticated," said Phil. "If you need any help just ask me."

Keith laughed. "Subtle!" he said. "How did you first meet me?"

"In the Jam Factory?"

"You came and sat on my cock," said Keith. "So much for subtlety."

"Ah yes," said Phil, "but I was shy then." He turned to Alan. "Why don't you go to the loo? See if he follows you."

"Another subtle approach," said Keith.

"But effective."

"Shall we have a sweet?"

"How can you think of food at a time like this?" asked Phil.

Alan made his decision, got up and went across the room.

"What's happening?" asked Keith. "Tell me what's happening."

"He's going towards the door marked 'Gentlemen'! He's going to walk past the hunk. No he's not! The SLUT! He's actually stopped at his table. He's talking to him. He's sitting down! Apple pie and cream please."

"What?" said Keith.

"You asked me if I wanted a sweet."

Keith turned round to beckon to the waitress and was able to see Alan and the young man in apparent friendly conversation. Alan looked up and waved, smiling. Then he said something to his companion and they both got up, the dark young man bringing his plate of food with him.

"They're coming here," said Phil excitedly. "Quick, come and park your bum next to me so they can sit together. Anyway," he added lasciviously, "I'd like something to play with while I eat my apple pie."

"You keep your hands to yourself, young man," said Keith severely but he changed his place so that he was sitting next to Phil when Alan and his new friend arrived.

"This is Esteban Perez," Alan said. The foreign name came out pat as if he had been practising it on the way across. "Keith Hatch, Phil Howard." He pointed at them as he introduced them. Esteban smiled and Phil gave a just audible groan. When he smiled he was beautiful.

"Hola," Esteban said.

The waitress arrived and looked a little confused at the changed seating arrangements.

"He is with us now," said Keith. "Is that a problem?"

She shook her head and took their order. Keith looked at Esteban.

"I will just have a coffee," he said.

"Are you Spanish?" asked Phil.

"Central American," said Esteban. "I come from Costa Rica."

His voice was deep and soft and practically without accent. Keith felt Phil wriggle next to him. Under his breath, he heard him whisper, "So sexy!"

"Esteban is studying at the University here," said Alan.

"So you're not here for the Festival," said Keith.

Esteban shook his head.

"We were thinking of going to see the play this afternoon," said Keith. He pointed to the poster over his head. "Would you like to come along with us?" As he said it, he realised that it was perhaps the wrong thing to say. Alan might want to drag the attractive young man back to the flat. But Esteban was smiling regretfully.

"Unfortunately," he said, "I have to work now. I have a part time job for the holidays. To help with the scholarship grant."

Alan looked disappointed.

"But I would like to meet with you this evening." The remark might have been addressed to all of them but he was looking at Alan.

They finished the meal chatting like old friends and parted outside after having made arrangements to meet in the Albion Club that evening at ten o'clock.

"Obviously we're planning on keeping late hours on our holiday," said Keith.

"But do we know he's gay?" asked Phil after watching Esteban's slim figure disappear into the crowded High Street.

Alan smiled. "He's gay alright."

"Alan Forrest," said Phil in a shocked tone, "what were you and that man doing under the table while you were eating your apple pie?"

But Alan would say no more.

* * * * * * * * *

"Am I not High King of the Achaeans?" roared the man impressively - his words slightly blurred through the constricting face mask of the unlikely-looking helmet that he wore. "And is not my command, law?"

The actor who was playing Achilles looked at his King, his face screwed up in a snarl of derision, for rather longer than necessary - at least for the audience's comfort.

He's forgotten his words, thought Keith.

But perhaps the pause was just for dramatic effect for eventually he growled, "Your command is my law, O King."

"Then give to me the handmaiden, Briseis, daughter of the priest, for she is mine by right of seniority."

There was another long pause. Achilles was having an internal struggle with himself. Really, thought Keith, the Trojan War itself was supposed to have lasted for ten years, the play seemed to have been going on for an equal length of time.

He felt Phil, sitting next to him on what must be a similarly hard seat, fidget to find a more comfortable position. There was the sound of a barely suppressed yawn. The hall was scarcely half full.

"I claim her by right of conquest." Achilles sounded petulant.

"Nice legs," remarked Alan's quiet voice beside him.

"If they'd only quicken the tempo," whispered Keith.

Perhaps indeed the cast also felt this for the next act, which included a rather raunchy love scene between the actor with the nice legs and his blond boyfriend, went with rather more of a swing. Whoever had choreographed the fights had also done a good job and the subsequent deaths of both Patroclus and then Achilles provided an exuberant climax for the play.

"I know Jim Saunders, the guy playing Odysseus," said Alan. "He was Guy Masterson when I was Lieutenant Brannigan in . . ."

"Guys and Dolls?" interrupted Phil innocently.

"You're just jealous," said Alan. "Shall we go backstage and see him."

"I quite liked the one with the legs," said Phil. "Don't forget you've gotta date this evening."

"Don't forget you're married," said Keith so, in spite of Keith's embarrassment, Phil insisted on holding his hand all the way backstage.

The actors, eight males in all, were crowded into a tiny room, removing make-up and changing out of their costumes. There was a strong smell of Max Factor, underarm deodorant and feet.

"The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd," muttered Phil.

Jim Saunders saw the three hesitating by the door and came over. He recognised Alan and smiled.

"Did you see the show?" he asked. "What did you think of it?"

"It was good," said Alan, "after the first act. That was much too slow."

"I tell them this every time," said Jim. "But will they listen? Anyway we've got problems. The guy playing Ajax has had to drop out.Tonight is his last performance. It's not a big part but it's essential. If we can't find anyone to take his place, we may have to close. Just when we were warming up too, getting to be known - at least for the evening performances."

Alan introduced Phil and Keith who made sympathetic and encouraging noises.

"Hey wait a minute," said Jim, suddenly looking at Alan. "You're good on stage. I remember you as Brannigan in 'Guys and Dolls' . . ." Phil groaned. ". . . I suppose you couldn't stand in for him. No I shouldn't ask. It'd spoil your visit to the Festival."

Alan appeared a bit taken aback. "I don't know the part," he said.

Assuming this was not an outright refusal, Jim said, "You were always so good at learning lines. Knew them all long before we did . . and it's only a couple of speeches, the others are just 'yes' and 'no' and 'certainly, my Lord' - ad libs really. You could learn them overnight and we'd have a rehearsal in the afternoon for tomorrow night's performance."

"Just don't knock over the scenery," said Phil.

"That's right," said Jim, not realising Phil was joking. "Come and have a chat with Peter, the guy who's playing Ajax. He'll tell you how easy it is."

Keith wasn't sure whether he should jump in and help Alan out but he was, after all, old enough and mature enough to make his own decisions. Looking at him, though, Keith could see that in a way Alan was attracted by the idea.

"OK. I'll think about it," said Alan. "Which one is Ajax?"

"Great," said Jim. "In a way we'll be glad to get rid of him. Peter can be a real pain. Last night he got himself chucked out of a place in town. Pissed of course and unpleasant with it. And Gordon's a nice enough guy. He doesn't need all that hassle."

"Gordon?" asked Keith.

"Yes," said Jim. "Runs an Internet Cafe just off the High Street. Called Gay Gordon's"

* * * * * * * * * *

The Albion Club was not very different from any other gay Club in London, or probably in any city all over the world. It was hot and crowded, dark and noisy - Phil immediately felt at home in it and Keith, as usual, a little uncomfortable. It was 11 o'clock when they got there and, being Saturday night, was approaching its apogee. The dancing area was at its most lively, sweaty bodies leaping and vying with each other to seem the most athletic, the bar at its busiest, the music at its loudest. They couldn't see Esteban - in fact it was difficult to make out any particular individual, just a confused throng of excited bodies, the flashing lights reflected on sweating skin.

"Beer," said Keith. "I must have a beer. I assume you'll all have the same."

He plunged into the throng around the bar.

Some guys were standing in a group over at one side, clustering round a small raised stage. On it a pair of youths were dancing, erotically, wearing only trousers, their bodies entwined though not quite touching, their naked chests shining with perspiration, their faces contorted, mouths open in a soundless cry. Suddenly one broke away and jumped down, splitting the crowd standing around. He came over towards Phil and Alan. It was Esteban, smiling broadly. He came up to Alan and kissed him on his lips. Alan could smell his body, the hot sweat, a sweet musky fragrance mixed with some body splash. The closeness of his body and his scent aroused him immediately by its almost animal magnetism. The youth exuded sexual electricity.

"Where have you been?" asked Esteban.

"I have been waiting so long." He sounded as if he meant it.

"Just looked as if you were pining away up there," said Phil, with more than a trace of sarcasm.

"Huh! I was just dancing with someone. Come. I will dance with you now." He dragged Alan towards him and clasped him in a different sort of dance, smoothly erotic, his body sliding against Alan's, touching all the way down, gently moving to the rhythm of the music. Alan could feel Esteban's hardness through his white cotton chinos and knew that his own cock was equally aroused.

Keith returned with four beers. "I saw 'el hombre' had found you so I bought another one," he said.

"I don't think Alan knows what's hit him," said Phil, looking at the couple. "It makes me sort of randy just looking at them." He sipped at his beer. "I don't think I want to stay here long. I guess I'm looking forward to an early night." He gave Keith a lecherous leer and put his hand on his lover's groin.

"Hey. You'll make me drop these glasses," said Keith. "But don't stop."

The music did though, just then and although Esteban and Alan continued moving for a while to music of their own making, they eventually realised that the dance was over and looked about. Keith waved the glasses of beer at them and they came over and drank thirstily.

>From out of the crowd another figure emerged, a familiar, if, at least to Keith, a not entirely welcome one.

"Hello, darlings," said a soft, rather insinuating voice.

"Nick," said Phil and sounded delighted. It was indeed Nick, the bartender from the Olympia Club in Feltenham, and all three, Alan, Phil and of course Keith knew him - though for different reasons. With Alan he had had a little fling as a result of what Alan had considered Keith's 'desertion'. Phil he had known in London and he had 'outed' Keith to the Feltenham Police. At the time, when he had first discovered who had done it, Keith had scarcely controllable feelings of grievous bodily harm, if not murder, but, as things turned out, the 'outing' had led to his transfer to his present, much more satisfying job with the Metropolitan Gay Liaison Force and eventually to his meeting with Phil - a silver lining indeed.

The sex with Nick had meant little to Alan - just a pleasurable interlude at an otherwise rather unhappy time - but he didn't trust Nick and he remembered the last time he had seen him to talk to, when he had said that he fancied Phil and that he always got what he wanted.

Phil, trusting, lovable, in some ways, very innocent Phil saw Nick, whose slightly irregular eyebrows gave him an attractively sardonic look and the world-weary twist to his sensual lips, as a friend, cheerful and generous both materially and emotionally and could never quite understand why Keith was so wary.

"And you seem to have found our Latin-American hot-spot," Nick said, casting an eye in Esteban's direction. "I've been trying to get that one into bed all week."

"What are you doing here?" asked Keith. It sounded ungracious, but Keith didn't intend it not to be.

"I always come up to Edinburgh for Festival Time," said Nicholas. "Trade's so good then. Anyway the man who owns the Olympia also owns the Albion, so he lets me transfer."

"We were just saying, that we don't think we'll stay long," said Keith. "Long day, early start, lots to do tomorrow. We'll be going back to the flat soon." The remark was directed at Alan but took in Nick as well.

Alan gave Esteban a look which he seemed to understand without any words being spoken. He nodded in agreement.

"I think we're coming back with you," said Alan.

"Pity," said Nick. "We must meet up some time . . . chat about old times . . . catch up." He looked at Phil who nodded, smiling, pleased.

Esteban discovered his shirt and they went out into the warm summer air. It was dark now and the street lights along Princes Street gave an almost fairy-tale image to the Regency architecture, so different from the Medieval look of the older city. Alan and Esteban seemed to be wrapped up in each other, walking slightly ahead of Keith and Phil and talking quietly together.

"What do you think?" asked Phil. "Is it true love?"

"Give them a chance," said Keith. "They haven't even . . ."

"Fucked?"

"Made love," said Keith prudishly and laughed. "Anyway Alan's got to learn his lines for tomorrow."

"I doubt whether he'll be learning lines tonight," said Phil, "no that sort anyway."

Back at the flat Alan and Esteban, not surprisingly, refused the suggestion of coffee, said goodnight and went into Alan's room.

"Amado mio," said Esteban and put his arms around Alan.

Though Alan wasn't quite sure what that meant, it sounded sexy so he didn't ask, instead surrendered to the long, tender kiss on his mouth, the tongue which entwined with his, the warm, hard body that pressed itself against him. Eventually Esteban drew away.

"Lie on the bed," he said. "And close your eyes."

Alan did so and waited for a while. He was about to ask what was the matter when he felt the heat of another body on him, the scent of passion which aroused him. He knew without looking that Esteban was naked and wanted to look at him but the voice came again. "Lie quiet," said Esteban. "Don't open your eyes."

Alan felt lips on his, gently kissing then they moved to his closed eyelids, light feathery caresses, now on his throat and he could sense his own pulse beat under the slight pressure, Esteban must be feeling it too. Fingers gently undid the buttons of his shirt and as his chest was exposed it was kissed, and a tongue made a trail down down the sternum to the centre of his body, to his umbilicus and then lower, through the hair that grew there, until the kissing had to stop at the waistband of his trousers. He gasped at the intense feeling of desire aroused in him. Go lower. Go lower, his thoughts screamed.

But Esteban stopped and next Alan felt his shoes being unlaced and removed and the socks peeled off. He felt the cooler air on his naked feet and then a tongue touched the sole of his right foot, made his foot arch, licked up between his toes and traced a path up to his ankle. Now he desired more than anything for that tender caress to go higher.

A gentle hand undid his belt, pulled down, so slowly, the zip and he heard Esteban's command, "Lift yourself, my lover." His hips up, the trousers were slid down and taken off and his briefs followed. Now he was naked and erect and knew that his cock stood up from his fork. He prayed that Esteban would not leave it unattended but he returned to his feet, sucking the toes, licking up the inside of his calf, past his knee and inside his thigh, higher and higher with such agonising but delicious slowness, that Alan almost screamed.

As it was when that tongue touched his balls, so briefly, almost as if by accident, he felt such arousal that his cock almost exploded. But still Esteban had not touched him there, there on his cock, which ached to be held, ached to be caressed.

"Abro tus piernas," he said, "y beso la dulce oscuridad. Descubro la preciada caverna que se oculta de la luz."

"What does that mean?" asked Alan.

"I open your legs and kiss the sweet darkness," said Esteban. And did just that. "I discover the precious cave that hides itself from the light." He kissed between Alan's buttocks and the tip of a tongue flickered.

"Ooooh," said Alan. "No one's ever done that to me before."

"You do not like?" asked Esteban.

"I love it," said Alan.

"In my country we call it, el beso negro, the black kiss." His tongue fluttered in and around the tender place shooting tremors of bliss throughout Alan's body.

"Can I do it to you?" Alan asked.

"Certainly," said Esteban. "But first I must finish my love making.Then next time we will do it together."

Alan surrendered himself to the passion and felt that delicious tingling feeling building up in his loins. He knew he would be unable to stop it this time. A warm soft palm cradled his balls and at the touch, he erupted, shooting again and again onto his own chest and flat stomach. He gasped as he came stupendously.

"You should have told me," said Esteban. "I would have liked to have tasted that - but it does not matter. I can still have it. Next time you shall do it into another place. Now a few minutes of rest in my arms and we begin again."

* * * * * * * * * *

Keith sliced two grapefruits into halves, surgically excised the white piece at the centre, cut round the edge with the serrated knife and released the flesh from the rind. He smelled the clean fresh tang of the fruit. Then he sprinkled some sugar onto the four halves. Phil came out from their bedroom, looking sleep-dishevelled and infinitely desirable. Keith kissed him on the mouth.

"I haven't brushed my teeth yet," said Phil.

"I love you when you're still gungy," said Keith.

"Degenerate," said Phil, smiling.

"Put some bread in the toaster, will you." Keith filled the kettle and switched it on. "I wonder if our love-birds will want breakfast."

"I doubt it," said Phil. "Still feasting on the fruits of love, I expect. Do you remember when we never wanted to get out of bed?"

"You didn't want to this morning," reminded Keith.

But Phil was wrong for at that moment Alan's door opened and the two came out, both looking as if they hadn't had much sleep.

"Go and wash," said Keith. "Breakfast will be ready in three minutes."

Esteban apparently had to be at work by nine o'clock. He seemed very reticent as to what this holiday job was, merely passing it off with a casual 'just an ordinary affair to keep the rent paid' - it sounded an odd way to describe it but they put it down to a slight language difficulty.

"We will meet again this evening? Yes?" he asked and Alan's radiant answering smile told him that that was surely what he wanted most of all. Keith hoped Alan wasn't about to fall head over heels and be let down again.

Esteban said, "But the Albion Club will be shut on Sunday. What about the Festival Bar at 11 o'clock?"

Alan said his private goodbyes in the hall. Keith was planning the day's outings and Phil left him to it, making a perfunctory whisk around with a duster, pretending to be house-proud.

Alan came back, clearly glowing with happiness.

"Come on, doll," said Phil, dropping his duster and pulling Alan down on the sofa beside him. "Tell aunty all!"

"Oh dear," said Keith. "if you kids are going to dish the dirt, I'm off out to buy some tickets. Anyway, Alan, don't forget you've got some lines to learn for this afternoon."

"Right, sugar," said Phil, after Keith had left. "What was it like?"

Alan smiled. "It was wonderful," he said. "He is so caring, so tender, so sexy, so different. He only thinks of my pleasure. I've never met anyone like him."

Phil looked at him seriously, or at least as serious as anyone could be with a pair of such mischievous grey eyes and a smile as broad as the River Tay. "Don't get hurt, my dear." he said.

Alan babbled on, "And he talks to me in Spanish when he makes love. It's such a lovely language, like a trickling brook. Do you know where 'la caverna oscura' is?"

Phil shook his head and Alan told him. "Sounds much more poetic than what I call it," said Phil. "Now what about your dramatic debut?"

"Oh God! yes. I must learn these lines. Where did I put the book, Jim gave me yesterday? Look you be Odysseus and we'll go through the scene.I'll learn them better that way. Anyway I can always adlib if I forget."

"You mean I play the butch one. Oh well, there's always a first time."

* * * * * * * * * *

The Festival Bar was less obviously lubricious than the Albion Club though just as crowded. There was no music or dancing, but lots of chatting about Festival events, Festival successes and failures, what events 'couldn't be missed' and which were so awful that they 'should' be.

Alan had refused to allow Keith and Phil to attend his 'first night' so they had gone to see a new musical production loosely based on Shakespeare's play 'A Winter's Tale' which had at least one catchy number and three very attractive chorus boys, as well as an interesting sub-plot concerning a gay policeman and his problems. So both Keith and Phil had been entertained in their different ways and anxiously awaited the arrival of Alan both to give and receive each other's news.

Alan arrived at just before eleven o'clock with some of the cast of 'Achilles and Patroclus'. He brought them over to Keith and Phil and told them modestly what a superb success he had been and how they had missed the treat of the Festival not to have come along.

"But you told us on no account to come and watch," said Keith, who obviously didn't understand Thespian behaviour.

"He did very well," said Jim, "And there was a place where everyone got lost and he ad-libbed like a trooper, though I didn't quite understand the reference to the 'dark cave'."

Phil sniggered as he caught Alan's eye.

But behind all the fun and excitement, Keith did detect a note of restlessness. Alan kept looking round. "I haven't seen him yet," said Phil. "But it's not much after eleven."

But the minutes dragged on and 11 became 11.30 and still there was no sign of Esteban. The Bar emptied a little and it was obvious that he wasn't there. However Nick was. He came lounging over to the group and gave Phil a hug. "Thought I might see you here," he said. "If the Albion's closed, most drift over to the Festival Bar or the Mother Black Cap."

"Not pulled anything for tonight?" asked Keith in what was, for him, a rather bitchy tone.

"Quite exhausted after this afternoon's encounter," said Nick. "But as you say there doesn't seem much left on offer tonight."

He looked around. There were signs of clearing up, glasses being collected, ash trays emptied, people saying goodbye. Those whose week was over arranged to meet next year, exchanging addresses with friends they might never see again.

Nick gave Phil a familiar stroke on his buttock. "Ditch your hubby and come back with me," he said. It sounded as if it was meant to be a joke though Keith was not sure.

"You'll have to wait until he leaves me on my own," said Phil, answering in like vein.

Alan got quieter. The cast of 'Achilles' left. Keith looked at his watch. "They're shutting soon," he said. "Perhaps he got held up. We don't know what sort of job he's got. Anyway he knows where we are staying. I expect he'll be waiting for us."

Alan nodded mournfully and tried to put on a smile. Phil put a sympathetic arm round his shoulders. The shutters came down on the bar and they went out into a night which had a hint of rain in the wind. The weather was changing. As they went up the hill, the banshee sound of fire engines caught up with them, overtook and then disappeared round the corner.

"Do you think it's our flat that's on fire?" asked Phil always ready to enjoy a disaster. "Keith probably left his curlers switched on. Still, think what we could claim for on the Insurance."

"What Insurance?" asked Keith shortly and Alan could not even work up a smile.

They turned into the alley way that led to their tenement block and noticed that, at the other end, there was a red glow, a brightness that filled the archway leading out onto the High Street. They went to investigate and joined a crowd of curious bystanders who had either been passing or had been attracted by the sound of the fire engines to the scene. Over the road, 'Gay Gordon's' was burning furiously, flames fanning out from the broken front window then flattened by the stone arch to make a canopy of fire. They could feel the heat on their faces.

Two pairs of firemen were directing streams of water into the fire which hissed and crackled as if resentful at being disturbed.

"Wow!" said Phil. "No more sexy pictures from there then."

They watched as gradually the fire was brought under control, the flames dying down to be replaced by rolling clouds of acrid smoke and at last just damp spirals rising from the grey waterlogged ashes. Several policemen and other official looking men in plain clothes were peering at the scene and making notes. A sergeant came over and asked the crowd to move on. There would be no more excitement that evening.

They climbed the six flights of stairs to their flat and found Esteban waiting for them outside the door. He held out his hand to Alan. "I am so sorry," he said. "My relief did not arrive until too late. I hope that you do not mind that I come to your flat."

Alan kissed him, obviously not minding at all. "Your clothes smell funny," he said.

"I did not have time to change them," said Esteban.

"Perhaps we should get inside," said Keith "before you take them off."

It was a strange though familiar smell. For a moment Alan couldn't identify it but then it was obvious.

* * * * * * * * * *

The following morning Esteban again had to leave early for work and after breakfast Keith and the boys went over to look at what remained of Gay Gordon's. Though still cordoned off by a police tape, they could see through the smashed window that the whole place was gutted. The counter at the back was a charred ruin and the stock, books, videos were either burnt, or black and soaking-wet from the water. The computers were wrecked, their monitor screens exploded from the heat. Only the door remained, an ineffective defence against whatever had set the place alight.

"Serve the fucker right," said a loud voice and they saw the two louts who had made the scene the previous morning.

"All queers deserve to be burnt," said the other. They turned away and, noticing Keith watching them, suddenly decided that somewhere else might be a good place to be. They walked off down the road, trying to look casual.

"I wonder," said Keith.

"Let's go to see Arthur's Seat," said Phil. "I read somewhere it's an extinct volcano."

"OK," said Keith and turned down the High Street almost bumping into a man coming the other way. "Sorry," he said automatically and then recognised him. "Bill Warman!"

"Aye," said the man, "and how are you? You're not up here solving mysteries are you?"

"No. Just up for the Festival." He introduced Phil and Alan. "This is Sergeant Warman. We were at Police College together before I went to Feltenham. Are you on this fire case?"

"Aye," said Bill. "Looks like arson! There was certainly petrol poured through the letter box on the door and a rag soaked in the stuff set alight and pushed through. We found part of it still sticking out the other side."

"Any suspicions?" asked Keith.

"Well Gordon wasn't too popular in certain circles if you understand my meaning," said Bill. "But no one in particular at the moment. Could have been anyone between about 11.30, when Gordon locked up and 12.15 when the fire was noticed."

"You might have a word with a couple of fellows," said Keith, and told him about the encounter the day before, and the fact that the two were probably staying at the same tenement building as they were. "They were here a moment ago, but they went off when they saw me."

"Thanks," said Bill. "I'll see what they have to say for themselves."

They split. The policeman stooped under the ribbon and Keith and the others turned down the High Street in the direction of Holyrood Palace and Arthur's Seat. Phil and Alan chatted animatedly about some topic which obviously interested them greatly but which Keith entirely failed to comprehend. He suspected it was to do with music or clothes or some other esoteric subject. Nevertheless he looked at them fondly, at Phil's lively expression as he explained a point, the unruly lock of burnished blond hair falling over his eyes to be impatiently brushed aside. For a moment he felt such an overwhelming feeling of affection that he could scarcely stop himself reaching out to him and embracing him. To think of something else, he looked away, over the street and caught sight of something that almost took his breath away.

"Oh! Oh! Oh!" said Keith, staring.

For a moment he had the same expression on his face as Alan had done when he had glanced across the restaurant on Monday and seen Esteban. Phil, looking back, felt a slight pang of jealousy and stared at the people on the opposite side of the road. Surely there was no one there who could possibly make such an impression.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

"The Turner Exhibition," said Keith, the light of love in his eyes. Now Phil could see a big banner across the doorway of the building opposite. "I knew it was in Edinburgh over the Festival weeks but I'd forgotten."

"You want to go there?" asked Phil.

"The most beautiful paintings," said Keith. "The subtle interplay of colour and light, the delicate . . ."

"Nudes?" demanded Phil.

"Er.. No! Landscapes and seascapes." He could see the expression on Phil's face was hardly one of enthusiasm. "You don't want to see them? OK, then. You go and sit on Arthur's Seat. I'll go into Heaven and we'll meet for lunch at one o'clock."

"Huh! Heaven," said Phil. "You said being somewhere else was Heaven last night." But he was smiling when he said it. "What about you, Alan? You want culture or nature?"

"I'm sorry, Keith," said Alan. "I want to talk to Phil about something."

"Where shall we meet then?"

"What about that pub over there? They do food it says."

"So," said Phil after Keith had left them. "What's this hot subject?"

"It's about the fire at Gay Gordon's."

"Oh," said Phil, sounding a little disappointed. "I thought it might be about your Latin lover."

"Well, it's that as well," said Alan. "Now I know those two louts are top of the list as suspects. After all they threatened Gordon on Saturday and his place goes up in smoke on Sunday night. They probably had the opportunity as well. Chucked out of some pub at closing time, round to GGs, pour in the petrol, stuff a hankie through the door set it alight and that's it!"

"Sure," said Phil. "Could have happened like that. So what's the problem?"

"There's also this guy who was in 'the Devil's Column'. The one I took over from - Peter. He had a row with Gordon and got chucked out too - on Friday night according to Jim Saunders."

"Right," said Phil. "Suspect number 2. Where was he last night?"

"I don't know. Jim said he was off back to Feltenham. His partner or his mother was ill or something and he had to get back to her. I guess he wasn't in Edinburgh at all." Alan sounded a little disappointed.

Phil waited. Though interesting, none of this sounded as if it was something that would worry Alan. Or need a close heart-to-heart with Phil when Keith wasn't present.

Alan hesitated. They walked past the lowering grey edifice of St Giles' Cathedral. Then he seemed to make up his mind.

"It's Esteban," he said and paused.

Phil's heart dropped. "No problems between you already?" he asked.

"No. Nothing like that. It's still wonderful. It's just that, well last night. His clothes had that odd smell and afterwards I realised it was petrol. And he was obviously in the area because he was waiting for us when he got home."

Phil almost laughed out loud but a look at the anxious frown on Alan's face made him change it into a cough,

"But what possible reason could he have for wanting burn down Gordon's place?"

"I don't know," said Alan wretchedly. "But the others' motives aren't all that strong. Peter got slung out. The two lager louts are just anti-gay."

"Has Esteban ever mentioned Gordon, ever said anything about the cafe?"

"No," admitted Alan, "but then we've only talked of other things."

"Has he been secretive about anything?"

"Only the job," said Alan. "I know about his parents in Costa Rica,and his brothers, and where he lives and what he likes to eat and drink and . . . "

"OK," interrupted Phil, "so it's really only the job that's a mystery. Well, we'll just have to find out about that."

"How?"

"Are you seeing him tonight?"

"Hope so. He's coming round at eleven."

"OK. Then tomorrow morning we follow him. He starts work at 9.00 so it can't be too far away. I mean you're still kissing and cuddling at ten to."

"What about Keith? I don't want him suspecting Esteban. I don't care who set fire to Gordon's, as long as it wasn't Esteban."

"We give him the slip. You can pretend you're walking with lover boy and I . . . well I'll go out to post a letter."

"A letter? You don't write letters!"

"Well I'll write one tonight. Special! To my Mum. Telling her all about the Festival. Keith won't want to come out with us. You know how particular he is about washing up the breakfast things, and leaving the place tidy before we go out. We'll sort out your lover's little secret," he said confidently. "Now where's this volcano?"


* * * * * * * * * *

Phil had been a little disappointed in Arthur's Seat. He seemed to have expected smoking fumeroles, subterranean rumbles and an overpowering smell of burning sulphur fumes. Instead they had found a broad sweep of grass, studded with litter, and some rocky outcrops. He complained as such to Keith when they met at lunchtime in the pub though Keith was so star-struck with the Turner exhibition that he didn't pay much attention. They bought pies and beer and found themselves a table to sit.

"It's just some strokes with brushes," said Keith, "and at first you don't recognize anything but then, from a distance, you can see all, the swirling fog, the haze, the water, the sunlight breaks through clouds, an old ship coming into harbour, the funeral at sea for instance, the black sailed ship, Paris as a nocturne . . ."

In fact neither listened to what the other was saying until Keith mentioned that he had met Bill Warman who had told him the result of the interview with the two louts. At that Alan certainly was, and then Phil quietened to hear the news.

"Yes. He found them, no trouble. They're staying in the flat below us. But they've got an alibi. They were in another Internet cafe on the other side of town at the time the fire started."

"Positive?" asked Phil.

"Well, pretty sure. They made a bit of a scene so they were certainly noticed about that time."

"Shit," said Alan.

Keith looked at him but he didn't elaborate.

"So they're still looking for someone else," said Phil.

"I guess," said Keith. "Though I wouldn't be surprised if those two didn't really do it. Or perhaps one of them while the other provided the alibi."

"Hello, lovelies," said a voice. The dark, saturnine face of Nick smiled twistedly at them through the tobacco haze.

"I don't believe it," said Keith. "Are you following us?"

"Hardly," said Nick. "I was here first. I saw you come in. I told you there were only three places for a self-respecting gay to be at Festival time, The Albion, the Festival Bar or the Mother Black Cap. And here we all are at 'Mother's'."

Keith watched him as he made a deliberate move to stand close to Phil, and soon they were chatting together, excluding the others. Phil giggled in that special way which he did usually only with Keith and Keith felt a stab of jealousy. Nick was trouble. He didn't care whom he hurt to gratify his own wishes. He had, unwittingly possibly, been the cause of the break-up between Alan and Keith back in the Feltenham days. He wasn't going to get Phil, not if he could help it but Keith couldn't bring himself to barge in, break up the pair, display too obviously his jealousy. Phil wouldn't have understood anyway; he was too innocent, too trusting. Anyway perhaps he rather fancied Nick. That dark face, the sardonic lift of his eyebrow, the twisted smile - they were, God blast him, attractive enough.

Alan solved the problem. "Well," he said, finishing his beer in a gulp. "Let's not waste the afternoon. Where are we all off to?"

Nick said, "See you around then," and Keith wondered whether he had made some sort of arrangement to meet Phil later.

* * * * * * * * * *

Tuesday morning and already over half way of their week's holiday over.

The plan had worked well. Alan had accompanied Esteban downstairs, said goodbye and then waited for Phil. Phil, with his alibi letter, told Keith he was going to catch the first post and Keith had made it easier by asking him to get some rolls and fillings while he was out so they could take a picnic instead of having to find a restaurant or pub.

There was a chill wind blowing up the funnel of the High Street,between the high buildings. It reminded them that in a few days it would be September and the summer nearly over.

"Who called Edinburgh the windy city?" asked Alan, wishing he was wearing a sweater.

"I don't know," said Phil. "But whoever it was is right. I wish I'd put on something a little less summery."

They could see the tall, slim figure of Esteban walking several yards ahead of them. He did not look around but in any case there were quite a few pedestrians in between.

"Did I tell you," said Alan "that Peter - you know the guy I took over from in the Devil's Column, the one who was chucked out of Gay Gordon's - he rang Jim from Feltenham to say his mother or whoever it was that was ill, was getting on OK."

"So he wasn't in Edinburgh on the night of the fire?"

"Apparently not," said Alan.

"And the lager louts have got an alibi."

Alan didn't answer. Esteban had broken into a run and as he did so,the chimes of nine o'clock sounded from the clock tower of the church opposite.

"He's going to be late," said Phil.

But Esteban had turned off from the main street and as they reached the corner they saw him going into the shop of a petrol garage.

"He's gone to buy some cigarettes," said Phil.

"He doesn't smoke," said Alan. "I bet this is where he works. He's a petrol pump attendant. That's why he smelled of petrol the night of the fire."

"But why did he want to keep it a secret?" asked Phil.

"Pride," said Alan in a relieved tone. "He probably thought it was a demeaning sort of job."

"But I've got a job filling shelves in Tesco's."

"No you haven't," said Alan. "You gave it up. Anyway you've got no pride." He smiled in relief.

They crossed the road and waited, lurking in what must, to anyone who was watching, have seemed a very suspicious manner. In a couple of minutes Esteban came out wearing a pair of overalls.

"Come on," said Alan. "We don't want him to see us. He'll tell me in his own good time if he wants to."

"So we still don't know who the arsonist is," said Phil.

"Just so long as it isn't Esteban," said Alan as they turned and retraced their tracks up the hill.

"Hang on," said Phil. "I've got to get some rolls and stuff for Keith. He'll think it most odd if I don't come back with the food for the picnic."

Alan looked around. "Let's get them from over there," he said pointing to a cafe which advertised food to take away. They had to queue.There was only one girl serving at the counter and she was slow. Many of the tables were also filled with people presumably having their breakfasts. There was an appetizing smell of frying bacon, toast and coffee.

Phil studied the menu board on the wall to decide what to buy.

"Hey, Phil! Look over there," said Alan. He nodded towards a table on the other side of the room where three men were sitting. Two had their backs to them but the third was facing. It was Gordon.

"Oh yes," said Phil. "Gordon." He didn't sound concerned.

"But who's he talking to?"

"I don't know," said Phil. "Who are they then?"

"It's the two guys. The two straights who made that scene. The lager louts!"

Phil immediately concentrated. "Yeah. You're right. It is them. But they hate him. They hate all gays. I don't understand."

As they watched they saw the three in apparent amiable conversation and then Gordon reach into his jacket pocket, take out and open his wallet and pass some bank notes to the two.

"He's paying them for setting fire to the shop," suggested Alan.

"But they didn't," objected Phil. "They've got an alibi. They were miles away at the time."

"He's paying them for . . . oh I don't know. Providing a motive so that they would be the suspects."

"While Gordon himself set light to his own shop," said Phil.

"But why?"

"To get the Insurance. Didn't he say that it was losing money?"

"Next please," said the girl at the counter. Phil. tried to concentrate on his order. When they looked round again, all three of the guys had disappeared. Phil took the bag of rolls, paid and they went outside looking up and down the street to see where the three had gone.

"Looking for me?" asked a voice.

"Nick," said Phil, for it was he, with his perpetually lecherous grin and his ironical expression. "How is it that we're always running across you?"

"Not all that surprising really when we're living practically next door to each other."

"How do you know where we are staying?"

"I make it my business to know everything of importance?"

"OK, then. What can you tell us about Gordon?"

"Gay Gordon? The Internet Cafe?"

"That's the one."

"What do you want to know? How long his cock is? Oh serious eh? Well the place was about be closed down for a start. I'm not surprised it was burnt down. If only for the Insurance. It was losing money hand over fist.Only wonder why Gordy-baby wasn't immediately suspected of doing it himself." He looked at them. "What's the interest?"

Phil looked at Alan. They were both thinking the same thing. Gordon would have been suspected of course, if there hadn't been some other obvious suspects.

He didn't say anything though and changed the subject. "So where are you off to?"

"Home to bed," said Nick, a lecherous smile on his face, then it went serious. "Care to join me?"

For the first time Phil realised that this was a deliberate proposition

"You could have had me any time before I met Keith," he said. "Back in London. I was always available. 'Anytime Annie', they used to call me."

"Perhaps being 'married' makes you all the more attractive."

"I'm sorry," said Phil.

"I can wait." The mocking smile was back again.

"You'll have to wait a long, long time."

"What a bore," said Nick, apparently losing interest. "A faithful wife."

They left him to continue back to the flat.

"Hurry up," said Phil. "Keith will start to wonder where we've got to. Are we going to tell him about Gordon?"

"There's no proof," said Alan. "The money could have been payment for anything."

* * * * * * * * * *

The Mother Black Cap was not full. It was that in between time, already past middle of the day, not yet early evening. Alan had gone off to practise something that hadn't gone quite right the evening before. Keith and Phil had been to a lunchtime show - very modern, no plot, no named characters, seemingly something to do with abstract concepts of time and space - and now they both felt the need for a drink before facing an all-male production of Webster's 'The Duchess of Malfi'.

They had in any case arranged to meet Keith's old chum, Bill Warman for a drink.

"Is he gay," asked Phil.

"Don't think so," said Keith.

"I wondered why he suggested the Mother Black Cap, that's all."

"Does it look like an obvious gay pub?"

Phil looked round. There were a few male couples standing at the bar but probably not any more than you'd see at any straight pub. Two women were sitting together at a table, chatting over their glasses of red wine. An elderly couple, man and wife, presumably as they didn't seem to be taking much notice of each other, sat side by side on a bench which ran down one side of the bar. They were looking straight ahead, apparently at nothing. The decor was old-fashioned mahogany and nicotine-stained paint, with etched glass mirrors for light relief. The only concession to modernity was the strip lighting.

"I see what you mean," said Phil. "Does he know you are?"

"I expect so. He knows the unit I'm in."

Phil finished his beer. "Do you want another one?" he asked.

Keith considered. "I'll be pissing all afternoon if I do," he said."I'll stick with this."

"I'll get myself one," said Phil. At that moment Warman came through the door over the other side. "I'd better get him a pint while I'm at the bar."

Keith waved and Bill came over. "Phil's getting you a beer." He sat down, sighing as if he was glad to take the weight off his feet. He looked tired and older than his twenty-five years, his face podgy and his hair already creeping back from his forehead. He could have been almost twice Keith's age.

"Life doesn't get any easier," he said.

"Any further forrader with the arson case?" asked Keith.

Phil arrived back with two glasses of beer and a short for Keith, just in time to catch the question. He waited for the answer. In a way he felt a sneaking sympathy for Gordon. No doubt it had been very difficult to start up such an enterprise in Edinburgh. He must have been at his wits end thinking of a way to salvage something from what was obviously a disastrous failure. Phil though would have had no regrets if the finger of suspicion still pointed at the lager louts. But it looked as if their alibi would keep them out of trouble.

"Not so far," said Bill. "I doubt whether we'll ever get anyone for it."

"Just going to the bog," said Phil.

Looks like Gordon's going to get away with it, he thought as he directed a jet of used beer into the urinal. Well so be it. He never set much store with Insurance Companies. You paid in regularly year after year and they were very keen on getting your money and pretty canny about having to pay out. So if Gordon swindled them out of a few thousands, the Company would no doubt put up by their premiums by a couple of quid and no one would really notice. Phil was so preoccupied with these thoughts that he didn't really notice the door behind him open and shut. Nor was he aware that someone - some people - had come in until he felt a rough push in his back. Losing his balance he stepped into the trough and felt the wetness in his shoe.

"Hey," he said angrily turning round. It was the two lager louts.

"So it's pretty boy," sneered one.

Had he not been so annoyed, Phil might have felt uneasy but as it was he blazed right back at them. "I know what you've been doing," he said."Gordon paying you to pretend that you've gotta motive for the burning down of the shop."

The man's face changed from a sneer to one of menace. He grabbed Philby the front of his shirt. "You little punk," he said. "That's not the sort of thing you want to go around saying." His voice was menacing but even so Phil was not expecting the sudden blow that the man aimed at him, catching his face and mouth so that he staggered back and fell onto the floor. Instantly the other man was onto him, fetching him a kick him in the ribs that made him cry out with the sharp agony. Through the torment of pain, Phil realised that the two were possibly going to kill him, certainly inflict major injuries. He screamed and the door opened to reveal Bill and Keith.

"What the fuck?" said Bill.

"Leave him alone, you bastards," shouted Keith.

"He's a fucking queer," said the man with the moustache, as if that excused what they were doing.

"And I'm a fucking copper," said Bill. "You're under arrest."

* * * * * * * * * *

Phil looked up at Keith from the bed. He lay there on the candlewick counterpane, completely naked and at his fork his cock resting on his thigh, soft and inviting. Keith knelt down beside the bed.

"How are you feeling?" he asked. Phil's lips were puffy and bruised and his ribs sore but not, thankfully, broken.

"I just need treating gently," said Phil and tried for a smile. It was not a great success.

"At least those shits are behind bars. And if we could break that alibi, they'd be there for even longer."

"Mmm," said Phil noncommittally.

"You'll always tell me if there's anything wrong, won't you?" asked Keith.

"I'll always tell you everything that concerns you and me," promised Phil, neatly side-stepping the answer/question without actually telling a lie. "Kiss me," he said. "But not on the lips."

"I don't know where to kiss first," Keith said. He could smell the fresh, clean smell of his body after his shower.

Their lovemaking was tender and gentle.

Afterwards they talked about Alan.

"He seems to have got over Constable Plod," said Keith.

"It looks like true love," said Phil. "Esteban's going down to Feltenham in a fortnight's time."

"But what about the future?" said Keith.

"What about anybody's future?" said Phil. "Of course I see us growing old together."

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