Another Life

by Andrew Foote

Chapter 19

I waltzed around the knotty question of where Donny would spend his first night with us. The boys he had managed to meet were sympathetic and accepted his presence without a backward glance, but that said, he was still away from everything he knew, he was with strangers and nervous regarding his father's reaction.

Pip was all for going to Stafford to stake out his home address, but had a rethink when it was gently pointed out that there was a distinct possibility that Carl might also be paying his Dad a visit and recognise the car.

I offered Donny the option of sleeping in the communal area or bed down beside me as I had erected a studding wall to give me some privacy, - he elected to be with me.

I wondered why I was pleased about this. Callum and I did it every night, but I never got excited over the prospect of sharing beds with him.

I loved Callum, I really did, but sex with him was something I studiously avoided. Now I found myself getting very aroused, my heart felt funny and I never wanted bedtime to come so soon. But I had work to do. I had to read to the boys, even if they were more than capable of reading by themselves by now.

At ten-thirty, Mitch went through and powered down the generator while Pip banked up the fire.

Gradually the place fell silent, so Donny and I slipped out and got changed ready for bed.

Lack of central heating made us hurry along, but then I asked him if there was anything he'd left at home he might like us to rescue.

"I don't have that much. Some clothes might be nice, especially if we get colder weather. I wouldn't mind having my laptop, but I reckon my Dad will be going crazy and looking through my emails trying to find out where I might've gone. He'll probably junk it once he sees there's nothing to find."

"We can sort clothing for you, and you can use my laptop until we can find a replacement for yours. How about things like your bank account, cheque books or deposit books?"

"Do all that electronically. I change the access code after every deposit so Dad wouldn't be able to pilfer anything."

"You ought to check your balance in the morning just in case he's smarter than you think."

We climbed into bed and turned off the torch leaving a nightlight glimmering in the alcove.

"Could you kiss me Ed?"

I leaned over and sought out his lips. I'd kissed Callum in the past, but nothing could compare with this. Callum's kisses were urgent and really eager, but Donny was warm and gentle and I had to break off after a few minutes.

"Oh God Donny? That was too much for me! I'm not used to this stuff, and you'll have to take it easy or I'll get carried away."

"I'll wait for you. I've never felt this way before about anyone. Blokes at the parties didn't wait, and if they hadn't already cum in their pants, they were all over me like a rash. I suppose it's all I've ever known so I do what they did to me."

"Well, I'm not the party animal so things are going to be different. I feel odd when I look at you, I want to say I love you, but I've only known you for three days and I don't think that's how love works. I don't want to go full steam ahead only to find it doesn't work between us."

"No one has ever cared about me before, so I guess this is like a game-changer. I used to get ill before a party. Not ill like running a temperature, but ill like throwing up at the prospect of what was going to happen. I don't feel that way about you, and actually, I want you to take me.

But I can wait Ed."

"I'm afraid you're going to have to. I would have to be absolutely sure it's what you want. I can't risk hurting you, or for that matter, hurting myself. I have feelings too remember?"

I woke laying on my back with Donny on his side and his arm draped over my stomach. His breathing was deep and even so I guessed he wasn't ready to wake for a while yet. I needed coffee, so I slipped quietly out of bed, got dressed and made my way outside.

Pip had beaten me to the post. He pointed to the coffee pot, so I helped myself to a brew.

"The real deal there Ed, not your instant rubbish."

"Where did it come from?"

"Bubba persuaded Ronny to go up-market and offer this as an alternative. He started his shift at six this morning then dropped this off at seven to see what we thought of it."

"It's good. Get a real caffeine hit of this stuff!"

"You're not the hyperactive type."

"Not as a rule, but shove a few spoonful's of sugar in it and I'd be bouncing off the walls."

"How's Donny holding up?"

"Still asleep, but he seemed fine last night."

"It's just that by now, the shit will have definitely hit the proverbial fan and that might make him even more skittish than he was yesterday."

"Quite possibly, but what choices did we have? Personally, I don't care if his Dad gets a bloody good pasting off Carl, no one has the right to farm their own children out for sex, but what does concern me is this. If he does a good enough job in convincing Carl that Donny's disappearing act had nothing to do with him, Carl's not the type to just let it ride, and there's always the possibility that he'll get his guys to come after him."

"Why would he want to do that? Donny's just a kid and kids go missing all the time, so why waste resources?"

"Something Ian said about loose cannons being dangerous."

"So Donny has a name, but then so did Callum and Carl never went after him?"

"No, but Callum was running scared. Carl knew him well enough to know that his distrust of the police played right into his hands and Callum wouldn't go near a police station, he'd lay low and wait until the dust settled. Donny's different. He has no reason not to trust the police. Up until last night, he'd lived at home with his father, getting a good education and had an unblemished record. No, Ian's right. Donny represents a real danger to Carl."

"They would still have a job making a connection between us and his disappearance or even where we are."

"Unless we've been unbelievably careless.

Is the Astra still registered in Solihull?"

"Yep. Cost too much to insure if I used this address. This is an unsavoury area in case you hadn't noticed."

"That guy from the museum. What if he'd been at the party and recognised me?"

"When? No one had arrived when we dropped the boys off, and there wasn't anyone at the house barring Carl and his band of merry men when we collected them for the return journey. I think you're spooking yourself unnecessarily."

"How I hope you're right Pip."

As it happened, we didn't get any unexpected visitors, so mid-afternoon Pip and I left to meet the boys from Wolverhampton. We arrived on time and the lads were waiting for us.

"How's Donny shaping up?"

"He's fine. He got a good night's rest, and when we left him, he was helping one or our boys mixing concrete to repair the wharf. He's okay and with people who will look out for him."

"That's good to know, 'cos all of us were rounded up this morning and given the Third-Degree treatment. Carl's seriously got his panties in a knot over this!"

"No one grassed us up though?"

"Believe it. If anyone had said anything, we'd all be toast by now. If one kid opened his gob then suspicion would be on all of us, and as you might have gathered, Carl's an animal and he'd take us out without batting so much as an eyelid."

"So, are you happy enough to help us out with names?"

"On one condition. If thing start to heat up, we'll need a safe-house."

"If any of you have worries about your safety, then call me on the number on this card. We have room enough to put you up, plus the only access is off the canal or through high steel gates topped with razor wire."

"Game on then.

We've written down what names we know, and we've got a couple of addresses. There are others who go there, but some we don't know or only go there to watch the action so we can't help you with those.

Just be warned, some of these blokes are heavyweight solicitors, barristers, clergy, senior members of the armed forces and some politicians. Get your strategy wrong and you're fucked, they'll eat you for breakfast."

"We hear you. We realised there might be heavy guns involved. I guess you must have a tidy bank balance to attend one of those gigs, but there's one other thing I'd be interested to understand, and that's how you were recruited."

"Word of mouth mostly. A kid at school, maybe someone like Donny, is paid to go around all the boys in his school who like a bit of cock, make them an offer they can't refuse, and the rest is history.

Some lads get picked up in public toilets selling themselves, others are forced into it by parents or uncles, and some just plain enjoy it and look on the dark web for anything that might be going down."

"Not helpful. We were hoping to discover a direct link that might take us back to Carl."

"He's too clever for that. He's not going to involve himself at ground level."

"Nobody is able to cover all bases. There has to be a chink in his armour somewhere."

"Just watch your back. He's a fucking Psychopath, and a very dangerous psychopath to boot.

Might be an idea if you fucked off now. If we hear of anything interesting, we'll shout you."

"At least we have names if little else. This is going to take time to figure out."

"Might I make a suggestion Ed?"

"Fire away. I need help here."

"First off, I'm not that computer-literate. I know the basics but you need someone better than me to bounce ideas off. I'll always be around if you need me, no worries there, but why not involve Donny? He's as bright as ninepence, knows computers, so it stands to reason that as he has a vested interest in sinking Carl, for my dosh, he's your man."

"That, my man, is a very good idea and I feel ashamed I didn't think of it first!"

"Pip the genius strikes again…… until it comes to computers and what it takes to rid myself of acne!"

"Love ya anyway…… despite your zits!"

"Are you up for helping me then?"

"Deffo. When do we start?"

"Not tonight. We've got to get dinner, and then there's reading to the lads. Tomorrow morning, IF you manage to wake before late afternoon will do!"

"Hey! I wasn't that late up? It was around…… yeah. Okay I was tardy. I got up at just gone eleven. I promise to be earlier tomorrow."

"Donny? It doesn't matter! You're free to do your own thing here. Just pitch in with the housework and everything's cool! Yesterday was really stressful for everyone, and you needed to get your rest. Tomorrow you'll feel much fresher and better able to apply yourself. We have to trade ideas here, and you can't do that if you're feeling too knackered to concentrate on the job in hand."

"Got it. I'll go and help Bubba get dinner on the go."

"He'll appreciate that."

I read to the boys, but to be truthful, my mind was on other things and I was pleased when I'd finished the book and people disappeared to take showers and head to bed.

If Donny was tired, then I needed a brain transplant. Tiredness overtook me and I just propped myself against the fireplace and zoned out. An hour later, and as I hadn't come to bed, Donny gave me a shake.

"I need my sleep? Come on Ed. Do yourself a favour and come with me."

That was me until nine the following morning. Donny was already up and about which made me feel guilty about crashing out last evening.

Pip looked at me then took his phone from his pocket.

"Doc? Pip here…… yeah Pip as in…… Pip? Have you been drinking?

I need you to come over if you're fit enough. One of our number is about to collapse on us.

Get a grip? This is Edward we're talking about here. He doesn't do drugs, never touches the bottle but I'm very concerned about him.

Yes, we'll pay you. Just get you pervy arse over here and fast!"

No good. I was about to pass out, but I remained conscious enough to respond.

"I'll be fine after some coffee. The dodgy doctor I don't need."

Then my world went black.

"Well, dear boy. What a fine state to get yourself in I must say."

I made to sit up, but DD pushed me back onto the pillows.

"What's going on? Where the hell am I?"

"In reverse order, you are at my country cottage in Worcestershire, and you are not a well boy.

You are suffering from blood poisoning brought about from what I can only assume is direct contact with a substance we call PHDS.

PHDS is used as a deep cleanser, the sort of stuff used to disinfect the hospitals in Africa during the Ebola epidemic. Kills ninety-nine percent of all household germs don't you know!

My wit is undoubtedly lost on you, but the sad fact is, it's more than capable of killing your immunity responses as well as germs, and if dear Phillip here hadn't come to your aid? No nice bed for you, a cold slab in a mortuary would be your resting place now.

I'm going to give you an injection of a mild sedative. This will allow your system to recover sufficiently enough to get you on your feet, maybe twenty-four hours at most.

Now it's time to say night-night to Phillip and your delectable young boyfriend, who I will not sully. He's suffered enough, and he loves you.

Sleep well dear boy."

"How are you feeling Edward? You've been asleep for over thirty-six hours."

"Groggy. My head feels like I'm living in a fog Doc."

"Hardly surprising my friend. The toxicity of PHDS together with Diamorphine is a powerful combination and you will feel off-colour for a few days yet I'm afraid. On a more positive note, you don't appear to have suffered any complications that might require hospitalisation so I expect you to be running around like spring chicken in a day or so.

I'm keeping you on a saline drip, but otherwise I'm taking you off all other medication."

"Spring chicken? I'm not at all sure I like that analogy!"

"Profuse apologies. No offence intended."

"This PDHS. How did I contaminate myself?"

"In truth I cannot be 100% sure, but that cut on your ankle looks recent. Do you know how and where you came by that injury?"

"Yes. It happened on Sunday morning. I tripped up some steps."

"I don't need to know where, but was it the sort of place that appeared to be in need of such a toxic cleaning agent?"

"It was just a house, a very big house, and I can't think why…… wait a minute? There might've been part of it that needed a going-over?"

"Again, I don't need details, but PDHS is a controlled chemical. You have to be licenced to buy it, and if the purpose didn't match the stringent criteria as laid down by the government, it would've been very difficult to obtain."

"Black market?"

"If you have the necessary funds, dear boy, you can get hold of just about anything."

"Thanks Doc. You might've just hit upon a missing piece in a complicated jigsaw."

"Pleased I could be of assistance."

"There is just one other thing? If you wanted to erase DNA evidence from a crime scene, could using that chemical have the desired effect?"

"Oh absolutely, but DNA hides away in the smallest of places. A microscopic fibre can yield up just as much data as a cart load of the stuff. If you think that simply washing somewhere down is sufficient, then think again. The only reason criminals escape justice is because Crime Scene Officers and scientists are slapdash. Sufficient evidence can be found between floorboards, behind skirting boards, inside wall sockets and light fittings, just about any small crevice will hide something of interest."

"You're a star! Thanks Doc!"

"No thanks required. I'm just a man that loves young boys and made a catastrophic error of judgement. I can't deny what I am, nothing I can do to stop my attraction towards them, but I was stupid, and I paid the price by serving eighteen months at Her Majesty's pleasure then stuck off by the Medical Council. I'm not a bad man, my DNA dictates who I'm attracted to Edward, so it's out of my hands."

"I hear you. I'm going to rethink things following that."

Doc sent me home once my recovery was well on track.

I think I'd misjudged him and tried to apologise, but he was contrite and told me that he was still paying the price for stepping beyond the acceptable. No one had been hurt, the boy in question was a willing participant, in fact their relationship had been on-going for a number of months with the boy visiting his surgery out of hours and at his own volition. His mistake was leaving a light on and the blinds not fully closed.

Enough said.

Donny had been hard at work collating what little information we had, so we set about the job of making up a spread sheet that detailed names, addresses if we had them, email addresses if we had them, then with blank columns we could fill in with possible links to companies, cross referencing them to anything we could unearth about Carl. Other connections such as solicitors, accountants, anything that might flag up constants.

Donny was mustard with computers. In truth, he was way better than I was and I thought I was pretty good, so we went for broke and bought another system so we could work separately and merge files once we had something that looked promising.

Names supplied by the Wolverhampton lads revealed occupations, and in some cases, business interests with all of them holding down positions of authority and influence. Some could be linked to Carl and the myriad of companies that he was on the board of directors of, but these guys were shown as customers rather than associates, so we assumed that these were the ones paying for services rendered rather than being the providers.

We were running out of ideas. We were running out of inspiration, that was until one night, sleeping peacefully in our bed, Donny woke with a start and ran from the room.

I woke and followed him moments later. Donny was hunched over his machine, bottom lip between his teeth as he waited for something to download.

He glanced up as I walked through.

"Approaching this from the wrong angle. We should look at this as a pyramid and begin at the top, not at the base. The base is so cluttered up with names, companies and irrelevant detail, it's diverted our attention from the one person who matters. Now if we start at the top, Carl has so many business interests, fingers in so many pies it's frightening. Take the house as a prime example. He doesn't own it outright, he's just one of a number of people who are trustees of a charity that claim they're going to use it as a school for under privileged children.

Second is his biggest business interest which is registered as an off-shore jobbie. The problem with this is, it's registered in Equatorial New Guinea which is one of the few countries that refused to sign up to the open banking agreement.

"So we're headed down a blind alley?"

"Not necessarily. We have the registration numbers of what vehicles he uses. I'm going to try to hack in to the DVLA database and find out who they're registered to and to what addresses."

"Isn't that risky?"

"Not if I'm careful. With luck, they won't know anything about it. Do you want to go back to bed, or are you going to stay up?"

"Wide awake now so I might just as well get dressed and follow up on some of these businesses we haven't looked at yet."

By the end of a long and very tiring day we had mapped out what looked like a family tree with Carl at the top, what business interests we could identify, his co-directors together with some sort of customer base which we assumed were boy's parents, relatives or whoever was pimping them out, but other than building up a better picture of Carls complex operation, we still didn't have very much to go on.

From what we could understand, all these blind companies that sported names like such-and-such holdings, or so-and-so trading, all submitted regular tax returns and accounts, which was a cute move as it wouldn't alert Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs to any suspicious activities, just small businesses keeping to the rules.

Donny managed to hack in to the DVLA database and discovered that all the vehicles were registered to another company, the address of which was Berkhamstead in Hertforshire.

Avant Executive Vehicles Limited appeared to be a legitimate business with a long trading history that also submitted regular tax returns and accounts. It came as no surprise to see that Carl was listed as the Managing Director although the Company Secretary together with the names of the other Directors were new to us.

We Googled them but came up with squat.

"This is ridiculous. It's as if he's built a maze full of stuff to deliberately muddy the waters. We've not managed to find anything other than what appear to be a string of legitimate businesses, names that reveal nothing when we Google them, upmarket cars that we can safely assume are leased, in fact the only dodgy enterprise is this charity for underprivileged kids. We haven't even managed to discover where Carl lives!"

"Don't give up on it yet Ed. No one is too clever not to have left something to find, however innocent it might appear to be on the surface. Let's take a look at Avant Vehicles, they're bound to have a website?"

"We've come this far, but I don't know what you expect to find. You take a look while I find us some coffee."

"Come and take a look at this Ed?"

We were looking at the homepage of Avant Executive Vehicles which showed four men and a woman posing for the camera surrounded by a number of very expensive cars. A Rolls Royce, a Bentley, a Porsche, a Lamborghini and a vehicle I instantly recognised as the Mercedes ML 65 AMG that Pip had done a fine job of trashing.

"That Merc. Unlike all the other cars, it's got a personalised number plate. I'm going back in to the DVLA and find out if it's either owned by Avant or registered to an individual."

Ten minutes later and eureka!

"Carl Stephen Matterson. Address is Folly House, The Bishops Avenue, Hampstead, London N2. I think I've heard about that road."

"Google it then."

Donny's hands flew over the keyboard then whistling through his teeth, showed me his search results.

"It says here that The Bishops Avenue is the most expensive address outside of Mayfair or Knightsbridge with property prices regularly fetching in excess of thirty million pounds. Now listen to this. One such property was sold to its current owner in 2014 for a staggering thirty-eight million. Folly House, situated overlooking Hampstead Heath boasts ten bedrooms, all of which are en-suite, seven reception rooms, one indoor and one outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts and a helipad, all set in six acres of formal gardens.

I think we can safely say that our Carl hit the big time if he can afford a pad like that!"

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