The Chav Prince

VIII

By Michael Arram

Justin turned around slowly.

'This is a gun,' said the voice pleasantly, 'It's real, and I'm quite good wiv it. Though from your point of view, I guess that "good" may not be the word of your choice. Sit down there by the sink and don't make any sudden moves.' The man stood up as Justin slid hopelessly down the wall on to his backside. Who was this? Was it the industrial espionage guy again? He doubted it.

The man looked him over in the light of his torch. Justin couldn't make out much beyond the fact that he was above average height and had curly hair. 'You're very young. Oh well, it's a fault we're all guilty of at some time or other.' He chuckled, 'Let's have your name kiddo.'

'Justin.'

'Justin, you're trespassing. And from what I can see here, you've been trespassing on Matt's property for quite a while.'

'How did you know I was here?'

'When you left earlier, you left a dark trail across the wet grass. Bit of a giveaway. You'd better remember that the next time you go squatting in someone's basement.'

'Who are you?'

'The name's not important. But I'm Mr Peacher's security chief. I always check out things very carefully when he comes to a new house, or back to an old one. You wouldn't believe the things I've found. And look, I found you Justin.

OK, kid. On your feet. You're going above stairs now.' Suddenly he spoke to a third person, through an earpiece mike, Justin guessed. 'Jenna! I got the rodent. You can come in now.'

'Do I ave to put me hands on me head?'

'Tsk. You watch too many films. Anyway, I'd never shoot you. I'll juss break your leg. I'm good with limbs, me.'

They went up the stairs and into the brightness of the kitchen. Justin blinked. A cold-faced blond woman was coming in through the outside door as he entered. 'Sit at the breakfast bar, kid,' the man told him. 'Watch him, Jenna. By the way,' he added confidentially to Justin, 'She's five times as dangerous as me. She's actually killed people. I think she quite likes it.'

The bastard's winding me up, Justin thought. I hate him. The man disappeared through the door and returned with Matthew White and Andrew Peacher.

'You!' said Matt.

'You!' said Andy.

'You know this kid?' said the security guy, bemused.

'You've met him?' said Matt to Andy.

'Yeah. I told you about him. This was that little bastard who told me to fuck off when I was nice to him in the garden last time I was here.'

'Oh.' Matt responded, 'This is one of the Two Bares. He was that nice kid I told you about with the other one from Andersons I found using our bathroom.'

The security man looked from one of them to the other. He said, 'There seems to be a back story and it's getting quite intriguing. Maybe we should relax and do some serious interrogating in the lounge. Coffee Jenna?'

'Mine's white, Terry, no sugar,' she said.

'Thass not quite what I meant, but OK I'll make 'em. I'll bring 'em through.'

Terry surprised Justin by bringing a coffee in for him too, as well as a plate of chocolate biscuits, which he deposited next to him with a grin. He was a very fit looking bloke, Justin observed, athletic and self-possessed to a scary degree. Justin sat there waiting for the interrogation to begin. It looked like it was down to Matt, since it was his house.

'We know you're Justin Macavoy, that you're sixteen and that you've been a non-paying subtenant in my house for a week. Why?'

Justin sighed, it was back to the centre and off to sodding Chelmsford, he thought. 'I'm on the run. I broke out of the secure centre in Finchley last week, cos they were fostering me out to Essex.'

Matt's dark eyes seemed to bore into him, 'Ah. The other of the Two Bares. The brown haired boy from Andersons... you and him...'

'Lovers yeah, and they were goin' to break us apart. I couldn't stand that. It wasn't his idea, I talked him into helpin' me.

'Why were you in the centre?'

'Breaking a school attendance order...'

'...and?'

'One or two ASBOs. I'm a bad lad.'

'We knew that,' interjected Andy.

'So why shouldn't we hand you over, Justin?'

Justin grimaced. He was at a coffee table in the lounge, a newspaper lay in front of him with the crossword half-completed. He picked up a pen and wrote across the top of the page in capitals: THIS HOUSE WAS BUGGED TWO DAYS AGO. He handed the paper to Terry, who pursed his lips, looked hard at him, turned to Matt and said, 'No argument I see, OK you and me are goin' for a little ride, Justin. We'll see what the centre has to say. Matt and Andy, you'd better come too. You may have to make a statement. You can go to bed, Jenna, but go and bring the boy's stuff up from the cellar,' he added, then handed her the paper with a significant look.

Terry stood, and led them all out the front door and into the car. Justin sat with Andy in the back. Terry started the car and drove it to the village, parking randomly.

'OK, Justin. Now let's have the full story.'

Justin told all he knew. The three men listened intently. Andy frowned when he had finished, 'It's happening again, isn't it?'

'Who is it this time?' wondered Matt. 'Anson's still in prison.'

'His friends ain't,' Terry observed, 'and one of them was talking about someone called Johnny, his code name. Besides he'll be out in a few months. Should have expected it.'

'What do we do with the boy?' asked Matt.

'I'm here y'know,' said Justin with a touch of acid.

'Can't let him go now,' said Terry, ignoring the comment. 'We need him.'

'I got an idea,' said Andy. 'Leave it to me.'

So Justin woke up the next day in a guest bedroom in Matt White's house in Highgate. His clothes and possessions, minus the camping equipment, were stacked on a sofa. The bedroom was en suite, so he showered. The door was knocked as he was dressing in a fresh set of Nathan's clothes. It was Terry.

'Come on Justin, breakfast, then we gotta go for a drive.'

He chomped through some Cheerios in the kitchen. There was no one else around, although, with a longing lurch in his heart, he saw Nathan working in the borders, looking surreptitiously at the house. Had he found the cellar empty already? He stood up at the kitchen window, and waited till he was glimpsed. Nathan shot up and looked appalled, he started towards the house, but Justin signalled him to go back. They were staring at each other hopelessly through the glass as Terry returned. 'Car's ready, criminal babe,' he said.

'You're gay too,' Justin observed.

'Not too hard to spot, is it?'

'No. Your mate Jenna is she a butch lesbie then?'

'Nope, she's a married woman with a very lucky husband.'

Justin shook his head, gave one last longing glance into the garden where Nathan was looking lost and indecisive, and followed Terry out.

He sat next to Terry in the front seat. The car headed north to Finchley, 'So you're turning me in, you bastards.'

'Wash out your mouth, yer crude adolescent,' Terry laughed.

They turned into the centre. Tanya was on the steps waiting, but not a security officer or a cop, which puzzled Justin no end.

'Welcome back, Justin,' she said with an odd, unreadable glance at him. 'Come into the office.'

They sat round her table which had a stack of paperwork in front of her, but not his familiar and very thick file, which again puzzled Justin, as did the sullen look on Matt White's exquisitely handsome face.

Tanya looked hard at Andy. 'Mr Peacher, you're absolutely sure about this?'

'As I explained, Tanya, there're special circumstances. Had you realised the boy was an active homosexual?'

'He hadn't mentioned it.'

'As we both know, this rules out a conventional fostering except where the family has had experience, but the Chelmsford people have not, have they?'

'No. But your alternative, though generous, is... unexpected. I know you are a gay in a stable relationship, and you have a good deal of background in youthcare, indeed there's probably no one better qualified... in theory.'

'Not entirely theoretical. I brought up my younger brother, and he's now also in a gay relationship. Justin will be more of a challenge, but it's excellent experience, and Mr White is happy too, aren't you, Matt?' Matt grunted noncomitally.

'Will someone tell me what the fuck is goin' on?' demanded Justin.

'You see the problem,' said Tanya to Andy. 'Could you put up with that for months on end?'

'We'll have a trial period of a month.'

Tanya heaved a sigh. 'I've waived some of the paperwork in light of your, well... massive experience and of course the financial thing is out of court. But I need all this filled out, even though the reference reports are unnecessary.'

Justin was steaming, 'The what-the-fuck-is-all-this-about question still stands, y'know.'

Tanya turned to him abruptly. 'OK. Mr White and Mr Peacher have offered to foster you for the time being.'

'Yer what!'

'Is this OK with you, Justin?'

Justin sat there with his mouth hanging open. But his mind was racing. He didn't like either of them particularly, especially Matt. But on the other hand this was the only option where he could still see Nathan, or at least he hoped so. 'Is Terry part of the package?' he asked.

'Where I go, so goes Terry,' Andy replied.

'Do I have to have anything to do with you two queers?'

Matt snapped, 'This from you, y'little sodomite!'

Andy was more conciliatory, 'We have responsibilities for you but, no, you can ignore us if that's what you want.'

'Then... OK. But I gotta see Nathan, or I'd rather stay here.'

'Within limits you can see him, but there are limits,' said Andy. 'You're not the first gay teenager I've brought up, y'know. So there will be rules.'

'Hmmph,' grumbled Justin, but the expected expletives did not materialise.

Tanya still looked troubled. 'You'd better take him then, and there's a lot of his possessions he left here when he broke out.'

'Terry'll get them.'

They drove back, the car very quiet. Eventually Justin said what was on his mind, a thing he was always good at. 'This is all about that bloke I saw innit? Thass why you wanna hang on to my little butt. And if iss about sex, I doan' fuck for free.'

'I'm gonna vomit,' said Matt, 'open the car window.'

'Make an effort, Matt,' snapped Andy. 'Look, yes it is about that bloke so much is true, but also it's about you. You have a need, we can fill it. I work full time with disadvantaged kids, some disadvantaged in ways even you might find difficult to believe. One day I might take you on a tour of the parts of Washington tourists don't see. Also you're a gay, and it's not common to find one so decidedly out as you are who needs fostering, or someone to foster them for that matter. So give us a break, Justin. Terry's going to drop us off at Highgate and then he's going to take you into town and get you kitted out with new clothes and stuff.'

Justin snorted, 'So buy my happiness why don't you.'

'Is this about your happiness?' Andy asked, and for a moment Justin was silenced. Andy smiled slightly, 'We're also going to talk to Nathan, and yes, you can see him. We've got to talk for a lot of reasons, so we'll be eating out tonight, all of us. We don't want to be overheard.'

When Terry and Justin returned to Highgate, they were laden with a lot of bags and boxes. Terry had loved spending Andy's money and there had been no limit. Justin hated himself for getting into it, but the size of the figures on the till receipts were exhilarating. They'd spent nine months of his mother's income on one shopping trip.

'How wealthy is Andy Peacher?' he finally asked

'Iss not worth even thinking about, Justy,' Terry replied, adopting unconsciously Nathan's name for him. But Justin liked Terry. They seemed to recognise each other; they both smelled of the street.

'Does he have houses, jets, yachts and stuff.'

'No, he uses his father's, though he rents a mansion in Northern Virginia.'

'Are you his butler or something?'

Terry laughed, 'I have done the butling thing once or twice, but no, I'm his chief of staff, and I supervise his younger brother, Pete, who's a student at Yale. Not that we see too much of him at the moment. I hired a minder for him who works to me.'

'How much does he pay you?'

'I get in a year more than my father earns in five. I could retire tomorrow, but I like the work too much.'

'How old are you?'

'Twenty-four, criminal babe. Young innit?'

Justin gave him a superior look, 'Seems ancient to me. Thought you wuz forty or something.'

For the first time in a long time, Terry looked disconcerted.

'Why did you make me get this?' He held up a bag with full evening dress in it. Justin had been secretly pleased to try it on, and although Terry didn't tell him, he looked quite sensational in it, even though it was off the peg.

'Matt and Andy go out a lot, and you may have to go with 'em.'

'Sucks.'

'In fact we gotta go back to the States in a few weeks, so you'll have to get used to travelling.'

Now Justin was interested. 'The States? Like in America?'

'Yeah. You gotta passport?'

'Passport? I never even left North London!'

'Damn, another job to do. That one sounds difficult too. I'll pass it on to Dave.'

At the Highgate house, Nathan was waiting in the hall, in his socks. They looked at each other, and, conscious of being watched, weren't sure what to do. Then Nathan caught Justin's eye, licked his lips and smiled hesitantly. That was it. Justin was in his arms and kissing him deeply. He saw Andy's smile, but didn't resent it. He was too caught up in his lover's warmth and in sucking the tongue in his mouth. They broke off and held hands.

'I rang mum to tell her I'm on a sleepover in Highgate with my friend Justin and his fosterparent.'

'Was she OK?'

'Not until I told her who the fosterparent was. But thing is, once she puts two and two together, she'll make four and then she'll know what sort of friends we are.'

'Do you mind?'

'No. It'll have to come out, but I think they're grown-up enough now to be able to take it. It'd have to happen one day. I know what I am, Justy.'

'I know what you are too, Nate.' They separated. Terry sent them upstairs and Justin spent a while showing Nathan his new gear. 'But,' he said seriously, 'I want to keep your old stuff. It's great just knowing it was once on your body, gives me a continual hard on.'

'Justy, a breath of wind on your crotch gives you a hard on.' They chuckled. There was a knock on the door and they looked around. 'In here,' said Dave from the garage directing delivery guys with boxes.

'Wassis?' asked Justin.

'Status goods for the young master,' said Dave dryly. He also choreographed the arrival of a new work desk which was placed under the window.

'Sarky git,' snarled Justin under his breath as he left. They looked at the boxes. It was a computer, DVD player, PS2, sound system and TV. Justin shrugged helplessly at Nathan. They spent the next half hour setting them up and jacking in the modem. Nathan tidied away the plastic and cardboard debris in the biggest box and put it on the landing outside, which was not a thing that had immediately occurred to Justin to do. The bedroom smelled of unpacked electronics but when Justin hung the new clothes and lined up his new shoes, it began to look lived in. He looked at his old clothes, and simply dumped them in the box of rubbish on the landing, but he had his CDs and he piled them on the desk. Justin was no different from anyone. New possessions made him happy and he had been given a place to be himself. He gave a shy smile at Nathan: 'Ain't I middle class, Nate?'

Nathan laughed. 'Let's take control of the kitchen, Justy.'

They thudded down the stairs and occupied the kitchen the way that only adolescent boys can do, excavating the fridge, spreading debris everywhere, leaving packets of bread open and biscuits spilling out of their paper tubes.

Matt wandered in, saw the mess, grimaced and left after saying, 'You're going to clear that up, I hope? I don't employ a housekeeper.'

Terry popped his head round the door later, saying, 'I'll have a tea if you're making one. Two sugars.'

'You're a fixture already, Justy,' Nathan laughed. 'You like Terry, don't you?'

'He's cool for an old bloke. Also he's a really dangerous dude. He's got a real gun in a holster, like a gay James Bond.'

'James Bond was gay. All that frantic laying of gorgeous women was massive overcompensation for sexual uncertainty.'

'You think?'

'I always thought so. He was in denial, unlike Terry. I'll put the kettle on.'

They took a mug out to Terry who was hoovering out the car, and they sat companionably with him.'

'Can we be overheard by the bugs out here, Terry?'

'Just been sweeping the car out in more ways than one, me babes. It's clear, and we're out of range of the house bugs. Can you show me later where they put the transmitter in the cellar, Justy?'

'Sure. We've been very careful what we've been saying inside.'

'You're good lads. How you feeling Justy?'

'Weird. It must be like winnin' the lottery. Suddenly I'm livin' the life of a millionaire.'

'Don't get used to it.'

'Wasn't goin' to, Terry. I may run away in a bit. I'm good at it.'

'What were you two planning on doing if I hadn't found you.'

Nathan chipped in, 'We were going to get Justy a bedsit and a job, and live together as much as we could. Maybe go off to my family in Suffolk one day when I'd finished at Hornsey College and be gardeners or something.'

'That's sweet. OK. Time to show me the transmitter... but be nonchalant. Pretend we're stacking all the packaging from your room in the cellar.'

At seven they piled into the car and drove into town. Andy liked eating at the celebrity Poivre Vert restaurant, in the small streets north of Oxford Street near the BBC. Justin was uncomfortable in new blue shirt and black suit, wearing polished leather shoes for the first time in his life. Nathan had gelled up Justin's hair. He squeezed his hand and told him he was so cool. Nathan was in his ordinary casuals, but he looked as good as always. The big car pulled up and Terry hopped out to open the door. 'You first, teen babes,' he ordered.

'Why?'

'Cos, that's security. I cover Andy when he comes out last and your bodies are a useful screen.'

'You're kidding,' Justin said, standing up next to him, 'we're expendable, well thank you Terry.'

'Iss me that takes the bullet for him, so shut it.'

There was a long queue at the door, but Mr Peacher's party ignored it and walked straight in, past – as Justin noted – two soap stars and a news presenter. A table was set and candles lit. Young and smart waiters swarmed round them, coats were taken and menus explained. The owner came out, shook hands, made bad jokes and suggestions as to the meal and wine.

Nathan, as much as Justin, was gobsmacked. He leaned over, 'Did you see the price of the claret Andy ordered?'

'I almost wish I liked wine.'

'At that price, I'd drink it if I liked wine or not. Like liquid wealth. What you having?'

'A coke, chicken sandwich and fries.'

'No really?'

'Do I look like I'm joking?'

Matt leaned over, 'The coke you can have. The meal you'll eat from the menu.'

'Get as stuffed as that olive, Matthew,' said Justin, reverting to his long-absent sneer.

Nathan looked unhappy, 'Justy... please.'

Justin looked hard at Matt, 'Sorry.' But he didn't look in the least repentant. He let Nathan order for him.

The starters were small but succulent, and the cuisine was French. Justin looked interested after the first bite. He leaned over to Nathan, 'Garlic, Nate. You know what that means in the morning.'

'I'll shove a bung up your bum.'

'Ooh. I'd love that.' They fell about, to the bemusement of the others. Nathan tutored Justin through the ritual of the restaurant meal, and they were soon wrapped up in their own little adolescent world of joke and innuendo, ignoring the adults. Terry and Andy were smiling indulgently at them, only Matt still looked a little sullen.

When the desserts were being served, Andy called the boys to order. Justin perked up and listened, which was new and encouraging.

'We've got to let you two in on some family secrets, so you know what we think's going on here. I think you'll know not to repeat it. Now. There was once a wicked stepmother...'

'I know this one,' Justin said, 'she tries to get some huntsmen to kill her husband's kid, but instead she ended up in a crummy cottage with a bunch of lower class types like me. Anyway, she tries to poison the kid, but a handsome prince kisses the kid and wakes her up.'

'Spot on, apart from the fact that the kid was a him not a her, and the kid was me.'

'Wha... you're saying that this is a true story.'

'I once had a stepmother who tried to do away with me, first by setting the worst elements of the British press on me when I was a student, and then, when she had me in the States, by plotting to get me hooked on drink and drugs, and to destroy me. But a handsome prince with a magic sword came and saved me with a kiss... literally.' He looked at Matt with a look of pure devotion, and even Justin couldn't think of anything flippant to say.

'The magic sword was a dossier of incriminating documents that proved what she'd done and made her liable to a long time in prison, if they'd ever got out. But she didn't give up. She employed some very dangerous types to track the dossier down, and Terry had to defend it, which he did very bravely, even though he failed. She took a contract out on him, and nearly succeeded in killing him and some other friends too. But in the end, she was defeated because my dad's internal security team tracked her down and broke her influence in Peacher Corp. Terry had a starring role again. So she's my ex-stepmom.'

'... and in prison?'

'No. She's currently US ambassador to Thailand. People like her rarely end up in prison.'

'Is she after you again.'

'We don't think so. She loves being an ambassador, and my dad's got her on a tight leash now. He could destroy her with a phone call. No, we think that this is a consequence of Terry's genius. He took out her entire strike team in one go. They were in a high security prison near Doncaster when last heard of, but their leader, a supreme git called Mike Anson is close to release. I think he plans to deal out a revenge on Terry and me.'

'Go to the police,' said Nathan simply.

'Nah, Nate. They can't do that,' Justin said instinctively. 'If they did Andy would blow his dad's control over the stepmother, and a lot else would come out that he'd rather not, am I right?'

'In one, Justy,' said Andy, using Nathan's affectionate name for his lover without thinking. Justin found he didn't mind. He saw that Terry was giving him an appraising look, almost as if he were acknowledging something in Justin.

'What you gonna do?' Justin asked, with some interest.

'As usual with Anson, he's trusting in high tech and forgetting about people. He doesn't know we know we're bugged, so we'll be on our guard, which he doesn't expect. What we don't know is his purpose in collecting information on us. He may be after information, material for blackmail or sale, or he may want to eliminate Terry, who he thinks of as his greatest enemy. He may want to get me and Matt too, or just me or just Matt. We don't know.'

'Nice of you to foster me into a house being targetted by a master-criminal.'

Terry answered that one in a quiet voice, 'I think you can take as good care of yourself as I can, criminal babe. You live on the edge, Justy. Iss my world too.'

Andy concluded, 'So my dears, we will sit tight and mind what we say around the house, for a few days or so. Terry will get to work, for Terry is quite something. Anson is as much scared of him as he hates him, and he's right to be scared. Terry also has a team, and a good one, of whom Jenna is only one, if the scariest. We will know a lot more in three weeks time when we return to Virginia for a bit.'

'Virginia?' wondered Justin.

'Dave has the forms for your passport. He's already been to get your mum's consent, and all we need are the official fostering papers, which'll be faxed tomorrow... oh, and a nice photo.'

'Cool.' Andy smiled at him, and Justin finally gave in and smiled back. 'Thanks, Andy,' he said quietly.

'My pleasure, Justy.'

They exited to a flash and flare of paparazzi cameras. Justin was stunned. 'Do they follow you two everywhere?'

'No,' answered Matt. 'There were two of the latest Big Brother microstars inside. They were following them, we're just an extra dividend for the paps. Hope you smiled. You'll be in Gay Universe or Hello next week.'

'Awesome.'

'Scary.'

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