The Chav Prince

XI

By Michael Arram

In the morning, Justin found breakfast on the stern promenade. The choice laid out on the table was too much. He only wanted a bowl of Cheerios, and it took a while to find something that looked like them amongst the gleaming steel and silver heaters, and the masses of platters and jugs laid out on the white-draped tables. In the end a smiling steward helped him. He decided to give coffee another try, shovelling in enough sugar to make it palatable.

Two of the Yale boys joined him. He smiled but answered their enquiries about him noncommitally. He was looking at the twinkling blue sea, the early morning jet skiers and para-gliders already out. The sea had got up a little, there was white foam at the foot of the low cliffs he could see up the coast from Basseterre and there was a slight motion in the deck under him. The Yale boys were going scuba diving with Tim and Peter on Black Coral Reef. Justin had to decide what he would do, and decided on loafing round the small city. He just had to find who to ask to get him on shore. He knocked on Andy and Matt's cabin door.

'You asking for permission?' grinned Andy.

'Nah... well, whatever.'

'That's a first, Justy. Use your cabin phone to ring the bridge, they'll sort a boat for you. Oh, and tell them when and where you want to be picked up too, or it's a big fuss signalling from the harbour master's office. You've got a watch haven't you? Money? No? Matt, give him some dollars. Oh... and don't use it all to buy cigarettes. Though they are a lot cheaper here.'

A boat was waiting for him, with a respectful but smiling Philippino crew. He sat at the back and held on to his favourite straw hat as the boat roared off and headed into the harbour. The big catamaran ferry from Nevis was just arriving, and the Speculator's tender tore past its towering metal walls. Justin looked up and waved his straw hat to the grinning faces peering down.

And there he was on the quay as the tender roared off back to the yacht: white, sleek and handsome in the bay. He headed into the city through an impressive arched building. He stared at the crowds of tourists and locals. Apart from the sun and the deep blue sky, there was something strangely resonant of his native London in the racial mix. The low houses and bars had verandahs, and finally he took his seat at a relaxed looking drinking hole. The smiling waiter took his order for a coke, and eventually it arrived.

He watched people go by, suddenly aware that he had no idea what he wanted to do or where he might go. His preferred style in life had always been just to turn up anywhere and let things happen. He needed a map, he decided. A guy at the next table was looking at him. He was about Matt's age, British and cheery looking.

'You from North London, mate? I caught the accent.'

'Yeah,' Justin confirmed. 'You too?'

'Southgate. I like the hat.'

'Iss been a hit on the boat.'

'Oh. You're on a liner? Didn't know the QM2 was at Port Zante this week.'

'Nah... that's the boat out there... the white one.'

'Wow. Isn't that the Peacher yacht that anchored last week? Are you a Peacher kid? Thought they were all Yanks.'

'Well, no... iss a long story.'

'Do you know Andy Peacher and Matt White?'

'You gay then?'

'What, me... nah. But you read about them in the celebrity rags.'

Justin's natural evasiveness, cultivated in many police interview rooms, kicked in. 'You here on holiday, mate?'

'Yeah, but also a bit of work too. I'm a photographer part-time. I sell some of my pics. Here... this is some of me work.' He pulled out a portfolio from a backpack under the table: there were some pretty impressive scenic shots, as well as some beach model photos too, male and female.

'Neat,' said Justin.

'If you doan' mind,' said the bloke, 'I could take one or two of you. You got a spare half hour? No charge... but no fee either.'

'What would you use 'em for?'

'I sell 'em on to catalogues and brochures for wallpaper shots. Pretty people with camera faces ain't as common as you might think. Not every looker takes a good picture, but there's something about you, kid. You might well do.'

'I keeps me clothes on though.'

'Sure... I'm not that sort of photographer.'

'Also, you gotta send me copies.'

'Done.'

They exchanged names. His name was Declan, he said. Irish on his mother's side. He talked a lot on the road to the beach. Eventually he said, 'You din't say why you were on the Peacher yacht.'

'Din't I? Me mum's the younger kids' nanny, so I got taken along for the ride. Neat innit? Freeloadin' in the Caribbean while me mates are swimming in Camden Lock to keep cool.'

Declan laughed. 'So do you get to see any of the first class passengers?'

'Only from a distance, like. I stays down in the crew cabins, but we got access to the pool and gym sometimes, when the ship's empty of guests, and they let me come ashore too when I wants.' Justin's criminal mind had been ticking over, but now it went into gear. He suspected this guy. He added slowly, 'Mind you, that Andy Peacher's an arrogant little bastard.'

'Oh... why do you say that?'

'Ee found me at the pool side at a permitted time and had me told off by the first officer and confined below decks. When me mum complained that I din't do anything wrong, he was real rude to her and said that kid's nannies were two a penny. She's thinkin' of telling them where to shove the job. The crew reckon he's a total shit. Poncing round like a little queen and touchin' up the younger hands. There's one of 'em goin' after 'is dad for sexual harrassment.'

'An' he's not interested in a nice-looking kid like you?'

'Doan' know about that, ee had a hard-on when he saw me in me cossie. An he only got pissed off wiv me at the pool when I wouldn't go wiv im to is cabin.'

'Christ, what a predator. You can't be of legal age yet.'

'Nah... juss fifteen, though I'm big for me age.'

Declan looked intrigued, but in the meantime he had found the wharf that he wanted to use, and very professionally choreographed Justin in some poses on the old timbers down by the water. Whatever else he was, he was a genuine photographer. He told him to lose the hat and deck shoes and open his shirt and did some more with a beach background, looking moodily out to sea.

'Take a look, kid.'

Justin looked intrigued at the digital images. They were good, really good. There was a delicate charm about his face and figure that the camera picked up.

'Look, let me do some face shots, with and without the hat.' Declan added. 'You're better than a lot of boy models who gett paid for this, in my opinion: natural poise, pretty smile and wide grin. Really nice. You done your hair nice too.'

'Whatchu gonna do wiv 'em?'

'I might show them round and see if an agency might be interested in you. I get a commission if they are, you can't lose by it. Juss give me a forwarding address for the prints and any follow up.'

Justin gave his mother's address in Holloway. He was still working out whether this guy was all he seemed, when he said the things that confirmed his suspicions.

'You can't stand them Peachers can you?'

'Nah...' Justin replied fluently, 'hate em. They humiliate me mum on a daily basis.'

'Then maybe you can pay 'em back. I do a bit of work for the papers, not just picture stuff, but I feed 'em information. Here's me card wiv me mobile number on. If you could let me know where they're goin' and stuff, and when, and if there's anything juicy about trouble on the boat, giss a ring and let me know. If you could give me names about the boy that Andy Peacher harrassed, lemme know straight away.'

'Yeah, but wass innit for me, Dec?'

Declan brought a wad out of his back pocket. 'Here's three hundred dollars, mate. There's more where that came from. Just ring, OK?'

'Cool,' Justin enthused. 'I'll be here tomorrow. Maybe I'll see ya?'

'I'm always round the quay.'

Justin walked away full of questions, and feeling very pleased with himself. He was an accomplished and convincing liar, as his teachers, the Metropolitan Police and his mother could all attest. But this was not just troublemaking, it was fun too. It made him feel like Terry O'Brien, and he'd made three hundred dollars too. He walked the streets and looked in the many craft shops for something for Nathan. Finally he found a brilliant necklace in a surfers' shop, which he bought with most of his day's earnings - it seemed like a good use to make of it. It was also the first time that he could recall buying a gift for anyone other than his mother. It was his conscience which was accusing him of buying it out of guilt over Tim's blow job last night.

The boat was waiting for him on time, bobbing easily up and down on the oily swell from the sea. He hopped in, to be grabbed and steadied as he staggered on the boat's rise. The crew cast off and it skipped out over the water kicking up spray. He sat back feeling good, and running up the companionway to the yacht he felt he was coming back to somewhere he belonged.

No one was around. The young males were all out on the diving boat so he retreated to his cabin for a wank and a snooze. It was six when he woke up. He showered and changed to swimming trunks, putting cargo trousers over them and slipping on a pair of flip flops. He left his hat on the table.

The twins were on the pool deck, splashing around.

'Hey,' they called.

'Hey back,' Justin replied, sitting and dangling his feet in the water.

'You coming in?' they asked.

'OK,' he replied, dropping his trousers and and cannoning into the water on to them.

'That's really juvenile,' said the girl Harriet. 'You're Justin. Momma Sylvia said you're related to us, but you're not called Justin Peacher.'

'No Harry,' Ed corrected her, 'Sylvia said that Andy's fostering Justin, so he's sort of our foster nephew. That right?'

Justin grinned as he bobbed in the water, 'Yeah. Thass it. Uncle Ed and Auntie Harry.'

They laughed. 'Weird. Your mom and dad dead then? You an orphan?' asked Harriet.

'No. Me mum's fine when last I heard. But just not able to take care of me.'

The twins shrugged off the problem. 'Can we call you Justy, like Andy does?'

'That'll be cool.' They talked about starting high school in August, visiting their 'real mom' in Washington soon for a week, and life in the Peacher compound in Santa Barbara. Ed saved him from drowning when Justin ventured too far into the deep end and lost his nerve. But he redeemed himself by playing all sorts of games. As they were playing the diving boat returned and the rest of the passengers drifted past.

'Gotta go, kids. But I'll see ya later.'

He put on a robe over his dripping swimsuit, and went to find the person he thought could advise him best.

'Pete!' he called.

'Hey, Justy.'

'You gotta mo?... iss important.'

'Sure. Come into the aft lounge.' Peter was in just singlet and shorts, looking remarkably cool and hunky, his bleached and tangled hair made him look like a gay fantasy of a surfer. Justin wondered how Tim could be eager for sex with anyone else with a lover who looked like that.

They sat on a bench next to an open picture window, through which a cool breeze was blowing. Justin quickly told him about his adventure in Basseterre. Peter listened quietly, raising his eyebrows occasionally.

When Justin finished, Pete reached over and grabbed him behind his head, he kissed him and ruffled his hair. He said, 'Terry would have been proud of you, Justy.' Justin grinned from ear to ear with pride, 'You get these guys hanging round all the elite resorts. Sounds at first hearing like this one's a freelance looking for dirt. Poor bastard must have thought he'd hit a stream of pure sewage with you, buster. Still, there is one odd thing.'

'Whassat?'

'He wanted to know about our movements. They usually only want rumours and pictures... preferably scandalous ones: nude sunbathing, kissing the wrong girl or boy, that sorta thing.'

'So?'

'So, maybe this is Anson at work, looking to put moles under the Peacher lawn. You might have been quite a gift for him if you had been what you were pretending to be. Makes me wonder if Terry is really Anson's target after all.'

'Should we contact Terry?'

'Yep, I think we should. Leave it to me, Justy. By the way, have you ever gone diving?'

'Wha... me? Nah. I can barely swim.'

'That's no problem. Tell you what. Come to the pool after and I'll fit you up with the gear and teach you some basic drill. Then you can come with me and Tim out to the coral reefs tomorrow and we'll give you some more instruction.'

'Jeez. That'd be the best, thanks bro!'

So the next day found Justin in flippers and wet suit amusing a lot of passing fish by blowing streams of bubbles from his mask fifteen feet below the surface of the Caribbean. The sand below him was white and the rocks and anemones a kaleidoscope of colour. He swam lazily and confidently now, Tim and Peter watching him carefully, swimming just above him. This was the best. His one lingering fear was of the sharks the films he had watched told him must be lurking there somewhere. He patted the knife strapped to his bare thigh for luck.

He was still bubbling, in quite a different way, when he got back to the Speculator. The Yale boys had been dumped on shore for the day and looked a little the worse for wear after an afternoon in the bars. They were going back tomorrow, so tonight was a barbecue in their honour in the Peacher house on shore.

'You'll take the chopper with me, Justy,' said Andy, to whom the whole tale of Declan the Dirt-digger had been told. 'We don't want you being observed in our social circle coming off the boat. We may have to make use of you again in your alternative persona.'

Before the party started, Justin rang Nathan. 'Evening babe... it has to be before midnight where you are.'

'It's eleven. The boy can learn. I've been waiting up for the call. What did you do today?' Justin told him. 'Oh Justy, that's so brilliant. I love scuba-diving. Maybe one day we can do it together, you and me...'

'... and the sharks.'

'There weren't sharks, you're making it up.'

'Not in the sea maybe, but I met one on land, a real basking shark looking for blood in the water.'

'Go on.' Justin told him. 'So you think this is all tied up with what you saw and heard in Highgate that night.'

'Pete does – you'll love Pete, he's a lot like you, Nate. We may be seein' Terry soon.' They kicked the idea around for a while, and eventually Nathan signed off with a kiss down the phone and a 'Take care of yourself, my mad little Justy babe.'

The barbecue was not like anything Justin had experienced in a North London back garden. It had waiters, chefs and Caribbean musicians. Justin climbed a tree with the twins and they sat in the branches with plates of food, swinging their bare legs and chattering. They brought out the long-suppressed child in him, and gave it an outing. He had missed out on most of his childhood, and he had found a place and company where he could briefly reclaim it. The firework display took him by total surprise. It was stunning, like the big public displays he sometimes glimpsed at a distance over Central London, but here they thundered and exploded right overhead, detonation after detonation, colours blooming on top of more colours, banishing the tropical night and silencing the cicadas.

Justin slept that night in the Peacher house, an impressive eighteenth-century plantation house on a hill above the inland jungle of the island. He woke late to tropical bird calls and the flutter of curtains in the morning breeze from the sea. He went in search of breakfast in shorts and tee shirt.

'Morning criminal babe,' said Terry, looking up from his paper in the dining room.

Justin whooped and launched himself on his favourite security man, 'Christ Terry, when did you get in?' He hugged him tight.

'Early this morning. Iss all your fault, so it better be good. Have some breakfast. Why not try the canteloupe or the grapefruit?'

'Yuk. They'd better have Cheerios.'

They grinned at each other. Justin suddenly felt a lot better about things.

As he munched down his bowl of cereal, he responded as best he could to Terry's very thorough interrogation. When it finished, he asked, 'So tell me, Terry, who is this Declan bloke?'

'No idea. I got lots of sources in the tabloid world. I need to, as they give us a lot of trouble. They don't know any photographer called Declan anything. So I got a couple of me people down in Basseterre looking for him this fine morning. When we got a picture and some information as to where he's staying, we may know more. You did good, Justy. I couldna done better meself. Thass twice now you've been a diamond. I won't forget it, sweet babe.'

Justin smiled into his breakfast, this was the sort of approval he wanted to hear. When Terry ran out of questions, the security man sat back and tapped his teeth reflectively. Then he gave Justin a big grin.

'Now my little delinquent babe, I spect you wanna be naughty again. I think a little walk down into town would be a good idea later. You need to meet up wiv Declan Whoever and draw him out. We need more information before I can assess whether he represents a threat greater than the usual. You up for it?'

'You need to ask?'

'You're an imp, Justy. No I don't. I know you're enjoying this. Just don't forget that you could get hurt.'

Terry drove Justin to the outskirts of Basseterre in a jeep and dropped him at eleven at the top of a street leading down to the harbour. He radioed for a boat to pick the boy up at one in the afternoon; gave him a serious look and told him to take care.

Justin strolled down the street, a perfectly ingenuous looking boy tourist, a backpack over his shoulder and a beanie hat shading his eyes, which were flickering everywhere. He found the bar where he had met Declan, but didn't see him. He took a seat nonetheless, got a chilled coke and watched the world go by. He could see the yacht, white and impressive in the bay. In the end he gave up and walked past the shops idly.

As he was mooching around one of the many gift shops near the central post office he caught sight of the back of a familiar head.

'Hey... hey, Tim!' he shouted.

Tim looked back surprised, 'Hello, Justy. What're you doing here?'

'Hanging... thass all. What about you?'

Tim looked momentarily disconcerted, 'Oh, you know.'

'No,' Justin responded, and then he remembered the smell that hung round the local cafés. 'Oh, hang on, maybe I do know. You been buying... stuff?'

'Maybe,' Tim replied. 'Er, gotta go, Justy. I'm picking up a boat out to the yacht in fifteen minutes, see ya later, OK? Unless you want a lift?'

'Nah... mine's coming in at one. See ya.'

Justin smirked. Looked like he wasn't the only bad boy on board the Speculator. Funnily enough it hadn't occurred to him to buy marijuana. It was difficult enough getting tobacco on board.

As he was standing thinking about the chances, a familiar voice hailed him in the accents of North London.

'Hey... Justin.'

'Hi, Declan. Didn't think I'd see ya again.'

'Fancy a drink?'

'Sure.' Justin was led into the dark interior of a serious bar. There was a scent to the air that caused Justin's nose to tingle. 'Can you get pot 'ere?' he asked.

'You use that shit?'

'Aw yeah. Come on. I'm fifteen and a Londoner. Whatchu think?'

Declan laughed. 'Any news for me?' he asked abruptly.

'Depends what you mean. The crewman bein' harrassed by that little blond arsehole was fired yesterday and flown back to Manila wiv a payoff.'

'Pity.'

'Yeah. But he came on to me again. He wants to screw my little butt so bad. He's disgusting. Ee had his sweaty hands all over me, tried to fiddle wiv me dick an all through me shorts. I ran for it in the end when his boyfriend turned up. They're an odd pair. I think they both wanna do me at the same time. Iss a bit scary. I told me mam I wanna go home. I doan' wan' this. I doan' like poofs, and this makes me sick.'

'Jeez. Sounds like they wanna use you like some sex toy. Did he offer you money?'

'Nah. But he more or less said that if I din't lay it out he'd get me mum fired.'

'Shit... he wants to do this on the boat with all the rest of the people there?

'He said he knew somewhere nice on the island where we wouldn' be bovvered, where ee 'ad some... whadee call it? Equipment, ee said.'

'Fuckin' ell. Like the bloody Marquis de Sade.'

'Oo?'

'Never mind. Look, Justin. I can help. I got friends who can make the little pervert pay for what ee's trying to do to you. Whaddya got to do is this. Go along wiv him. Try to get him to tell you where his little love nest is. Lemme know, and when he takes you there, we'll be waiting.'

'You woan' let him do things to me, willya? Iss horrible wha' he says he'd like to do to me. Urghh. Makes me shiver.'

'No, no. Justin. I mean, you'll have to be in the same room as him, and maybe let him start. But then we can move and sort him out, the perv. You OK wiv that?'

'Yeah... but can I trust ya?'

'Course. And there'll be money for you too, lots of it. How about five thousand dollars, how does that sound? Worth a grope or two?'

'Now you're talkin'. OK you're on. But you promise you woan' let him... do stuff to me.'

'Course.'

'OK... I'm trustin' you now.'

'Giss a ring this afternoon.'

Justin strolled down to the quay and waited for the tender, which came skipping across the waves, the crew waving as they saw him. As soon as he was on board, he went looking for Andy. He filled him in on the latest development.

'This is new,' Andy said. 'I mean, I've had the press go after me, even making things up, but this is a step beyond. It's entrapment, and it's going a lot further than even a tabloid hack would.'

'Where's Terry?'

'He'll be along when he's talked to his people in Basseterre. Let's go and tell Matt and Pete in the meantime.'

Terry arrived late in the afternoon and joined them all in the lounge. Justin told his story again, with many interruptions from Andy, who was deeply amused by his foster-child's depiction of him as a half-crazed paedophile.

'Justy, you're a real artist,' smiled Terry, 'Also you've read too much internet porn for a kid. But there's no doubt Declan the Dirt-digger swallowed it all. Andy's right too. This is no ordinary press harrassment.' He gave a picture to Justin, and asked, 'Is this Declan?'

'Yup. Thass the guy. You found him?'

'No. Two of my guys from Santa Barbara located him from your description, and tailed him. He's in the Coconut Tree Hotel. Nice. Three stars. He's registered as Barry McGuire. My people are running a check on that name, but it might just be another false identity, I'd guess. He's been hanging with these other two guys. Any recognition?' They shook their heads. 'So there's a team at work here. Obviously a deal of money behind them too. Iss looking more and more like Anson's at it again. I'm gonna have to upset him again, poor guy, cos we'll have to take out this team too. They're too persistent and too dangerous.'

'Wha...! You gonna shoot 'em. Cool.'

'No, Justy, you know very well I'm gonna do nothin of the sort. We aren't the police or the CIA. We gotta be a bit more subtle than that. We'll just entrap the entrappers. I gotta scheme which amazes me by its very subtlety.'

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