The Chav Prince

XVII

By Michael Arram

They continued to have a very good time in Rothenia, and Justin privately concluded that this was even better than the Caribbean. Matt and Andy did the great churches and castles. Tim and Peter disappeared into the night life of the Rothenian scene and slept all day, emerging heavy eyed in the afternoon and looking bleary. 'You been bit by Count Dracula here in Transylvania, 'ave you?' Justin could not resist asking.

Justin and Nathan for their part had a different sort of holiday, one that did more to gain them the approval of Matt and Andy. Felip and Will took them waterskiing and diving in the blue waters of the great inland Lake Maresku, and climbing in the Rothenian alps. Nathan began picking up Rothenian, and made hesitant small talk with Fritz, who sometimes came with them. Oskar took them to his gym and on one weird day to the Spa in the hills west of Strelzen.

'What, we have to get naked! In public!' shrieked Justin.

'Are you shy, Justin?' Oskar laughed, standing like a Greek god of love in the changing room. Fritz looked laughing round his brother, himself looking like a pubescent Cupid, some feathery pubic hair just appearing in his crotch; he sniggered, 'Justin... it didn't bother you at home.'

Nathan had shrugged off his clothes quite unselfconsciously, and was trying not to smile. With a sigh Justin dropped his pants and snatched at a robe, which Nathan grabbed away from him. He had to chase him naked round the changing room to recover it.

'Pervert,' he hissed at Nathan, but then he reluctantly smiled. They wandered out into the sunny grounds, and after a while Justin felt reasonably comfortable, though he noticed that he and Nathan were among the few to have a pale swimsuit line. They swam in the outdoor spa pool, and he and Nathan in the end found a comfortable shelf where they lay out in the shallow blue water and watched the naked world go by.

Justin started commenting on the passing male butts, and finally saw a real classic in dark olive skin, belonging to a well-muscled man of about twenty. 'Ooh,' he said, a little too loudly, 'makes your mouth water.'

He flushed red when its owner looked back over his shoulder and grinned. Worse, he came towards them. 'You are English boys, yes?'

'Er... yeah,' admitted Justin.

'You like my ass?'

'Er...'

'That is OK. I think you are gay, is that right?'

'Yeah, it is.'

'I too. You are quite something yourselves. Are you eighteen yet?'

'Just about, Nathan nearly is.'

'You are beautiful, Nathan. I wonder if you would be interested in modelling for my firm if you are staying here for any time in Rothenia? There's good money in it, and we are very interested in looking for westerners to add to our list.'

Nathan smiled a little uneasily, 'And what sort of modelling, would that be? Does it mean I take my clothes off?'

'That is what male models usually do.'

'What, all of them?'

The man smiled, 'Only if you want.'

Justin was beginning to enjoy Nathan's embarrassment, 'Who's shy now, Nate?' then he said to the stranger, 'I'm his manager. How much are we talking about here.'

The man smiled again, 'The audition shoot is free and if we take it, then there is 300 US dollars. After that we can talk further. You like to come visit our offices, they are on Rodolferplaz, no 12 by the Lieuwenpasacz, fourth floor. We're called Falkemodel, just turn up and ask for...'

'Ahoi, Radik.' said Oskar, who had come up on them unsuspected.

'Oh! It is you Oskar.'

'It is indeed. Are you talent spotting for Hendrik, still?'

'I am... are these friends of yours?'

'Yes they are.'

'Aah. Well. Nice meeting you boys. Remember the offer.'

'Goodbye, Radik,' said Oskar decidedly. Radik smiled to himself and strolled off.

Justin looked fascinated. 'What was all that about?' he asked.

Oskar sat down between them. 'Hm. Radik's a scout for Falkefilm, looking for gay porn actors.'

Justin whooped. 'Fantastic! What really!'

'I'm gonna be sick,' said Nathan.

Justin laughed, 'This is amazing, I could have sold me Nathan into sex slavery! Are they the bunch you worked for, Oskar?'

'They are indeed. The modelling is just the first step. Next thing you know you would have been on all fours in front of a camera with another guy working into your lower bowel with his dick.'

'You wouldn't recommend it then?' said Nathan.

'No I would not, although it has its upside and Falkefilm is not the worst of employers. But, as you have seen, I still live with the consequences.'

Justin looked thoughtful for a moment. 'That DVD you did with Will. That wasn't so bad. You two were so into each other, it was amazing.' Nathan reluctantly agreed.

'Yes. In some ways that day when I performed with Will was the best day of my life, but to get there I had to lie and cheat and in doing so I lost the one man I have ever truly loved.'

'You love Will still?'

'Yes I do, but it is too late now for me. He found Felip, and they make a great couple. I don't even know why I am telling you this, but it may be because it was here in this very place that I realised that I did love him, and I fooled myself that when the whole episode with Falkefilm was over, I could still keep him and that he would forgive me how I had tricked him into porn stardom.'

'But Fritz said you had a new German boyfriend.'

'Did he now? I had a brief fling in Dresden with a German academic who was doing a study of the East European porn trade and who had sought me out for an interview. But I soon realised that it was the idea of sex with a whore that he was in love with, not me. You see boys, that is the downside. You become a commodity and not a human being in the porn world.'

Nathan looked moved, 'That's sad, Oskar. But we think you're brilliant: you're cool and funny, and of course you have a butt to die for too. You're our friend, and we're glad you are.'

Justin gave an affirming nod, 'Yeah... you're our mate, Oskar, and you're an awesome brother to little Fritzy.'

Oskar smiled and took both boys round their shoulders, and kissed the tops of their heads. 'You are good boys,' he said. Then they separated and went in search of Fritz, who was running round with other kids in the play area, climbing up ladders and shooting down waterslides.

Nathan and Justin discussed their conversation with Oskar that night in bed. Nathan had been deeply saddened by it. 'You want to think that there're happy endings in life, specially here in this country, so famous for romance. But poor Oskar is on his own, and he's so very beautiful.'

'Well, you can see why a bit.'

'How's that?'

'He's a bit scary as well as gorgeous. He's so bright and so witty and so together. He scares off normal people.'

'As well for him that we're abnormal then isn't it?' said Nathan. 'You wish you could do something for him, but he's too much above the likes of us.'

'I dunno. He seemed deeply touched when we told him how much we liked him. I think it's all front with Oskar. He's not so superior. He's just lonely like the rest of us.'

'You can't be lonely, Justy. You got me and Matt and Andy. We all love you, and I'd die for you... really I would. Just give me a chance. But this is all about your dad again isn't it.'

'You're too damn clever for me, Nate.'

Terry and his Ramon had arrived at the Tarlenheim Palace when the boys finally emerged from under their bedclothes the next morning, though they were staying elsewhere in the city. Matt and Andy were in a deep discussion over something with Terry in the hall. Terry barely acknowledged Nathan and Justin when they turned up, which was unusual – they knew he was very fond of them. They headed for the kitchen and a late breakfast. After half an hour Terry and Ramon appeared.

'Morning favourite teen babes, sorry I couldn't talk in the hall, but something's come up and I had to talk to the guys about it.' He kissed them both affectionately on the cheek, and they hugged him and then Ramon. 'Having a good time here in Never-Neverland?'

'S Brilliant, Uncle Terry,' enthused Justin. 'You won't believe the things we been doing. I love this place. Oskar and Fritz are really cool.'

'That's great. Look, babes, we need to have a serious word and that soon, before you go back to London. There's been a... situation, and it's taking up all me time at the moment. Shall we meet in Rodolferplaz this afternoon. Do you know Liberation? Yes? Well there's a place across the Wejg from Erotic Dream City called 'Café Manhattan'. See you there at five. OK. Must dash.'

And he was gone, leaving the boys confused. Ramon looked unhappy and shrugged, 'He's been like this for the past week. Someone's got his goat and he won't tell me what's going on. Matt said you're going to wander the city today. I suggest you take your mobiles and keep your eyes open. Terry's been acting as though there was a spy behind every corner this past few days. I thought he'd be less twitchy here, but he's just as bad, worse in fact. I've never seen him like this before. He's usually cool under pressure.'

Justin was intrigued and faintly alarmed. He deduced that for something to rattle Terry, it must be very big indeed. But then he noticed that Terry had brought no additional security with him to Strelzen, which hardly indicated an imminent threat. So it must be something else.

Justin and Nathan wandered into the city centre and very soon got bored. In the end they cruised the Wejg, something they knew that Matt and Andy would have disapproved of. The hustlers closed in on them outside a strip bar, and Justin got into a bargaining session over admission, while Nathan looked reluctant and nervous, especially as one Somali latched on to him and tried to get him interested in going fucky-fucky with the girls: 'You big man. They go two or three together with you. You make them happy. Maybe they not charge, eh? Big man.'

'Justy... please!!' he pleaded.

'Come on, Nate. I got him down to 200 krona. What each? No, I meant together. Jesus, what a bunch of criminals.'

A big crowd of passing British drunks distracted the hustlers, allowing them to slip away. In desperation Nathan dragged Justin into a reasonably innocent-looking Irish sports bar, with shamrocks and Irish tricolours everywhere. The barman gave them a sharp look, but served them two Czech beers. They sat in a dark corner, looking at the big screen where a premier league game was playing.

'Phew, Justy, what were you going to do if we'd got in? It was girls not boys going to strip. You straightening up on me or something?'

'Nah, Nate. I juss missed the sleaze. Thought I could sink to me proper level for a bit.'

Nathan sank his beer very quickly, he was so flustered, and went to get another. As he did he noticed something on the other side of the long bar. When he got back he said, 'Justy, I'd swear I saw Tim with some bloke down there.'

'Nah. He's back at Fritzy's place. They're still sleeping off last night, the shockin' stop-outs.'

'Go and look.' Justin stood up and ostentatiously craned his head round. 'Nope. No one that looks like Tim, although there's a youngish bloke you might have mistaken for him.'

'Odd,' said Nathan, 'I could have sworn it was him, though now you mention it, he was with a hard-looking bloke you just couldn't imagine Tim associating with.'

'No hard-looking bloke down there either. Terry's got you spooked, Nate.'

They spent two hours in the bar, beer following beer, and eventually they sauntered out, weaving more than a little, into the press of the Wejg, which they found hilarious this time, rather than threatening. They emerged on to Rodolferplaz and carried on up towards the palace. About half way up the square, after Nathan had tripped over the tram lines and fallen flat on his face, Justin suggested they dip their heads in the big central fountain.

'Oh fuck,' Justin said, as his head emerged dripping from the water, 'it's the cops.'

Two blue-uniformed city policemen were heading purposefully in their direction from across the square. Justin grabbed Nathan under the arm and they headed, supporting each other in a pantomime of casual sobriety, in the opposite direction. They crossed the street to the eastern face of the square, and ducked into an arcade. Peering round the corner Justin saw the police still following; he dragged Nathan onwards and through some big glass doors. There was a lift. 'Fuck, Nate, you know where this is?'

'Wha??'

Justin pressed the fourth floor button, and the doors closed behind them. 'Where we going?' asked Nathan, coming round a little.

'Escaping the cops, babe. Oh... and looking for a new career for you.'

'You what?'

The doors opened and they were in plush reception area. A receptionist looked up and smiled. It was obviously not unusual here when strange young men appeared out of nowhere.

'Ahoi?' she greeted them.

'This Falkemodel?' Justin asked.

She shifted effortlessly to English, 'Yes, do you have an appointment?'

'Er this guy, called Radik, said that me mate here would make a good model and suggested we come for a trial.'

'A moment,' she said, 'please take a seat.'

Nathan collapsed dazed into a deep leather seat. Justin looked carefully at a wall filled with stylish monochrome pictures of male models. 'Look Nate, iss Oskar. Dun he look gorgeous, and fuck me, iss Will and Felip too, even gorgeouser! Come on me mate, we gotta get you on this wall of fame. Half the family's here already.'

Nathan was coming round fully now. 'Justin,' he hissed urgently, 'this is not funny, Matt'll kill us. If I wanted to model, I could do it through his contacts. This is a hard-core porn factory, you insane dickhead.'

The receptionist called them over and offered two forms to fill out. 'I'm sorry,' she said, 'Mr Wilemmin is not in today, but we'll be interviewing Thursday morning. Fill in the forms and we'll be back to you. OK?'

'Phew,' exhaled Nathan, 'that was a close one. Let's fill these in and get the hell out of here as soon as we can.'

They scribbled down some reasonably imaginative personal details and were just about to take the lift down when a voice cracked out from down the corridor, 'Justin! Nathan! What are you two doing here?'

'Oh crap,' said Justin, 'Felip.'

Felip had collared them both before they could make it to the lift and escorted them past the bemused receptionist into a side room. 'This had better be good,' he said.

They looked at each other, and Justin decided on the truth as the only way out.

'Hmm,' repeated Felip, 'So you were a little drunk on the Wejg, staggered on to Rodolferplaz, attracted the attention of the police and dodged into Lieuwenpasacz and up here. It is, as I think you say, a likely story.'

'S the truth!' affirmed Justin, outraged.

'It really is,' echoed Nathan.

'But you knew what this place is, didn't you?'

'Well, yeah,' said Justin.

'And you couldn't resist a look, could you?'

'Well, no,' Nathan admitted. 'Give us a break, Felip.'

'No... but judging by the smell on you, I'd better give you a black coffee. That much of your story seems to have been true at least.'

He led them back through reception, and up some narrow stairs to a studio space. Nathan stood open mouthed as a naked, muscular and attractive young man carrying a dildo wandered past, with a curious look at the boys and casual wave at Felip, who waved back.

'What sort of weird place is this?' Nathan wondered out loud.

'Some people's idea of heaven, I think. In here.' He took them into a small kitchenette, and poured out two coffees from an urn. They sat down and sipped them.

Justin had to ask, 'Whatchu doin here then Felip?'

'Camera work today. There's a number of training sessions going on, as you can see. I was just taking a break. It takes a lot of effort holding a camera to record ninety minutes of oral sex.'

'I'll bet,' agreed Justin virtuously. 'You movin on to anal now then?'

'No, Justy, you cannot watch.'

'Aw... come on.'

'It would put the boys off. It would hardly be fair to them, Adrien is only doing it for the first time; he's nervous enough without two teenagers coming in to stare at him while a guy who is almost a complete stranger puts a dick inside his ass.'

'I wouldn't mind,' Justin said.

'That is what worries me about you, Justin. I believe you. But you are sixteen and under the legal age here in Rothenia, so the case does not arise, does it?'

'We'll be off then, iss nearly time to meet Terry, anyway... er, I don't suppose there's any need to mention this to Andy or Matt, is there?'

'You have to be kidding.'

Terry was waiting, tapping a pack of cigarettes on the table of the café. There were several stubs already in the ash tray in front of him. But he smiled warmly when he saw them. 'Good to see you, sweet babes. Take a seat... Now I'll bet you want to know what's going on, and why I wanted to see you two in particular.'

'Sure do, Uncle Terry,' said Nathan this time. Terry smiled a little at the adoption of the nickname by yet another of his teenage admirers.

'You remember, little ones, how I said last March that a man called Mike Anson was in prison because I put him there, and that he was about to be released. You do? Good. Well he's out. Now that should be neither here nor there, but to date we've registered three attempts by himself and his circle to penetrate Peacher security. The bugging of Matt's Highgate house was the first, but you two frustrated that. That seems to have been the work of professionals in the security community who were hired by Anson. I didn't mention this at the time, but I immediately ordered a sweep the house in Annandale and found some new and very sophisticated bugs infesting the property. So it seems from this that Anson was getting ready to boost his intelligence on Matt and Andy. I think I know who did it for him, and although they weren't Anson's employees, they were certainly from elements sympathetic to him.

The second attempt we detected was the team sent to try to make trouble on St Kitts. This was an odd one: again the agents did not belong to Anson's own team. Barry Antrobus – that was his real name – was a fringe figure on the edge of the London gang underworld, but with a record of freelance extortion and blackmail: that was why he was so good with the camera maybe. I know his employer was Anson, though, because he mentioned contact with one Laurie or Lawrence Mattheson, Anson's former SAS sergeant and right-hand man. But you scotched the plot again, little Justy, like a professional. I was so proud of you.'

Justin beamed, then asked, 'You said three attempts. I doan' remember frustrating a third one.'

'No. This is new. It involves Anson himself. He was let out of Doncaster high security prison at the end of May. I had him tailed, although it was a waste of time and money really. He slipped my men within two hours of leaving the prison gate, almost as if he was expecting the attempt. That in itself was disturbing. But by now, there was a pattern emerging: the git is after all of us, me, Matt, Andy and anyone we love. He's after vengeance, and nothing's gonna stop him till he hurts us bad. He's gonna come at us from any and every direction and nothing will stop him till he tastes blood, preferably mine. He hates me like poison.'

'So is this why you're on edge?' asked Nathan.

'Yes. You've got to know quite how bad a man he is. I told you how he tried to kill me and Ramon in France that time, and it was only luck that save me then. He would have got away with it too. He set it up to look like an accidental death during extreme sex, and a suicide. But I didn't tell you why he got cashiered from the marines and the SAS. It's not nice, but once you know it, you'll know exactly what sort of monster he is.

He was operating in Afghanistan and he and Laurie captured the teenage sons of one of the warlords, sixteen and fourteen. He tried to get the guy to surrender himself in return for their release. The guy refused, despite what Anson threatened to do to them. He tortured them steadily for days, and broadcast their screams and pleas for mercy on the mujadaheen frequency continuously. When that did no good he let them go.'

'Uh? I thought you said he was merciless.'

'Oh he was. He first got the elder boy to sodomise his little brother, then he castrated each boy in turn, and he forced them to eat the other's testicles. He videotaped the lot and left them tied to a tree naked, neutered and bleeding, with the video of their tortures hung round their necks.'

'Oh my God.' Nathan and Justin looked about ready to throw up.

'Yes. He should have been locked up then and the key thrown away, but the CIA protected him. They were not too unhappy – the father shot himself when he saw what Anson had done to his boys. They'd used his skills before and wanted him available for future use.'

'And this sadistic psychopath is after us? Oh crap!' Justin had gone pale.

'You want to know the worst? He's successfully penetrated our circle. I don't know how, but he's got someone working for him close to Matt and Andy. A lot of info's got back to him about our movements and domestic set up.'

'But how do you know?'

'I bought Laurie Mattheson, of course. If Anson can get a mole so can I. Laurie is totally broke, and Anson's a cruel bastard even to his supposed friends. Gives him enough cash to prevent starvation, and treats him like shit. You gotta remember that Anson is a total sadist; he loves hurting and humiliating people, and he can kill without compunction. Not a nice person to work for, especially if you've let him down, and Laurie has let him down on more than one occasion. Richard Peacher has let me dig deep, so I found Laurie through Antrobus and made him an offer that he wasn't going to refuse.'

'So now you have intelligence on Anson and his men, great!' smiled Nathan

'Well I did, for a while.'

'Oh, you mean...'

'Laurie is inept, and at one level you can understand Anson's attitude to him. I had a few weeks access to him, and he told me a good deal about Anson's state of mind, his plans and about some of the boasts he's let slip about his agents in Peacherland. Agents, plural, you notice. He's riddled the organisation with leaks, or so he claimed to Laurie, God rest his soul.'

'You mean...,' Justin gasped.

'Found floating in a reservoir in the Lea Valley last week. Nasty eh? He was missing several organs, removed before death unfortunately... quite horrible really. Anson tried to make it look like a motorboat propeller accident. It didn't fool the police, though.'

'Jesus wept.'

'Serious innit babes, so serious that I've gone to the police now in the UK and the USA. They're taking it seriously too. Anson is now a wanted man with an Interpol warrant for his arrest. Unfortunately he's not the sort of man who will be taken easily. You're heading back home to Britain after this Rothenian holiday, and Highgate'll be under police surveillance and protection until Anson's run to ground. Andy and me will soon be back in the USA, where I've got the resources to protect him best. Jenna's back off holiday now, which is good. She'll join us in London. I have a feeling that he'll choose to follow us to the USA, although that may be vanity. He hates me more than all the rest of you put together.'

'But that's not what's bothering you most is it?' Nathan observed.

'No,' Terry admitted, 'It's the fact that one of our own is in with the monster, has sold out to him. You see Anson has a lot of money, millions of dollars, from his various enterprises, some legitimate, and others not. He has the means to do what he wants and to buy what he wants... but who has he bought, and how close to us is that someone?'

'And you know it can't be us.'

'You came too late on the scene my babes. It can't be you. To be honest I'm glad at least I've got you boys to talk to, I can't tell a lot of this particular thing even to Andy and Matt.'

'How do you know he's not here, Terry?' Justin had to ask.

'I don't know, and maybe he is. It worries me more than a bit, as I haven't got my team here. But on the other hand, he can't have any Rothenian contacts.'

'But he's got his insider, and he may be with us, you thought of that?'

'It keeps me awake at night, babes.'

'I suppose you've got a checklist?'

'About twenty-four possible people, and I even included me old mate Jenna on it. That bastard Anson's even got me suspecting me closest aides. He's crippling me ability to do me job. Anyway, babes, things are at such a pass that I'm recruiting you two as deputies. You are now me two internal security agents in Highgate. You have to keep your eyes open, and even snoop on my behalf.'

Justin was on the verge of saying it was cool, but the look in Terry's eyes persuaded him otherwise. Nathan was so disturbed by this package of bad news that he said nothing when he noticed that Justin had taken a cigarette from Terry and had lit up.

When they got back to the palace, Felip had obviously been there before them, judging by the stern look in Andy's eyes when they met him in the hall. He delivered a suprisingly articulate and forceful tongue-lashing for such a quiet and kindly man, leaving even Justin looking wilted and Nathan on the verge of tears. They sat disconsolately in their room, with Justin, for the first time that he could remember, feeling the pain of having disappointed someone he loved. They were grounded for the three days they had left in Strelzen.

They made the best of it and hung round with Fritz, who seemed delighted with their punishment, as it meant he had them to amuse him non-stop; they spent a lot of time with his trains in the attic. They missed the chance of a second club night at Liberation, and had to watch as everybody else went out, apart from Oskar, who had a deep-seated aversion to the club, for some reason.

They ate with Oskar, and although it was casual clothes this time, but still little Fritz gave them a formal little speech at the beginning of the meal and proposed their health and the health of all guests. He did it in English this time, so they understood what he was saying. Then they had a quietly enjoyable dinner, with Oskar and Fritz very keen to hear their stories of their London life, while Oskar gave them his. He had spent several months working as a cleaner in North London, and had not taken to the place at all, unsurpisingly.

'So were you learning English, there?' Justin was intrigued.

'No... I was on the run,' said Oskar.

'Really, from the cops?'

'No... from myself.'

'Uh?'

Nathan smiled. 'Leave him alone, Justy. It's personal to Oskar.'

'No offence, Osk.' Justin gave his no. 1 grin, so Oskar knew he was being sincere.

'Osk? You called me, the former prince of Tarlenheim, Osk?'

'Well, Oskar's so formal. Still... if you prefer Marc?'

'Osk will do, I suppose,' and then he gave them a gorgeous smile and Justin would have fallen in love with him had it not been for the fact that Oskar was such an old guy, at twenty three, as well as being foreign.

Fritz skipped off to bed at nine thirty as usual, saying some formal Rothenian words before he went, and looking them straight in the eye as he did so. Oddly, it gave Justin a strange feeling as he did it, almost as if the words had been spoken to him in a great cathedral, in front of a huge congregation. He shook his head.

Oskar poured them some wine, 'It is not the good wine the palace cellars once had from our own vineyards at Terlenhem, or the famous vintage Tokay that my ancestors laid down. The communist apparachiks of the old days had quite a taste for good wine. But I'm slowly stocking the cellars up again, though it is mostly bulk-bought French Bordeaux. However, Helge has gone into partnership with a local viticulturalist in Husbrau, and they have begun resetting the vineyards near our old castle at Terlenehem which we've finally recovered from the government, and in a few years we may have our own white wines flowing again. Since I have made my pile from TV, she says she's going to do it from agriculture.'

'Yay for Helge,' said Nathan approvingly. 'If we can come again, I'd really like to see the vineyards.'

'Nothing I'd like better than to show you too, Nathan,' Oskar replied. 'I hope you both will be coming here again.'

'Sure will, I love this place,' enthused Justin. 'Hey Osk! How are you feeling now?'

Oskar looked touched at the concern from the boys, who were both looking seriously at him: 'OK thank you, Justin. I was low that day at the Spa when we talked, but life goes on, as it must. It has been good having Matt and Andy and the rest of you around here in this big old house this summer. It has taken my mind off things, and maybe I will come to London again, and give the city a fair chance this time.'

They smiled, and in some ways Oskar did seem a lot cheerier that evening. After a couple of glasses more wine, he even started reminiscing about his time at Falkefilm shooting porn movies. He made it seem rather more fun and interesting than Andy would have liked, had he heard them.

They went to bed cheerfully at eleven, and they had no idea when the rest came in from the club, but the state of Peter and Tim at breakfast was woeful: with bags under their eyes and a headache so obvious it was like a personal, dark cloud over each of their heads. Justin and Nathan arrived in the breakfast room, piously sober and offensively cheerful. It was soon apparent that there had also been a row between the two American boys. The silence between them was oppressive, and after eating a bite of toast Peter left abruptly, bumping into Oskar on his way out with no more than a mumbled apology. Oskar looked at the younger boys, who shrugged. Tim stared moodily into his black coffee, and had nothing to say.

What had happened came out later that morning. Matt was the one who had the low down. Peter had gone looking for Tim and found him with his lips round the penis of an older man in the loos. 'Oh?' Justin asked, 'Was he hard-looking, with his hair buzzed short.'

'No idea. I didn't see him. But why do you ask?'

Nathan answered for him, 'Justin thought he saw Tim in a bar on the Wejg with a guy who looked like that a couple of days ago... y'know, the day of our binge. I didn't see him, and I didn't believe him, but, well, maybe...'

'God. You think that this has been going on since we got here?'

Justin shrugged, 'Tim is a bit insatiable, Matt.'

'Has he come on to you and Nathan?'

'Not Nathan, but yes, he has tried it on with me a couple of times.'

Matt looked very troubled. 'This is going to cause serious ructions. I caught the tail end of it, when Pete was shouting into Tim's face. I gather that if they ever resume sex, it won't be unprotected again. "You lying SOB", "You pox-ridden slut" were just two of the choicer epithets Pete was employing.'

'epi... whats?'

'Never mind. Let's hope it was just the drink talking, or whatever else they were using. I'm afraid that Tim may have been on more than just alcoholic stimulants last night.' Matt smiled at them, 'D'you know? Those two are turning out to be far more trouble than you Justy. And they don't have your excuse.'

Friday came, and it was the day of departure. Andy and Matt were in the palace courtyard hurrying Nathan and Justin along, and Tim was moodily sitting on the step next to his bags. Peter Peacher was nowhere to be seen. Terry had turned up to mastermind the departure and hitch a lift back to London on the Peacher jet, while Ramon had already begun the long flight to Houston to see his mother. Peter finally appeared with Oskar and went up to Andy and in a stilted sort of way announced generally that he would be staying on for a day or two and then flying direct to the States. Everyone exchanged glances, except Tim, who looked down between his legs.

Oskar asked everyone into the hall to take the traditional Rothenian farewell, and a servant appeared with small glasses of fruit wine on a silver tray. One was offered to everyone who was leaving, and Fritz came tumbling down the stairs, looking flushed and handsome. He went up to each of them, looked them in the eyes, said a few Rothenian words, and asked them to bend down so he could kiss them on the forehead to complete the blessing. When Justin bent down he kissed him on the forehead, then held him hard and kissed him on both cheeks too. Justin hugged him back. The last was Tim, but when Fritz looked up into his eyes smiling, the smile suddenly left his lips and he looked momentarily pale. He did not kiss his forehead, and although Tim seemed not to notice, Oskar looked at his little brother, clearly very startled.

They left for the airport, and nobody seemed to want to say much. The flight to Britain was uneventful, but a veritable motorcade was waiting for them at Norwood, which included a van full of Peacher security and a police motorcycle escort. Justin and Nathan took Terry's car, in which Jenna was waiting with a stack of files and a lot of urgent whispers that the boys were not supposed to hear. Justin stared out of the car window as the police escort ran every set of lights and stopped the cross traffic so they could drive through, before sweeping past them to the head of the convoy again.

'This is awesome,' he hissed at Nathan.

An armed and flak-jacketed police guard stood outside Matt's house, while Jenna and Terry did the presidential thing of covering Andy and Matt as they left the car. Both men walked with dignity to the front door, and Justin admired Andy's restraint at not turning at the top of the steps and acknowledging the small, watching crowd. Justin had no such reservations and did a passable imitation of a head of state entering a summit conference, before Terry collared him and hauled him inside.

'Come on, Uncle Terry. I was juss havin a laugh.'

'Very amusing, Justy.'

When he and Nathan were back in their own room at last and Justin was spread out on the bed, while Nathan was checking his plants, he said, 'There's a definite humour deficiency in this house at the moment, Nate.'

Nathan grunted, 'I don't see how we're going to get back to work at this rate. I can't have a copper with a machine gun frightening Mrs Westcott when we do her garden on Monday.'

'Has anyone asked Terry how this is gonna affect our daily activities?'

'I'm not going to fail my modules in my HND, or get fired by Mr Anderson, just because a psycho is out to kill us hideously with a blunt knife. There are more important things in life than death, and one of them is living it.'

'Let's see what's in the e-mail inbox. Hey, iss something here from me dad.'

'What's he say?'

'He says he thinks it's time to get together and meet properly. He suggests I go out to see him for Sunday lunch at this pub he knows just off Ealing Common. He says the food's good. What do you think?'

'Well, maybe it's about time. Am I invited?'

'Sorry Nate, I think he means the first meeting just to be one-to-one.'

'S'OK. But you'd better tell Terry. I'll go and make Sunday lunch for the folks back in Winchmore Hill, I worry that they're not getting any square meals since I left home.'

'So here we are again,' said Justin, patting the bed beside him, 'back where we started. Give you any ideas does it, Nate?'

'Ideas... you only have dirty ones. But I tell you what, you know that scene with Will in that DVD, where he rode Oskar's cock. I can't get it out of my mind. Wanna give it a go?'

'Hang on... I'll be naked in a sec. Whoops, there you go. Jesus, you stripped as fast as Superman, and no telephone box or revolving door either. So you sit on the sofa, yeah, and I get up here. Christ, you're stiff as a poker already, and they called me Animal. Got the lube? Iss by the side there. You put it there when you poled me on the sofa before we left.'

'OK Justy. I'll hold you under your arms, and you put your feet on my lower thighs just above my knees. Reach under and get my dick in your hand... wow... ooh... OK, it's in place, now lower yourself slowly. Oops, slipped out. Aw, that's fantastic. OK chavvy babe, bounce, and squeal for daddy!'

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