The Chav Prince

XVIII

By Michael Arram

Terry was not happy with Justin's idea about meeting up with his father, but could hardly argue against it. He pointed that everybody was now vulnerable, even the kids in the house. They could easily end up as hostages, even if Anson didn't look upon them as targets. But Justin and Nathan came back fiercely saying that they had lives to lead, and there was no way of knowing how long the house would be under siege. Finally, they compromised on Terry being allowed to drive Justin out to Ealing, surreptitiously checking out his dad, and then linking up with him after they had their time together and bringing him back home.

There was even some problem when Tim suggested a trip out to a pub on Saturday evening. In the end, Justin and Nathan dodged Terry and Jenna, took the American boy over the garden wall and they stumbled through the back lanes to the village. Tim was by turns morose and artificially cheerful that evening. The boys thought they could guess why. Tim's relationship with Peter was clearly on the rocks, and when they went back to the US, Peter had already informed him curtly that he'd be moving his stuff out of their shared house in New Haven.

They were not inclined to condemn Tim too much, and Justin in particular had a good deal of sympathy for him, especially as he'd been one of those who had been tempted by and fallen to the boy's sexual allure and good looks. When Tim was in the loo, he said to Nathan, 'He won't be on his own too long, I'll bet.'

'Maybe not, but losing Pete Peacher won't look good on his sexual CV. Still, he can sell his story to the press for a huge amount, and no doubt he will. He's proved he can't be trusted. I wouldn't trust him even if I went to bed with him. He's nice and he's funny, but he doesn't seem to think past the end of his cock. I need a boy I can trust to be my partner, not just my sperm injector.'

'Iss not true for everyone.'

'I know that, but it's true for me. Is it true for you, Justy?'

Justin paused and thought. 'This may not be the best time to tell you, but I let him suck me off one night in the Caribbean.'

'What! Justy!'

'Don't get all uppity on me, Underwood. I did it and I ain't sorry I did. It seemed right at the time. But I still think I'm faithful to you. And if Terry and Ramon, say, or Will and Felip wanted to get together with us for some fun, what would you say?'

'I dunno, Justy: they're a bit on the old side. I'd not be happy about it, I think. But Tim I'd not trust. How many other men has he been involved with behind Pete's back, and... this is the awful bit... has he always taken precautions?'

Tim returned at this point, and the air between him and Nathan became frosty. They soon left and returned to Matt's house, where Terry was furious with all three of them.

Sunday came, and Matt and Andy disappeared early to church, taking Nathan to drop off first in Winchmore Hill, Jenna drove. Terry and Justin went the other direction, taking the North Circular Road westward through the light weekend traffic.

The dog walkers were out on the common, walking the tree-lined avenues, and throwing balls for their pets on the lawns. It was humid and overcast. Terry parked on a sidestreet, and strolled slowly with Justin across the grass to the houses on the further side, found the right street and the pub. Justin walked straight in and Terry walked past. Justin's heart was suddenly beating high and he felt very nervous. His father hadn't sent a picture, but told him to look for a dark-haired man of about six feet, dressed in denim and carrying a Sunday paper. He was early, so he settled down with a half of lager. He was well-built these days and he shaved daily, so he was not often questioned as to his age any more.

The appointed time approached, and it was all Justin could do to stay still in his seat. The clock passed twelve, and there was no one. Justin had sat where he could check out the main entrance. At twelve fifteen Justin suddenly realised that there would be no father appearing today. If he was going to come, he would have come on time, or even early for such a momentous meeting. No man would play power games with time in such a situation. Justin felt a little sick with the reaction, and, he admitted to himself, with the further evidence that his father was not a man to be relied on. He stood up and left.

Terry was standing nonchalantly further along the street, he raised his eyebrows when he saw Justin, who shrugged. It was as Terry rejoined him, as Justin headed back to the common, that a white van pulled up a little further along the road. As they walked up alongside it, the back doors burst open, and two men in black jumped out. Justin stood frozen, but Terry had his gun out with an impressive display of reaction time. The two men armed apparently with truncheons stopped as he levelled it. It was a standoff, until a polite cough from behind him introduced a third player in the situation.

'I'd put the gun away, Terry, there's a good boy,' said a very amused voice.

'Why, Anson, you fucker?'

'Cos otherwise I'll have to shoot the boy's brains out.' Terry looked back. Justin was standing, with Anson's gun at his head, and Anson grinning happily over his shoulder at Terry.

Terry dropped his gun and raised his hands. 'In the back with him, lads. And you, kid, you too.' He shoved Justin into the arms of one of his accomplices, who had retrieved Terry's gun from the ground.

Terry and Justin were in the back and both cuffed and gagged. The van drove off and kept driving for as much as a quarter of an hour. When it stopped, bags were placed over their heads and they were taken stumbling into an echoing space, down a confined corridor and into a room. A door slammed behind and they were forced into seats. The cuffs were taken off, but their arms tied competently to a chair.

Everything had so far been done in silence, but Anson's voice now spoke. 'So Terry, we meet again. A cliché I know, but in the circumstances, it's the best I can do. You're going to be here quite a while, and it won't be the most comfortable period of your life, which is a pity, because it'll be the last bit of your life, too. OK lads, I'll take it from here. Off you go.' Steps retreated and a door opened and closed.

There was a moment's silence, and then Anson got busy. He removed Terry's clothes, efficiently cutting off his shirt and jacket. He left the hood and gag on both of them. He left. Time passed in darkness and fear. Urgent pressure built up in Justin's bladder. Finally the door opened again. The hood and gag was removed and Justin blinked, although the light was dim in the room. Terry was still hooded a foot or two away from him. A steel mortuary table with restraints was in front of them, and its present purpose was all too obvious.

Justin looked at Anson, the man who had tortured and castrated two Afghan teenagers. He could have no illusions what the man was planning, and it almost caused his bowels to open. He was dressed as Justin's supposed dad was going to be, in denims, and he looked like the description. What had been left out was the cold and perfectly self-possessed look in the man's eyes.

'Hello Justin. This is a old undertaker's business, which I'm renting. It came with some useful stuff. So Justin, sorry to disappoint you about the family lunch in the pub. A necessary deception to get Terry into my reach, and I don't suppose you'll forgive me, but I'll have to live with it.

'Are you tellin' me you're actually me dad?'

'Jack Whittaker, yeah that's me. Born and brought up in Islington, slept with your mother, and produced... you. Anson's my mother's name... your grandma, in fact, though she doesn't know you actually exist. I enlisted in the services under the maternal name, and Michael was my middle name. I wanted to make a new start after my shitty life in North London so I became J. Michael Anson: Lieutenant J.M. Anson RM, officer and gentleman.'

'So if you're me dad, lemme go, and let Terry go too.'

'Oh I can't do that. Too much history. Too many scores to pay. No, Terry isn't leaving here alive, or even in one piece.'

'Then you'll have to kill me too.'

'That's the plan, son, that's the plan. Sorry to disappoint you, but son or not, I can't find any emotional link to you in my heart, and I can't let a witness survive, so you too will die, but at least for you it will be quick and uncomplicated. Not so for Terry here'. Anson replaced the gag, but not the hood. 'And now the fun begins...'

He cuffed Terry again, cut the loops, and with impressive strength hauled Terry up across the table, cuffing him underneath so his backside was open and vulnerable. He removed his own clothes and forcibly entered a squirming Terry, brutally fucking him with evident enjoyment. Once he had satisfied himself, he released Terry and cuffed him on the table on his back, spreadeagled and exposed. He took off the hood and gag. Terry was wild-eyed and in evident pain.

'Just like old times, eh Terry? You were always a brilliant lay. Now what am I going to do with this sweet boy of mine.'

'For Chrissake, leave the kid alone. He's done nothing to you.'

'Ah yes, but he means a lot to you, so it just adds to my fun to see what I do to you does to him. It's great hearing you beg. Now I'm not quite up to fucking you again, so enjoy this.'

He inserted a black butt plug hard and deep into Terry, but at least the recent opening of his hole and the lubrication of Anson's semen eased its passage. 'So I'll see you later boys. Try to get comfortable. I'll be back.'

Terry looked at Justin compassionately, 'I'm so sorry, sweet babe, so sorry.'

'Terry, we're not going to get out of this are we?'

'No, babe. I wish there was something I could say to you, all I can say is that sooner or later it must end. God knows what we'll have to go through before our bodies finally give up, but he will have to kill us in the end, and there's peace after that.'

'This is shit. My life was so good, and this mega-cunt's gonna take it from me for no other reason than he's mad.'

'Get resigned kid. It's a horrible hard thing, but if you get resigned, whatever horrors he does won't mean so much.'

'You know he claims to be me dad. Is he lying?'

'I have to say that there is a resemblance if you look for it, and - stupid of me not to remember - I once saw a passport of his in the name of John Whittaker. His mate Laurie always called him Johnny too. I thought it was code name, but it seems that it may have been his real name after all... Jack can be short for John. It looks like he is telling the truth.'

'Is he... going to, y'know, cut you?'

'Don't think about it, Justy. Your imagination'll help him torture you. Concentrate just on breathing and saying goodbye to everything you know. Can I just start by saying goodbye to you, you beautiful boy. I've been so proud of you, as proud as a proper father could be, and I love you so much, it hurts. Watching you triumph over your shite life and transform into the thoughtful, funny and loving boy you are has been such a privilege. I love you Justy, you're the babe of babes, and you're a thousand times the man your father is.'

Tears were streaming down Justin's face by now. He couldn't think of a thing to say.

It was quite a long time before Anson returned; he was still naked. He came up to Justin, bent down and went to kiss him, Justin turned his face away, but a stinging slap that set off fireworks behind his eyes forced him to take the attention.

'Got no respect for your old man, have you Justy?'

'Don't call me that, that's what people call me who I care for. You're just a lump of shit who happens to have a biological link wiv me. Let Terry go.'

Anson gave him a considering look. 'The fact that you care for him isn't going to endear him to me. He's got to die after all he's done to me, and the fact that he's stolen your affection is just one more reason to kill him.'

'Go fuck yourself' Justin croaked, to receive another slap that left him with his ears ringing.

Anson then turned on Terry, and introduced batteries and wires in a trolley into the room. Justin tried to close his ears to the screams and pleas, but it went on and on, for hours. Terry passed out several times but eventually he couldn't be revived with any ease. Justin sat stunned as Anson kissed Terry's drooling mouth. The room was full of the stink of Terry's burning flesh and of the content of his bowels which he had emptied in his agony. Anson left Terry lying in the mess.

Hours passed, and Justin got more and more thirsty and hungry. At some time his control over his tortured bladder gave way, and the smell of his piss-soaked trousers added its acrid tang to the atmosphere in the cellar. Terry was still unconscious when the dreaded rattle at the doorhandle announced yet another session of torture. Anson appeared, dressed in overalls now, turned on a water source and hosed down Terry's body. Eventually, he coughed, spluttered and groaned. His eyes opened.

'Hullo, Terry. I want you awake for the next bit.' Anson uncuffed Terry and simply rolled him on to the floor, where he flopped with a heavy thump and lay unable to move. Then he hauled Justin up from the chair. He could barely stand, and Anson bodily heaved him on to the table on to his back, where he restrained him. He looked down on him with a mad smile, kissed his cheek lightly, and said, 'Justy, you have been a bad boy, and it's about time a father took you in hand. Oh and you've wet yourself, so we'd better have these off you.' Justin heaved on the table in horror. He could guess what was coming next. A sharp knife slit his clothes off him, the rags were thrown to one side, and now it was him naked on the cold table. Clamps bit on his scrotum, and Anson was laughing as he threw the switch. Pain more intense than he could ever have imagined arched his body, and took him to a black place.

It could not have been long afterwards when he came round, his nostrils full of the smell of his own burnt flesh. He was shaking uncontrollably. Anson had disappeared from his vision, and he heard a dragging sound as Terry was hauled over the floor to a chair. It was as he was pulling him up that Terry made a superhuman effort and grappled with Anson, seizing him by the throat. They swayed and staggered across the room out of vision. There was a cursing and a clatter as a table of instruments went down on the floor. He could hear heavy breathing and suddenly a male voice crying out in agony. Justin strained at his bonds, to see with his horror a bloodstained Anson coming unsteadily to his feet, a knife in his hand.

Anson looked round, his eyes wide, focussed on Justin and looked triumphant, but then his attention switched to the door. There was a crash and a detonation and the room filled with smoke and laser lights. Dark bodies moved in the darkness, there was swearing and several flashes.

Shouting surrounded Justin, he was released from his restraints, and picked up by strong arms. 'Terry, Terry!' he was shouting, 'I gotta get to Terry.' But he was hauled out into a passage, stretchered and taken at a run up some stairs to an ambulance, which drove away screaming into the night, with a doctor and paramedics working on him as it went.

Morphine and shock meant that Justin did not regain consciousness for twenty four hours. He came round in a hospital ward. A hand was holding his, and he turned his head to see Nathan sitting beside him. He tried to smile, but only managed a grimace.

'Hi, babe,' he croaked.

'Oh, Justy, I thought I'd lost you,' and Nathan was sobbing on top of him. He could only pat his head weakly. Nathan mastered himself and pulled back. 'Sorry, Justy. Hope I didn't hurt you.'

'Nah. Everything hurts. You couldn't avoid it. No sex for weeks, I'd guess.' He paused as his mind sent image after image pulsing back into his head. He sat up abruptly. 'Terry! What's happened to Terry!'

'Easy, my babe! He's here. He's in intensive care. It's not good, but he's alive.'

'Thank God. Oh he's such a hero. My God, what he went through, what he did! And that fucker, Anson?'

'Dead. They shot him as they burst in. They were taking no risks. Six in the head, a copper told me.'

'Good. Nate, I've decided to believe in religion, just so I know the evil bastard is in hell where he needs to be. Never mind that he was my father. But Terry, what's happened to him?'

'Anson did terrible things to him... well, you know that, and he knifed him in the gut, deliberately slashed him wide open. But the doctors got to him in time. He was in theatre for fourteen hours. They've stitched him up. He's lost some bowel, and the electrical torture meant he's lost a testicle too. He's got third degree burns over parts of his body. They've done grafts.'

Justin laid back appalled, 'If they'd come any later, I'd have been much the same. Christ, my balls ache.'

Nathan looked as though he was going to throw up. He stood up abruptly and walked to the window. It was night time outside.

'What day is it, Nate?'

'It's Wednesday. He had you from Sunday to early Tuesday morning.'

'How in hell did you find us?'

Nathan looked troubled. 'It's a long story, babe, and some of it will be difficult to take, so if you don't mind I'll leave it for a while. Andy said to keep it quiet and not to tell you.'

'Where is...'

But his question was answered by the arrival of Andy and Matt themselves. Andy dripped tears all over him, and kissed him. Matt just sat next to him, gave him a tender embrace and held his hand. He tried to tell them how he was feeling, and they had some more news of Terry, who had stabilised, but would be kept under for days yet.

'Ramon's with him, willing him to pull through. He's strong, Justy.'

'Tell me about it, his last effort to take Anson down was superhuman. He's like a hero of legend. I love him so much.'

'We all do, Justy,' said Andy. 'We owe him far more than we can ever repay. There's talk of the government giving him an award of some sort, someone said it was the George Medal.'

'Andy?'

'Yes, kid?'

'When I was strapped to that chair, waiting for a horrible death...'

'... please Justy.'

'Hear me out. I kept running over the regrets I had about my life. The biggest one was that I refused to let you and Matt adopt me. I wanna put that right. I want to be your kid for good and all. Rather than belong to that monster who claimed to be my dad, and was going to kill me.'

Andy smiled at Matt, 'You sure?'

'Yes, dad.'

Andy started at the application of the term to him, but he smiled through the tears. 'Let's do it then. I kept the paperwork somewhere. So the world gets a new Peacher boy.'

'A Peacher-White, I think.'

'Of course. You're our kid alright. You'll do exactly what you want and not listen to us at all.'

The press was alight. The kidnapping had made headline news across the world. And when Justin left the hospital three days later, there was a mob of cameramen and reporters to get through. But Andy's lawyers issued statements, and no one got near Justin. He was taken directly to a plane and flown out with Nathan and his adoptive parents to the Peacher yacht, now moored off Nice.

Richard Peacher was waiting as the helicopter landed, and shook Justin's hand warmly. 'So, my boy, it appears I'm a grandfather at last.'

Justin looked at him seriously, 'Only if you want to be, sir.'

'Son, I doubt if I could be prouder of any grandson than I am of you, it's an honour for us to have you in the family, and you can use my name with my blessing.'

'Thank you, sir. You don't know what that means to me.'

'Come into the main lounge, a lot of your friends are waiting there. I had them flown over. It's time for someone to explain to me, as much as to you, what really happened that Sunday.'

Justin followed Richard Peacher into the lounge, and found it full of friends. What surprised him was the large Rothenian contingent, with Fritz, Oskar, Will and Felip sitting together. They grinned at him. Fritz waved cheekily. Justin was startled to see Peter Peacher there too. 'Hey, Uncle Pete?' he said. 'Shouldn't you be in Yale or something?'

Peter came over, hugged and kissed him, then held him by both hands and told him how sorry he was at what had happened. 'Thanks, Pete,' Justin said. 'No Tim?'

A spasm crossed Peter's face, 'No. No Tim. You won't be seeing him again.'

Matt began organising people through some double doors into a board room. They took seats randomly but Justin was ushered by Andy to the top of the table, he sat next to him and Nathan took the other side.

'Justy, we waited to tell you the full story till we could get Fritz and Oskar here. You'll know why soon enough. So, where do we start? Sunday we saw you off to what we thought was a meeting with your long lost father, and Terry drove you to Ealing. Just after midday we had a call from Strelzen, it was Oskar. And he had better tell you the next thing.'

Oskar looked at him with a smile. 'Mine is – as you know, Justy – an old family. We go right back to the middle ages, and some strange tales are told of it, strange even for Ruritania, which is a place of many uncanny stories. This story begins long ago, in the wars between the Hussites and the last Rothenian duke, Waclaw III, when a Bohemian army besieged the old castle at Tarlenheim. The count then was my ancestor Jerzy Cerescu: I think you would call him 'Black George'. I could tell you how he got his name, but it would put you off your dinner.

So there was the Bohemian army camped in the river meadows round our castle, and Count Jerzy inside, feeling pretty good. He had plenty of food, and the old castle of Tarlenheim was very much... what do you call a castle that cannot be taken Will?'

Will stirred, 'I think you mean impregnable.'

'Yes, impregnable. Not much chance for the Bohemians, and they were desperate. Winter was closing in and they had to get past our castle to penetrate the Husbrau region and sack Modnehem. So they decide to break the castle's spirit. They rounded up the locals, and began executing them quite horribly one by one. And of course they always killed friends or relatives of the ones inside. They also paraded the next day's victim before the walls, so that the agony could be prolonged... and people wonder why Rothenians and Czechs do not get on.'

Now it so happened that on the seventh day, they paraded a young woman as the next victim. And it also happened that her father was in the garrison. He saw the horror awaiting her and he broke down. On guard duty that night, he slipped out of the castle, and arranged with the Bohemians that he would secretly open a postern gate to them the night after that, if they spared his daughter.

Count Jerzy was a grim man, and he always lined up the garrison to watch the torture and execution of the victims, to remind them, he said, why they were fighting such animals, and to "do honour", as he also said, to the sufferings of a compatriot. That day his keen sight noted that there had been a change of victim, a dark haired young woman was killed and not a blonde. He immediately suspected something.

Now another thing about the count was that his mother had been a lady aristocrat from the Byzantine empire, a grandaughter of the empress Theophania, of whom such strange tales are told: that she was a seer and a sorceress and other such things. Certainly, the count's mother had powers: she had foreseen her own death and made many other predictions that had come true, the way these prophecies do, with people not realising the truth of them till after the event. The bishop of Modenheim was a little reluctant to bury her in his cathedral as a result.

Nothing strange had manifested itself so far in the count's life, but that night his mother's blood boiled up in his veins, as we say in Rothenia. He nervously paced the walls expecting treachery, and as he did he realised he was being followed by a hooded figure in a grey cloak, which he could see out of the corner of his eye. But when he turned to confront it, it was gone. No one else could see it. Then he knew that it was a spectral manifestation of power and purpose, and indeed he feared that it was a prophecy of his own death that night. Yet as he paced the parapets he noticed a strange thing, the figure was interested in others, not him. He observed the figure pause at each sentry, nod slowly at him, and pass by. But when he came to the postern gate where the traitor stood on guard, the spectre halted and this time it threw back its hood revealing a gaunt and terrible face. It pointed at the traitor, nodded to the count and was gone.

Count Jerzy was a decisive man, he had the guard arrested and questioned with instruments. He soon broke down and confessed his complicity. The count then prepared an ambush for the Bohemians, and when they penetrated the defences they found themselves trapped between bowmen and doused with boiling liquids. Hundreds of them died, and the siege was raised.'

'Wow,' said Nathan, 'and the father and daughter?'

'Ruritanian tales rarely have happy endings, Nathan. The count hung the father, and the Bohemians butchered the girl in retaliation for their humiliation. The grey spectre has appeared several other times in the history of my family. The Field Marshal Prince of Tarlenheim, who fought for the Empire in the Seven Years War, was visited by it in his tent on campaign in Bavaria in 1755, and was led out into the dark in time to detect a night attack by French grenadiers on his position, that would have killed him.

I would set less belief in this story were it not that my father was once visited by the spectre while interned in a labour camp under the communists as a young man. For there were several agents provocateurs put in the camp to detect conspiracy. He woke once in the deep quiet of a moonlit night, to find a gaunt hooded figure pacing the barrack room. It paused at each bunk and nodded until it stopped at the bunk next to his, pointed at its occupant, a young man with whom my father had got very friendly, and dropped its hood. My father went pale with the horror of that moment when he told me the story as a boy. With the moonlight full on it, he could see that it was white and fleshless, he said, with the true horror of treachery etched upon it. And indeed my father, knowing the significance of the vision, would not again confide in that young man, who betrayed several other men in that camp to the secret police and to their deaths.'

Matt stirred, thanked Oskar and looked at Justin, 'The next bit of the story belongs to His Serene Highness. Fritzy, will you tell your story now?'

Fritz looked suddenly far too serious for a twelve year old, but he spoke up in his clear boy's voice as cool and confident as ever. 'Do you remember, Justy, the day we said goodbye in the hall of the Tarlenheim Palace in Strelzen? I came running down the stairs and gave you all the traditional blessing. It was as I was going along the line and kissing you, I realised that something very odd was happening. A misty grey hooded figure was standing behind each of you as I did it, and bowed toward me as I kissed you all. I tried to ignore it - I thought I was seeing things - but it became less misty at each kiss. And when I came to the last of you, it was as clear as if it were one of you. In ragged grey sacking it was, and when I went to kiss the last of you, it dropped its hood and revealed its white face, and its dead black eyes. It lifted its shrouded hand and held it over that man's head, and was gone.'

'I remember now, but the last of us was... Tim. My God. You think...?'

'Oskar took me aside after you went, and I told him what I thought I had seen. Then he told me the legend of the spectre and we discussed what to do. But that was not the end of things. The spectre was seen walking in the palace daily from then on, always at midday, and not just by me. Oskar saw it too.'

Oskar nodded. 'It was the Sunday and by this time I was always with Fritzku at midday, knowing that there might be a visitation. We were in the breakfast room, and at midday, the thing was there with us again. That day it did not just appear and stalk away, it looked full at us and dropped its hood, and I saw the white face too, as my father had done before me. It was I think a personification of betrayal... in the view of Ernst Tokats, one of our great writers, betrayal was the worst of all sins. In the face of that phantom you could see everything that was repulsive in the act of treachery. I have to tell you I have resolved in future to attend mass and confession more regularly.'

Fritz went on, 'That last time, for it has not appeared again, the thing did not just look at us. It pointed with its swathed arm at the clock in the breakfast room. Then we knew that the betrayal had happened, and we knew also that it had happened in England and Tim had been responsible for it in some way.'

Oskar nodded, 'I put through a call immediately to Terry, but there was no answer even on his priority number. Then I got through to Matt, and tried to explain everything as logically and convincingly as I could. He listened, and it is now to him to take up the story.'

Matt looked around the table. 'It was a weird call to take, but I couldn't regard it as a hoax. Oskar is as sane and practical a man as I have ever met, besides, in the mood the Highgate house was in, I was expecting some imminent disaster. So I got Jenna, who was by now alarmed not to have had Terry's periodic check-in call. She went looking for Tim, and found him pacing in the garden. He must have read something in her eyes, because he refused her polite request to come and talk to us in the lounge. So, as Jenna does, she became less polite, and he accompanied her anyway.

So there we were and there he was, not knowing how to proceed. But Tim is not a criminal and was very on edge, and Jenna is an experienced and clever interrogator. It was an education to watch her. She began by gently questioning him about his movements since he had been in London, and anyone who had approached him about us, and our movements. He denied any such contact. Then she gave a pretty detailed description of Anson and asked if her recognised it. By then he was sweating, but he denied he knew such a person. So she coolly told him that her information was otherwise, that she knew of several meetings. Then she stunned me: 'So how was Anson blackmailing you, Tim?' she asked out of the blue.

He denied it, but he was flushed and panicking. Every time he denied it, she told him he was lying, that she could smell the lies on him, and that his only chance to avoid charges of conspiracy to murder was to talk now. And he talked.

He was shaking and his voice was inaudible at times, but it had begun on a wild night in New York, when Tim had been seduced in a seedy club in New York by an underage boy prostitute. There were pictures and threats and it soon became clear that there was a mastermind behind it. Tim began feeding Peacher information to his contact, either that or face exposure, the end of his university career and a period in incarceration. Anson contacted him directly for the first time in Strelzen and did not just pump him for information, but forced him into some pretty demeaning sex acts too. It was through Tim that Anson had daily information on our movements, so he could set up the kidnapping of Terry.'

Justin butted in at this point, 'So, his stringing along about being me father, he must have begun that from prison.'

Matt nodded, 'Yes, a clever man isn't he. He spotted the story in Gay Universe and took a chance.'

'No wonder there were days between his replies and my questions.'

'So he knew where you'd be at midday that Sunday, and Tim let him know that it would be just you and Terry. He had already rented his torture chamber in Uxbridge. All he needed was his victims, and you walked into his ambush.'

'But how did the police find us? Don't tell me that the spectre turned up again.'

'No Justy, that was the one good thing that Tim was able to do for us. He had Anson's mobile number, and once we knew that we were able to pass it on to Jenna's contacts in the Met and MI5. Within two hours they had a GPS fix on each location that the mobile had called from over a month. It took a while, but eventually the police identified several premises he regularly used. They found you in Uxbridge on the Monday night, and a SWAT team took Anson out, a process less dangerous because Terry was trying to save you and kill him at the time.'

'What's happened to Tim?'

'On bail, awaiting trial for conspiracy,' put in Peter

'That's not fair, Pete' said Justin, looking hard at Peter, 'he was a victim too.'

'I know that,' Peter replied, 'I'm not mad at him any more, and I feel sorry for him, I'll even help him if I can, but whatever was between us, it's over now. I agree with Oskar that betrayal's the worst thing you can do and he betrayed me in more ways than one.'

'Whaddya mean?' said Justin.

Peter looked uncomfortable with his father in the room, but he went on, 'Tim had been getting increasingly promiscuous and careless. I don't know where he got it, but he picked up genital warts and passed them on to me, the fool. So now I'm under medical supervision and looking forward to an uncomfortable operation.' Richard Peacher looked more than a little stern at this. 'Yes, dad, I'm sorry. I told you I'd be careful when I came out, but I guess I chose the wrong partner.' His father was looking very concerned, 'It'll be OK, dad, it's curable. I'll live to choose the wrong man again.'

Richard Peacher stared stonily down the table. 'At least the man Anson, or Whittaker, will never trouble us again. I'm sorry for you Justin, to have to live with the memories he's given you, and the knowledge that such a man was your father. But you'll recover, I know, and you've got new parents who love you very much. Sylvia is in London, and she tells me that Terry is conscious again and recovering, though whether he will want to continue in his old job, I rather doubt. But he's still with us and that's good, and he's swearing that he'll be in Virginia to begin the new semester with you, son. When are you off?'

'At the weekend, dad,' said Andy. 'Justy and his Nathan need to get back to Highgate too. Justy's starting college... going to school voluntarily for the first time in his life.'

'Then let's enjoy what time we have together, friends and family.'

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