Henry and the Eschaton

V

By Michael Arram

'I'll have a Snakey B, thanks.'

'Mine's a G & T.'

'Why do I even ask?' Ed Cornish was taking orders for the first round in Orton's. He went off to the bar checking the contents of his wallet.

'Is he here?' Max was bobbing his head round.

Henry grinned. 'If he is, he'll be upstairs. His London pad's on the second floor.'

'What's he like?'

'Really nice.'

'C'mon, Henry, let's have some details,' Max wheedled.

'Well, he's very kind and he can be funny if he's not up his own arse, a place where he has a tendency to spend too much of his time. Beautiful of course, but you knew that. Out of clothes...'

'You've seen him naked!'

'We did... things... once when we were seventeen. He had a fixation on me when we were at school.'

'On you?' The remark slipped out without thought. Then Max blushed deep red. 'Sorry... that didn't come across right.'

Henry gave a pained smile. 'Oh, I'm not offended. I think I understand what you meant.'

'Does he have a guy?'

'Yes, Terry. A security executive. He's currently in the States.'

'Are they civil partners?'

'No, Terry is against commitment. He thinks gays are incapable of it so they shouldn't try to counterfeit - what does he call it? - hetero-normative behaviour. Still, when you see the two of them together, you wonder if that's what he really thinks. He does shag around, though.'

'Who, Davey?'

'No. I wouldn't get my hopes up if I were you.'

Max blushed again.

Henry looked about. For a Tuesday, Orton's was quite full. Though primarily a gay venue, its proximity to Covent Garden brought in a mixed clientele, and nearly a dozen straight couples occupied booths inside and tables on the pavement outside. It was a chill-out night, with the DJ in the corner pumping out throbbing low-fi numbers which didn't interfere with conversation.

Henry rather thought Davey had settled on his headquarters here because it was less obviously associated with London's Soho and Strelzen's Wejg. Davey was always saying his interests were a lot wider than gay villages could contain. Even so, his biggest clubbing venture to date was the world-famous Liberation in Strelzen, which Henry thought tended to bracket his friend.

Ed brought the drinks over on a tray. Henry took an appreciative sip of his gin, smiling his thanks at Ed for remembering to get his favoured Tanqueray, which he believed had more of a harsh bite to it than its competitors. 'You know you've been in a fight after a night on the Tank,' he had once proclaimed, and Ed did not forget such things.

With Max present, no one was going to discuss the business that had brought Henry and Ed to London. Instead, Henry passed around pictures of his niece Caitlin, who had arrived in the world that last Sunday evening. Ricky's digital camera had been busy and copies had been e-mailed to everyone in the family.

'Really pretty girl, don't you think? Takes after her mother of course.'

'We're going up to Leeds tomorrow, after we've recovered from tonight's excesses,' explained Ed.

'There'll be excesses?'

'Well, modest ones, I hope.'

'Anyway, Helen and the baby are already home in Headingley. Ricky's in overdrive. I've never seen him like this before.'

Ed laughed. 'It reminds me of one of our friends at least.'

'Oh yeah! When Justy discovered he'd spawned a kid. God, the anxiety at Haddesley when the boy turned up. But I don't see little Caitlin being anywhere near such a handful as Damien is. Look, it's Davey!'

Graceful and beautiful, with long dark hair and stunning designer casuals, Davey Skipper waved to his friends from the bar.

'You can swoon now, Max. He's coming this way.'

There were kisses and hugs all round when Davey greeted his oldest friends. A drink followed him over as he eyed up Max, who eyed him back silently, eyes wide and mouth a little open.

After they had exchanged personal news, the talk got on to recent events in Britain. Davey frowned around the bar. 'It's lucky I'm here in Holborn. The City of Westminster's fallen into the hands of the Coalition, which is making all sorts of trouble over in the Village. Random drug arrests - mostly trumped up - public-health inspections, allegations of illegal smoking, challenges to licenses, and barrages of prosecutions are making life difficult on Old Compton Street. They say it's like being back in the old days before the legalisation of sex between consenting males.'

'What are the gay and lesbian pressure groups doing about it?'

'Protesting of course, but there's nothing openly homophobic in the council's actions. There are so many other regulations they can use. The point is, too many gay pubs turned a blind eye to underage kids and didn't card them. That closed at least four of them with hefty fines they couldn't pay.'

'So that's one reason this place is so full,' Phil observed.

'Yup. Then there's the recent queer-baiting outbreak.'

'I'd not heard of that.'

'Gangs have targeted gay venues on the edge of Soho. Sometimes evangelical preaching groups do the picketing, other times it's a lot worse. Trouble-making thugs occupy bars and intimidate the customers. There's been some violence. Rumour has it the Home Office is telling the Met to look the other way. It's not been as bad as this since the fifties.'

Ben nodded. 'The reason why no one is picking up on the anti-gay trouble is because it's just one corner of a much wider conservative backlash. I suppose it's an inevitable reaction to the social liberalism of the last few decades, but even so, it's built up amazingly fast. The new government is hand-in-hand with the religious right and all sorts of pressure groups. Since they have a lot of financial backing things get done; suddenly there're laws put forward restricting drinking licences, family planning and freedom of expression.

'The rhetoric they use is all about internal threats to society. Gays of course are one, but unmarried mothers, immigrants, feral children, drunks and addicts are all convenient targets for them. The language is so consistent I'd almost suspect a single mind behind it, a master strategist. There's even a head of steam building up in the government to restore literary and film censorship. The Internet will be targeted next.'

Ed was astounded. 'Wow! I picked up on none of this in Rothenia... it's not been touched by this sort of craziness.'

Henry had a calculating look on his face. He mused partly to himself, 'Now I wonder why Rothenia is so exempt from it all?'

Phil chipped in. 'They've not started pressuring universities yet, but one or two vice-chancellors belonging to the coalition are doing worrisome things to the idea of academic freedom.'

'Which ones?' Henry was intrigued.

'Well, Cranwell for example. There's been trouble in several faculties. Science has been told that evolutionary thought can only be taught as one theory out of several. Arts has been told that some books are not suitable subjects for student consumption... I mean, Zola!'

'My word! What does Paulie think about it?'

'Paul Oscott has been in the news a lot. He's the lecturers'-union spokesman at Cranwell and led the call for a strike. He's been placed on indefinite leave.'

Henry shook his head. 'Well, that explains why he and his missus can take a holiday with Justin and Nathan in the Caribbean in midterm. I was puzzled about it.'

'He's under such a lot of stress that Matt and Andy thought he could do with the break. They were worried about him.'

Henry shot a look across the table at Ed. 'It seems to me we should get down for a visit to Eddie Peacher. Maybe he can tell us more about what's happening in Cranwell.'

Ed nodded. 'We're heading there after Leeds. It'll be weird to see the old place again. It's a pity you and Terry gave up your nice flat on High Street, Davey. We could have put up there.'

'Well, once I left uni Terry no longer saw any need to keep the Brewery penthouse on. He can stay with his mum and dad whenever he's there. What about 25 Finkle Road?'

Henry guffawed. 'God! That was sold shortly after we left. It looks like we'll just have to bunk with Eddie. He gave up the student lifestyle and these days is living like a proper young Peacher. He's got a house in Northside somewhere. I assume he has a staff to clean up after him now that I'm not there to do it.'

Phil looked quizzically at Henry. 'You mean there was a time when you cleared things up?'

***

Max Jamroziak was comfortably intoxicated: sufficiently drunk to be chatty and funny but not so pissed as to be inarticulate and confused. He didn't want the evening to end, especially since he was getting on so well with his hero, Davey Skipper. They sat close enough for their bodies to be touching, and at more than one point Davey put his hand on Max's leg to make a point. The alcohol was making Max very horny. He kept hoping Davey would do something about it.

Max was frustrated when Davey gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and said he must go and check with the bar staff. He caught Phil's eyes as Davey left the group.

Phil winked in reply. He seemed to have read Max's mind. Sliding over to join his young friend he murmured, 'Enjoying yourself, Max?'

'God yeah! Davey is as amazing as I always thought he would be. So funny. The stories he's got! Did you hear the one he was telling about George Michael? What a life!'

'He's earned it too. He was always going to be someone in the media right from his first year in university, Henry says. He can charm anyone and his understanding of the music business is unique. But mostly he has a cool business head.'

Phil stayed next to Max as the evening continued. There was no dancing at Orton's that night, and little chance of interaction with other gay groups though the bar was quite full.

Max didn't seem to mind, however. He just sat among his friends soaking up the fun and repartee, of which there was a good deal. He was thus quite surprised when Henry looked at his watch and announced, 'Drinking-up time, lads.'

'Oh God! Is it?'

'Sorry, Max, but all good evenings have to come to an end before they become mornings and we have to shave for work. Ed and I are off to the far north early tomorrow, and tomorrow begins in just an hour's time.'

Ben smiled too. 'I guess I could stay on till dawn and go round the corner to my office, but I really think I'd like a few hours in bed and a proper bath first.'

As they were rising and finding coats, Davey came back over. 'Ready for home, guys? Sorry to see you go. The night is yet young.' His arm took Max's shoulder.

Max blurted, 'I'm... er, happy to stay on.'

Davey clearly had made a decision of his own. 'Good. Wanna go on to a club with me?'

'Christ, yeah!'

Henry gave his friend a sharp look. 'You'll take care of Max?'

'Sure, no problem. I'll put him in a taxi for Highgate.'

'Okay then. Give him your key, Ed. Be careful out there.'

There were kisses and hugs, and the four older men left. Davey's arm snaked through Max's. 'I'm glad you stayed,' he breathed.

Max might not have been out long, but he knew what Davey was offering. He managed to keep his voice steady as he said, 'Do I need to go to Highgate tonight?'

'No, sweetheart, not if you'd rather stay here.'

Max turned to face Davey, whose lips found his. He gave an internal sigh, feeling a substantial erection against his own tight jeans. When they broke off he pleaded, 'Can we do it now?'

Ten minutes later, the two young men were naked on Davey's king-size bed. Davey was stroking his partner's body in ways new to Max, as his finger ends seemed to trail erotic electricity wherever they caressed.

Max squirmed and moaned. His cock was arched against his lower abdomen and stiffer than he could ever remember it being. So this was sex with an experienced older man. It was quite unlike what he had done with Miles. Their sex had been vigorous and unsophisticated, the foreplay limited to sucking on cock or hole.

When Davey put him on all fours, Max began to realise that for the first time in his life he was going to be penetrated. Despite being too blind with desire for this beautiful creature to care very much, he thought he'd better mention it.

Davey laughed. 'Oh dear. Then I may spoil your career as a dedicated top. You'll love it, baby, maybe too much for your own good.'

Davey's equipment was quite of a piece with the rest of him. The thought of it inside himself made Max light-headed with anticipation. As he awaited the inevitable, he looked back to see a line of syrupy precum extend from his penis down to the bed, drip and reform. His urgency to couple with Davey was taking on an unfamiliar physical form. He was mesmerised by what his body was doing. Intoxicated by lust, he was an observer of his love making while simultaneously feeling every spasm of ecstasy and deep internal thrust of his lover's fingers. He understood for the first time what Miles had cried out about.

Davey chuckled. 'Nice huh?'

'God! I need you in me, now!'

'Not yet.'

Max heard the snap of a condom and became aware of an intrusion.

Davey was kneeling behind. 'Okay, baby?'

'What is it?'

'A dildo. Smaller than me, but it'll open you up.'

Although Max was nervous, he trusted Davey. He pushed back with determination, allowing the object to slide into him.

Davey kissed and caressed his rear before pulling Max up into his lap. Max felt the man's cock hard and hot against his back. He wriggled his buttocks as the dildo settled inside him. He reached under and felt its plastic balls between his legs.

'Never done that before?'

'No.'

Max moved on the object, feeling its internal pressure which caused his groin to tingle erotically. Davey's fingers reached around and stroked his belly and full balls, then ran through his pubic hair. Slowly he moved on to Max's straining erection, and brought him patiently and almost painfully to orgasm.

Slumping face-down on the bed, his damp blond hair in his eyes, Max felt the pull as the dildo was removed and the cool of the air on his open anus.

Not for long. Davey settled into place above his back and began entering him. He took his time about it. 'What a sweet arse you have, baby. Small and pretty. God, you're so fucking cute.'

A stream of loving and encouraging words warmed Max's ears, between kisses on the flawless brown skin of his neck and shoulders. 'You can fuck me forever, Davey. Christ! No one will ever believe this happened to me.'

Through his heavy breathing Davey whispered back, 'I'll last as long as I can, baby. God, you're so sweet.'

***

Max and Davey walked together down Long Acre towards Leicester Square. It was nearly one in the morning now, but Davey said he knew places to go for a post-coital drink, as he called it.

Max caught the man's smile and smiled back, unconsciously taking Davey's hand and squeezing it. Since the street was empty, Davey did not release Max's fingers until a taxi began driving up towards them.

'That was really good, Davey. Like no sex I've ever had before.'

'It won't be the last time, Max, I hope.'

'But what about your boyfriend... Terry?'

'Terry does as he likes with whomever he likes. He expects me to do no less, though I have to say it's rare that I take advantage of the freedom. But you were just too sweet and pretty to let go. You've really made my night... my week. It's been ages since Terry and I were together. I was fairly near exploding with horniness.'

'But you could have anyone!'

'I don't want anyone. I want a genuine and enthusiastic partner, and people like you are rarer than you'd think. Most of those who offer themselves just want sex with celebrity. But you didn't throw yourself at me, baby; you didn't start snapping me with your mobile and texting pictures to your friends. You listened and laughed. I could see in your eyes that it was only Davey Skipper you wanted, not the fame of having been had by Davey Skipper.'

'And he was amazing.'

'As I said, we should do it again sometime.'

Max grinned. 'I have my diary.'

Davey laughed. They ran across Charing Cross Road and Max was soon lost as Davey led him into in the network of lanes and byways between there and Rupert Street. This was the fascinating and scary world Max had only glimpsed at a distance from listening to GaydarRadio in his student room.

Several bars were still open, while queues of young men - some shirtless despite the chill in the air - waited outside clubs. Davey eventually pulled Max to a stop near the longest of the lines. Bouncers in black guarded a small door from which light spilled out.

Davey simply walked to the front of the line as heads craned after him. Max tingled with pleasure to be the escort of this confident, beautiful man, a sovereign prince of the London scene.

The shaven-headed leader of the bouncers nodded and cracked a grin. 'Good to see you tonight, Mr Skipper, sir. Alfie's in the back if you'd like a word.'

'Thanks, Alan. I'll look in on him.'

Inside it was hot after the night air outside, and the music of the electronic anthems that filled the closed room was deafening. Beautiful men danced moodily and gracefully in the half-light, some close to naked and some entwined. There was no compromise with the world of heterosexuality here.

Max was stunned at the sight. It did not seem a place in which he belonged. He felt like a teenager again. But Davey turned all heads, while Max himself caught his share of appraising glances. He tried to look moody, without much success he thought. From his reflection in the plate mirrors, he decided it just came out as a pout.

Davey sashayed to the bar and a space cleared for him. He greeted and kissed several spectacular-looking men. Drinks appeared, though money apparently was not involved.

'This is Max,' he heard over the beat of the music. He felt desperately shy. The barflies nodded, but Max thought he saw little friendliness in their eyes. He took his drink, a something and vodka. Then, through the fast-disappearing afterglow of sex, he noticed Davey looking at him with a knowing smile and remembered what Henry had said about his kindness. Suddenly Davey had folded Max in his arms and eased him out on the floor amongst the moving bodies.

To say Davey could dance was to say that Rembrandt was a decent draughtsman. He seemed to weave some complex geometry between his body, the music and the crowd around them. More amazing yet, whatever moves Max made seemed to become an integral part of the geometry.

Max had never thought of himself as a dancer of any talent - though he hopped around and waved his arms readily enough - but it seemed in this company he was. It was almost as good as the sex. He span and moved with the awesome music, aware of a new wave of euphoria rising in him. And it seemed to him that, glimpsed at the edge of the floor or in the empty spaces between groups outside the mystical circle Davey was spinning, another darker presence was watching and moving with them. It was uncanny yet, weirdly, not unsettling. This was by far the strangest night of Max Jamroziak's life.

***

Anthony could see light shining under the closed door of the bishop's private office. Bishop Jack frequently worked late, so this was not surprising. But Anthony also heard voices.

Without acknowledging the power of the suspicions the boy Enoch had placed in his mind, he sidled closer to the door. There were voices, certainly, but after a while it struck him that he could make no sense of them. The men within were not talking English, French, German or any language Anthony had a modest acquaintance with. He listened harder.

Some of the words seemed familiar, the way Latin words might. But why would the bishop be conducting a meeting in Latin? Did he even know the language? Anthony thought not.

He wondered whether he should tap on the door and find out who the late-hour visitors were. But somehow he did not want to do this. He resented being forced into the role of Enoch's spy, which is what he would be if he followed that path. On the other hand, if he just sat in his own office down the corridor and left the door open, he would know when the meeting ended and might just get a glimpse of the participants.

Anthony sat at his computer and shuffled files. With midnight approaching, however, his continued presence in his office might perhaps seem suspicious, so he reluctantly began to close files and shut down his machine.

It was as the hour struck that he was seized by a strange feeling, as if a wave of cold had washed through the office. It was so strong that his breath caught in his throat, the way it would have if he had tried to breathe in air of subzero temperature. Yet almost as soon as the feeling came, it was gone.

The corridor was full of voices now, voices speaking English. Anthony shook his head to clear it. Pulling on his coat he left his office. Several men were outside Bishop Jack's door - big dark men. He only recognised one of them, the minder Gareth, though the rest of them seemed built to much the same specifications.

The bishop looked in Anthony's direction, surprise on his face. 'Tony, dear boy! Really, you should not be working so late.'

'It doesn't often happen, sir. I didn't know you had an engagement at this time.'

Bishop Jack gestured at his visitors. 'It's a special prayer session for Gareth and his associates here. We were calling for the guidance of the Spirit in these troubled times.'

Anthony looked at the impassive faces of the security team. Somehow they didn't seem the prayerful sort, but what did he know? He took his leave of the group and went out to his car.

As he started it and drove away, the four men emerged wearing dark coats. Anthony was half a mile from the palace before it occurred to him what was odd about the situation. There had been no car other than his own in the drive, and he had passed no taxi going to pick the men up.

***

Max was in the club's chill-out room, lying along a bench, his right foot twitching to the beat of a mix of Deepest Blue. Davey was across the room talking to the owner. Well, if Davey wanted to do business at this time of night, it was fine with Max. He had a happy suspicion the fun was not yet over for him. He yawned, though he did not feel so much sleepy as transported.

'Hi!' Another young man sat down on the floor next to him.

'Hi you!' smiled Max. The newcomer looked much like himself, a student, and rather more normal than the centre-spread metrosexual types who were inhabiting the main room.

'Adrian.'

'Max.' They shook hands. Adrian was in a tee and tight jacket, his hair spiked and tinted, a studded collar round his neck.

'So... er, was that you with the Skipper guy?'

'Yup.'

'Lucky bastard. I've seen him here from time to time, but you're the first kid he's brought with him. He normally arrives with a posse of celebs.'

'I'm surprised too.'

Adrian smiled. 'Sweetheart, look in a mirror. It should be no surprise.'

Max was flattered. 'You come here a lot?'

'Occasional barman. It means I skip the queue. I'm a student at King's.'

'Stevenage.'

'Wanna drink?'

'Snakey B, thanks.'

Adrian feigned vomiting, but grinned and was back in five minutes with glasses. His was a coke. 'I've seen what the piss does to you,' he commented in response to Max's raised eyebrow.

They began swapping life stories. While it seemed to Max that Adrian was being no more than friendly, it did occur to him that the newcomer would be perfectly placed when Davey returned.

'So how do you know the Skipper man?'

'I only met him tonight. I guess you could say he's a friend of some friends.'

'You must have interesting friends.'

'Seems I do, though I hadn't realised it till this afternoon. It was at Orton's.'

'I go there a bit. It's not far from King's. Gay nights can be spectacular, though funnily enough I've not seen the Skipper man there.'

Max smiled at Adrian. 'You have a fixation on him?'

Adrian looked sheepish. 'Is it obvious?'

'Very.'

Adrian blushed and got up to leave. 'No offence. Look, sorry, we seem to have got off on the wrong foot.'

'Not a problem, Adrian, it was nice to talk. Maybe we'll meet again.'

Davey returned as he went. 'Who was that?'

'A boy who'd like to meet you.'

'Ready to go?'

'Yes. This is a great place and the dancing was so cool. But next time I want it on my own terms.'

'You can come back any time you want. Forget the queue. Alfie and Alan know you now.'

'It's as simple as that, success on the London scene? Just who you know?'

'Basically, though how you look helps - and you look fine. Only a bit of money and some thought on clothes. I'd like to do that for you.'

'Thanks. I'd like it too. But there's something else I'd rather have.'

'I think I can guess. Let's go, then.' Davey reached for Max.

Hand-in-hand they went out through the club door into the chilly night.

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