Henry in Finkle Road
Henry got to share Matt's car with Fritz when they returned to London. Andy was going to stay down in Suffolk for the month, but Matt had to get back to Marlowe Productions. So did Henry, with a fortnight of his contract still to work.
Fritz was undeniably moonstruck; just sitting in the front seat next to Matt and watching the landscape of Suffolk and Essex flit by. The only conversation was between Matt and Henry, who was impressed to be in the same car as probably the two most beautiful men in the world - or the most beautiful men he had ever seen, at any rate. He was entranced by the way Fritz's thick blond hair curled round the nape of his neck, and the flawlessness of the brown skin below. He kept having such urgent sexual fantasies that he had already concluded his first destination in Highgate would be his room and its box of tissues.
Henry decided to share his new discoveries with Matt - apart from what he had learned from Wardrinski's father's papers. Matt was both intrigued and impressed.
'Do you want to use it?'
'I'm not sure. It confirms what I thought about Bannow. He's an erratic scholar and not to be trusted to have done his homework properly. I may feed your references to him, but I'm sure you're right about how he would use them. On the other hand, I certainly am not going to share it with Wardrinski. I don't like either of them particularly. Between them, they represent the worst aspects of what it is to be a scholar and writer. One of them is lazy and totally feckless in his use of facts, the other pointlessly aggressive and argumentative.'
Henry had no problem agreeing with Matt's conclusion, and indeed was glad they had both thought along the same lines.
'Henry, tomorrow you have to do a brave thing for me, and confront Wardrinski about the script. You just need to go through the Rothenian pages with him. I'm afraid he will not like the fact that I've red-lined a lot of his nastier ideas. He thinks they're amusing. I think they're potentially libellous. Don't get in a row with him. You're just the messenger. If he gets furious and demands to see me about it, I will see him and sort it out personally. He has signed a contract giving me editorial control. On the other hand, he may just accept the alterations.'
'But you don't think he will.'
Matt shook his head.
Matt drove silently for ten minutes, then turned to Fritz. 'So what did you think of Henry's work with your ancestor, Fenice?'
Fritz came into focus. 'Sorry, missed that. What did Henry say?'
Matt gave a small smirk. 'Nothing Fritzy, go back to sleep.'
Fritz perked up after a while. Henry sat on his bed that evening, and they talked about his new life.
'It is a bit cool, Henry. From our parochial little Modenehem, here I am in the heart of a world city. I miss Helge, but hey... I'm a growing boy and I need fun.'
'What sort of fun, Fritzy?'
'You know... and don't get all censorious on me. I know what you and Ed were doing when you two were sixteen, and for that matter, Oskar was shagging like a donkey by my age. Just cos I'm the prince doesn't mean I should let life pass me by. Poor old Rudi is stuck in his palace when he's home in Rothenia, but I hear rumours that even he's found a girl at Oxford. And if he can blow his nuts, so can I.'
'I don't disagree. If you want sex, I'm happy to cheat on Gavin.'
Fritz laughed. 'If I were ever to go to bed with another guy, believe me, you'd be at the head of my list, Henry... well, after Matt anyway.'
'Please,' groaned Henry, 'the idea of you two doing it together is one of my big fantasies of the moment.'
'You sick little Henry! College here will be fun, I can just feel it. No one will know I'm an aristocrat, and I'll just be Francis Prinz with the other kids. They've even put me in the English as the First Language groups, so I'll be hanging with Americans, Australians and Brits. I graduate from my baccalaureate this year and then... gap year or university at seventeen, I have yet to decide.'
'Where are you thinking about?'
'Oskar thinks I should go to the States, if I don't fancy the Rodolfer Universitat in Strelzen. What do you think, Henry?'
'Me? Oh, the States sounds great to me. Somewhere sunny with pretty people, which means UCLA or Rice or somewhere like that. I used to have the same fantasy before economic reality caught up with me. So... will it be Vassar then?'
Fritz stared at Henry and then guffawed. 'Is it that obvious?'
'To everyone, Fritzy, even to the woman herself.'
Fritz blushed again and paused before answering. 'Do you believe I've got a chance, Henry? She is so pretty and so cool, and way so bright. And it's totally right; there's a harmony about it. My brother is sleeping with her brother, so I should sleep with her. It restores the balance. Two years is no big difference. If I were the girl and she the boy, nobody would think twice about it.'
Henry couldn't quite figure out what to say, so he just wished Fritz well, kissed him and headed next door to his own room. It was work in the morning.
Henry never travelled into Camden with Matt, although Matt offered him a lift. He did not want to seem to be in a special relationship with the CEO. He took the bus, even though it was a longer journey than the tube. His theory was that if you were stuck in traffic in a bus, at least you had something to watch. Being stuck in a tube tunnel meant you just got dusty and bored and tried not to look directly at your fellow travellers, in case they were demented.
As it happened, the Northern Line was blocked that morning, so Henry was one of the few who actually arrived on time. Deciding to make the most of his opportunity, he rang Gavin's mobile, and found him still in bed. 'Morning, sleepyhead. How's my favourite baby?'
'Henry mine! Kisses! Oops, sprung a stiffie! His master's voice!'
'Baby, I so miss you. Seems like a week since we last talked.'
'It was just after twelve on New Year.'
'How're you doing?'
'OK. The brothers are arseholes. They've been nagging me as to who rang me to wish me happy New Year, the subtext being that I wasn't worth anyone's time and trouble. Steve - that's the oldest - is screwing this sick-making harlot in his Year 11 class. I'm now a challenge to his masculinity, so he's doubly disagreeable. I can't wait to see you. It seems almost incredible by now that I've got someone out there who actually loves me.'
'That's why I'm ringing. Mrs Atkinson, the housekeeper, has found a double room for us. You can stay as long as you want! Come up on Friday, stay the weekend and then the rest of the week if you can.'
'Oh yeah, Henry. If we work at it, that'll be maybe as many as twenty shags! More if we're really feeling fit. My bum'll be like the Mersey Tunnel on Bank Holiday Monday. Fantastic!'
They kicked around the arrangements for a while. Then Henry signed off as people began arriving in the office. He could hardly wait for Friday. Even so, he made a heroic effort and settled into his desk to prepare for the critical one-on-one briefing session with Professor Wardrinski.
Henry was waiting at eleven in reception, neat in suit and tie, file under his arm. He offered his hand to the professor, and ushered him into the conference room.
'Oh... no Dr White?' the man asked. 'Is it just you?'
Henry smiled, not about to rise to the bait. He spread out his file, ready for the battle. He began with his big guns. 'Professor Wardrinski, our enquiries have put together a few details about your family's origins in Rothenia that you may or may not want to use. Your father was high up in the organisation called the KRB, the Catholic Renewal Movement, in the Rothenian Republic before the war.'
Clearly the name rang a bell, as Wardrinski adopted a hunted look. 'The Rothenian fascists? Oh!'
'He was their Number Two before the German invasion, and seems to have been involved at a high level with some of their more... reprehensible activities.'
Wardrinski was now seriously flustered. 'Er... surely... I mean... yes.... aah. No... er... no doubt his flight to England was due to his distaste for Nazism.'
'We think he might have been a British agent.'
'My word! Well. He seemed such a colourless man.'
'I imagine that it's a good qualification for the job. His background seems otherwise to have been quite middle-class. He studied in the lycée at Luchau, then art school. His parents were schoolteachers. Our enquiry agents trace them back to farming families in Glottenberh. Perhaps you'd like to take the file away and look at it, at your leisure.'
'Yes, certainly. It will be very interesting. I... er, take it that we needn't allude more than generally to my Rothenian connections in this programme.'
'Oh no, of course not. Now I'd appreciate your patience as we go through the details of the draft script about Dr Bannow's ideas concerning St Fenice of Tarlenheim.'
'By all means, please, let's get busy.'
Henry smiled to himself as two hours later he shook the professor's hand. Wardrinski had meekly scribbled his approving signature in green ink on every page. There had been absolutely no quarrel with Matt White's moderating red pen on the smouldering and sarcastic attacks Wardrinski had planned against Bannow.
Henry went to Matt's secretary and quietly put the signed file on her desk before returning to his cubbyhole. He went back to checking the script for errors.
Twenty minutes later, Matt burst in and the other office juniors nearly fell off their chairs. 'Henry! What on earth did you do! You haven't sold your soul to the devil, I hope? How did you pull that little miracle off?'
Henry smirked. 'I prayed to St Fenice of course. Perhaps you underestimated the professor's flexibility, Matt.'
Matt cast him a suspicious look. 'You've been up to something, Henry. OK, don't tell me, but...' and he gave his devastating grin, '... well done, Henry. Well done indeed.'
Henry's heart gave a little skip.
The next day, Ed arrived back in Highgate and reoccupied his room. Although he was no longer fostered by Matt and Andy, they were paying his university fees and wanted him to know he still had a home with them. Ed's parents were estranged, and showed no interest whatsoever in his education and future.
Along with Ed came Harriet Peacher for a few days in London before flying back to New York en route to Poughkeepsie. Justin had been detailed by Jenna Rudat, Andy's head of security, to supervise her safety until she left for the States. Justin had driven them up from Suffolk.
After they had settled in, Justin bounced into Henry's room - he never knocked. He gave Henry the usual deep kiss, then grinned in his face. 'Bet you'd not noticed, Henry babe, but Aunty Harry Peacher's got an admirer... me mate Fritzy's got the hots for her.'
Henry twitched an eyebrow. 'Justy, there's not a single person within a radius of half a mile of them who hasn't noticed. She knows too. Not only that, but I found Fritzy crying into his Weetabix about it this morning at breakfast with your friend Mrs Atkinson. Some people seem to need to have very public romances. Fritzy's one of them. I'm not sure it's the best strategy with Harry, either. She seems quite a private person.'
Justin briefly looked a little miffed, then shrugged. 'So what we gonna do to help our Fritzy?'
'Help him? No chance. Matchmaking is one of the most dangerous sports mankind has ever invented. I'd rather bungee jump nude over a river full of crocodiles on a diet. Count me out. It's up to them to work it out.'
'Well, I like to think I helped things along subtly on the way up. I made delicate hints to Harry, like, about Fritzy's finer qualities. His train set, his obsession with sexual swear words in fourteen languages, sort of thing. Oh, and he has an eight-inch cock too, now. He showed me in the bathroom at Haddesley.'
Henry's jaw sagged. 'Tell me you didn't!'
Justin looked innocent. 'I did it subtly.... just worked it into the conversation, like.'
For his own sanity, Henry chose to believe this was one of Justin's wind-ups.
Fritz had rallied since the first shock of genuinely falling in love. He was his usual charming, confident and funny self now, and it didn't take long to see it was having an impact. Fritz and Harriet were both strangers to London, so Fritz took on the role of chaperon as they explored the capital. The only problem was that Justin had to go with them. To be fair, Justin tried to keep in the background - so far as was in him.
Fritz and Harriet were clearly good friends by the time she left on Friday morning, and he joined Justin in escorting her to Heathrow. However, Justin later told Henry there was no romantic kiss goodbye at the barrier, just a peck on the cheek and a smile.
Henry in the meantime had discovered that he and Ed were comfortable together. They kissed and hugged, they went to the pub in the evening, and one day Ed came down to the office to meet Henry for lunch. It seemed right to Henry. He had set regrets aside, and found it was now thinking about Gavin that stimulated him sexually.
Henry and Ed could talk freely about their boyfriends, too. Knowing each other as intimately as they did, they were a source of strength to each other. On the Friday at lunch, Henry could look across the table at Ed and say, 'We're good, aren't we?'
'Yes, little babe, we're good. You'll always be my friend, and I'll always be yours. There's nothing we can't talk about, and we care for each other like you and Ricky do. That's really good for me, because I have no brother. You'll be my brother now, Henry.'
'I will,' said Henry, his eyes misting. He had finally realised this was the way things were always meant to be. Ed could be his strength without being his lover.
It was as well they'd got themselves sorted by the Friday, because Gavin arrived in Highgate that evening. Henry knew Gavin well enough to understand what agonies of nervousness the shy boy was going through. He half expected Gavin to call it off at the last moment, but at five he had a mobile call from the express approaching Paddington. He jumped in a cab - damn the extravagance - and was off to meet Gavin's train. He stood hopping about from one foot to the other until a grin, a piercing and a flash of light off well-polished glasses glimpsed through the crowd announced the arrival of his lover. They could not do the big reunion thing at the barrier, but stood smiling at each other as they were jostled by passers-by. Then, sharing the bags, they sought the tube.
By the time they reached Highgate station, Gavin's fixed grin and abstracted air warned Henry that the lad was in a state of high terror. As a way of postponing the shock, they trundled his case up to the house on foot to give his nerves time to settle.
'Now, baby. Here we are. I won't pretend it's not a big house full of scarily beautiful and wealthy people, but once you're used to them, they're just nice. After all, you've been dealing happily with Eddie Peacher for a term, and he's probably worth billions of dollars. You already know our mad Justy, too. Matt is kind and very clever. Fritz is just... out of this world.'
'And Ed is going to kill me for walking off with the most superb boy in the universe.' Catching Henry's puzzlement, he added, 'That's you, Henry.'
'Oh... thanks. Ed won't kill you. We've sorted things out over the past week. He'll be really nice to you, baby, and he's got his own Guy now, in a manner of speaking.'
Gavin clutched Henry's hand as they walked up the steps and Henry opened the big and shiny front door. Matt was casually hanging round the hall - deliberately, Henry thought, and was grateful for it.
Although Gavin went rigid at the sight of that gloriously beautiful man bearing down on him, Matt was good with shy and nervous people. He gave Gavin a little kiss, took him round the shoulder and sat him down on a sofa in the lounge, telling the boy how happy he was to meet him and how delighted he was that Henry and he were boyfriends. Gavin began replying in a low voice with shy smiles through his eyelashes. After a while, Mrs Atkinson came in and looked approvingly at Gavin - he was the sort of quiet young man she preferred. She took Henry and him upstairs to the double room they were to occupy.
Once they were alone, they stood looking at each other. Henry was finally coming to realise that Gavin was not at all bad looking, slight though he might have been. His little face was charming, once Henry had taken the glasses off him, folded them and put them on the bedside table. As Henry stripped his anxious lover, he used his mouth to reacquaint himself with Gavin's bodily contours and tastes, licking his armpits in a physical ecstasy of reunion. When Gavin was naked, Henry knelt in front of him and began sucking at his navel, something he knew excited the boy. Then he turned Gavin round, bent him over and spent an age excavating his anus with his tongue, sucking, licking and even nibbling his buttocks. Gavin began making very aroused noises. Henry's fingers followed where his tongue had been, and his cock followed his fingers. He did not even undress, but still had his trousers round his lower thighs when he took Gavin. He came with a huge pulsing orgasm that made him cry out.
Satisfied with their intimate reunion and both naked by then, the boys sank into a hot tub in the en-suite bathroom. It was gorgeous as Gavin lay on top of Henry, who could kiss his neck, hair and shoulders and feel the squirming of Gavin's silky, wet flesh on top of him, while he murmured endearments into his lover's ears. This was good. This was right. Gavin was his, and was all he wanted.
Apart from Gavin and Henry, there were just Matt, Fritz and Ed at dinner. Justin had gone back to Haddesley. Ed did the forthright thing and came round the table to give Gavin a hearty shake of the hand, which was not perhaps quite the way to reassure him. Indeed, Gavin was reduced to mumbling something that sounded like, 'Pleased to meet you'. He quickly sat next to Henry, who gripped his warm hand under the table.
Gavin played little part in the conversation at first, just staring at Fritz. But fortuitously or by kind calculation, Matt brought up the subject of Terry and David, both of whom Gavin adored, and also the King's Cross, on which he was an expert.
'The pub was supposed to be a tip in my days as a student in Cranwell,' said Matt. 'To be fair, it had such a reputation Andy and I didn't have the nerve to go near it, so I couldn't swear to what it really was like then. But Terry is very funny about his cruising days in Cranwell, and his keeping bar there with that ghastly man, Frank whatsisname.'
'Frank Hutchinson,' Gavin contributed.
'That's the man. Why is he such a bastard, Gavin?'
Gavin coloured, but bravely replied, 'One of the old regulars said he wasn't so bad when he was in his thirties. Then he lost his boyfriend to Aids, and was never the same again. Also, he had a disastrous affair a few years ago with a transvestite boy who was horrible to him, apparently, which made him even worse.'
'Unlucky in love... whoever would have believed it of Frank? Then, when Andy and I eventually did go there, it was tame as tame could be.'
Henry said, 'It can be quiet, Matt, but it's unwise to think that the King's Cross is tame. You get some crazies there at weekend, and quite a bit of drugs are done. Terry's going to crack down on the dealers who sneak in. Gavin says Terry bounced one of them hard over Christmas. Gavin thinks Frank turns a blind eye to the ones he's known for years, in return for... well, not drugs, but something. Terry's dad is divisional commander of the city police, and Terry has got him on side. The dealers are giving the King's a wide berth now. Which is good.'
'Yes,' Gavin added, 'there's a whole new gay crowd beginning to come in, the younger ones that like a quiet drink. We're not seeing so many of the tough old baldies, with denim and piercings, who wouldn't bat an eyelid at Attila and his Huns in the public bar, and might even try to chat 'em up. It was getting quite nice in there over Christmas.'
'I have to see this place,' insisted Fritz. 'You must be really brave to put up with it, Gavin. Can I come down for a weekend soon, Gavin and Henry?'
Gavin glowed. 'Oh please do... it'd be great... er, your highness.'
'Just call me Fritzy like my friends do, Gavin.'
Gavin blushed again, but looked pleased. Although he didn't contribute much to the conversation after that, he was more and more comfortable as the evening went on. When he and Henry got to bed, he threw his arms round Henry and kissed him passionately. 'I'm so happy, Henry. Please could you...?'
'I think I've recharged. Let's make this one last, baby mine.'
Henry woke on Saturday to see familiar brown eyes smiling into his. Gavin's fingers were playing with his piercing. 'Stop it, silly.'
'What do you want me to do with my fingers?'
'There's this hot place where they'd feel more comfortable.'
'Ooh. That's right. Bit deeper... aah, now another one. Oh, so good. Anything thicker and longer that you've got about your person that you could possibly insert instead? AAAH! Nice.'
Gavin came inside him within minutes, but it was very satisfying nonetheless. Afterwards, they wrapped themselves round each other and dozed a little longer. When they finally resurfaced and Henry had done his turn of duty, they found their way into the shower.'
As Henry was soaping Gavin's hair, he asked his lover what he'd like to do, now that they had all of London and all day to spend. Gavin thought for a moment and said he would like to ride the London Eye. So after breakfast, they picked up Fritz and Ed and headed for the Thames.
It was a cold but sunny January day, the sky an unaccustomed blue with bright white clouds, a day to lift the heart. They idled along the South Bank, queued for the Eye, and enjoyed the view. Gavin proved to be fearless with heights, whereas Ed and Fritz were a little nervous when their pod went over the top.
They found a pub for lunch, a cosy little place around the back of Waterloo. No one dreamed of questioning Fritz's age, and the barmaid in any case nearly wet herself at the sight of him when he walked in. The pub did exceptionally good food.
Gavin and Henry spent a long time assessing the standard of service at the bar, and the barmaid's technique of chatting up her customers. Gavin said he thought he could do coquettish, took off his glasses and fluttered his eyelashes with some real ability. It was a measure of how far and how quickly he had come that he just laughed when Fritz said he wanted to vomit.
They moved on to the British Museum, in deference to the fact that three of them were university students. Fritz and Gavin were keener on the antiquities than on the more modern galleries, so Ed and Henry separated off. Henry looked proudly after his boyfriend as Gavin walked away along the gallery chatting with Fritz, whom he clearly liked a lot. Ed's arm snaked round Henry's shoulder. 'Yes, he is a lovely little kid. I'm glad you found him. You're making him come alive, Henry, just the way Nathan transformed his Justin. It's a delight to watch you two together.'
They found their way to the medieval galleries and browsed through the cases. Henry was idly scrutinising some episcopal pontificalia from medieval Flanders, when he saw Ed signalling to him. He went over to find Ed standing in front of a case full of beautifully carved ivory plaques from fifteenth-century Europe. The captions stated that a whole row of them, originally intended for the ornament of a reliquary, detailed the miracles of St Fenice of Tarlenheim. They had been made in Austria around 1470, presumably for a Rothenian aristocrat or prelate. There was St Fenice at a desk, writing her Meditation, the standard face of Jesus Christ floating before her; St Fenice rebuking her husband, Count Sergius, for his harshness to the poor; St Fenice and Duchess Osra as nuns at Medeln in prayer; St Fenice educating her children; and St Fenice curing a sick child.
The most intriguing plaque was the largest. To Henry, it seemed to illustrate the prophecies of the fourth book of her Revelation. Fenice was in a high chamber. Castle towers, in the manner of Dürer, were to be seen through the window. An angel, representing the voice of the Lord, floated behind her. She was contemplating a line of coroneted noblewomen carrying sceptres processing in front of her. Each woman had a brooch fixed to her shoulder, except the furthest forward, who carried a casket in Gothic form. At the gable end of the casket was another representation of a face, youthful and beardless.
Henry studied the brooches again. 'Ed, what do these thingies look like to you?'
Ed examined them closely. 'Like skulls, little babe.'
'I thought so too. How weird is that? I wonder if they have a picture catalogue of these ivories?'
Henry went to the keeper in the gallery, who said that there might be a catalogue in the museum shop. There had been a big exhibition in the museum a few years before. 'Ed, I've got to get hold of that catalogue... like seriously.'
They found their way back to the huge echoing foyer, full of mobs of foreign school kids, and then through a dark-panelled passage out into the breathtakingly magnificent roofed courtyard. Ed finally found the catalogue in a pile of remainders in the bookshop under the dome in the Great Court. 'This what you're after, Henry?'
'Totally brilliant. Let's go get a drink over there while I think about this.'
'Little babe, you're on the track of something big, aren't you? I recognise that look in your brown eyes.'
'Maybe. All I can say is that what you just noticed while browsing the galleries of the British Museum is something that Alastair Bannow should have found if he'd done a halfway decent job of researching his book.'
The catalogue was a beautiful production, illustrated and authoritative. Henry found the section on the St Fenice ivories. They got a whole two pages. The provenance was given as Rothenia, probably from a reliquary originally in the Marienkloster of Medeln. In private hands in Husbrau in the 1820s, when sold to a dealer in Dresden. Bought at auction for the museum in 1889. The peculiar panel representing the Vision of St Fenice was described as puzzling, but perhaps reflected the descriptions in a now-lost text of the Revelation of the End Time kept at Medeln. Henry needed to discuss it with Matt on Monday.
They hooked up with Gavin and Fritzy in the shadow of Rameses III. Fritz was joking about something, and Gavin was falling about. His shyness had quite gone. Fritz had won him over. They made their way back to Highgate feeling very happy with each other.
On Sunday, however, there was a setback. Matt was a committed Catholic, as was Fritz. Ed and Henry were also churchgoers, while Gavin was not. Henry and Ed were going to mass at the priory of St Dominic with Matt, but Gavin looked open mouthed at him when Henry suggested - very diffidently - that he might join them. Although Gavin clearly did not want to upset Henry by saying no, there was not a spark of religious feeling in him, and he'd had no contact with any church in all his life. The idea of entering one was more than uncomfortable to him. Henry backpedalled furiously, but neither one was entirely comfortable with the other all the rest of the day. Gavin stayed home alone that morning, as Mrs Atkinson belonged to a Pentecostalist congregation in Hornsey. Sooner or later, Henry realised, there would have to be a big conversation between them about religion and belief.
Monday was back to work for Henry and first day at the International College in Notting Hill for Fritz. Matt drove him down. Gavin and Ed spent the day together, which left Henry bemused. His ex and present boyfriends were shopping in Oxford Street together. He did not like to think what they might be talking about, and they didn't tell him.
Fritz came back to Highgate under his own steam, very full of his day. He was giving high fives to everyone. 'This is apparently what American youth does all the time! They call me Frankie Prince! This is the new me! Away with cute little Rothenian Fritzku. I wanna be an American!'
Henry caught an echo of Fritz's Harriet fixation in that last remark, but let it pass. What he actually said was, 'Hmf, I quite liked cute little Rothenian Fritzku, even if he is now six feet tall and beginning to need a shave.'
'We grow up, Henry. There's always the inner Fritzku, but don't forget why I'm here. Frankie Prince is a very necessary secret identity. The loonies are out to get me... I must start calling everyone dude.'
The week passed and Friday came rather too soon for Henry and Gavin. Henry said farewell to his lover before heading in to work. They kissed and hugged in the hall, and Henry reluctantly let Gavin go. But they would be seeing each other the following week, and always had text and mobile. There was no reason why Gavin should be crying like that, but he was.
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