Towards the Decent Inn

X

By Michael Arram

A mobile call early the next morning made Andy sit bolt upright in bed, waking Matt.

'Shit!' hissed Andy, 'Shit, shit, shit, SHIT!'

This was not usual Andy behaviour.

'Wassup? God, it's not your mum is it?'

'No. It's the Stepmom.'

'Ellie?'

'Uhuh. She's in England, would you believe. She's apparently something to do with UNICEF and the High Commission on Refugees. She's passing through on the way to Geneva, and she'd like to come visit.'

'To stay!'

'No. She'll be at the Raddisson County and would we like to join her for lunch?'

'She said, we, then?'

'Oh yes, she remembers you alright.'

Andy looked worried, indeed, a little scared. Matt thought this odd. Andy's mum was clearly much more formidable than Ellie, who was all grace, charm and elegance. He was rather looking forward to the lunch.

'What's eating you, mate?'

'Nothing. It's just that my dad's side of my life belongs on the other side of the Atlantic. This side is mine. One hemisphere each seems fair to me. My mum and you are my life here. Nothing good can come of my dad reaching across the Atlantic. I'll bet he's up to something. It'll be my mum who's the main target.'

Matt thought this was all a touch paranoid. But he pulled Andy down beside him and huddled into him till he relaxed.

They turned up at the hotel reception. It was a measure of Matt's changing horizons that he found the five-star hotel a little bit tacky and the service definitely lacking. The desk clerk finally found time to notice them. They asked for Mrs Marquesa Peacher, and he scanned them with some incredulity. It was taken out of his hands.

'Darlings!'

They turned smiling, to be embraced and kissed by a vision in white and gold. A cloud of expensive perfume enveloped them as the Stepmom took their arms and led them into the restaurant. Matt noticed that there was a staff being towed along in her wake: a female secretary in a grey suit, and a tall and tense, well-built man in black whose function could easily be guessed at. The dining room staff were smiling and very obliging. For the first time since he was a toddler, someone seated Matt in a chair.

'And you dressed up nicely too, you shouldn't have. I wanted to see some student squalor so badly.'

She launched into the news of the kids and Richard, and then on to her present mission, which was something to do with Bosnia. Names, some familiar and some unfamiliar tumbled out of her. 'Dear Kofi' was the one that lodged in Matt's head.

'Now how about you?'

Andy reluctantly gave them a run down of their studies and his sporting achievements, but warmed up considerably when he came to describe Matt's academic bombshell. Again, Matt caught a quick appraising look, this time flickering in his direction.

The secretary appeared and whispered in Ellie's ear. She nodded, and returned to the boys.

'Now Andy, your father wants to know when you and Matthew can join us. He's thinking in terms of St Kitts this June, as soon as the little ones are quit of school. Would that be fine? I am so pleased.'

She rose from the table, and they rose too. 'Matthew, can I just ask you to excuse us a moment, as I have a private message from Richard to Andrew.'

Andy, strangely, did not look surprised, but there was an unfamiliar cold look on his face, which disturbed Matt. Matt wandered back into the carpeted acreage of reception and examined the gilded Victorian pillars and tall clouded mirrors.

Andy eventually returned arm in arm with his stepmother, looking faintly unhappy. Matt kissed the proferred cheek and got a brief hug. Ellie looked him straight in the eyes, 'I am so pleased Andy has found you as a friend. You worry so about what kids will do when they leave home. But I'm sure Andy is safer with you around.'

Matt blinked. Friend? Safe? What was that supposed to mean?

As they emerged into the street, he repeated 'Safe?'

Andy looked unhappy, 'Oh, she knows about you and me. Whether it was Peter who saw us that night and told her, I don't know. Most likely she can just spot gayness. She is a Californian after all, and they invented it.'

'Well, if she's so tolerant, it can't hurt then can it?'

'Yes, she knows. But my mum doesn't, any more than yours does. Then there is my dad. He's not very liberal in his views, you know. He's a big Republican donor in the States, because they're against gay marriage, amongst other things. Now I think about it, Peter can't have told her. If he knew I was gay, he'd have gone straight to Dad and blabbed. Anything to do me down.'

They walked home silently. Matt wasn't going to ask about the private message, and it didn't come out that day. But it did the next.

Next day, after a good swim they strolled happily into the department, only to be collared by a secretary and told that the head of department wanted to see Andy. Andy began to look hunted again. He didn't have to wait long. He was ushered into the long book-lined room, and seated. Matt was left outside in the corridor. He watched as an unfamiliar academic in his sixties knocked on the door and followed Andy in.

Matt asked Mrs Roberts, the secretary, who it was. She was a keen Matt and Andy fan - if gay lads were as nice as those two, she wished there were more of them in the department. She smiled and said that it was the Dean of Arts and hoped that Andy had been a good boy.

Andy emerged after fifteen minutes, with the dean shaking his hand and the head of department looking avuncular. Andy was attempting to smile, but Matt could see he was very troubled.

They walked down to the cafeteria, Andy very silent. Matt finally burst out, 'What the hell is it?'

'The end of the fucking world, that's what. Oh the complete, meddling arsehole bastard!' His ears flared red in anger.

'Eh?'

'My dad. He couldn't keep his nose out of my affairs, could he? Yesterday, after our little lunch with Stepmom, she met the vice-chancellor and conveyed to him my father's concerns about security on campus for his eldest son. She wanted him to understand that Dr Richard Peacher hoped that young Andrew's identity was being protected, especially in this time of radical terrorism and intrusive media attention.'

'This is bollocks! No one knew who the hell you were till she went to tell them. I don't believe this.'

'Didn't I tell you what he's like? Oh, and that's not all. Yesterday, Ellie told me that dad really would rather I was in one of the major US schools, and was willing to finance my move appropriately. And the offer doesn't extend to you, by the way.'

'But your mum has care and control and that sort of thing. He's got no rights.'

'Yes, he knows that. But in fact my mum doesn't either nowadays. I am an adult. The thing that keeps me here is my choice, but I rather think he's working on ways to undermine that. So I had that dickhead of a dean personally reassuring me on the vice-chancellor's behalf that they're addressing my father's concerns, while no doubt calculating on a Peacher Hall or a Peacher Stadium rising on the campus through the outstanding generosity of the Richard Peacher Foundation.'

'Damn.'

'And double damn.'

But it got worse. That Friday, they went into the student lounge and it was quite clear by some scattered nudging and glances that news had spread. Since they were now universally known to be a couple, it had to be the other reason. They sat next to Leo, who at least was as oblivious as ever. But then Katy bustled up with a paper.

'Hi, famous person!' she said.

'Did you mean me?' Matt asked chippily, but with his heart sinking. The endgame was in sight now.

'Why didn't you tell us, Andy?'

Andy's mouth set, but otherwise he looked resigned and cool. He took the paper, it was the city morning daily. At the bottom of page one was a picture of him. It was a scan of one of the passport-sized photos they had brought in on registration in first year. Matt thought it looked very cute and boyish on his student card. On the front page of a newspaper it looked vulnerable and scared. The headline read: CITY UNIVERSITY PROUD TO ATTRACT PEACHER HEIR. The story had not come from the vice-chancellor's office, and quoted no source. There was a potted history of Andy's dad's rise to fortune and fame, some wild speculation as to whether he or Bill Gates was the richer man, and some sparse details about Andy's birth to Richard's first wife, and his studying for a history degree. Andy thrust the paper over to Matt.

Katy kept up the pressure, 'Did you know about this, Matt?'

'No, I'm just coming to terms with the news that I'm sleeping with one of the richest men in the world. It is a shock I can tell you.'

'Seriously?'

'What do you think?'

'Sorry, I'm sure. But, be fair, it's a shock ... is shock the right word? Well, surprise ... a surprise for us all.'

'Nuts. Andy's Andy. And that's that.'

'Oh shit,' said Andy, 'There's one person who's got to be told.'

They waited at the gate of Cardinal Hanrahan College at 3.30pm. The attenuated figure of Paul came ambling down the path with his mate Terry, who waved to them and took off.

The one good thing that day was that Paul had picked up nothing about the story in advance. They walked him slowly home and Andy filled him in on the full state of affairs. Typically, Paul was not in the least bothered or offended to have been kept in the dark, rather he was excited at the thought of one of his mates that wealthy, and that lucky, as he put it.

'Look, I owe so much to you two guys as it is. How am I ever likely to be able to repay you? Least I can do is listen to you. It's obvious that Andy had to keep up his secret identity as mild-mannered Andy Peacher the gay student, or his secret mission as Super Andy the gay billionaire would be compromised. Now the forces of evil are closing in on us, so his friends have to rally round him. Simple logic. Does explain the designer labels for me from New York a bit more coherently though. That part of the story always seemed unlikely, but I couldn't work out how to account for it.'

They impressed on him quite how much things were likely to change. Their little home was going to attract attention, and he was himself going to be a target, at the very least, a target for people seeking gossip about Andy, and also Matt.

'It's called discretion, Paulie, and we're all going to have to do a crash course in it.'

'Sure, I can do discretion. I'll tell the old faggots down the cottage that I can't play with them anymore. They'll understand ... OK, just joking!'

Andy said sombrely, 'That's the problem, isn't it. Just joking can get us in the shit from now on.'

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