The Heart of Oskar Prinz

XVIII

By Michael Arram

In fact Will moved in with Felip, for he had taken a good apartment in the Old City in the days when he had plenty of money. It was a modern complex in the district of Starel Heights, looking west over the city. They couldn't have done better, the bedroom had a beautiful view down over the New City towards the Rodolferplaz and the palace. There was a balcony to sit out on, a study, a lounge, big bathroom and kitchen. Felip had pawned some of his furniture and possessions, but they got them back, and the end result was very tasteful. Will kissed him. 'You know how to make a home, Felip. I love this place. While I'm here on Marlowe Productions business I'll sublet it from you at commercial rates. That'll clear some debts.'

Felip was pleased, 'There's plenty of cupboard space too. Let's go get your stuff.'

Will had the impish pleasure of telling Melanie he was moving out to stay with a friend. Her face fell. 'Don't worry Melanie, I'll be checking in daily.'

'I thought we might go out and do the bars and stuff,' she complained.

'Melanie, girls don't go to the sort of bars I like.'

'Oh, does that mean you're...'

'Yes, I'm gay. I thought you knew.'

'It missed me out, and this friend...'

'Is my lover, it's Felip Ignacij.'

'Well I suppose that puts a different spin on it. Can you find out if he has a straight brother?'

When the taxi deposited him on Starel Heights, and Will and Felip were heaving his cases up the stairs, he dutifully asked, 'What family do you have, Felip?'

'The usual: mother, father, irritating little brother. But they live in Bratislava.'

'You're a Slovak?'

'No, but dad is a diplomat. He moves around all the time, and when I was seventeen I refused to do it any more. So I seceded and started a life on my own, with the great and evident success that you see here. Hendrik's scout found me showing off in a gay gym. Money just fell through my trouser pockets in those days, so he found it easy to talk me out of my pants. That and the ego of course.'

They visited the landlord, paid the arrears and a three month advance, much to his delight. Then they got themselves comfortable in the apartment, opened a bottle of fruit wine, and sat out on the balcony looking at the city in the misty afternoon sunshine. They had fixed smiles on their faces. 'I want to go out tonight.'

'OK.'

'Liberation.' Felip said with a malicious grin.

'Why?' Will responded suspiciously.

'It'll get back to that bastard Hendrik that I've survived without him. Not only that but he'll see that Max Wolf and Jason Williams are in each other's pants.'

'Is this wise?'

'Can't see we'll be any the worse off, and it'll be fun to be the celebrity queens of the Rodolferplaz tonight.'

The idea appealed to the reckless side of Will's personality, so he agreed. But first he had to fix up tomorrow's meeting. It was one he was very interested in, and he wanted Melanie and Felip there with him.

The Wejg was very busy that night, and the cafés next to Club Liberation were unusually full. To take the temperature of their celebrity, Felip and Will took an outside table on the square, under the trees next to General Hoydek. The gay couples and groups stared and circled round them. Some just stood there and gazed.

As they joined the queue for Liberation hand in hand, the onlookers swarmed along behind them. 'Hey Max, give us that smile', 'Hey Jason, give us a blowjob,' reached them in American and British accents. They smiled round them and waved, and there were whoops and a rattle of applause. Soon they were signing tee shirts and scraps of paper.

'Is it always like this for you?' Will hissed.

'I think it's the Jason effect,' Felip hissed back.

Felip got quite a reception from the door staff, who slapped him on the back and shook Will's hand. The admission price was waived; their presence was good for business.

Will's heart lurched a bit when they got inside. The last time he had been there he had been high on Oskar and steroids, but now he was hand in hand with a quieter, happier boy, and he was no one's whore. They danced long and intimately, kissing deeply as they moved and breaking off to smile in each other's eyes.

'Jeez it's just like that film,' Will heard an American voice say. 'Wish I had my camera.'

'Christ, they're really an item,' said a British one.

Felip whispered in Will's ear, 'Let's gave them a show.' He stepped back and stripped off his top, throwing it into the air. Will's heart pulsed, and Jason Williams effortlessly took him over; he too threw his top away, and the floor erupted and cheered. They danced on, necking with great passion, their hands down the back of each other's loosened trousers, their backsides more or less hanging out, rubbing their groins together with very obvious results. It was a riot as men craned to see and stood on tables.

'Christ they're going to fuck, here on the floor.' For a moment Will thought that that was exactly what Felip had in mind, and he was even in two minds as to whether he would say no. But Felip grinned into Will's face and whispered, 'Take a bow, Jason.' They separated, smiled round at the floor, and did a stage bow. There was another great cheer.

'Don't ever let me say you can't act,' Will said out of the corner of his mouth. Unfortunately their tops never came back.

As people got back to their own concerns, a waiter came up and tapped on Will's bare shoulder, 'Mr Williams, Mr Wilemmin would like the favour of a word.'

Will looked over into a corner and saw Hendrik with a raised glass in his hand. He was alone. Will looked at Felip, who shrugged and found a seat at the bar. Will ambled over with something of a swagger. He sat opposite Hendrik.

'Good evening, Will.'

'Mr Wilemmin.'

'Call me Hendrik, we are old friends. I wanted to say welcome back to Rothenia, Will.' He surveyed his former employee. 'You were an expensive indulgence for me, as it turned out in the long run. You robbed me of Oskar, who was good for at least two more years, I thought, and you introduced that blond wolf O'Brien into my fold. Had I known you had such dangerous friends I would never have touched you with a bargepole. But there it is. It is pointless being wise after the event.'

Will gave a quietly satisfied smirk, 'You seem to be making money nevertheless.'

'I won't pretend that your one big production has not done excellent trade, indeed, you seem to have given me a major edge over my rivals. The standard of your acting and improvisation...' he paused, looked at Will and burst into delighted laughter. 'You were bad boys, but you read the market better than me. Now we cannot be so lazy in our skin flicks. Wit sells, it seems, although finding it in our line of business is not so easy. And now you have stolen Felip away from me too.'

'I got the impression that you had finished with him.'

'No, I was just leaving him out in the cold for a while; he had got unmanageable, and now I see why. He loved you.'

Will nodded and smiled. Hendrik looked appraisingly at the boy in front of him, his handsome, muscled torso shiny with sweat, his thick brown hair matted and tangled and his dark eyes bright. 'Boy, excuse the cliché, but I could have made you a star. I could still.'

'Not interested. It's just the money you miss, Hendrik.'

'No. You do not understand me at all, Will. But I see no point in explaining myself.' He sipped at his wine, and then he looked in Will's eyes, and said, 'You won't find him at Terlenehem, you know.'

'What?' Will responded, his face wiped blank. The significance of the remark sank in, like a lead bar on a paper boat.

'Yes, I know about him. I finally got round to investigating my Oskar, there were too many strange signals he was giving out. And it was not too difficult to track down his university friends and find someone who could talk the truth out of them. Not that they were not loyal to him, Oskar's friends always are.'

Will's eyes narrowed, 'And some of his friends have very dangerous friends of their own.'

'A threat?'

'A promise. You will leave him alone. I think you know I mean it.'

'I will never underestimate you again, William Vincent, be sure of that. But again you do not understand me. Does it not occur to you that you and Felip are not the only ones to come under that boy's spell?'

'You mean what I think you mean?'

'Perhaps. But surprisingly I do not want to go to bed with him. I am not usually inclined towards boys, although in your case...'

'I guessed.'

'Did you now? You are a very special boy, Will, and I do not deny that I find you deeply arousing. But we are talking of Oskar. The fact is that he meant a lot to me as a friend. I could talk to him the way I never could to any of my other boys. My plan was to take him into the business as manager of Falkefilm in the end. And now I know the truth about him I see why I liked him so. Whether you believe me or not, it makes no difference. But Oskar and I are both lonely, driven men, he driven by his past, me by the need to succeed in the world, in a country where any sort of success is so very difficult. Think about it. And I say this to you, that I have said to no other living man. I envied him what he had with you. If there is a time when he needs help and I can give it, he will have it. You mean to find him?'

'No. That was not my plan. But tomorrow I will at least find out what happened to the estate of the count of Tarlenheim.'

Hendrik gave him a considering look, and a small smile. 'You will find it an interesting story. Remember what I said. Good night, my sweet Willemu.'

Felip could drive and had a current licence, which was a very useful discovery. They rented a BMW and at midday the next day they were at Modnehem. Will had set up lunch at the magnificent gasthaus on the cathedral square. The curator, Marie Esterhazy, joined their table. They stood and greeted her, although Will had to prod Melanie. He introduced the team, and she smiled and sat down. They exchanged leisurely pleasantries in the Rothenian way. Melanie sat fixedly smiling as Felip whispered a summary of what was being said into her ear.

After they had ordered, Will moved toward business. He explained that production was to begin in a month, and he needed to secure access to the collections, but he also would like to include her as an interviewee, with an appropriate fee, of course. Marie was delighted, perhaps more for her collection than for herself.

'Your Dr White's handsome donation helped us buy a number of court miniatures from the Tarlenheim estate, so I am very happy to help. And please tell Dr White that his name is high on our new donors' board.'

'You'll be able to tell him yourself, Marie. I need to know what happened to the estate, as we will be wanting to feature the major canvasses you have here.'

'Of course. As you know, the count moved his case successfully to the Supreme Court, and with the level of research he had been able to achieve, the government in the end offered no counter arguments. The art objects we have, as well as the ones scattered around the ministries and former royal palaces were handed over, although in many cases the estate simply returned them on loan. Very generous. One or two have been sold abroad to raise capital, I think, but not those of any national significance, for which I am very grateful to the count. The Fursterberh estate was unanimously adjudged to the count although the issue of some of his claims on Terlenehem is still in dispute. The agricultural college at Fursterberh has now leased the house back from him, but he is in possession of the forest and the farm lands, as well as the famous breweries. Then there was the town house here in Modnehem and the Tarlenheim palace in Strelzen on Radhausplaz, which the government did not fight, as could hardly be avoided since his arms are over the main gates of the houses and this entire quarter of the city. The count is now living here in Modnehem with his sister. If you want to have his permission to use the Tarlenheim collection you need to approach him.'

Well, thought Will, at least that much has turned out well for Oskar. How to approach him though?

In the end they booked in for the night at the gasthaus, and Will asked Felip to make the call. Felip did not yet know the identity of the count of Tarlenheim, and Will was in two minds whether or not he should tell him. Felip talked to Helge, as it appeared when he said that 'the countess was very nice to him.' He fixed an appointment for ten the next morning, and Will spent a troubled night.

He passed on breakfast, as Felip noticed. 'What is it, Will. Does the idea of meeting the aristocracy make you nervous?'

'This particular aristocrat, certainly.'

The Tarlenheim town house in Modnehem was very impressive, a tall pedimented mansion set back from a small gravelled square, with stable and office wings. Some money had recently been spent on it. Although the wings were more or less derelict, the main house and its shutters were recently painted, and flowers were blooming in boxes and outsize vases. A small Fiat was parked before the steps to the front door.

Will jerked hard on the bell pull, and a raucous jangling set a dog barking indoors, a very familiar bark.

As the door opened, Marietta dashed out and scenting Will went into a frenzy of delight, bounding up to his chest. He grinned despite himself and pacified the terrier with the aggressive petting she loved. He looked up and saw Helge, who put her hand to her mouth in surprise. He too was surprised, the harrassed country school teacher was gone, and an elegant woman in a well-cut black dress, with subdued jewelry, stood there instead.

'Will! I was not expecting you! You are the production assistant from Dr White's company I was told to expect?' But she gave a dazzling smile and took both his hands, 'Come in. Fritzku will be so glad to see you. Welcome to our house.'

'How do I find the lady countess?'

She laughed and gestured around at the fine marble floors and grand staircase, the portraits and the chandelier. 'You find me as a countess, of course.' Will knew that in Rothenia, as in other Central European countries, the practice was for brothers and sisters to share noble titles, although, of course, there was only one prince-count of Tarlenheim. Fritz would now be Count in Tarlenheim, but Oskar was the Count of Tarlenheim.

'Come through to the sitting room.' She sat with him on a vast sofa. 'We got all the furniture back from the sack of Tarlenheim. We sold most of it, but we kept enough items to furnish this house, where we have decided to live. None of us wanted to leave Husbrau. Fursterberh is just too big and grand for these days, we could never live there. But we've started work on the palace in Strelzen, the government had put the ministry of transport in it. It's a mess, and they've had to agree to repair and refurbish it.' She pointed to a portrait of Francis III, dressed as a hussar of the old royal guard, over the fireplace, 'You'll like that, it's the only one we took out of the gallery. Oskar made a point of it.'

'How is he?' The question burst out of him.

Her face clouded. 'He told me everything, Will. The appalling things he did to get the money, and the terrible thing he did to you. I told him... God that I had not, that he had disgraced the family name. He disagreed. He said he had disgraced no one but himself. And that was why he did it.'

'Did what?'

She looked surprised. 'You had not heard? The count of Tarlenheim is now Francis the Sixth, our Fritzku. Oskar resigned his claims to his brother by notarised deed at Christmas. He took only a little money and has been gone away months now. He had done his duty to the family, he said, and now his only duty was to himself. Do not think that he did to you that terrible thing and escaped the consequences. Don't ever think that there is anything wrong with Oskar's heart. I saw him when he came to Terlenehem afterwards. He was soul-sick and looked like an old man. His merriment left him, and it never returned. He shut himself in his room for three days after you sent him the money by Mr O'Brien. He could not touch it. He gave it to me to take care of and send on to the lawyers. In the end there was far more than we needed, and all because of you.'

'So where is he?'

'I do not know. He left three months ago. There has been no word, and I expect none. When he has somehow found a way to forgive himself, I will see him, not before. It has broken Fritzku's heart, it is as though he has lost mother and father again. But he will be happy to see you.'

Fritz was due home from the local school for lunch, and it did Will's heart good to see the boy's face come alive when he saw him. He leapt up and hugged Will round the neck. He dropped down again with a laugh just like Oskar's.

'Will, this is so good. I have no tree to show you, now. But I am the count of Tarlenheim, so I shall have the old one in Terlenehem cut down and brought here on a truck. How about that?'

'A bit excessive, sir.'

'You called me sir,' the boy said with a twinkle in his eye.

'You are the prince, sir, as you said. And I think you were born to be one.' Will looked down at the boy seriously, and was very moved. And Ruritania provided him with the proper words to express such emotion, as only Ruritania could. 'Long live Count Francis, latest of a most noble house. I salute you, Your Serene Highness.'

Fritz looked back up at him, and became very solemn for a young boy, and what Will saw in Fritz's eyes sent him to his knees before the young prince of Tarlenheim. He took and kissed the boy's small hand, then Fritz reached up and pushed Will's hair from his brow. On tiptoe, he kissed Will's forehead and blessed him in his boy's voice. When he looked through his tears at the boy's happy smile he found he had forgiven Oskar everything, and he offered his pain to the house of Tarlenheim as a knight might offer his honourable wounds to his feudal lord. And so at last he was fully healed.

'Don't get up, Will,' Helge said. 'We have something for you.' She brought a heavy gold object from the mantlepiece and gave it to Fritz, who put it on Will's ring finger.

She said, 'Take this as a token of the thanks of the house of Tarlenheim, of which there has never been a more faithful friend than you, William Vincent. It is the signet ring of Francis the Third, who loved also a noble Englishman.'

'Your servant for ever, Your Serene Highness,' he murmured, half to himself, as he rose to his feet.

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