'Morning, dad!' It was another Monday and Lance Atwood was gearing up to leave for school.
Henry was leafing through the morning papers in the garden lounge of their Fridricsgasse home. Smiling at his son, he got up to pour the boy a juice. Lance could not abide coffee or tea.
'Dad, you're smiling to yourself. It's unnerving.'
'Like someone's told you a joke and you can't get it outta your head.'
'Oh! Well, now I'm disconcerted. Stop reading me. It's too adult. You're my baby.'
Lance laughed. He came over, took Henry in his arms and hugged him hard. He was already a head taller than his father.
Henry nestled there. Lance had a particularly nice smell for a teenage boy, almost like a sea breeze with a tang of an exotic place, as if it were the wind blowing off a spice island. Henry was coming to the conclusion that it had something to do with Lance's unusual background, a legacy to his Atwood genes from his angelic genesis.
Lance pursued the point. 'So there is something!'
Henry looked up and broke apart. 'Maybe.'
'Something I'll enjoy? Like a raise in my allowance? I need gas.' Lance was lousy with money, and perpetually in debt.
'I don't know whether you'll like it. Ask me next week.'
Lance looked impish. 'Is this about Ed?'
'Okay, baby. What have you heard?'
'Daimey told me something Uncle Justy told him, that he got from Uncle Pete that Oskar let slip.'
'So much for state security. You know then.'
'About the promotion to major general and command of the Guard Division? Course.'
'An extra star on his lapel, and escape from the ministry at last. He's promoted your friend Lucascz Voynovich as his new chief of staff to be major of the Guard Dragoons.'
'Brilliant! So that was what the smiling was about, yes?'
'I said, wait till next week.'
Lance rolled his eyes. Knowing that Henry could be irritatingly stubborn about some things, however, he let it go, resolving to pursue it with his other dad. Ed could be indiscreet in the right mood.
Lance shouldered his bag and found his car keys. He loved his little Audi. It was not as flashy as Marky's BMW sports, and far less so than the Boxster Spyder Damien was already drooling over – though he would not get his licence till after Christmas – but Lance found the hybrid just right for him. He was meditating on that feeling of rightness as he turned south on to Königstrasse, instead of north to his school.
Today Damien had had to take the tram, for Lance was having his annual dental checkup. It was a fairly pointless exercise, since his teeth were as perfect as everything else about him. Still, his parents' anxiety had to be accommodated, together with the school's insistence on updated health records.
He smiled as he sped down through Sudmesten. The boulevard was clear, with most of the traffic going the other way. He reflected that he was heading to this particular dentist because his old friend Reggie had visited the same one. He wondered idly if Reggie had braces now. He had seemed the sort of unlucky kid who would. He probably had specs too.
The checkup took no more than ten minutes. Lance was getting back into his car when he saw a familiar figure trudging slowly north into town along the sidewalk under the trees. 'Barry?' The figure jerked to a halt and stared wildly around. 'Over here! It's Lance! Fancy a lift to school?'
Barry came over. He looked anything but alright to Lance, like someone who hadn't been sleeping well: dopy, disconnected and dozy.
'Lance... er hi! Yeah. Forgot my travel card, and the 'rents had gone by the time I went back to get it. Got locked out too.'
'You alright?' Lance asked him across the top of the car.
'Yeah, yeah! No probs.'
They got in and belted up. Lance found time to admire the other boy's profile, with his peaches-and-cream complexion, freckled snub nose and well-cut jaw. He also noticed that Barry had scooted as far away from physical contact with him as the seatbelt would allow, as if Lance was carrying some sort of disease. He was suddenly offended. Maybe Damien was wrong, and Barry was not just straight but a suppressed homophobe.
Lance commented on the traffic, getting very little in return from the other boy, who just sat there hugging his backpack.
Stopping for the lights at the central-station junction, Lance remarked, 'So, making friends now? I saw you talking with Marky and Helen. Great guys both. And... of course there's Luc...' When Lance glanced across at his passenger, he was startled to find tears running down Barry's cheeks.
He did a quick calculation. They passed on up the boulevard until Lance turned left on Festungstrasse, and headed along the ring road. Eventually a bewildered Barry muttered, 'Er... isn't this, y'know... the wrong way?'
Lance nodded in agreement. 'Yes it is. We're going home to my place.'
'I think you and I need to talk, Barry.'
'Cos we have something in common. We've both been shafted by Luc.'
Henry had gone by the time Lance pulled into their drive.
'Lance... are you sure?' Barry asked.
Lance could be very determined, and the look he gave Barry instantly silenced the boy. When they entered the front door, the security beep told Lance his other dad had left too. He disabled the alarm.
He led Barry up to his room and sat him on his bed, while he perched on the office chair and folded his arms. 'So how much are you going to tell me?'
Tears were running down Barry's face again. He sniffled, then blew his nose on the tissue Lance offered him. No answer was forthcoming.
'Look, let's get this started. I'm gay, and I think you are too, right?'
Barry looked scared, and nodded.
'And you're not out to your parents, yeah?'
'Let me guess. Luc charmed you and took you round to his apartment. You got put in front of his webcam, yeah?'
Barry gasped. 'How did you know?'
'Cos when I was fifteen, Luc and I had a thing. We'd always had a mutual attraction. He is damned sexy and up for it. But he pushes the envelope. Back in Year 8 he was already hanging round with the bigger boys, and I'm pretty sure he was being fucked by some Year 12 gay guys at SIS well before he was of legal age. Daimey thinks he ran off and lived with an older guy for a while when he was fourteen. Luc knows a hell of a lot more about sex than he should.'
'Did you and he...?'
It was Lance's turn to blush, and Barry – despite his misery – marvelled at the colours chasing themselves across the god-like boy's face.
'I'm gonna be honest with you, Barry. We got down to skin and we sucked and... er, wanked each other.'
'Did you go further?'
Barry gave a mute nod.
'So is that why you're so upset?'
'Which is it?'
Barry was sobbing now. Things were getting to the point where Lance was out of his depth, but he resolutely did what he could. He sat next to Barry on the bed, took him tightly round the waist, and let the boy cry himself out on his shoulder.
Eventually Barry went quiet, with just the occasional shudder wracking his body. Lance allowed him stay there and tried not to enjoy the warmth of the other boy's body clasped against him. This was not the time for those sorts of thoughts.
Lance pushed Barry back, brushed away his fringe, kissed his forehead and looked into his wet, hazel eyes. 'Come on. If we're to help you, I have to know everything.'
'Daimey and I. It was Daimey who dug me out of the shit with Luc last time.'
'Luc had recorded me and him doing stuff. It could have been a lot worse, 'cos I was desperate to go the whole way with him, for all my dads had said to me. But, you see, we got a bit vigorous and fell against a shelf. I noticed the red light from an active camcorder hidden behind a pile of crap. I freaked of course. He admitted it, just saying he liked to jerk off to the pictures. I couldn't do anything more at the time and was gonna let it go, but when I told him, Daimey freaked at me.
'The next day at school dinner time, Daimey went round to Luc's place and broke in.'
'Broke in! What?'
'Daimey's a pretty resourceful guy. You'd be amazed at what he's picked up from his dad and our Uncle Terry.'
'Never mind. Daimey hacked into Luc's computer and found a lot of stuff he wouldn't tell me about. But he wiped files and the camcorder, and left a screen message for Luc, in French, telling him what would happen if he bothered me or any of our friends again. We've had no trouble at the SIS since... that is, until now. But then, there aren't many gays at SIS, not like St Wladislaw's, the Catholic Gymno.'
'Where Todo goes?'
Lance stared. 'You know Todo Voynovich?'
'He was there when Luc took my cherry... he did me too.'
Lance gaped at Barry, almost with envy. 'You have been busy. Wow! Did you actually want to go the whole way?"
Barry gave a deep sigh, followed by a timid nod. 'I wish I could pretend it was rape, but it wasn't. I wanted it, alright.'
'So where did it go wrong?'
Barry wiped some more tears from his cheeks. Lance saw him mentally square his shoulders before beginning his story in a firm voice. Lance's heart went out to Barry more than a little at this evidence of his fortitude.
Lance parked up his Audi, and he and Barry crossed the street to school. There would be problems. It was already break time in the lower school yard. Somehow they would now have to avoid a late detention, but it had been important to talk. Lance by then had some idea how to proceed, which included getting hold of Damien damned quick.
Frantic waving from a small boy clinging with his friends to the school railings drew Lance's attention. 'Lance! It's me. I'm in school!'
'Who's that?' Barry asked.
'That's the Crown Prince of Rothenia.'
Lance strolled over with Barry. They were already so late it hardly mattered anymore. Lance introduced Barry to Maxim.
The handsome blond child beamed up at him. 'Are you friends with Lance and Daimey?'
Barry cracked a smile for the first time that morning and, with a sidelong glance at Lance, confirmed it.
'Then we can be friends too!'
'Absolutely, your highness.'
'Call me Maxxie, all my friends do. I like you. You're cool. You don't ignore us little ones like the other big boys do.'
As they headed for the entrance and their nemesis, the school administrator, Barry had to ask, 'So how come you're on first-name terms with a royal prince?'
Somehow he was not surprised at the answer. 'Long story.'
Tommy was chatting and flirting with Lennie in the Osraeum basement gym, not paying much attention to what he should have been doing. 'So tell me about the late Earl of Burlesdon, King Rudolf's dad.'
'Uncle John? I was only small when he died. It was a light-aircraft accident while he was piloting himself from Norfolk across to Rothenia. He was very nice. He'd been brought up mostly by Rudi's and my grandmother, Elenja Ilona Elizka Louisa of Kesarstejne, Princess and Margravine of Vinodol... have you met her? She's quite as formidable as her titles. I was named after her. She belongs to a different age. She lives on the ancestral estates near Kesarstejne. She was widowed when only in her early twenties, by the death of her husband in the Korean War. She's eighty-five, not that you'd guess.
'But you were asking about Uncle John. He looked very like Rudi as it happens: tall and red-haired, but he laughed a lot more than Rudi does. He was very good to my father, I think. There was quite a dustup with old Prince Leo at one point because of it.'
'Leopold of Thuringia. He was the only son of the last Thuringian king of Ruritania, and was more or less adopted by King Maxim Elphberg. The Thuringian and Elphberg families were very close during the last century as a result. King Maxim and Leo were able to put my family back on its feet after the war. There was a point when the Norfolk estate was nearly sold out from under them, but Leo bought it and set it up as a trust for the family. The Thuringians are fabulously rich, you know.'
Tommy did. The current Duke of Thuringia, Ernst Karl, was a major art collector, as his father had been before him. The Thuringian loans to the National Gallery of Rothenia had made it the rival of the National Gallery in Washington DC.
Tommy had personal reasons to know the Thuringians well. Prince Martin Anton of Thuringia, youngest son of the present duke, worked for Matt White's firm in London, where he was a major gay-scene heart-throb. Tommy much admired his dress sense. After clubbing in Orton's, the two had once spent a night together, of which Tommy still had fond memories. Marty had been the second prince he'd had sex with, and, as he had observed to Fritz afterwards, he had been royally fucked that night, not just serenely.
Tommy brought his mind back into focus. 'So there was some sort of tension between Rudi's dad and Prince Leo over your dad?'
'I don't know all the details. But it was just before Uncle John died. Daddy had been working in the City and I later heard there had been some misunderstanding over the Thuringian investment portfolio in Bermuda, which he was supposed to be managing. I believe Daddy was arrested by the colony's police. Uncle John came to his rescue, then talked sense into Prince Leo, so the charges were dropped. Daddy venerates his brother's memory, I think.'
'That's nice. Families should stick together, especially royal families.'
'My thoughts exactly.'
Tommy wondered if that remark betrayed that Princess Eleanor had more knowledge of the present situation in Rothenia than she had any right to. It was something he needed to know. He pounded his running machine in silence for a while, before making a not entirely selfless decision. 'Could I invite you over to my place for a... nightcap?'
He caught a meaningful glance from the woman next to him as he looked across. Unfortunately, she never had time to reply.
'Evening, Tommy! Hi, Lennie!'
They turned. It was Fritz in trainers and gym kit.
'Been a while since I saw you here, Fritzku!' Tommy remarked, stifling a twinge of thwarted passion.
'It's a New Year's Resolution.'
Lennie looked startled. 'Fritz, it's only – or should I say already? – September.'
'Well, I swore I'd get round to it, and I have.' Fritz went over to the weights, Tommy following to spot for him.
After a few minutes, Fritz observed, 'Tommy leblen, you look quite straight.'
'What d'you mean?'
'Your kit. You could be any guy. Not my Tommy at all.'
Tommy did a double take. It was true, he had dressed subconsciously for the gym in total male fashion, which he rarely ever did. His thickening dick told him why. His libido had already made up its mind – or whatever passed for one – that it wanted him and Lennie to share a bed. The dick-thickening had a lot to do with the fact that Lennie was giving all the signals that she would be amenable to it.
Looking down at the sweating man straining on the bench below him, Tommy wondered if Fritz would have an opinion about his and Lennie's beginning a relationship. He shouldn't. It had been quite a few years now since Fritz and the princess had had their final spectacular public dustup. Yet though they were not lovers, Fritz and Lennie still had a relationship of sorts. Fritz liked to adopt the big-brother role, while Lennie gave the impression of simultaneously liking and yet resenting it. Tommy concluded that Fritz, despite everything, would certainly have an opinion on the subject.
As they headed towards the showers, Tommy realised that Fritz was going to want to monopolise him, so both said their farewells to Lennie. Tommy gave Fritz a onceover as they showered together. His gut was beginning to hang and his butt had lost its firmness, but he was still an attractive guy.
Fritz caught his gaze and gave a small grin. 'You're looking good, Tommy, lean and trim.'
'Glad to see you're getting back into training mode, Fritzy.'
Fritz ruefully slapped his somewhat mobile belly. 'Bankers' lunches. This has got to go. Sauna?'
They strolled to the cabin and splashed some water on the stones. Tommy massaged Fritz's back for him as he lay on a bench.
Fritz cooed with the sensation. 'You're so good at this, Tomasczu. The times you've done it for me, I really have appreciated it.' Fritz was in seductive mode and, when his hand groped for Tommy's cock, Tommy knew which way the evening was going to go. The excitement over Lennie had in any case already roused him, and his libido demanded satisfying.
He and Fritz had never stopped having sex, though it had become infrequent, and usually happened at times like this when Fritz was needy after a breakup. As Tommy got on his stomach and offered himself, he paused mentally to observe that he had planned a very different ending to this evening.
Ed looked up from his papers. 'Who's the new kid?'
'That's Barry!' Henry hissed.
'And he deserves italics because...?'
'He's gay and Lance has the hots for him.'
Ed grinned. 'Finally! So cough up, what do we know about him?'
'He's quite cute.'
'From the rear view, I could agree with that. Anything else?'
'Umm... lives down in the Ninth, goes to SIS, dad's a businessman and mum's looking for work.'
'That's not exactly impressive for a world-famous investigative reporter.'
'What d'ya want, his blood group? Damien'll be round soon to vet him. Does that allay your anxieties?'
'Somewhat.' Ed leaned back and put his hands behind his head. 'The big announcement is going to be over the weekend, so you can finally let go of all that frustration. And tomorrow...'
'I'll be officially gazetted major general. I take command of the Guards in the morning. Today was my last day at the ministry.'
Henry beamed. 'I can't tell you how proud I am of you, Ed. This is so great. Where's your office gonna be?'
'In the old Life Guard barracks next door to the ministry. The removal men won't have far to haul my stuff.'
'As a world famous investigative reporter, may I make an observation?'
'It seems to me that Rudi's placing you in command of the Guards Division at this critical time can't be entirely accidental. You're the king's closest friend and an Elphberg loyalist. To have you as the commander of the largest body of troops in the capital is a bit of a statement. He's expecting trouble.'
'I don't agree. If there's going to be trouble, Rudi will be looking for it outside Rothenia, believe me. He's just covering all the bases.'
'When will Rudi make his announcement?'
'He's going on Eastnet and RSTV after his uncle's wedding. I have a feeling Will Vincent will be wanting you to introduce the broadcast to the nation.'
'Has anyone got round to telling Maxxie what's about to happen?'
'You can count on Harry. The boy's really bright for his age. Last weekend at the Residenz he and I had quite a high-level discussion of the army's troop dispositions.'
'I imagine he and his dad talk about it all the time. Rudi's quite the military careerist, which is of course how we've ended up in this situation.'
'And maybe the world in general will be grateful for it, as much as Rothenia.'
A dark-headed boy appeared without warning in the dining-room doorway. Ed jumped and stared. 'Daimey! Christ! I thought we'd locked the back door and put the alarm on.'
Damien shrugged. 'Yer did. Crap system yer got. I'd get me dad to replace it for yer if I wuz you.'
'They're upstairs,' Ed mumbled weakly. Damien grinned and disappeared.
Ed looked over to Henry. 'That boy's gonna be the death of me.'
'No, if there's to be a coronary, I'm pretty sure it'll be Lance who's responsible.'
Barry stood to shake hands when Damien entered Lance's room. Damien held it in a firm grip, requiring Barry to endure his disturbingly concentrated gaze. Barry was more than a little in awe of this guy: heir to a multi-billion fortune; expert in unarmed combat; daring, brave and resourceful, or so his new friend Lance had said.
Then Damien grinned and a different boy was suddenly in evidence: cocky and amused, friendly and kind.
'You got yerself in a right mess, didn't ya? No offence, Bazza.'
'Bazza?' No one had ever called him that.
'Problem wiv the name?'
'No. Fine by me. I just won't tell my mum, if that's okay with you.'
Damien laughed. 'Spunky sort of kid, innya? An' thass the problem, innit... spunk, I mean,'
'Nicely put,' commented Lance.
'So let's get the size of Bazza's problem. Luc has him on tape doing the sorts of acts which would interest me dad very much, if he hasn't already got a subscription to Luc's site – which I'd check up on, except he still has better IT security skills than I do. Gotta give me another year or two there.
'It looks like Bazza is already making a hit with the Internet stroke-folk. Why is that, incidentally?'
'What?' gulped a startled Barry.
'Why're you so popular wiv the discerning public?'
Barry blushed red and did not reply.
'Aw no... lemme guess. It's the size of your...'
'Daimey! Leave it. You're upsetting Barry.'
'Okay, fine.' But Damien grinned and winked at Barry, mouthing something that looked very like 'lucky bastard' at him. Somehow Damien's matter-of-factness was making Barry feel progressively better the longer the conversation went on.
Damien resumed his analysis. 'He showed yer his site, and there yer wuz performing for the curious folks of Internetland. There wuz a lot more besides, yeah?'
Barry nodded vigorously. 'He calls it StrelzenGayBoys. He's got his own page doing it with all sorts of guys. Most of them I didn't recognise, but Todo seems to be a local celebrity.
'Luc's got all sorts of categories: webcam, chat, solo, blowjob... and er, anal. Most of the boys seem about our age. No way they're eighteen, though the site says they are. He claims he makes a lot of money from it. He even shoved a thousand krone in my hand when I left... as if that would make me feel better!'
Barry paused, then continued with a troubled expression. 'He showed me an e-mail he had on the screen, composed and ready. It had my dad's work address on it and a dozen pictures of me attached, doing... stuff.'
Barry began to tremble and Lance moved close to him on the bed, taking him round the waist and kissing him lightly on the cheek for reassurance.
Damien noticed from the contours of Barry's jeans that reassurance might not have been the only result that Lance was provoking in the English boy. 'So what happened then?'
'He said I was one of his team now, and we'd have a lot of fun together, but if I forgot who owns me, he could send the porno pictures of me to my dad anytime. So he put me on webcam, and got me jerking off. It wasn't easy in the circumstances. He took lots of stills too. He's gonna have a special page for me, he said, titled... er...'
'Well he wasn't gonna call me Bazza on it, that's for sure.'
Damien kept a straight face. 'Anyfing else?'
'Lots. He's gonna make me go to special parties he has for clients. There's this guy on the Wejg he works for, finding young guys to do live orgies and... stuff.'
Barry blushed red. 'He has private clients.'
'He wants you to be a rent boy for him!'
'He said I should think about it. There's lots of money involved. Thousands!'
'Yeah, And it's a bad one. I saw a video he had – I wasn't meant to – but Luc has done it with at least one younger kid. And those videos aren't on www.strelzengayboys.com.'
Damien was silent for a while. 'Lance told you I'd hacked Luc's computer last year? Well, there wuz nothing like that on it then, just stroke porn, though a lot of it wuz him and his friends performing. He wuz maybe already feeding his amateur productions to the tube sites. But this is clearly a way bigger operation. He's found a sponsor and investors.'
'So what're we gonna do, er... Daimey?' Barry was already feeling confident that he had found friends who could help him. The relief washing through his system was making him a bit giddy.
Damien flashed him a grin. 'Yer can call me that. Yer a mate, Bazza. What we're gonna do is this: you're gonna co-operate in the low-level stuff, but only for a while. Yer gonna collect more info and I'm gonna do some research. We needs to let Pukey Lukey think he's got away with it.'
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