Tommy was edgy after the premature end of his evening with Lennie, as well as frustrated. He had been counting on sleeping with her. He could not settle. Impulsively, he rang Bela's handij.
'My Tommy! It's getting late. You don't usually ring at this time.'
'No, but tonight I could do with some company. Where are you?'
'As it happens, not that far from the Residenz... if that's where you are.'
'It is, babe.'
'I'm on the Wejg... researching.'
'Tell me more.'
'I'm in Melmoth with Felip. There's something interesting going on. Want to come across?'
'On my way.'
Tommy quickly dressed down into cruising gear, then left the palace by the forecourt. He strode rapidly along the east side of the Rodolferplaz and was at the door of Bar Melmoth within ten minutes. It was a busy night, the drinking gangs were out, and he was jostled by a large British stag party singing songs of ingenious obscenity.
'Gissa kiss, pansy boy!'
He ducked into the bar as the bouncers encouraged the Brits to move along. Taking a moment to get his bearings, he quickly spotted Bela in an alcove at the back. He slid in next to his friend and kissed him, then received a kiss from Bela's companion.
Felip Ignacij was the unlikely partner of Will Vincent, the Anglo-Rothenian head of Eastnet. The partnership was unlikely because Felip was the owner of the notorious Falkefilm porn studios. That fact somehow had not come to the attention of the media world, largely because Felip fronted the studios through the pseudonym of Anton Aramis. He did not seek publicity.
Bela and Felip had met and fallen into friendship through their mutual connection with Oskar von Tarlenheim and the investigation into the right-wing threat to the Elphberg monarchy. Felip was happy to assist on the Wejg, where, like Bela, he had many friends and some influence. Felip was the older man by over a decade, but somehow the two Rothenians seemed to click. They both had dubious backgrounds and occupied jobs which kept them in the shadows. They also enjoyed fly fishing, and occasionally spent a day on the streams in the Wenzlerwald together. Tommy had no idea if the two men had sex, although he rather thought not.
The music was loud, and the three men put their heads close together to talk. 'So what's new, Belaczu?'
'Remember the link I unearthed between Wulf Sczneczen and the deputy leader of the CDP? Over there's something you need to see. Careful not to stare.'
Tommy idly swept his eyes across the bar towards an alcove opposite. Sczneczen was present with two older men and the dark boy Tommy had seen on his last visit.
'Recognise those guys?'
'One of them, sure. That's Alfons Hadjek, an MP associated with von Lauern's office. He's dressed so casually I didn't immediately realise who he was.'
'I think that's the point. He has his hand inside that boy's pants. The kid's trying to look like he's enjoying being groped. There, now they're kissing.'
'Hadjek lives in an Opus Dei house. He's supposedly pledged to celibacy.'
'Only with women I think. He's playing away from home over there.'
Felip grinned. 'I'm getting pictures of this.'
Tommy was surprised. 'You are? How?'
'The wonders of modern technology, Tomasczu. I have a very sophisticated handij here. Its camera sees quite far and very well in this murky atmosphere.'
'So what's going to happen now, Bela?'
'Dunno, but I have my hopes. I don't think Sczneczen runs a whorehouse on these premises, which means his friends must go somewhere else to conclude the business. This may be our lucky night if Hadjek wants to do more than play with that boy's dick.'
'They're moving,' warned Felip. 'I'll follow. You two stay here. We don't want to be obvious, do we?'
Reggie's return to the International School caused a subdued stir amongst the students who had been there since his days in Year 4. Even Olga Massenovic pretended to be interested, though maybe it was the potential of hooking up with the American ambassador's son which caused her to smile and say hello nicely. It seemed to have passed her by that Reggie was out and gay.
Helen Debies was particularly welcoming. That puzzled Reggie, as they had not been especially close friends when they were younger. 'I missed you when you were gone, Reggie. You may not have been a human dynamo like Daimey, but you shone with your own quiet light. What's more, you kept Daimey in line in your unique way.'
Reggie coloured. 'It's really good to see you too, Helen. Y'know, I always hoped that... er... you and Daimey might patch up your differences.'
She smiled and shook her head. 'We're friends and that's good enough for both of us.'
'So is there a...?'
She smiled broadly. 'Ask the girls, they'll tell you all sorts of things.'
'You're being evasive.'
Helen continued, 'And talking of boyfriends, I hear that Lance and Barry have fallen for each other.'
'I'm so glad for both of them. Lance always seemed semi-detached from the human race. I guess he must have been very lonely, one of the few out gays in this school. Then along came Barry, who's sweet and quite good looking. No match for Lance, of course, but then, who is? Do you think there's much mileage in their relationship?'
Reggie was surprised to be asked. 'I've only been back in Rothenia for a couple of days, Helen. I'm not in a good position to know. I've yet to meet "Bazza", as Daimey calls him.'
'Well, now's your chance. Hey, Barry!' She waved at the new arrival.
A tall boy had emerged into the dining hall, looking lost. Reggie gave him a critical once-over. So this was Lance's chosen love, the boy who had filled the place Reggie had once dreamed of being in. But Reggie, nothing if not fair in his approach to people, would not let an old crush influence his views.
Barry Hignett was on the slim side, but quite broad-shouldered. Reggie couldn't see it at that moment, but he rather thought the rear view would be pretty special. Barry's face and colouring were pleasant, if not altogether handsome. In other words, Barry was a decent-looking guy whom Reggie could not resent. He mustered a smile.
The guy sat opposite Reggie and Helen. He took the hand offered to him. 'So you're Reggie. Lance said you're a bit of a computer nerd.'
Was that dismissive? part of Reggie's brain asked. He decided to let it pass. The guy was after all distracted and being victimised by Luc. 'I guess you could say I spend way too much of my time online. Hence my pale complexion.'
Barry nodded, but had little else to say.
Reggie was chatting to Helen about mutual acquaintances when another boy settled in their group. He did a double kiss with Helen. Barry brightened, as Reggie noticed.
'Hi! You must be Marek von Lauern,' Reggie ventured.
The hand came out. 'I'm Marky. And you must be Reggie Mayer. I have heard much about you, from Lance and from Helen. It is a great pleasure to see you once more in Strelzen. It must seem very quiet after your exciting America, yes?'
Reggie laughed and shot a glance at Helen. 'There's nothing dull about Rothenia, believe me.'
For some while the teenagers debated the relative merits of the city of Strelzen compared with other cities they knew. Marky particularly seemed to enjoy the chit-chat with Barry, and, at the buzzer, the two went off to their Year 12 classes together. Reggie let Helen pilot him to the Year 11 groups.
'So, is Marky your guy?' Reggie had to ask.
'He's a friend,' Helen replied enigmatically.
Tommy was in the private office of the queen bright and early. She never appeared until after Maxxie had been waved off to school. As regent, she had inherited her husband's former office, with its outlook on to the Rodolferplaz, so Tommy was well-placed to see the first appointment of the day arrive.
A limousine followed by a van full of security and preceded by two police outriders came speeding up the west side of the square and turned into the palace forecourt. To the delight of the early-morning tourists, the guard turned out and presented arms when the chancellor of Rothenia alighted from his car.
Tommy bowed to the queen as she entered the office, and without a word trotted down to the first landing to encounter Count Milo ascending the steps, escorted by the chef de protocole and the officer of the guard. His security and aides were not allowed into the Residenz.
In impeccable Rothenian, Tommy greeted the chancellor who, as usual, looked at him askance. But the count was a civil man, and even accepted Tommy's hand, although Tommy was a sodomite and pervert.
'Trouble-free drive, your excellency?' Tommy asked, taking over from the escort.
'The outriders are very necessary in the rush hour, Mr Enn-vissel, and they get you through without delay.'
After more commonplace observations, Tommy showed the chancellor into the queen's office. He took an unobtrusive corner seat since, by Rothenian protocol, the sovereign might have an aide present at the meeting with the head of government. It went back to the time when Count Jerzy zu Orbecz had drawn a sword on King Henry the Lion in a private meeting. The king had survived by dodging the stroke and braining his chancellor with a brass spittoon.
Oskar von Tarlenheim had generally sat in on the meetings with King Rudolf, and had thoroughly briefed Tommy, who now replaced him.
The queen began – as protocol demanded – by asking after the chancellor's children, of whom he had many. 'And the youngest boy? I believe he's in Maxxie's school.'
'Marek, yes, ma'am. A fine lad with his eyes set on Alfensberh after university. Two of his brothers are already in the army.'
'He'll know young Lance Atwood, who must be in his year. Lance is a family friend.'
The chancellor nodded. 'He's not been round to the chancellery. Marek's current friend is an English boy who seems to have caught his fancy.'
'That's the great thing about SIS, it gives Rothenian children a broad outlook on the world and its problems.' Tommy almost thought he detected Harry stressing the word 'broad'.
'When we moved to the capital, it seemed a better place to put Marek than at St Wladislaw's. The academic record there is not good, and he did not like the Jesuit academy at Glottenberh. He seems happy in the international school.'
'I'm pleased. Maxxie is in seventh heaven with his year group. He has so many friends and games to tell me about at the end of the day. Leo is green with envy at his brother.
'Now, chancellor, we had best start with the arrangements about Maxxie. The coronation is due to happen the weekend after next. I'm sure you have security concerns under control. Tommy has prepared a brief of foreign royalty who are to be present. None are heads of state, which cuts down the security problems. Most will be residing in the Residenz or the Osraeum, though there is a block booking of suites in the König Heinrichs II for any overspill. I imagine you have the heads of state covered?'
'All the leaders of the surrounding nations will be here, of course, including the German chancellor, who is a personal friend of your husband's. They will be staying at their respective embassies. The American vice-president is representing his country. We have laid on a Central European summit afterwards at Zenda.'
The chancellor frowned. 'There is one outstanding issue, ma'am.'
The queen raised her eyebrows. 'About the coronation?'
'Yes, ma'am. I have had representations from some sections of my party and several ministers about the young king's great uncle.'
Tommy's head shot up from the notes he was taking.
The queen looked puzzled. 'I'm sorry?'
'The minister of state has received a formal petition from a substantial group of MPs asking why it is that Count Robert Rassendyll, father of the Princess Royal, has been by-passed in the succession to the throne.'
'I beg your pardon?'
The chancellor certainly wasn't backing down. With measured words he continued, 'You will be aware, your majesty, that the succession to the throne of Rothenia has always been by adult male priority. It was for that reason that King Maxim I took the Crown of Tassilo over a century ago, though there was a son by his elder brother, a young man who was as a result later to cause much upset in this country's politics.
'Now, since your son is a minor, many want to know why it is that the ancient succession customs of our monarchy have been set aside, and Count Robert has not been allowed to succeed his nephew as King Robert Rudolf. I put these things bluntly not to be uncivil, you understand, ma'am, but because I am under a great deal of pressure to account for this... irregularity.'
The queen sat silent for a while, and Tommy held his breath. He knew enough Rothenian history to be aware that its monarchy had its own way of doing things, and the succession from Rudolf VI to Maxim II had registered with him as leaving some unanswered questions.
The queen finally replied, 'Your excellency, I had assumed that my husband had confided the reasons why his uncle was not considered for the succession. I cannot imagine the council of state's not having been fully briefed.'
'Yes, ma'am. I know the king's uncle is said to have signed a deed resigning his claims on the Elphberg succession some years before the restoration of the monarchy.'
'Which was why the council of state nominated Eleanor, the king's first cousin and Count Robert's daughter, as heir presumptive at the time of my husband's accession. There was no difficulty made about it at the time, so why now?'
'I have to report that the king's uncle has been applied to by some of the more... conservative members of my party, to give his account of the irregular succession. He has denied the existence of any such deed, which raises some uncomfortable questions for my government.'
'Are you telling me, chancellor, that Count Robert Rassendyll is claiming the throne of Rothenia over the head of my son?'
'You had best consult the gentleman himself as to that, ma'am. My concern is with my government. It will be no news to you that a large majority of my MPs were not happy with your husband's brand of politics, and consequently they see the king's uncle as an alternative to the continuing liberal agenda at the Residenz.'
'And what do you think that means?'
'It means, ma'am, that later this week an emergency motion will be placed before Parliament calling on you as regent to account for the breach in the succession rules to the monarchy.'
'I have no idea, ma'am. But a good deal of discomfort will ensue for both of us, I have no doubt.'
The queen pondered a few moments and then answered with deliberation, 'You've given me a good deal to think about, your excellency. I believe I will draw this meeting to a close at this point. I trust I can count on your support for my son as king?'
Tommy caught the look she bestowed on the chancellor, which would have been enough to bring any heterosexual male to his knees in front of her. Chancellor von Lauern seemed indeed affected. He bowed low and murmured only 'majesty' as he left.
Once he had gone, a very different expression was turned on Tommy. 'Get hold of Rudi, Tommy, and be damned quick about it!'
Barry was cheerful. Marky and he had been desk companions all afternoon, and the boy's steady and cheerful nature had infected him with an unlikely optimism. Catching Marky's smiling green eyes as they flashed at him was also a real turn-on.
Barry could not help checking out his friend. Marky was shorter than Barry and more strongly built, but well-proportioned nonetheless. His black hair, brown skin and full lips gave him something of a gipsy look. There was nothing at all erratic about him, however, just gentle good humour.
They were walking out of the school together when reality caught up with Barry. Luc stood in his way. 'I want a word,' he announced.
Blushing, Barry nodded to Marky and went to one side. 'What is it?'
Luc gave him an impenetrable look. 'Found a new boyfriend already?'
'Shut up, Luc. He's straight.'
'Whatever. I've decided I don't need you, Barry.'
'Forget Todo's tonight, you're no longer of interest to me.'
'I can't believe it!' Barry decided Luc must be messing with his head.
'Getting into it, were you? Well, your fifteen minutes of fame are over, Barry. Au revoir. You aren't what I'm looking for, freakish dick or not.' Luc went off, laughing quietly to himself.
Barry stood stunned. He had been let off the hook. His nightmare was over! But how? He was aware of Marky at his elbow.
'Are you alright, Barry?'
'I'm fine, really.'
'Good. May I repeat my invitation to come to visit with me at the chancellery?'
'Oh!' Barry made a quick decision, not wanting to confront his parents at that time. 'Great. Yeah. I'd better check with the 'rents.'
His mother gave a guarded consent since Marky was not gay. Barry rather thought she was glad to have him out of the house. The tension of recent days had been uncomfortable for everyone.
Still bemused, he followed Marky to the BMW. As they drove through the city, he pummelled his brain as to why Luc had let him go with no explanation or conditions. It couldn't be that the French boy felt sorry for him or wanted to make his life easy. Luc would not have done it without expecting a profit, so there had to have been a deal. Who could have pulled it off? Only Damien sprang to mind.
With that deduction, Barry began to allow himself to bask in a sense of relief. His salvation must be real if Damien was behind it. He had absorbed his friends' confidence in Damien's abilities.
So it was a cheerful Barry who sat on Marky's bed, sparring with his friend. Marky was opening up more with Barry, and a stream of fun was beginning to bubble up from the dryness of his Rothenian aristocratic formality. They were laughing over Marky's Facebook page, which Barry thought rather boring.
'I mean... all your brothers and sisters as Friends! Bit sad, Marky. And you have pictures of the Army Day parade!'
'I mean of course to be a soldier, like Milosczu and Janis. Janis is a lieutenant in the Guard Dragoons, an élite air cavalry regiment stationed here in Strelzen.'
'He's hunky!' Barry giggled. He had discovered that Marky was comfortable with his being overtly gay.
'So his girlfriend says... I do not see it, though were I to, I might be worried.'
Barry got a little too hilarious. 'Just look in a mirror, Marky. You're every bit as hunky! Really!'
Noticing Marky blush red, Barry decided he'd gone too far. 'Sorry,' he stammered, 'that was fresh. I had no business saying that to you.'
Marky flashed his green eyes through his long lashes. 'There is no need to apologise, Barry.'
'But there is. I was out of line.'
Marky came and sat by him on the bed. 'You like my looks, and that is alright. I am flattered, very much. I know you are gay and so I must expect you to like men, and I am happy that you like me.'
'I like you a lot.' Barry felt his hand gripped, and he gripped back hard. 'You're a really good friend, Marky, and I hope you find someone you can fall for. You must have high standards if Helen isn't good enough for you.'
Marky shook his head. 'It is not that... it is all so complicated. Look around this room. Here in this country we are very religious, and that is good. What is not so good is that many believe their religion asks them to despise people who are different. I cannot tell my father you are gay... he would not have you in the house!'
It was Barry's turn to colour up. 'I don't want you to get in trouble on my account, Marky.'
'No. You don't understand.'
'What are you saying, then?'
Marky was now bright scarlet. 'I am saying... that I am gay... I think.'
'Oh my God!'
In the meantime, at Damien's house, three earnest boys were surveying a small piece of electronic equipment, the size and shape of a ten-euro piece.
Lance looked dubious. 'I'm banking a lot on this magic coin, Reggie.'
His friend grinned. 'It works. I designed it myself. I tested it out in the States just before we left to come here.'
Damien gave an even broader grin. 'This reminds me of one of me dad's stories, about how he took down Hendrik Willemin.'
Lance groaned. 'Then get your dad to do this.'
Damien laughed. 'He lost his twinkiness some years ago. I doan' fink yer new mate Pukey Lukey would care for him. Nah! Yer a hero for doin' this, Lance.'
'A martyr, you mean.'
'But I'm not laying down my life for my fellow man. It's my virtue which is on the line!'
'Nobody will know, mate.'
'Only if Reggie's gadget works. I'd better get going. The bastard keeps texting me.' The other two escorted Lance to his car and waved him off.
He frowned as he drove across the city to the old Ostbahnhof, following the GPS directions. This was Damien's so-called 'Plan B', implemented after Reggie had proved unable to crack the site security for www.strelzengayboys.com easily. Lance had volunteered to do the unmentionable, despite his horror at having to prostitute his human body to do so. It was verging on the blasphemous, if one knew from where that body had come. Lance truly loved Barry, however, and if in this way he could lift the cloud that was blighting their lives, then he would do so. He just hoped Reggie could make good his promise.
He pulled up on a street of modern houses, his heart pounding. He found the number and was buzzed in.
'Lance... nice to see you again!' A good-looking blond teenager was waiting inside the door, wearing a familiar salacious expression on his face and nothing but a pair of jeans for clothing.
'Glad you finally agreed to visit. Come on down. We're waiting.'
Lance's heart sank to his boots. As they descended the stairs to the basement, he felt Todo's hand firm on his back, as if he owned Lance – which, as Lance reflected, he now did. Why had he agreed to this deal? But of course he knew why well enough. It was to save Barry's arse.
Luc and another boy were already there. Both were down to their briefs. The stranger had his hand inside his, lazily touching himself up as he watched some porn. Luc gave Lance a delighted grin.
Todo was already naked behind him and came up close to his back, his hands searching inside Lance's jeans, pushing under his belt. 'I've wanted to do this for so long,' the boy breathed as he found Lance's dick. 'Oooh, let's get it out.'
The stranger boy was already filming the action when Luc went to his knees in front of Lance, whose dick was soon in Luc's mouth and erecting fast. Todo stripped off Lance's upper clothes, and began tweaking his nipples.
Lance shook them off him. He felt in his pocket for Reggie's coin. 'Look, let's get this clear. I only agreed to wanking, and my face must not be shown... got it?
Luc smiled sensuously. 'That is what we agreed, yes. We will keep to our bargain if you keep to yours, so get naked, pretty boy.'
Lance followed Luc's orders, then gathered up his discarded clothes and dropped them casually next to Todo's desktop. As he did, he slipped Reggie's coin underneath the tower. Then he turned to meet his tormentors and their camera.
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