Terry and the Peachers

VIII

By Michael Arram

Terry scanned the arrivals board and eyed the gate, closely. He was in his best suit, with the Peacher corporate tie and some very cool wraparound shades he'd bought on Rodeo Drive. He was amused but also slightly embarrassed to be toting a big card with the Peacher logo on it, so he could be spotted. Just to personalise it a bit, he had scrawled PAULIE on it. Andy had told Paul that he would be met by one of the firm's drivers, but he hadn't said whom. He spotted the thin, bespectacled figure and grinned.

Paul saw the card and came over. 'Er hi,' he said, 'I'm Paul Oscott. Are you waiting for me?'

'Yes sir. Can I take your bags?'

Paul stood stunned, 'Fuck me, it's you.'

'Fucking you is the only thing you never did let me do. Still, I appreciate the thought.'

'Terry, I never recognised you. Where's me little gay warrior? You seem to have grown. And what happened to the earrings, the hand gestures and the look-at-me pose.'

'It's a different world here Paulie, but I'm still the same camp queen inside. I dunno. Maybe it's the job or the new haircut or the tan. Maybe it's something else.'

'Also, you now talk in riddles, as well as in standard English.'

Terry laughed, 'I really do have to take your bags, and you need to follow me.'

Driving up into the hills, he filled Paul in on last week's amazing events. Paul fed the data into his capacious brain. 'This may make quite a difference.'

'It's made a difference to Andy, he's lost a lot of his sadness.'

Paul was impressed, 'You've seen the sadness, then?'

'It's when his face is at rest. It looks like he's carrying the world on his shoulders.'

'In a way, he is. Andy's far too serious about life for his own good. It drags him down sometimes. Now then. Where is everyone at the moment?

'Matt's at his library, and Andy's working in his study with Sylvia. Are we goin' to have a conference.'

'Yes we are.'

'How're Ben and Alex?'

'Good as far as I know. Alex said thank you for the scoop about the Peacher honour. It's got him a promotion to the foreign news desk.'

'Cool.'

'You're really enjoying this, aren't you?'

'It's fantastic here, and my parents are off my back. They can't believe I'm in the States working for a major corporation as a confidential aide to a billionaire's kid, but they got to, I sent them a White House menu and a picture of me with the Vice President, and they saw me on TV carrying Andy's umbrella.'

'The O'Brien luck resurfaces. And there's more. You'll be glad to see this again.' Paul unzipped his shoulder bag and pulled out a pink iPod. 'Your mum told me to bring it. She's telling all the neighbours. Terry, you are a local hero. The only problem is that your mum isn't the only person who watches TV. Had it occurred to you that Anson has the Pasadena household under surveillance of some sort?'

'Oh shit, I'd forgotten that.'

'When I sent you here, I told Andy that he was to keep you hidden. A chauffeur's uniform isn't quite the disguise I had in mind. Always heart first and head second with him. I'll give the little twit a clip round the ear.'

'You'll have to get past me first,' Terry retorted in a harder voice than he had intended.

Paul looked surprised, then softened. 'Yes, he does win the hearts of people close to him, doesn't he? Tell me, do you feel the same way about Matt?'

Terry temporised, 'He's not my boss.'

'Funny isn't it? It's harder now to get close to Matt, though with his looks you'd think it was otherwise. It's got more noticeable this past year. He's turned inwards on his studies, gotten more selfish in some ways I think. He never really recovered fully from the bad time when Andy left him, it hardened him. He was different once, the whole world was in love with him, and he was in love with the world. He had so many friends in university, girls and boys. Yet with Andy, despite the horrors that happened to him, he's softened and grown more lovable. A complete reverse from the way it was when I first met them. But don't give up on Matt. He has a gentle and loving heart, and in many ways he's the best of us all, in courage, love and loyalty.'

'So what about Anson?'

'I'd better leave that till later.'

And now Terry was driving along Sunset Boulevard to the coast, Matt and Andy in the back, and a somewhat jaded Paul next to him. They pulled in the lot of a beachside bar. Matt thought that it was best not to talk at home, even though it was now guarded most of the time by two 'consultants' as they were called, who carried out daily sweeps.

'Take off your tie, Terry, and sit down,' ordered Andy as Terry took up station behind his seat on the sun deck. Brown bodies were roaming the beach below them, and the Pacific was twinkling. Chunky lifeguards, male and female, were posing on their white-painted lookouts.

'Sir?'

'Sit down with us for once, it's very conspicuous if you stand there like that.'

'OK, but only 'cos you told me.'

He grinned as he settled next to Paul, who began the briefing. 'Anson is now in LA, and I'll bet you're not surprised about that. He's linked up with a local firm called... Presidio Security. I checked their site, a big firm full of ex-military types. Probably some old friends of his, I'd guess. But the relevant e-mail traffic has died down now he's in the States, in fact it died down abruptly a week ago, two days before he left London. He's talking on mobiles with his principals now.'

'Do you expect a raid on the house in Pasadena,' Matt asked.

'It's possible, and we shouldn't discount it. But there's something else going on, I'm sure. The Peacher insider who Terry discovered, whoever he is, has gone suspiciously quiet. In fact, the only communication we know of from him is the printout Terry found in Anson's bag. I checked in his mailbox archive, he seems to have deliberately deleted them all, and I wonder why.'

'Is he suspicious?'

'Oh yes, has been for a week, and I think we know whom to blame for that, don't we?'

Terry shrugged, 'Not my fault.'

'No, not directly, I suppose. But we have to assume he's seen you on TV, or some picture of you in the Peacher entourage has come his way, and he's recognised you.'

'Damn,' cursed Andy.

'Well, our clever secret has been blown, but maybe it's not all bad news. Look at it this way. Anson goes to raid Finkle Road in six weeks ago, combines it with a bit of pleasure, picking up a handsome and insatiable gay kid in a pub – that's you, Terry...'

'I recognise the description.'

'... who then shakes him down.'

'That'll teach him some morality.'

'... but who a couple of weeks later is revealed to be a close Peacher aide. Now what would he make of that, d'you think?'

'I guess,' mused Andy, 'that he'd panic, and think that the Stepmom's commission to him has been uncovered within the Peacher organisation, and that I employ people even more ruthless and efficient than he is. Gee Terry! The poor bastard must be really impressed with you. Terry O'Bond, licensed to thrill.'

'Cheers, boss.'

'You'd think he'd have given up at this point,' observed Matt.

'Well, he hasn't. He still has one trump card: the insider. And I'd guess he wants his revenge on Terry.' Paul looked uneasy. 'Terry, you're still in very serious danger. It would be wise at this point for you to go back to Britain, and hide.'

Terry flared, 'No chance. This is the first time in my life when I've felt so alive, so happy and so useful...'

Matt smiled, adding, '... and there's Ramon.'

'Ramon?' asked Paul.

'I've found the guy you always told me I would, Paulie.'

Paul looked slightly odd. 'Oh! Right. Well... good. But you're still in danger. The only thing in your favour is that Anson must think you are one of the most brilliant operators he's ever come up against.'

'So... I may be, for that matter.'

'Terry, you're a nineteen year old with A levels in Dance, Psychology and Business Studies, and you got Es in the last two.'

'But I got a B for Dance.'

They kicked the situation around for the best part of an hour, soaking up the sun and margheritas, except Terry, who stuck to iced tea. Eventually, Andy cut in decisively.

'We're just going in circles here. Let's get this straight. The dossier is not safe in the bank, because the insider may have access to details about it and might even gain access to the thing itself. The insider is close enough to me to have heard me talking about Paulie and Finkle Road, which I'm afraid somewhat limits the list of candidates. This is a bit brutal, but it could be one of the people we know and love at home.'

'No!' said Terry, 'You can't possibly imagine it's Ramon... or Mrs Fuentas or Sylvia.'

Matt gave a bitter little smile, 'Why do you think we didn't bring Sylvia with us? You guys it could never be in a million years, but what do we really know about the others?'

Terry suddenly found hot tears in his eyes, 'It's not Ramon, it couldn't be, he's just a kid, and he's...' he choked off.

Matt looked at Terry compassionately, '... he's a petty criminal from Texas with a record of gang involvement, Terry, if I have to be brutal. Here's a scenario for you. Anson does his research on our home, runs a check on Mrs Fuentas, finds out her connections. He flies to Houston, makes a proposition to Ramon, money he could never otherwise dream of. Ramon stages a flight to Pasadena and his aunt and Andy take him in, and then he's in a perfect position to spy.' A hard glitter appeared in those dark eyes, 'And then along you come, Terry. What an opportunity. He skilfully seduces you and he has direct access to a whole new stream of information about Andy, about Paul, about the whole damned business.'

Terry sprang up, his chair crashing over and he made a motion to grab Matt by the throat, but he evaded him, 'You fuckin' bastard, how could you...' He stormed out through a whole bar full of open-mouthed people.

Five minutes later he was standing next to the Mercedes, in the appalling heat of the parking lot, utterly oblivious to it, unaccustomed tears streaking his cheeks. Andy came hesitantly towards him, alone and looking unhappy.

Terry sniffed, 'Spose you wan' me resignation.'

'Course not, we deliberately baited you, we deserve to be punched.'

'Why'd Matt say those horrible things? What if I'd said something like that to you about him?'

'I'd feel like you feel now. But Terry, it could be true, and you have to accept it.'

'Ain't true. I know that boy, he loves me, and I... yes, I love him too. The first real and uncomplicated love of my life, and then you say that to me.'

Andy looked guilty. 'But we can't be 100% certain, Terry. We can't be. And hard though it is, you've got to be on your guard. But not for much longer.'

'What do you mean? You firing me? Sending me home?'

'It might be better for you if I did, but no, I'm selfish and I need you too much. Loyalty, courage and devotion like yours doesn't grow on trees. We're going to make things harder for Anson by moving around. We're doing a runner. The Peacher ménage is shifting a little early to the house at Courçon. Matt's going to collect the dossier tomorrow, and we're flying out Air France tomorrow night with it. Sylvia's just had her orders, and Matt's coming, though you may no longer think that's a good idea. He reckons he's done enough to justify his time in California, or says he has anyway. Paulie has to go back to Britain, he's got essays due.'

'OK, then. Sorry I went for him, boss.'

'Sorry we had to impose on your loyalty like that. Can you forgive me?'

'Sure. My last night with Ramon then, isn't it?'

'Not if he loves you like he says he does.'

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