The Bull Singer
As soon as I realized whose lap I was sitting on, I jerked upright and stared at the old man. To my astonishment I saw tears rolling down his wrinkled cheek as I asked, "Why are you crying?"
It took him a few moments to control his emotions enough to say in a shaky voice, "I'm crying because I love you. I know you're too old to be sitting on my knee but I just had to hold you in my arms. I love you dearly, Joey, but your mother forbade me to have anything to do with you. That's why I had Benjamin keep an eye on you instead. Please, will you let me hold you again? I have such a lot of things to say to you."
Not knowing what else to do, and with so many thoughts going through my mind, I settled down against his chest and felt him hold me in a tight embrace. I didn't understand; if this wasn't a man who hated me, how could I hate him? And while he held me, he told me things the bitch had kept secret from me.
"I'll admit I was a bad'n in my youth. I knew the Kray brothers and I admired them, and wanted to be like them. They were born in nineteen-thirty-three and I was born in three years later, a few doors down from them.. Like you, my parents didn't want me so I pretended that the Krays were my brothers, and they treated me as if I was kin. I rose up in the ranks of their underworld until their older brother Charlie warned me that no good would come of working for the twins. I had already done some bad stuff for them and by the time they were sent to prison in nineteen-sixty-nine, I was a wanted man. I was caught and went to prison for five years, and I was destined to a life of hell from sexual predators, but the Kray twins had influence even from behind bars. They repaid my loyalty by protecting me from afar. When I came out, Krays enemies were after me so I went underground for a few years until the heat died down. Then I started my own empire, dealing in drugs and money laundering and the sex trade, until I had people all over the world working for me. Those who didn't want to work for me disappeared. I didn't order their deaths; my employees took it upon themselves to do that. At that time I didn't care who I trod on to get to the top rung.
"Eventually, I was known as Mr White, the Cocaine King. When I met Marion, the daughter of Joshua Street, one of my oldest enemies, she became your grandmother. We married and Angela was born in nineteen-seventy. It was Marion who made me realise I was in the wrong business and, because I loved her, I sold my business and concentrated on Angela. But she was a handful right from the start; perhaps it was my fault. I spoiled her, and gave her whatever she wanted. At fourteen she was already throwing herself at men, and had two abortions before she was eighteen. She dabbled in petty crime, and knew she could rule me. Like a fool I let her. She repaid me by running away. She disappeared for three years then turned up somewhere in Manchester where I learned that she had given birth to you. She had her own thriving call girl business, using several beauty salons as a front, forgetting that Benjamin is like a bloodhound. As long as she remained in the UK, wherever she disappeared to, he would always find her. He found her latest salon back in Manchester. She was also known to have organized some scams involving young men with too much money to know what do to with. She got away with the scams because they were too ashamed to let their families find out they had been ripped off for thousands of pounds; all except the last one. He was determined to get his money back and followed her wherever she went. In the end she came to me and demanded that I help her. She needed somewhere remote where she could lay low, and I asked Edward Alton to help because he owed me a favour. So there you have it, Joey. My life such as it is; a life full of sadness and longing."
By now I had stopped crying and I felt sleepy enough to want him to stop talking. But I wanted to know one thing. "Why are you in a wheelchair?"
"I was stupid enough to get shot during a gang war. A bullet took me in the spine. What I miss most of all is the ability to swim on my own. I have to have someone with me. Do you swim?"
"Good, do you have a girlfriend?"
I tilted my head so I could look at him. I found him gazing down at me, and he lowered his head to plant a loving kiss on my forehead. "Why not?"
"I hate women. They can be so cruel."
"Oh, I see. Are you gay?"
"I don't know. Would it bother you if I was?"
"Not in the least."
"I like Mags."
"A bit old for you, I would think. Have you had any gay relationships or played around with other boys?"
"No." I thought hard about my feelings for a couple of school chums I had been friendly with, and how the bitch had moved on to another place before I could let my feelings be known. "I never had the chance, but…" I thought about Mags and how loved I had felt, if only for a few seconds. "Someone did kiss me and put his arms round me."
"Did you like it?"
"Yeah, I guess so." I suddenly yawned and he told me to go to sleep.
When I woke up, I found I was lying in a huge bed under a warm duvet. The pillows under my head were the huge deluxe kind, soft and covered with silk pillowcases the same as the duvet. As I sat up I noticed I was naked. I looked round the room for my clothes and couldn't see them. Wow, what a room! It had its own wide screen TV and loads of sofas and stuff. I had never seen anything like it. It had its own bathroom as well; a huge place with every bathroom fitting you could think of, and I swear the taps and stuff were solid gold. Wow! There was a something like a toilet but it looked different, and I guessed it was a bidet. It had a long hose attached to it with a long polished chrome nozzle. I hadn't a clue what that was for. I sniffed at the different lotions and soaps and took a couple of them into the shower; sure that granddad wouldn't mind me having a shower. Oh it was heaven! All that hot water and no bitch yelling at me not to use it all! I guess I had never been so clean. The towel I found was a huge thing, all white and soft. I took a long time drying myself with it, while looking at my reflection in the mirror. I looked around the place and saw a hair dryer. I had never used one before; the bitch would never let me use hers. I eventually found out how it worked, grabbed a brush, and dried my hair. I had always thought my hair was just black, but now it was really clean I saw my hair's true colour, blue black, just like Billy Junior's. Now that really gave me a buzz.
After my hair was dry, I went back into the bedroom to look for my clothes. I still didn't find them but I noticed someone had opened the French window. The pool beyond the window looked very tempting. Holding my hands over my crotch, I peered out and seeing no one in sight, I made a dive for the water, hoping it wasn't too cold. I needn't have worried, it was the warmest pool I've ever swum in, and it was heaven. I reckoned it was about forty feet in length, and I did three laps before I started feeling tired. I swam to the shallow end, intending to use the steps to get out of the pool, but I realized this was the farthest away from the bedroom. You don't go wandering about someone else's place with all your credentials showing. I stayed in the water, keeping myself afloat while I looked round, wondering how I could make it back to the bedroom without being seen. I spotted Uncle Benjie walking towards the steps, carrying a towel like the one I had used in the bathroom. Thinking I was in deep trouble I swam to the steps. "I'm sorry; I couldn't resist having a swim."
"That's quite all right," Uncle Benjie rumbled. "You could have stayed in the pool a lot longer but your grandfather wishes you to join him for lunch." Once he had the towel rapped round me, he led me through a door on the other side of the pool to my bedroom and into a small, burgundy and cream lounge where a table had been set for two. Elias was already there, and he smiled at me. "There you are! Come and sit beside me, my boy. What would you like to drink, tea, coffee or some fruit juice?"
"Tea please." I made sure the towel was firmly wrapped round my waist and sat down on the chair Uncle Benjie drew out.
Granddad smirked at me. "Feeling a bit naked are we? Don't worry about it, lad. I often go naked myself after a swim."
It wasn't until I realized that Uncle Benjie was actually going to serve us that I was able to relax, and I watched him fill my cup with tea. Elias waited until he had filled our bowls with soup, and then said, "Now then, lad, I don't mean to pry but how close are you to Magnus Alton?"
I dipped my spoon into the soup, tasted it, liked it, and took another spoonful. "As I said, I like him."
"And is he the one who kissed you?" I coloured and stared hard at my soup. "It's all right, Joey. I'm a man of the world."
"It was a mistake," I said quickly. "He thought I was someone else."
"Billy Junior, perhaps?"
Startled, I look up at him. "How did you know?"
He took a mouthful of soup and said, "Your generation isn't the only one who follows cover bands, you know. I saw Billy Junior and his band, recently, in a televised concert. I think you rather look like him. What happened?"
I couldn't bear it, all these questions, and I felt hot tears spring to my eyes. I dropped the spoon and pushed back my chair, and ran, tripped over the towel and landed on the floor. Benjamin came towards me but I scrambled to my feet and ran back to the pool and round it until I found my bedroom. There, I dropped the towel and ran to the bed. I threw myself into it, pulled the duvet over my head, and sobbed my heart out. I didn't know why I was acting like a baby, but it made me feel better. I had reached the sniffling stage, and my thumb was dangerously close to my mouth, when someone lifted the duvet a little bit, and peered down at me. I looked up and Benjamin was there, reaching for me. "Come here, little man. I know exactly what you need." He cuddled me close, just like he used to, and it felt so good. Later, he handed me a tissue and I dried my eyes and blew my nose. "What's going to happen to me, Ben?"
"Well, I think I will advise your grandfather to let you stay here for a few days. I know he would like that. It will give you time to get to know each other while something is done about your mother. Elias was really shocked at the way she has been treating you. I tried to warn him on several occasions but he just wouldn't listen. Now he has seen the evidence for himself and wants to make amends. Every time I found you, Elias sent your mother money to look after the both of you. He also gave you money, but it seems you were not allowed to keep it. Do you understand now, Joey? It wasn't your grandfather who deserted you but your mother who deserted him? Perhaps now you can get on with your life instead of being your mother's footstool. No! Just listen to me for a moment. I know she has been using you as a skivvy from a very young age, making you cook and clean for her; have I not witnessed it with my own two eyes? It is a pity Angela does not appreciate the treasure she has in you. Perhaps she will, if she has to do without you at her beck and call for a couple of weeks."
"I don't think so," I cuddled further into him for fear he would disappear. "She'll just move out to a hotel somewhere and wait for me to go back."
"Would you like Magnus to stay here with you?"
"What?" I pushed away from him and stared up at him, confused.
"I think he likes you very much."
"Don't be stupid, I'm underage."
"You're sixteen in two months time. If you were discreet, no one would know. You deserve a little fun in your life, Joey."
"How do you know he's interested? He was half asleep and thinking of Billy when he kissed me. Where is he anyway?"
"Having lunch with his father. Now, why don't you go and have another shower, to get that chlorine out of your hair, and go back and have the rest of your lunch. Then we'll see about getting that thatch of yours properly cut, and your feet seen to." He lifted my left hand and studied my bitten nails, "and perhaps a manicure?"
"That's for women."
"Your grandfather often has his nails done. Do it for me, Joey, and make an old man happy."
I was still feeling sorry for myself as I went into the shower. I needed to think, and under the hot water was the best place. I started thinking about Mags and what it could be like to have him do things to me. I wasn't totally ignorant of what gays did but I had certainly liked him kissing me even if it was an accident. Maybe I was gay after all. I looked down at myself, and wondered if he would find me attractive. My penis was only about four inches long, and still boyishly slim with just a shadow of body hair round the base. I guessed some men liked that sort of thing, the cute stuff and all that. A couple of guys I knew had been seduced by older men and they had boasted about how they liked what happened to them. I finished my shower and dried myself, and then I went into the bedroom to hunt for clothes. All I found was a soft terry bathrobe. It seemed to be my size so I put it on and went out to the pool and on round to the lounge. There was no sign of Granddad, but Uncle Benjie was there, waiting to serve me my lunch of roast lamb and mint sauce, followed by a huge mixed ice cream. Maybe I could stay a few days…
I fretted about Joey while I had lunch with Dad. No one told us anything except when Benjamin came to say the boy would be lunching with Elias. Dad seemed to be relaxed about it but I knew I wasn't going to be satisfied that Joey was all right until I clapped eyes on him again. While I ate, I thought about what had happened that morning. How could I have been so dumb! And yet he had said he liked it. Well, at least he wasn't going to shout child abuse, was he?
"Penny for your thoughts, lad," Dad's voice broke through my musing. "You were miles away."
"Not so far away, Dad, I was thinking about Joey."
"Ah! You're sweet on him aren't you?" He smiled at me over his coffee cup. "Young and sweet is what you need, not some hairy biker. Never did like bikers myself. So what are you going to do?"
"About Joey, damn it. He needs someone to protect him from that vulture down at Home Farm."
"What can I do about him?"
"Why not try for custody of him; parental rights can be taken away from the woman."
"That would mean bringing in the Child Protection people and the Social Services in. Somehow I don't think Joey would want that; it would make him feel as if he was being treated like a child."
"Well, at least we could give him free access to the cottage once we move in. When Elias called me in, a few minutes ago, he suggested he would like the two of you to stay here for a few days. Apparently the boy is feeling rather fragile after Elias told him a few things about his mother and about himself. What I told you about Elias has to be kept quiet, you understand? I happen to know he's on a few hit lists, which is why he lives here on his own, except for his guards. He's not a well man and it will do him good to have the boy with him for a bit. And you could do with a break too."
"I was thinking of going over to Flixton to see the band. I do have some work that needs attending to, and we have a busy Christmas program to rehearse for."
"I hope there'll be an invite for me to go with you."
I smiled at that. "Of course you can come; I might see if Joey would like to come as well. But I guess I can spare a few days here."
"Right." Dad leaned back in his chair and rubbed his stomach. "If you've made your mind up, I'm off home. I've said my piece to Elias, and it's up to him what he does with that daughter of his. I'll have Charlie arrange for one the his drivers to run me home; I'd like Charlie to drive me, he's the senior honcho after Ben and he's needed here. I want to find out what he's been up to since I set him on his feet. Dirty little tow rag he was. It looks like he's done all right working for Elias. He's a bit picky with his employees is Elias." Dad picked up a tiny gold bell by the side of his plate and rang it, and Benjamin appeared.
Dad asked him to arrange for Charlie to arrange a lift home, and then Benjamin looked at me. "I take it you will be staying for a few days, Mr Magnus? In that case I'll show you to your room." He led me back into the foyer and down a corridor to the left and turned left again. The bedroom I walked into was like something out of a millionaire's dream home, an all-white affair with masses of silk and gold, and dominated by a huge silk draped bed. There was a white terry bathrobe on the bed and Benjamin told me to make myself comfortable. I checked out the bathroom, liked it and decided to take a shower. I found a soap that smelled faintly of a favourite aftershave I used to use, and spent a good few minutes lathering myself all over. I rinsed off and stepped out to dry myself, grabbed a towel, turned, and found Joey standing close to me; a look of confusion on his face. He looked so cute in a white bathrobe similar to the one on the bed; his hair neatened to exactly the same style as Billy's, and this time there was no mistake. This was not my dead lover but a younger version of him. I drew him close and said, "Might I ask what you are doing in my bathroom?"
Puzzled, he gazed into my eyes and replied, "I might ask you the same question."
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