The Cup Bearer
That night, Gomez came round to Sandy's again and brought his flute as promised, but Sandy hoped he wouldn't have to sit in the small but comfortable front sitting room and play duets with him all night. He buzzed with too many questions. First of all Sandy played a short recital of his favourite Listz pieces. At the end, he asked, "Why didn't you tell me about the Judo, then? You made me feel a proper chump. 'Ow did you come to be a black belt, anyhow?"
His flute assembled, Gomez gave it a last polish. "By three years of sheer hard work and dedication. Tony was a Yodan, he was my teacher."
"A Yodan? Wow! I thought you 'ad to be yonks old to 'ave a black belt?"
"It happens sometimes."
"And who's Tony?"
"And the rollers? You can't tell me it was beginners luck!"
"Rollers?" Gomez queried.
Sandy looked down at the piano keys and played a few random notes to hide his embarrassment. "Come on, Gomez! I know it was you."
"I've never rollered before in my life!"
"Ah! Gotcha!" Sandy wagged an accusing finger at him. "You've just committed your first mistake, man; the offendin' word being 'before'. Come on, Gomez, I won't say anythin'. It'll be fun watchin' Gaskin work it out for himself."
Gomez studied Sandy for a moment, obviously wondering how much he could trust him. At last, he sighed. "Okay, I've done some skating and played for a junior ice hockey team over in the States. I stopped because I was always going home black and blue. It's true I've never rollered before, but if you can skate you can roll. It's easier."
"But 'ow on earth did you get a set of gear and get back to the track so fast?"
Gomez let his usually stern face relax into a soft smile. "I saw them up to their tricks the previous Saturday. I guessed they'd be there again this week so I came prepared."
"Well, isn't that just too bad for Gaskin and Co.? Where did you 'ide your gear?"
"I'd rather not say just now."
"You can trust me, you know."
"I'd still rather not talk about it. Let's just say I had the means, okay?"
"Would you do it again?"
"I don't like bullying."
"Well, you certainly didn't keep schtum in Judo class!"
"That was to keep Gaskin off my back."
"Okay, then, tell me about the flute."
"Tony Grafton was British and played Adrian Brett and James Galway tracks a lot. I fell in love with the sound and Tony bought me a flute and paid for lessons. I grew up with a guitar in my hands, so playing music by ear is not a problem. Reading music is a totally different issue. I have to work hard at that, but once I have a piece of music in my head I'm fine."
"'Ow did you have time for everythin'? I mean they all take 'ours and 'ours of practice."
Gomez shrugged. "Tony believed in putting every minute of the day to good use. He encouraged me to do the same as long as I didn't mess around. Home schooling does have its advantages."
"Didn't you go to school, then?"
"Well that explains a lot of things."
"Bad attitude towards school in general; the way you get teachers' backs up, it's a wonder they don't move you to Remedial Class. So, where's Tony now?"
Gomez looked away, frowning. "He's dead. That's why I don't want to talk about things, okay?" Ashamed of his prying, Sandy looked down at the keys, but Gomez said, "I'm not annoyed at you for asking. It's just that, well, I came over here to start a new life, to put a lot of junk behind me. If I tell you, will you promise to keep it to yourself?"
"Okay," Sandy promised, and listened with growing alarm as Gomez gave him a brief resume of his past life, ending with Tony's murder."
"Man! You have gone through the mill! Will you ever find out who did it?"
"Maybe someday; for now, I'd rather jam with Mozart."
"Just one more question, then I'll shut up. What part of the States did you live?"
"Wow! Do you like Country and Western?"
"I like anything except Punk or Heavy Metal, as long as there's good rhythm and a good melody."
"But Mozart wins, right?"
"Only just; Jazz Funk and Latin come a close second."
Happy now, Sandy reached for a pile of music on top of the piano and leafed through it till he found the well-used book of Mozart concertos, Gomez had picked out the last time he visited Sandy. He put the book on the piano stand and opened it at Concerto Number 19 for two violins, arranged by Sandy for piano and solo instrument. "Ready?"
Gomez nodded, his flute already resting against the underside of his lower lip. While Sandy played the part of the orchestra and second violin, Gomez played the parts originally written for first violin and oboe, and they were lost in the beauty of the music they made together.
Sandy's mum, Jean, popped her head round the door, a quiet smile on her face. Sandy winked at her. Mozart had filled their Cardiff home when she was pregnant with him, so she told him. A fair pianist herself, once her housework was finished she played her precious Mozart pieces believing that babies could be influenced by sounds while still in the womb. Sandy's love of the Old Master proved the theory right. Pleased with their efforts, Sandy chose another of his favourites, Chopin's Berceuse in D flat major, Op 57, and Gypsy sat down to listen.
Friday 10th February 1995
Emilio sat beside Sandy in the crowded assembly hall, waiting for the Beak to give his habitually short 'close of assembly' address, and let his mind wander. With Sandy as his self-appointed guard dog to keep nerds like Gaskin off his back, his aversion to school life had faded to a minor irritation. He was now a member of the school orchestra and the gymnastics team, although he didn't think he would have much time for the latter now that Edward had arranged extra skating sessions at Altrincham Ice Rink. The well-equipped school gym saved having to wait till one of his attic bedrooms could be kitted out the way he wanted. Academic studies were a pain in the ass, but an essential part of his new life. But on the home front, family life proved to be pleasant enough. The Graftons allotted him a monthly allowance to live on and pay all household bills and he was expected to work out a budget with his mother and stick to it like any other householder. Expenses concerning his career or anything linked to the Sherbourne project were paid directly by Edward, and while the Graftons certainly weren't stingy where more leisurely activities were concerned, the attic gym could wait till the money from the sale of the villa came through. Sandy's parents, Evan and Jean, had made him welcome in their home, although Evan, a large rugged face Welshman, caused his neck hairs to rise when they first met; reminding Emilio so much of Guido. He certainly knew Sandy was happy, even if it was for the wrong reasons. The problem was finding the right moment, and the right way, to explain that the guy was just having a schoolboy crush.
On the stage, MacCaffrey cleared his throat. "Before you dismiss, I'd like to draw your attention to the school Open Day in April."
"Oh, no," the assembled pupils responded under their breaths. Sandy leaned towards Emilio and whispered, "A pain in the bum, no one likes it. Makes me feel like a star attraction at a freak show, you know?"
MacCaffrey raised a hand to quell the murmur of dissent, and in his following speech, he appealed to everyone to do their best and show the community they possessed a good school in their midst. He looked straight at Emilio and dwelt on the possibly of certain gifted new pupils adding their expertise to several exhibitions. He reminded them all that their aim was to raise money for local charities and another computer system for the IT classes. "One last thing; last year Mr. Roberts of 5B made a net profit of just under two hundred pounds from the sale of photographs he took during the Open Day. I hope we can call upon his photographic talents again. Lists of all exhibitions and activities will be posted on school notice boards by lunchtime. This is my tenth year as head of this school and I am proud of its high standard of achievement. Let's make it the best Open Day we've ever organized. Thank you school, you may dismiss."
Emilio eyed Sandy with renewed approval as they made their way out of the hall. "Tell me more, Mr. Roberts. I thought those black and whites on your bedroom wall were something you did for fun, or do we have a budding David Bailey in our midst?"
"Well, we Welsh do 'ave a certain claim to fame in the celluloid world, you know. Lord Snowdon 'asn't done too bad, 'as he? Come into my darkroom room sometime, I'll show you a few tricks with a Minolta 3000i."
"Ooh! I can't wait." Emilio rewarded him with a mocking glance. "I could get into this hobby of yours if you pushed me enough."
"Not so much an 'obby as a means to line my pockets, isn't it? It started when Mam showed some of my pics to a friend. She asked me to take photos of her kid's birthday party. Before I knew it I'd found a way of payin' for my chemicals an' stuff. Uncle Tom was the one who gave me the idea. On Prince Charles's wedding day they had a street party up 'ere and 'e took a load of pics then showed them to the neighbours. From the orders 'e got, 'e made ten quid net profit." He stabbed himself in the chest and added, "Stick with me, boyo; if there's money to be made I'll make it."
Later, on the way to Judo class, Emilio stood with other pupils in front of the bulletin board in the main corridor and studied the lists pinned up by the Beak's secretary. Sandy whistled. "Plenty to choose from this year, fancy anythin'?"
Gaskin jostled him from behind, "I know what I fancy; how about it, Gomez?"
Sandy leaned on him. "Stuff it, Gasket."
Gaskin gave a dirty laugh. "Gladly, but not here. By the way, Mowgli, Ball's got something of yours."
Ball grinned and held aloft a pair of black, well worn, ballet pumps. He thrust the shoes into Emilio's hands and a titter of surprise rippled through the crowd. Emilio was aware of Sandy's darkening face. He felt angry too. One of his secrets would now be public knowledge - not that anyone around here had the sense to know that ballet was an integral part of a skater's training regime if he wanted to be lithe and graceful and not jump around the ice like a kangaroo in boots. Robin Cousins had proved that. "Thanks, Ball, I lost these yesterday, where did you find them?"
Gaskin looked deflated and Ball added further to his downfall. "Your ballet teacher lives next door to me, right? You'd left them in the Dance Academy and she asked me to pass them on to you."
Trying to save face, Gaskin sneered. "Well now, it looks like our little jungle boy is a ballerina as well. No wonder he doesn't hang out at the Youth Club like normal guys."
"Hey, Daaaaarling," Vetch sniggered. "What colour's your tutu, or do you wear a froufrou?"
Ball wanted his share of the joke. "I bet he looks lovely in pink tights and his hair tied up in ribbons."
Emilio waited till the laughter died down then looked at his watch. "See you in the gym, boys. You are coming to Judo, aren't you?" He hoped the message in his eyes was chilly enough as he tapped the pumps rhythmically against his hand. Gaskin's smile vanished. Sweetnam was off school with flu and Emilio would be in charge. He gave Emilio a look of fury then pushed through the crowd, with Ball and Vetch following. The crowd jeered after them then dispersed, leaving Emilio and Sandy to study the list on their own. Emilio couldn't help smiling to himself, confident the Judo class would be three members short.
Sandy smiled as he heard Gomez mutter, "I wouldn't be seen dead in tights."
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