by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 3

Bart's enterprise

When the owner of Bart and Robert's small apartment decided to refurbish it, Fidel insisted they come and stay. In return they insisted that Fidel would join them for meals and evenings so they could be a family; not feel like boarders. Thus the kitchen came to life, the dining table a place for chatter, and the lounge somewhere to relax and feel at home—something Fidel had never felt. Much nicer than living like a hermit crab in the shell of his little flat.

On the first morning, however, Fidel had a few fantasies shattered. While preparing breakfast loud voices erupted from Robert and Bart's bedroom. The door was ajar so there was no avoiding overhearing. He froze. Shocked. Robert was shouting. Something slammed to the floor. Bart's softer voice replied. An unwilling eavesdropper, Fidel listened in dismay.

'You're always telling me what to do!'

'No, I'm merely pointing out possible consequences.'

'Ever since I moved in with you you've thought you knew more than…'

Fidel closed his ears and was on the point of returning to his room when Robert stormed out, slammed the bedroom door and stomped to the bathroom, slamming that door as well. Embarrassed, Fidel continued preparing breakfast. A few minutes later, Bart wandered into the kitchen for a glass of water. He looked at Fidel's face and frowned.

'What's the matter? You look upset. Would you prefer me to wear clothes between the bedroom and shower?'

'No! No, of course not. Its just that… you and Robert were arguing!'

'Yeah. We sometimes piss each other off. This morning it was my turn to be the irritant. It shouldn't upset you, it means nothing.'

'But… I thought you two were in love. I've always pictured lovers living in constant bliss and harmony and never arguing. You know… the prince and princess lived happily ever after?'

'Ah, the power of fiction. Have you ever considered how mind bogglingly boring life would be if you never argued with the person you share you life with? If you agreed on everything, you'd never grow, never have new experiences, never question your own character or behaviour. Robert is right, I'm inclined to nag a bit and repeat things I've mentioned before as if he hasn't understood, and as if there's no other way to do things. But that's okay. I'll improve and now I've an excuse for making up and promising to be perfect for the next thousand years.'

'But don't you worry that if you argue one day he'll leave you?'

'It's because people love each other that they argue, Fidel. We care so much we become over-protective. We want them to have a soft ride through life. We care if they are on what we consider to be the wrong track. People who don't care about their lover and best friend also don't care if they ruin their lives or make bad choices. We know and trust that no matter what we do and say, it is from love; even though we're misguided sometimes.' Bart's ears pricked. 'Ah, the shower's stopped. He'll be out soon. Must go and mend fences.'

A few minutes later the unmistakeable sounds of reconciliation arrived in the kitchen, and shortly after Robert followed, sporting magnificent evidence of it.

'Bart says you're easy about clothes. That's a relief. I hate them. Always have done. What about you? What do you wear to bed?'

'What you're wearing.'

Robert's grin was disarming. 'Bart also said our little contretemps upset you. Sorry about that. We bicker constantly some days, and then not for weeks. It means nothing except that we're human with most of the failings that go with it.'

Fidel couldn't stop grinning. 'You have the most perfect body I've ever seen.'

'Robert looked down as if surprised. 'What—this old thing? It's twenty years old! But it's nice of you to say so. I imagine you're not too dusty yourself under your baggy shorts and T-shirt.'

Fidel smiled his embarrassment and poured boiling water into the teapot.

'What're you doing tonight, Fidel?' Bart asked during breakfast.

'Nothing special, why?'

'It's the debut of a group I've started that I hope will bring more clients; it'd be great if you'd come to swell the numbers.'

'Are you going, Robert?'

'Reluctantly.' Robert laughed. 'Of course you're coming, Fidel. You never go out, you know no one socially apart from us, and you sit and dream for hours. You're in danger of becoming a recluse.'

'Ok, but what am I letting myself in for?'

'A blast from the past. When women's lib got under way, lots of men became depressed because females reckoned males were no longer any use, just about every natural masculine behaviour was rubbished, and men had a crisis of confidence. "All men are rapists" became the feminist catch cry. Eventually, concerned men realised that men need safe, male-only environments from time to time. But laws now give women the right to join all men's organisations such as bowling and other sports and recreation clubs, changing the atmosphere so radically that men can no longer relax and bond in those places. They've even demanded the right to enter men's changing rooms, destroying after-match bonding. Most schools are co-educational with mainly female teachers. Women became psychologists and counsellors in schools and workplaces with little if any understanding of what men and boys in trouble need. To counter increasing depression, SNAGS—sensitive new-age guys—used to hold weekend touchy-feely male bonding sessions where, naked in dark, heated tents they sweated, talked, listened and felt each other up. It sounds kinky, but in fact it was therapeutic. They discovered that other men are as ordinary as themselves; that there's nothing wrong or kinky or queer with physical and mental bonding with other men. It doesn't mean you're a pervert or queer, and a lot of good came of it until feminists began publicly pouring scorn on the sessions, and embarrassed and still angry men crept back into their shells and became aggressive and depressed with the result that more wives are bashed, and three out of four suicides are by men.'

'That is so depressing! '

'Only if you think about it.'

'So you're resurrecting the touchy-feely sessions?'

'Fidel, you're a mind reader. Yes, with the hope that those who need individual help as well as group therapy, will ask for private sessions and pay me for it. The first few sessions will be free, but if they prove successful there'll be a charge. What do you reckon?'

'Worth a try. What do I have to do?'

'Pretend you're ordinary and join in.'

'You do pile on the difficulties.'

While the owners of the old gymnasium were waiting for a sale, instead of closing it down they appointed Bart as interim manager overseeing the training of the dozens of clients who were understandably upset at losing their refuge from domestic disharmony. For his meetings he'd appropriated two empty rooms in the vast old ex warehouse—a small one with a convection heater and wrestling mats on the wooden floor, and a larger one he left empty.

Fifteen men of varying ages and types turned up, mostly looking embarrassed, shy, hopeful, nervous and mildly sceptical. Bart gave them his spiel and three rules: first names only, no rude comments, and only do what you're comfortable with. With a certain amount of reluctant suspicion they entered the warm small room, made silly jokes about the very dim amber light, removed some or all their clothes, and stood in a group on the mats. Bart's initial instructions to stretch, touch their toes, heads, chests, bellies, groins [self-conscious laughs] thighs, calves and feet, were followed by a casual suggestion that they turn to their nearest neighbour, tell him their name, then either talk or remained silent while touching the other person's body in the same way they'd touched their own. After two minutes Bart called 'change' and they found someone else to talk with and repeat the process. By the third change embarrassment had evaporated, they laughed and chatted easily, became more daring in their physical explorations, and by the time the session concluded everyone reckoned they now felt pretty easy about talking and touching another male. It wasn't as revolting as they'd expected. Actually, it made them feel less vulnerable—almost powerful.

Warm and relaxed, they moved to the larger room for exercises suitable for all ages and strengths. Individual calisthenics, then movements requiring a partner to maintain balance. Creativity was encouraged by Bart's often crazy-sounding suggestions, which caused lots of laughter and sometimes fairly intimate bodily contact. After an hour all faces were smiling, everyone insisted they hadn't felt so free and liberated for years—if ever, and all promised to come to the next session.

'That was brilliant, Bart,' Fidel declared in the car on the way home. 'Wasn't it Robert?'

'Sure was! I thought it'd be a huge flop, but it's brilliant. The odd thing is that it was sensual but not sexy in the darkened room. Seriously, I'm amazed that all those guys who didn't know each other did as you told them and even seemed easy about it by the end. I've never felt so unthreatened among men before.'

'Yeah,' Fidel added. 'It's as if removing the clothes also removed aggression and competitiveness.'

'So, you're both on for next week?'

'I reckon. But what's it called?'

'What's what called?'

'Your club. Tonight. What we did. It has to have a name.'

Bart turned to Robert. 'He's right. My mind's a blank. Any ideas?'

'Vaselly's Vigorous Virtuous Vitality Venture?'

'Very droll, but I don't want my name on it, and no one wants to be virtuous.'

'Fair enough, how about Vigorous Vitality Venture?'

'I read about a Canadian exercise regimen called 4BX the other day,' Fidel said diffidently. 'It sounded cool. So what about the Three Vees Club?'

'A brilliant idea. You're a genius Fidel. What about dropping the Club and calling it simply 'ThreeVees', and let people wonder what it stands for.'

'Yeah. Add a bit of mystery.'

'I can imagine the scene; Where are you going Harry? To Three Vees, Myrtle. What's that? A club for Victims Venturing into Vice. With other women? No, Myrtle, men only. You're not going queer on me? No Myrtle.'

'I love it. And as it's your brilliant idea, Fidel, you can design the logo.'

Within a couple of days all three felt as if they'd been living together their entire lives. Evenings were usually spent in study, homework, reading and conversation. Bart was a computer bridge addict and Robert was learning classical guitar. At least once a week they went to a film, concert or the theatre, all activities that were revelatory to Fidel—especially live theatre and an opera, which he considered insanely expensive. He wasn't impressed with Janacek's music, the sets or the wobbly female voices, deciding to stick with the Karims CD collection of classical works in future.

After teaching Fidel to dance, Bart suggested going to a club.

Fidel was doubtful. 'I'm not good enough to dance in public and I've nothing to wear.'

'You are, and there's no dress code so it's become popular with eccentrics who like to dress up or down to reveal their inner personalities and fantasies. It's therapeutic, harmless and fun. After our first visit Robert said that next time he'd wear his gold chain.'


'That's it.'

Fidel couldn't stop giggling. He turned to Robert. 'And did you?'

'Yeah,' Robert replied laconically. 'I get sweaty dancing, so it seemed the best outfit. Bart joined me.'

Fidel's eyes popped. 'Bart! You seem so… so sensible. Almost severe and proper. You were a school teacher. I can't imagine…'

Bart laughed easily. 'Neither could I, but Robert can be very persuasive and I must admit it was liberating to be starkers in a room full of more or less dressed men.'

'Not embarrassing?'

'The opposite. I felt powerful.'

'What did the owners say?'

'They loved it; promised us free tickets if we did it again.'

'And did you?'

'No. It'd become a performance; a duty we might fail, rather than fun. Neither of us want to be performers; we do what we do to satisfy ourselves. The mere idea of being dependent on others' approval would kill the pleasure.'

'Do you still go there?'

'About once a month. It's the only place with a decent sized dance floor where we can really get going. So, are you up for it?'

'Yeah I'd love to, but what'll I wear?'

'Whatever expresses the inner man.'

Having Fidel with them made it feel like it was their first time again, so they dined at the same bistro on the waterfront and at ten o'clock ascended the stairs, removed their outer garments in the cloakroom and stuffed them in a locker, then after checking themselves in a mirror, wandered nonchalantly into a large, dim space illuminated by four gigantic mirror-balls. Loud music blasted from a dozen speakers. Hunky waiters in skimpy leather waistcoats, torn-off jeans and work boots were serving at the bar and clearing tables. Four guys in suits perched on bar stools, revealing bare buttocks when they stood up to dance. Guys in speedos chatted to jeans and T-shirts. A pair in leopard-skin tights and elfin boots gyrated wildly. A ball gown hovered in the corner. Bronzed bodies in sequinned Lycra. A hooded caftan swung open to reveal optically white underpants glowing in the beam of an ultraviolet spot. Sailor suits with tattoos. Leather boys. Army uniforms and battle-boots… whatever getup the wearer thought would prove he wasn't the boring little clerk, waiter, shop assistant or student that he pretended to be during the day.

'This is liberated!' Fidel shouted through the wall of sound as the lights flickered and coloured spotlights splashed over the centre of the dance floor.

Bart, at ease in a soft leather pouch, matching plaited leather head and arm bands, soft leather sandals, every muscle visible, not an ounce of fat, light all-over tan, firm buttocks, powerful legs, generous package and severe yet amused expression, inserted himself into the throng of dancing men, joined by Robert; sleek, amused, broad of shoulder, strong legs and arms, a bunch of grapes at his groin, circlets of plastic wildflowers on head, wrists, ankles. Young Bacchus incarnate.

They pulled Fidel in his running shorts and trainers onto the floor and danced together—three free spirits in a room full of individuals rejoicing in being true to themselves.

Fidel's face lit with a dreamy smile as he drifted into another realm, moving instinctively to the wild beat. After dancing for a few minutes with Robert and Bart he was delighted to be asked to dance by a slim man who looked to be in his thirties. He remained in demand for the rest of the evening; always by slightly older men who proved to be pleasant flatterers and good dancers.

'Why don't they ask the other young guys?' he asked Bart in a break. 'They're much better looking than me but they almost never dance.'

'You look approachable and friendly,' Bart explained. 'Most of the other gays as handsome and young as you, act as if they think they're too good for anyone even approaching thirty. Take a look at them; they're stuck in small groups they know and feel safe with, ostentatiously laughing and chatting and watching to see who's looking at them, but they won't move outside the group. Even if you asked one to dance he'd probably refuse. It's the underlying and unacknowledged fear of others that gays feel most of the time. Perhaps they're worried their friends will think they're sluts, or criticise their taste if they accept a dance with someone older. According to gay law, thirty is old. I'm on the borderline of gay decrepitude.'

'You're joking.'

'No. Age and looks are everything. And that's one of many problems that still beset us.'

'If looks are important, why are half the patrons overweight?'

'They're the ones too old to be considered attractive so they give up on body image.'

'I won't. I want to be like you.'

'You're such a sweetie.'

'Can we come here again? I really love dancing. I had no idea how sensual it is.'

'Of course.'

One evening in the lounge, Fidel was revising maths, Robert was practising chord changes, and Bart was playing Bridge. He closed his laptop with a sigh.'

'How could that idiot have left me in three hearts? Everyone else made four.' He looked up at a grinning Fidel. You think I'm nuts playing this game, don't you?'

'Nothing you do is nuts. One day I'll learn to play too. Do you play, Robert?'

'Na, I read comics, Bridge is for brainy types, I relax by getting physical. Fancy a jog?'

'Yeah. What'll I wear?'

'The new shorts and trainers we got you—that's what they're for. But we won't go far. Tomorrow we'll start some serious running. Coming, Bart?'

'I'll have hot chocolate ready when you return.'

'Lazy bugger.'

They jogged along quiet, tree-lined streets past windows of dark houses lit by flickering TV screens. After crossing a busy road they sprinted past half a dozen apartment blocks standing in concrete car parks, loud music pounding from several open balcony doors, then up a narrow, leafy lane that ended in a tree-filled park.

'Race you,' Robert called, sprinting the two hundred metres up to the monument at the top where Fidel found him five seconds later. They stood on the plinth, backs to the monolith, catching their breath and gazing across at the city lights.

'All those towers have lights on, what a waste of electricity.'

'Better than aeroplanes running into them.'

'Yeah, I suppose so. Do you often come up here?'

'It was the first place I jogged to when we moved to this area. Had an unpleasant experience so hardly ever come back.'


'Nothing really. A woman reckoned I was a child molester. Felt sick at the time—actually still do, which is odd. You never forget your past. I guess you've a lot of things you don't want to remember.'

'Yeah. Got pretty lonely till your parents rescued me.'

'You're seventeen, fit and sexy, I reckon it's time you met a few more people, Fidel.'

'I don't need them, I have you two, and I'm going to Bart's classes, that's enough.'

'Perhaps,' Robert said doubtfully, 'but if you don't explore the possibilities of a more social life you'll never be certain. And if you don't test the waters while you're young and handsome you could end up alone, wondering what might have happened if you'd been a little more adventurous.'

'I'm not an adventurous type.'

'You took off alone into the world aged fifteen. That's adventurous. Don't you want a boyfriend?'

'What for?'

'Sex, companionship, someone to go places with.'

'Yeah, it'd be nice, but I've looked around at school and there's no one I would want to get too friendly with. And no one at Bart's group interests me, or is interested in me. All the men who danced with me at the club were older than Bart. I'd want someone my own age, unless he was as gorgeous as Bart. I wank loads. I can't see how doing it with someone else would be better. I'd want someone a bit like me who likes to be fit but also likes to think and be quiet. Where will I meet that sort, Robert? Not at school that's for sure.'

'Perhaps someone sexy will come to Bart's sessions.'

'Unlikely. They've all got problems.'

'And you have none?'

'Thanks to you and your parents, nothing important—apart from finding a job soon.'

'Well if someone you fancy does turn up, don't wait for him to make the first move, because he's probably doing the same thing—waiting for you to show interest. We have to take charge of our own lives.'

'Thanks. I'll remember that.'

On a Saturday night a couple of weeks later, Bart and Robert had returned to their freshly painted and decorated apartment and Fidel was becoming bored spending evenings alone. He'd gone through all the music CDs in Sanjay's collection, decided he loved Donizetti and Rossini but not Puccini, and was sort of interested in an old copy of Voltaire's Zadig, but his muscles felt cramped. It had been raining for three days and was still pelting down so he couldn't even go for a jog.

The front doorbell rang. He checked the time. Half past nine. A bit late for visitors. Who could it be? Dragging on a pair of shorts he went through the house to the front door, put the chain on, opened it and peered through.

'Sorry to bother you,' said the man in wet hair, sneakers, jeans and a thin nylon jacket, 'I was hoping to see the Karims. I saw a light on so hoped they'd be home.'

'Who are you?' Fidel asked not too politely.

'Oh, sorry! Here's my card.' He passed an official looking identity card. 'My name's Jurgenz—Arnold Jurgenz. I'm one of the police officers who interviewed the Karims after the murder of Robert's headmaster four years ago. There have been some developments I thought I'd pass on.' He flicked his head to shake off the water and gave a gigantic sneeze.

'Why are you so wet?'

'I jogged over.'

'How far?'

'About fifteen kilometres.'

'Are you sane? And why so late?'

'Long story.' Another sneeze and he began to shiver. 'Obviously they aren't here any more, can you give me an address so I can find them?'

'They're away; I'm looking after the place. You're going to get sick if you don't get warm and dry. Your ID looks authentic so come in till the rain stops.' He unhitched the chain.

'Sure?' Arnold kicked off his sneakers then hesitated, looking decidedly pathetic, not in the least like any policeman Fidel had ever seen.

A gust of wind blew rain into the house so Fidel reached out, grabbed his visitor's wrist, dragged him inside and slammed the door.

The policeman stood and dripped on the mat.

'Take off that soaking jacket.'

Arnold opened the zip and squirmed ineffectively. 'Give us a hand? It's stuck to me.'

Fidel took hold of the collar and literally peeled the garment from the shivering man, revealing a naked torso.

'You're blue with cold. Get those jeans off too and take a hot shower while I make us something warming to drink.'

'I'm not wearing underpants.'

'Neither am I!'

'I feel stupid.'

'You are, but look magnificent. Come on.'

The visitor stripped, Fidel led the way to his flat, tossed Arnold a towel, and turned to prepare cocoa.

'I don't even know the name of my rescuer.'

'Fidel. The shower's over there.'

'Thanks, Fidel, you're a brick.'

Ten minutes later the young man stepped out of the shower looking pinker and healthier. Fidel watched him towel himself dry, wondering where this was going. Arnold was very attractive. Broad chest, and arms that suggested a bit of weight lifting. Slim waist, perky bum and strong legs.

Arnold hung the towel over the shower door and gazed thoughtfully at his host. 'Checking out my tackle?' he asked with a hint of defiance.

'Amongst other things. The tackle's pretty ordinary, but your body isn't. Do you lift weights?'

'Used to, but my wife tells me it's vanity. Got the sulks when I told her she spends four times as long and ten times as much as me on herself, if you consider the hairdresser, makeup, nail clinic, shopping for clothes, jazzercise classes. She told me I was an arsehole and refused to speak for a week. Then I discovered she'd told all her girlfriends I was a vain prick. Made me feel so stupid I stopped doing any exercise. Now I'm worried I'm getting fat.'

'No fat I can see. You were going to tell me why you jogged all the way here at night in the rain.'



'Are you queer, like Robert and Bart?'

'What's queer?'


'You mean happy? Not particularly.'

'I mean you like guys.'

'I can count the number of men I like on the fingers of one hand. How many do you like?'

'You know what I mean.'

'No, I don't. What do you mean?'

'You have sex with men.'

'The only male I've enjoyed sex with was another kid when we were twelve.'

'So you're a virgin?'

'How many men have you had sex with?'


'Then we're both virgins.'

'Ok, I'll start again. I liked Robert and Bart and they are a couple. I have no problem with that. Do you expect to end up with a male or female partner in the future?'

'At the rate I'm going I'll be a bachelor forever.'

Arnold held up his hands. 'I give in. You're you, and don't want to be labelled. I respect that. In fact I like it.' He laughed. It was an open and melodious sound that made Fidel smile. 'Ha, that surprised you, didn't it?'

'Yeah. I was expecting at least a sneer.'

'Not from me, I've had gay sensitivity training.'

'Not what I experienced from the cops when I first arrived in Brisbane. But the cocoa's getting cold. There's a hard chair at the table, or you can sit here.' Fidel patted the bed beside him. 'I've nothing more comfortable. You're my first visitor in two and a half years.'

Arnold shrugged to indicate the bed was fine, sat and accepted a cup, tasted it, pronounced it excellent, then leaned back against the wall. 'Where are the Karims?'

'In Europe and India.'

'And they trust you to look after the place. How old are you? Are you still at school?'

'Yes. Seventeen and yes. How old are you? What sort of cop are you, and why were you wandering around improperly dressed for rain?'

'Twenty-two, I'm a constable, and was so pissed off with my wife I just dragged on the nearest things I could find and took off before I smashed her face in. Better wet and cold than in prison for domestic violence. You can imagine what they do to cops in jail.'

'Why do you stay with her? Do you have kids?'

'That's part of the problem, she wants them, I don't, because the whole world's fucked and there's no way I'm going to land an innocent a kid in this mess.' He thought for a bit. 'I don't know why I stay with her. I suppose it's because if I left I'd be admitting I'm a failure.' He grunted a laugh. 'You'll never guess why I got married.' He stopped and looked at Fidel who nodded at him to continue.

Arnold took a deep breath, shrugged and sighed loudly. 'While we were interviewing the Karims about the murder, they seemed such a tightly knit family who would stand by each other through thick and thin, and the house was cosy, and I said to myself that's exactly the sort of family I want to have. So when this chick told me I was the ideal man to share her life and she liked everything about me and we should marry, I said yes. But it wasn't anything like I expected. After a few months we got sick of each other and I couldn't raise it any more. She blamed the weight lifting, but I told her it was because she was such an ugly bitch and…' he shrugged and grinned ruefully, then looked across at Fidel with a frown. 'Why am I telling you this? We don't know each other. I'm such a fuckwit.'

Fidel looked into the sad, brown, hooded eyes and said nothing. Arnold's light brown hair was almost dry and hung casually across his forehead. His nose was a little shorter and wider than perfect, but suited the generous mouth with its soft, slightly parted lips. The face was sensitive, but saved from softness by a sharp jaw and square chin. Two deep frown lines marred the prominent eyebrow ridge. Fidel leaned across and smoothed them with his forefinger.

Arnold didn't react.

'Your clothes aren't going to dry tonight.'


'Will your wife expect you home?'

'Too bad if she does.'

'What about your work?'

'Tomorrow's my day off. What's with all these questions?'

'I have an organised mind that likes to organise.' Fidel had been thinking about Robert saying it was up to each individual to take control of his life, and was wondering if now was the time. He recalled everything Arnold had said and done since arriving, and decided it was now or never. 'D'you want to stay the night?'

Arnold's eyes, already mere slits, closed even further. His lip curled slightly. 'Here? In your bed? Naked? With you?'

Fidel winced at the tone. He'd deliberately avoided specifics. It was Arnold who'd jumped to conclusions. Pulling a hard mouth he snapped, 'Fuck you then. Put on your fucking wet clothes and piss off if that's how you react when someone innocently offers you shelter!'

He made to get up but Arnold pulled him back onto the bed. 'I'm sorry, Fidel. I didn't mean to sound like that. It just came out. Sort of reflex from years of making sure no one would think I'm queer. I'm really sorry. I think you're a great guy. If anything I'm jealous because you seem to know what you're doing and where you're going while I've got myself into a mess I don't know how to get out of. Please forgive me. I'll go, but believe me, I didn't mean anything bad.'

This time it was Fidel who pulled Arnold back onto the bed. 'Don't be stupid. Of course you're staying. I can make up a bed on the floor if you like.'

Arnold's smile was indecipherable. 'Too much fuss.'

'I don't wear pyjamas.'

'That makes two of us. Actually, it is getting chilly, shall we…?

They did, and as it seemed churlish to leave his guest feeling chilly, Fidel bravely encased him in an embrace that warmed more than just his skin and it was very late before they stopped admiring each others bodies, turned out the light, and slept the sleep of men happy in the knowledge that they are on the point of sorting out at least one of life's many problems.

The rain had stopped, birds were singing and sunlight streamed through the window when the two young men woke, raced to the toilet and cross-pissed with groans of relief.

'Argh! Thought I was going to burst. Didn't want to wake you.' Arnold smiled across the bowl, then sighed and stretched. 'That was the best sleep I've had for ages.'

'Yeah… it was nice.'

'You sound surprised.'

'This is the first time I've shared a bed. I always imagined it'd be a nuisance having to think about turning over, how to lie, which side to sleep on. But it was easy, as if we were made to fit together.'

'You think too much. Be like me and just take things as they come.'

'And end up living with someone I dislike. Scrambled eggs Ok for breakfast?'

'Fidel! Will you marry me?

'Not till you get a divorce. Make the toast and put the jug on.'

They took their trays out to the patio and warmed themselves in the sun.

'How'd you get your all-over tan?'

'I do the gardening in my skin.'

'Do Bart and Robert visit?'

'They were staying here until last week.'

'What do they think about you running around in the nud?'

'They're the same.'

'Kinky. A ménage a trois.'

'What's that?'

'A threesome.'

'No way! We're good friends and intend to stay that way. It's Saturday so they'll be home and we can go and see them this morning if you like.'

'Or we could go back to bed.'

Fidel frowned. 'Arnold, I like you; I think you're sexy and I loved what we did last night. You're gentle and easy. But you have a wife and too many problems. When I said I like to be organised, I meant it. My own life is difficult enough to keep in order, so when you're free and have decided whether you want to be married with a woman or living with a man, let me know.'

'Fair enough. Just thought I'd let you know I'm not a wham-bam-thankyou-man guy. In fact you're not only the first man I've spent the night with, but this is the first time I've had impulse sex with anyone. I've been a boring little goody good, and criticised everyone who wasn't like me. That's probably why I became a cop.'

'From my experience of cops, you're in the wrong job. How do you get on with the others?'

'Not well, which is why I'm still a constable. Another source of insults from my wife who was counting on my rapid rise through the ranks.'

'Let's clear this stuff away and if we're going visiting, find you something to wear. Lucky we're roughly the same size. I'll hang your jacket and jeans out here and they'll be dry when we get back.'

Arnold took Fidel by the shoulders, drew him close and kissed him firmly. 'That was a kiss of friendship, Fidel, so you really shouldn't have an erection; a fellow might read more into it than you intend.' With a light laugh and a sharp slap on his new friend's bum he carried the trays inside, whistling happily as he washed the dishes while Fidel lifted a handset from its wall-mounted cradle.

'What're you doing?'

'I'm going to ring Bart.'

'On that old thing? I didn't think they were still in use. Where's your Smartphone?'

'Never had one, never want one. The idea of being available every minute, day and night sends my blood cold. And I've read too many stories about how easy they are to hack, tap and use to get information about the user. Is yours on?'

'Sure is.'

'That means Google and your internet provider, and the cops if they're interested, and your wife all know where you spent the night, where you are now and every message and phone call you've made recently. If anyone gets hold of your phone they'll be able to read all your old messages, hear your phone calls, see what you've been watching on the internet and wank over all those nude selfies you've been taking.'

'How'd you know about them?' Arnold's voice was sharp and hard.

'Just seemed the sort of thing a vain ex body-builder would do.'

'So you were only guessing?'


'Sorry for the reaction, but as it happens I've been doing exactly that—not because I'm especially vain, but to see if I really was putting on weight and developing love-handles. My wife must have checked my phone and downloaded them to a memory stick. When I arrived home yesterday I could hear her in the lounge with her girlfriends. I hate all her friends, so snuck to the shower and was just drying myself when I heard raucous laughter and my name mentioned. Curious, I crept along to see what was happening. She and three fellow harpies were wetting themselves laughing at photos of me, starkers. The bitch had plugged the USB stick into the TV. That's why I grabbed my jacket and jeans and took off. Just thinking about it makes me feel hot and sick with embarrassment. I know they'll tell their husbands, one of whom is also a cop. How the fuck can I face these people? They'll be telling everyone about how vain I am, taking nude selfies.'

'Give us a look?'

Arnold hesitated. 'Might as well.' He flicked through several photos then showed five to Fidel, who looked at them carefully. 'What do you think?'

Fidel was grinning. 'Arnold! Your wife has done you a favour! You look superb! And I mean superb. The light is perfect, every muscle is clear; you look like a photo model. Even your face looks better than reality. And you've a slight hard on; just enough to make you look better endowed than you are. All her girlfriends will be so jealous they'll be queuing up to drag you into bed; their husbands too I wouldn't be surprised.'

'You're serious?'

'I want a print-out to wank over. Trust me, Arnold, if she wanted to hurt you she's shot herself in the foot. You're beautiful. I wish I was hairless.'

'Hairy is sexier.'

'Not to most people. But how did you manage to take those? You didn't hold the phone—your arm's not long enough.'

'Taped it to the mirror so I could check what I looked like, adjusted the lighting and set the timer.'

'So you are vain. But with reason.'

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