by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 3

Leo was already in the waiting room of Messrs. Trimm, Kutt and Payste who, according to their sign, were experienced in Family Law, Wills, Testaments and Bereavement. Mr. Trimm lived up to his name, being of average height, stocky with no suggestion of fat. He was pale of skin, and neatly packaged in a lightweight suit, white shirt and tie, and shiny tan shoes. His elegantly cropped, chestnut hair and neatly trimmed beard would have reassured even the most finicky female. He stood when his clients entered and offered a perfectly manicured hand, greeting both Leo and Shrude by their first names, like old friends. His greeting of Mort was sincere and unaffected, so Mort liked him immediately and was prepared to trust him to the end of the earth.

The two adults left the room and Mort sat on a chair that had been placed opposite the lawyer's at his large desk. Mr. Trimm took some papers from a drawer, placed them on the table, then looked at Mort as if searching his face for permission to speak. Apparently he found what he was looking for, and in a cool and accurate manner explained the situation.

'What I'm telling you today is totally private, Mort. Even Leo doesn't know about it. That means no matter who asks you about it, they have no right to know, and you must not tell them! If anyone persists in asking, you must make an excuse to go away, telephone me immediately, and tell me about them.' He passed Mort a card. 'These are my details, phone numbers and addresses. Keep it handy, and if you lose it, come and get another. Copy the details into your diary or wherever you keep important records. Ok so far?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Good. Repeat what I've just told you.'

Mort was word perfect.

'Excellent. My first name's Marshall. I'm doing this as a friend of Shrude, so you might as well be a friend too. Ok?'

'Yes, Marshall.'

'Good. It's quite simple. Your grandfather sold his property to me five years ago, but retains the right to live there until either he dies or moves voluntarily away. The money has been put into an interest bearing account in your name. That was the best way I could think of to ensure no one will dispute the Will when he dies. There's a small Trust Fund for Nasturtium's needs, but that's all. It means you are a relatively wealthy young man, although I'll keep control of the money as your legal trustee until you turn eighteen.'

'But... I don't understand. Why is it a secret?'

'If your mother hears about Shrude's illness, she is likely to appear and demand her inheritance. He is determined she will get nothing, because if she got her hands on it you would be left with nothing. If we keep this a secret, she will imagine Shrude frittered away his fortune over the last five years, as there will be no trace of it. Whenever you need more money than the allowance stipulated in Shrude's Will, phone or come and see me, and I promise to be sensible while keeping your best interests at heart. You won't need any money for daily living if you go to live with Leo, because he will be receiving money for fostering you, and there's some in that for your pocket money. Is everything clear so far?'

'Yes,' Mort nodded, brushing away a tear.

'Good lad. Now, all the paperwork is complete. The Child Welfare people have approved Amy and Leo's suitability as foster parents in the event of Shrude dying, so the only question for me is, do you want to go and live with them? That's why I asked Shrude and Leo to wait outside, so you can be perfectly honest. Neither will be offended whatever your decision.'

'I love Leo and Fystie, but I don't like Amy, but I'd sooner live with them than anyone else, and I don't want Grandpa to die and…' Tears erupted. Great sobs wracked his frame and he curled into a ball in the large chair, sobbing silently. Marshall hurried around the desk and knelt beside the boy, cradling him in his arms, stroking his hair, murmuring soft, calming nothings, silently cursing himself for having spoken so impersonally.

Mort looked up through tear-blurred eyes and whispered, 'Sorry.'

'Never apologise for feeling strongly about anything. Your tears do you credit. It is I who should apologise for speaking so clinically. I've been a lawyer too long. You've been very brave and I admire you, and I like you even more now I've seen you are worthy of your grandfather.'

Mort and Shrude returned home, leaving Leo with Marshall, who had invited him to come and see his most recent etchings.

A week later, Mort was called out of class. When he saw Amy in the Principal's office he knew what was coming and bravely followed her to the car.

His new home in a housing estate on the fringes of the city was very different from the large private block filled with fruit trees and vegetables where he had lived since birth. The unlined concrete block bungalow sat on its five hundred square metre patch of land in a row of identical dwellings, separated from each other by low wire fences. A few scraggly palms were all that remained of once dense rainforest, and of privacy there was none. His bedroom boasted a bed, chair, small built-in wardrobe and desk. The window looked onto a covered verandah that ran the length of the house, where Fystie spent most of his time when not as school.

Once his few possessions had been transferred, Mort felt slightly better and managed to put on a brave face, keeping his tears and sobs private and quiet. He didn't want to know about their problems and they were doing enough for him without having to cope with a sadness that only he could cure. Problems shared may sometimes be problems halved, but sadness shared becomes a burden for everyone and too often prevents healing.

Dewey-eyed but true to his word, Mort refused to go to his beloved grandfather's funeral, thus earning the contempt of Amy who refused to listen to his reasons, and the admiration of Leo who did.

A sense of duty prompted him to visit Nasturtium in her bright, clean nursing home. She seemed perfectly contented, had no idea who he was, and ignored him, so he never went again.

Amy hated working in the supermarket. Leo loved working in the gymnasium. They seldom spoke, so didn't argue. The atmosphere in the house wasn't tense, but neither was it relaxing when both were in the room. Fortunately, shift work made it possible to avoid each other most of the time and there was always one person at home to look after Fystie. Mort and Fystie's unusually deep friendship was the sole reason Amy had agreed to foster the lad. Not because she cared about her son's happiness, but because Mort would relieve her of some of the burden of care.

Fystie spent his days at a special school for disadvantaged children. He was smart, observant, and a caustic commentator; therefore an amusing companion. Fortunately perhaps, few people, including his teachers, were able to understand his tart remarks. Mort slipped easily into their lives, eventually stopped wetting his bed [which Leo had assured him was perfectly normal] and crying himself to sleep, and never tired of retrieving things that Fystie's spastic muscles kept tossing around or dropping.

A large storage shed attached to Jezebels Gymnasium was sublet to one of Leo's friends for self-defence classes. Amy was opposed to Mort's attending, as she thought men were quite aggressive enough without learning to fight. In vain did Leo explain that the boy would be learning self-confidence along with self-defence. She could see no difference between attack and defence so when her wishes were ignored, decided it was yet another proof her husband was deliberately undermining their marriage.

Excited and apprehensive, Mort joined a dozen other boys three afternoons a week and applied himself with his usual single-minded determination to becoming a martial arts expert. Hugh, the instructor, a lean, fit man in his thirties, kept the lessons focussed, practical and uncomplicated. Politeness was demanded, but there were no mystical ceremonies, no Oriental names for moves, and the students were free to wear whatever they liked as long as it didn't restrict movement.

Hugh wore a speedo because the less he wore the more information his students received about arm, body and leg positions. He considered traditional martial arts costumes to be an anachronism and an unnecessary expense, perverting a skill grounded in reality by giving it a quasi-religious twist. Fitness and quick reflexes require a mind tightly focussed in the present, not on some ancient myth. Most boys followed suit when they realised how sweaty any extra clothing made them.

After a few minutes of relaxation activities at the beginning of the sessions, instruction was practical and down to earth. Each lesson focussed on a new skill, and revised older ones. Hugh would choose an attack mode, then teach the correct defence response, which was practiced until it became reflex. After a few weeks all students knew what to do if someone threw a punch, came from behind, grasped their wrists, tried to leg trip them, grabbed them around the neck and so on.

Hugh constantly reminded his students that the first and best option is to run away, and they should never provoke a fight. If fighting was inevitable, then they should disable their opponent quickly and walk away. It was self-defence, they were learning, not revenge or attack.

The results were visible after only a few sessions. The students stood taller and took more interest in the world around them. The mere fact of knowing a few moves that would at least stop their attacker long enough so they could make their escape, changed everything for lads who'd spent their lives in nervous apprehension of others. Boys for whom a slightly cringing stance with averted eyes had become second nature, thus attracting bullies, began to walk confidently and look others in the eye, because the knowledge that if their opponent wasn't too much bigger they could make him sorry he'd picked a fight, did wonders for self esteem.

Mort lost the slightly nervous cringe that had so annoyed Amy, began to join in mealtime conversations, and was no longer always nervously on the lookout for bullies. He now had a weapon — himself. The first time someone tried to intimidate him, he stood straight and looked the prick in the eye, feet slightly apart, hands ready for action. The would-be bully turned away with a pathetic sneer. Mort was so elated he shared his delight at dinner. Leo was thrilled; Amy sniffed her displeasure.

Hugh taught his students that bullies can tell by someone's posture if they are mentally weak or strong. 'Strutting and cringing are both signs of weakness, and calm modesty is a sign of strength,' he drummed into them if they began to get cocky. While most of Hugh's philosophical asides passed over the heads of his students, Mort missed nothing and spent many hours thinking and discussing the ideas with Fystie.

His eleventh birthday passed without mention. Living in a place with no privacy he needed to keep at least some secrets, and his birthday was one.

To his dismay, Mrs. Pettie had not forgiven his grandfather's invective. She liked girls but barely tolerated boys. 'Sugar and spice and all things nice, that's what little girls are made of,' she taught them to chant. 'Slugs and snails and puppy dog tails, that's what little boys are made of,' the girls learned to shout gleefully. Mrs Pettie belonged to that unpleasant breed of teachers who seek popularity by publicly ridiculing students who were too polite or nervous to challenge her. She measured her success by the amount of laughter generated as she mispronounced spelling errors and rolled slightly protuberant eyes at other mistakes. As her victims were usually boys, the girls rejoiced in this further proof of male inferiority.

Mort, whose previous teacher had appreciated his enthusiasm and inventiveness, was dismayed to discover he was a dunce at everything that really mattered. He didn't sit still, his spelling was atrocious, his writing unreadable, he interrupted, asked too many questions and was an intolerable know-all. His work was usually returned looking as if a chicken had been decapitated over it.

Mort's wildly diverse interests made it unlikely he would be a brilliant scholar, but with a sympathetic teacher he could have been good. Things came to a head one hot Friday afternoon. Everyone was chattering, impatient for the weekend, when Mrs. Pettie called the class to attention and held up Mort's latest effort at creative writing, an epic poem about a Warrior Prince who saved a city. He thought the story was so exciting that she would finally admire him, and smiled in pride when he realised his work had been chosen.

She called him up to her table to collect it, but instead of handing it to him, asked the class if they'd like to hear what Mortaumal had written.

Mort's heart sank. That was the tone she used when preparing to make someone feel rotten.

'Yes, yes, yes…' It seemed the whole class wanted to be amused by Mort's discomfort.

Mort's unsmiling, silent stoicism in the face of yet another public humiliation was interpreted as being unable to take a joke, an unpardonable sin in others.

Sliding forward in her chair as if offering a rare treat, she adjusted her glasses and the class waited with bated breath for the next hilarious instalment of Mort madness. Giggles turned to guffaws as the woman deliberately mispronounced his metaphors and ridiculed his rhymes. Mort held his tongue and controlled his breathing and temper as his defence teacher had taught him, allowing his attention to wander while the class laughed and the pressure on his bladder increased.

'Stand still, boy!' Mrs. Pettie snapped as he jiggled his feet, increasingly desperate for a piss.

Concealed from the waist down by the large wooden desk, Mort looked vacantly at a point well above his audience's heads while lifting the leg of his shorts and aiming half a litre of warm urine onto the rear of the teacher's seat. It soaked through the thin skirt and pooled behind her. He was flicking off the last drops when Mrs Pettie felt something warm and wet, stared back in horror, then leaped to her feet.

'You filthy little bastard!' she shrieked, landing a solid backhand on the side of his head that threw him across the room.

Deadly silence.

'Mort's bleeding,' someone said nervously.

Blood was gushing from the back of his head where he'd hit the edge of the wastepaper bin. It didn't hurt, and he was fully aware of what was happening, but Mort wasn't silly. He remained 'unconscious' until the ambulance drove him away. At the hospital he gave Leo's gymnasium phone number, and by the time he'd received three stitches and a sweet drink, Leo had arrived. When he proved he knew about delayed concussion, Leo signed a form and was given permission to take his 'son' away. Mort spent the afternoon behind the scenes at the gymnasium, filling himself with sandwiches and soft drinks brought by sympathetic staff curious to see Leo's new 'son'.

As his head didn't hurt, despite the stitches, Mort couldn't see why he should remain in the Gymnasium staffroom. Fystie had once explained the layout of the place, so he set off to see if he could find the spot where he could see and not be seen when Leo was performing. It wasn't difficult. Loud dance music led him to a door that opened into a small area shielded from the main space by movable screens. He peeped around the edge and discovered he was directly behind the stage on which jazzercise instructors performed. He caught his breath in astonishment. Leo was naked. Taut bare bronzed buttocks flexed as he leaped and did amazingly high kicks, copied more or less faithfully by his class. Mort wasn't shocked, he was thrilled, aroused, and unconsciously fondled his erection through his shorts.

Suddenly, hands grasped Mort around the throat. Instant reflexes rammed a sharp right elbow backwards, propelled with all his strength by his open left hand shoving his balled right fist. It felt as if he'd hit a brick wall. The realisation he hadn't done any damage to his attacker made his heart pound violently.

With a soft chuckle the hands were removed. 'Brilliant, Mort. You're a natural. If I hadn't been prepared you'd have seriously winded me.'

'Hugh! I thought I was going to be murdered.'

'Who'd want to murder you?'

'My teacher for a start.'


Mort told him and he was still laughing when the music stopped.

'Is this the first time you've seen Leo in action?'


'What do you think?'

'He's beautiful.'

'Yes, he is,' Hugh agreed.

Unsurprised at the compliment, Mort whispered, 'I think he is the perfectest man in the world.'

'What! Better than me?'


Hugh grinned and they watched Leo thank everyone and walk towards them.

Hugh stepped forward, leaving Mort in shadow.

'Hughie,' Leo laughed, grasping the self-defence teacher in a tight hug and kissing him on the lips.

After what seemed a long time to Mort, Hugh disentangled himself.

'Your new son thinks you're the most perfect man on the planet.'

Leo turned and noticed Mort's nervous frown. 'Come on, give me a hug.'

Mort pulled a face. 'Can I have a kiss too?'

'Do you want one?'

Mort's eyes lit. 'Yes please.' A kiss was something he had longed for, ever since his grandfather died. Leo was nice, but so far there had been no warm affection. Expecting the usual light touch of lips to his forehead, he was surprised but not displeased when Leo's lips brushed his own. There were tears in his eyes when he looked up. His Grandpa had never kissed him like that, but he liked it just as much... perhaps even a bit more, it was so soft and... he couldn't explain the feeling. It was almost embarrassingly intimate. So personal. Anyone can kiss you on the cheek or the brow, but no one would kiss like that if they didn't mean it. His smile was beatific and his erection even harder than before.

'So, you thought I did alright out there?'

'You were wonderful. I thought you were really naked, even when you turned round. Because of the hair round the edges I couldn't tell till you came close. Can I have one of those little things too? I'd forgotten your body was so perfect... you're like one of those statues in that book we looked at. Hugh also thinks you're perfect.'

Leo grinned. 'Thanks. Yes I'll make you one, and that's nice of Hugh. I reckon he's pretty perfect too.'

'And I think what you did to your horrible teacher is perfect,' Hugh laughed. 'I wonder what she'll say when you get to school on Monday.'

'He's not going back there,' Leo announced flatly. 'That bitch nearly killed him; he had to have three stitches.'

'You could sue her.'

''No. Justice has been done. She's been pissed on in public and is probably shit scared that the damage to Mort's head is worse than it is. It's cost us nothing.'

'She killed Grandpa,' Mort said softly.

'No she didn't,' Leo replied just as softly. 'After she'd gone Shrude rang and told me all about it. He was amused more than anything — even felt sorry for her a bit, silly cow. He'd been planning on leaving us for some time. He was really very ill, you know.'

'Yes. He sort of warned me he was going to die. But I didn't realise he was going to do it himself. I'm glad he did. He told me about how terrible it is to be put into a nursing home and kept alive against your wishes.'

Leo's face suddenly lost its life. 'That's a possible future that terrifies me for Fystie. One day he's going to need more care than we can give him... but I don't want him to go to one of those places; stuck in a ward with dementia patients screaming and wetting themselves. Ever been to one of those death camps, Hugh?'

'No, and I don't intend to,' Hugh announced firmly, putting his arm around his friend's shoulders. 'That's your last shift for a few hours, come home with me for a meal.'

'I've got to drop Mort off at home first. Amy doesn't know about his brush with the teacher yet.'

'Can I go with you and Hugh?' Mort asked. 'And come back here afterwards to watch you. I don't like being home alone with Amy, she doesn't like me.'

'She doesn't like anyone much that I'm aware of,' Leo sighed. 'But Fystie would be pleased to see you.'

Mort reluctantly agreed when Hugh promised all four would go swimming the following weekend.

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