by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 7

In a private booth at the restaurant, which lived up to it's reputation, Marshall expounded on his theories between mouthfuls of something very tasty and alarmingly spicy that had Leo reaching for the water. Mort was used to it.

'It's a serious problem for parents, this sex education. Telling a child too much too soon is as bad as not telling enough. Parents must wait till they're asked. But most children are too shy to ask them because the atmosphere surrounding all mention of sex is fraught with embarrassment, unspoken taboos and other idiocies. Parents seem to forget that consensual sexual exploration between children is natural and commonplace. They've probably done it themselves. Perhaps the biggest problem is that there is no scientifically supported definition of a child! Many serious researchers think childhood lasts from the end of infancy, signalled by proficient mobility and the acquisition of useful language, until puberty is under way. After that they are young adults.'

'That means I'm no longer a child,' Mort interrupted.

'Do you agree with that?'

'Yes!' And I'm sick of being treated as if I'm one.'

'Yet in most Western countries a man is a 'boy' until he's sixteen or seventeen, with the result that an eighteen year old will be labelled a paedophile for life if he has sex with a seventeen-year-old. Utter insanity.'

'What brought this on, Marshall.'

'I've been defending a middle aged man who sat a child on his knee at a family gathering. In full view of everyone he [accidentally he says] rested his hand on the nine year-old's groin and the kid got an erection. That's all, yet the mother noticed this and wants her brother in law to be sent to prison for life.'

'Fuck! Makes your blood run cold. What's happened to him?'

'No decision yet, but the kid's become an emotional basket case from all the wringing of hands and sympathetic drivel from angry females, so I don't hold out much hope because judges cling to a popular myth that children have no sexual feelings, no sexual awareness or desires. This notion has little basis in reality, yet it serves as an artificial foundation for other myths such as the academic and media driven assumption that all sexually expressed child/older person interactions are adult instigated and intrinsically and invariably harmful to the child. But there is no research that supports this view. I'm not attempting to deny the existence of very real cases of child sexual abuse, for which I think the perpetrators should be severely punished. In fact in some cases I think the death penalty would be too good for them.

'Unfortunately, humans who have been indoctrinated to believe religious myths that have no factual basis, transfer that faulty way of thinking to sexual matters as well, and deliberately ignore reality and the facts, choosing to rely on what they've been told to believe. It's alarming and dangerous that new facts, including scientific research, are generally not accepted or respected in debates about morality and sexual behaviour — including the causes of homosexuality.

'In a 2009 book, Susan Clancy revealed that the vast majority of children, especially boys, are not adversely affected at the time by consensual sexual experiences with older persons. In the cold light of scientific investigation it was revealed that no devastating effects usually follow. Unfortunately, a child whose willing relationship with an older person is discovered, will be subjected by the law to a bewildering array of demands for private details, cooperation in investigations, and even physical examinations. The treatment of the young person is frequently so bad that a psychiatrist is on record as saying, if the boy had not been buggered by the man, he certainly had been by the police and doctor. And even those whose childhood relationships remain private will be hounded by the incessant child sexual abuse media drumbeat for the rest of their lives until they start to blame those innocent experiences for their unsuccessful lives. It is no wonder that some succumb to the call to denounce their ex partners decades later.'

'So… you think it is only non-consensual sexual activity that causes emotional and psychological problems.'

'In a sensible world, yes. When they become old enough to express themselves, children who are seeking a close relationship with an adult often don't see much difference between close mental and close physical contact, which we call sexual. Studies by Bender and Blau in 1937 noted that the child was not always passive, but in some instances seemed to be the initiator or seducer. The investigation of their own and other's genitals is all but ubiquitous among boys, and older boys instruct younger ones. Boys seem to be intrinsically forward and proactive with peers as well as with other persons, and will explore their sexuality whenever they can find an opportunity to do so. Despite the dim view taken by the "psychology industry" of those who might interfere with their cash flow, the reality is that some boys will always go to men they find attractive in order to have their sexual and emotional needs met.'

'I should have met you twenty years ago, Marshall. It'd have saved me a lot of guilt.'

'How do you mean?'

'When I was eleven a tradesman came to replace the gutters. Dad had to drive into town to get more supplies, so I held his ladder and when I looked up his shorts I could see his balls. Got so aroused I stroked his leg. He didn't say anything so I slid my hand up till I touched them. "You're giving me a hard on, so now I've got to do something about it," he said as if it was a bit of a nuisance. I was so surprised I giggled and followed him round to the back terrace, where he took off his shorts and said that as my fingers had made him stiff, they had to undo the deed. He lay back and watched me do it, then I did it to myself. I still get a hard on remembering. He wasn't really interested in me. I think he was just bored. The trouble was I've felt guilty ever since. Now you tell me I was normal!'

'You were, and still are.'

'So am I,' Mort said shyly. 'I'd like to touch Lanky if he was interested. But I don't want to do anything... you know... sexy. I'd just like to touch a bit and be touched and... he blushed. 'I'd hate it if I had to do what they do in the videos — -fucking up the arse and sucking and all that stuff. I'd just like…'

'A man to take an interest in you and show he cares?'

'Yes. Like you do with Fystie.'

'And how old should this man be?'

'Not old! He'd have to look young and be handsome and clean and fit… like those high-school boys who ride past every morning. They'd be great.'

'It's odd,' Leo remarked, 'that there's a word for a man who likes boys, but no word for a boy who dreams of physical contact with young men.'

'That's because no one believes they do. And if I said publically what I've just said to you two, I'd be labelled a pederast and put on the police watch list.'

'Don't worry, Marshall, your perverted opinions are safe with us.'

Marshall laughed.

'Grandpa was nice to me,' Mort announced. 'But he was old. I've always imagined my father would have cuddled me and kissed my forehead and made me feel I was nicer than everyone else. Stupid, I know, because I'm obviously so ugly no one wants to touch me.' He pulled a tragicomic face.

'You're certainly not ugly! And you're very intelligent. What about your mother — if she was around?'

'I've never seen her and don't want to. She dumped me the day I was born. Grandpa didn't like her because she was like Grandma. I didn't like Nasturtium much and neither did Grandpa. She was crazy even before the cops shoved her. But my father must have been nice, otherwise why am I so perfect?' He grinned cheekily.

'That's very sound reasoning, Mort,' Marshall grinned. 'Shrude would have been proud. So... apart from meeting a young prince who would caress you gently, what do you want most from life?'

Mort frowned at his feet, then looked straight into Marshall's eyes. 'I want to find my father. I want him to hug me and tell me he's proud of me.'

'If I can find him for you, Mort,' Marshall said seriously, 'I will... but it might take some time.'

Marshall's apartment was above his legal offices. It was an older style building with high ceilings, elaborate mouldings, wide doors and hallways. The apartment had large rooms with long windows providing views over an adjacent park. It was furnished with heavy drapes, deeply padded armchairs, carpets Aladdin might have flown on, antique-looking furniture, table-lamps and wall bracket lights instead of a large central globe. Everything was old, well used and had probably never been expensive, yet the impression was of comfort, taste, neatness and order. Mort was entranced. This was the sort of house he'd like — if it had a garden.

He showered first, followed by Marshall, then while Leo was showering, Mort watched Marshall, who was wearing nothing but a blue towel around his waist, close the curtains, place a CD in the player, dim all the lights, and then gaze thoughtfully around as if checking.

'You look much better in your towel than in a suit,' Mort declared. 'I thought you'd be flabby like the other old men at Leo's gym. But you're not. You look much friendlier too. I like you more. You should always wear a towel,' he finished with a wicked grin.

'Mmm… do you think my respectable clients would trust me more? And not so much of the old, if you please. I'm in my prime — according to Jean Brodie.' Marshall smiled shyly, suddenly self-conscious, well aware that his stocky, pale body, although fit and fairly powerful bore no resemblance to Leo's or the models in fitness magazines. 'I've a few instruments of torture in a spare room that I use to keep myself fit, and I go hiking and camping. Perhaps you'd like to come one day?'

'Yeah! I'd love to!

'Anyway, there's a library at the end of the corridor, with a TV and DVD player and several movies, and loads of books and CDs. If you're tired, you can sleep on the divan. You'll be able to amuse yourself.'

'Books, I love them! Leo doesn't have any, and we're too far from a library. I sometimes feel I'm starving for something good to read.' Mort looked around. 'Is this where Leo's going to perform?'


The lad stood as if to go, then hesitated. 'The other day when you invited Leo to look at your etchings, was he coming here for...'

'Sex.' Marshall finished Mort's sentence with an uncertain smile. There was a brief silence. 'Shocked?'

'Of course not. It's just that…'

'I'm so old and ugly.'

'Yes. No! You're not ugly, I'm just surprised.'

'I would be too, except that I pay him for the privilege.'

'How much?'

'Tonight he'll get five hundred dollars.'

Mort's eyes popped. 'You must be rich!'

'Not especially. I have simple tastes so don't spend much on living, and you'll agree Leo's an unusually fine specimen. I've always been prepared to pay for quality.'

'What would I be worth?'

'To me? Nothing. I like manly men with hairs on their chests, not hairless boys.'

'Leo used to be smooth.'

'Yes. I'm glad he stopped shaving when he left that awful Jezebel's Gym.'

'Why don't you get a permanent boyfriend?'

'My own age? The few men I know around my age who also like men, are either mentally interesting and physically repellent, or vice versa. I'm not desperate, but if I meet someone who's prepared to put up with me, and who I'd be prepared to love and live with, I'll grab him. However, I can't see it happening at my age.'

'How old are you?'


Mort nodded, having no idea what a forty-one year old should look like.

'Why am I telling you this?'

'Because... I don't know.'

'Because when children get curious, not telling them the truth about the important part sex plays in human behaviour, makes them grow into ignorant people with strange ideas who do stupid things. As I said at the restaurant, when they're ready for it, children should be told all about everything that will be important to them as adults, so they can distinguish between what is fun and safe, and what isn't. So they don't have foolish expectations about sex with their girlfriends, boyfriends, wives and husbands. So that guilt about enjoying sex is eliminated, and people become emotionally and psychologically relaxed and sane about the most natural activity of all animals. Guess which so-called Western country has the highest rate of sexual deviancy, child sexual molestation, rapes, unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.'


'The U.S.A.. Guess which has the most repressive attitudes towards sex and sexuality.'

'United States?'

'Yes. The link is obvious to everyone except those involved.'

'So what's Leo going to do for five hundred dollars?'

'That, young man, is not part of your educational curriculum. Some things in life are only fun if you're doing them. Talking about them sounds… kinky. Now, off you go.'

Mort wandered down to the library, put his hand on the doorknob and paused. He deliberately hadn't asked if he could watch, so hadn't been told he couldn't.

The doorbell rang.

Mort put his head round the library door, found the switch and turned on the light. Leaving the door ajar he crept silently back along the darkened hallway to the dining room where he sat cross legged in shadow behind the glass doors separating him from the lounge room. It was empty. Muffled voices from the front entrance drew closer.

Years of watching TV shows had not prepared Mort for the excitement of a live performance. Real people were going to be acting. It wouldn't be faked like TV or the videos he watched with Fystie. His heart hammered in his chest making it difficult to breathe and he leaned forward in excited anticipation.

Marshall, wearing an irritated frown as well as his towel, came in followed by an apologetic and diffident Leo in knee-length shorts with lots of pockets, a T-shirt and sandals.

'I was just taking a shower. Who are you and what do you want?' Marshall asked testily, wrapping his towel slightly tighter round his waist. 'I shouldn't have invited you in, but the neighbour's such a bloody gossip. Well?'

Leo explained that he didn't earn enough in his day job, so he needed night work because his wife and child were sick. He'd heard that Mr. Trimm was a really nice guy who helped people down on their luck and sometimes knew where a bloke could find work.

'What sort of work?'

'Anything at all.'

'Anything?' Marshall replied with a slight smile.

'Anything!' Leo declared innocently.

'As it happens, I've some cleaning needs doing. Do you have overalls?

'No sir, but it doesn't matter.'

'Of course it matters. Your clothes will get dirty. Take them off.'

'But... I've nothing underneath.'

'So what? There's only the two of us.' Marshall sat in the armchair and glared.

Mort sat transfixed. Already both men were different people, and he didn't want to miss anything.

'If you're sure?'

'I'm sure.'

Leo frowned, removed his shirt, and folded it neatly.

'And your trousers.'

'Yes, sir.' Slowly and sexily the trousers were slid off, revealing perky bronzed buttocks and powerful hairy legs. Leo kicked off his sandals and turned to face his new employer, legs slightly apart, hands clasped behind his back, penis slightly aroused, eyes innocent, lips open in guileless anticipation.

Taking a cloth from the sideboard, Marshall tossed it to Leo and told him to clean the floors under the furniture. Docilely, Leo dropped to hands and knees and crawled across the floor. The view as he reached under a low chair was worthy of any sexy magazine. Having completed the wiping he remained on his knees and looked back over his shoulder. 'Is this good enough, sir?'

Marshall got down beside him, steadying himself by holding onto Leo's thigh, then sliding his hand up to absentmindedly fondle the dangling bits. 'Very good,' he announced, standing again. 'Carry on.'

But when Leo moved, he gave a cry of pain. 'Oh, my back! I've slipped a disc.'

Mort gave a gasp of horror. Believing it real.

'Luckily for you I know what to do,' Marshall announced.

Mort relaxed.

'I know a massage technique that will loosen everything up, and then I'll flex your spine so the disc pops back. Here, lie on this.'

Marshall removed his towel with a flourish, and spread it on the floor.

Leo lay on it on his stomach, and Marshall commenced an intimate and somewhat invasive exploratory massage, before turning his patient over.

'Goodness, young man, you have an erection!' Marshall said as if shocked.

'I'm so sorry, sir,' Leo apologised. 'Your hands felt so sexy, I couldn't help myself. It's so stiff it hurts but I don't know what to do about it. can you help me?'

'Mort giggled, entranced. This was so real! They acted so well he was caught up in the fantasy and a part of his brain believed it.

'Well, that would be highly unusual, but as it seems to be uncomfortable…'

This time the massage was gentler and involved lips and tongue as well as probing fingers. Finally, Marshall sat back on his haunches. 'Your muscles and bones now seem loose enough for me to flex the spine, so relax while I finalise the treatment.' He slowly raised Leo's feet and draped a leg over each shoulder. 'Now you are perfectly flexed. Does it feel better?'

'Yes, sir. Thank you.'

'Good. However to prevent this happening again I'll finish off with an internal massage.'

'Internal?' Mort detected a note of alarm.

'Yes. Relax, it's nothing to worry about.'

Reaching to the side, Marshall picked up a foil sachet that he opened with his teeth. Extracting a black condom he rolled it on, then picked up a tube from which he squeezed a translucent cream that he smeared in and around his patient's anus.

Leo looked up with wide, horrified eyes. 'What're you going to do to me?'

'Cure you completely.'

'You are a generous man,' Leo said softly as his mentor slid his manhood in as deep as it would go.

Mort watched in astonishment. He'd seen a few videos, but never really believed this was possible, imagined it was all a fake, but it was really happening! Marshall was thrusting and Leo, was enjoying it, telling Marshall how sexy he was, how manly, how potent.

Marshall's orgasm was very noisy.

Mort wanted to cheer from excitement, but managed to refrain.

After withdrawing, Marshall checked Leo's erection, which had shrivelled unrecognisably.

'It worked!' Leo said in delight, grabbing the end of the towel and wiping his belly. 'You cured me - I came when you did.'

Marshall seemed inordinately pleased. With a powerful heave he pulled Leo to his feet and they went off to shower while Mort crept back to the library and pretended to read while recalling every part of the play, as he thought of it. Mostly it was funny, he decided. It was so unreal. In real life it could never happen. No one was so innocent as Leo had acted. But it was fun to watch, although he worried it might have been painful for him being fucked; Marshall had been rough. He'd ask him when they got home.

Leo, in his usual clothes, poked his head in the doorway. Not asleep? Come on — time to go. At the front door Marshall handed Leo an envelope, patted his shoulder, then shook Mort's hand. 'I hope you'll visit again soon, Mort. Talk to Leo about that camping trip.'

'Yeah, can't wait. Thanks, Marshall.'

They jogged home through quiet, darkened streets, arriving refreshed and relaxed.

'Iced chocolate?'

They gazed at each other across the table.

'You've a funny grin on your face. You watched, didn't you?' Leo didn't sound annoyed, so Mort admitted it.

'What did you think?'

Mort's eyes shone. 'You were both great! You should be professional actors; I believed everything even though I knew it wasn't really real. And Marshall looks much better naked than dressed. And you look better hairy. I loved it! But didn't it hurt when he fucked you? And did you really come when he did?'

Leo assured Mort he hadn't been hurt, he knew how to relax — but he hadn't ejaculated, he'd told Marshall he had to make him feel proud.

Mort digested that. 'He's nice, isn't he. He asked me to go camping and hiking with him. Can I?'

'Definitely! It will be good for you. He's a very smart guy.'

'But he isn't very happy, I don't think. What you did was just acting, so he's usually alone, and probably lonely, I reckon.'

'You're a sweet and kind young man, aren't you?'

'Not really. I just seem to feel what people are really like sometimes.'

Although it was only just after nine o'clock they went to bed to make sure they'd wake in time to pick up Fystie and Amy in the morning.

An hour later, Mort was still wide awake, beginning to sweat. The idea that something bad was about to happen kept rolling round in his head. He got up to walk around and noticed the light was on in Leo's room. He poked his head around the door. Leo had thrown the bedclothes back and was lying on top, hands behind his head, staring at the ceiling.

'Can I come in? I can't sleep.'

'Leo patted the bed beside him. 'Thinking too much?'

Mort snuggled up against his protector and draped his arm across his chest. 'I can't stop worrying that something horrible's going to happen.'

'Like what?'

'I don't know... just something.'

'There's always something horrible happening somewhere, so you're right, I guess.'

'I mean to us. At least... when I was in my own in bed I felt like that, but now I'm with you I don't. I feel sort of calm and happy.'

'It's odd how simply being with another person can make you feel good.'

'Yeah... but I can't think of anyone apart from you I'd like to be with.'

'You're right. It has to be someone you like and trust.'

Mort yawned. 'I love the smell of your armpits,' he said sleepily.

Leo pulled up the sheet, and within a minute both had been claimed by the god of sleep.

The following morning, refreshed and excited, they collected Amy and a heavily drugged Fystie from the Airport.

Back home over coffee and croissants, with Fystie asleep and Mort outside somewhere, Amy apologised for having left Leo to do most of the caring for their son over the last few years.

'I hadn't realised what an almost insupportable emotional drain it is,' she said with a heartfelt sigh. 'I'm not as strong as you, and now I'm even more lost. I know I won't be able to cope.'

The problem facing them was a faulty heart valve. Surgery was indicated, but because of existing complications, that was accompanied by a risk of making thing worse. His CP symptoms seemed to have plateaued, although they'd never retreat, but his current opiate dosage was already unacceptably high and could also result in very unpleasant mental consequences. Fystie was determined not to have the operation, and had become violent when she tried to persuade him. That was one reason she had slightly overdosed him with painkillers and sedatives for the flight.

'What'll happen if he doesn't have the operation?'

'He'll get a heart attack and die.'

'If he doesn't want the operation, then he doesn't have to have it. It's his life.'

'How can you say that? He's much too young to make such a decision.'

'Would you want to go on living if you were like him, Amy?'

'But he's used to it. We're his parents, not god. Only god can give and take lives.'

'Which god are you thinking of? Humans have invented thousands. Or have you elevated our politicians and soldiers to the status of gods? How many innocents have they murdered this week somewhere in the Middle East?

'They're accidents.'

'Don't be more stupid than usual.'

'Now you're picking on me! If you're so smart, you talk to him and decide.'

'I will. And will you abide by my decision?

Amy hesitated, frowned, took a deep breath, shook the hair out of her eyes, straightened her shoulders and admitted she couldn't take any more. Her ex lover had followed her to Brisbane, she'd stayed with him in a hotel, and decided to go and live with him.'


'Before the end of this week.'

'What about Fystie and Mort?'

'Mort's not our responsibility, he's been great for Fystie, but I don't like him. There's something creepy about a boy who is always so thoughtful and helpful. And he's far too honest and free with his opinions.'

'And Fystie?'

'I'm not strong enough, Leo. You know that. I'm not getting any younger, and Rob won't wait forever. I can't build my life around the needs of a crippled, sick son who could die at any time, especially if he refuses the treatment doctors suggest.'

'So it's Fystie's fault?'

'Stop being such an arsehole! Always putting it back onto me. Everything's my fault.' Tears began to flow freely. 'Oh I hate you!' She sat, cheeks wet, searching fruitlessly for a handkerchief.

Leo sat silently and wondered why men would never learn that women can cry at will, and deliberately don't carry handkerchiefs so they can make men feel manly and useful by providing one when they switch on the waterworks.

After a minute of no response, Amy rounded on her husband; eyes as dry as his, voice a low-pitched snarl. 'You are the most horrible, selfish, egoistical person I've ever met. Too weak to play football, a totally useless fuck, too stupid to get a real job, so had to flash your pretty body to all the sex-starved females in town, and now you're a fucking prostitute! I must be a saint to have put up with you for twelve years. Well it's over! You've just told me you'll take responsibility for Fystie and his decisions about any operations he might need, so I'm now free. I'm going to pack.'

Leo waited till he heard her bedroom door slam, then signalled to Mort who had been listening from the kitchen. 'I'm sorry you heard her nasty remarks about you.'

'Nothing to be sorry about, the feeling's mutual.'

'What do you think about Fystie's operation?'

'The same as you. Only he can decide, and whatever he wants is fine with me.'

'Even if…?'

'Even if.' The brave words didn't stop tears pouring down his cheeks.

It was midday before Leo could get any sense out of Fystie. Amy had walked to the local shopping mall to have her hair done, and Mort stayed in his room, leaving father and son to make their decision without being reminded of him.

Fystie wasn't in pain, and his head was clear. Not wanting to influence his decision, Leo didn't tell him Amy wanted nothing more to do with her son.

'Fystie, you know I love you more than anything on this earth, and will do anything I can to make your life as happy as possible.'

Fystie looked down as if thinking, then gazed out the open window, avoiding his father's eyes. 'Remember the day at the beach when that fat kid drowned?'


'His father was right.'

Leo knew what was coming, bur pretended he didn't. 'In what way?'

'He said someone should put the poor bugger out of his misery. Meaning me.'

'okay. How can I do that?'

'I've had enough, Dad. I know what it is to love, because I love you and Mort, but I also know I'll never find a woman to love me. I'm often in pain — real pain that blacks out everything until I no longer exist except as a ball of fire. I look ridiculous — my mouth hangs open, I dribble, my tongue gets in the way when I talk, I'm all twisted, I spasm and usually can't even feed myself and have started shitting and pissing in my pants. My heart's fucked, yet they want me to get it fixed so I can go on and on and on and on. I had a visitor in the hospital, a fat religious git. One of those silly white collars. He asked me how I felt, so I told him. Guess what he said.'

'Poor boy, pray to god and he'll make it better?'

'Almost. He said I was an inspiration for everyone of how to suffer and not give in. He told me suffering is the way to heaven, and we are all instruments of god's purpose, and my purpose was to suffer, so I should be proud because god only chose strong and good people to suffer, and I'd get my reward in heaven. I was feeling sick so couldn't laugh, instead I pretended to have a really bad spasm and sprayed spit all over him, screaming and all the rest so he ran away and called the nurse.'

'Well done!'

'So, when can I go?'

'Whenever you like.'


'It's nearly one o'clock. I've a couple of things to do first; how about one thirty? We'll go for a drive and if you're still certain, that'll be it.'

'Excellent. It'll give me time to say goodbye to Mort.' Fystie smiled, his eyes cleared and suddenly he looked healthier than he had for days. 'I feel so happy, Dad. I can't tell you…' He sighed, heaved himself to his feet and shuffled off to find Mort, who was waiting in his room, deliberately not thinking in case he cried.

Leo had been preparing himself for this day for some time — since the episode on the beach, in fact, so it only took a few minutes to prepare the car, print some prepared letters, place them in sealed envelopes, and telephone Marshall.

Mort had cried, but not too much. He was happy for Fystie, said he'd have made the same decision, promised never to forget him and think of him every time he wanked, which made Fystie laugh. He was laughing a lot, Mort noticed, but it wasn't hysteria, it was relief, as if an intolerable burden had lifted, enabling him to walk straighter, speak more clearly, as if for the first time in ages he had hope; which made perfect sense. He was hoping for release from life imprisonment and torture.

Holding back his tears until the car was out of sight, Mort ran to his room and flung himself onto the floor where he was convulsed by great wracking sobs that seemed to tear out his heart. First his grandfather, now Fystie. When he calmed down he noticed an envelope on his desk. Inside was a short note. Dear, Mort. Pack up everything you want to keep, call a taxi, and go to Marshall's. He's expecting you and will explain. All my love, Leo.

A cold dread enveloped the young man as realisation of the consequences of what was happening seeped into his consciousness. Scarcely daring to breathe, not daring to think, he grabbed a suitcase, took his notebook, clothes and the few mementos he treasured of his grandfather, Fystie and Leo. His laptop because it contained all his photos. After a quick look round the room, followed by a scan of the house to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything, because there was no way he'd return if Leo wasn't there, he telephoned for a taxi.

Marshall was waiting upstairs in his apartment. He shook Mort's hand seriously and led him to a sunny bedroom with a view over the park.

'This is your home now, Mort,' he said gently. Put your things wherever you like, use the bathroom through that door if you need to, and when you're ready, come and have a bite of lunch with me, you must be starving.'

Mort nodded, unable to speak. He wasn't feeling hungry. Wasn't feeling anything. He dumped his things on the floor. Then stood at the window for a while, seeing nothing. Then investigated the bathroom — a different one from the other night, this one was empty of anything personal so it must be his private one. He used the toilet. Washed his hands. Dried them on the large green towel. Then wandered out to the kitchen where Marshall was sitting reading. He looked up and smiled.

'Scrambled eggs?'

'Yes please.' Barely a whisper.

The meal looked and smelled delicious; tomatoes, eggs, chips, fried apple slices and a handful of nuts, followed by strawberry yoghurt. They ate in silence.

'Coffee, tea or milk?'

Mort grinned. It was astonishing how a full stomach seemed to make bad things less bad. 'You're wasted as a lawyer, you should have a restaurant... you could be cook and waiter.'

'Flattery will get you everywhere,' Marshall said with a sad smile. 'Do you feel like talking?'


'Do you understand what Leo has done?'

'He's helped Fystie to die so he won't be sick any more.'


'I don't understand.'

'Leo has also killed himself.'

Ice filled Mort's entire body. In his heart he had known, but refused to let the knowledge penetrate his consciousness. His eyes grew very wide. He opened his mouth to scream but nothing came out. He closed it again and managed a whispered, 'Why?'

'Because he would be convicted of murdering his son, and would have spent the rest of his life in jail being beaten, raped and tortured by guards and other inmates.'

'But Fystie wanted it.'

'That makes no difference to the law. It is a criminal offence to even tell someone how to suicide, let alone help them to do it. Fystie had no hope of ending his own life, so as Leo loved him, he helped him. There was no way he could have concealed that, so it was either allow himself to be branded a criminal murderer, or join Fystie in leaving a world he didn't like much. He wasn't a happy man you know. He always put on a cheerful face, but like loads of people he wasn't sorry to quit this life.'

'How did he do it? When? How do you know he has? Perhaps Fystie changed his mind!' We should find them and…' Tears that had been refused exit by sheer willpower, broke through and Mort lay his head on his arms, sobbing silently. When the worst seemed to be over, Marshall placed a hand on Mort's shoulder. The youth sniffed. Rubbed angrily at his eyes and looked up. 'He has done it, hasn't he?'

'Yes. After leaving you he drove to a secluded spot about half an hour away, they both downed large doses of Fystie's opiates and sleeping pills, then Leo connected a hose to the exhaust pipe, put it through a window, sealed the gap and ran the engine. He always said he would never let Fystie take the journey alone, so I imagine he took him in his arms and they talked till they fell asleep. The carbon monoxide replaced the oxygen in their blood and they would have died painlessly and peacefully. I know they died, because Leo rang me just before he started the engine. He said he'd ring back in twenty minutes if Fystie changed his mind. He hasn't rung back and it's now three hours since he rang, so I think all has gone according to plan. We should be happy for them.'

'I am... I think. But I'm so sad for me! The only three people I've loved all killed themselves! I wish they'd taken me as well.'

'I understand. I've sometimes wished I had Leo's courage. But such feelings come and go. It will always hurt, but after a few years it will hurt less and you'll find other people to love who will love you. Meanwhile, this has all been rather sudden and... Leo was concerned about you. He was planning on divorcing Amy, but then he wouldn't be allowed to foster you, so I said I'd like you to come and live with me.'

'I imagined I'd go to Todd and Lanky in an emergency.'

'Are you disappointed?'

'No! I like them, but I noticed they were always pleased when we left. They tried to hide it, but I think they prefer being alone.'

'You notice so much I'll have to be careful. But you're right. They've only been together for a couple of years and are still getting to know each other's habits and how to share their lives. It isn't easy even when there's just the two, but with a third person always there it would be impossible. Are you sure you want to stay with me? You don't have to.'

Mort looked away, then decided on a frontal approach. 'Do you want to have sex with me? Because if you do then I don't want to stay.'

Marshall's eyes crinkled a little as if in pain. He should have expected this. 'The answer is no. Definitely no. The thought never entered my head, but it was very wise of you to ask. Why did you think I might want to?'

'I saw you fucking Leo last night.'

'Ah... How naive of me to think you'd stay reading in the other room.'

'Are you angry with me for sneaking out to watch?'

'Of course not. I hadn't forbidden you. It was your choice, so if it had upset you, you would have only yourself to blame. Furthermore, curiosity is good in a man, as long as it's coupled with a desire for self-preservation and not in pursuit of unworthy goals.'


'I can imagine some people with the knowledge you now possess, using it to blackmail me or gain some personal benefit. Lawyers have to be more careful than most of their reputations.'

'Then why weren't you more careful?'

'Mort...' Marshall paused to find the appropriate words. 'I liked you at our first meeting. Your grandfather had talked about you a lot, and Leo was always singing your praises. He and I had an agreement that if anything happened to him, I'd take care of you. However, although I knew a great deal about you, you knew nothing much about me. So I wanted to balance the books so to speak, before asking if you wanted to come and live with me. I'm a lawyer whose wife took off with a man who could satisfy her, but my children too have divorced me, mainly because instead of taking an interest in them as children I was so determined to conceal what I saw as my faults I never let them get close to me, so we remained strangers. If I'd been open with them about my sexuality and other things, and not kept myself apart, they might want to see me occasionally.' He paused, slightly disconcerted to see Mort gazing speculatively into his eyes. 'I wanted to be honest with you and... I guess I was hoping for a second chance to be a real father.' He barked a short laugh. 'Stupid eh?'


'I was going to let you get used to me gradually, but Fystie's condition suddenly deteriorated and there wasn't time for us to get to know each other properly and last night I suppose I was just making sure you at least knew my worst side…' His voice trailed off. 'Did I make myself totally ridiculous?'

'Of course not. You and Leo looked good together and it made me like you.' He stared deep into Marshall's eyes, making him look away. 'I think you're lonely,' he said with a slight nod of the head.

'Many people are.'

'This morning I had no idea that Leo wouldn't be coming home.' Mort swallowed and fought back tears. 'He hadn't told me you'd look after me if he wasn't there, so when you asked if I'd come and live with you it seemed so sudden I was suspicious. People are always warning kids about being abused so you begin to suspect everyone.' He sat in silence for a few long seconds, then looked up with a slight frown. 'If you still want me I'd like to stay with you... but... I'm a bit strange, I think. I've never had friends my own age... except Fystie.' An uncertain, tremulous, tentative smile flickered then evaporated as tears began to trickle.

Marshall's throat constricted and he had to swallow his own tears. Impulsively he gathered the lad into his arms and they hugged in silence until the moment passed.

'So, young man, what'll we do for the rest of the afternoon? We can splash around in the Spa on the roof, or do you fancy going to the beach for a swim?'

'You've a pool on the roof?'

'Only a small one, come and see.'

An innocuous looking cupboard gave access to a flight of stairs that led to the roof.

Mort gazed around in astonishment. 'It's a garden up here! This is wonderful. And so private.'

'I'm glad you like it. It wasn't private until I put the planting in. The pool's behind those shrubs.'

'Mort raced over. 'It's perfect. Can I go in? Must I wear togs?'

'It's yours too now you're living with me, so feel free to take a dip whenever you like, and no clothes means less lint in the filters.'

Within seconds Mort had dropped his shorts and shirt and leaped in. 'It's warm! That's brilliant. Let's spend the afternoon here.'

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