by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 8

An anonymous phone call had alerted police to the whereabouts of Leo's car.

A handwritten note pinned to Leo's shirt that explained in detail his reasons for his act was handed by the police to the coroner, and a copy found its way to national newspapers, whose editors all chose to ignore the reasons behind Leo's act of bravery and compassion, preferring headlines about a murder-suicide. Speculative editorial and opinion columns all damned the man and commiserated with the innocent young boy killed by a male prostitute father who hadn't the guts to go on, taking his son with him to deny the lad's mother the right to take care of him. There were no dissenting views; no attempt to present the reality. Of course, the heavily censored Letters to the Editor all sang the same song.

Mort was horrified. 'This is all lies! It wasn't like this! You must tell them to change the story. They've no right to lie like this.'

'It's called free speech.'

'But why doesn't someone write and tell them the truth?'

'I did, but they didn't publish the letter.'

'Why not?'

'Because what they wrote sells more copies, and that brings in more advertising, and so they make more money. Readers are not interested in the truth about anything, they want scandal, horror, death, mayhem, filth and disease. Australia doesn't have an independent press run by intellectuals keen to inform and educate the populace by offering all sides to questions. Instead, three of the richest men in the world own just about every newspaper, and most TV stations, as well as magazines and internet sites, They use these platforms to further their own financial power and interests, and the truth would get in the way of that. They also don't want to offend religions, so won't print anything those bigoted hypocrites might object to such as a positive slant on euthanasia.'

'Surely someone wants to know?'

'A few internet blogs are reporting the truth, but they're preaching to the converted, which demonstrates the great weakness of the internet and why it'll never be censored; it divides and weakens opposition. There's a blog or site for every dissenter, racist, bigot, conspiracy theorist or truth teller, where their ideas are accepted and praised by small groups who never meet or plan anything positive but they all feel they've done something by simply reading it. Of course they haven't... their energies have been cleverly dissipated. Our inglorious leaders have ensured that divided we will fall, because there's no longer any widely read or viewed mass medium that provides a balanced view of human activity. Even the purportedly 'balanced' state-owned channels, follow blindly the dictates of big business and the U.S.A.'

Mort contented himself with writing letters to everyone he thought should know the truth, from his state and federal representatives to the local council and church leaders. He received no replies, but the activity released some tension and he was able to continue living without wanting to buy a gun and shoot everyone.

Mort's old school, wary of notoriety, suggested he try a private religious school owned and run by 'The Sons and Daughters of Jesus', a minority sect disenchanted with what they considered the lax and far too ecumenical religious instruction provided in State and other schools. Their own sons and daughters deserved, and therefore got, a school specifically designed to indoctrinate them with the mysteries of their peculiar beliefs. As it was much closer to Marshall's apartment than the old school, Mort happily agreed.

He had developed a taste for theatre, and Marshall took him to every live performance available, during which he sat as if mesmerised, afterwards hanging around back stage hoping to see the mechanics of how it was done. Thus, when it was announced at school that there would be a concert of plays and sketches based on biblical stories written and acted by pupils, Mort leaped at the chance to write, direct, design and act in a short piece.

Genesis, he decided, was worthy of his talents, so he designed an uncomplicated way of presenting god creating the earth and all that is in it. His plans were vetted and approved with the proviso that evolution would not be mentioned, and god would stop creating after he'd made the animals. Mort promised with his hand on his heart.

Meanwhile, on weekends he and Marshall sometimes took off on camping/hiking trips, driving to locations within a two-hundred-kilometre radius, then carrying everything on their backs to their final destination, pitching a tiny tent if it looked like rain, otherwise sleeping under the stars. In most of the national parks and forest reserves it was illegal to camp, but they were very careful and left no trace.

On the first outing to what a tourist brochure promised would be "A lush forest with fine views, a variety of animal and plant life and delightful waterholes", Marshall suggested they try to live off the land like the original inhabitants had. Mort excitedly agreed.

They walked, searched, and finally opened their food parcels with ravenously twitching fingers at sundown, having failed to find even enough water to drink, let alone food.

'How did the Aborigines manage to live before whites came?' Mort asked in astonishment.

'They were cleverer than us.'

'You're joking! They didn't even have guns.'

'When I say clever, I mean they understood that more than enough is too much. The guns you deem to be of significance when judging cleverness, have destroyed a way of life that could have gone on forever, were it not for the Europeans invading with their guns.'

Mort thought about this. 'That bit about having more than enough makes sense, but why would guns destroy everything?'

'When the first explorers arrived they noted in their logs and diaries that there was such an abundance of fish in the sea and rivers you scarcely needed a hook and line. A simple net or trap or even bare hands would usually get you a meal. There were so many birds you could sneak up on them and skewer them on a sharp stick. Snakes, lizards, all sorts of small and large mammals were there for the picking if you were proficient with a spear. They were astonished, because where they came from most of the natural world had disappeared.'

'It sounds wonderful.'

'It was if you were fit and proficient with a spear and other simple tools. The whole world used to be like that, until the invention of guns let unskilled men who couldn't even throw a spear, or swim, or make a trap, go on killing sprees — killing for the fun of it. For a while they had more food than they needed, and that allowed women to have many more children, and that required more slaughter of animals for food, and before long they'd wiped out their natural food supply and would have starved if it hadn't been for farming. But farming is not a pleasant way to live for people who love their independence and enjoy a natural life, because farming is the opposite of natural, and success depends on lots of very variable things. In the relatively short time since Europeans invaded Australia, most of the continent has become unable to sustain human life without toxic farming practises that destroy the soil, water, air and all competing nature.'

'That's horrible! But are you saying their populations didn't grow? That's impossible. There are always more people every year.'

'Only in good times. In bad times populations shrink. Wise cultures keep their populations to a level that can be sustained even in the worst seasons, because if they don't, nature will do it for them — and starving to death is slow and not that pleasant. Since the beginning of life, all animals, including humans, have gone through good and bad seasons, eating and breeding, followed by starving and dying. At this moment about two thousand million humans are on the brink of starvation, and many of those will be dead in a year or less.'

'But not here.'

'Not yet. But if the climate changes as predicted there will be many millions of starving people here, just like the rest of the world.'

'So… you're saying that Aborigines didn't have to farm because they were smarter than us?'

'They were smart enough to increase their chances of survival by not staying too long in one place so they didn't cause the extinction of important animals and plants. Their 'home' was a vast area of land through which families walked, not returning to the same spot sometimes for years, giving nature loads of time to regenerate. That's how they managed to have an abundance — except for drought years — for more than fifty thousand years — longer than any other culture has ever survived.'

'With no guns.'

'Using only tools powered by their own muscles, like every other animal on the planet. It's the way life evolved, so it's the only possible way to ensure long term survival.'

'But how come we couldn't find anything to eat today?'

'This bit of forest seems large but it's just a tiny pocket of regrowth left behind after being logged because it's no good for farming. The topsoil eroded so half the original plants disappeared along with the animals and birds that needed them. We hadn't a chance of finding anything to eat.'

'You knew that but still made me starve?'

'It takes longer than eight hours to starve.'

'So you're saying that all the land between here and the city was once forest that we could have lived in if we could throw a sharp stick accurately?'

'Yes. But we clever modern humans have burned, bulldozed, scraped bare, planted, sprayed, poisoned, built on, cultivated for food or grazed once natural land for cattle and sheep so that every family on the planet can have as many children as they want — a dozen if they like, even if they don't grow a single grain of wheat, or vegetable leaf, or fruit, or know how and where the food they eat is produced. Many people can't even prepare their food themselves any more; increasingly relying on others to process it for them. If that isn't decadence, I don't know what is.'


'Decay. Human civilization is decaying, rotting, stinking and putrid.'

As there seemed little to add to that observation, Mort remained silent and thought about it. He enjoyed these discussions with Marshall, in which he learned to sort facts from opinions, and to question unsubstantiated assumptions. Eventually, recalling his grandfather's advice, he asked, 'How do you know this?'

'By reading scientific articles written by people who have studied, observed and tested their theories in practical situations.'

'At school no one agrees with you. The teachers say god will provide, and everything is going according to his plan.'

'Ha! What egregious arrogance! They reckon they understand their god's plan, but if you showed them a plan of a wheelbarrow and asked them to build one, they'd be flummoxed. Did they tell you how they know this?'

'It's in the bible.'

'Old or New Testament?'

'Old... I think.'

'That's based on an ancient text compiled by wandering herdsmen who had been kicked out of their homeland by Egyptians, or Assyrians... I forget which. After a few hundred years of exile they needed something to stop their fellow tribesmen from drifting away and joining other tribes so they made up a tribal history and religion that records the apocryphal genesis of their race, and…'

'That word...pokrifill or something. What's it mean?'

'Apocryphal – it means of doubtful authenticity, a polite way of saying it's probably a pack of lies. For example their so-called history reckons the most powerful god had chosen them as his special people, and it sets out the way they can become rich and powerful.'

'That sounds useful. How do you become rich and powerful?'

'By making sacrifices to their god, then killing and cheating and killing and stealing and killing and raping and torturing everyone who disagrees with you or has lands that you want, or for any other reason you want them out of the way — as humans have always done and are still doing all over the planet.'


'That's nature's way.'

'But the teachers at school say Australians are rich and well fed because god likes us.'

'He didn't like Fystie and Leo much.'

'Yeah, I asked about that and they said that the sins of the fathers will be paid for by their sons for several generations or something, and god moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform. I shut up then or I think they wouldn't have let me put on my play, because they said god hates people who ask questions. And only those who trust him and obey without questioning will go to heaven.'

'Do you believe that?'

'Hell no! Grandad and Leo thought it's all crap. Just a way to make people do as they're told. What do you think?'

'It's definitely not crap. Crap's useful as fertiliser. It's brainwashing to destroy children's ability to use their reason. I reckon religion should only be practised between adults in private.'

'Then why did you let me go to that school?'

'It's important to know your enemy. First hand experience of people who unquestioningly believe impossible things can only stand you in good stead in the future, because organised religions are regaining the power they had until a couple of hundred years ago, and that's very disturbing!'

'They're certainly crazy. It's like being in a mad house. It's as if their brains don't work. They're like a CD playing a loop of recorded dialogue that someone else has implanted. The kids too. It's weird. But surely they aren't really getting more powerful?'

'When the Prime Minister decrees that the Government will provide all supposedly secular state schools with fundamentalist Christian chaplains instead of properly trained psychologists and counsellors, and will pay for the training of priests and other witchdoctors belonging to religious corporations with multi-million dollar tax-free assets, then you know the end of secular government is at hand.'

Mort joined a self-defence group run by Kim, a man in his fifties; short, slim, fit and serious. It was a class for people who just wanted to be able to stop an attacker long enough so they could escape. Mort's skills were so far in advance of the rest of the class that Kim told Mort he was wasting his time and should join a proper Dojo. Mort explained that he only wanted to practice to keep his reflexes automatic, and learn every possible way of putting an attacker out of commission. He didn't want the costumes and all the rest of the stuff. The instructor narrowed his eyes, tried to stare Mort down, failed, so said he'd like to meet his father.

'Have I annoyed you?' Mort asked, bewildered.

'What gave you that impression?'

'You look angry and you want to see my father.'

'This, young fellow, is my pleasant face. If you ever get to see my angry face, run for the hills. I want to see your father to offer to train with you.'

'Yeah? Brilliant.'

Marshall was delighted with the idea and, having seen Kim arrive on a battered bicycle in worn sandals and shorts — he wore nothing else — insisted on paying the correct fee, even though Kim said he was doing it to keep himself in condition and payment wasn't necessary. They trained three afternoons a week in the grassed car park behind the Lawyer's office, rain or shine. Afterwards Marshall sometimes invited Kim for a meal.

On other afternoons Mort used Marshall's small gymnasium to keep fit, careful not to overdo it. This, together with walking to school and weekend hikes when he carried a reasonably heavy pack, were putting the finishing touches on the physical and mental transformation begun by Hugh's self defence classes. A sleek and healthy, confident youth replaced the timid boy who had so often been the butt of bullying.

Regular contact with the natural world outside the city, hours reading everything that looked remotely interesting in Marshall's well-stocked library, and long complicated discussions with his guardian, helped him to formulate a theory that the only purpose in anyone's life is the series of goals they select for themselves. If we let others plan our lives we cease to exist as individuals. A man must plan, live, and take responsibility for his own life. No one else can do it for him. There's no god lighting the way. We're each on our own. The cosmos doesn't care, he realised; it is merely the place where it all happens. It's like a house... it neither helps nor hinders the pursuit of happiness.

Long, and at times heated discussions with Marshall during mealtimes convinced Mort that the only reliable sources of information were his five senses. If his eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin received no useful information about something, then probably there was nothing useful to know.

His head was always full of questions that annoyed most people because they thought he was doubting them. Surely, he thought, they wanted to arrive at the true facts supporting ideas? Surely they didn't really believe that winning a popularity poll would transform very ordinary people into wise politicians who would not lead them astray? Didn't they realise that asking questions is one of the few things that makes us different from other animals?

'I take responsibility for everything I say and do,' he explained one afternoon to a bemused teacher in the playground during interval. 'So I can't just believe without questioning! I'd make mistakes and then be blamed. Why doesn't everyone do that? Aren't they worried they'll make fools of themselves?'

'You are making a rod for your own back, Mortaumal. God doesn't want you to think or doubt or question his laws, he wants you to trust him, to believe that he will take care of you. He wants you to let go, to relax and become like a new-born lamb, frolicking without care, not taking responsibility for things about which you know nothing.'

'Lambs go to the abattoir and then get eaten. No thanks. I want to know what's coming so I can get out of the way.'

'Then you will probably have an unhappy and anxious life. I pity you.'

'And I pity you,' Mort muttered under his breath to the teacher's retreating back.

Marshall laughed when told. 'They join religious groups precisely because they are too frightened to take responsibility for themselves. If things go wrong they blame other members of their religion for not being as good as they ought to have been, so their god is letting them see his displeasure.'

'That is so sick.' Mort shook his head and sighed. 'If you're right, then I've been lucky to have met four people who think like I do.'

'Perhaps it isn't luck. I've a theory that independent, responsible people can recognise each other. It's as if they broadcast a signal. I'm sure Leo spoke to you the way he did on your first meeting because of the way you reacted to his little rhyme when the kid was squashed under the truck. It was luck he happened to be passing, but not luck that he saw in you a kindred spirit who could laugh at a time like that, was not frightened of his hand on your shoulder, and instantly formed an intellectual bond with his son. Then your grandfather recognised it in Leo. Your grandfather and I saw it in each other when he sold me the property, so it was natural I should be interested in you.'

'Did your wife have it?'

'I think evolutionary survival mechanisms decree that women have different ways of thinking to men — that's why I've never met a woman whose thought processes resemble mine. They're clever and useful in different ways, but those ways are a mystery to men, just as ours are to them.'

The concert was on a Friday night. The assembly hall was full of nervous parents anxious that their offspring shouldn't disgrace them.

'Genesis', Mort's offering, was on first. The house lights dimmed, the audience quietened, the curtains parted on deep blackness, and someone giggled. An amber spotlight slowly grew brighter to reveal the bearded head of God floating magically among the stars. The audience cheered, unaware of the invisible boy swathed in deep blue material covered in stars and moons - his bedroom curtains - wearing a Father Christmas wig and beard from the school wardrobe, perched atop a stepladder that had been draped in black cloth. He raised his arms and shouted, 'Let there be light!' and the stage was filled with a soft amber glow. 'Now I want day and night!' he demanded somewhat petulantly. The lights went on and off several times and the audience began to titter before he yelled, 'Okay, okay, slow down, lets just have day for a few hours. The lights remained on.

'Now,' God said thoughtfully, 'I reckon we need some land.'

A small brown mound slithered on and stopped at god's feet. God nodded approval. 'Now some water!' A blue band of light illuminated the base of the cyclorama on the rear wall. 'Now some air!' A strip of strong white light appeared above the blue water. The audience clapped.

'That's good,' God declared. 'Now lets have some plants!' He pointed his finger at various spots on the stage and cardboard cut-outs of trees, shrubs and flowers magically flew through the air before planting themselves in the designated spots on the stage. The actors who had made and carried them sat behind them, invisible. The audience clapped and cheered.

Now I want animals!' God announced, and a dozen papier mâché-headed animals cantered in, danced in a circle then lay down to sleep. More clapping.

'I'm bored up here in heaven!' God complained crossly. 'I need someone to talk to. I know, I'll make an animal that looks like me.' Descending the ladder he approached the brown mound of earth and pulled it upright. Mort, who was inside, stood still while god pressed the cloth against him revealing the rough shape of a human.

'Now,' said God. 'Let me breathe life into this animal... I shall call it Adam.' He put his face near the head, blew hard and a few seconds later pulled off the brown cloth, revealing Mort, naked as the day he was born, but immeasurably more attractive. Adam gave a cry of joy, leaped into the air and ran about the stage, cart wheeling and dancing, buoyed by shouts and laughter, claps and cries of horror from the audience, many of whom were on their feet.

Miss Takyn, the stage manageress, raced onto the stage and chased after Mort. 'You told me God would stop after the animals!'

'Humans are animals!' Mort shouted back, dodging between the plants.

'Stop, wicked boy!'

To shouts of encouragement from the children in the audience she grabbed the brown material and ran around behind her prey, clearly intending to wrap him in it. Instead, she tripped and shot head first off the stage to land with a resounding crack onto the floor a metre below.

A deathly silence lasted several long seconds until pandemonium erupted and five strong men ran forward to rescue the poor woman.

Mort, sensing that now would be a good time to depart, did so with alacrity. No one stopped him on the way to the classroom to pick up his clothes. He ignored questions about the pandemonium from the performers waiting their turn, slipped out the back and ran home as fast as he could. Marshall arrived half an hour later.

'You ran away,' his voice was serious.

'I was frightened. Did she hurt herself?'

'She's dead.'

'How? It's only about a metre.'

'Fell with her head at a critical angle and broke her neck. Instant. Wouldn't have felt a thing. I guessed as much when I heard the crack.'

'Was it my fault?'

'Did you push her?'

'No! I was on the other side of the stage.'

'I thought you'd promised to stop after the animals.'

'Aren't humans animals?'

'You know very well what she meant. They're blaming you for making her upset.'

'She made herself upset. And those stupid high heels she always wears, clacking along the corridors... that's why she fell.'

Marshall's expression was indecipherable.

'Should I have stayed?'

'Not unless you wanted to be lynched. Someone will probably be round to see you, but don't worry. They've not a leg to stand on. I enjoyed your show, by the way. It was cleverly staged and lit, rather amusing and captured exactly the qualities that make biblical stories so attractive.'

'Really? Gosh, thanks. What qualities?'

'Infantile and idiotic.'

Video footage placed Mort well away from Miss Takyn when she snagged her high heel in the brown cloth and tripped. His interviewers were undivided on the question of nudity, and equally united in condemnation of Mort's blithe assertion that according to what he'd learned at the school, she was lucky because now she was with her god in heaven and didn't have to wait like everyone else till she was old and ugly. Marshall's presence at both interviews tempered discussions and ensured Mort was not blamed for anything.

As he had never liked the teacher, and knew no one who would have been upset by her death to whom he might offer sympathy, he didn't attend the funeral, to the relief of the principal, as there might have been a riot from all the pupils whose chances of stardom had been foiled when the concert was cancelled.

There was no difficulty in obtaining sick leave for the traumatised boy for the three weeks until the end of term, during which he sat an entrance test for the local High School and turned thirteen. When informed that Mort did not consider his birth was something to celebrate, Marshall discreetly forgot about it, agreeing that the time for celebration would come when he found his father.

By the end of the holidays Mort was older, wiser, better informed and more secure in himself than at any time in his life, due in part to Marshal's library, a fair amount of which was now stored in his head, and self-defence sessions with Kim where he'd learned a number of instant responses that should cause so much pain and damage to the attacker he'd have time to run for it, or pick up a rock or stick and defend himself while screaming or blowing a whistle – if he had one.

High School, he expected, would be no different from primary school, although with nearly a thousand students he might at least be able to find a friend.

It was certainly different! More organised, more regimented, more conformist, less tolerant, more racist, more bigoted, and alarmingly homophobic. Most younger female teachers seemed a bit scatty and too willing to please, while the older women seemed to be tight-lipped critics of youth.

Regardless of age, the male teachers appeared either maniacally 'butch' or nerds who avoided eye contact.

Boys were called by their surnames, apparently to indicate they had no independent worth, being merely part of a family whose worth had already been decided by the behaviour of previous pupils of that name. Girls were addressed by their first name, perhaps because when they married, and it was assumed they all would, they'd lose their surname so they might as well get used to it.

Boys were careful not to show the slightest interest in other boys, or music [apart from current pop] or art, or dancing, or theatre, or reading [except for sports magazines]. On the other hand, they were careful to appear aroused by girls who giggled to attract attention, showed their cleavages, wore makeup, jewellery, made cow eyes at boys, and were constantly doing their hair or checking their appearance in windows and mirrors.

Boys who were 'real men' threw balls at each other during interval, mock wrestled, aggressively occupied the parallel bars, and showed off to the girls. The rest gathered in cautious groups, whispered together as if worried they'd be found guilty of something, and discussed the latest computer game, cult movie, or non-sporting hobby. Group members seemed to have been friends at their previous school and did not welcome newcomers.

Girls were either goody-goods who sat up straight, laughed at the teacher's jokes, always appeared interested, had their hands up before a question was asked, provided exactly the answers expected, and never asked unexpected questions. Or they were vacant dollies to whom school was a prison sentence to get out of at the earliest opportunity so they could become glamorous film stars or super models. In the classroom they were bored and sullen, passing notes, whispering scandal, or flashing their legs to the boys.

Mort kept out of trouble by smiling slightly when his classmates were stupid, crude, ignorant and rude, and by pretending he wasn't interested in even the most absorbing lessons by not answering teachers questions even though he knew the answers, and nodding his head as if he really did think the bleached little tart showing her knickers was sexy. He further cemented his image by spending lunch and interval attached to a group of 'normal' boys sitting on the grass, instead of checking out books in the library, while pretending he knew nothing and had no opinions that differed from theirs if asked.

He was bored. He was chairman of the bored.

In the second week at assembly the Deputy Principal announced the formation of an Athletics Club. Anyone interested to go to the Gymnasium after school.

Mort and about sixty students of both sexes and all ages gathered in the gymnasium. The Sports teacher said if they were not prepared to train hard after school twice a week, take part in Saturday meets with other clubs, and compete in the inter-school athletics championships at the end of the season, then they should leave immediately. More than half left. Those who remained were divided into male and female, which seemed odd to Mort who'd been reminded several times already by female teachers, irritated at what they perceived as sexist remarks, that girls were just as good as boys in everything and must be treated as equals. The two student Athletics Captains were introduced, then the teacher wandered off.

Monica was an impressive young woman with her hair tied back in a sort of bun. She smiled at everyone and said she was happy to see so many athletes. She sat at a desk on one side of the space and wrote the girls' names and preferences into an official-looking book.

Dudley, a tall, solid senior with pale skin, reddish brown hair and massive shoulders, stared around vaguely, then sat at a desk on the other side, scanning each face briefly before noting each boy's name, age and class. Mort switched his gaze from the Captain to a much better looking, tall, lean, deeply tanned senior with bleached bristle hair who was lounging against the wall beside Dudley. He couldn't help wondering if there was some special quality that made one person a captain and the other not.

The handsome guy caught his eye and Mort flushed, hoping he wasn't annoyed. Marshall was always warning him not to stare so openly. The guy winked, sending a shiver through Mort's groin, then levered himself off the wall and came to stand close behind him.

'Mortaumal,' he said so softly no one else could hear, 'you've been staring at Dudley... do you think he's handsome?'

Mort giggled and whispered back, 'No way! How'd you know my name?'

'I heard you tell Duddles.'

'You're the handsome one, and your hair looks great! It's like a golden halo. Can I touch it?'

'Not here, what would the neighbours think?'

'That I was lucky.'

'Or I was.'

'How come Dudley's the Captain and not you? He's so boring.'

'But reliable. Teachers trust that sort because that's what they're like themselves, boring, incompetent, fatuous wankers. They were promoted beyond their merit at school, so think they're born to rule, and choose similar types to lord it over the rest of us.'

Mort chuckled. 'I like you. What's your name?'

'Sergei.' His grin inflamed Mort's already aroused libido.

'The first practice session will be on the running track tomorrow after school,' Dudley announced as if it was a detention. 'Bring your gear and don't be late!'

Sergei collected his bicycle and wheeled it to the gates, accompanied by Mort.

'When can I touch your hair?'

Sergei laughed. He had excellent teeth. 'My girlfriend likes running her hand through it.'

'Mort couldn't hide his surprise. 'You've got a girlfriend?'

'Of course.'


'That's an odd question!' Sergei gazed suspiciously at his young inquisitor.

'What I mean is, you look... sort of... it's hard to explain. You seem too good for any girls I've seen in this place. They're mostly scatty bimbos.'

'Some are okay. The thing is, if I want to go to parties or dances I have to have a girlfriend.'

Mort shook his head. 'I don't think I'd want to go to parties if girls were there, they just gossip and giggle and spoil things — at least that's what they were like in the schools I've been to. Aren't there parties for boys only?'

'Not when you're at school. You'll have to wait till you've left.' He stopped, looked around to check if anyone was watching, then asked, 'Still want to touch my spikes?'

'Yes please.'

Sergei leaned forward and Mort placed his hands lightly on top. 'They tickle my palms. It feels great. I wish I had hair like this.'

'I wouldn't like the competition.'

'I could never be as handsome as you.'

'As the fox taught the crow; people who flatter, live at the expense of those who believe them. You don't fool me, young man. I know what you're up to.'

Something in Sergei's manner sent Mort's heart pounding. He wasn't sure himself what he was up to, he only knew he wanted to spend more time with this guy. As nonchalantly as he could manage he asked, 'Do you like what I'm up to?'

'So far.'

Which didn't clarify anything. They continued walking, chatting easily about keeping fit, running and self-defence. At the gate, Mort asked impulsively, 'Can we often talk like this?'

Sergei was already astride his bike. 'Unfortunately, no. I'm a senior and you're a junior. If people thought we were friends they'd assume we were queer and we'd be dead meat. Sorry.' He started to ride off, then stopped, put one foot on the ground and turned his body. 'I throw the javelin and discus, and don't trust anyone but me with them, so I usually take charge of the rest of the gear after practice as well; feel like assisting me?'

'Yeah! That'd be great!'

'Good.' Sergei thought for a second. 'At the practice tomorrow I'll ask if anyone wants to be my assistant. I'll make it sound dull and time consuming, but in case anyone else wants the job, make sure you're ready so that the second I finish asking the question you stick your hand up, then I can say you were first and no one will guess it's a set up.'


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