by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 10

An 'Old-boy' [previous student] who was now a famous rugby player, had been invited to speak to the school during the usual sports periods. To ensure one hundred percent attendance, all sports including cross-country running were cancelled.

'I have to go running!' Mort stated to a startled Mr. Caprine whom he'd cornered in the laboratory at the end of the period. 'I just have to! I'm all tied up inside. Zoltan's gone. Everyone I liked is dead. I've no friends. I think I'll smash something if I can't go for a really hard run. I need to exhaust myself. Please, can't we skip this stupid talk and go for a long hard run — just you and me?'

'I'd love to, Mort, but I have to sit on stage. How about after school?'


'Serious. I'm not feeling very different from you. As soon as school finishes, meet me at the Land Rover. You'd better tell your parents you might be late home.'

'I'll use the office phone.'

'No way! You'd have to explain why you might be late; the women in the office would hear and start rumours about us. Haven't you got a mobile?'

'No, there's no one I ever want to call and I hate the idea of being available to whoever feels like annoying me.'

'Here, use mine. Know the number?'

'Yeah, but I've no idea how to use this thing. Will you ring Marshall and tell him for me? He lets me do whatever I like, as long as he knows where I am.'

' Marshall?'

' Marshall Trimm, my foster father.'

'You call him Marshall?'

'What else?'

'He's the man you go to the theatre with?'

'How do you know?'

'I've seen you both there. And didn't I see you at the Art Gallery for that exhibition of Chinese landscapes?'

'Yeah. I tried to paint like that afterwards, it looks so simple, but I was useless — especially when I tried to put in the tiny figures.'

'You should take art classes and do some life drawing.'

'Do you?'

'Yes. Would you like to come?'

'Would I? Yes! But ring Marshall now or interval will be over and I'll be late for class.'

'You're right; I should be the one to ring, being the adult. It would look suspicious if I didn't clear it with him first.'

'Mr. Trimm? I'm Angelo Caprine, Mortaumal's physics teacher. He wants to go for a run with me this afternoon after school. We'll be back by six o'clock, will that be okay?'...'Yes, just the two of us... Hang on. I'll put Mort on.'

'Hey, Marshall. Yeah. It was my idea because I'm feeling so bloody since Zoltan left and Angelo is a really great guy. No, he won't molest me — unfortunately. Ha ha. Great, see you later.' He handed the phone back to his teacher. 'Is it okay if I call you Angelo and you call me Mort?'

'Of course, as long as no one hears you. I've got to be careful of my image. Can't have the other kids acting as if they're my equals. He sounds nice, your foster father... did he really ask if I'd molest you?'

'As a joke. He knows I can handle myself. He's really nice... but you're pretty good too.'

'Shit the road's rough.'

'It's a forestry track. I've never seen anyone else up here. This is where I come when I'm feeling sorry for myself. It's a rather special place, there's a view and... but I'll let you discover it for yourself. And I trust you to keep it a secret.'

'Of course. That's one of the few things I know how to do, keep secrets.'

'Hang onto your seat,' Angelo warned before turning sharply left and heading straight for a stand of tall trees.

Mort thought they were going to crash, but kept silent as they bounced and rocked through a gap just wide enough for the vehicle. Twenty metres further on they stopped and the silence was palpable. Tree frogs first, then birds restarted their afternoon chorus of screams and calls for mates or territorial warnings. The two men got out and stretched.

'We're invisible here, and will be until we return. Like it?'

Mort was awed. 'I didn't know such a place existed so close to the city. It's primeval. I feel like an intruder in my school uniform.'

Both were whispering, unconsciously determined not to disturb this world of natural things that humans had rejected in favour of technology.

Angelo's expression was wary. 'It's bizarre you should say that; I always feel the same, so I try to behave as naturally as the rest of the animals.'

Mort's eyes lit. 'Sometimes when Marshall and I go camping in the forest, I run around naked if there's no one else there.'

'And Marshall doesn't mind?'

'He encourages me. Even strips himself sometimes. He's got a great body for forty-one — a bit pale, but fit and healthy. How old are you?'


'You look much younger.'

'And you seem much older than fourteen. Especially the way you talk.'

'So... let's be naturists.'

'Angelo hesitated only a second before grinning and whispering, 'Let's... except for the runners. It's not smart to damage your feet.'

Seconds later, two naked men in running shoes set off along a wallaby track that led up the side of a fairly steep ridge, then turned north to follow it. For the next ten minutes the slope was easy and all Mort had to do was follow, so he had a chance to study his teacher. During the cross country runs he'd not liked to stare in case the other kids noticed, and had been too busy working out the route and keeping up with Zoltan to take a really good look at his teacher. He believed, as did his grandfather, that the body was an accurate indicator of a person's character, so was pleased to have his first impressions confirmed.

Angelo was lean. Not thin or emaciated, but athletic and wiry... he'd be really tough to eat, Mort decided. No bulging sprinter's calves or massive thighs hampered his agility. Sinewy, tanned legs sprinkled with short black wiry hairs were perfect for running long distances. His bum, slightly darker than his legs and also slightly hairy, was as lean as the rest of him. The muscles clearly visible stretching and tightening as he ran. The interplay of muscles also rippled across his back as he moved with the agility and grace of a wild animal up the slope, brushing effortlessly through overhanging bushes, glancing from side to side as if to check for danger.

They stopped. Angelo hadn't even worked up a sweat. Mort was panting, but not seriously.

'Need a rest? Want me to slow down?'

''No way! Where you go I go.'

'Ten minutes more and there's a lookout.'

With a grin and a light tap on Mort's shoulder, he set off again at a slightly faster pace, although the gradient was much steeper.

Mort proudly kept up.

Angelo stopped suddenly. Mort ran into him, stumbled and fell to his knees. Angelo took his arm and pulled him upright, steadying him.

'You're amazingly fit! We both must take care now because there's a vertical drop in ten metres, so keep behind me until I tell you it's safe.'

They pushed through scrubby growth to their right and suddenly were standing on the edge of the world. A stupendous view opened out before them. On either side steep crags and densely treed slopes. Far below, the flash of a stream between folds of forested hills and valleys. Then farmland crossed by roads, and in the distance the murky air of the city with its mess of commercial buildings, backed by a twinkling ocean.

Angelo stood behind Mort with his hands firmly on his shoulders as if to prevent him leaping off. Mort pressed himself back into the protection of his partner's body, relaxing as strong, hairy arms wrapped around him, keeping him safe. Safe from what, Mort wouldn't have been able to say, but increasingly he'd been feeling as if he was tottering on the brink of a precipice... in danger of... of what? Of falling and dashing himself onto whatever was at the bottom? It was all in his head — he knew that, but for the moment at least there was someone behind him, protecting him from himself.

He could feel Angelo's heart beating... unhurried... relaxing. He was aware of the rise and fall of his protector's chest. Angelo's breath tickled Mort's cheek. Mort took a large breath, sucking in the same air Angelo had just expelled. It was warm, moist and sweet. The two men remained thus gazing out to eternity for several minutes, contemplating the enormity. Enjoying uncomplicated intimacy.

Reluctantly, Angelo released Mort and stepped back.

Mort felt a wrench of loss, and shivered.

'You okay?'


'What do you think?'

'At first it's awe-inspiring; what the Victorians would have described as sublime. But…'

'But what?'

'But modern science and technology have made nonsense of such descriptors. We know too much about the world; how the land was formed, eroded, changed.... And on closer inspection you can see that this nature is not held in awe by the inhabitants; they've blasted, cleared, constructed and destroyed not only the natural habitat, but also the ancient gods and fabulous creatures that dwelt here.'


'So... you don't like it?'

'I adore it! It's wonderful. I feel as if I'm flying and if you hadn't stood behind and held me, I might have thrown myself off. I was in the mood to do that this morning.'

'As was I. But that first bit about science and stuff... where did you learn to speak and think like that?'

'I read all the time. Marshall has a brilliant library — wall-to-wall books, loads of old one's his grandfather collected. That bit was from a comparison of John Ruskin's ideas and contemporary criticism. It just seemed to fit.'

Angelo was unable to hide his grin. 'You're astonishing the way you think about things. Makes me feel stupid.'

'You're not stupid! You're an intelligent, kind and considerate work of art.'

'I'm not going to ask what you mean by that. Come on, only another ten minutes to the top.'

A large, smooth slab of granite lay in a slight hollow, surrounded by scraggy, windswept trees that were home to a large paper-wasp nest and a host of brown butterflies. They dropped onto the warm rock and relaxed.

'I reckon it's about four o'clock. That gives us an hour to unwind and rekindle our love of life.'

Mort considered this. 'I don't think I've ever had a love of life. I've enjoyed bits here and there, but mostly I wish I'd not been born... it doesn't seem worth the fuss.'

'If any other fourteen year-old said that I'd be worried he was suicidal. But I suppose you've arrived at this conclusion through a rational process and logical thinking?'

'Of course.'

'Does the religious idea of purpose make sense to you?'

'You mean being a faithful servant of god so you don't annoy the puerile old fool and he'll let you go to heaven? They don't even believe it themselves. They're all shit scared of dying.'

'You said you had no friends... why's that? You're an attractive, personable young man. The other kids respect you and certainly don't make fun of you.'

'I've no friends because now Zoltan's gone I don't know anyone else my age I like, or have anything in common with. Most seem like babies. I guess it's because I've mainly mixed with adults. It's not surprising I'm not fussed about friends... after all, I don't even like myself very much. My mother didn't want me — disappeared the day I was born. Grandma didn't want me. Grandad said he wanted me, but I know I was a lot of work, especially when he got sick. Leo liked me around because I made his son happier. Marshall likes having me live there because he's lonely and it makes him feel useful, but what he really needs is someone more his own age to love and share things with. By living there, I'm preventing him from finding a partner, which is depressing. As for kids not making fun of me, that's because I'm capable of maiming anyone who thinks they can make me do what I don't want. They know it and are frightened I'll smash their faces in.'

Would you?'

'Instantly, if anyone tried to bully me. I'm also for the death penalty for violent crime, as long as there's not a smidgen of doubt about guilt.'

'Also for murder?'

'Not unless it's a by-product of the violent crime — done for personal gain. People often murder for specific reasons, and as some of those are valid, it would be silly to punish the person who removes an evildoer.'

'What would be a valid reason for murder?'

'If someone makes an innocent person's life a misery through either psychological or physical means, or both. Cruelty should not be tolerated.'

'How are you feeling now?'

'Immediately after the climb and standing on the edge of the world, I felt euphoric. Now I'm back to feeling as if I want to tear myself in pieces, violently... to get rid of whatever it is inside that makes me feel dead. It's got worse since Zoltan left.'

'Have you told Marshall?'

'He's a busy lawyer. My problems aren't real. I'm a very lucky person. He does more than enough for me. There's no way I'm going to burden him with my pathetic ennui. Because that's all it is.'

'This morning... why did you demand I take you on a run?'

'I felt rotten. You looked so sexy during class and I had a fantasy that we'd go somewhere private, like I used to with Zoltan, and you'd fuck me. Shocked?'


'I've recently read Mary Renault's 'Last of the Wine' and in it an older boy fucks his younger lover because they believed that the manliness of the older would be transferred to the younger via the sperm. In the same way as people used to think that eating brains would make you cleverer, or cannibals thought they'd gain some of the power of their opponents by eating them. I admire you, and would love to have some of your qualities, so thought it'd be worth a try. Also... it seems like an experience every man should have at some point. Touching skin is fine, but to have someone actually inside you, emptying their vital juices into your body seems rather poetic.'

'About as poetic as a penicillin injection. Anyway, technically, the alimentary canal from the mouth to the anus is not internal, it's like a tunnel, open at both ends. You can't say you've been inside the earth if all you've done is walk through a storm drain under the motorway.'

'Angelo! You're so prosaic. The French apparently take some medicines anally, because it is more rapidly absorbed. Do you think I'd derive some benefit from an injection of your protein enriched sperm?'

'No sensible person fucks strangers without a condom. But you could suck me off and swallow.'

'It wouldn't have the same romance, and I think I'd gag... I loathe slimy food. I wanted to be a passive, pliant, languishing lover.'

'Not your style, you're an assertive young prick.'

'Wanna be pricked by me?'

Angelo laughed. Not an ordinary laugh, but a sudden, uncontrolled almost hysterical bout of laughter that left him breathless, gasping. As soon as he started to say something, he'd start laughing again.

'Oh! My sides. I hurt. You've ruined me. I can't breathe…' He lay back, his whole body twitching with the effort to stop laughing. Finally he took a deep breath. Held it, then relaxed.

'I didn't think it was that funny,' Mort remarked with a wry grin.

'It was and wasn't. You triggered a catharsis. I've been wound up tight, a coiled spring, a stretched wire, a…'

'Apologies for interrupting this string of clichés, but how can you be both coiled tight and stretched?'

'Mort! I love you! You're a breath of fresh air, a…'

'Don't tell me...I'm better than a glass of cold water, I'm a fountain of delight, I've released the safety catch on your shotgun and now you're firing on all four cylinders. I've breached the dam and freed your emotions to billow forth and suffocate your enemies?'

They lay side by side in silence, breathing softly, occasionally giggling. After a few minutes Angelo gave a large sigh, sat up and gazed down on his young friend.

'Thanks, Mort.' He paused, choosing his words carefully. 'It's another cliché, but I've been repressing just about everything about myself, pretending I was someone I'm not, worried I'd be rejected if anyone found out I wasn't like them. But this afternoon I've discovered that someone I like knows who and what I am, yet still likes me. I think I've been a foolish coward.'

'But a very nice one.'

'How can I repay you?'

'A kiss will do.'

'You strike a hard bargain.' Angelo leaned over and looked into Mort's eyes for a few seconds before lowering his head and letting their lips brush lightly, before lying back.

'That was nice. Much better than feeling as if the other person's trying to eat your face like they do in the movies. Must be terrifying to have someone shove a wide drooling mouth onto your face. I hate wet and sticky.' Mort raised himself on his right elbow and stared down at Angelo. 'Now for your reward for such a fine osculation.'

'Osculation? Elucidate please.'

'It's a humorous way to say kiss, from Latin. I read it yesterday in a book of poems by Victorians. The clouds were osculating in the heavens. Now my fingers will osculate your fine furry flesh.'

Angelo failed to suppress a belly laugh as, with light fingers Mort traced along his inner thigh, lightly brushing the scrotum and flaccid penis, then up the line of hair to the chest where each nipple was granted a slight tickle, causing his patient to twitch. Rolling onto hands and knees Mort straddled his target, allowing both penises to osculate gently before he sank onto the body beneath, head nestled in the hollow between shoulder and cheek.

'So... do you still feel like ripping your insides out and being fucked?'

Mort laughed quietly. 'No. I fear I have a penchant for histrionics. All I needed was to talk freely as we've done. To say all sorts of sexy, silly, nonsense things and know the person I was saying them to didn't think I was a nut case. And I think you like me. That's the main thing, isn't it? To know you are liked by the few people you also like. What about you? Are you still feeling depressed?'

'No. I feel calm and relaxed, as if I have the strength to dare to be myself, and not to care overmuch what others think of me — especially as they usually aren't.'

'Aren't what?'

'Thinking about me.'

'Thanks for bringing me here.'

'Thanks for coming.'

'I'm all sticky, scratched and dusty, so I'm not putting my school uniform on.'

'You can't go home naked!'

'If course I can, and so should you, you'll ruin your good clothes if you put them over that filthy body. There's a towel in the back, hang on.' Mort clambered into the back of the Land Rover and retrieved a towel. 'Here, wrap this around your loins if you're shy. If anyone sees you they'll think you've just come back from the beach.'

'Fair enough. But if we have an accident, I don't know you.'

'Fair-weather friend, I see.'

Thirty minutes later the Land Rover pulled into the empty parking lot behind the office.

Mort got out and had just turned towards the door leading up to the flat, when he heard the crunch of Angelo putting the vehicle into reverse. He raced back and opened the passenger door. 'You can't leave! Marshall's expecting you.'

'No way! I'll come and see him tomorrow. It's late and I have things to do at home.'

'Huh! So much for your newfound self confidence!' Leaving the door wide open, Mort shrugged and stared accusingly.

'I'm sorry, Mort,' Angelo said, undoing his safety belt so he could lean across to close the passenger door.

While he fumbled, Mort raced round to the driver's side, reached in and grabbed the ignition key. 'I'm sorry, Angelo, Marshall made me promise I'd introduce you to him tonight. That was a condition of letting me go with you. You don't want him to think you're a child-molesting pervert ashamed to show your face to the in-loco parent of your innocent young charge, do you?'

With a laugh, the naked faun skipped around the vehicle, ran to the door where Marshall was now standing, threw the keys inside, then waited just outside, patting his knees as if cajoling a reluctant dog.

Nervously, Angelo wrapped his towel tighter, got out and slammed the doors, then scurried across to join Mort in the entrance hall.

With the exaggerated severity of a stern father, Marshall checked his watch. 'Two minutes to six, good. I don't trust my ward with people who are careless with the time.'

Mort laughed at Angelo's expression of nervous bewilderment. 'Marshall, this is my physics and cross-country teacher, Angelo. Angelo, allow me to introduce you to my best friend and official protector, Marshall.'

With cautious smiles, both men shook hands and assured each other they were pleased to meet.

'Haven't we met before? I feel as if I know you,' Marshall remarked.

'I've seen you both at the theatre, and recently at the Art Gallery.'

'You should have introduced yourself.'

'That would have been impertinent, I wasn't friends with Mort then.'

Marshall nodded sagely.

'We're filthy from the best run I've ever had,' Mort interrupted, 'so we'll take a shower while you finish the meal, okay?'

'Yes your lordship. Will there be anything else?'

'Mort! You can't just invite me like that. I…'

'Of course he can,' Marshall interrupted pleasantly. This is his home, and I also want you to stay so I can check out the man who apparently thinks its okay to bring my innocent young ward home naked after a date. Highly irregular, what?'


'Go on the pair of you, shower off all that dust and muck, then meet me on the roof for a soak in the spa. Dinner won't be ready for at least half an hour.'

'But my clothes are out in the Land Rover and Mort has the keys.'

'Clothes would spoil the symmetry of your masculine physique, Angelo.' With a sly smile Marshall retreated to the kitchen, and the others to Mort's bathroom. Ten minutes later they were shaking off the drips when Angelo had a crisis of confidence.

'Surely I should at least wrap a towel around me, and what'll I wear in the spa?'

The same as Marshall and me. Come on, don't make me force you.'

'You're a pushy young bugger, Mort. You win… for now.' Angelo gave a theatrical sigh, tugged his foreskin down to ensure it covered his knob, checked himself in the mirror and shrugged in mock resignation. 'Lead on Wunderkind.'

Marshall was already in the pool sipping a drink. A jug of fruit juice and two glasses were on a table within reach of the bathers.

Angelo was suitably impressed with everything, but kept worrying about later... at dinner. It was all very well for Mort to wander naked into his own dining room and eat, but he was a stranger, and it was the first time he and Marshall had met, so it'd be rude to…

Marshall allowed the protests to peter out, then, as if seriously concerned, said, 'Angelo, please try not to panic, it interferes with rational thinking.'


'I wasn't joking when I admired your symmetry. The saying, clothes maketh the man, should be, clothes turneth beautiful men into dull conformists. So cut the crap and relax.'

Angelo grinned and obeyed.

Half an hour later, small towels protected the tapestry seats of antique chairs from the bare bums of three men who declared the meal edible, the wine light and liberating, the company delightful, and the conversation witty, varied, and stimulating.

After clearing away and doing the dishes, the two older men drank coffee in the lounge. Mort smiled at the memory of Marshall and Leo's performance, downed his fruit juice then pleaded a load of homework, leaving the other two laughing, swapping stories, comparing impressions of theatre shows and, once certain he was out of the way, discussing the remarkable young man who had so brilliantly and, they realised, deliberately engineered their meeting.

The following morning Mort carried a tray of tea and biscuits into Marshall's bedroom where, as he had hoped, two naked bodies were barely concealed by sheets on the antique double bed in which, according to Marshall, he had been conceived.

Over breakfast, Mort was asked if he had any objections to Angelo visiting more frequently — perhaps even moving in eventually when the lease on his apartment ran out.

For the first time anyone could remember, Mort found no words to express his pleasure.

Both Marshall and Angelo had enough experience, and sufficient intelligence, to know a good thing when they met it, and neither saw any point in waiting longer than absolutely necessary. To Mort's delight, two weeks after their first meeting Angelo was securely installed in Marshall's bed, with his clothes and everything else he owned jammed into the third bedroom until they worked out what to keep.

After school on a Friday afternoon a few weeks later, Mort watched from the lounge room window as a green convertible pulled up in front of the building. A woman in high heels and tight skirt got out and strode into the offices of Trimm, Kutt & Payste, Lawyers. The sight was unsettling. He felt as if he'd seen something of importance but failed to understand what it was.

He was changing from school uniform into a pair of old shorts when the realisation hit. She reminded him of his grandmother; mainly in the way she walked. As if she expected to get what she wanted. Head thrust forward, arms rigidly at her side. Feelings of fear and curiosity vied for attention.

Half an hour later Marshall came up, face wrapped in a deep frown. 'I've been talking with Mrs. Perdita Stygian, nee Aywun. She wants to see you. Do you want to see her?'

'So that's who she is,' Mort said thoughtfully. 'Must have got married. I wonder if Stygian's my father.' He looked at Marshall seriously. 'I've thought a lot about this day and although I want nothing to do with her, I'm curious to hear her reasons for dumping me. What's she like?'

'Your grandmother without the manners.'

'Yes, I got that impression when I saw her walk to the office. What do you think I should do?'

'It's your decision. She has papers to prove she gave birth to you, and if we turn her away, says she will come back with a court order demanding access to you. I've a fair idea what she wants, as we discussed when we first met. But she refused to tell me anything, insisting she speak with you.'

'Well, she's not getting any money. Okay, Lets get it over with... but stay close.'

Perdita's sole visible legacy to her son was satiny olive skin and glossy straight black hair. But whereas Mort stood straight and faced the world openly, not attempting to conceal either his character or intentions, his mother appeared sly. Face slightly averted, she turned her body sideways when passing through the doorway, like a combatant offering the smallest target, able to retreat quickly if necessary. Lightly painted lips quivered in a patently fake shy smile as her head tilted slightly forward so she could gaze up from under finely plucked eyebrows in apparently wide-eyed innocence.

Her son and his guardian stood still; faces impassive.

Perdita held out her arms as if to embrace her long lost son. 'Mortaumal,' she said in a breathy whisper.

Mort stepped back slightly as if repelled. 'What do you want?' he asked in a voice devoid of emotion.

'I'm your mother, darling. I want a hug.'

'I don't.'

Silence for several seconds.

'Why have you come?'

This was clearly not the reception she had imagined. 'I want to apologise to you for... not being there for you, I…'

'There's no need to apologise. I've had an excellent life. But just out of curiosity, why did you take off the day I was born, and stay away for fourteen years?'

'Oh! Let's not talk about that now?' She flicked at imaginary tears with a lacquered fingernail, sniffed, and then fiddled with the contents her handbag as if searching for a handkerchief. Finding nothing suitable she raised little-girl-lost eyes to the men in supplication.

'If you haven't got a handkerchief, use your sleeve,' Mort said with callous indifference.

Her mouth drew into a hard line. 'You have not been brought up to be pleasant to women, I see,' she said coldly. Fixing her son with a dry eye she snapped her handbag closed. 'Not having benefitted from the selfless love of a mother, I suppose I can't expect more from you. But I accept I am partly to blame and at last I have the chance to repair the damage done to my innocent boy.' She inserted a dramatic pause as if waiting for him to excitedly ask her to explain. When no such interest appeared, and Marshall looked pointedly at his watch, she continued breathlessly, 'I want you to come and live with me so we can get to know each other and be a real family.'

'Mrs. Stygian, I…'

'Oh please! Can't you call me mother?'

'You have never been my mother, and as I have never felt the loss and have no desire to change my life, you can never be my mother.'

'You talk queerly, like a professor.' Her lip curled in a slight sneer as if it was an insult. 'You're only fourteen, you…' She lost her train of thought, stopped, shook her head and plaintively pleaded, 'At least call me Perdita.'

'Very well, Perdita. Let me make myself clear. I like living here with Marshall, and I do not want to go and live with you. The sole question I have for you is, why did you skip town on my birthday and stay away for fourteen years?'

Perdita turned to Marshall for support. He offered none, so she changed tack. 'Tomorrow, Mortaumal, you and I will go for a picnic and I will tell you all about me.' Her voice had become softer, yet still slightly menacing. 'After that, you can decide what you will do. I will be in my car directly opposite here at ten o'clock tomorrow morning. Be there wearing something a little more appropriate than those old shorts. She turned on her heel and stalked out, leaving the two men feeling apprehensive.

Marshall immediately telephoned the nursing home and learned that Nasturtium Aywun had died nearly a month ago. They had sent a letter to Mrs. Stygian informing her of the death and that her mother's legal advisers were Trimm, Kutt and Payste, but had failed to inform the lawyers. Marshall didn't hold back when expressing his displeasure at not being told of Mrs. Aywun's demise. On checking the Aywun file he found an entry from three weeks earlier about an enquiry made by Mrs. Perdita Stygian regarding her father's Will. Unfortunately, the enquiry had been handled by a junior clerk who simply told her there was no Will or other testament, filed the reference and forgot about it.

Perdita was late.

Mort, irritated at being told what to wear as if he was an ignorant hick, proved he was by wearing the same shorts she'd told him not to, merely adding dusty trainers and a tight, abbreviated tank top that left his navel and most of the rest of his abdomen exposed. While waiting he mulled over Marshall's parting warning.

'Clearly, your mother suspects you are the beneficiary of her father's estate. She is a cunning woman,' Marshall had warned, 'so be on your guard.'

'Twenty minutes late,' Mort snapped as he fastened his seat belt.

'It is ungentlemanly to nag a woman, Mortaumal. We ladies are on this planet to make life bearable for men, who if left to their own devices would wallow in filth, die of starvation and return to the wild beasts from which they came. Don't look for faults in the fairer sex; look for the virtues behind them and your life will be easier.'

The arrogant stupidity of this counsel left Mort gaping.

'Close your mouth, boy! You look demented.'

Mort snapped it shut and stared at the Saturday shoppers, determined not to waste words on this woman. Without warning the car shot down a ramp into a basement car park. Perdita parked, then led her silent son to a door, inserted her security key-card, and a lift whisked them up to the top floor of the hotel. The room was large, bland and filled with light, with a view over the city to the distant sea. A queen size bed and side tables occupied one wall, windows another, a desk and door leading to the bathroom on the third, and a couple of easy chairs on the wall containing the door to the corridor. She marched across to the desk, pressed two buttons on the telephone, and waited.

'Kitchen? Perdita Stygian, Room 906. I need a luncheon hamper for two, one adult, one child, in five minutes... good... put it in the boot of my car, a green convertible, number plate 041-OEE. Repeat those instructions… that's correct.' she replaced the receiver and turned to her son.

'Thanks for dressing up.'

'My pleasure.'

'We're going to a beach north of the city for a picnic.'

'I didn't bring my togs and I'm not swimming in these shorts.'

'Then swim naked — if the tide's in.' She went into the bathroom and Mort heard taps running, water splashing, toilet flushing. When she returned to the bedroom with two towels she looked no different — still shrewd and devious. Irritably, she grabbed her handbag and tossed the towels to Mort. 'If you need the toilet, go now.'

'I don't.'

'Good. Come on.'

'Must I wrap myself in this towel to hide the offending shorts?'

'Do what you like!'

'I intend to,' Mort whispered to himself.

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[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead