by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 18

Taking the same back streets he always used, Mort was making good time down a deserted service lane behind bankrupt shops and deserted warehouses when he noticed a couple of guys he'd sometimes seen hanging around that area. There was something about their stance today that seemed different; they were waiting — perhaps for him because the last time he'd run through they'd made unpleasant comments about his long hair and baby-face.

A shifty looking fellow in his late twenties, slightly overweight, dressed in black shoes and trousers, white shirt and blue tie, hair combed with a parting on the right, stepped out and blocked Mort's path, moving from side to side as Mort attempted to go past.

'Where're you going, faggot?' he sneered. Then to his mate, 'Check the shorts, Tiny. His fuckin' bum's hangin' out.'

Tiny was very tall, blond, and handsome in a Nordic way, with long arms dangling from what appeared to be powerful shoulders. His clothes were identical to those of his friend, but suited him better. Both men, Mort noticed, had small gold crosses pinned to the pockets of their shirts.

Tiny barked a short laugh, 'Good one, Ruff. I guess he's looking for a fat cock to fill it. Do you know who we are?' he asked Mort, stepping behind him to prevent his running back the way he'd come.'


'We're the Protectors.'

'Who or what do you protect?'

'You've heard of Oliver Cromwell?'


'He cut off the King of England's head and was made Protector, to protect that country from heathen depravity.'

'And you think I'm depraved so you want to cut off my head.'

'We think you're a filthy little sodomite, defiling god's kingdom and unworthy to live; so we'll cut off your balls, the source of your foul desires.'

'What makes you think I'm queer?'

'You know Mr Wiley?'


'He pinned a tracer to your bag yesterday, and we followed you to the queer cop's place. Mr. Wiley now knows where you live and he doesn't like people who don't keep appointments. This morning we waited here because we guessed you'd be coming.'

Cold fingers were scrabbling inside Mort's chest. He'd got Raul into danger. 'Who are you?'

'We're the good guys, helping the State Premier to cleanse the city of sin. We're doing God's work.'

How do you know what god wants?'

'If a man lies with a man as with a women, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed. That's from the bible... Leviticus.'

'Hang on! What about the no killing commandment?'

'Whoever sacrifices to any god except the Lord alone, shall be doomed. That's in Exodus.'

'So only people of the same cult are safe.'

'Yes indeed, because everyone who doesn't seek the God of Israel, is also to be put to death. That's in Chronicles. You see, we know what God wants.'

'How did the men who wrote that stuff know what god wants?'

'God told them.'

'And you believe that?'

'Of course! I have faith. God wouldn't let me have faith in a lie, would he?'

'Do you never doubt the rightness of what you're doing?'

'Never, it is God's will.'

'Isn't it strange that the will of god always conforms to the desires of his follower?

'Not at all! He uses our talents. We're good enforcers so that's our task. It would be stupid to ask us to build a bridge, wouldn't it?'

Mort was silent for a few seconds. 'Seventeen young men were found mutilated last month. Was that your work?'

'That'd be telling.'

'How many of them died praising your god for his beneficence I wonder. It's always sex that angers religious bigots, isn't it?'

Ruff's smile was predatory. 'Always. That's why we thought you'd enjoy a little chat with us — after all we're men, and that's what turns you on, isn't it?'

'You're not unattractive physically, but mentally you're offensive.'

Stepping closer, Ruff pressed his belly against his victim, forcing him back against Tiny, who didn't move.

Mort kept his face in neutral, looked Ruff in the eye and allowed a slight smile to flicker.

'Think it's a joke do ya, queer-boy?' Tiny snarled, wrapping his arms around Mort's, pinning them and the knapsack tightly, then lifting his victim's feet clear of the ground and carrying him into a gloomy loading area about eight metres deep that served a disused loading dock. Concealed behind a pile of crates and other rubbish, they were hidden from anyone looking down the lane or walking past.

Ruff followed them in, grinning. Tiny squeezed tighter, causing Mort to grunt from pain as the valve of the cylinder dug into his back. Giggling obscenely, Ruff began to drag Mort's shorts and jockstrap down. Mort instantly stopped struggling, let his feet hang loose, and made a wish. Seconds later the wish was granted as Ruff held both garments aloft in victory and Tiny let Mort's feet rest on the ground once more.

Relief surged through him. He wasn't going to be hobbled. Quietly filling his lungs as much as he could while still able to breathe normally, he increased the tension in his shoulders and chest to make his upper body as large as possible, not that it seemed to make any difference to Tiny, whose encircling arms remained tight and unbreakable. At least Mort's weight was now on his own feet.

'You won't be needing these any more,' Ruff jeered, producing a flick knife and slicing the jockstrap into pieces, 'because when we've finished you won't have any balls to put in them.'

His laugh had a slightly mad ring as he tossed the garments away and began a sort of predatory dance in a circle, knife held high stabbing at the air, all the time keeping his eyes fixed on Mort.

A sudden release of air, and relaxation of all the muscles in Mort's upper body, loosened Tiny's grip just enough for Mort to drop to his knees. Tiny stupidly grabbed at the knapsack and singlet, allowing Mort to slither out of both, then before he could react, Mort sprang up and slammed bony knuckles into Tiny's windpipe. The soft crack of shattering larynx was followed by a sickening gurgle and collapse.

With a scream of fury, Ruff raced at Mort, knife high in a great swinging arc that would have buried the blade in the base of Mort's neck if he hadn't moved slightly, caught the wrist and accelerated it's progress, forcing it down and slightly inwards. Ruff overbalanced, tumbled forward and landed on his belly, his free arm unable to prevent his face smashing into the metal edging of the concrete loading dock. The lifeless body dropped to the ground and rolled onto its back, hand still clenched around the knife. A large dent in his forehead gushed blood. Eyes wide in surprise; mouth foolishly agape.

Mort turned to the big guy. Judging by the gurgling sound, blood was trickling into his windpipe. He was going to drown. Tiny looked up imploringly at Mort, who nodded, fetched the knapsack, swung it twice round his head then smashed it into the side of Tiny's head. The heavy gas cylinder inside did its work and the gurgling stopped.

Time was passing and the longer he remained the more likely it was that someone would come past. Homeless people sometimes lived in these old warehouses. Mort wiped the splashes of blood off his knapsack with the singlet, checked inside and discovered a tiny metal disc the size of a five cent piece that had been pinned to the lining so it hadn't fallen out in his bedroom. He placed it under the roller door of the warehouse, then stuffed the singlet and pieces of jockstrap around the gas cylinder to protect his back. After putting on his shorts he removed the little crosses from the two would-be assassins' shirt pockets and placed them in their mouths, checked there was nothing left to incriminate him, made sure the service lane was empty, whispered heartfelt thanks to Brawl and all the others at the Self Defence Club who had trained, taught and practised with him so patiently, then jogged on up the lane. He had an important job to do; any emotional reaction to the unpleasant experience would have to wait until he was somewhere safe.

He had only gone twenty metres when he felt the disadvantage of very short shorts; his penis was flopping around in full view. He paused at the junction of the lane with the main road, noticed an electronics shop, and keeping his hand in front of the offending appendage, jogged over, took one of their brochures and used it as a screen while continuing on his way.

It was hot. Much too hot to be jogging, yet the usual lunchtime sprinkling of fit young men looking vulnerable in trainers, skimpy shorts and tank tops had willingly swapped the air-conditioned stupor of offices for the acrid air of city streets and a sense of liberty. Ignored by jostling crowds of lesser mortals in sandwich bars, restaurants and pubs, they dodged between pedestrians, zigzagged through slow moving traffic, and converged on the busy highway that flanked the city's most popular asset — Mt Coot-Tha wilderness park.

Anonymous among the runners, the slender youth with long black hair restrained by a dark blue sweatband, whose cheeky shorts and naked chest attracted complimentary glances and at least two wolf-whistles, kept his gaze firmly fixed on his feet until, with a slight tightening of lips he swung to the right and headed for a large commercial waste bin occupying two parking spaces in front of a partially demolished building.

He began to limp slightly and on reaching the bins placed his knapsack up on the edge of the nearest, steadying himself against the metal while removing a stone from his shoe. When he reached up to grab the pack, he accidentally knocked it into the bin. Clearly irritated at his own carelessness he pulled himself up and hung over the edge to peer in. It was about half full of rubbish from the building site, along with the usual detritus tossed in by passing shoppers; fast food wrappers, soft drink cans and plastic bags. Balancing on his belly he reached down, retrieved the empty pack, made sure it was properly closed, slung it over a shoulder and sprinted across the road, dodging between two large delivery vans before gaining the opposite pavement where he hurdled a low fence and raced up the rise into the forest.

Once concealed by the trees he stopped, checked in his bag, discovered he'd dumped his singlet along with the cylinder and other stuff, and would have laughed at his stupidity if the need to warn Raul hadn't been so urgent. He phoned and Raul answered immediately. Mort told him he'd heard that Mr. Wiley might be sending heavies to look for him at Raul's place, so if they came, say it was just a one night stand and he didn't even know my name. 'I'm going away for a bit,' Mort told Raul, 'and I'm dumping this phone as soon as I switch off. I'll let you know when I get another number.' After promising eternal friendship they disconnected, Mort wondering if he should have mentioned the Protectors.

Deliberately avoiding the usual paths and tracks, he charged up through increasingly dense forest until he was within sight of the lookout. Directly beneath it was the overgrown track that led where he wanted to go. A busload of sightseers were pointing cameras and chattering in excitement at the view of tower blocks, motorways, suburbs and the river. No one had bothered to wander even a few metres from the decking to experience the much more interesting mysteries of nature. With a contemptuous shake of his head Mort removed the sim card, smashed it and his phone between two rocks, wandered casually to one of the rubbish bins at the edge of the car park, dropped them in, then set off at a punishing pace along a track behind the souvenir and coffee shop, over a ridge and down a steep valley to a quiet spot where he sometimes went when he needed to be alone.

Stopping at the edge of a small clearing he stretched to loosen muscles and peer into the forest on the other side of an almost dry, stony stream. He was definitely alone. Unsurprising as it was no longer the lush green attractive spot he'd discovered the year before. Dead trees now spread their branches like talons; the small patch of grass was grey and although the water hole was full, if it didn't rain within a week it'd be a stagnant puddle.

His heartbeat slowed but his brain continued to race, mulling over everything that had happened that morning. A good run usually cleared his head, but today he couldn't shake the fuzziness... the feeling that something wasn't 'right'. That he'd made a mistake. He gazed up at the unrelenting, unforgiving sky that hadn't let a drop of rain fall for months. A crow's melancholy caw reflected his uneasiness.

After a quick look around and a longer period of listening to ensure he was still alone, Mort removed his shoes and shorts, stuffing them into his pack, which he hung on a branch directly above the pool before slithering silently in, releasing a slow breath of relief as muscles relaxed, heat dissipated and his brain slowed.

The patch of indigo sky visible above the clearing threatened even more heat. A current of hot air too slow moving to be called a breeze, brought with it the stench of a rotting animal. Crows circling and cawing as if bewailing the death of their world increased the sense of despair. Mort shivered. He couldn't think in such a benighted place, so scrambled out of the water, checked himself for leeches and ticks, snatched his pack off the branch, slipped his feet into his shoes and took off up the ridge to a smooth flat rock, protected from the sun by an overhanging ledge and invisible from below as it was accessible only by scrambling down from the rocks above.

He sat, leaning against the exposed root of an ancient tree, drained his water bottle then lay down, resting his head on his pack. He needed to think. He needed to review his life. He'd arrived at a hiatus. The encounter with the Protectors had changed everything. The bodies must already have been found so there'd be a manhunt. Someone must have seen him — there was always someone who sees things. He was not difficult to recognise or identify. Hundreds of people knew him from the nursery — clients and tradesmen. He'd stripped for hundreds. He hadn't changed much since school.

Yesterday he could have chosen to return to the nursery and Lydia, to help her with the sale — could have even bought the place if he wanted. No, perhaps he couldn't have. That look on Lydia's face as he was leaving. She was still convinced Mort had talked Stefan into killing himself. He didn't trust her to stick to the story when the doctor came, so he'd never dare return in case he was wanted for assisting someone to die. He'd had to get away even before his run in with the 'protectors'; that only made it more urgent.

He had to disappear. He, Mortaumal Aywun, was a double murderer. In self defence, but that wouldn't make any difference to a judge. Both victims were white, while he was beige. They had religion, but he only had reason. They won on both counts because white means superior and religion means moral.

He began to laugh silently, at first controlled but then hysterically, rocking silently back and forth for several long minutes, gasping for breath, desperately determined to make no noise. Suddenly it stopped and a violent chill enveloped him. He curled up, hugging himself, uttering great choking sobs that felt as if they were ripping out his lungs. Eventually tears streamed and breathing slowed until he sucked in a great lungful of air, held it as long as he could, then let it out slowly and lay still, not daring to move in case it triggered another crazy reaction.

Holding up his hand he was pleased to see it didn't shake. 'And here I thought I was a man of steel, able to do whatever it took without suffering a crisis of conscience.' He sighed. 'It seems I'm human after all. Not sure if that's good or bad.' Mort frequently talked softly to himself when alone because it made thinking easier — it was like hearing someone else make suggestions for him to consider.

Sitting up again he took a dozen deep breaths and felt a little dizzy with all that oxygen, but nothing worse. 'Ouf. System cleaned of dross, now perhaps I can think.'

Within seconds he began to laugh again, this time at the absurdity of his position; setting off into the unknown wearing nothing but inadequate shorts and running shoes. At least he had his wallet and debit card. But he couldn't use that if they were looking for him.

He lay back, hands behind his head and considered possibilities and consequences.

'I have to disappear,' he said softly. 'I am probably being looked for, so can't risk putting other people at risk. That means putting on hold my search for Papa. And I can't go back to Marshall's. The only solution is to take off and see what happens. I'm sixteen and not stupid, despite having no parents, no home, an incomplete education and no prospects for fame and fortune.' As always he chose to forget that he was already the possessor of a small fortune, because that would have spoiled the sense of adventure.

'At the moment I can't see anything I could have done differently so there's no use thinking about what might have been and beating myself up over it. I must accept the situation and work from there. And I have to remain independent, not tell anyone anything more than absolutely necessary about myself. With all the humans I've known, nothing is ever straightforward. Their priorities are not mine. Should I change my name? If so, what to? No, hardly any point. If I make sure I'm not on anyone's books, pay cash, don't confide in strangers, take on jobs that don't need a tax file number… I'll be fine. He sighed at the impossibility of his plans and let the warm air and peaceful isolation lull him to sleep.

A sharp gust of wind ten minutes later dropped a dry twig onto his face from the tree above and he sat up in alarm. A quick glance calmed him, but he was disappointed at how nervous he'd become. That was one more thing to take into account. Once more he told himself the Brisbane episode was over. He'd miss Steward, Brawl, and Raul... but they had their own lives and he could never be part of them. That was all in the past. Naked — more or less — he'd set forth to see what fate had in store. Not that he believed in fate, but it sounded more romantic than simply to see what happened.

But he couldn't just jog along to the nearest shopping centre to buy clothes with his cock flapping around. What to do? A documentary about the Papuan Highlands sprang to mind. The men wore nothing but a penis sheath whose original purpose was the same as his, to stop it dangling and getting damaged. The fellow making the film, who had lived with them for a month, explained that they pull their foreskin out beyond the glans as far as possible, then tie a string around it. The foreskin swells a little beyond the string so it doesn't pull off, the string is threaded through the sheath, and that's attached to a string around their waist.

In a semi-secret internal pocket of his knapsack was a cache of essentials. Elbert's ring, a box of matches, a folding multiple tool that included pliers, blades, files and scissors, a needle, some cotton and a small ball of string. He didn't need a sheath, so massaged his foreskin out as far as it would go, prepared a loop of string, lassoed the loose skin and pulled it tight. Too tight, within seconds it began to hurt. After six attempts, he worked out a method of tightening it enough not to slip off, but not so tight as to cut off the blood. The pain had made his penis shrink, which made his job easier.

After tying the string around his waist he jumped up and down. His cock stayed up and it felt fine. Odd, but fine. Very sensible in fact. He wondered what the world would be like if humans had been rational and continued as they began, using clothing only for protection. But such thoughts he realised were pointless; humans have seldom, if ever, made sensible choices. He tied his long hair back in a pony tail secured with the headband, put on his shorts, repacked and put on the knapsack, and jogged away through the trees, eyes alert, brain telling him that his nervous excitement was dangerous; he should be calm and collected.

After crossing a narrow sealed road he ran through the vast old cemetery, occasionally losing his sense of direction because of the necessity of avoiding other people. Arriving at a narrow, tree-covered road separating the tombstones from a continuation of the main park, he stopped to catch his breath and think. He'd been running blind and had no idea where he was. Stupid. He frowned, and after checking for ants sat on the dry grass and leaned back against a stump. It was too ridiculous. He, the master planner who always thought of everything had failed to plan for the possibility that he might need a plan B.

'Ah!' he snapped irritably, 'I'm trying too hard to be perfect.'

He regained control of his breathing, emptied his mind and relaxed, allowing his brain to organise its thoughts without conscious interference. He'd taken off from the nursery with nothing except the clothes he was wearing, his wallet, water bottle and phone. Not even food. Why? Because he had only focussed on safely getting rid of the evidence. Why hadn't he predicted other problems, or at least guarded against unforeseen happenings? Because he'd grown careless. Life had become too easy. It was his own fault.

He knew from experience that women reasoned and made decisions quite differently from men because their aims were different. He should have expected that Lydia might change her mind, even after agreeing with him. It had been utter stupidity to know this but not act on it. She might have done exactly as Mort had asked her to do. But that was a risk he shouldn't have been prepared to take. Another stupidity was helping Stefan... doing more for someone else than they'd do for him. Rational humans simply couldn't behave like that if they wanted to survive. If the police became involved his freedom was over — even if they decided he'd done nothing wrong he'd be on their radar forever.

As for the two Protectors, they'd already shouted foul things at him several times at that exact spot! He should have realised they were working up to something. He had to stop this mulling. What to do now? Get out of the city. He'd find a shopping centre, buy a pair of trousers and a shirt, get some food, take a bus to the end of the northern suburbs, then hitch a ride.

Relieved at having a plan, he stood, brushed leaves off the seat of his shorts and was about to set off in what he hoped was the right direction when a smart green van drove past on the other side of the narrow road. The window was down and the driver sent him broad grin. Mort returned it with interest. With a friendly wave the car disappeared around the bend, leaving behind a young man whose future suddenly seemed less miserable. To be smiled at by a stranger was such a rare and wonderful event he could remember every time it had happened. He was wondering why so few people smiled, even to people they knew, when the van returned and pulled up beside him. The driver leaned across and opened the passenger door.

Imagining he was being asked for directions, Mort approached.

'Hop in.' The voice was deep and slightly amused, the age in the late twenties; the body lean, tough, and tanned. The head boasted a beaked nose, square jaw, heavy green/blue shaving shadow, narrow mouth and shaven head making the best of semi-baldness. Bare feet, jeans and an unbuttoned short-sleeved white shirt were the extent of the clothes. A powerful chest was decorated with a tiny gold medallion nestled among close-cropped black hair.

'Are you offering me a lift?'

'What else?'

'That'd be great! Where to?'

'Not too far. Just a few kilometres north.'

'That's brilliant. I've no idea where I am and need to get some lunch and buy a few clothes. I wasn't looking forward to any more jogging; it's too hot.'

'I wouldn't bother buying clothes — you look great as you are. As for lunch, I can make you something at my place. My name's Hale.' The driver held out his hand.

'Fabricato,' Mort said cautiously, immediately regretting concocting such a stupid name. 'But everyone calls me Fabri. And you don't have to give me lunch.'

'I'll be making some for myself, so you might as well join me.'

'Great! Thanks.'

They'd driven a hundred metres when Mort realised what he'd done — accepted a lift with a total stranger. Three hitchhiker murders in the past twelve months, and he'd been the target of a murderous attack only a few hours previously, yet he leaped blithely into the first car that came along driven by a reasonably good looking bloke offering a lift. He ventured a quick look at the man who called himself Hale. He didn't look dangerous — quite the opposite. But that's how con men got away with cheating and murder.

'Where exactly are we going?' he asked nervously. 'I'm expected at home and they'll be worried if I'm late.'

Hale looked across. 'You're nervous.'


'It's a bit late for that, isn't it?'

'I could open the window and scream for help. Pull on the handbrake. Punch you in the side of the head…'

'You could also grab the steering wheel and make us crash.' Hale pulled into the side of the road, opened the glove box and handed his wallet to Mort. 'Open it and check my name, driver's licence and anything else you like. If you're still worried you can leave.'

'I feel stupid.'

'You're not. Go on.'

Embarrassed, Mort scanned the contents of the wallet. 'You're thirty-one.'


'You look more like twenty-one'

'Thanks. How old are you?'

'I'll be twenty in two weeks.'

'You also look younger.'

'I know! I hate that.'

'Do I also get a look at your ID to check I'm not picking up a mass murderer?'

Mort froze. Fuck! Was Hale a plainclothes cop, one of dozens guarding all exits from the park? That'd be the logical thing for the police to do. Someone had seen him running away dressed as a jogger. All joggers went to the park. Hale was a cop! The colour left his face. He couldn't speak, just stared at the dashboard in sick despair.

'It's okay!' Hale sounded concerned. 'I don't really want to see your identification. Forget it. I'm an excellent judge of character and I trust you... okay? Calm down.'

Mort turned bleak eyes on the man. 'Do you really trust that I'm not a criminal?'

'Yes!' There was no hesitation.

'Thanks, because I'm not, but I have got myself into a spot of bother. There's something about you I trust too, so here's my Driver's Licence.'

Hale opened it and laughed. 'Thanks, Mortaumal. I knew you weren't twenty; your body's too smooth. You look like a tough sixteen year old, but your eyes could be those of a man twenty years older; they've seen more than they should have, I suspect.'

'Not really.' Mort put his licence back in his wallet and returned Hale's to the glove box, keeping the Business Card. 'Your card says, "Hale Lightfoot's Astounding Acrobatics. Performances anywhere, any time." What sort of acrobatics? Can I see them?'

'When we get to my place I'll show you — if you're still coming.'

'Of course I am… if you still want me to.'

Hale was the product of parental indulgence and classically handsome features. Natural charm and a smile that could disarm an assassin ensured that his equally natural self-indulgence and thoughtless unconcern for others were dismissed by all who knew him as charming quirks. Looks, brains and physical agility had eased his way though boyhood and youth, and a substantial inheritance from paternal grandparents ensured that adulthood was no less free from worry.

His parents had been smart enough to give up attempts to curb his self-will by the time he went to school, thus freeing themselves to enjoy the development of their precocious offspring without the usual pangs of self doubt. If his life went belly up, it was his fault, not theirs. The wisdom of that decision was evident in the result — a well-balanced man who continued to love and respect them, while living a fulfilling life of his own.

At fifteen, Hale had joined a travelling troupe of acrobats; Cirque du de la Lune, whose handsome high-wire hero promised Hale's nervous parents he would take great care of their only child and not let him out of his sight, even at night. He was a Cretan, so being ardent admirers of Knossos and Bull Dancers, they entrusted their son to him.

Life on the road was hard. Hale became skilful in several acrobatic disciplines, familiar with many countries and their inhabitants, learned three languages, and discovered that wherever he went his head and thoughts went along as well. Therefore, he figured, as it was impossible to escape himself, he might as well settle somewhere he liked and learn to relax and stop trying to be anything other than himself.

In Mortaumal's body he saw a rare prize, and didn't doubt his ability to snare him as a cheap and attractive sidekick in a new series of acrobatic performances he was planning. The kid was no fool, he could see that, and would be a challenge, but he obviously had something to hide and that made him vulnerable. There was something feline in Hale's nature; he enjoyed playing with his prey before devouring him, never imagining he could become the prey.

Thus, instead of answering Mort's question, Hale smiled softly and drove off, causing his passenger to once again doubt his decision.

Mort had always prided himself on not panicking and usually not rushing into a situation without careful planning. In sixteen years of sharing the planet with his inferiors had no serious regrets. He knew he wasn't super intelligent — but he was observant, rational and logical, which was more useful. He didn't want fame; he wanted to be independent like professor Higgins, to live his life, free of strife, doing whatever he thought was best for him. And this meant keeping a safe distance from all humans he didn't know well. Especially strangers. Only… there was something about Hale's smile that had lowered his defences. Was he losing his grip, or just feeling vulnerable after a trying afternoon? Whatever the reason he determined to be more on his guard than usual.

They were passing through a small shopping centre when Mort suddenly asked Hale to stop. 'I think I saw a mobile phone shop back there, would you mind letting me out? I need a new prepaid.'

'No probs. But I'll come with you. Dressed like that in this suburb you're likely to be set upon by frustrated viragos desperate for succulent flesh.'

He wasn't set upon, but he did attract some curious looks and a muttered, 'Disgusting!'

Hale dropped behind to look at a shop window, and when he caught up patted Mort on the bum. 'Are you aware, young man, that at least two centimetres of your bum-cheeks are exposed?'

'Only two? I'm losing my touch. At least that's all that's hanging out, you should have seen me a couple of hours ago.'

'Tell me more.'

'Later... if you're a good boy.'

That was Hale's line — or should have been. He smiled to himself.

Back in the van they'd only driven a hundred metres when Mort thrust his left hand down his shorts and fiddled. Began to sweat. Looked across to a curious Hale and asked meekly, 'If you don't mind, I need to tell you now. Please pull over.'

Hale didn't mind. He pulled over to the side of the road and watched in delight as Mort pulled desperately at his shorts, finally ripping them open and tenderly lifting out an engorged brown sausage.

'I need your help, I think. Talking about my bum and stuff gave me a hard on and there's nowhere for it to go because I've tied off the end and I can't untie the string so please! Help!'

Mort lay back in his seat, Hale leaned over, tried not to laugh, failed, picked at the knot with neatly trimmed fingernails, failed to loosen it, so with two fingers managed to slide it off the end of the foreskin, to be greeted by a sudden flowering as it peeled back to release a rapidly swelling shaft and engorging deep brown glans.

'Ahhh…' Mort sighed. 'I thought I could last till we got to your place and I'd go to the loo or something. But that was too much agony! What do Papuans do when they get erections?'

'Better give me those shorts,' Hale said with authority. 'They're torn right down the front. I can lend you some till we get these mended. Lift your bum.'

Docilely, Mort lifted his hips while Hale pulled the shorts from under him and tossed them into the back of the van between neat racks of shiny metal tubing, ropes and other interesting looking gear.

Mort started playing with the knot of the string around his waist.

'Need a hand?'

'Please.' Mort lay back in apparent resignation, enjoying the attention, knowing full well that having done something for him, Hale would feel even better disposed towards him than before. That meant Mort had somewhere to stay the night. 'I suppose you're wondering what the string was for.'

'To keep it from flopping as you're not wearing underpants?'

You're a genius! I got the idea from Papuan highlanders after I lost my jockstrap.'

'You lost your jockstrap... how?'

Another sad sigh. 'The usual way.' And that was all Hale was going to get... for the moment.

Hale drove on; amused and confused. Was the kid playing hard to get? Not possible. He was the one in strife. He should be grovelling by now. He turned the van into a short driveway and pulled up in front of an unprepossessing suburban house and garage.

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