by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 26

Dinner suits made clones of Don and his business partner, who looked irritably nervous as well as dull. Both wives had succeeded in outshining the setting sun with brightly coloured silks and twinkling jewellery on fingers, wrists, necks and ears. Don's wife, Jane, eclipsed her rival with a flashy tiara that looked as if it had been pilfered from a cheap chandelier.

'Mortaumal, This is Sly Littigayte and his wife, Avariss.'

Mort offered his hand but they stared at it in alarm, so he shrugged and withdrew.

'Mortaumal is assistant Activities Director on the estate, an invaluable addition to the staff.'

'Don! If this goes belly up we're ruined. A naked young man, no matter how attractive, is not going to influence a hardened old whore like Procura Tahrt. She'll eat him for dinner.'

'Trust me, there's more to this young man that meets the eye.'

Both women giggled. 'There's certainly nothing visible left to the imagination.'

'I have guts, ladies,' Mort said softly, and didn't smile.

'Oh, very droll,' Sly sneered. 'Just don't make things worse, young man. You're only here to prove we are broad minded with no objection to the way the woman earns her money.'

'So you're in favour of strip shows and prostitution?'

'Other people's perversions are not of interest to us.'

'Perversions? Surely if so many people enjoy such things they must be considered a normal expression of human sexuality? In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if your views were in the minority, which would make you perverted — according to your logic.'

'How dare you sp…'

'Mortaumal,' Don interrupted placidly, 'Procura Tahrt has a formidable reputation in negotiations. She terrifies all who meet her. So it would be best to let us do the talking.'

'Yes,' Sly agreed. 'Just sit there like a pretty ornament.'

'Yes, sir.'

The front door bell rang. Don scurried to open it and returned with a slim and sprightly woman in her sixties with curly grey hair, no visible makeup, wearing what the French call a little black number. Simple yet elegant and suitable for all occasions. It flattered her figure, while stylish black medium-heeled shoes flattered her slim ankles. Two substantial silver bangles on her right wrist, small silver studs in her ears and an understated silver chain at her throat, were decoration enough for this paragon of ageless sophistication.

The men looked stunned, the women furious. Mort grinned, caught Procura's eye and winked. She winked back.

Don woke from his trance and made the introductions. Procura was gracious, her voice low and intimate. Drinks were served out on the verandah; alcohol for the lawyers and their wives, soda water for the naked young man and the Madam.

'You managed to find Oasis?'



'It's good you can still drive.'

'I'm sixty-two, not ninety-two.'

Don coughed. 'Do you live permanently in the north?'

'No.' Procura leaned over the balustrade. 'I'd like to stretch my legs in the garden.'

Don moved to assist her but she took Mort's elbow, led him down the steps and into the garden, out of sight of their hosts.

'What would you say if I said, Perdita?'


'About seventeen years ago a sixteen year-old girl to whom you have a remarkable resemblance, landed on my doorstep with a tale about a baby she'd left somewhere. I didn't believe her, as there was no evidence of any such thing. She didn't even have tits! But she was a great worker; could service two football teams in an afternoon, leaving them all happy. Despite her character I quite liked her, but after four years I had to get rid of her because…'

'She was blackmailing the clients.'

'You do know her. But I should have been more understanding and not sent her packing. It's one of my few regrets. What happened to her?'

'She fell out of a window and broke her neck.'

'Probably for the best.'

'It was.'

'I imagine you've been invited to convince me those two stuffed shirts have no problems with my calling?'

'How'd you guess?'

'Do you?'

'Of course not! I like you.'


'You don't dye your hair, you dress tastefully, don't drink alcohol, have a beautiful voice…'

'Mmm. A man of sense. How would you like to join me in a little game to test the lawyers' professed tolerance?'

'Sounds fun. But I like it here, so don't do anything that'll get me sacked.'

'Don't worry, I fully intend to put my affairs in the hands of these two pompous asses; but the minute I saw you I was reminded of Perdita's wicked sense of humour and wondered if…'

'Sly told me to just sit there like a pretty ornament.'

'You aren't pretty. You're beautiful.'

'Thanks. Poor bugger, he nearly shat himself when I walked in. He belongs to the nude is rude brigade.'

'Come on then, let's get started.'

Back on the verandah, Procura perched perkily on a chair and smiled brightly. Now I feel better, there's nothing more refreshing than walking in the garden on the arm of a gloriously handsome naked young man.' She turned to Mort. 'I've no idea what Oasis pays you, but I guarantee you ten times as much if you'll come and work for me.'

'As a prostitute?' Sly asked.

'An escort.'

'How much would he earn?' Don asked, suddenly curious.

'I've clients who'd pay from five to ten thousand.'

Stunned silence.

'Surely no woman would pay that sort of money just for…'

'Men, not women; they're far too mean. Even saggy old bags think the boys should pay them.'

'Men! But that's…'

'It's just sex, Avariss. You sleep with a man, so why shouldn't young men? There are many people for whom that sort of money means nothing. They'll lose fifty thousand in a casino without blinking an eyelid. Of course, I have to be very careful selecting my boys.'

'How do you do that?'

'Good question. And if you lawyers are serious about handling my business, you should be prepared to learn something about how it's run.'

'We are! Aren't we, Sly?'

'Yes, Procura. We're very interested.'

'Good. Mortaumal, come and stand close. I'm going to teach Don, Sly and the girls how to select young men.' She winked and Mort could scarcely contain a giggle.'

Groin thrust slightly forward, abdominals taut, chest proud, head high, eyes amused, Mort stood as close as possible.

She turned to her hosts. 'Bring your chairs into a tight semi-circle; close enough to touch our model. Closer… Perfect.'

'Mortaumal...' Don's voice sounded strained, 'You are not…' his voice trailed away as Procura raised an eyebrow.

'Don,' Her voice was cool. 'You told me you are easy about nudity and sex; was that a lie?'

'Don't worry, Procura,' Mort interrupted. 'Don's happy with anything as long as it's healthy and hygienic. He was just making sure I'm okay with it.'

'And are you?'

'Yeah! Can't wait to see if I'm top drawer material.'

Procura turned cool eyes on the bright red faces of her hosts. 'Shall I continue?'

'Yes, Yes, please it is most interesting. You were saying…'

'I test for skin texture and sexual response to touch by doing this.' She placed the palms of her hands on Mort's shoulders. 'As I slide my palms lightly over the surface I feel the ripple of muscles. The skin is silken and firm. Soft but hard. A wonderful combination.' She slid her palms down till they hovered lightly over his chest. 'I am barely touching these perfect pectorals, and I can feel his nipples swell and become hard, like tiny cones. How does it feel to you, Mortaumal?'

Mort's eyes were almost closed; his head tilted back, a soft smile on his face. 'Divine,' he whispered. 'Like little electric shocks going straight to my groin.'

'A perfect response. Look, ladies and gentlemen, the swelling at the base of his penis indicates exceptional sensitivity and response. The beast is arising.'

Despite themselves, the four observers leaned forward and gazed in awe tinged with guilt.

'The only way to learn, is hands on experience, so Mortaumal will stand in front of each of you in turn. Don first, then Jane, Avariss and Sly.' Procura's voice was harsh and no one dared object. 'Ladies, remove your rings.'

They did, handing them to their husbands to pocket.

The novice selectors of suitable young men began nervously, but quickly gained courage and began to relax and enjoy the experience. When all four had felt the strength of Mort's shoulders, the delicious hardness of his nipples, and admired the by now engorged penis, he returned to the guru.

Procura placed one hand on his buttocks and the other on his abdomen. 'A man's character is visible in his buttocks. To work for me a man must have a firm, bubble butt. To test, firmly massage each cheek to feel the quality, while pressing firmly on the abdomen with the other hand. There you will feel plates of pure muscle that can withstand the most powerful punch any man can give.'

Keeping her hand on Mort's buttocks, she slid her other down and cupped his scrotum, nodding knowledgeably. 'The scrotum is an excellent indicator of sexual prowess. Mortaumal's feels like a tight velvet bag, and as I gently massage it I detect two firm testicles about the size of medium eggs, one slightly larger than the other. These are in perfect condition and will produce copious amounts of ejaculate — essential for any young man hoping to enter this profession. Am I hurting you Mortaumal?'

'No, I love having my balls massaged. You're an expert.'

'Yes, I am. And now, ladies and gentlemen, the pièce de résistance, the pillar of manhood; the shaft of delight. How powerful it is. As I gently slide my hand up and down I can feel it swelling even further, expanding, filling with blood.' She sat back with a contented sigh. 'Now it is your turn. Start with Don again, Mortaumal.'

There was virtually no initial reluctance this time. Each student massaged Mort's bubble butt, pressed the hard abdominal plates, gently manipulated their model's velvet scrotum and testicles before wrapping their hand around his manhood and sliding it up and down, eyes alight in wonder as his glans popped into view, then disappeared into his foreskin, only to emerge again; each time shinier, stiffer, more engorged. Sly became so engrossed in manipulating Mort's turgid tower he was surprised when Mort said brightly, 'You'd better stop, Sly. Cum is difficult to remove from clothes.'

The laugh was universal, genuine, relaxed, and not even slightly tinged with embarrassment.

'Procura beckoned Mortaumal to her, removed one of the smooth silver bangles from her arm, and slid it with difficulty right down to the base of his penis.

'It's still swelling,' Jane whispered. 'The bangle is sinking into the skin. Does it hurt, Mortaumal?'

'Not in the least,' Mort smiled. 'It feels sexy and nice.'

'And it will help keep the erection firm longer,' Procura stated with a satisfied nod. 'Walk up and down, Mortaumal, so we can all admire you.'

Mort paraded, grinning widely. Suddenly he grabbed his belly and looked at his host in alarm. 'Don, did you hear that? My stomach's telling me it's empty. Didn't you mentioned a meal when you invited me?'

Laughter, apologies, and they moved to the dining room. The table was a delight of candles, silver, porcelain and crystal, the meal delicious. The talk friendly, humorous and relaxed; mostly about sex, nudity, prostitution, porn videos and other topics that an hour previously no one would have dared to mention in case they were thought to be perverted.

They retired to the verandah for coffee.

'You said you do circus tricks, Mortaumal.' Sly said as if he was genuinely interested. 'Would you finish off this wonderful evening with a demonstration?'

'I'm too full of food to be spectacular, but I think I can manage something.' He stood in the middle of the space, took a deep breath, then dived forward into a handstand. Dropped into a ball and rolled along the verandah, emerging in another handstand. After slowly lowering his legs over his back till they touched the floor, he stood up, then slowly bent backwards again till hands and feet were once more on the floor, then stalked around the verandah like an enormous spider; the silver bracelet and penis swaying above like an antenna. After flipping onto his feet again, he bowed and the bangle clinked to the floor. He picked it up and handed it to Procura.

'Keep it, Mortaumal, as thanks for such a delightful evening.'

'Thanks, Procura. I'll treasure it.'

'Now, Don and Sly, I'll put you out of your misery.' She took two yellow envelopes from her handbag; one with a red band around it, the other a green. She appeared to think for a second, then handed the green banded one to Don.' There you are, all signed and witnessed. My affairs are now in your capable hands.'

'Thank you, Procura, we'll not let you down. If it's not an impertinent question, what was in the other envelope?'

'A rejection of your offer. I was undecided when I arrived, but the fun we had with Mortaumal decided me in your favour. Without him…' She sniffed and turned to Mort. 'Escort me to my carriage, dear.'

They stood beside the car looking at each other in silence for a few seconds.

'Dear Mortaumal. I feel better than I have for a very long time. I'd lost faith in humans, in humanity, in everything. But after an evening of madness with you I'm alive again. And through you I've apologised to Perdita for abandoning her. Here.' She removed the other bangle. 'Take them both. They're a pair, like you and your mother.' She held up her hand to forestall argument. 'You and Hercules think of yourselves as natural men, and you are, up to a point. But your mother was truly natural. Circumstances and her character made her feral. She was a survivor, as you are, and did whatever it took to survive. Yes, I know she was a callous bitch, but she was also hard working, reliable, smart, cheeky, and daring; traits you have inherited, along with something more thoughtful and caring from your father. Do you know him?'

'I think so. How do you know Hercules?'

'Tell him everything about tonight, and then ask him.'

'Would I really be a good escort?'

'No. You are too discriminating. Successful whores, like your mother, must be completely indifferent to others.'

Mort wandered slowly back inside. The lawyers and their wives were still sitting on the verandah. He perched on the rail and looked out at the garden.

'What happened tonight, Mortaumal?' Sly asked quietly.

'What do you mean?'

'A woman with a well deserved reputation as a hard bitch, takes one look at you, you wink at each other — I saw you — and from then on she's putty in your hands. Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. How long have you known her?'

'Tonight was the first, and probably the last time I set eyes on her. I'd never heard of her before. I liked her instantly, and the feeling was mutual. We're kindred spirits, I guess.'

'What did you instantly like? What do you mean... kindred spirits?' Sly's tone was gentle, curious, genuinely interested.

'We both prefer to look natural; she in a simple black dress, me in my skin. She's sharp, with a sense of humour. Neither of us suffer from the usual inhibitions that destroy happiness.'

'She took you into the garden. Why?'

'As soon as she saw me she understood I was there solely to prove how tolerant you are. So she asked if I'd like to have a bit of fun putting your tolerance to the test.'

'So then you return and suddenly we drop all our inhibitions, our prejudices, our social conditioning and start feeling you up; enjoying it, laughing about it, me nearly bringing you to orgasm. And I still don't feel embarrassed about it. Are you a hypnotist?'

Mort smiled. 'No. I'm just a simple man, comfortable in my skin. I was obviously enjoying myself and not in the least embarrassed, so you weren't either, and felt free to let your natural impulses off their leash for a while. Don't worry, you'll return to your stuffy, hidebound, narrow-minded, bigoted, censorious, conventional selves once you get home.'

'You're a little harsh.'

'You are harsh in your rejection of Procura and others like her. Everyone sells themselves. You sell your legal knowledge, Jane and your wife sell their usefulness as housekeepers and wives. Actors sell their body's ability to act and entertain. Sex workers are actors, selling their bodies and sexual fantasies instead of intellectual ideas. At Oasis I'm selling my desire to feel useful.'

'And tonight you've been very useful.' Don produced an envelope. 'Take this with our profound thanks.'

Mort put it back in Don's hand. 'I've had a fun time; no need for payment.'

'As a gift then? You're just a kid. You'll need the money.'

'Don, I've more money than I know what to do with. What I did tonight was pure fun, and I love what I've been doing so far in Oasis. I'd do that for nothing except I know that people don't value anything that doesn't cost them money.'

'I am learning many lessons tonight, Mortaumal.'

'Please. We're friends — call me Mort.'

Thoughtfully, Sly and his wife shook Mort's hand, thanked him for an interesting, fun and unusually enjoyable evening, and left.

Jane began clearing away and Don offered to accompany Mort back to Arch's place.

'You're quite an actor,' he said thoughtfully as they wandered along the avenue.'

'Thanks, but I haven't been acting.'

'Would you be prepared to do an acting job for me, for which I would demand the right to pay you?'

'That depends on what it is.'

'I have a recurring fantasy that a handsome young man comes to my room and treats me the way I have had to treat every woman I've ever taken to bed. None of my partners have ever bothered to make me feel as special as I have them, and it's eating a hole in my heart. I know a woman could never understand my fantasy; she'd jeer and call me unpleasant names behind my back. I don't want a professional sex worker, I want someone pure — like you. I want to know what these women experienced, just once.'

Mort thought so long Don worried he was offended, but held his peace.

'You are much more sensible and emotionally together than I realised, Don. What you want is very reasonable. How much were you thinking of paying?'

'One thousand dollars for about two hours.'

'And what would you like me to do?'

'Go into the bedroom with me, kiss me, tell me I'm handsome, desirable and all that, remove my clothes sexily, admire my body, kiss me all over. Get me to parade as you did tonight, take me to bed and caress me, bring me to a height of desire and then fuck me.'

'Have you ever been fucked?'


'It might hurt.'

'I don't care. I have this powerful urge to know what it feels like to have a man's erection deep inside me, thrusting, swelling and ejaculating — filling me with his semen like you did to Romola on stage last week.'

'Fellatio wouldn't do?'

'No, it isn't as intimate.'

'So no condoms. Well, I know I'm disease free, how do I know you are?'

'I'll get tested tomorrow for everything.'


'Have I shocked you?'

'Mort looked at Don in surprise. 'Of course not! When would you like to do it?'

'Jane goes to play Bridge in the city on Thursday nights. We'd be free from six-thirty until ten.'

'Fine. When you get your health certificate we'll make a date. Meanwhile, get a soft dildo and practice, using plenty of lube.'

' Mort! I could kiss you.'

'Only one.'

Arch drove into the garage while Mort was unlocking the door.

'How was it?'

'Great fun. I'm taking a shower, join me?'

'They soaped each other, rinsed off, then stood under cold needles for half a minute before shaking off the drops and wandering out to the garden to dry. Mort gave an account of the evening, omitting details of the testing of Don and Sly's tolerance.

'So, Procura took Perdita in, and those bracelets you brought home are a gift in memory of her. Has what she told you changed your mind about your mother?'

Mort fetched the bracelets and handed one to Arch. 'I still think she was a callous bitch, but I admire her primeval ability to fend for herself. This bracelet is yours, because you're the only person who loved her. I'll keep the other to remind me not to be too judgemental.'

'That is very generous of you, Mort. You're a sweet young man underneath all that cool rationality.'

Mort smiled. 'If you're not my father I'm going to insist you adopt me.' He yawned. 'I'd better go to bed. Self-defence at six in the morning.'

Mort woke early. He hadn't really slept. All night he'd been cursing himself for agreeing to Don's request. What had he been thinking? He didn't want to have sex with an old man; especially when Procura had just told him he'd be a useless rent boy. But could he back out? He'd given his word. Would Don be angry and tell him to get out of oasis if he reneged on the deal?

Mort went for a long run before meeting the self-defence guys, then took an acrobatics class with three girls, without having eaten breakfast.

At ten o'clock, hot, sweaty and hungry, Mort entered the house, helped himself to a chocolate bar and wandered through to the patio, intending to take a dip in the pool. Low voices stopped him. Calumnia was speaking. The deeper voice of a man responded. It couldn't be Arch as he was out on a job. Mort moved silently forward and peered out. Calumnia, sprawled on her back on a towel, was being massaged by Hercules! Both were naked.

He'd never have guessed Hercules would fancy Calumnia! A simple, honest girl would seem more his type. He froze. What to do? He shrugged and accepted reality. He knew Arch hadn't slept with his wife for ages, so she wasn't doing anything evil by finding a fuck elsewhere. It probably explained why Hercules had looked uncomfortable when talking to Arch the other day; he was screwing his wife and was worried he'd be found out.

As Mort debated his options, Hercules slung Calumnia's legs over his shoulders, gazed down at her, shook his head as if in despair, then thrust himself deep into his victim, eliciting a wail of delight, or pain, or complaint… it was difficult to tell.

Mort was surprised to see Calumnia so passive. He would have imagined her in high heels with a whip. She wasn't even enjoying it. After seeing his own mother in far more compromising positions and rutting on stage himself, this wasn't interesting so he wandered innocently onto the patio and sank into a cane chair with a loud sigh as if exhausted.

Hercules stopped pumping. Calumnia stopped moaning.

'Hercules, Calumnia,' Mort sounded convincingly exhausted. 'Isn't it too hot for that sort of exercise? Come and have a swim.' He dived in and swam underwater then popped his head above the edge of the pool about half a metre from them. They remained frozen.

'Hey! Don't stop just because I'm here. A video of you would make heaps.' He hoisted himself out of the water, gave Hercules a resounding smack on the bum, dripped water onto his back, then flopped onto his side facing them.

Calumnia turned her head away.

Hercules looked at Mort, who had closed his eyes as if uninterested. With a face devoid of emotion, Hercules began pounding into Calumnia, not slowing down even when her screams became hysterical. Finally he withdrew, pulled off the condom, tossed it into a waste bin and flopped onto his back next to Mort.

Mort clapped politely. 'Now I know what rutting feral beasts look and sound like. It almost turned me on. Except you've no tits, Calumnia. I've larger breasts than you. But I imagine those giant nipples are great for sucking on.'

Calumnia sprang to her feet, hands covering her chest. 'You fucking bastard!' she snarled. 'You evil, horrible, creepy queer fucktard! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!' She aimed a kick at his legs as she stalked past, missed then slipped, making her final exit on hands and knees, moaning about her ankle.

'You have a silver tongue with women,' Hercules observed diving into the pool. Surfacing again, he gazed thoughtfully at Mort, now lying on his back, hands behind his head, face expressionless.

'Shouldn't you apologise to Calumnia for the insult and sore ankle?'

'How can facts be insults? She has to learn to face the truth. And I don't believe the ankle.'

'Yeah, she is flat chested.'

'I thought men liked big tits?'

'I like a tight cunt more. I must say she's a difficult bitch.'

'Should you be telling me that? I'm her house guest, remember.'

'As my deputy you owe me undying loyalty and will never divulge any secret with which I might entrust you.'

Mort stood and approached the pool. 'Like the fact that you're screwing my cousin's wife. Does he know?'


'Is that why you're so awkward with him?'


'Why don't you tell him? He wouldn't care. Might even be grateful.'

Hercules hoisted himself out of the pool, wrapped his arms around Mort and pecked him on the lips. 'See you later. Don't forget to be at the Roman Temple at midday.' And he was gone.

Mort followed and caught a glimpse of a leg disappearing through a doorway in the garden wall that he'd not noticed before. The solid wooden door slammed shut with a solid thunk.

'I wonder where that goes? First something to eat, then I'll explore.'

It made sense to have an escape route through the back garden. He'd noticed the trees over the wall and had been promising himself to investigate, so now was his chance. The door was hardwood and securely hinged on the inside. As well as the usual locking mechanism there was a bolt to slide across.

Mort wandered a few metres into the forest. How natural it seemed. Dense stands of tall trees, clumps of undergrowth, narrow vistas to sun-filled clearings. He knew it was a bit fake; the groundsman had to provide the occasional path through the ancient forest, but that didn't spoil the effect. He stood completely still and became aware of the rustle of leaves. Several unknown birdcalls and an hysterically chattering kookaburra made him smile. Despite the sounds the forest seemed peaceful. The absence of human noises, he supposed. It wasn't very different from the forest where he and Zoltan had run so long ago. When running he seldom, if ever, stood totally still and felt alone. This was special.

In his first year at High School the English teacher had read them a poem by W H Davies that began: What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare… the stillness was mesmerising. He determined to come out here more often. A couple of skinks caught his eye. Having decided he wasn't a security risk they scampered across an open space. A yellow spider web built like a complicated maze, supported a giant brown spider with striped yellow legs. To his right, the rear wall of Arch's house. A toad scuttled under a rock. Mort squatted to look closer.

A sudden wind gust followed by a click announced the closing of the security door. No handle on the outside and walls too high to climb. Even if he managed, embedded sensors would ring alarms in the guardhouse. Not a good idea.

'I'll have to go down through the trees and past the pool, then back up the Avenue,' he muttered. 'That's at least a kilometre. Excellent.'

Taking a deep breath of clean forest air, he wandered towards the nearest patch of sunlight, enjoying the feel of dried leaves instead of grass under his feet. The patch of sunlight was a small clearing with a wrought iron bench, in front of which a winding path led down through the trees in what Mort thought was probably the direction he wanted to go. Not a soul in sight. Adults would be at work, but where were the kids? Tomorrow he'd start taking them for bush walks.

Mort sprawled on his back along the bench, closed his eyes and promptly fell asleep, unaware of a tall, well-built young man wearing a straw sunhat, forest green overalls and work boots, pushing a wheelbarrow through the trees on the left. The young man had not failed to notice Mort, however. He approached silently, put the wheelbarrow down, squatted beside the intruder's head and lightly brushed a mosquito off his brow.

Mort's eyes opened. 'Don't tell me! I'm dead! A demigod has come to carry me away. How did you get here?'

'By email. Are you lost?'

'Not now, I'm in Elysium.'

'How did you find my woodland couch?'

'I walked, wandered, lay down, a spell came over me and I fell asleep.' Mort sat up, offered a guileless smile and extended his hand. 'I'm Mort. Why haven't I seen you before? Do you live here?'

The young man, dazed by a smile whose complete lack of duplicity rendered it intoxicating, took the proffered hand, held it firmly and smiled back. 'Yes, with my father in the cottage next to Hercules. I'm Zadig Verdi. You haven't seen me because I've kept out of your way.'


'Because you're the beautiful, handsome, sexy, wonderful, sympathetic, clever, logical — I forget what other compliments everyone on this estate keeps showering on you — young man who is assisting Hercules.'

'Who says all those stupid things?'

'Everyone you have contact with, it seems. I imagined that anyone so popular must be a calculating prick, so I stayed out of your orbit in case I too became infected.'

'Very wise. Although I must warn you that at this very moment, by holding my hand you are taking grave risks. Your heart and soul are being dragged unresisting into my orbit. Gaze into my eyes and repeat after me: I am falling in love with Mort.'

Zadig leaped away holding a forearm in front of his eyes as if to shield them from an unbearably bright light, then sank to his knees and wrapped both arms around Mort's legs — gazing up into his face. 'No! Please no! Ohhhhh… too late! Already my heart is enraptured. I am your slave. Command me as you will.'

Mort stood, placed his hands in Zadig's armpits and lifted him to his feet. 'Rise, Lord Zadig. You have proved yourself worthy, you may now kiss your master who loves you dearly.'

Zadig fell back and rolled on the ground laughing uncontrollably while Mort pretended to be offended. When he finally stopped laughing, Zadig took a deep breath and asked innocently, 'It would seem you are not a stuffy prick after all, Master. Is the offer of a kiss still open?'

Mort's smile was beatific. 'For you, oh Zadig, the offer will always be open. Fuck! You're gorgeous! Come on. Kiss me!'

Fifteen minutes later Zadig was sitting in the wheelbarrow clinging to the sides as Mort wheeled it zigzagging down between the trees at ever increasing speeds. Laughing and shouting, they arrived at the Verdi cottage where Mort unceremoniously tipped his load onto the grass.

Doug Verdi was standing at the door; gaunt of feature and sallow of tint. His shirt and trousers hung limply. Bare feet impeccably maintained. Clean-shaven with neatly trimmed hair parted in the middle gave him a sad, poetic look. He gazed unsmiling at the two youths as if wondering where they got the energy, then shook himself visibly and looked a question at Zadig.

'This is my father, Doug Verdi,' Zadig said with a proud smile, 'Dad, this is…'

'Mortaumal Aywun.' Doug finished. 'Flavour of the month. I've seen you with Hercules and I enjoyed watching you dance and fuck Romola last week.' He held out a long, thin hand, which Mort took gently and shook lightly.

'He's not like we imagined, Dad, he's funny and nice. But I had to kiss him before he would leave the forest.'

'And does he kiss well?'


'Good. Well, go and shower off your dust and sweat while I interrogate this naked woodland sprite.' He turned to Mort.

'Come inside and tell me your intentions regarding my son.'

The cottage was a mirror image of Hercules'; equally cosy but not so neat.

'My intentions are honourable, oh ancient sage.'

'Cheeky monkey. You look as if you feel sorry for me. It isn't necessary. The more lugubrious and depressed I look the greater my inner happiness.' The smile was gentle and genuine. 'I had a stroke six months ago, so my wife took off with her lawyer boyfriend. Zadig offered to give me a hand, and has now taken over as groundsman.'

'That was good of him.'

'Perhaps. He was studying some crap at university and hated it, so it was an excellent excuse to leave. And you are staying with Archibald Lintel.'


'A good man. A very good man. The Body Corp wanted to replace me as I could no longer do the heavy stuff, but when Arch discovered that my wife's lawyer boyfriend had stripped me of everything I owned so I'd be in the workhouse, he arranged for Zadig to be appointed temporary groundsman. A kid of nineteen. No one else would have taken the risk.'

'I'm sure he could see the sense in continuity, and it's obvious to even the weakest mind that Zadig is an exceptionally talented, reliable and trustworthy person.'

'And you've known him how long?'

'Almost half an hour; but it seems like forever — I'm in love with him.'

Doug's face became concerned. 'I too love Zadig, and will until the day I die. He is a sensitive young man and has never, to my knowledge, been in love with anyone. Are you in the habit of falling in love with strange young men?'

'I've never been in love before. I know I seem flippant and silly, but I'm not known for making people unhappy — unless they deserve it.'

'What do you like about him?'

'We're more or less the same age — I'm nearly eighteen. The same height. Both fit. We seem to have a similar sense of humour. We both love being in nature. We both like it here so I don't want to take him away. He has a loving father who named him Zadig. Why that name?'

'Zadig is the eponymous hero of one of my favourite books by Voltaire. I think I hoped my son would grow up to be as wise.'

Mort's grin was impish. 'Surely, having fallen for me proves his wisdom?'

'Indeed. And it's certainly time he fell in love, I've been worried he's becoming a recluse, so I'll trust you with him.'

'Even though I'm naked?'

'Because you're naked I can see into your heart. Naked people can't dissimulate. The body reflects accurately the mind, and I like very much what I see.'

Zadig bounced into the room, wrapped in a towel. 'Have you two come to blows yet?'

'We've come to a decision,' Doug said gravely.


'And your father agrees that before declaring my love I should first peek into your heart, soul and mind.'

'Fair enough, how?'

'First you must toss away that towel. Mens sana in corpore sano. If your body is as perfect as I suspect it is, then my opinion of your character will be confirmed and we can get married. Or at least shack up together and have sex.'

Zadig looked at his father who burst out laughing. 'Go on, Zadig, don't come over all shy on us. Mort has to check the health and beauty of your body to see if your mind's worth associating with.'

'Oh, is that all.'

Zadig dropped his towel.

Mort wandered over as if to inspect. 'Mmm... Hairy sturdy legs, good hips, strong firm bum, ultra slim waist, broad hairy chest and abs, powerful shoulders, arms and hands that could strangle a bull, muscular neck, square chin, lips a bit thin, nose has been broken at least once, heavy black eyebrows over hazel eyes. Flat ears. Smooth brow. Well shaped head.' He placed his hands behind his back and gazed at the ceiling as if thinking. 'Most impressive, Doug. You have produced an almost perfect specimen that confirms my first impressions.'

'May I go and get dressed now?'

'If you want to make me feel underdressed.'

'You two are totally nuts,' Doug laughed. 'That's not the way to start a relationship. You're supposed to be all tongue-tied and not declare your feelings in case you're laughed at.'

'Is that how you courted Mum?'

'Yes — its the time honoured way.'

'The way that leads to divorce. Thanks, but I think we'll stick with our method. What're you doing now, Mort?'

'I'm meeting Hercules to see what job he's got lined up for me. What about you?'

'Zadig hasn't had lunch yet,' Doug said as if to protect him, 'so off you go, and come and have a meal with us this evening, around seven. Once you've heard Zadig eat you might change your mind.'

Mort gave Doug an impulsive hug, and Zadig a self-conscious one, then ran off without looking at either. Outside he stopped in panic. Terrified he'd been stupid, smart-arsed, talked too much, tried too hard to be witty, clever. He broke out in a sweat. Zadig was special. He'd known it as soon as he'd opened his eyes. But Mort had been flippant; they probably thought he was just having them on. Oh why couldn't he be more serious! Roll on seven o'clock!

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