Alike in Dignity

by Michael Arram


Yuli slumped on the warm, slick back of his lover. He was still hard inside Roman. As the last pulse of his ejaculation faded he regained control of his voice.

'Uh … yeah tatti!' he called out. 'Here! Dozing!' Fortunately his dad had not come into the house a minute earlier, or the noise of male copulation and the rhythmic squeaking of bedsprings would have left no doubt that dozing Yuli was not.

Of all things, his shy and nervous Roman was sniggering beneath him. The kid could never do anything but surprise. 'Don't take it out,' he hissed, 'just stay on top of me.' To reinforce the message Roman demonstrated that he had sufficient control of his anal muscles to clamp on and massage Yuli's cock, which showed no inclination to deflate.

Downstairs he could hear his father heading to the kitchen. Yuli let out a long breath. 'Keep fucking,' the quiet instruction came from beneath him. 'Just gently. This is so sexy.'

Yuli began to absorb the devil-may-care bravado of his lover. So he slid and moved on Roman's back, slowly thrusting without giving the bed cause for audible complaint. He joined mouths with Roman and in this way they made gentle love until with a long, stifled groan Roman in turn ejaculated into the bed beneath him, brought off by sheer erotic passion and the pressure on prostate and penis. Then they actually did doze off.

They awoke to the sound of the TV on downstairs. Yuli was still on top of Roman, though his penis had fallen free. Herr Lucic could be heard in the house. The smell of lube, semen and sweat between the boys was very pronounced, despite the open window. Yuli checked his bedside clock and found they could not have napped longer than twenty minutes. He sat up and gently massaged the faultless, tight mounds of the backside next to him, then separated them so he could stare at the reddened ridge of Roman's wet and still-open anus. He licked and kissed it.

'Gotta get you out, baby,' he whispered as he broke off.

'No. Fuck me again,' Roman giggled as he turned languidly to look up at him. 'I love sex with you. Ooh, all wet under me. It was you did that to me. Way better than wanking.'

'You sexy thing. I'm gonna nip into the bathroom. I need to piss and remove some of the sex stink. Don't you dare move.'

Grabbing a damp, used towel from the floor, Yuli slipped out of his room, closing the door carefully on Roman, and went into the bathroom. He got in the shower and soaped up his armpits and groin, and as he watched his stream of urine wash down the drain he was struck by the way his relationship with Roman had suddenly changed. It was utter intimacy he now enjoyed with the other boy: every physical act and every part of their lives and bodies was from now on shared and open to the other. There was no longer any barrier between them.

He thumped downstairs naked, rubbing his hair. His father was feet up with the newspaper. 'Not working today, leblen?'

'No tatti. It's holiday time. So I'm holidaying.'

'Whose are those shoes? Willemczu's?'

'Yeah, he left them … I … er … put them there to remind me to take them down to the shop. Sorry. I didn't realise you'd be coming home.'

'It's the football. Strelzen Kunglich are away to Bayern. Since the Staroman is ex officio a director, I have to show an interest in my team. You're not keen, I know. I could never get you interested before I was Staroman, and now I am and have access to the Director's Box … it's too late!'

Yuli raided the fridge for a carton of fruit juice, dropped the wet towel in the laundry and headed back upstairs, taking Roman's shoes as he went. He joined him back on the bed and they had a prolonged kissing session. He sniffed the boy's armpits. The odour of sweat and hormones was very strong. 'You'll stink the tram out, leblen. Hang on, baby.' He got a soapy wet flannel from the bathroom and gave Roman a bed-bath. His base sheet was a mess of sweat and semen stains. Roman's coy submissiveness to his ministrations got Yuli hard again.

'Now. How do we get you out of here unnoticed? There's only one exit, and you have to go through the lounge to use it. Here, have a shot of juice. Drink it from the carton. I do.'

Yuli picked up his handij and rang Willem. He sketched out the problem. It was a long time before the laughter subsided at the other end of the line. Willem promised to come up from the shop as soon as he could, and they'd work something out for sure.

By the time Willem knocked on the house door and walked into the lounge, Yuli and Roman were both dressed and ready in the bedroom.

'He's upstairs,' Yuli heard from his father. 'And ask him for your shoes.'

'That's why I'm here, Uncle Radek. Oh, is that the match on? Cool. Mind if I watch for a bit? Oh hey. My mutti said she left a bottle of white Voslauer in your fridge last time she was boozing with Auntie Maria. Could I pick it up? It's either there or in the pantry, she said'

'Hang on son, I'll go look. It'll take a bit of time, the pantry's like an Aladdin's cave. Keep an eye on the score for me.'

Yuli gave Roman a last kiss. 'That's our cue, baby. Time to go.'

They padded softly downstairs. One last kiss on the doorstep and Roman was gone, not to be seen again for a month. A huge and unfillable gulf opened in Yuli's heart.

'So boss, you were gonna tell me about the EBU's decision.' Henry was enjoying the evening. It was not just that Will and Felip were two of his favourite people; the weather was warm but not humid and the sky above Stracenzstrasse was a gorgeous late-evening blue. The table was fragrant with fresh bread and he had a glass of rich ruby-red Bordeaux.

'Sure you want to know?' Will gave a peculiar smile.

'Course! Look at Ed! He's on pins. The Song Contest is the high point of his year. He loves it more than those Test thingies he's glued to on Sky Sports'

'Easy!' Ed cautioned.

'Well … almost. So tell us.'

'Okay, little Henry. You and M. Scavolini really hit it off, didn't you. In fact he let it be known that your perky personality helped sell the idea of Strelsenermedia …'

'It was nothing …'

'… that and your facility with French.'

'D'accord mon cher Guillaume!'

'Yes. So little Henry babe, one of the conditions on which we gained the Song Contest is that it'll be presented from Strelzen by Henry Atwood.'

'Putain de merde!'

Ed raised his eyebrows. 'I think that translates as "Holy Fuck!". And not in a nice way.'

Yuli was one of the musicians resident in Strelzen who was available to the Chapel Royal through August. There were sufficient of them to maintain a level of sacred music in the Hofkapelle throughout the holiday month. Herr Pelikan disappeared to an international choral summer school in Oslo, and for an entire three weeks the running of the music of the Chapel Royal devolved on Mattyas Cohen.

'Believe me, Yuli,' he said, 'when you get to the Rodolfer or the National Conservatory you'll be glad of the extra cash for the summer work. There's a fair bit in Strelzen, which is why quite a few students always hang round through the summer. When you're older and have more connections your keyboard skills will be a good source of fees, and you'll be so grateful for it. For running the Hofkapelle while Herr Pelikan is away, I get a real living wage! Awesome. I'm gonna get me a car next year.'

With Roman out of his life for the time being and Willem very happy and busy exploring his first serious relationship – which moved to the sexual only two days after Yuli's had – Yuli was getting to know Mattyas better. He already liked Mattyas a lot because, though five years older, he didn't patronise Yuli in the least. Yuli had very quickly learned to respect Mattyas's technical mastery of the organ and his impressive knowledge of music history. He was teaching Yuli a phenomenal amount, without it seeming in any way a labour. Mattyas was in turn fascinated by Yuli and Roman's Rothenian lieder project, and had access to sources in the university library that he was happy to share with Yuli.

One afternoon, after a tutorial, Mattyas asked Yuli to join him for a drink. 'I know a place you might like,' he said. 'But it's on the Wejg.'

Yuli did a double take. Mattyas was straight, so he didn't take the suggestion as an invitation to a gay adventure. 'Er … I dunno,' he responded.

Mattyas laughed. 'Bothered what your parents might think of the idea? It's not at the north end, so don't worry. The Wejg's a long, long street, and even if very little of it is entirely innocent, there are one or two bars and cafés around the Festungstrasse end which would interest a kid like you and are safe enough. They're where Technische and Rodolfer students hang out.'

'What d'you mean, Mattyas?'

'Hmm … you'll see.'

So they strolled south down the Rodolferplaz through the tourists and shoppers, chatting as they went. When they got to the south-east corner of the Plaz, Mattyas pulled them up. 'We'll avoid the gay quarter, which I know you'll find all too interesting, Yuli. You can explore it with your Roman when the time comes. But that's not yet. And there's an interesting part of the Third District we can detour through.'

So they turned eastward on Herrengasse and after two blocks south on to Judengasse, which ran through an involved network of streets, lined with some impressive eighteenth-century town houses.

'This was the old Jewish quarter of the city, Yuli.'

'Yeah, isn't the Jewish Museum down there?'

'Visited it?'

'I went there with my elementary school when we were ten. It used to be the Central Synagogue up till the war, right? It was a bit creepy, I remember, especially the grim rooms about the Nazi occupation and the concentration camps.'

Mattyas nodded solemnly. 'My people had it bad even in Rothenia, where at least the authorities freely enabled those Jews who wanted out to get travel documents before the occupation, and refused to co-operate in the round-up under the Government General.'

'So you're Jewish. I wondered.'

'Non-observant as it happens. So I have no problems making music in the Hofkapelle. My family are a bunch of secular academics and dentists. Still, as the Holocaust proved, being Jewish is more than whether you were bar-mitzvahed or not. You attract hostility without any effort on your part.'

'You ever had problems, Mattyas?' Yuli ticked over in his mind if there were any Jews in his school year, and couldn't recall any. He called up from his memory any anti-Semitic comments he may have encountered at school. He drew a blank.

'Me? Not a lot really. You hear the odd snide remark, but Rothenia isn't Hungary or Poland. I know there was some pretty routine anti-Semitism in the olden days in Rothenia, but even the Thuringian kings created the odd Jewish baron or Ritter. Jew-baiting wasn't an issue amongst the Rothenian fascists; it was atheists and socialists they loathed. If anything, the Nazi occupation more or less eradicated anti-Semitism in this land, as it was what Nazis did, and even German Rothenians hated the Nazis with a passion.'

'That's a relief then.'

'Mmm. Only the old aristocracy had a reputation for enthusiastic anti-Semitism. Blood purity being the issue I imagine.'

They came to a busy road crossing, where traffic entered the city centre from the direction of the Arsenal. 'Okay,' announced Mattyas, 'here we are on König Heinrichstrasse. If we can cross here and escape with our lives, there's a lane called Schustergasse that leads to the back of the Opera. We take that.'

A narrow lane took them in the direction of the looming Classical bulk of the Strelzen Opera. As they reached the Wejg they found themselves in an area of small shops and bars, not as swarming and noisy as the north end of the street, whose blare could be dimly heard even at that distance.

Mattyas pointed to one of the shopfronts, the window plastered with fliers for concerts and student events. 'That's a good place to know, Yuli. It's Lisztomania. The Technische music guys hang there and it's a joint where they play house and electronic dance, even perform a bit on some evenings and weekends. You may know a few of the guys there. They serve alcohol but pot is discouraged. But you're a bit into jazz, yeah? Well next door is a cellar bar called Jackson Square, and that's where we're going.'

Mattyas led Yuli to a passage over which a lurid yellow neon sign was buzzing and flickering, then down through an open metal door and some rickety steps. Yuli's ears pricked up at the sound coming from below. This was suddenly highly exciting. It was the strum of a double bass, a keyboard player deftly weaving his improvisation round the beat.

The bar was a long and low brick-vaulted cellar, with spots playing on a small performing space at one end, a curtain behind it. The walls were plastered with faded Louisiana tourist board posters. There was a counter though no barman at the moment. A few tables were occupied, mostly by students. Despite the Clean Air Act, there was a haze of tobacco smoke. Yuli was entranced. This was alternative culture alright and it made his scalp tingle.

Mattyas made cokes appear on their table, and the two young men concentrated on the music. For a gifted mathematician like Yuli advanced modal jazz was a cerebral thrill, as his mind calculated the route through the variations the lead player would take and registered the facility and indeed felicity of the artist's choices. 'This guy's good,' he observed.

'You're good too, Yuli,' Mattyas said. 'I've not forgotten your extempore variations on the Messiaen theme your first time on the Hofkapelle organ. They were inspired. I think there may be something of a Herbie Hancock in you.'

The set finished and the middle-aged, nicotine-stained pianist took his lager over to join a table. 'Go for it, Yuli.'

'What, now?'

'Why not? The bassist looks as though he wants to carry on. It's time you got to be known outside your gymno and the Hofkapelle. That bunch of old guys over there are Strelzen's discriminati. Think of this as an audition.'

A little nervously Yuli walked up to the bassist, whose smile encouraged him to ask if he could take a seat at the keyboard. When he was asked what he wanted to play, he suggested Mack the Knife. Over an hour later his set ended to deeply appreciative applause, the bar having meanwhile filled up. Several student friends of Mattyas had appeared, and Yuli's jamming session had acquired a guitarist and a tenor sax. Yuli left Jackson Square with phone numbers scrawled over his right forearm and an open invitation to come and perform any time he liked, as long as he didn't touch alcohol and imperil the bar's licence.

There was a certain amount of communication between Yuli in Strelzen and Roman in Sardinia. Yuli understood that the Von Ebersfelds had the use of a villa and private beach on the Costa Smeralda, where they went every year. It belonged to relatives of the baroness. Roman would text his love daily, along with comments like 'swimming … again' or 'w***ed off twice on the beach thinking of your gorgeous a**' or 'old guy flashed me in the street.'

Yuli saved up relating his increasingly absorbing musical experiences on Schustergasse till Roman was back. Della in the meantime had been introduced to the Krals as Willem's girlfriend. It had gotten Yuli's mother a bit too interested in her godson's sex life, which Yuli soon realised was a covert way of her drawing out Yuli about his sex life, or lack of one. He made sure his mother's curiosity met a blank wall, including about his occasional evenings out in the music bars on the Wejg and Schustergasse, which he usually covered by not returning home suspiciously late, instead sleeping over with Willem.

The two cuddled together as usual in Willem's bed the night before Roman's return. Willem was full of his recent discoveries, of which there were a lot because Della's parents adored Willem and didn't ask any questions as to what went on in her bedroom when Willem was there in the afternoons. 'I mean, Yuli, she actually likes it up the ass. Great for me. No condoms. I thought girls didn't wanna do that. But nope, that was one of her first requests. I mean we've done it the other way obviously, but she's very adventurous. I'm such a lucky guy.'

Yuli laughed. 'So we have more in common than we thought. You're leaking slime all over my thigh by the way.'

'Oops. Sorry. You're hard too.'

Yuli gave in to his inclinations, and for the first time knelt up and took Willem's straining cock in his mouth, holding its length and enjoying running his tongue around the glans.

'Hey … you sure?'

Yuli disengaged. 'Yeah. We both have needs, and now we're active out there in the great world of sexuality, oral with you doesn't somehow seem any big deal. I always wanted to do it anyway, since we were kids. So lay back and enjoy the ride … and I swallow by the way.'

Yuli drew it out for his friend's sake and as Willem lifted his ass and groaned, he took the result down gladly, but declined Willem's offer of a return.

'How did it taste?'

'Not as sweet as Romesczu's … obviously. But thick and salty and no doubt full of protein. You've never licked it off yourself?'

'Nah. But I might try it some time, since it didn't make you throw up. Thanks Yuli, that was something else.'

They settled into sleep, and before he drifted off the thought crossed Yuli's mind that maybe his continuing sexual interest in Willem was not entirely an innocent extension of their old relationship. Maybe he was no more ready to let Willem go than Willem was to relinquish his attentions; perhaps he wanted to assert some tie still linking them. Was he jealous of Della?

The next Yuli knew the sun was streaming through the bedroom window, Willem was spooned around him, with his morning erection interestingly channeled up Yuli's butt crack, and they were being called down for breakfast before the shop opened.

It was one of Yuli's mornings working in Kral's. Just after lunchtime the door buzzer made him look up and an angelic brown face under a shock of sun-bleached hair beamed at him from behind the table stacked with multi-lingual cathedral guides. Roman and Yuli were in each other's arms and kissing in no time at all, never mind that the shop was crowded. Several bemused Chinese faces greeted Yuli when he disengaged.

'Shift's over, Romeszcu. Just wait while I get my backpack. Then up to my place. Both parents are in work, and this time we won't be interrupted. You have a date with my butt.'

An hour later, face down with Roman this time dozing on his back after a lot of effort expended hammering his rear, Yuli winced as he flexed his stinging and sore anus. His deflowering had not been as easy for him as Roman said his had been after the initial discomfort, but he was so glad it had been done. Now he felt fully united with his lover. He moved and Roman came around as he did, then they adjourned to the shower stall and this time Yuli took Roman, standing, the way he had long dreamed of.

Afterwards, embracing face to face, Yuli was confronted by a new urchin grin on Roman's pointed face. 'I wanna pee,' he announced.

'Not down my leg then.' Roman turned back to the wall, and the shower stall filled with the noise of spattering and a pungent renal odour.

'I've so wanted to do that with someone,' Roman giggled.

'Dirty, sexy rostac; your mother would be so shocked,' Yuli said as he hugged Roman all the tighter. Yuli turned on the taps and they washed each other. He enjoyed towelling Roman dry, kneeling in front of him as Roman sat on the toilet, meticulously drying between each individual toe, and kissing each brown foot.

'No tan line, leblen.'

'It was a private beach so shorts seemed pointless. Besides, it meant I could more easily jerk off if I thought of my Yuli, which was every day on the hour. Though not if Mutta was there. In that case I had to go up into the pines for relief.'

'Even your dick is sun-tanned; it makes your cock head seem so light and cute when you're hard, as you are now. Let me kiss it. Only your soles are still pale.'

Roman giggled and shrugged. 'It just happens.'

'You seem so very happy, leblen men. Let's get dressed and walk down to the Plaz. There are a lot of things I need to tell you. Exciting things.'

Henry looked at the planning files the EBU had delivered and which were occupying a large area of his desk. Tomas ambled past. 'Boss! Hey boss!'

'Yes, Henry? What can I do for our little star?'

'I'm coming to terms with all this, but c'mon, you can't seriously expect me to present Eurovision 2005 and organise the thing as well! We sold the project on the basis of our superior organisational ability. So … where're the organisers?'

'Fair point, and indeed one that Will has already considered. So this is the deal he's offering. Unless there's a crisis, you're off the international desk for the duration and you get to supervise the team. As for organisers, you can pick your colleagues along with Will; I'm head of news not entertainment so I've ruled myself out.

'Your first job is to select a suitable co-presenter who must of course be a person of the female persuasion. There's a file in there of in-house possibilities. Will says to read it, and any problems come back to him on it.'

Henry had further demands. 'I need more room, boss.'

'Is this you demanding an office of your own, you prima donna you?'

'Well … it would be nice and my team and me will need a place to meet.'

'Will is once more ahead of you. You may pack up that rather pathetic-looking cactus and shift your butt up to the second floor where a cubbyhole has been assigned next to the boardroom. Anything else?'

'Can I carry on with at least one news project, to preserve my sanity?'

'Let me guess, the North Martzfeld file?'

'Strelsenerwald, but yeah.'

'Done. Nobody else is interested in it.'

'The Ruritanischer Tagblatt is.'

'You didn't mention the print media is on it. That's a very different case then. Go on with my blessing, but I expect a weekly update.'

Berwinckels offered Yuli and Roman its usual neutral refuge. They both appreciated the salted caramel milkshakes. Yuli had been enthusing about his adventures on Schustergasse, and had not noticed that Roman's perfect brow was furrowed.

'So leblen, what're the chances you can join me down there?'

Roman paused before answering. 'I'd like to, my Yuli, of course. But I don't see how. You have to dodge your tatti and mutti's disapproval and use Willemczu as a cover. I can't see how I'll get across the city in the evening, and it's mainly in the evenings people are out who want to listen to you.'

Yuli was dashed, he'd counted on having his lover as an eager partner in his musical adventures. 'Can't you … I dunno … sneak out?'

Roman smiled a little at the thought. 'What, and leave a fake Romesczu made of pillows and rugs under my duvet?'

'Your people seem to watch you like a hawk, leblen.'

Roman shook his head. 'It's not like that. They worry about me.'

This parental over-concern about Roman's welfare and social habits had long bothered Yuli, so maybe it was time to pursue it. 'Why do they worry, leblen? Is there something you're not telling me?'

'What do you mean?'

'Well, like some serious condition that affects your health? You're not gonna die tragically on me are you? I have to tell you that's just not acceptable.'

It seemed that Roman was more amused than upset at that suggestion.

'So what is it?' Yuli pressed.

The smile disappeared from Roman's face, which confirmed for Yuli that there was indeed some mystery there, and one which was troubling his lover.

'Nothing, Yuli,' he insisted. 'It's not important, really. Please don't ask. Shall I get us a hair appointment? We're a mess. My hair came back from Sardinia like dry straw.'

Yuli realised there would be nothing forthcoming from Roman, who could be stubborn, and the change of subject was an indication that there was no point pushing the issue for the time being. 'I guess. But I gotta pay my share this time. Okay?'

'I'd be happy to do it, really leblen men. But of course if you must.'

'How much is it?'

'Usually around 400 krone. It might officially be more but I think they do like us there.'

'Oh … okay.' Yuli's heart sank. That was most of what he earned from Kral's in a week. But if it was the price of independence, so be it.

'So how about Mikhelstrasse City Mall? I really do need to start thinking about some new summer tee-shirts. This one's from last year.'

The Strelzen District Civil Court was situated in a crumbling communist-vintage office block on Festungstrasse West. It stood out from the rather fine nineteenth-century mansion blocks overlooking the park which were its neighbours. The removal of the Second Republic insignia from its parapet had left a scar in its frontage which had still not been repaired.

Henry found the courtroom assigned for the case of 'Strelzen Staramesten v. Strelzen Nuevemesten' and made his way to the rear benches. There were two posses of lawyers in the well of the court and the district judge in her black robe and white bands was already on the bench. Henry glimpsed Herr Lucic, the Staroman, down the front of the court, but no sign of his rival mayor, the Baron Staufer von Ebersfeld.

He was attempting to work out what was actually going on when the seat next to Henry creaked and was occupied.

'Junge Heinrich! Guten tag! What brings Eastnet into this dingy dive of pedantry and pretentiousness?' The plummy wordiness told Henry before he even looked that he was in the company of Herr Dr Rolf Abentauer, correspondent of the venerable German-language Rothenian paper, the Ruritanischer Tagblatt.

Since the May Rising the paper had regained an international reputation as a respectable, heavyweight and liberal journal. It had also gained investment, circulation and rising advertising revenue across southern Germany and Austria, and had long had a strong online presence; Henry remembered consulting it from his Trewern bedroom as a boy, back in the heady days just before Rudi's restoration.

As a result the 'Grand Old Paper' as it was fondly known tended to look down on every other Rothenian news outlet: it had stations in Washington, Paris, Moscow and Beijing, as much as Berlin. Eastnet still had to depend on Reuters and other agencies, though that too was changing. Henry was currently being troubled by half-serious suggestions that he eventually return to Britain to head a new Eastnet bureau in London.

'Dobre denn, Rolf,' Henry replied, deliberately switching to Rothenian. It was after all the language of the court. 'Seems my journalistic instincts were correct. Why else would you be here?'

'Why indeed? When the two municipalities of our fair city go to war, then something is up. But I rather think we won't learn much from the evidence that'll be presented this morning. It'll be decidedly dull stuff. The only reason I'm here is to get sight of the legal line-up, and a cursory glance tells me that the Staramesten is seriously outclassed here. The Nuevemesten has engaged the Frankfurt property litigation firm, Sammer-Beiten Associates; that's Hartwig Sammer himself in the very nice striped charcoal suit, and he seems to have four footsoldiers with him.'

'What a pile of folders,' Henry observed. 'They fill that entire table. They have to go through all that?'

'Pity the judge. It'll be her who has to sum it all up and deliver judgement. The lawyers only have to spin it for the benefit of their employers. Still, they certainly have been busy.'

'Rolf, I did some digging myself, and I found absolutely no evidence that what they call North Martzfeld ever belonged to the Nuevemesten, and plenty of evidence that the Staramesten has controlled it since the seventeenth century.'

'Interesting, Henry. But they have spent a lot of money already on what you say is a non-starter. Did you have any luck interviewing the Burgomeister?'

'Nope. So they even brushed off the Grand Old Paper?'

Rolf grunted. 'And that's another reason I'm here. Being brushed off irritates me. Have you met Von Ebersfeld? He's almost a stage aristocrat. Cold unapproachability is his default mode. The only person I've ever seen him smiling with is His Majesty. I imagine even his family has to fix appointments through his PA. The press he would set the dogs on.'

'I couldn't get anything out of his PA either.'

'Oh, young Hadjek? You surprise me. An ambitious little creep, but capable enough. A former school teacher who jumped on the CDP wagon when they took the Nuevemesten. He was happy enough to talk to the Tagblatt, he's not the sort of operator who would alienate the press. He probably just didn't recognise your name. You don't normally deal with domestic news, do you.'

'True. I'll get someone from our domestic desk to set up something. I'm clearly going to have to work on my knowledge of CDP politics in Strelzen.'

Rolf laughed. 'I'll e-mail you some of my recent articles, and any historical materials you can share will be gratefully received in return. And there's something else.'

'Oh yes?'

'We're picking up that the staging of next year's Eurovision Song Contest has gone unexpectedly to Strelsenermedia.'

'True enough. The EBU will announce the award later today.'

'And I also heard that the face for it will be a young Anglo-Rothenian journalist of our acquaintance.'

'God help me, it begins …'

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