Alike in Dignity

by Michael Arram


'Are you ready for something different, leblen men?' Yuli was determined that somehow or other he and Roman were going to find a way of sharing his new passion. Their sexual opportunities remained few and far between, but at least any suggestion Roman made to his parents about rehearsing in the Hofkapelle was rarely resisted, so they were seeing a fair bit of each other, if not consummating their meetings with much more than covert kisses and fondling.

August was passing for Yuli with mornings working in Kral's, and three or four afternoons a week at the piano in the chapel with Roman. He also got down when he could to Schustergasse, and had taken Willem with him since Roman would not go. Willem was very much entranced by the student experience, and under his insistence they had informed their parents about what they were up to. They got guarded permission to go legitimately to the approved café-bars, as long as they went together. They had to be back by 10.30 and swear solemnly to touch no alcohol or drugs.

'I dunno,' Willem sniffed. 'Della's been clubbing with a gang of her mates on the Wejg since she was fifteen. I mean, you'd think parents would be more controlling with girls and night life! Not so. Her knowledge of alcohol and soft drugs is far superior to mine. In fact I would go so far as to say she's corrupting me. Oh, and she wants to come with us too next time. Okay?'

'No problem at all. Her knowledge of popular music is also far superior to yours. She'll enhance the evenings for both of us.'

On the last day of August, a Tuesday, with school commencement looming in a week's time, Yuli and Roman were going to try something new in their music. Yuli had given Roman a CD of Ella Fitzgerald classics the weekend before. 'Leblen, there's something about the clarity and range of her voice which is not unlike my Romesczu's. And her control and yours are also amazing. If this works, we can add some of the classics to our repertoire. I can see a value in it. It's high-class lounge music just perfect for state receptions.'

Roman seemed interested, though he made a moue when Yuli asked his opinion of the great lady. 'I hate her. I could never match that sort of power.'

'But the songs …?'

'We'll see shall we?' Roman looked around. 'This seems like sacrilege in the chapel. I could start with Begin the Beguine? Is that religious?'

'Er … dunno. I was thinking more, I've Got You Under My Skin.'

The result was not a great success. Roman was a classically-trained and disciplined tenor with little ability to loosen up and own the melody, unlike Yuli, to whom music was pattern rather than score. They resolved to try again. 'Maybe it'd work better if I wore my Mutta's sheer dresses and heels, she has this sparkly number that I did try on once,' Roman sniggered

'What, really?'

'I was twelve. It was too long.'

Yuli was intrigued. 'You've done that since? I mean transvestite stuff.'

'No leblen. I was dressing up as a king not a queen. I'm not that way: do you want me to be?'

'I just want you to be naked under me, my Romesczu. What're the chances?'

'Not good up here. But there's a toilet off the choir vestry and nobody is around down there today. How about we lock ourselves in, we strip and I sit on your cock and ride you, like we were talking about? Yes? Race you down there, randy leblen!'

A letter arrived with the morning post the next day, addressed to Herr Julius Lucic. It was embossed with the royal arms and announced itself to be from the Office of the Comptroller. His father handed it over with a raised eyebrow.

Yuli unfolded it with some interest. 'It's a list of four events at which my piano skills are required between now and Easter, with dates.'

His mother was all ears. 'Oh, when? Which is the first?'

'Evening reception for the incoming United States ambassador on 2nd October at the palace. The wear is formal evening dress. I'd better get that suit sorted.'

And then it happened. 'Who is it you're accompanying?' his father asked, looking up from the Ruritanischer Tagblatt.

Yuli blushed uncontrollably. 'Someone in my gymno,' he faltered, hoping the interest would fade. But no. His mother was on the case.

'Which girl is that?'

'Not a girl … it's Roman von Ebersfeld.'

His father's head jerked up. 'The young Freiherr sings? Well, well. I thought you and he didn't get on?'

'He's in the Hofkapelle choir. We made friends … sorta. He's not who I thought he was.'

'Have you met his father?'

'Er … no. He doesn't come over to the gymno, he's been at the Hofkapelle a couple of Sundays, but we weren't introduced. He was in the royal gallery.'

'I am so not surprised,' his father rattled the paper. 'He hasn't turned up in court either.'

'Court, tatti?'

'It may have escaped your attention, son, but the Staramesten and Nuevemesten are currently battling things out in the Strelzen District Civil Court. It's where I'm going now. Hence my suit.'

Fortunately this triggered his mother. 'Do you want me to come down to the Plaz with you to look at evening dress? You'll look so handsome, Yuli leblen.' She was not finished. 'If you're accompanying the Von Ebersfeld boy on the piano and he's a friend of yours, why don't you ask him over some time? We love Willem dearly, but a bit of variety amongst your friends would not go amiss. Does he get on with our Willemczu?'

'Er … yeah. It was a slow start but they seem to get along alright now. But I only usually see Roman at gymno and the Residenz. We have been to Berwinckels a couple of times.'

'So … shopping for the dinner jacket?'

'Oh, don't bother yourself, mutti. I'll go poke around the outlets before practice on Thursday.'

His father grinned. 'You're successfully embarrassing him, Maria.'

Henry Atwood had soon found the proceedings at the District Court more or less impenetrable, so he applied himself to finding people who might have a take on them that they would be willing to share. He did notice that the Staramesten team and the Staroman himself were looking increasingly worried. But first he wanted to get a Nuevemesten take on things. So he set up the meeting with Herr Hadjek that had earlier evaded him.

Henry always took the place offered for a meeting as some indication of the personality and anxieties of the interviewee. Confident people chose a neutral public venue: a café, a bar or a even a park bench. Anxious or arrogant people chose their workplace, and Henry was required by Herr Hadjek to present himself at the Nuevemesten Prefecture. Hadjek wasn't an anxious sort, so Henry took the venue as being selected for its capacity to belittle him and exalt Hadjek. He was not to be disappointed. After being subjected to a half-hour wait for which Henry was quite prepared, he was greeted by an unsmiling secretary – rather than the man himself – who issued him with a Visitor sticker and placed him within a rather plush corner boardroom, where he had to endure another twenty-minute wait.

Henry made good use of the time. The boardroom had some rather nice art on the walls, which drew his interest, and then there was the view. The Prefecture lay on the north side of Lindenstrasse just as it left the city and its boardroom was up on the fourth floor, with an outlook south over the treetops and the roof of the Chancellery into the great city park of Bila Palacz and the blue distance beyond, where planes could be glimpsed coming in to land at the airport. To the west was the State District, as if the Nuevemesten Prefecture was sited just so as to cosy up to the warm centre of national power. Directly across the road was the distinguished Classical building of the National Library, with the towers and teaching blocks of the Rodolfer campus beyond. To the south-west was a large and handsome square on to which faced the pillars and pediments of the Parliament building, with the ministries further on and behind them a distant backdrop of the wooded Spa Hills.

Henry turned with his best bland smile to meet Hadjek as the door opened behind him. In his head he checked another box. The man was unnecessarily carrying a stack of files, as if he was supremely busy and had to carry his burden of work with him wherever he went. But he greeted Henry civilly enough and they sat at one corner of the long table. Hadjek was taller than Henry, but not much older. His dark hair was beginning to recede and there was a hawkish cast to his face, emphasised by a pair of very sharp and calculating eyes, perhaps a little too close together.

'I'm sorry to have kept you, Herr At-vood, but you may not be aware of the pressure on us at the moment.'

'Pressure, Herr Hadjek? Things not going well?'

The man narrowed his gaze. 'The meeting is off the record, I hope you understand.'

'Of course. Mind if I make notes all the same? So tell me about the pressure.'

'Just a phrase. The arguments in the District Court conclude tomorrow.'

'So how do you think it's going for the Nuevemesten?'

'That is of course for the court to decide, but if you have been attending you'll have picked up that the Staramesten is in disarray. We fully expect a verdict in our favour.'

'Really? The Staramesten people seemed to have a stack of files that argued otherwise. Could you explain for our viewers' sake how it is that the Strelsenerwald is suddenly in the Nuevemesten when it had been accepted as part of the Staramesten for centuries. Did King Rudolf II's grant not happen? So far as I understand it, the Staramesten was leasing pasture rights on it till after the war.'

Hadjek shrugged. 'The laziness of their lawyers and the incompetence of Lucic may have given you that impression. But what Lucic has failed to account for is the Diktat of May 1964 issued under the Second Republic. The national government wanted to extend the public housing projects on the Martzfeld north across the river. Since the Nuevemesten was the authority concerned with Martzfeld and was willing to extend the provision of utilities, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development formally transferred the area it called "Norden-martzfeld" to the Burgomeister and Ratsherren.'

Henry had not picked this up from the proceedings he had been able to attend, so he was surprised. 'Really? But nothing was done and nothing was built, so isn't the transfer void? And anyway how do Second Republic ordinances have any force after all these years?'

Hadjek settled back in his chair and spread his hands. 'That'll be for the judge to decide. Herr At-vood. But our case is strong. Lucic has been deliberately misleading his people and the media over this vanity project of his, and burdening the Staramesten with legal expenses it cannot afford. If he loses the case, I have no doubt questions will be asked about the North Martzfeld case and … other things too.'

'Other things? Can you be more specific?'

The man shrugged. 'You hear rumours. Maybe you should ask around, Henry. I can call you Henry?'

Henry kept his annoyance at the crude attempt at manipulation off his face. It was not the first time it had happened, and he had learned to be wary of the people who tried it on. 'Sure, Alfons,' he replied amiably. 'I really must thank you for your time. I can see how busy you are. Here's my number and e-mail address if there's any time you feel the need to talk. Always ready to accommodate my local council.'

'Oh, you live in the Nuevemesten?'

'Fourth District. Me and my partner Ed have a flat on Osragasse.'

'Ed? Is that an English name?'

'Short for Edward, we've been together since university.' Henry closely observed Hadjek's interested reaction to the self-outing. Yup. He was gay alright.

'Okay, cool dude?' Yuli was amused. Since he and Willem were going to Lisztomania for the first time together Willem had made an effort, which involved shades and a biker jacket.

'Impressive, eh? It was my dad's. I found it hanging in the back store. Smells a bit, unfortunately, so I sprayed it with deodorant. How does it look?'

'Frankly, awesome.' Yuli had assumed the new style Roman had devised for him: skinny jeans stopping before his ankles, no socks, tennis shoes, tee shirt and tight cardigan with a selection of bead necklaces. He had resigned questions of taste and style entirely to his boyfriend, who had the sensitivity to adapt his expectations to Yuli's very limited budget: even more limited after their second joint visit to Le Snip.

The two strolled happily down the Domshorja, the evening sun in their faces. Yuli was awash with a feeling of deep contentment. The world was full of friendship, love, music and wonder, and his hormonal mood was at the moment on the upswing. He took Willem's arm as they walked and hugged it close.

'I love you, my Willemczu, you know that?'

'Yeah, I guessed. Best friends forever. Without any prejudice to Della and Romesczu's respective rectal sphincters, of course'

'And there goes the moment.' But Yuli laughed. His humour that evening was invincible and had nothing to do with alcohol or controlled substances.

When they reached the café-bar it was already over half full. Yuli was now well-known there and a couple of tables waved and said hello. He was heading to one particular table, where he was welcomed with smiles and bodies made way for him and Willem, who was affably received by the Technische students. He was looking all around, full of curiosity. Yuli on the other hand wanted to talk keyboards and digital with Hans Weiler, a second-year music student and an occasional house DJ, who had been impressed that Yuli deployed a Yamaha MIDI in his bedroom.

'There's a three-piece tonight, but no keyboard. Wanna sit in?'

'Could I?' Yuli was excited, this evening was getting better and better. The problem was the act did not begin till ten, which would take the pair past their curfew.

'Leave it to me, Yuli,' Willem said. 'Better to negotiate with the 'rents than just turn up late. I can talk 'em round: Auntie Maria never says no to me anyway. But at midnight I turn into a pumpkin. Right?'

And so after a fantastic night in a heaving club which danced, cheered and hooted for the line-up Yuli had temporarily joined, Yuli and Willem spilled out on to the midnight Wejg, to find that at this time of night the craziness reached right to its southern end.

'Fuck Yuli! That guy's screwing his skank up on a car hood. You can see her …'

'I'm trying not to look. C'mon, up Schustergasse and let's get out of this. We're working tomorrow, remember?'

The lane was dark but not uninhabited. A gang of youths was occupying a corner, smoking and swilling cans.

Both boys put their heads down and crossed to the other side of the road. But there was no escape. Catcalls followed them

'Fucking faggots!'

'I know that cunt: he's in my brother's year. It's Lucic. He's a fucking queer. Hey queer! Suck my cock! That ape your boyfriend?'

Willem turned and gave them the finger, then the pair of them ran for it. They got caught before König Heinrichstrasse and went down under fists and boots. Yuli found himself with Willem on top of him, who was absorbing a lot of the punishment. Mercifully an approaching patrol car siren alarmed the gang and they cut short the assault, running back down in the direction of the Wejg. It was not however before one of them delivered a last kick, which connected directly with Yuli's balls. The pain made him throw up in the gutter.

Willem hauled himself up with a groan and then helped up Yuli who leaned heavily on his friend. 'Bolo's a dead man,' Willem swore as they limped off.

The Krals were already in bed when they staggered to the flat. Only the downstairs hall light was on. 'Mutti? Tatti?' Willem called up the stairs.

As they awaited the parental doom Yuli gave a rueful chuckle as he surveyed Willem. 'What do we look like?' He saw that Willem had a bad, bloody scrape down his right cheek.

'Thank God for my dad's jacket,' Willem replied. 'It was like wearing armour plate. Lost my fucking aviators though.'

Yuli suddenly realised something. 'You threw yourself over me. You were protecting me.'

Willem shrugged and winced as he did. 'Yuli, you have your good looks and magic hands to save for posterity. Me, not so much.'

Yuli woke in the morning in Willem's bed with Willem spooned up behind him, his erection resting where it often did. This time it had caught deep in the pit of Yuli's anus. There was a gasp in his ear as Yuli moved on it.

'You gonna fuck me, Willemczu?' he whispered.

'I might, Yuli leblen, if you ask nicely. You've spread the welcome mat.'

'You can thank Romesczu for that. He's made entry so much easier.'

Willem chuckled, and the pressure eased from Yuli's butthole. 'On your back, Yuli. Ooh! So hard. That's working, and how're the balls?'

'Dull ache.'

'Wanna give them a test run? See if they're still usable?'

'Next time, Willemczu. You owe me an episode of fellatio, as I recall.'

They stared at the ceiling. 'Your tatti was a bit awesome at the barracks,' Willem observed. 'Soon as he turned up it was like someone had stirred an anthill: patrol cars screaming out the yard and the Wejg sealed off.'

'You didn't finger Bolo's brother. We could have.'

'The police can catch the asshole on their own, or not. With your tatti breathing down their necks, I don't fancy the fucker's chances. But when it came down to it, Yuli, we have to face Bolo next week, and things are bad enough between us as it is.'

'Look at your face, Willemczu. It's a mess. I'm so fucking angry. If I saw Bolo's fat face this moment I swear I'd be ready to smash it with a brick.'

'Yeah well, I doubt that'd do much good. I don't think the loose-mouthed shit intended that his brother and his gang should beat the crap out of us. Still, he has been mouthing off and it's come home to roost.'

'And another thing,' Yuli agonised, 'getting down to Schustergasse is gonna be harder to sell to the parents. And I've got a great thing going there.'

Willem commiserated. 'You should have heard the students talking about you when you were on stage, leblen. You have a lot of fans. I was basking in the reflection of your fame. The girls were so impressed about you letting me squeeze your spots. Come on. Up and shower, and don't forget the ibuprofen.'

'God, that was so embarrassing, naked on a trolley with two nurses inspecting my testicles and holding them up so they could see … what's that area behind your balls called?'

'Er … your perineum. I thought they were professional about it. Pity they were our mothers' age.'

'Gotta fuck me leblen, it's the only way I know they'll still work,' Roman observed. He was appalled at the state of Yuli's balls. He and Yuli had occupied a toilet stall at Berwinckels to examine the damage. 'They're a nice shade of purple though, and definitely swollen.'

'I'd never known pain like it, apart from when I came down hard on them on the crossbar of the bike I was trying to learn to ride: I was ten at the time. I vomited last night, it was so bad. The doctor said there shouldn't be any long-term damage.'

'Have the police got the bastards?'

'Yup. They were caught on several cameras on the Wejg. They were rounded up this morning and are sitting very uncomfortably in the Arsenal Prison, since they're all over sixteen. Bolo's brother Artem is among them. Apparently they were after him for drug-dealing anyway. So I gotta go over to the barracks and give my statement. I'm meeting my tatti there in half an hour … er … wanna come?'

Roman was torn, Yuli could tell, but the duty to stand by his man eventually extracted a nod from him. So after finishing their milkshake they walked together up Königstrasse and took the right turn on to Herrengasse, where after a few blocks they encountered the long castellated Victorian frontage of the Strelzen City Police barracks. White-gloved officers in dark green uniforms and old-fashioned leather jäger helmets stood at the gate arch, while more modern officers were watching in the courtyard in green battledress and black ceramic armour plate, submachine guns on slings around their necks.

Radek Lucic was chatting with a police captain in the reception area. He turned, smiled at his son, and then raised an eyebrow at his son's companion.

Yuli hugged and kissed his father, then introduced Roman. Roman's eyes went down and he only murmured a brief response to the greeting.

'I know your father of course, Roman. We meet from time to time. I'm glad you and Yuli are working together on your music. One could hope the Staramesten and Nuevemesten could work together so harmoniously. Anyway, son. The captain here will take you through and have your statement. One question though. He says that one of the gang confessed that the attack was … er … homophobic, so it could be treated as a hate crime. He may want you to comment on that.'

A sudden empty gulf occupied Yuli's midriff. It looked like there were going to be more and longer-lasting consequences to last night than swollen and aching testicles.

'I'll catch you later, Romesczu,' he said quietly to the boy who was his lover, and followed the captain into an interview room. Roman stared after him, and with a mumbled goodbye to Herr Lucic went his own way.

'So you're gay, Yuli?' his mother was smiling. 'It's no surprise to us, leblen men. But Willemczu's not your boyfriend, you say? Don't get annoyed, love. But we'd concluded some time ago you two were more than just friends, you're so close. And we wouldn't have minded in the least, believe me. We love him as much as we love you.'

'Same goes for me, son,' his father added, squeezing Yuli's knee. 'You're sure you and Willemczu …?'

'No tatti. He has a serious girlfriend now. Della Ortolan. She's really lovely, and a match for him … you know the way he is.'

'So … er … is there a boy in your life, Yuli?' His mother needed to know and he didn't resent her curiosity.

'Do you mind me not answering that, mutti? I'm not angry at being asked, but when a boy's coming to terms with being gay, as I am, you need to give him space to … I dunno … explore feelings sort of thing.'

His father smiled. 'You're right, Yuli. You're entitled to your privacy. We know you'll tell us when it's right for you. You have to know how much we love and trust you, leblen. We're so proud of you.'

Yuli's eyes smarted at those words, but he was not above exploiting the moment. 'Thanks both. I love you too. So will you let me go back down to Schustergasse? I'm getting so much from there, and making so many contacts with Strelzen's scene.'

His father and mother's eyes met, then his father nodded. 'We do trust you, son. Just take care. You know now how dangerous that part of town can be.'

Yuli smiled. 'I'll be walking round with a reminder of that between my legs for the next week and more. That's great. Love you both. Gotta go. It's Thursday and I need to be at the Hofkapelle for rehearsals. Herr Pelikan's back and we're gearing up for the new term. I have an anthem to play on Sunday.'

Yuli and Roman met at the Stadtbad below the Volksgarten before rehearsal. It had been a hot day, and sunlight still flooded the green lawns which ran down to the River Starel, lighting up the butterflies and other summer insects dancing above the grass and shrubs. If you were mad enough it was possible to bathe in the river from a nineteenth-century terrace accessible by tunnels under the embankment, but risking the dubious green waters was a minority pursuit in Strelzen.

The Stadtbad was one of the established nudist areas of the city parks, so Yuli and Roman had shrugged off their clothes with all the casualness of Strelseners and sought out a hidden lawn Yuli had heard of at Lisztomania where sexual contact was not forbidden providing it was discreet.

The boys were on their stomachs and, looking furtively around, could see a number of same-sex and mixed couples availing themselves of the licence, mostly stroking and kissing but next to a bush a middle-aged man and woman were moving suspiciously together.

So the boys checked carefully and surreptitiously that there was no one around either of them knew, and began kissing, stroking and fondling each other's asses as their erections swelled between their bellies and the grass beneath them. A bearded male student couple Yuli didn't know were nearby, belly to belly, kissing and gently wanking each other, so Yuli pulled Roman to him and did the same.

'Gotta cum for me, Yuli,' Roman gasped, 'even if I have to suck you off with those guys watching.'

'Won't be long, baby. Ooooh! Yes! All up your front. That felt different. The first shot hurt a bit, but no blood, see!'

Roman laughed quietly. 'So they work still, fantastic! Make me cum. Oh yes …. oh fucking God!'

Breathing heavily after his orgasm, Yuli reached over and found tissues in his jeans pocket and handed them to Roman, whose tight brown belly and chest had taken most of the blast of their joint emissions. The students nearby were grinning and giving the younger pair the thumbs up. The students went back to kissing. Roman just lay next to Yuli and put his head on his chest, stroking his right nipple to full attention and kissing and sucking the left one, which led to another rearing erection which Yuli did not feel he had to disguise from their neighbours but flaunted in the sunlight as Roman gently fondled his bruised balls.

'So you came out to them?' Roman eventually said. 'Tell me how it went.'

Yuli obliged.

'So you didn't tell them about me?'

'No, leblen baby mine, I'm not going to out you until you're ready to exit the closet on your own terms. As it is I feel cheated because that asshole Artem Wyzinskij decided that being drunk and homophobic is what men do. It brought it on before I was quite ready for it. Still it's done now. And it not only went okay, my parents are giving clear signals that they think I'm adult enough now to manage my own life – sexual and otherwise. Seems both sets of parents were pretty sure me and Willemczu had been having it off for years in our bedrooms, but they'd never intruded or spied. I thought we'd been amazingly lucky in that regard considering the amount of cum we manufactured between us and the morning stench, but it turns out we were wanking under licence.'

'You're so lucky, Yuli leblen. Lucky with Willemczu too. You know there's a word for him that sticks more and more in my mind.'

'What's that?'

'Noble. He's the most honest and noble guy I've ever met. He loves you, y'know. Not in the way I do, but it's deep. There's nothing he'd not do for you … and for us too now, I think. That's why he's noble, he's totally unselfish and open-hearted. Because I love you, he loves me too.'

Yuli pondered that. 'It's true. Let me tell you what Willemczu did when I went down under those bastards ...'

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