Alike in Dignity

by Michael Arram


'Over here on the right, Henry.' Andy indicated a well-lit side apse.

Henry felt an odd chill which had nothing to do with the mausoleum or the winter. It was as if he were a child again, waiting to go into his headteacher's office. Andy led the way into the apse. It was largely occupied by a massive slab of fine marble tilted up at one end at an angle to the viewer. The early morning light was flooding through the windows and tinting the stone a rosy pink.

When Henry stood at the foot of the slab, it was a grassy hillside he saw, the herbage carved with astonishing care and detail. Two youths not much more than eighteen lay on the grass hand-in-hand, both barefoot in flannels and loose open-neck shirts. They were carved with a remarkable vitality, and they seemed to be in the act of rising, but their faces! The sculptor had somehow captured them as their eyes had met, just as they were about to burst into laughter at some shared joke.

'My God!' gasped Andy. 'If they weren't in white stone, I'd swear they're alive. They even seem to move. I know it's an illusion and the effect of the light, but I've never seen anything like it. It's quite uncanny. As if two living boys were frozen forever in a shared smile.'

Henry studied the figures. 'It's the look of love as I've never seen it portrayed between any two humans. It defies death. No … better, it sets it at nothing.'

'Is the handsome one on the left Martin Tofts?'

'Yes. Prince Leo was no great looker and the sculptor didn't pretend otherwise, but somehow that glance makes him as beautiful as his lover. The biography says their coffins in the sarcophagus below had the adjacent side panels removed so their dust would fall together and mingle.'

'Who was the sculptor?' Andy asked.

'Now that's an odd thing. No one knows. You'd think any artist would delight to have that work on their résumé, but whoever it was insisted on remaining anonymous.'

'You think he – or she – was cautious about being tied to a memorial to a gay couple? Surely not in the nineties!'

'I'd think not. It's one of many mysteries about those two men. I can lend you the book.'

'I'll get my own copy, Henry. Thank you for this. I must have Matt over here later, he'll be pissed he missed it in his acclaimed Elphberg documentary.'

'Well, technically it's not Elphberg but Thuringian, so he really has nothing to accuse himself of. Now let's go look at Leo's grandad. I've often thought I could write a biography of him. He was quite the unusual character for a Victorian boy from Suffolk.'

Yuli was up before his bunkmates, checking for early morning texts from Taizé. One had arrived, a picture of a candle-lit modern church and huddled figures in white robes with the one word 'YAWN'. He was still smiling as he followed the path to the Fenizenkapelle. Today was gloomier and low grey cloud hung over Zenda; the temperature had risen slightly and the path was wet that morning. He pushed open the side door to find the morning mass still going on. He slipped inside and unobtrusively took a seat to the rear. There was a sizeable congregation of what he imagined was mainly palace servants and their families. With a start Yuli noticed that the elevated royal pew to the left of the altar was occupied. A kneeling red-headed man was telling his rosary as the prayer of consecration was being said by the officiant.

He waited till communion had ended and the priest had given the dismissal, and then Yuli edged down the east wall of the chapel. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the king affably greeting and shaking hands with the departing congregation. They did not seem shy of him. The pew was still occupied by an old lady in black he had not noticed before: the princess of Vinodol, no doubt. He slipped up the stairs to the loft.

Yuli spent the next quarter of an hour setting up for the morning rehearsal and tidying up his music. A look down into the chapel revealed the congregation had departed and two men in blue overalls were stacking and removing chairs. He smiled to himself and took his seat. The meditative Advent prelude Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, was just the thing for the moment. He appreciated the degree of control it demanded. He played it through half a dozen times, pausing from time to time to fix phrases in his mind. By this time, boy as he was, he was itching to let rip with the trumpet stops. At the Briskefest high mass he and Herr Pelikan had already decided on In dir ist Freude as his triumphant recessional to send people happily off into the New Year, so he literally pulled out all the stops on the number. He couldn't resist following on with the distinctly unseasonal Heut' triumphieret Gottes Sohn. He checked his watch. Time to dash back to the stables for a drink before the choristers and chamber orchestra turned up for the general rehearsal.

'Young man!' The peremptory tone of the voice brought Yuli up short as he entered the lower chapel from the gallery stairs. He turned. The princess of Vinodol was rising from a chair placed under the windows.

'Er … royal highness?' Yuli ventured.

'What is your name?'

'I'm the organist … Julius Lucic … er, ma'am.'

'Well Master Lucic, I do not come into this chapel to have my eardrums shattered, but to make my devotions. That is the theory of chapels. But you have made that quite impossible for me this last fifteen minutes. The window panes were shaking. If you wish to make such a noise, perhaps you should first check that you do not have an involuntary audience. And it is Serene Highness, young man.'

Yuli flushed and stammered, but the old lady had not finished. She paused and turned unsmiling as she was leaving. 'It was, however, a high quality of outrageous din' she added.

The cloud thickened and snow began to fall heavily again on the morning of Christmas Eve. The boarhunt was called off.

'Great,' said Davey Skipper with relief. 'I have no happy memories about the last one Rudi dragged me round, other than Mark Peters letting off his elephant gun, smashing a tree branch and landing on his butt. That was the sum of the day's amusement.'

'There was no way I was going,' Henry said. 'No doubt it's a very noble pastime if you're a king and all, but not if you're a journalist with a guilty conviction that killing wildlife is a sin against the liberal conscience university programmed you with.'

'Agreed, even if the wildlife in question has razor sharp tusks it could disembowel you with while you were pondering the ethics of blowing out what passes for its brains. Wow! Look out the window! That is serious snow. I'll bet we're cut off out here at Zenda.'

'Maybe, but there's plenty of supplies, and the palace has its own generator plant. Those big awesome stoves in the state rooms just blaze out the heat. So I'm gonna sit me down by this handsome hearth with a book and relax.'

'I'll ring for drinks. A gin? Or is it too early for you?'

'Hot chocolate for me.'

'Here, take the phone. You can order in Rothenian or German, you cute little polyglot you, so the staff'll love you. I'll have one too.'

Henry was feeling very cosy by the time the drinks arrived. Davey took the opposite armchair, and they spent a comfortable time for a while in quiet communion. Eventually Davey asked for more details about 'A Song for Rothenia'.

'Hmm?' Henry came back into focus. 'Er … the publicity soliciting the talented youth of Rothenia to submit entries begins end of January. The regional heats will be held in March, and the grand finale will be on TV in April, giving us time for excitement to reach fever pitch in time for the great day, which will be 21 May.'

'Interesting. So you're not doing what the Brits do and having a contest just for the song and fingering the person to sing it.'

'Nope. The performers will compose and sing their own entries.'

Davey looked unconvinced. 'I have to tell you, Outfield, that Rothenia does not have much of a track record in popular music circles. So far as I can tell from the lofty heights of London clubland, there's no musical ecosystem here: just a few unconvincing Euro balladeers and some wannabe punk or heavy metal bands. Like other aspects of the modern world, pop has left Rothenia far, far behind.'

'Be fair. There's Svetlana!'

'Point proven, Outfield. She has diva potential, but not the soul for it. She'd never catch on outside Eastern Europe. Her Euro entry didn't make the UK charts. Be honest. I know your tastes, the only thing that had you rooting for the lady was her nationality.'

Henry harrumphed, but admitted it. 'Well, that and watching heavy-metal Rudi pretending to be a fan.'

'So you'll get some worthy kid or kids pretending to be their idea of a western rock act in tortured English. The Czechs, Austrians and Slovaks will give them a sympathy vote and you'll come a respectable sixteenth.'

Henry was not amused, and he had also been doing his research. 'From what I heard the UK's excelling itself next year.'

'Uh, what's up?'

'I was being ironic. Nothing's up. And that's the thing. Major acts won't touch it. It's the Terry Wogan factor. Eurovision's just a camp joke now, not an occasion. Also I think you underestimate Rothenian youth. I've heard there's quite an ecosystem – whatever that is – around the two Strelzen campuses and they have a sorta scene at the south end of the Wejg. So I remain sincerely optimistic, despite your pessimism.'

Davey looked interested. 'The Wejg, eh? You know, me and Terry have a few days in Strelzen after this holiday in the woods. I might look into that. You can show me where this budding scene is.'

It was the last rehearsal before Christmas. Finally, Herr Pelikan called a halt in the gallery, and made an announcement.

'We're here at New Year, which means we'll be resident on Stefansfest. It's a break for you apart from the sung mass. However, the king has asked for the services of three of you lucky males, and it's on the basis of age. Okay. Who here is seventeen? Hand up!'

Only Yuli's hand crept up. 'You're landed, then. Now. Who's eighteen? That's Konrad, Ludwig and Felip from the choral scholars. Sorry. I have to be arbitrary here. Ludwig, your moustache detracts from your boyish appearance, so I hereby nominate Julius, Konrad and Felip to serenade the king and his guests as the three Stefansfest Starjungen. Costumes and goat will be provided. Mikja from the string section has volunteered to do the makeup.'

Yuli was bewildered. 'But sir, what's a Sternjunge?'

Herr Pelikan was smiling a little wickedly. 'You naïve city youth, Julius. The look of apprehension on the face of our Konrad, who's from a country village in Husbrau, should tell you he knows the Starjungen are an ancient rural tradition in Old Rothenia. I shall let him fill you in on the details. You can sort out between you who's to be the goat-boy.

'And now a less ominous announcement. Their Majesties are sincerely grateful that you should give up Christmas with your families for the sake of amusing them and their guests, and although you will of course be compensated for this financially, they want to say a personal thank you. So you're all invited to a private reception in the palace at five this evening. Report to the guard post at the central pavilion for directions.'

Konrad Wilics was a healthy-looking blonde youth with whom Yuli was friendly, not least because of Konrad's quirky humour, staunch loyalty to Roman in their recent problems, and open admiration of Yuli's musical prowess. So trudging through the snow together up to the palace in the dusk, he asked about Starjungen.

Konrad rolled his eyes. 'The country grannies love them, Yuli. It was a big thing out in Husbrau when star-boys came back after the May Rising. I was forced into the job when I was fourteen. The number of old ladies who pinched my cheek … ugh! You dress up in nineteenth-century peasant costumes and sing old Rothenian carols and some very rude country songs. You'll know the carols. If you agree to be goat-boy, I'll do the rudeness.'

Yuli appreciated the tactful way that Konrad was giving him a let-out from singing solo, but he was still curious. 'Why a goat?'

'Tradition. The star-boys are supposed to represent the three kings of the East, and I imagine camels were in short supply in rural Rothenia in the nineteenth century.'

Yuli digested this. 'Okay. I'll leave the songs to you and Felip to worry about. Are we singing parts?'

'Uh-huh. Felip can do bass or counter-tenor, I'm a tenor, and you can do a passable baritone, yes? I'll put the carol book for you up in the loft this evening, and mark the likely songs with post-it notes, okay? And here we are at the guard post.'

The officer of the guard was familiar to Yuli's eyes despite his cap, scarf and greatcoat. He winked as he scanned the boy's ID. 'Hi Yuli! I see things have worked out for you at the Hofkapelle.'

Yuli beamed. 'Major Cornish! Cool! Great to see you, sir! So you're keeping us safe this Christmas. What's Herr At-vood doing while you're away?'

'He's here. I couldn't leave him lonely in our dark and empty flat. His parents aren't around to take care of him. You'll likely bump into him at some time. He follows the king around; they were at school together. Okay kid, you're clear. Don't hit the fruit punch too liberally. It can be deadly.'

The choristers and musicians thronged into the high entrance hall of the central pavilion, filling it with echoes of their chatter and laughter. Staff directed them up the great stone stair, lined with severe busts of Classical characters. A huge statuary group at the first landing depicted a fierce Ruric the Rothenian, father of his people, heavily moustachioed and garbed as a barbarian general, receiving the homage of his chieftains.

At the second floor great doors led to left and right, but directly ahead was another curious statuary group. Up on a plinth, a nineteenth-century gentleman in hussar dress lay expiring, his hand outstretched, while above him an officer in forage cap and greatcoat wielded the sword which had just despatched him. The base of the monument read: AD MICHAEL DVCEM STARELENSEM. MARTIRATVM PRO PATRIA. IN HOC LOCO TRVCIDATVM. ANNO MDCCCLXII. The dying duke was gazing up at a cross set in a sunburst which only he could see, apparently.

The crowd of young musicians was directed through the door to the right of the monument and into a carpeted state room, warm from the wave of heat of a great wall stove and the crackling of a bright fire in the hearth opposite. With a sudden start, Yuli saw he was in a line at the end of which was the royal couple, individually greeting his colleagues. Herr Pelikan was off to one side to introduce them, and two large boarhounds slumped at the king's feet, looking bored.

Yuli's turn came and he bowed to the pair. The queen grinned at him. 'Rudi, this is Yuli – Julius – who's been enhancing the palace entertainment of late.'

King Rudolf VI of Rothenia gave off the air of a man who could be intimidating if he wanted to be, but who nonetheless was fairly safe to leave with dogs and small children. He gripped Yuli's hand and favoured him with quite a nice smile. 'Young master Lucic: I know your father of course. I've admired your playing considerably, and you and the boy Von Ebersfeld make a wonderful duo. I'm glad of an opportunity to thank you for the pleasure you've given me and my guests.'

Yuli blushed and thanked him, then, still curious, he asked 'Your majesty, is there a story behind that monument outside?'

'Ah! You mean the dying duke. That's the spot where the wicked count of Hentzau murdered the radical prince, Michael of Strelsau, back in the time of Rudolf V, over a woman some say, the duke's mistress. Myself I think it was more complicated than that, but I leave it to the historians. A number of his aristocratic sympathisers decided he was a martyr for liberty, raising the funds for that monstrosity. Queen Flavia wouldn't have it in the palace, but her Thuringian successors brought it in from the cold. Can't get rid of it now of course. It would leave a blank place difficult otherwise to fill.'

The queen directed Yuli through a door to his left and he found himself with his milling colleagues in a long gallery with a fantastic outlook through its tall windows across the frozen lake to the ice-bound castle of Zenda. Several of them were taking photos of the castle on their handij cameras, while others were grabbing glasses of aromatic heated punch. A table was heaped with stands of cakes and bowls of snacks.

Yuli and Konrad went for the drinks, and were soon talking about the Wejg scene, which Konrad had not yet sampled. 'Like, I'm only a first year at the Rodolfer. I was saving the Wejg for next year, when the campus bars have got boring. Besides, my first serious girlfriend is monopolising my attention and available cash.'

'Oh? Anyone I know?'

'Nah. Katrina isn't a muso, thank God. We're so socially incestuous. She studies Russian Lit. She says she needs me singing around the place to stop herself spiralling into terminal depression. You and Romesczu seem to manage despite your both being of the same tribe. What's your secret?'

Yuli snorted. 'Never seeing enough of each other. Simple enough. We've learnt to appreciate what little time together we manage to snatch.'

'I heard his parents are being pretty abominable to you.'

'True enough. But what can I say? I'm just glad my parents are okay with Roman.'

'How're things with your dad?' Konrad blurted, tact not being his strong point. Yuli changed the subject.

Yuli let the final chords of his improvisation on the recessional anthem gently and slowly fade, as the CCTV monitor showed him that the congregation of the midnight Christmas mass had mostly departed. He turned on the bench. The choir was chattering away and the musicians packing up. Herr Pelikan was holding a debriefing with the brass section. Everyone was smiling. It had been a faultless and inspiring musical contribution to the celebration in the Fenizenkapelle below.

Technicians from State TV, which had broadcast the service live, were rolling up cables and disassembling camera positions below, their banging and calling beginning to echo in the chapel vault. Yuli thought they'd been a bit heroic getting out to Zenda in their trucks in the present weather conditions. He'd heard the crew was staying in the stables rather than risk the icy roads and drive directly back to the capital. Yuli's parents had been watching the mass on TV, and his mother had sent an admiring text, with her Christmas wishes. He himself texted Roman in faraway Burgundy, marvelling as his love was returned within just a couple of minutes.

He collected and tidied his music, feeling now a little deflated as his adrenalin level ebbed. His friends called over and he went to join them, to be hugged and have his back slapped. Outside the air was sharp and the stars blazed overhead. The Milky Way arched up over the firmament far brighter and clearer than he had ever seen it in the city nights, even on top of the Domshorja.

Yuli stood out on the freezing path for a while as his friends disappeared towards the stable and some promised late night alcohol. He had a peculiar feeling that he had crossed a watershed of some sort that night, and that the year stretching now ahead of him would be a different and challenging one: scary but also exciting. The stable clock rang a distant peal for one in the morning before he was ready to move on.

Yuli was dubious about the goat, which he disrespectfully decided to call 'Dr Hassel' after his old organ tutor, who boasted a thin beard on his chin. The goat however seemed to like him, and stood patiently by as Yuli's face was coated with white pancake makeup and red spots were painted on his cheeks.

Mikja grinned at the result. 'You look like a boy doll, Yuli. Very pretty.'

Yuli took a look in the mirror. Personally he thought it made him look a bit sinister. He put on his peaked black peasant cap, and adjusted his scarf and white smock.

'I've got a bowl of carrot sticks for the goat,' Konrad said as he took Yuli's place for his own makeup session. 'You gotta keep the animal occupied. Shove a handful in your blouson pocket.'

Yuli tried out the effect of a carrot on Dr Hassel. The goat twitched his ears and sucked it in, then chewed away, with his jaws adopting a peculiar lateral motion. He met Yuli's eyes and gave a little bleat, as if asking for more. 'Later, Doc,' he replied.

Herr Pelikan turned up as Felip was getting his makeover. He grinned. 'Very nice. A perfect set of Starjungen, singing for their schnapps. The dinner will be over in a half hour or so. The Lady Lucia is waiting for you in the car park.'

'Lady Lucia?' the Starboys asked as one.

'We're doing the full folk ritual for the benefit of the foreign guests. Lady Lucia is an ample lady in a nightgown and fur mantle, wearing on her head a crown of holly and candles, which are lit, and carrying a staff which also has a candle crown. I don't like to think what sort of fertility rite she represents, and I'm a little concerned about candle wax dripping all over the palace carpets, but it's not our call. Lady Lucia will be played this evening by Fräulein Antonovica, one of the castle sous-chefs. She seems to be getting into it.'

The procession assembled in the car park, and escorted by the entire musical section singing carols were led up to the palace by the illuminated Fräulein Antonovica. Felip and Konrad shouldered poles bearing lit lanterns and Yuli tugged Dr Hassel along with them. The grinning guards welcomed them in, as their colleagues waved them goodbye from the guard point.

Felip and Konrad had fine, strong voices so they filled the entrance hall with their song, and Yuli only had to offer a harmony of sorts. Grinning palace servants lined along the balustrade clapped them as they ascended the stairs. The goat seemed more curious than refractory as they headed along the main corridor, and Yuli concluded he was in expectation of more carrot sticks. The animal gave a hopeful bleat.

Chamberlains rolled back the doors, and the Stefansfest procession entered one of the large drawing rooms on the first floor. The guests stood and applauded. They were a glittering crowd, several of them in uniform and orders, and the women glamorous in taffeta and diamonds. Queen Harriet had the sash and star of the Order of the Red Rose over her full dress, and a moonstone and pearl tiara set high in her bright blonde hair. She smiled broadly at the three boys as she hugged the king's arm.

The Starboys finished their carol and the king motioned all to sit. Konrad was putting his experience in the role to use. 'Your majesties!' he cried. 'Stefansfest greetings from the loyal peasants of your realm! Not to mention their livestock!'

There was laughter as Dr Hassel gave a loud bleat, almost as if on cue. The goat had got very interested in a guest occupying a nearby sofa, an army officer in the blue, red and gold of the Royal Rothenian Foot Guards, his peaked bearskin cap on his knees, whose face looked familiar to Yuli for some reason, though he couldn't immediately pin down why. The goat was so interested by this time he was pulling at his rope tether. As a distraction, Yuli quickly slipped him a carrot stick which he crunched.

'And, your majesties,' Konrad continued with an exaggerated wink, 'our Lady Lucia here wishes you all happiness and blesses your bed in this season of renewal and fertility.'

Yuli thought he'd gone a bit far there, but the crowd obviously took it as a traditional jibe at a childless couple. The king didn't seem too bothered. Konrad and Felip then launched into a joyous and crude song about an old man, his young wife and and a student, which ended happily for the young pair, but not the old man. The audience laughed uproariously as the pair of older Starboys leaned into each other, arms round each other's necks and bellowed out the rather risqué chorus.

A servant appeared with a tray bearing glasses of schnapps, the traditional offering, which the Starboys were obliged to down in one. All three then went into a more traditional carol, the drink burning in their throats.

It was probably the distraction of the shot of spirits which made Yuli relax his grip on the tether. Like a shot, Dr Hassel was at the officer's bearskin, and as the man made a bid to grab it back the goat clattered across the room chomping on the fur cap as he went. Yuli pursued Dr Hassel to the delight of the guests, who may have imagined it was part of the act. Yuli caught the goat and tempted it with a handful of carrot sticks till it dropped the remains of the cap. He dragged the animal with him as he sheepishly returned what was left of the cap to the officer.

'That'll never be the same,' the man observed, and then Yuli recognised him. It was a rather disconcerted Henry Atwood.

'Really sorry,' he muttered and handed back the rags. Konrad and Felip had kept singing during the episode and, as Yuli returned, they switched to a folk song about a randy goatherd, taking Yuli by the arms and marching him out, to the warm applause of their audience. The goat twitched its ears and followed on behind the Starboys, in hopes of more carrots or fur caps.

'That went well,' observed Konrad.

'At least he didn't shit over the carpet,' Felip added.

'Come on, little babe, it was a hoot!'

Henry was not surprised to find that the disaster of his uniform cap elicited no sympathy from his partner. 'More of a bleat, I think,' he sighed. 'It'll be a fuck of a job indenting for a replacement, since I'm not regular army. I can see it now. Reason for request for replacement: Eaten by a scabby goat. The quartermaster will mock me.'

Henry twirled the chewed-up remains round his finger. It was one in the morning and Henry and Ed had just left the party and were taking a stroll to the Guards barracks beyond the stables, where the musicians could be heard still singing and partying. The two men's military greatcoats were tightly-belted against the cold. The stars were glinting bright in the sky and a hard frost was in the air.

Henry took Ed's hand. 'Come with me down this path, Ed.'

'What, into the woods? You're not planning the sort of al fresco session we used to have at school? My dick would snap off in the cold.'

Henry relaxed and laughed. 'No, twerp. I want to show you the old mausoleum. The starlight's bright enough.'

'It's sorta romantic, so okay. But we don't have the key.'

'I just want to take you for a look. I have a plan.'

'Plan? You want us to be buried there?'

'What? No!'

'That's what mausolea are for, little babe.'

'This one's special.'

'You mean the Prince Leo tomb, don't you?'

'Oh! You remember?'

Ed grinned under his cap. 'Course I do. You had a thing about it back in the lower sixth. You made me read the biography. It had a picture.'

'Remind me never to underestimate you.'

They walked along the dark path silently until the bulk of the Thuringian mausoleum loomed up against the star-bright sky.

Henry took his lover's hand. 'You know the civil unions act that got stalled in Parliament is going to finally pass in the new year? Well, it's time to revive our project.'

'Oh! You're proposing?'

'You did it last time. Seemed only fair. I think we're for the long haul aren't we?'

Ed leaned down and kissed the little man. 'Yes we are. I'm glad you're observing the decencies. As you are now the senior officer of the pair of us, army regulations state that you must be the proposer.'

'What? You made that up.'

'Did I?' Ed laughed. 'Maybe I did. Colonel Henry Atwood, Knight of the Noble Order of the Red Rose and renowned investigative reporter, I accept. Let's do it. But why ask here?'

'Cos it's where those two boys are buried under a monument to true love. That's where I want us to make the promises. They went to our school you know. They may have done the dirty in the same woods we did.'

The pair stood for a while in the deep silence of the night. There was no breeze and not as much as a rustle from the trees around them.

'Time to go, little babe. Unless you want that shag?'

'We'll do it more comfortably in your quarters, I think. I really want you tonight, my Ed.' He paused as he observed. 'Look! There's a light left on in the mausoleum, in that eastern apse. Better mention it to the palace staff tomorrow.'

The minibus back to Strelzen on New Year's Day was full of happy choristers. Yuli sat next to Konrad and Felip, who had adopted him after what Konrad was convinced was their joint 'triumph' as Starjungen. 'I'll ring you next time I get invited for that particular gig. You gotta way with goats, Yuli boy.'

'It's a story I can't wait to tell at the gymno,' Yuli said, drily.

'I hear you're big on the Schustergasse scene,' Felip said.

'An exaggeration, believe me.'

'Not according to my girl,' Felip came back. 'When I said who'd been a Sternjunge with me, she did a little scream. She'd seen you back in November at Lisztomania. Said you had the whole place bouncing. So, Yuli boy, when're you back there?'

'Umm. I go on stage most Thursday nights.'

'Ah, right,' Konrad joined in. 'Big student night for the Technische. It'll be quiet next couple of weeks though. A lot of them are out of town.'

Yuli shrugged. 'Strelsener kids go there. Lisztomania isn't just for students.'

'Me and Felip will come see you next week, if you're on. Text us. We'll bring our girls and pretend to be your mates. We'll get total cred.'

'Yeah, bring Dr Hassel. I'm sure he misses me already.'

Yuli's minibus dropped him and his bag on the Domstrasse end of his lane. The temperature had risen, and the cloud had closed in over Strelzen. The lane was a bit muddy and slushy as a result.

With some relief Yuli made it up to his front door, feeling a touch of boyish glee at getting home after his adventures. Though the lights were on, the house was empty, for no one answered his cheery greeting.

Puzzled, he checked his phone, but there was no explanatory text. As he was trying his mother's number for the third time, the door opened. It was Willem. Yuli's grin faltered as he saw the look on his friend's face.

'Wassup? Something happened, Willemczu?'

'Yeah. The police came to arrest your tatti this afternoon. They took all his files. Your mutti is at the lawyer's. Sorry mate.'

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