Princely Love

by Flaulus

Chapter 16

The ball was winding down. Older guests were leaving, as waiters offered younger guests but old enough to drink glasses of brandy, compliments of the king.

As he remarked to his wife, "Let them have some fun. It's a long time since I've enjoyed myself so much."

Mrs Jacobs was unsure whether she was in charge of a school trip or just another guest. The education authorities wanted the kudos of an ordinary state school being so honoured, and funding for coaches and accommodation was readily available, so it was technically a school event. As such, all students were subject to school discipline and permission slips were needed for underage students. The reality was, the oldest students were of age and were not obliged to remain under her jurisdiction. There were also a number of students, present but not on the official trip who again were outside her jurisdiction. Had anything gone wrong involving any of her students, her superiors would have ignored such fine distinctions and blamed her.

An impromptu skiing trip was being organized which was out of her control with the palace getting parents permission when appropriate. She would phone the education ministry tomorrow and get some official back to work on an official holiday. At least she would be covered, but for her, it was just another complication.

Conrad noticed Seb was missing for most of the ball. When he realized Jake Holmine was also missing he grinned at what sort of party they were having, but he was wrong. When they returned to their quarters, tired but happy, they found Seb in a chair with Jake fast asleep on a couch.

"You missed the ball." Conrad said.

"Yeah!" Seb said, "I didn't know how screwed up Jake was. He had come out to his dad who's happy for him to come to Elbourg and Jake was enjoying himself until I suggested we dance. He'd already danced with a couple of girls but when I asked him, he freaked out and didn't want to be seen. If he's awake, he can tell me if I've got it wrong, but before he came out: he could think about it, but not do anything. Now it's out in the open, he realizes he doesn't want to be, and every time he looks at another boy, he feels guilty. His dad thinks he's gay because I invited him. He doesn't want Jake to be gay either, but he's a social climber and Jake was coming to Elbourg whether he was gay, straight or planning to castrate himself to become a woman. Sorry Mum. That was a bit crude, but you get the idea. How do you deal with a gay guy who suddenly doesn't want to be gay, and has a father who hates gays but expects him to be gay, so he can meet people?"

"And who got friendly with a gay guy." Jim added, "It was kind of you to miss the ball to look after him."

"He'd better stay with us." Conrad said, "We'll find a single room for Jake. Isn't it risky talking about him while he's lying there. He could be awake."

"He knows I don't know what to do." Seb replied, "I told him I'd have to fill you all in, and I didn't want to talk behind his back. It's probably all wrong, but I don't think he can handle another conversation."

"I'm proud of you." Mrs Walker said, "We're all tired so let's get him to bed. Conrad. What about your two friends."

"I'm like Jake." Freddie said, "I don't want to be gay either, or I want to go to another school where I don't get beaten up."

"You mean you want to stay in the closet until you can be yourself." Mr. Poulson said.

"Yeah! I suppose I do, but it's too late. Ludale knows about me."

"OK! The rest of you boys get to bed. We'll sort out the extra sleeping arrangements." Mr. Poulson said.

"What about Conrad's other friend?" Seb asked, "I've got a double bed."

Denzel blushed, as he replied, "I'm Denzel. I wouldn't be allowed would I?"

"As long as you don't mind being one of many boys in Seb's life." Mrs Walker laughed, "You're number five I believe."

"Four, Mum." Seb grinned, "I'm not that bad."

"No. All I meant was, Seb could be a bit eager."

Jake sat up, looking around.

"How can you all talk like this? It's disgusting." he said.

"No, it's not." Seb said, "It's who we are. Jim was first to come out, and his Dad made a rule he would only go with guys he could bring home. Mum's made the same rule, and I like it because I can be open. Your Dad makes you ashamed for being gay and that's wrong. If he wants to, Denzel can sleep with me, and I want to see more of that hunky body when he gets undressed."

"Yeah, but it's not normal. Real men don't let other guys touch them."

"It's something I had to learn." Mr. Poulson said, "Real men are honest about themselves. Jim, Conrad and Seb have more than their share of problems, and they get by because they face them together."

Jake nodded and burst into tears. Startled, everyone hesitated, but it was Freddie who sat beside Jake wrapping his arms around him.

"If we're still welcome, is there a room with two single beds?" Freddie asked.

Everyone was tired and on New Year's Day no-one wanted to do much. Mr. Poulson and Mrs Walker left early afternoon while the boys watched TV or played computer games.

"Jake seems happier." Conrad said as he and Jim lay on their bed, resting after a short swim session, "He didn't mind skinny-dipping."

"I think that's Seb's idea. Seb was at the ball more than I realized, but stayed away from us, so Jake wouldn't be embarrassed. Jake didn't understand we do our own thing, and it's not all sex."

Conrad rested his hand on Jim's groin, "Some of it is."

Jim turned over to lay on his stomach, legs spread apart. He guided Conrad's hand between his legs.

"It's a bit of a turn off in the common areas because servants keep turning up. We're alone now."

Conrad rolled over to lie on top of Jim who groaned happily. Jim was inviting him, Conrad was eager, and the sex was good.

Security staff had been an unknown quantity on Mrs Jacob's school trip. Students looked at them warily and remained on their best behaviour. Most of the older prom group had accepted Lord Horsham's invitation to a ski resort. Permissions had been sorted for the seventeen-year olds, and they happily left the next day. Jake Holmine's parents seemed unconcerned he had been invited to stay on, and he was left behind as Mrs Jacobs brought the remainder home. Relieved the whole trip had been a success, she was exhausted by the strain of it all. So she spent a few quiet few days recovering before preparing for the new term which started without incident.

It could have continued quietly with Richard Courtney finally admitting defeat if Lord Horsham had not received a phone call.

"Hello sir, It's Ray Davis. You gave me your card at the ball."

"Yes, I remember. What can I do for you?"

"I'm sorry to bother you, but a friend of mine is in trouble, or rather his father is. I was wondering if you could tell us what to do?"

"Just to be clear. You're asking for advice, not money." Lord Horsham said.

"That's right."

"Tell me about it."

"Mr. Francini has a shop, but the land has been taken over. The new firm wants to knock down the buildings for a new development. Mr. Francini has a lease, but he's being offered too little money to sell it back. His shop window has been broken a few times, and he can't afford the insurance increases. Shoppers have been hassled and there's other stuff. I'm just wondering if there is anything he could do."

"On his own, I doubt it. I'm a bank, not an advice centre, but I detest this sort of bullying. Give me Mr. Francini's details, and I'll look into it. You haven't opened an account with us yet."

"No sir. I think I'd just be pretending to be rich. I'm getting my grants sorted OK."

"Well done. Leave Mr. Francini to me."

A few days later, as Ray was leaving school, he noticed a smart limousine parked outside as the driver hurried over to him.

"Mr. Davis? Lord Horsham wonders if he could have a word."

Intrigued, Ray got into the car, and it drove off.

"Don't be alarmed, but I'd like to meet Mr. Francini and I thought a friendly face would help."

"OK!" Ray replied, "Are we going to make him an offer he can't refuse?"

"It's what I'm trying to avoid." Lord Horsham chuckled.

Mr. Francini's shop sold models and supplies. It was large, neglected and crammed with goods not even properly on display. As formal as ever, Lord Horsham presented his card to the startled assistant who hurried off to fetch Mr. Francini who arrived with his son, Gino, Ray's friend. Mr. Francini was openly hostile and suspicious.

"Good Afternoon, Mr. Francini." Lord Horsham began, "My young friend Ray mentioned your problems with your new landlord. As I owe him for services rendered, I agreed to look into it."

"Come out to my office." Mr. Francini said, "I'll make some fresh coffee."

As they settled down Lord Horsham continued, "People rarely like others prying into their affairs and making gifts for no good reason, so with your permission I'd like to explain why my interest has increased considerably. As you know, His Royal Highness, Prince Conrad chose to leave Brookdales for an obscure state school. Everyone knows he was dragged to a rave where a young man was killed, but few know there was a general change in culture at the school. With the chairman of the board one Jeffery Ludale Senior and his cronies as board members, it's hardly surprising."

"I understand, but how does it affect me?" Mr. Francini asked.

"Please bear with me." Lord Horsham said, "Ray knows Ludale Junior though I was waiting for a fight to start. As I was saying, Brookdales may be becoming a cult school indoctrinating students with the idea it's their right to rule. It may be Prince Conrad was more aware of this, and the behaviour of students at the rave brought matters to a head. Brookdales is part of a bigger scheme which, shall we say, does not bode well for democracy."

"But I'm not involved in any of this. Why are you here?"

Jeffery Ludale Senior is a major investor in the property company trying to evict you. Another name is Astamine who Ray knows of and there is Hammerstein which may also be familiar."

"Jamie Hammerstein was the boy who was murdered." Gino said, "Ray mentioned him, and it was in the papers."

"I think I see now. You see a way of getting at these big guys." Mr. Francini said, "I'm sorry to contradict you, but we're not big enough to hurt them."

"No, but with your help, I am. Ray, do you remember how I described the Ludales?"

"A jumped up family of gamblers." Ray grinned.

"Exactly. Their wealth seems impressive, but it's got no substance. They borrowed money to start this project and any delay results in massive interest payments. Now, I can afford to buy your lease and just sit on it. If I do it for long enough, I send them bankrupt. I am a banker, I aim to make a sizable profit on the deal, but Ray has obligated me to look out for your interests."

"Yes, but I'd have to move, and I can't afford the rent on anywhere suitable." Mr. Francini said.

"Yes, but I may have somewhere unsuitable." Lord Horsham said, "You don't rely on customers in the shops for your business, do you?"

"No. Most of my stock is for advanced modellers, so I go to shows, there's online shopping, and it's worldwide. I need the space for storage and handling some specialized fuels I sell. We get the odd customer off the street and regulars who spend as much time chatting as buying."

"That's what I thought. The bank foreclosed on a farm recently. The owner just disappeared, but it's proving difficult to sell. Its fields had been sold to neighbours and was just left with the buildings. The tenant tried running a car repair business, but it's too far off the beaten track. My thinking is your clientele may be more willing to drive out into the wilds for their hobby. You would lose your occasional customer coming in off the street but there would be plenty of parking space for the others. Part of my profit would be getting rent on a useless piece of land. However, because it is useless, the rent would be low."

"Then you would hold onto this place to send these guys bankrupt." Gino said, That's a bit shady isn't it?"

"It's very underhand, and not normally something I'd consider, but these people need to be stopped, or we'll all suffer."

"Yes, but my lease is worthless because no-one wants it. I'd still be broke, and I couldn't move."

"I see a ten-year lease on the farm. To get that, it would be worth covering relocation costs and any other expenses. Remember it won't go at auction because of its location and facilities, and only a specialized concern would find it useful."

"Like my model shop. May I ask, how else do you intend to make a profit?"

"Buying up the development company when it goes bust. It is an attractive idea, but we can afford to do it without harassing the present occupants."

"I'd like to see the place and then discuss the numbers." Mr. Francini said.

"Excellent, here's my agent's number. He'll take it from here. Ray, would you like a lift home?"

"No, thanks. I'll hang with Gino."

A few days later Mr. Francini and Gino were standing studying the group of buildings with John Iago, Lord Horsham's agent.

"We could have a flying field over there and a boating pond on the other side." Gino said.

"Don't get carried away." Mr. Francini smiled, "Your mother will want the house done up first. Let's see what we can do when the lease is agreed, and we've moved."

"I'll send a contractor out to you." Mr. Iago said, "He'll discuss the work which needs doing. Lord Horsham would like a quick decision so would you object to the work not being completed before you sign."

"You would stand the costs?" Mr. Francini asked.

"A rent-free period is more common, but I'm instructed we'll meet reasonable costs. Lord Horsham suggests a railway would be a good idea. His Majesty is an enthusiast, and he frequently visits the area nowadays."

"There're a couple of clubs that have trouble meeting." Mr. Francini said, "I can speak to them."

"Excellent. Shall we discuss figures and a timescale?" Mr. Iago asked.

It was a month later Richard Courtney finally lost his temper, directing his wrath at Conrad. Ironically Conrad was unaware of events leading up to the letter the development company had received, It informed them Lord Horsham was now the tenant, and he would not be giving up the lease early.

Mr. Jeffery Ludale Senior, Mr. James Hammerstein, Mr. Astamine were suddenly in serious financial difficulty. They were the main financial backers of Richard's political ambitions and had already been badly hit by the arms scandal. He had not invested in the arms business, but he was a known associate of those who were. He had invested in the building scheme, normally not enough to send him broke, but with other problems building up, it was a serious hit, and he was involved with suspected fraudsters for the second time. His political ambitions were collapsing, and the paper trail of donations would leave him unable to extricate himself from the mess. The loan sharks would see his involvement in their losses, even if he did not owe them anything, but they would be out for blood.

Everything he had aimed for, and his whole political standing had been brought down by an insolent, disobedient brat who could not do as he was told. Normally, Richard Courtney was cold and calculating, and he never saw any advantage in vengeance for its own sake. However, like a steam boiler that had built up too much pressure, so his emotions burst out.

His staff first realized something was wrong when an aide showed him the latest report on the paedophile scandal.

"If these stupid brats did as they were told, they wouldn't get into trouble." he yelled.

Given the case concerned, the aide was shocked and just stood, unable to reply.

"Get out, man. Come back when you're less squeamish about a bunch of useless brats." Richard Courtney screamed.

Staff in the ante-room heard his hysterical scream but not the words through the heavy door. The aide repeated his conversation, and his superior phoned his superior. Although he did not realize it, his party had the excuse it needed to get rid of him, but he was not completely finished yet.

It was Steve Ganden, the boy Conrad had gone shopping with when he started at the school who alerted him. They were not friends but Steve liked to tell Conrad how he was doing and Conrad enjoyed Steve's news. That day Conrad could see Steve was worried and upset.

"Mum and me had an investigator visit," Steve began. "He said I needed to tell the truth about how you attacked me then bought me all that stuff to shut me up. If I didn't, I'd end up in care, and Mum would be in court for letting it happen. He was real nasty."

"What did you do?" Conrad asked.

"I ran and hid in my room until he went." Steve replied, "I stuck my chair against the door and sat on it. He tried to get in but Mum threatened to call the police. He said, he'll be back with a court order and the police. Mum brought me to school in a taxi."

Seb had been on the phone talking to Dave, his friend at Tolberg.

"They tried the same thing with Timmy, Dave's brother, but they forgot it was Tolberg. He made a big mistake accusing Conrad when their mother had a frying pan in her hand."

"What's going on?" Jim asked.

"I've got no idea. Robert Courtney's doing OK with the paedophile investigations, and the string of arrests looks good. He's the only one I can think of who would come for us."

Conrad beckoned Brian, his security chief over and explained the situation.

"Can you assign someone to look after Steve, please. I know he's not your concern, but they see him as my weak point."

"Put like that, I agree." Brian said, "I'll warn Mrs Jacobs."

A little later, Brian, Conrad, Seb and Steve were settled in Mrs Jacob's office.

"The school understands the situation, and we can prevent anyone from entering. That is the extent of our involvement, but I see the urgency, so you may discuss the matter as much as you need."

"Jamie and Seb were kidnapped because of Conrad." Brian said, "I don't mean it was his fault, but there are risks in associating with him. Steve lives in a block of flats, and I'm not sure it's the best place to protect him."

"I'll ask Mr. Dawlish if he and his mother can stay there." Conrad said, "He can travel to and from school with us, and you could spread security to cover two neighbouring properties."

"I think Steve's mother should be involved in the decisions." Mrs Jacobs said.

As the calls were made, so the arrangements were agreed.

"What about Timmy and his family?" Conrad asked.

"Just give his mother a supply of frying pans." Seb chuckled.

As they were leaving school that night, Adrian Chapman, the reporter asked to speak to Seb.

"You need to watch the news on RNN tonight. It seems they're making a report on the Prince's activities."

"Off the record?" Seb asked, and Adrian nodded, so Seb told him about Steve and Timmy.

"These other two kids are denying everything. Between you and me, could there be anything?"

"Timmy tried to play matchmaker between me and his older brother, but he got bored at Tolberg because we all had our own stuff to do. Steve hangs around a bit, but he likes Conrad. It's nothing more."

"I accept that, but you realize, if anyone comes up with any claim, we'll have to run it. How has Conrad got their backs up again?"

"You know how boring it's been. We've all been concentrating on school."

"OK! Let's see what RNN is up to."

That evening, Seb and his mother visited as Mr. Poulson sat down with Conrad and Jim to watch TV, waiting for RNN.

"In a shock revelation, His Royal Highness, Prince Conrad has been accused of preying on younger children with his sex partner, James Poulson. We understand, evidence will be heard in the custody hearing Mrs Poulson has started in a last ditch effort to save her son. We also understand that two of the victims are in hiding while a third is about to make a statement to the police.

"Rumours that highly placed members of government were involved in the paedophile ring recently uncovered were heightened by the death of Richard Courtney. Official sources seem to be suggesting suicide but have not ruled out the possibility he was murdered because his investigations were getting too close to home."

Everyone's phone seemed to start ringing at once.

Unsurprisingly, Conrad's first call came from the palace.

"Who's this other boy?" King Constantine asked.

"I don't know." Conrad replied, "I take it you've heard about Steve and Timmy. What's this about Richard Courtney?"

"Apparently he had some sort of breakdown at his office. He started shouting about how the kids in that porn thing deserved what they got and when he realized how many people heard him, he shot himself. There's another financial scandal about to break, and I think he knew he was finished."

"What about a murder investigation not being ruled out?"

"Until all the forensics are in and everyone has been interviewed, the police don't rule out little green men from Mars beaming in and zapping him. Any thoughts on what to do?"

"Just carry on." Conrad replied.

"Palace advice is to stay quiet and don't talk to anybody. This mud is going to stick everywhere."

"Seb's talking to his reporter friend." Conrad said, "Let's see what we can find out."

"Very well. Keep me informed."

Seb's call was from Adrian Chapman

"We have to run with this, but my editor doesn't like it. To be fair, if there's any truth in it, he'll crucify you all, but he doesn't like being set up. Can we run your story?"

"Someone murdered the Home Secretary while bullying two kids to lie about Conrad. I didn't think you liked conspiracy theories."

"We don't. We can ask who would benefit by bringing down Prince Conrad known for looking out for people, and the Home Secretary who is so actively investigating a paedophile ring. It'll give us an angle no-one else has."

"Just call me a reliable source, and I can't stop you." Seb said, "I don't know how to handle it all."

"You know we respect your age so leave it to us."

Jim's first call was from his mother.

"How could you get your family in such a mess?" She said, "We warned you this gay nonsense would get you into trouble. Just see sense, come and live with me, and let the court case go away."

"How can it, Mum?" Jim asked, "That fucking broadcast has made Conrad look so bad. We've got to fight it."

"Jim! Mind your language. We'll change our name back to my maiden name, and you can start at a more suitable school where no-one knows you. I'm sure the Ethan boy will be willing to adjust his story and play your part down. Don't you see, our friends just need to show how rotten the royal family is. They're not worried about you."

"But it's not true, Mum." Jim exclaimed, "None of it is."

"There's a greater truth. We need a strong government and Conrad is supporting this wishy-washy liberal nonsense. The odd white lie is for the greater good."

"I'll think about it, Mum. Goodbye."

As he hung up, Conrad grabbed his hand.

"Ethan." Conrad exclaimed, "I was just trying to be friendly. You saw the pictures of the lodge he took online. I stopped him coming because he went against policy."

"There was more though." Seb said, "Something bugged you."

"I was just uneasy. I'm sure he was after something. If he was looking at the alarms all the time, he might be a burglar, but he might be interested in a career in security. You get the idea, you can notice things, but you're not always sure what they mean. I thought he was watching Jim and me, and then those pictures appeared. They were harmless, but he knew he shouldn't have taken them. Would he have taken more confidential ones as he got more confident?"

"OK! Any thoughts on what to do?" Mr. Poulson asked, "Or should we just leave it to the palace?"

"Seb. How much do you trust your reporter friend?" Jim asked.

"Adrian Chapman? He's OK. Why?"

"This whole thing is about Mum getting custody. Could I get an injunction banning her from talking to me and could I use that phone call?"

"How does Adrian come … you want me to leak the story to him … you can't be open because it's a court case, and you can't publish evidence in advance." Seb said. It was taking time to figure it out, so he looked at Jim, impressed.

"How did you work it out so quick?"

"The custody case. It's been all delays, and our lawyers just keep nagging for details, so I guess I've been figuring out how to speed it up. Every time I suggested something, Dad said I couldn't do it because of some weird reason."

"OK! Why not just publish it?" Seb asked.

"Because I'm tired of it all. They troll us, and we just ride it out, so let's go after them for once. I hate involving Mum, but she's OK with stirring up all this shit. I'm just fucking pissed."

Jim was in tears and sobbing as Conrad wrapped his arms around him. Mr. Poulson looked on, understanding how the conflict between his mother, and his boyfriend was tearing him apart.

"Seb, let Conrad look after Jim, so can you phone the palace and explain what Jim wants to do?

"I can phone Mrs Brampton." Seb replied.

Seb explained the situation.

"I see." Mrs Brampton said, "How come Jim recorded that particular conversation?"

"He records a lot of his calls now. Remember when that modelling thing came up? I think you said keep all the emails and make a note of phone calls. He just got into the habit."

"Good. Speak to Chapman, and keep me informed."

"It was the following morning when they all arrived at school, that Seb managed to pull Adrian Chapman to one side.

"I want you to listen to something." Seb said, "Jim's lawyer is going to ask for a restraining order against his mother based on it. I just want to know whether you want a package from an unnamed source containing copies of the paperwork and the recording."

"But I must wait for the package." Adrian said, "OK, but it's the usual caveat, if it gets out, we go with what we've got."

"I get that." Seb said, "Listen."

Adrian listened intently.

"OK! I'll see what I can dig up about the lawyer's connections. You'll have to be quick because others will be digging around."

"We know. Jim says he doesn't want to give RNN wriggle room."

Adrian grinned, "That's why you're turning it into a military operation. You want to catch everyone out. I'd better keep you onside."

"In that case, would you like to spend the weekend at Tolberg? There's a couple of thirteen-year olds you might want to interview."

Injunctions and restraining orders need to be dealt with quickly to be effective, so it was just a few days later, Friday, Adrian got his package, and outlined the story to his editor who listened to the recording.

"What's this about interviewing a couple of kids?"

"I don't know. Seb's a kid himself and likes adding a bit of drama. My guess is, it's the two kids RNN says are in hiding."

"What about the third?"

"I've got his name and home address. We're back to harassing juveniles, so we have to be careful, but I'm going to visit tonight when he's home with his parents."

"You've got yourself the front page, and a centre spread. I'm going to get someone to do a cover story on how the prince tried to wriggle out of trouble, just in case yours blows up in our faces, but it's too good to miss. Our TV studio can start a series of news coming in reports and see if you can get something on screen with the kids."

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