Alike in Dignity

XVII

The snow was still lingering in icy patches when Henry made his first trek of 2005 up the Domstrasse hill to his Eastnet office, making his return to work with some internal relief. It wasn’t so much that he’d not enjoyed the holidays. He was just oppressed with the sense there were things that badly needed doing.

It was fine weather and the haziness of the view back over the Nuevemesten indicated that the temperature was planning to ascend well past zero Celsius for the first time in several days. There had been no new snowfall since he left Zenda. He was eager to get back to grips with his several projects, and his encounter with Marek Toblescu at Lisztomania had indicated there was some catching up to do.

As he toiled up the hill past Kral’s tourist emporium and remembered the handsome face and lithe figure of young Julius Lucic, whom he had once encountered on the pavement there, Henry recalled another loose end: the case of Radek Lucic and his alleged complicity in Communist state repression. He must catch up with that question, which his instincts had found an unlikely one. Though Henry had learned to his cost that personal impressions can be misleading and were not to be trusted uncritically, still his observations of Radek Lucic, the Staroman of Strelzen, had left him dubious about the charges against him. Yet the police believed they had enough evidence to prosecute, as had the examining magistrate who issued the indictment.

Henry was still brooding on the problem as he crossed the small square called Sint-Lucaszplaz, on which the Strelsenermedia offices fronted. Several colleagues greeted him as they reached the glass doors and he spent a little time catching up with them in the foyer about Christmas and New Year. The receptionist caught his eye.

‘The Herr Baron would like to see you in the conference room, Herr At-vood.’

‘Oh? I had nothing in my diary, Sonya.’

‘Nevertheless, if you have a half hour he wants you there as soon as you’ve taken your coat off.’

Henry made his way upstairs, dropped his shoulder bag and coat in his little office, and found Will Vincent nursing a coffee mug next door at the conference table. ‘Morning. Glad to have you back, Henry. I’ve been under strict orders not to bother you over the holiday period.’

‘Ed?’

‘Exactly. But now you’re back and we have a lot to do. This month is when we begin organising the Song for Rothenia heats. Your crew have slacked off a bit without you to motivate them, which is an interesting discovery.’

‘What is, boss?

‘That someone so unintimidating can be quite the slavedriver.’

Henry adopted a wounded look. ‘It’s a talent I have. I’m so pathetic they’re afraid I’ll burst into tears. The embarrassment would be so much that they just put that little extra effort in.’

‘Hmm. Not convinced. But I’ll find out your secret one day.’

‘Would you believe it was something I picked up in reserve officer training classes at Alfensberh?’

‘Are you suggesting the Rothenian officer corps counts passive-aggression as a desirable command trait? Don’t answer that. The other thing is your hunch about North Martzfeld. Anything to report?’

‘No, boss. But Marek is bursting to show me his spreadsheets, so maybe I’ll have some news for you by the end of today.’

***

Having spent most of the morning catching up on his e-mail backlog, Henry was ready by lunchtime to think of something other than Eurovision 2005, or even the impending delights of Marek’s files. He was still meditating on and off about Radek Lucic and his supposed career as an Okranske Dienst informer in the communist Rothenia of the 1980s. To get rid of the itch in his brain he did what he knew he had to do to regain peace of mind: talk to someone about it.

He tapped out the Residenz number and asked to be connected to the king’s chief of staff, but Oskar, count of Modenehem, was unavailable. So he left a message to ring him back. Then he called the administrative offices of the Senate and raised Leon Gratzke.

‘Hello, Henry!’ the hearty voice greeted him. ‘Is this about my entry for Song for Rothenia.’

‘You should seriously apply, Leon. I can pull strings.’

‘How can I help, young man?’

‘It’s about something you mentioned last year when we were having lunch at the Kirchehaus. You remember when you were targeted by a dirty tricks brigade who thought they’d dragged up some marital dirt on you?’

‘How can I forget?’

‘I just checked my notes of the conversation, and you also said that they pretended to have a file on you as an informer in the old Horvath days.’

‘Not quite, Henry. I don’t recall saying it had been in the time of Horvath. The allegation said my ORD connection was supposed to have been in the final corrupt years of the Second Republic, when that fool General Wiseczstejn was president-chairman.’

‘Oh! That’s odd. Did you ever see the evidence that was presented?’

‘My lawyers have copies of what the paper sent to me on file still, why?’

‘What date was the ORD file on you supposed to have been made?’

‘I think 1988.’

‘Did your lawyers ever run a check on the material?’

‘They didn’t need to. The allegations about my extramarital affairs were so brazenly inaccurate that the Ruritanischer Tagblatt dropped the whole package hard enough for you to hear the clunk as far as Glottenberh. What are you thinking?’

‘Well, the same sort of files of the same sort of date have been used to target Radek Lucic. I hadn’t made the connection, because my faulty memory misled me. But now I’m seeing a pattern.’

‘Sorry Henry, you’ve lost me.’

‘I’m not sure I know where this is going myself, but can you get me a copy of the file used against you? I promise you another fine lunch in the Kirchehaus when I’ve put the story together in my mind.’

Senator Gratzke readily agreed. Henry stared at the wall for a while, but the itch was now scratched and he could turn his mind to another non-Eurovision concern.

***

Marek was waiting in the foyer, bundled up in an ageing ex-military parka with a thick file under his arm. ‘Why’re we going out, boss?’

‘Well, my young apprentice, it’s a feeling I have that you’re going to tell me things which perhaps ought not to be overheard. Or at least I hope so. So we are going to have a nice lunch out. Someone just reminded me that I’ve not been to the Kirchehaus am Domshorja down the hill for a while. Their salads are quite something.’

‘Yuk. Rabbit food. I’m a true son of Ruric the Barbarian, me. Gimme meat, red and dripping.’

Henry chuckled. ‘They do this new thing with pulled pork and barbecue sauce in a baguette. Perhaps that’ll satisfy your inner savage.’

The two young men strolled out on to the Domshorja, just as the cathedral bells rang out for midday.

‘So how did it go with Anjelka last week?’

‘We parted friends, but maybe not as friendly as I’d have liked.’

‘You didn’t wake up together, you mean?’

‘Nah. That wasn’t really on the cards. Just as well for her too; my digs are disgusting, me and the guys live like pigs. But we had a good night out in Lisztomania. Who knows? She might come into my orbit again some time and think kindly of me. So this English guy you were with last Wednesday night. David …?’

‘Skipper. An old school friend and sometime companion in mischief. He’s in the music business, as you may have picked up.’

‘Right. So he was professionally interested in Starcrossed?’

‘Ten seconds after the kid started singing he was. What did he call him? “The Mozart of pop”. That was it.’

Marek was struck by the phrase. ‘That’s good! True too. I get chills when I hear him.’

‘Just out of curiosity, do you have a copy of his album?’

‘I did, but some git lifted it from my bedroom. Either that, or it’s still in there and lost in the floor debris. Why d’you ask?’

‘They seem to be collector’s items, that’s all. Davey told me I’m too tone deaf to appreciate him.’

‘I more or less wore it out while I had it. Yet it was still as fresh the hundredth time I heard it as the first. That’s rare.’

They found their way down the lanes to the Fenizenkirche and the welcoming warmth of the Kirchehaus, which was already filling up. Just as warm was the greeting of Herr At-vood by name and with smiles.

Marek looked about him with interest after they were seated, not just at the display of shining copper kitchenware and the country-style tables, but the pert and attractive young waitresses. ‘I don’t get out much to eat. It’s too expensive in the big city.’ He flapped his folder on a corner of the table not occupied by menus and the fragrant bread baskets that had appeared with them. ‘So, boss, I have all my figures and stuff, but I don’t think you’ll want numbers and calculations.’

‘Just the totals, Mareczu. You know me by now.’

After a pause to order drinks and the main course, during which Marek was utterly charming towards their waitress in a way that made Henry suspect the boy was after more from her than just table service, his temporary aide resumed.

‘It’s been an education, I have to tell you. Fun too. I mean, I never thought this sort of thing could be fun, but it is. Here boss, take a look at this flow chart, which I will call chart number 1. These are all the property holding companies involved in the Sixth District and Martzfeld developments, right? They’re sorted into a hierarchy I was able to devise with the help of your friend from the Ruritanischer Tagblatt, and as you can see a large bunch of them have an apex with a question mark; that’s because when you track upwards, you finally end up outside Rothenia.

‘Now these are the building contractors: chart number 2, okay? They don’t arrange into any obvious hierarchy, and the majority of them are established local firms. But what I’ve done is organised the boxes which represent the companies by estimated share of the overall work based on declared company profits. Now take the big three by this calculation and make lists of executive and non-executive directors, okay? Here’s where the same names turn up in the property companies, and as you see the same non-executives are all also to be found in the dominant hierarchy here.’

‘So what are you saying, Marek?’

‘Well boss, I guess I’ve not found out-and-out wrongdoing as yet, but I have found a controlling interest across the board in both arms of the development, construction and property. It’s pretty evident that this cabal secured the bulk of the property and allotted the building contracts mostly to companies they themselves controlled, no doubt on preferential terms. You’d never notice this if you looked at the individual companies actually holding the properties. But if you move to the next level, that’s where it suddenly becomes obvious, and it’s at that level that names of the directors of the construction companies also appear on the lists of the property holding firms. And the level above that — that’s where we get names that’ll interest you.’

‘Names like?’

‘Well how about Antonia Carluccio for starters.’

‘Who?’

‘Otherwise known as the Baroness Staufer von Ebersfeld. And, perhaps needless to say, she and the rest of the cabal are heavily committed to the planned North Martzfeld project.’

***

As soon as he was back in the office, Henry was on the phone to Herr Dr Rolf Abentauer of the Ruritanischer Tagblatt.

‘Well Henry!’ the plummy voice eventually replied. ‘Not a surprise. Indeed I was expecting to hear from you before the holidays.’

‘I was kidnapped and held prisoner in a castle.’

Laughter greeted this sally. ‘So I hear! That nice young man of yours is quite a find. A forensic mind wasted in the Strelsenermedia accounts department, in my opinion.’

‘Mine also, Rolf. I hadn’t realised you two were working quite so close together. When did this start happening?’

‘Jealous? In exchange for my detailed seminar on property transfer and development in Rothenia young Marek felt obliged to share his increasingly fascinating spreadsheets, and naturally I had my own observations to add and suggestions to follow.’

‘Now look here …’

‘Tsk, Henry. Are you about to weigh in on me about journalistic ethics? I wrote the book on it. I have formally cleared this as a joint Tagblatt-Eastnet investigation with my executive editor. All I need for you to do is to go to Tomas and get him to agree. I think he will. There’s the potential here for Eastnet to advance to the front ranks of international journalism, don’t you think?’

Henry harrumphed. ‘Maybe.’

‘It was beyond your resources. I think a bit of graciousness on your part is in order. There was never any intention of stealing this story from under your nose.’

Henry sighed. ‘I knew that, Rolf. Still, it was my baby.’

‘You have a nursery full of them at the moment, so I hear. You could do with the help. So get Tomas to agree, and second the boy Marek full-time to your news division. If you don’t we’ll offer him a post here. It’ll be your loss.’

When he had hung up, Henry ruefully admitted to himself that Rolf had been right. He had too much on his plate, with the Song for Rothenia team already chafing to get stuck in. He’d been clinging to the Martzfeld story as a way of escaping the other, less attractive, priority with which he had been saddled by the EBU. So back to the song and dance act. Still, there was at least one avenue he could explore on his own. This business about ORD informing in the 1980s: that was one story that was his. Once again he tried to raise Oskar von Tarlenheim at the Residenz.

***

Yuli was unsettled in his mind as he and Willem crossed the Arsenalsbr├╝cke and met the loitering figure of Bolo. They exchanged grunts, all three rather preoccupied, though for different reasons. For Willem and Bolo, it was the impending assessment season for their baccalaureates. For Yuli it was principally how he would feel when he once again connected with his long-absent and uncommunicative boyfriend. As he had predicted, Roman had not appeared at last week’s choir rehearsal at the Hofkapelle, but he did not doubt that he would arrive at Sudmesten Central for the new semester, too much depended on it.

A strange mixture of emotions, sweet and bitter alike, surged through his heart when he first caught sight of that familiar face, pensive as Roman was struggling to fit an over-stuffed backpack into his locker in the senior year study suite. He came up on Roman unobserved.

‘Need some help, Romesczu?’ Worryingly, Yuli had a moment of mental doubt as he added the ‘zu’.

But Roman’s beautiful face beamed like the sun in glory when he turned to encounter Yuli, and for the moment the surge of passion he felt as he met those clear and sparkling eyes swamped his doubts. More, because he found Roman in his arms and their mouths meeting in full sight of their colleagues in Year 12. Yuli gave in to the moment with a smile.

‘Well, good morning!’ he said as they broke off.

‘Missed you bad,’ came the reply.

Yuli basked in the moment but had to ask. ‘You weren’t at choir practice last week. Why no texts? I was worried you might be ill.’

Roman hung his head and then looked up. ‘Later, leblen. But we really need to talk.’ A yearning look and another peck on Yuli’s lips and he was gone, leaving a bemused boyfriend behind; one who was still not completely convinced by this stage in their relationship that he could in fact be called a boyfriend.

Concentration was fitful for Yuli for the rest of the morning, his mind continually returning to Roman’s anxious and yet excited air. They met again in the food queue for lunch. Their friendship group was already at their usual table, but Roman led him past it to a corner. As he passed Willem Yuli leaned in to whisper urgently into his ear, ‘Later!’

They settled opposite each other. ‘So, Romesczu, you seem to have something to say. So say it.’ The remark came out more curtly than he had intended, as the sudden sharp glance from Roman recognised.

‘Are you angry with me?’

Yuli looked into his heart, and shook his head with a sad smile. For better or worse, Roman was who he was. ‘No baby. I’m not angry with you. I couldn’t ever be. I’m just very puzzled as to what goes on in your head, that’s all.’

‘Really? Oh, then I must explain myself. For we can’t have that. I love you Yuli, with all my heart.’

Yuli raised his eyebrows. Roman had taken on an air of dignity that he had not yet observed in the boy; Roman-Rudolf Staufer von Ebersfeld the Freiherr had made his appearance, and with a disconcerting tinge in his demeanour of the baron, his father. ‘That’s … er, nice to know. I didn’t doubt it, leblen men,’ Yuli replied, not altogether truthfully.

Roman’s face turned a little sad. ‘I’d not have blamed you had you done, my Yuli. But hear me out. I know you know that my parents do not approve of you, and they’ve said so to me, my mother perhaps more often than my father. They think they have their reasons, which I do not agree with. I haven’t bothered you with any of this, but it has made home life difficult, which was one reason I didn’t resist their insistence I go with the youth group to France over the holidays. Though I missed you, it was a relief to me on another level.’

Yuli started to develop a little guilt. He had assumed from the boy’s tranquillity that Roman was just getting the cold treatment at home, but apparently he had been having a harder time than Yuli had appreciated. He hadn’t probed to find out what was really going on in the Von Ebersfeld house. It began to occur to him uneasily that he might possibly have been the self-centred one. He asked Roman to continue and reached across the table to take his hand.

‘The other kids on the pilgrimage were good. We’ve known each other since we were little. They cheered me up and told the monks how good a singer I was, so that was how I met Brother Aleksander.’

‘Huh?’

‘He’s the chief cantor for the monastery. He’s got quite a voice himself. He talked me into taking the lead in some of the Advent and Christmas services: the monastery is a really big name in devotional song … you’ve never heard of it? No? Well, take my word for it. The choir monks sort of adopted me and I even got invited into their house. Me and Brother Al talked a lot, and in the end I spilled out all my troubles. He shook me by shrugging and saying he was gay too, so he understood. It was after he’d been put through hell with his own family — traditional Polish Catholics — that he ended up at Taiz├ę.’

Yuli gaped. ‘Don’t tell me he talked you into becoming a monk!’

Roman stared, then giggled. ‘No, silly. I’m only sixteen still, how could that happen? But we did talk a lot and we went through some difficult questions I had. The religious ones he saw off with ease, the family ones weren’t so easy to deal with. But by the end of the week I began to see that the love I get from my family is not unconditional love. For the first time I began to see that my mother is using my guilt to control me. When Brother Al asked me who in my home gave me unconditional love and support I could only say one person had, and that’s Klara.’

‘The maid?’

‘She’s a bit more than that. She looked after me from the time I was little. She gave me all the warmth that neither of my parents could. It was to her I went for hugs in all my little troubles. Until I met you, she was the warm heart of my life. She thinks you’re wonderful, by the way.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes, from the first time you came to our house. Also, she worked out that me and you were … y’know. That same day.’

‘How?’

‘She said it was the way our eyes met when we were making music.’

‘And she said nothing to your parents?’

‘Not a word. She’s covered for me when she could too. We talked a lot when I got back from France. Brother Al said she’d give me good advice.’

‘So what happened last Thursday? Why weren’t you at the Hofkapelle?’

Roman went quiet for a few moments, then he re-engaged. ‘Mutta came into my room as I was getting ready and said that she and Vater had been talking. They had come to the conclusion that I must concentrate on my Bacca and take time out of my music till the summer.’

‘What! That’s so …’

‘… Shitty? Obvious? Unkind? They all work.’

‘What did you say?’

‘I’m not good at confrontation, but I did sort of convey I was not happy.’

‘They have no right! You’ll be seventeen in ten days: old enough for university. What are you gonna do, Romesczu?’

Roman’s mouth quirked up in a rather cute sign of his confusion. ‘I talked to Klara. And she had something to say that changed everything.’

***

Henry’s phone rang. It was Oskar von Tarlenheim. ‘Finally,’ he swore to himself.

‘Hey, Oskar,’ he said breezily.

‘Ah, Henry. Sorry it’s taken so long to get back to you. How can I help?’

‘I need some advice from someone who knows how this country collapsed and put itself back together again in the eighties and nineties, and you lived through it all. It’s about the Okranske Dienst.’

‘The former internal security service? Long since wound up, and one or two of its members are still serving out their sentences for corruption and arms trafficking in the Arsenal prison. What’s got you interested? Are you looking to do a feature?’

‘No, no. It’s a particular query about its files and methods. Let me explain.’ Eventually he wound up. ‘So we now have two instances where its files from the year 1988 have been produced to substantiate career-damaging allegations about liberal and centrist politicians. Both cases are somehow connected to Dieter von Ebersfeld too.’

There was a long silence at the other end of the line. Oskar finally broke it. ‘Look Henry, I know Dieter quite well. I can imagine he’s not the sort of fellow whom you’d sympathise with for several reasons, but he is for all that a decent and honest man. I might add that though he’s a Catholic of the old school, he doesn’t make any big issue of my homosexuality. Rudi quite likes him. You might also remember that his experience of the Second Republic was as grim as that of my own family. It’s not credible that he’d be in league with former ORD agents.’

‘I’m not suggesting that exactly. What I need to know is where these files might have come from, because the two specimens I now have on my desk are not forgeries, so far as I or the staff of the National Archives can tell. They can’t tell me where they came from but, genuine though they appear to be, they certainly don’t belong to the official ORD documentary deposits they received in 1992 or 1994.’

‘Hmph. Then you need to talk to Teresza Monicec at State.’

‘Who she?’

‘You’ll like her. She’s your sort.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘An irritating obsessive with a redeeming sense of humour. I’ll email you her contact details. Let me know how it goes. I’m interested.’

***

‘Fucking hell, Romesczu!’ Willem was wide-eyed. Yuli had called him over as soon as he’d heard what Roman had to say, and got the boy to repeat it all to Willem, who instructed them accordingly. ‘Look, dinner hour is nearly up, but we gotta talk this through. I’m gonna skip first period, and you two better had as well.’

‘I’m free anyway … it’s just keyboard practice,’ Yuli contributed. Roman just shrugged.

‘We’ll find a quiet corner.’

So ten minutes later Willem sat frowning at them in an empty classroom with a chair wedged under the door handle.

Eventually he said ‘So Klara was giving a major clean out to your bedroom and en suite while you were away and turned up hidden cameras.’

Roman nodded. ‘She’d brought a ladder and had climbed up to the top of the shelf unit, which never usually gets her attention. One was fixed to the underside of a shelf with a panoramic view of my bed. You couldn’t see it unless you were up close. She didn’t try to remove it, but took a shot of it with her handij. She didn’t think it was active. I was away. Nothing to record.’

‘Fucking hell. But then she prowled around, climbed up and found another in the light fixture above the shower unit and another focussed on your toilet. Some bastard wanted a Romesczu show, up close and personal. Er … gotta ask, would the voyeuristic cunt have got a return for his investment.’

‘Willemczu!’

Roman had gone bright red. He nodded slowly and looked sideways at Yuli, who took and squeezed his hand.

‘So, we don’t know how long someone’s been recording Romesczu’s private life, but we can certainly guess why. We can rule out your mum and dad, so who does that leave?’

Roman spread his hands helplessly. ‘Someone with access to the house, I suppose. Vater’s staff are there for meetings, but Klara says she thinks she has some ideas. But they’re scary.’

Yuli frowned. ‘That Hadjek man.’

Roman started. ‘Er … yes? What made you think that?’

‘Because, leblen men, I see the way he stares at you when you’re not looking. Like a cat licking its lips at a little bird it’s cornered. Has the creep ever tried anything on with you?’

‘He was one of my teachers at the German gymno before my breakdown. It was him who alerted my Vater and helped sort out things with the gymno. That’s how he came to Vater’s notice and was offered a job in the Prefecture. He didn’t teach subjects where he’d have seen me naked or anything in the changing room. I remember when I stood at his desk to look at my work he’d sort of hold me loosely by my side and sometimes his hand would go down and cup my bum. But I never thought much of it. It only happened once or twice. I had to think hard to remember it, and I’m not sure I remember it properly anyway.’

‘How old were you then?’

‘Oh … thirteen or so. But he never said or did anything sexy. Well … he did put his hand on my leg when he was talking to me as he was driving me back from school before Christmas. He took his time removing it too. But that was the only time.’

‘He just stares.’

‘I guess.’

Willem snarled. ‘Looks like his interest in you has increased through puberty. He likes young teen boys and you are just too enticing. He can’t make a pass at you because of the risk you may react badly and his career depends on your father, but he’s still getting obsessive enough to take risks. It has to be him.’

There was a silence. ‘But that’s not all,’ Roman said. The other two looked up. ‘Klara was really shocked of course but she warned me that confronting Hadjek with it might not be so easy.’

‘How’s that?’

‘Klara picks up a lot around the house. I mean, she doesn’t spy on people, but you can’t help overhearing things at dinners and drinks parties and so on. And she’s a clever woman, not that anybody notices. She was the one who helped me with my homework until I was in gymno, you know, and sometimes afterwards as well.

‘The point is that though Hadjek works for Vater in the Prefecture, Klara thinks he has just as close a relationship with Mutta, maybe even more so.’

‘You don’t think …!’ Yuli was wide-eyed.

Roman blushed red again. ‘No, no! Not that. But they do a lot of business together. Mutta has the money in the family you know. Her people are nobility in Sardinia, where my cousins have castles and villas. Klara thinks that she and Hadjek have some schemes going on. They meet together when my father isn’t at home too.’

Willem frowned. ‘So what are you saying, Romecszu? You’re reluctant to expose Hadjek because you don’t think your parents will take you seriously? The cameras are still there.’

Roman shook his head. ‘Maybe they’ll try to explain it away in other ways. I don’t know. But what I do know is that in ten days I’ll be seventeen, and I’m packing up and leaving home. I can never be me there, it’s too dangerous a place. And they’ll never accept the man I love. Klara will give me a bed in her flat, and that’ll be fine by me. She’ll quit her job the same day.’

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