Yuli and Roman decided to meet up by the Salvatorskirche and take the tram together to the Martzfeld for their meeting with Davey Skipper. It was Saturday and Willem was unavailable, stuck behind the counter in Krals.
They found Davey in the Hilton bar, with his laptop up and a coffee jug beside it. ‘Get you anything, kids? Wow! Do you look tanned after your adventure! Was it fun?’
Yuli laughed. ‘We had an awesome holiday, our first together.’
‘Hmm, and here am I offering you another one. I’d like you both in London next weekend if you can square it. If you can get more days off from your school it would be even better.’
Roman exchanged glances with Yuli, and spoke for them. ‘Gymno is more or less over now, Mr Davey. All our coursework is complete and Year 12 finishes at the end of May in any case, so I don’t think our principal will be too upset if we ask for permission. It would not be unusual to get an early release from gymno at this time in any case. We are still considering the National Conservatory next year, and are expected to attend a summer school there in June and July. We shall ask. Our friend Krista has done this. She is going into the army and was released two weeks ago.’
‘Excellent,’ said Davey. ‘In that case, I’ll set up the bookings. I take it you’d prefer it if Willem was part of the plan?’
‘Of course,’ Yuli replied. ‘We would not go without him.’
‘No problems. The thing is this, we need to work up your stage act for the Song Contest and I have several friends who can help. Since you think you can manage it, I’ll book you for the whole week from 7 May. Then you’ll be prepared for the run-up to Eurovision. Henry tells me it’ll get pretty intense the two weeks before the event. And talking of intense …’
The two boys looked a question, and Davey produced a file. ‘Yazz sent me these pictures that have appeared on one of your fan sites.’
‘We have fan sites?’
‘Where have you boys been lately? Oh yes. Riding the rapids of the river Arndt. Well, thousands upon thousands of pubescent Rothenian girls live and breathe only for you, and you seem to have fed them red meat.’
Yuli and Roman picked up the pictures and Yuli went white under his tan. ‘Where did these come from?’ he croaked.
‘I imagine from one of your naturist walkabouts in Neder Husbrau. You look gorgeous by the way. You can really walk naked though villages there? Amazing. I think I’m gonna try that. Beats San Tropez hollow. You’ve left nothing to your fans’ imaginations. Cute butts and tanned dicks proudly on display to the world.’
Yuli was horrified. ‘This is terrible! One of the local children must have sneaked photos on her handij. There was a crowd of them hanging round the dock. They saw me and my Romesczu hand in hand!’
‘Ruce en Ruce indeed,’ Davey sighed. ‘You don’t seem as bothered, Roman.’
The boy gave a rueful smile. ‘Me? No, Mr Davey. I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of, and if these silly girls want to admire my genitalia that’s fine by me. None of the pictures seem to show Yuli and I walking with hands clasped. That is perhaps lucky. I believe you were cautious about how our being gay would be … received.’
‘Yazz has noticed that there is rising speculation on the subject. “Are Starcrossed gay?” is a trending Google question. But as long as you don’t feed that particular beast, it’ll just roam hungrily around the wilderness.’
‘Do you get this sort of attention, Mr Davey?’ Yuli asked.
‘Me? I’m a backstage kind of guy. But I don’t hide my sexuality and my boyfriend’s no shrinking pansy either. We go out together and occasionally end up hand in hand on red carpets. I’ve been on the cover of Gay Times. I may even be something of a gay icon in my way, but there aren’t legions of hormonal girls fixating on me the way they do on you two.’
Yuli shook his head. ‘I suppose I should have expected this but it is not … nice. It will amuse my mutti though.’ Roman took and squeezed his hand. ‘Was there anything else, Mr Davey?’
‘Well, as it happens there is. Willem’s been on at me for some sort of financial statement on your royalties for music published so far, and the first statement from Apple as to your sales through iTunes Store has just arrived. This doesn’t include Ruce en Ruce of course, which can’t be uploaded commercially till after 21 May. I’ve still got no figures for CD sales of Edler Herz either, or its English version.
‘You’re currently averaging 7,000 downloads a day of Edler Herz, and have been doing much the same since the song first took off. The daily downloads of 4,500 for the EP have also been fairly steady since release. So after the distributor’s 30% and my label’s 30% cut you have so far benefitted from the world’s musical discriminati, before tax and expenses, of course, to the tune of $413,992 or at the current exchange rate for the GBP : £216,750. I think that’s something rather more than 2 million Rothenian krone. That's going to leave you with a fair chunk of change even after deductions, and there's more coming in all the time.’
Yuli felt a little excited and at the same time a little lost, as the British Airways flight from Strelzen Tildemann approached its stand at London Heathrow Terminal 4. This was his first flight without his parents, and though he was with Roman and Willem it was borne in on him that he was now his own man. And not only was he his own man, he was a man of means. The flights had been arranged out of Starcrossed’s account with Skipper Associates, and they had flown business class.
Willem grinned at him as they pulled their travel bags out of the overhead bins. He already had his handij glued to his ear. ‘I told ‘em we’ll make our own way into town,’ he announced. ‘Let’s go on this Underground. Why doesn’t Strelzen have an Underground? All the nice cities do.’
‘Because we have very fine trams,’ Roman observed. ‘My Vater told me that a metro line was under discussion before the king returned but the Domshorja was a problem for the planners.’
‘Hah!’ Yuli exclaimed. ‘Discrimination against the Staramesten again!’
‘I heard Uncle Radek in that remark,’ Willem said. ‘This is so cool. Got your passports? Then let’s get to Immigration.’
After a rather long walk through endless corridors they joined the line for EU passports and shuffled their way into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
‘Where is the picture of their Queen?’ Yuli asked. ‘It’s not respectful.’ They gazed at the Tube map and debated where they wanted to go. Eventually they compromised on Charing Cross, enquiry having revealed it as the nearest stop for Trafalgar Square. It was a warm day in London and tube travel was oppressive, but the three Rothenian boys didn’t in the least mind. Though city boys, this was a city of a type very different from what they normally experienced: they were surrounded by a multiplicity of languages and ethnicities, and crowds of a sort they’d never encountered in Strelzen.
Above ground they drank in the sights, the fountains, the monuments, the black taxis and red buses; they posed for each other and talked other tourists into snapping them.
‘This city has energy,’ Willem decided. ‘I can see why Mr Davey lives here. I’ve heard that if we go up that road we get to the very gay part of London. Aren’t you two keen to visit?’
Yuli and Roman shook their heads. ‘We have heard from Herr Pelikan that if we go down that road there is the English parliament and a Hofkapelle where there’s a choral service every afternoon. So guess where we’re going, Willemczu.’
‘Fair enough,’ Willem agreed, ‘but let’s get rid of these bags first. My tatti’s ancient London A-Z indicates that our hotel is by the British Museum up there, and it can only be a short taxi ride to check in.’
‘It is not the Ritz or the Savoy,’ mused Roman on their arrival, ‘but it will do I suppose.’ They had been booked in a double and single. He and Yuli looked around their room. ‘Oh look! A minibar!’
‘And a menu for room service. Adult movies!’
‘Oh, that’s crap. All hetero. Uggh. Krista is ten times hotter than that woman, I can see that even with my handicap.’
‘Maybe Willemczu will correct your judgement. Come sit with me on this very wide bed. Now, we must talk about something. No, not that, I mean the money, which is stacking up minute by minute.’
‘Yes, indeed. But what’s to discuss? We’ll just split it.’
‘No we won’t, Yuli mine. We both know the songs and their royalties are yours and the genius is too. I just sing.’
‘That’s as may be. When it comes to the pay-out from Skipper Associates we will split it on a fairer basis. So I will be happy with 30% of whatever is left after your royalties are taken out.’
Yuli shook his head. ‘I’m not happy with that. If we have to do this let’s take into account the inspiration and love you give me every day. So let it be 50%.’
‘40%!’ Roman laughed.
‘Now you’re being silly. Fifty per cent of the net proceeds is a lot of money still. Besides, there’s something else to take into account.’
‘And what’s that Yuli mine?’
‘If we want we can now get ourselves our own apartment. We can live and sleep together as we’ve dreamed! Have you thought about that, leblen baby mine?’
Roman gave him a long look, then shook his head chuckling. ‘And cook, pay the bills and tidy up together? Are we quite ready for that? Your mutti and my Klara would be horrified to think we could be trusted to run our lives. To them we are still children. In my head I am still a child, I think. The other day as I was walking up Königstrasse, a lady with an out-of-control toddler told the child to be careful of getting in the way of “that man”. I was at the Plaz before I realised she meant me. It bothered me, despite the fact that you and I do things that men who love men do.’
‘I think I understand. There’s still a lot you and I have to discuss, leblen baby mine. But we can safely leave it until after the Song Contest I think.’
Skipper Associates occupied the third floor above the gay club, Orton’s, in Covent Garden. The three boys were buzzed in from the street and had a long climb up the seemingly endless flights of stairs.
‘Morning lads! Hotel okay? Sleep alright?’
‘Hello Mr Davey,’ Willem replied for them. ‘All very nice, thank you. There was a very big breakfast buffet, and I think we ate too much. Those stairs were not easy as a result.’
‘Pity, as two of you are going to be rather active today.’
‘So what do you have in mind?’ Yuli asked
‘We have meetings with designers and dance coaches in an hour, to test out ideas. You seemed comfortable with that cute little video you two did for Edler Herz. The designers liked it. They think low-key works for Yuli and Roman, but they have questions. I think we’re agreed you won’t want to do the full costumed Eurovision lunacy, are we? Good. I’m having enough trouble over that with our friend Henry Atwood. I’ve taken the liberty of preparing some options. In the meantime, I have an international accountant coming in who’s going to give you several days’ tutorials, Willem.’
‘Me? Really?’ The boy’s eyes widened, as if he were a toddler promised an ice cream.
‘I thought that’d appeal. You are going to have to interpret money matters to Starcrossed, who haven’t impressed me so far as business minds. See those thick folders? A nice Mr Schwarz from Dresdner Kleinwort will be delighted to unveil their mysteries to you. He speaks German as his first language, and his mother’s Rothenian, so you two should get on.
‘Okay then, you three go and have a wander down in the Market, get a coffee or something and be back for eleven. After that we’ll all be busy one way or another till dinner time. And please don’t tell me you want to try a London McDonald’s; do that on your own time. Tell you what, I have a friend of mine in town whom you should meet this evening. He has a lot of experience in show business, and for that matter, he knows your home town pretty well.’
Justin Peacher-White, minder to the stars, took an appreciative gulp of his pint of London Pride.
‘Well,’ he reflected, ‘that wuzz an unusual evening.’
Davey Skipper favoured a margarita on such a warm night. ‘Why’s that?’ he asked.
‘Your three are the most normal boys I ever met.’
‘Normal? They’re adolescents. Two of them are a gay couple. One of them is a force of nature when it comes to private enterprise, and another of them may in fact be one of the musical geniuses of the twenty-first century.’
‘Doan’ get me wrong, mate. I mean “normal” in me own context. If they’d been the usual run of clients their age they would have been looking to find dives to sniff coke up their little spotty noses and treat me like I wuz their pimp or dealer or whatever. It would be all about them.’
‘Excuse me! Not all my signings are like that. Live Action has yet to graduate to rehab, and they’ve been in the business for the past five years.’
Justin snorted. ‘What yer doan’ know doan’ hurt yer, does it. But those three kids have got that Rothenian thing.’
‘Rothenian thing? What d’you mean Justy?’
Justin took a pull of his beer and indulged in a meditative pause. ‘Yer gets this wiv Rothenians. They’re rooted in something: something strong and true. Doin’ the right thing comes natural to ‘em, and they doan’ ever put themselves first. They’re totally honest, which yer can’t say about most kids.’
‘What, like your own little imp?’
‘Ha! The more I get to know Daimey, the more Rothenian he seems. Even when he was in that slum in Walbrough he was trying to do right by people round him. He’s wilful, devious and fearless, but he’s not about himself. An’ he seemed right at home when we wuz in Strelzen.’
Davey shook his head. ‘Okay, but there’re some pretty bad guys there — what about Willemin? You had a run in with him.’
‘And thass annuver odd thing. Willemin’s a villain alright, but yer gets the impression that he’s got his limits. He’ll cheat yer, but he’s one of them thiefs wiv honour, like in some old black-and-white Cockney film from the forties.’
Davey in turn took a pause for reflection. ‘Outfield is full of Rothenian characteristics. It’s no wonder he ended up there. Odd thing. When I go out there to stay with him, he’s more and more Henry every time I meet him.’
‘Oh, it’s a lot of things. Some of it I guess may be just because he’s older, but I wonder. There’s a core of confidence and strength that was never obviously there in school, but it began coming out in Cranwell, and that deadly trip to Rothenia must have fully triggered it. But it’s carried on developing since then. I mean, he’s still his usual mix of the trivial and the bizarre, but you can sense there’s something beneath it these days, something very deep and strong. It’s like the tide under the ripple of a sunlit bay.’
Justin raised an eyebrow. ‘Interesting, mate. Nice turn of phrase. Well anyway, your three lads are straight up Rothenians, so if I wuz you I wouldn’t expect Starcrossed to be yer usual pop sensation.’
‘What d’ya mean, Justy?’
‘Nuffin’ much. Just that they ain’t in it for the fame, the drugs or the money: it woan’ have no grip on them. So doan’ expect ‘em to follow any showbiz script you have in mind, mate, cos they won’t. Anyways, wass yer expert view as to how the British entry will do this year?’
‘Has to be better than last year’s, which got just 29 points. Still I fear the new song has the mark of death on it. I mean, the title? Touch My Fire? See … you just guffawed at the potential for obscene puns. Fortunately only the Irish population will see the possibilities for hilarity, and we usually get a sympathy vote from Dublin. Then there’s the tune, which seems to have been inspired by a forgettable night in a belly-dancing club in Tangier. It’s trying too hard, which is the developing narrative.’
‘An’ what about your own two cherubs? Chances?’
‘From what I’ve heard of the other songs, it might well walk it. Starcrossed is beginning to take off internationally with a zoom. Nobility’s breaking in the US market, never mind Europe. About the only thing going against them is they insist on singing Ruce en Ruce in Rothenian, despite my advice.’
‘“Hand in Hand”. Sweet.’
‘How the fuck did you know that?’
‘Not just a pretty face me. Daimey’s decided he wants to learn Rothenian, since he reckons he’s a member of its royal family, all evidence to the contrary. He also reckons he has a rank in their armed forces. So we’re doin’ common phrases, and words like numbers and body parts. Needless to say, the little pervert wants to know the names of all the body parts, includin’ the ones you doan’ learn in school.’
Davey laughed. ‘So predictable.’
‘That at last is that,’ Yuli sighed. ‘No one tells you that dance workouts are so boring. Though doing it with you helped, leblen baby.’
‘It wasn’t that difficult really. Just repetitive, and … well … rather silly,’ Roman replied.
‘Oh I dunno,’ Willem chipped in. ‘I’m glad I sat in for the last session. Whatever it felt like to you, it looked cute. I know it was all supposed to be low-key but Mr Davey’s designer seemed to know how to get you moving to Ruce en Ruce, and he did a thing.’
‘It was the finish up, when he got you turning in to each other, and the smile you gave each other … it looked as though you were thinking of doing more than smiling on the final rehearsal. You didn’t kiss, but it looked like you were about to. That’d throw the cat amongst the pigeons.’
‘You think they’ll guess we’re homos?’ Yuli mused.
‘I’m pretty sure it’s a story waiting to break, after all it was never a secret round Sudmesten Central, the Hofkapelle or Lisztomania was it? Someone’ll tell a reporter, you can be sure.’
‘So what, Willemczu?’ Roman responded.
Willem shrugged. ‘So, nothing. It’s one of those things that people know and then ignore in show business, like George Michael.’
‘Oh! He’s gay?’ Roman said with a straight face.
‘You didn’t know?’ Willem was a little uncertain.
Yuli shook his head. ‘He knew, Willemczu. He’s sending you up. He’s developing a gay playlist on his iPod.’
‘… now I have one. It’s cool and blue and not yet on sale in Strelzen, where there is no Apple Store, unlike London, where there seems to be one on every corner.’
‘You exaggerate, leblen. Anyway. This is Seven Dials according to your tatti’s A-Z, Willemczu. So we go this way and eventually we reach the British Museum and our hotel.’
‘Hotel first,’ Roman said. ‘We need a shower, there’s a very Yuli smell evident.’
‘A smell I know so very well,’ Willem observed. ‘Has he done that thing with you where he pulls the duvet over your heads and farts silently, then holds you so you can’t escape.’
Roman shook his head. ‘He did it in our sleeping bag at the Hentzen campsite. There was no escape then either. He’d zipped it shut from inside. So juvenile.’
‘If it was so juvenile, why did you get me back at the next campsite?’
‘Retaliation. You mustn’t get smug. Why do you put up with him, Willemczu?’
‘You know why. He has redeeming features.’
They scampered across Holborn and found their way to Gower Street. It was late afternoon and their rooms had been serviced. They went into Roman and Yuli’s double. There was a scuffle as the pair stripped and Yuli tried to force Roman’s nose into his armpit. The shower was excellent and they disappeared into the bathroom together. Just before they did, Roman turned back and raised an eyebrow at Willem. ‘Coming?’
‘Sure?’ Willem asked.
‘We think so,’ Yuli said. ‘We talked it through on the river.’
‘Okay then. How do we do this?’
Roman smiled. ‘Well first, Yuli and I will get rid of the sweat, and then we’ll see how it goes, but we know you want Yuli on his back under you, and I’d like you on mine. Is that okay? Let’s see how hard we can get you. Yuli says you have enough for two.’
‘Does he now?’
‘Do you kiss?’ Roman asked.
‘I do with Yuli and I will with you, if you want me to.’
Kissing began under the shower. Willem’s excitement meant they didn’t get to the bedroom before he began pressing Roman flat against the shower tiles, and as he did he found Yuli warm and slick against his back. ‘It’s time, Willemczu,’ Yuli whispered in his ear. ‘We all three want this.’
Roman groaned as he was entered. ‘Mmm, yeah, ooh! Della is under discussion still. Krista on the other hand … well, there is that interesting sex aid.’
‘Okay, Mareczu. This is officially it.’ Henry and Moricz zu Geleberh surveyed a large stack of brochures and folders on the table of their command-centre high in the Strelzen Arena. ‘As of today you, sunshine, are our official liaison with the EBU delegations to the Strelzen Song Contest 2005.’
Marek Toblescu gave his broadest grin. ‘So I am Lord of the Red Carpet?’
‘As long as it’s understood that I am Prince of the Green Room. Seriously Marek, this is not a role for which you’ll ever get much credit, but it’s a key one nonetheless. So we’ll list you as Associate Producer.’
‘That’ll impress my mutti back in Glottenberh, and my grossmuttas even more so. Associate Producer. Sounds like it could be important … unless you knew something about the media.’
Moricz laughed. ‘The kid is too like you, Henry. The mentoring has worked, unfortunately for him. Marek, you need to memorise the list. There’re thirty-nine delegations, each with its own production crew and commentator team. There is a plan here for the booths in the Arena and here’s the schedule for the Red Carpet Event on the Rodolferplaz.’
‘Why do they call it a Red Carpet when it is in fact a very large tent?’
‘I do believe it will actually be carpeted in red. But in reality it’s the official opening and our welcome to the artists and delegations. There will be celebrities, photo-ops and corporate guests, and you mustn’t lose anyone.’
‘Yes sir, boss.’
Henry paused, then added ‘In the meantime, have you got your eye on our very own Starcrossed?’
‘They left the country, boss.’
‘They’ll be back. Their gopher Willem Kral gave his word. He said it was okay because your Mr Davey had cleared it with you.’
‘He said nothing! I’ll kill Davey. Worse. I’ll sing at his funeral.’
‘They’ll be back Friday.’
‘Friday is the 13th. That’s the day the delegations arrive. And I believe in omens. The damned opening event is on Saturday afternoon.’
‘It’ll be fine, I’m sure. Oh … and they said to tell you they have to be at the Hofkapelle on Sunday, it’s Pentecost.’
Moricz shook his head. ‘You’ve got a bigger worry, Henry. The Burgomeister and Staroman of Strelzen have to be there on Saturday to offer an official joint civic greeting to our guests. Side-by-side on the carpet. And they hate each other. Staroman Lucic gave an interview two days ago which was just this side of libellous.’
Henry ran his fingers through his hair. ‘Yes, well, they have to behave themselves for their kids’ sake, don’t they. The fact that our national entry is their two boys has really interested the media.’
‘True enough, though it hasn’t stopped leaking by the Staroman’s press office that the suggestion of having the Red Carpet Event on the Domplaz was snubbed by the Nuevemesten.’
‘Oh God, they’re already briefing against each other.’
‘And we’re in the middle.’
Henry toiled up the stairs to his Osragasse flat. It was so late Ed was for once home before he was. He went for a hug.
‘You look dead on your feet, little babe. I’m concerned.’
‘It’s been a long day. Just let me sit down for a bit. Oh hey! Here’s the tickets to the final for you and your company commanders.’
‘Fantastic.’ Ed beamed and carefully tucked the envelope into a pocket of his battledress trousers. ‘Rudi has consented to be one of our witnesses. He was so keen on it, actually, I may ask him to be my best man. Any reply from Davey?’
‘He and I are not talking at the moment, or we won’t be when I get round to telling him so.’
‘Why? What’s he done?’
‘Kidnapped Starcrossed for an entire week to London.’
‘Didn’t you ask him to sort out their stage act?’
‘Yeah, but he was supposed to do it here. He’s up to something.’
Ed placed a coffee in front of Henry. ‘Sip on that. You’re getting paranoid. Anyway, they’re his signing, so he has his rights. Relax a bit.’
‘You’re right, and thanks for taking on our partnership ceremony. It may not be the Eurovision Song Contest, but it has its own complications.’
‘No more than any wedding I guess, though getting permission to hold it at Zenda from the Royal Estates office was not straightforward. We have to pay extra to get the registrar to turn up outside office hours. Your mum thinks it’s seriously weird to get married in a mausoleum by the way, and she’s only saying what quite a few people are thinking.’
‘Hmm. Well when they see the place, I think they’ll change their minds.’
‘Yeah and that’s another thing. Rudi’s okay with our using it, but we’ll have to pay for the spring clean it needs. Some of those windows haven’t been washed in a century. I’ve decided we’ll only take the vows under the dome. The rest of the event is going to be in a marquee on the lawns outside. It’s a big marquee. A lot of people have accepted. I’ve booked a hotel in Zenden City and buses to get us to and from the event.’
‘Rudi not willing to offer us a rate on the château then? I am disappointed.’
‘Be fair. He said he’d let us use the palace chapel for free if we give up on the idea of the mausoleum.’
Henry sniffed. ‘I expected more understanding from his direction. Fancy Rudi being so conventional. Harry was far more interested and engaged: a woman of great vision.’
Ed nodded his head. ‘She gets it, the same way I do. So will the guests on the day. You have to see the place to understand the message. She did however suggest that decking out the place with wedding favours would probably look weird. Flowers would be okay within limits, but it would still look like a wedding party was gatecrashing a funeral.’
Henry reared on the sofa. ‘Nevertheless …’ he began. But Ed put a finger on his lips, and followed up with a kiss.
‘Don’t be a twat little babe. I know it’ll be alright on the night. Just like the Song Contest.’