HENRY AND THE BALANCE OF PROBABILITY
Fritz von Tarlenheim was close to frantic. Unable to settle, he paced up and down the king’s sitting room at the Residenz. Justin had taken him there directly from the police barracks, while Ed had dealt with the kids.
Rudi was deeply concerned, his face even sterner than usual. Saying nothing, he sat gloomily in an armchair watching Fritz pace.
Everyone turned when the door opened and Oskar entered. He shook his head. ‘The palace can do nothing. I’m sorry, Fritzku. We can’t be seen to be in any way intervening in the judicial process. I’ve talked to contacts in the justice and interior ministries. They’ll keep us informed, but that’s as far as it goes.’
Fritz bunched his fists. ‘But you could do something!’
The king stood and took his friend by the shoulders. ‘Oh yes, I could. There are favours I could call in, people I could very easily intimidate. But if I did, I would be throwing away the best part of a decade’s work to embed democracy in my land, and renew the work of Maxim Elphberg.’
An agonised spasm crossed Fritz’s face as his reason warred with his emotions. He sat on the sofa, his head in his hands.
The king looked at Justin. ‘So it’s over to you and Henry, Justy man. I’m counting on you guys to do your stuff.’
Justin nodded. ‘Terry O’Brien’s on his way from London. He’ll be in Strelzen by this evening.’ He sat by Fritz and took him round the shoulder. ‘Fritzy, it’ll be alright. We’ll sort it. Fuckin’ hell mate, if we can take down the Antichrist, we can get Tommy out of the slammer!’
Rudi smiled a little. ‘And if all else fails, Gavin and Max are our reserves. Think about that! Bear up, Fritzku!’
Justin gripped Fritz’s shoulder for emphasis. The man looked at him. ‘One thing, Fritzy, and this is important. How could Tommy’s fingerprints be all over the murder weapon?’
Fritz struggled to concentrate. ‘A few days ago, I was in the upper gallery showing Tommy how to fence. I was using my sword and … yes, I passed it to him to handle.’
Justin smiled. ‘All we gotta do then is convince the police it’s just a coincidence. The Peacher lawyers are already on the case, Fritzy. There’s a pinstriped posse of them trying to get a hearing with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in his office, even though it’s Sunday.’
Fritz brightened a little.
Oskar held the door open. ‘Harry wants you to join her, Fritz. She would like to talk it over with you. She can help, men leblen.’
Fritz looked around his friends, his eyes wet. He gathered himself. ‘Thank you all,’ he said, with the dignity of the prince he was. ‘I know you’re doing your best, and you will do everything you reasonably can.’ He stood and with no further word left the room.
No one said anything when he had left. The king went to stand by the window and look down on the broad expanse of the Rodolferplaz, where the tourists and pigeons were enjoying a sunny Sunday afternoon. Eventually he observed, ‘The police are making their usual mistake.’
‘They have a likely suspect with an obvious motive, and are pursuing him rather than keeping an open mind. I take it we’re perfectly confident here that Thomas Entwhistle is innocent of the murder of Jakob Olmusch?’
Justin assented. ‘I’ve met enough killers to fill a small-size multiplex, Rudi. Tommy isn’t one of them. He didn’t do it. I’m surprised that my mate Mannstejne’s taken him into custody.’
Oskar agreed. ‘Waclaw at the secretariat tells me that Mannstejne checked with the minister before making the arrest, and argued against it, but he’s under pressure. If we can’t be seen to be influencing the investigation, the ministry for its part can’t be seen to be favouring the king’s friends in any way.’
‘And poor Tommy is caught in the middle.’ The king resumed his gloom. ‘What’s the press reaction, Osku?’
‘The world’s media are in meltdown. The Radhausplaz is a gypsy camp of journalists, a sea of satellite dishes. The city police have given in and closed it off. It’s scandal piled on juicy scandal: playboy prince takes up with a good-looking tranny boy, who then stabs one of his family to death. There’s been nothing like it since the eighteenth century, and they had no Sky or Fox networks then.’
The king sighed. ‘You’d better check if Tommy’s family wants to come to Strelzen. There are a mother and sister, I believe. We can do that much for him, at least.’
‘Who’s with Fritz?’ Henry asked. ‘Shouldn’t we get over there?’
Justin shook his head. ‘We got other worries, Henry babe. Harry’s on the case; you know how good she is with him. In the meantime, Nate’ll sit on Damien, who’s setting up his own investigation with the Mendamero Men, and Ed has got Lance. It’s us who’ve gotta help Tommy. That’s our job. Focus, babe.’
Henry sighed. ‘We have most of the evidence.’ He pulled a notepad towards him across Justin’s dining room table. ‘Let’s work it through. Jakob was found by our two kids at about one o’clock yesterday, impaled on the upper-gallery wall. Lance is convinced he heard two men arguing about five minutes before the boys went up and discovered the body.’
‘Yeah, and Damien says a bloke shouted out “Never!” before the row stopped, in English too.’
‘Okay. We know two men were involved. Who was the other? Tommy saw no one at all in the gallery when he was there, which couldn’t have been that long before our kids heard the row going on. Where were Jakob and his unknown assailant hiding?’
Justin frowned. ‘There are rooms off the side where they could have kept out of sight while Tommy was walking the gallery. Or there are the two staircases in addition to the big one.’
‘Yeah. There’s the servant’s stair Tommy went down … so Olmusch and his murderer couldn’t have been coming up that way. But there’s also the so-called “secret passage”, a spiral staircase behind the panelling, which leads to the lower gallery and then out to a courtyard off Wenzelgasse.’
Henry was intrigued. ‘That’s interesting. So there was a way up from the street which our mystery man could have used.’
‘Yeah, except it’s locked at the bottom, and Wenzelgasse was being watched by the RSS and police. Whoever entered it would have needed help from someone inside.’
‘It’s a lead.’
‘Yup, Henry babe. But the police will have checked the staircase over, and they can’t have found anything, or we would have heard.’
The two men fell silent for a while. Henry doodled abstractedly on his pad. Eventually, he said, ‘There’s motive to think about. Who’d want to top Count Jakob?’
‘His brother hated him.’
‘But Karl is no more a killer than Tommy. Lots of people loathed Jakob Olmusch, but is that enough motive to kill a man? I wonder about Brantesberh. Didn’t Tommy bump into a general officer coming down from the second floor?’
‘Yeah. Trouble is, that would be well before the argument and the murder, if you accept Tommy’s version of things. You’re not going to like this, Henry. But let’s think the unthinkable. What about Fritz? You know how sensitive he is about honour and stuff. He had reason to hate Jakob, who was buggering up his love affair and hounding him through the aristocratic association. Also, Fritz is a man who has killed. And if Fritz could do it, so could your mate Otto. Soldiers do that … kill people, I mean. Otto hates Jakob like poison. You told me as much.’
That observation made Henry uncomfortable. He remembered his last encounter with Jakob Olmusch before the murder. Olmusch had been preoccupied in the toilets, just after some sort of interview with Otto. Henry had to get hold of his adjutant. Besides, the man still had his briefcase!
Tommy Entwhistle chafed his bare feet as he sat on the narrow bed in his police cell. He badly needed a crap, but squatting in the corner over the hole provided did not strike him as something he was yet desperate enough to do, especially as there was no toilet paper. The cell was tiled, grimy and narrow, and he was bored.
It had been four hours since he had been locked in. The only natural light came through a square of glass bricks set high in the wall, which served for a window. The cell block was very much as the nineteenth century had left it. At least he was on his own, so he supposed things could have been worse.
The spy hole on the metal door slid open and closed again. He was checked at least twice an hour. What were the chances of his being checked while crapping? Sod’s Law made it pretty near certain, he guessed.
Tommy wondered yet again what his friends were doing. He was confident they would be doing something. So it was with some hope that he stood to face the door when steps approached and the keys jangled. Seeing it was Lieutenant Czerescovicz, Tommy’s heart sank. The man radiated impassive hostility. An officer with him offered Tommy a pair of black espadrilles, which he put on. Then he was escorted back along the cell-block corridor to a bare interview room, where he was cuffed to a chair by his left wrist. The officers withdrew, apart from the lieutenant, who took a corner seat and folded his arms.
Steps approached. A man in a suit appeared at the door. Smiling as he took the seat opposite Tommy, he introduced himself in accented English. ‘Hello, Mister, er … Enn-vissel. I am Willem Graznic. I am advocate with Strelzen firm, Jerzy Associates. I am sent by Corporation Peacher – by Mr Peacher-White – to tell you advice.’ He turned to the lieutenant and let loose a string of Rothenian words. Czerescovicz inclined his head, got up and left.
Tommy brightened once Czerescovicz was gone; the man unnerved him. Graznic’s youth and friendliness already made him felt better. ‘Can you get me out of here?’
‘Not yet but I hope soon. Today Sunday and is bad day for courts and judges. Police will not let you go, not yet. Tomorrow, examining magistrate will see you and ask questions. I and colleagues will be there to help. I am sorry for inconvenience, but I hope all settled tomorrow.’
‘Have there been any other developments?’
‘Investigations continue, I believe. The scientists do test on your clothing. You may imagine what the press makes of it. I should warn you that you will need representative to deal with media. I have heard Prince Franz has agent that may help you too.’
Tommy slumped a little. ‘Thanks,’ he murmured. ‘Is there anything else?’
‘I and colleagues will meet at justice ministry with you tomorrow at ten. I hope you manage sleep. You will need rest.’ Graznic stood, shook Tommy’s uncuffed right hand, and took his leave.
Tommy was marched back to his cell. Realising there was nothing else for it, he unzipped his coverall and squatted naked over the toilet hole. The spy hole clicked and stayed open as he was well into the process. The low points of humiliation just got lower all the time.
Lance was watching the conversation rolling down his screen. The Mendamero Men were in conference online, information and ideas scrolling in front of his eyes almost too fast to take in. Eventually Damien on webcam brought the session to a close, telling Reggie to type up a file and suggesting they all meet at Damien’s house for a summit at ten the next morning. They signed off.
Lance stretched. Noticing it was getting on into the afternoon, he went looking for one of his dads. When he found Ed at work on the dining room table, his heart leaped, for Captain Voynovich was sitting opposite. The captain turned and gave the boy a dazzling smile.
Lance sidled up and leaned against the table close to the man, whose odour of musk and tinge of aftershave excited him further. His dick thickened and began making an all-too-evident bulge in his sweat pants.
He sternly mastered himself. ‘Dad? Can I go over to Daimey’s?’
Ed shook his head. ‘No can do, baby. Orders are that you and the Men are confined to barracks today. Haven’t you been online to them?’
‘Yeah, for hours. Daimey’s called a halt.’
The captain chipped in. ‘Are you bored, Lance?’
Lance gave him what he hoped was a come-on look. ‘You could have a swim with me, captain?’
The young officer seemed indifferent to his wiles. ‘I’m sorry, Lance. It’d be good, but the general and I have this stack of papers to get through so he’s free to help with the investigation tomorrow.’
‘Too bad, baby, but why not get on with some training? It’s still warm out there, and the pool’s been cleaned.’
Lance shrugged and agreed.
‘I tell you what,’ added the captain. ‘My brother Téodor is supposed to be in town with his friends. Should I give him a call and ask him to come over? He likes to swim and he’s not much older than you.’
Lance smiled this time. ‘That’ll be cool. He can have one of my swimsuits.’
It was half an hour later, as Lance was lazily doing a backstroke, that a young teen appeared on the deck. Lance trod water and squinted, then all but gasped. Téodor Voynovich was a scale model of his brother, blond, tanned and very well put together. Lance stroked rapidly toward where his visitor – who had already lost his shoes – was squatting at the rim. Lance looked up into his face and caught his eyes with a welcoming grin. When the Voynovich boy gave a smile in return, Lance became aware of something else behind it, although he had no idea what.
‘You Lance At-vood?’
‘Atwood, yeah. You’re Téodor?’
‘Todo,’ the boy advised him with a chuckle. ‘Can I get in the pool?’
Todo pulled off his shirt and dropped his shorts. He stood there hesitantly in a pair of plain blue briefs.
Lance looked him over before offering, ‘Er … wanna pair of Speedos?’
Todo’s grin took on a cast unfamiliar to Lance. ‘I swim in the buff at the Spa. How about you?’ The boy’s expression grew intense as he watched for Lance’s reaction.
Without breaking his gaze, Lance reached under the water and pushed his Speedos down. A pair of wet trunks slapped next to Todo on the poolside.
Dropping his underwear, the teenager slid into the pool close to Lance. They stared in each other’s faces. ‘It’s better with no trunks, isn’t it?’
‘Damien and I … he’s my friend … we skinny-dip a lot.’
‘I just love the feel of it, how about you?’
‘The water sort of strokes your nuts, know what I mean?’
The two sniggered and smirked at each other. There was by now the beginning of a thickening in Lance’s member. Without a word, and a little alarmed at the way his body was betraying him, he launched himself across the pool. Though Todo tried to catch him, Lance was far too powerful and accomplished a swimmer.
Reaching the opposite end he turned and pushed down the water. Todo was three metres away. With the grace of an otter, Lance did a surface dive that propelled him beneath the other boy so he could come up between Todo’s flailing legs. This was the sort of thing he did with Damien, but it was lots more exciting with this stranger. He slapped the boy’s bare butt as he took off back down the pool.
Todo yelped, then laughed and chased after Lance again. The racing game continued, though Todo had no possibility of winning. Lance nonetheless allowed his new friend to grab his ankle once and wrestle him down to the bottom of the pool. It seemed only fair to give the guy a chance.
Eventually Todo called a halt. Lance floated up beside him. ‘Wanna come see my room?’ They hauled out of the pool. Wrapping towels tightly around their midriffs, they padded past the dining room table, where Ed and Lucacz were still working. They settled at the laptop, which Lance booted up. ‘How old are you Todo?’
‘Just past thirteen.’
‘You’re in Gymno then?’
‘Yeah, at St Wladislaw Catholic Boys’ Gymnazium.’
‘All boys!’ Lance laughed. ‘Must be smelly.’
‘The International School.’
‘Your dad’s English, isn’t he?’
‘Both my dads are.’
Lance was used to this conversation. ‘They’re gay. I’m actually Henry’s cousin. My real dad was his uncle. Henry adopted me after my first dad died.’
‘Gay! Wow! That’s so different! Awesome!’
Lance, catching the flair of interest in Todo’s green eyes, was a little flattered. Todo’s arm kept rubbing up against his as they fidgeted on their chairs. Lance found it distracting.
‘Wanna see my game site?’
The pair exchanged opinions about their favourite games for a few minutes. After a while Lance asked if there was any site Todo wanted to see.
Todo grinned a little mischievously. With an insinuating glance he asked, ‘We-e-ell ... what’re your favourite You-Tube clips?’
Giggling and then laughing they swapped their best clips. Eventually Todo showed a very risqué one involving three boys and a water pistol.
Lance gasped. ‘They put that on there!’
‘Yeah. You wouldn’t believe the stuff kids upload to the Web. Look at this!’ Todo typed in a url and a clip came up directly.
‘Fuck!’ Lance squeaked. It was a webcam capture of a kid not much older than they were, undressing. He showed his arse, fingered his hole, and then displayed his erect dick to the world. As the anonymous boy started wanking at the camera, Lance’s mesmerised eyes could not look away. His own cock was as hard as a nail.
‘Watch him shoot!’ marvelled Todo, his hand now beneath the towel cloaking his groin.
When the clip went dark, Lance looked at the boy next to him, amazed and confused.
Todo smiled at him a little uncertainly. ‘Bet you’ve got a hardon.’
‘Wanna see mine?’ Todo asked in a low voice.
Lance’s stimulated libido was on fire. ‘Go on.’
Todo pulled his towel to one side. His cock, bigger than Lance’s, was set in a nest of light brown pubes. It strained upwards in a curve like a horn.
‘You can touch it,’ Todo urged him.
Lance’s mouth sagged. ‘I’m not sure ...’
‘Go on. It won’t bite. My friend Sandor from St Wladislaw … we go down to his cellar and y’know ... jerk. Sometimes he holds mine. Touch it ... just try.’
Lance reached out and closed his fingers round the offered member. It was hot and velvety and pulsed in his hand. However, when Todo bucked a little as if he wanted to fuck Lance’s fist, Lance let go hastily.
‘What about you?’
‘Can I see it?’ Todo was staring at the towel-covered region of Lance’s crotch.
Lance was not usually body-shy. With Damien he was not particularly bothered about showing his genitals, especially now he knew that Damien was not and never could be interested in him. But Todo was different. There was something of a hungry look in the youngster’s eye, the reason for which was at last beginning to dawn on Lance. Still, despite his sudden reluctance, he thought it would be almost impolite not to reciprocate, after having seen what Todo was packing. He unloosed the towel and got ready to open it, torn between excitement and caution.
‘Todo!’ came the captain’s shout from downstairs.
‘Time to go.’
‘Shit!’ Todo swore. ‘Tell you what, d’you wanna come round to Sandor’s place maybe next week? I can ring you. It’d be good, we can ...’
‘Look at more clips and stuff … y’know.’
‘I dunno. I’ll ring you on your handij. It’s all a bit mad here at the moment.’
Todo had wrapped himself up again. ‘Okay. Here’s my number. See ya!’ He was off to retrieve his clothes.
A preoccupied Lance followed him slowly.
Lance lay along the sofa, nestling his head into Ed’s lap. He felt his hair being stroked and relaxed.
‘Yes, dad?’ he responded sleepily.
‘We need to talk.’
Oh fuck, thought Lance, not NOW of all times! ‘What about, dad?’
‘Henry and I think it’s time we laid a few ground rules down about … er, well … not to put too fine a point on it …’
‘Sex?’ Lance queried impishly. He recognised his dad’s embarrassment and was not above exploiting it.
Ed let out a long breath, then chuckled. ‘You’re a smart kid, baby. You know why we’ve got to have this talk?’
‘Henry’s been nagging ya?’
‘Apart from that.’
‘You’re gonna tell me, ainchya, dad.’
‘Yes. Look, we know you’ve reached that age when the hormones are increasing in your system. We’ve seen the growth and know what you’re going through … better than most parents, in one way.’
Lance recognised a leading remark when he heard it. This was his opening, and he jumped into it. ‘Dad … I think I’m gay.’
‘Yeah, baby, we suspected as much.’
‘Did Tobias tell you?’
‘No. He just said that, when they take physical form, angels tend to be homosexual. He thought you would be too. So now that’s understood, I have to say things to you. Sit up, baby. First I want to give you a hug and a kiss. I love you so much.’
Lance obliged by climbing up and whispering in Ed’s ear, ‘Love you too, dad.’ The hug went on a while. When they parted, Lance sat back on his father’s thighs and looked seriously into his face.
‘Okay baby, these are the things I want to say. Maybe your consciousness is older than the Universe, but you’re no more experienced in human emotions than any other twelve-year-old. So, don’t leap into sexual relationships just cos you’re capable of them. They can fry your brain at such a young age. Give your mind a chance to catch up with your body, right?’
Lance nodded solemnly.
‘Next thing is this, baby. We know you’ll not take a blind bit of notice of anything we say. We were teens once too, and if truth be told, we pushed the envelope. Point is, whatever you do, be careful. There are diseases out there that are so easily caught. Any sexually active boy you go to bed with could have had it on with maybe half a dozen others, and once something like chlamydia, herpes, HPV or – God forbid! – HIV gets into their little pool of intercourse, it’ll contaminate them all. Rothenia’s no safer than anywhere else, whatever some idiots tell you. So, if you do have sex with a boy, don’t do anal and don’t swallow. That reduces the risk.
‘Since of course you will also ignore that warning, I’ve followed Henry’s example, and tomorrow under the tissues in your nightstand you will find a box of condoms and some lube.’
Lance’s ears were flaming and his heart hammered. He felt as though he would choke. He had touched Todo’s dick. He guessed Todo did things with other boys. What if Todo had picked something up from one of them?
He struggled to regain some sort of equanimity. Of course he’d be alright. No one could be that unlucky. But never again. He made a desperate resolution that, if he was free of disease after today’s lapse, he wouldn’t take such a risk again till he was really old … at least fifteen!
Ed sighed. ‘That’s all there is, baby. Just remember Henry and I love you so much, and we’ll love you whatever happens. Right?’
Lance blinked away the tears. “Dad … I …’
Ed picked up something. ‘Is there a boy already, baby?’
‘No … yes, sorta.’
Ed smiled. ‘Does he know you’re gay?’
Lance nodded. ‘But he isn’t.’
‘Oh! That’s a bummer. And you really love him?’
‘He’s all I can think of.’
‘I’m sorry, angel. Life can do that to you. The statistics aren’t good. If you’re gay, it’s only six in a hundred boys at most who can ever reciprocate your feelings. You’ll get over the disappointment, I promise. You may even be better for it. The right boy will come along. Trouble is, as good looking as you are, one day there’ll be so many others sniffing around that you may find the special one hard to spot in the crowd.’
This was already a cause of concern to Lance. ‘How’ll I know?’
‘You’ll know. You’re an intelligent kid. Just don’t count on looks, or even sexiness. Keep your eyes open for a boy who’s quiet and funny, loyal, truthful and open.’
‘A boy like Henry was?’
‘You read my mind, baby. And of course there will be older teens – and men – who just want to possess the beauty you have. Watch out for them in particular. To them, you’re nothing but an object. They’ll use you … abuse you too. Time to grow up, sweets, I’m afraid.’
Lance sagged back a little on his butt. ‘Why can’t things be easy? Do I have to be suspicious of everyone?’
‘Use your judgement.’
Lance did. Todo was history.