HENRY AND THE BALANCE OF PROBABILITY
The Arsenal of Strelzen lay to the south of the Domshorja. It had been an artillery-fort protecting the lower bridges of the city, built when Austria and Rothenia were under threat of an Ottoman invasion in the 1670s. The military king, Henry the Lion, expanded it, turning it into a munitions factory and cannon foundry that served his realm for over a century. Under Rudolf IV the whole industrial complex had been rebuilt as a fortress-barracks and magazine for the Strelzen garrison. In the 1840s a large prison had been added to the Romanesque buildings of the ever-growing military base.
For all the architectural merit of its Victorian buildings, the prison had acquired a grim reputation in the twentieth century. Tens of thousands of Rothenian Communists and socialists had been rounded up and held there before being shipped off to death camps in Poland by the Nazi occupiers. It was the site where several hundred army officers had been massacred by an SS extermination squad in 1940. Following the demolition of the old fortress prison of Kaleczyk in the Glottenberh massif, Horvath’s Communist dictatorship had gone on to use the Arsenal as a political prison. There had been plans to demolish it in 1990, but overcrowding in the Rothenian penal system led to its return to use by the authorities in the justice ministry. Although the Arsenal had been a national scandal ever since, there was little money to do anything about it. The prison had not been the beneficiary of any serious modernisation since the fall of Communism, when it had already been far out of date.
Tommy was unloaded from the van into a dilapidated courtyard surrounded by battlements paced by warders carrying Uzi submachine guns, their fingers braced about the trigger guards. This time he was not just cuffed, but shackled round his bare ankles. He was pushed, shuffling towards the sort of gate that he imagined the Bastille might once have had. He was aware of Lieutenant Czerescovicz behind him, talking to the two armed guards who accompanied him. He had no idea what was being said, but harsh laughter broke out amongst the men when he was pushed through the wicket door into the darkness beyond.
The smell hit him first. The stink of the police cellblock had been pretty bad: the odour of urine, disinfectant and dampness. This was much worse. His nostrils were assailed by the combined stenches of confined and unwashed male bodies, bad food and malfunctioning drains.
He was in a holding area railed off by bars from a hall beyond. To his left were a series of plyboard partitions. Without any ceremony, his cuffs and shackles were removed, but then so was his coverall, ripped down from his shoulders to his ankles. He stood exposed and confused, while the shackles were replaced. A hand in his back shoved him into the partitioned area.
A man in a white coat with a clipboard was waiting. He gave Tommy a cursory check over, shining a light into his mouth and eyes. His arms and inner thighs were examined – for needle marks, he assumed. Tommy’s neck was then gripped, and his heart hammered as he was bent over. He knew all too well what was going to happen next. Tensing his anus made no difference. Intruding fingers took their time searching around inside his rectum. By now Tommy was distraught. It was pretty evident that he was being subjected to the maximum amount of humiliation the system allowed, and it was clearly intentional.
He was pushed out through an opposing door, shown a gang shower and given a bar of strong-smelling green soap. Without removing his shackles, a guard directed him under a stream of cold water. It was as he was turning away from the icy stream that he slipped on the wet tile floor, going down hard. He fell against the guard, who swore and hauled him up by his hair. He yelped, then bent in half when a truncheon struck him in the stomach, making him retch. He felt kicks on his backside that knocked him forward on to the ground, his jaw and mouth smashing into the cement. He was once more hauled up. He felt teeth loose in his bloody mouth.
Tommy was frogmarched, coughing and sobbing, to a gate into the prison hall and dragged naked past barred cells, whose occupants hurled a riot of catcalls and verbal abuse as he was hauled by them. One cell was opened. He was pushed in and on to a bed. The shackles were removed from his bleeding and scraped ankles, and some coveralls and slippers thrown on the floor. Then he was left trying to control the spasms of weeping which were racking his chest. Blood ran from his mouth and pooled on the mattress under him. Utter despair overwhelmed him.
Reggie and Lance sat together quietly on the number 24 tram running up Wenzelgasse. As they rattled across the Radhausplaz, Reggie nudged his friend and pointed at the TV teams and paparazzi camped out in front of the palace. ‘Look at them!’
Lance marvelled at the cameras and lights. A long line of presenters were using the palace as a backdrop to their broadcasts. Police and tourists were idly looking on. ‘We won’t be able to go to Fritzy’s for a bit with all that going on. And Mattie was hoping we could talk him into letting us play with his train set in the attic.’
‘Have you ever seen it?’
‘Just once. But he won’t let us go up there anymore, not after Daimey staged a crash between two locos on a bridge. Fritzy made Nathan pay for the damage. Never seen Fritzy as cross as that. Hey! There’s a thought. Maybe that Olmusch guy was sneaking up to the attic to play with his trains. Maybe Fritzy caught him and it got sorta out of hand!’
Reggie looked unconvinced. He was aware that adults had different priorities in entertainment. ‘I’ve got my investigation files with me on my flash drive. Daimey says we gotta work out our list of suspects at the end of today. He did some spying on his dad and his Uncle Terry, and picked up new information when they thought he was in bed.’
The tram speeded up after it passed the Lindenstrasse and headed northwards. It turned, clanging, on to Modenehemstrasse. They hopped off opposite the Rudolfinum, the city’s famous concert hall.
The boys strolled together amiably along the highway until the tall apartment blocks were left behind. They took a side road into the leafy residential streets of the Sixth District, with their fine prospects across the Nuevemesten, or New City, and the Starel River. As they were climbing the hill of Fridricsgasse to Justin and Nathan’s house, Lance stopped and looked back appreciatively over a particularly fine prospect. ‘It’s beautiful,’ he observed.
Reggie smiled and agreed. ‘But you must have seen so many things much more beautiful than this. I mean, stars, nebulas and strange planets we could never imagine here on earth.’
Lance took Reggie’s arm unconsciously and hugged it. ‘Yeah, Reggie, but there are different sorts of beauty. What you’re thinking of isn’t human. Although it’s grander than I could ever describe, it doesn’t reach the heart the way this sort of view does. And I was never part of those starscapes. Here, somehow it’s in me as much as I’m in it.’
Reggie was deeply struck by his friend’s articulacy. ‘You’re part of the beauty,’ he murmured earnestly.
Lance chuckled. ‘And so are you, Reggie. You’re beautiful too.’
Reggie coloured with pleasure, but shook his head. ‘Don’t make fun of me, Lance. I’m not. I’m a thin little nerd, but you …’
‘It’s only on the outside, Reggie. What’s inside is more important, as I’m learning. Hey! And careful what you say. The guys at school will start thinking you’re gay too!’
Reggie was bright red now. ‘But I am.’
‘What! How long have you known?’
‘I think I always have.’
‘Man! We’re both queers! You’re not just saying this to make me feel better?’
‘No, I really, really am gay. Cross my heart.’
Lance turned and looked Reggie full in the face, his profoundly dark-blue eyes seizing and holding Reggie’s pale and mobile ones. Reggie was unwilling to meet the gaze of this angelic boy, but he couldn’t resist. It was as if Lance was trying to read something there. If he did, however, Reggie had no idea what it was he found.
A gentle smile played around Lance’s lips, and he pulled Reggie close in a hug. ‘I guess this is what gay friends do, isn’t it?’
‘And kiss … I think they kiss.’
Lance laughed. ‘Yeah they do. Henry likes kissing Damien’s dad a bit too much, according to Ed. So … go on, kiss me.’
‘Why not? No one’s around.’
Reggie stared at the swelling lips of Lance’s perfect, straight mouth in his perfect, brown face and all but fainted at the thought. Lance laughed, and suddenly his face was close to Reggie’s. The younger boy felt a pressure and wetness on his mouth which was more than just a peck, followed by a slight pulling on his pale lower lip. Once again Reggie’s nose was flooded with the awesome scent that set his whole body tingling.
Lance pulled away, looking puzzled. ‘Reggie, are you using aftershave or something?’
‘Me? No,’ Reggie breathed.
‘You sure? Maybe you came into contact with some of your mum’s perfume.’
‘Don’t think so. Why do you ask?’
Lance shook his head as if to clear it. ‘It was just that I smelled something on ya … something that’s familiar, though I don’t know why it is.’
Henry finally raised Fritz on his mobile. All he had been getting for an hour was an irritating female voice telling him his call could not be accepted at this time. Voicemail had been switched off.
‘Fritzy? At last! How are you?’
‘Bloody awful, Henry. You’ve heard Tommy’s in the fucking Arsenal, of all places. Why in God’s name there? Don’t they have any better-equipped places?’
‘It’s the gaol for violent criminals and those under remand for murder, unfortunately.’
‘It’s also a disgrace to this nation and the sink of our penal system. I’m seriously worried about Tommy.’
‘What’s being done?’
‘The defence team is at the Supreme Court demanding a review of the magistrate’s decision and a scaling down of the bail bond. Something in the system has got to give.’
‘Fritzy, it’s asking a bit much, but could you do something for me, or at least get one of your staff to do it?’
‘Go on. I need the distraction.’
‘Ottokar Willemin left my briefcase at your place on Saturday. What with all the fuss I can’t blame him too much. He says he put it down in the entrance hall, next to one of the stoves.’
‘Briefcase? What colour was it?’
‘Black. More of an attaché case, really.’
‘Now why does that ring a bell? Let me think.’ There was silence for a while. ‘Got it. When we escaped from the palace on Sunday morning, Tommy and I were sneaking out the side entrance, the so-called secret passage down to Wenzelgasse. I saw just such a case on the steps, as if it had been dropped there. We were in a hurry, so I propped it up against the wall, to stop anyone tripping over it.’
‘What? Why would my case be there?’
‘No idea. I’d better get someone to check what happened to it. The cleaners have probably picked it up. I’ll get back to you.’
‘Do that, Fritzy. I have a feeling it may be important.’
‘Just a feeling.’
Henry gave Fritz as much sympathy as he could over the phone. Then slouched down in the back seat of the rented car in which Terry was driving Justin and him out to Maresku. They were nearly at the Avernat Pass, from which the lake would be in view. Justin and Henry had squabbled as usual over who was to sit in the front passenger seat and, as always before, Henry lost.
‘What’re we gonna do when we get to Piotreshrad?’ Henry was beginning to have second thoughts about this jaunt. There was something in Justin’s eyes which rather hinted that, more than anything else, this expedition was about his need to escape the well-upholstered executive prison he nowadays found himself in.
‘Have fun!’ Justin’s laughter confirmed Henry’s fears.
Tommy sat on the edge of his cot. All around his cell there was noise and shouting. Warders were banging the bars of cells, though he had no idea why. With water from a tap in the cell’s sink he had swilled his mouth, which was swollen and still bleeding. He stared at the three teeth he had spat out into his hand, wondering what to do with them. His head and jaw ached badly, and his body was stiffening after his beating. There was a bad scrape along his left side.
He had managed to dress in the coveralls and prison-issue underclothes, grey and tattered. There were no socks, only cheap canvas slippers.
Two warders came to his cell and opened it with a jingle of keys. One had a Red Cross kit and a bowl of water. Tommy was made to stand up, stripped down to his waist and cuffed as some basic first aid was done to his damaged face. The bowl was soon red with the blood that was washed away.
The warder was quite gentle as he worked at Tommy. ‘You better now, yes?’
Tommy shook his head.
‘Too bad. Now is meal. You go out follow others.’
Dressed again, Tommy shuffled into place in a line of other prisoners. At a door he was given a plate, and on the other side of the door, prison trustees in aprons slopped food on to it. He saw tables with benches, all bolted to the floor. He took an empty one as his fellow-inmates filled up the room. Although Tommy kept his head down, he was aware of the stares. He couldn’t have eaten even if the food had been at all appetising – it consisted of grey dumplings, damp, unidentifiable vegetables, and chunks of dry meat.
The bench next to him creaked. ‘Hello,’ said a young male voice. ‘My name Bela. You are the Englishman.’
Tommy glanced at his new companion. Bela must have been about his own age, with long, dark hair and a boyish face. He would have been quite attractive had it not been for something of a dullness in his eyes and a homemade tattoo on his cheek. When he smiled, Tommy saw several of his front teeth were also gone, causing his voice to whistle slightly.
Bela offered him a hand in the Rothenian way and Tommy automatically took it.
‘Food is dreadful, but it all there is. You had better eat it.’
‘I can’t. Look what they did to me.’
Bela shook his head. ‘It happens. You a faggot, yes? They not like you, and that police lieutenant wanted you beaten.’
‘What? How do you know that?’
‘You have to know things here, and my pedrastjne … sorry I don’t know the English word … he talks to warders. He sent me over to you.’ Bela nodded at the next table where a bulky, shaven-headed man was eyeing them up.
A cold hand gripped Tommy’s guts and squeezed. ‘He’s your lover?’
‘We fuck, yes. He look after me. He want to look after you too.’
‘Look, guy. You pretty, even after you are messed up. Lot of guys here gonna have you, so you might as well listen. This is what happen later. They pull out more of your teeth so you can’t bite their dicks, then they take you any way they like. Could be ten, could be twenty before the warders stop it. You never the same again, believe me. Also there is HIV here. Just a matter of time before you get. Now my pedrastjne want to be yours too. You and me be team!’
‘He’ll fuck me?!’
‘Yeah. Big cock. You’ll like. He really good and is clean. Then he let his friends have you for price. Don’t worry. He only sell you to clean guys.’
‘He’s a pimp.’
‘Pimp for men? Pedrastjne? Yeah, maybe. But deal is he protect you from the gangs if you work for him. Could be worse.’
‘How long have you been here, Bela?’
‘Three years now. Still no HIV. They test here a lot and clinic nurses tell my pedrastjne who is not clean. See! You need to know things, and he does it.’
‘Where did you learn English?’
‘On Wejg. Worked for clubs from age fourteen.’
‘Are you gay?’
‘Me? No. Had lots of girlfriends, but makes no difference in here. Cocks need holes, and you and I got pretty ones. You nice like lady, and some like that a lot. They not want to feel like faggots. So you get bigger price than me if you be good. I be yesterday’s boy.’ Bela gave a wistful grin. ‘So, you do?’
Tommy looked around the room. Many eyes were staring at him, and he thought he could work out the meaning of the concentrated gazes, some openly lustful. One fat bald man licked his lips ostentatiously at him. He felt sick, but his mind had kicked into a strange mode. He knew his life was on the line in more ways than one. The options were appalling, but with icy logic he knew he must do something if he was to survive.
‘Aren’t there other … pedrastjnes?’
Bela frowned. ‘If there are, I not tell you obviously. You have to find yourself. Don’t be stupid. They start making mess of you after this meal, you bet. Then you take any offer. My Ludovic, he treat you good. Others not. I know.’ He pointed at his cheek. ‘One of them do that to show I his piece of ass. It look good on you, I don’t think.’
Tommy was playing for time. The meal was ending, trustee prisoners were collecting the plates and men were getting up. ‘I’ll talk to Ludovic,’ he sighed.
Looking around, Bela grabbed Tommy by the waist and gave him a theatrical kiss on the cheek so that everyone could see. Then he prodded him out of the room by another door into a cindered yard, its upper walls lit by the low evening sun.
Ludovic was sitting with two other men on a bench, and Bela guided Tommy up to him. Bela launched a stream of Rothenian towards his pimp, presumably giving him Tommy’s reaction to his proposal.
Ludovic stood, and at considerably more than two metres he towered over Tommy. He took Tommy’s face in his large hand and examined it, ignoring Tommy’s yelp. His friends then blocked what he was doing off from the warders pacing the yard. He unzipped Tommy’s coverall and pulled it down to his knees, along with his pants. The man then shoved his vest up to his armpits, making Tommy shiver. A rough finger tested his anus and a hand caressed and manipulated his cock. A stream of incomprehensible comments went over Tommy’s head.
Bela whispered in his ear, ‘He like you. You do fine. He not know you have HIV or not, so not fuck you yet. He wait till you are tested. He get his friends in clinic to do that tomorrow. They have lot of EU money for testing, is good, yes?’
Tommy was roughly dressed and made to sit next to Ludovic. For the rest of the exercise period, he was displayed to clients as the property of his new pedrastjne.
Before they left the yard there was a brief conversation between Ludovic and one of the warders. When Tommy was returned to his cell, he was followed in by Bela carrying a pile of his own belongings.
‘No one have single cell here. Some are three or four. Ludovic thinks you and I safe together, and I speak your language. See! I told you he is kind and he can do things if he want.’
Tommy put his head in his hands. He was trapped in a nightmare world where his arse was currency and his body a commodity. He had already been bought and sold. He began sobbing again. This was not how his new life in Rothenia was supposed to turn out.
The lights went out. A few minutes later there came a rustle of clothing and a warm, naked body sat next to Tommy, helping him out of his coverall and then laying him gently on his narrow bed.
Bela kissed his cheek when Tommy would not open his mouth. ‘You fuck me now? It for free. I like you. No? Really? I am sorry.’ Bela went to his cot and was soon snoring gently.
Tommy lay aching and apprehensive, longing for an unconsciousness that did not come for a very long time.
Tommy woke, feeling ill and in pain, to the sound of a bell clanging in the yard. Could he report sick or something?
Bela stirred and sat up, smiling blearily across at him. Without ceremony or apparent embarrassment, he squatted over a bucket and emptied himself into it.
Tommy found he had to do the same, although he couldn’t muster Bela’s composure. When he finished, he returned the lid to the bucket to contain the stench.
Bela splashed himself with cold water in the grimy, cracked sink in the corner of the cell, then began shaving. He offered his plastic razor to Tommy, who soaped his tender face and made some efforts to scrape away the gathering stubble.
‘Not a shower day, so you and I not get fucked yet. It first chance for sex in morning showers. You learn this soon enough.’
‘I don’t want to know,’ Tommy complained.
Bela gave him a compassionate look. ‘No, of course not. I sorry. It all horrible, yes? I thought so too for long time. Now look! I get used to it. So also will you.’
‘I’m not guilty. They have to free me!’
Again Tommy got the compassionate look.
‘Bela, when will they release you?’
‘Not for long time yet. They say I kill my girlfriend. I was drunk, I have no idea whether I did or not. So here I am for twenty years. At least in few years’ time I not be pretty enough for men to want, then things slow down.’
‘Don’t they give you work or training in here?’
‘No. We can read of course, and some nights we have DVD shows. I like Shawshank Redemption.’
‘How can you live like this?’
Bela put his head down for a while, then finally raised it. ‘Time to get dressed. You give me hardon, you are so beautiful.’
‘I thought you were straight.’
‘With you in my cell, I think I am happy to be faggot. It is better now you are friend. We are friends, yes?’
Tommy looked at his companion and nodded. ‘We’re friends, yes.’ He was moved by the look of relief and gratitude he got in return.
Keys rattled and their cell door opened. ‘First we have breakfast. Best meal of day. We have juice and new bread. You make sure to sit by Ludovic. He protect you.’
‘What about you?’
‘I have … duty.’
‘One of warders want fuck me. I not say which one. He trades information with Ludovic for my sex. He be here in cell in minute. Maybe I get to see you before breakfast over.’
‘I’m sorry, Bela.’
The boy shook his head, as if to say sorrow was a pointless emotion in a place where surviving the day was the best one could possibly hope for.
It was as Tommy was heading for the dining hall that he was blocked off by two warders, one of whom was the man who had tended his injuries the previous day.
‘You come with us,’ he ordered.
‘No trouble, Enn-vissel.’
So he was taken down the hall, past shuffling lines of other prisoners, out of the barred gate and into the reception zone once again.
He had dreaded seeing Lieutenant Czerescovicz waiting for him. Instead he was confronted by a middle-aged man in a suit, looking nervous, who introduced himself as the prison governor. His English was excellent. ‘Good news, Herr Enn-vissel! An order for your release has arrived and er … well, it has come with transport.’
‘The Supreme Court has accepted pledges for your bail bond.’
‘Five million euros?’
‘Exactly. So you are free to go. If you’ll come up to my quarters you can have a proper shower and get cleaned up.’
‘Have you seen the mess your men made of my face?’
‘There will be an enquiry, naturally. I am told it was an accident during the shower.’
‘There was nothing accidental about it. Have you any idea what goes on inside your prison?’
The man scowled. ‘You can keep your accusations for another occasion, Enn-vissel. In the meantime, follow this officer.’
Tommy was escorted upstairs into a small apartment which had surely not seen redecoration since the war. But the shower at least worked. Tommy surveyed the bruising down his body and his smashed and scabbed face. His smile would never be the same again and he guessed his mouth would need some serious bridgework. Yet oddly, all he could then think of was the abused boy, Bela, and how he would never say goodbye to him.
Casual boy-clothes which he recognised as his own were laid out on a chair. He dressed gratefully. When he returned to the reception area, an army officer and a heavy who looked very like a secret-service man were awaiting him. The governor had gone.
He was directed out into the yard. Prison warders were drawn up in a rigid line, with the governor at one end, appearing terrified. A tall blond woman was gazing with disdain up and down their ranks.
She walked over to examine Tommy as he exited the gate. ‘My God, Tommy! What have they done to you?’
‘Your majesty …’ began the governor.
‘Did I give you permission to speak, Herr Müller? Is this a prison you run, or a torture chamber? I’ll have this put right, or my name is not Harriet Peacher. That a modern country like ours can still be run on such lines! Not for much longer, I can promise you. You may expect consequences!’
She then launched a diatribe in her perfect Rothenian, which Tommy assumed to be the gist of her English remarks, and the prison staff trooped off sheepishly. The queen took Tommy and hugged him. He was temporarily overwhelmed with her perfume. She pulled him into the back of her limousine.
As it drove out through the main gate she observed, ‘Of course, I had no constitutional authority for what I just said and did, but I meant it all the same. My brother Andy and I have rebuilt and reformed this country’s orphanages. Now it’s time I tackled prison reform, I think.’
‘Harry, did you meet my bail bond?’
She smiled and took his arm. ‘It was the only quick way to get you out, Tommy dear. And as you well know, I’m not short of money.’
‘But five million euros!’
She laughed. ‘I’ll get it back. You won’t run off, will you?’
‘Not after what I saw in that yard. Scary!’
‘You’re my guest at the Residenz from now on. You can’t go back to Fritz’s place.’
‘But won’t it look like the king is meddling in politics?’
‘No. Because it’s the queen who’s doing it, and everyone knows Harry Peacher makes her own rules.’ She laughed again, before turning serious. ‘The royal physician will be waiting to check you over when we get home, and I fear you will need to see a dental surgeon too. You poor thing. What they’ve put you through. But no more. You’re my responsibility now, and our Maxie is keen to see his Tomm-EE again. I could hardly get him to sleep last night, he was so worried about you.’