HENRY IN FINKLE ROAD
got Gavin’s room key and went round to the hall of residence to pick up a change
of clothes for him from his still unpacked cases. Nobody seemed to have noticed
that Gavin was not there, or commented when Henry went into his room. Henry
found that infinitely sad.
He returned to Finkle Road and discovered Gavin a bit more awake and in less apparent pain. He gave the boy chicken soup, which he ate, and a fruit juice because it seemed a healthier sort of drink to Henry.
Gavin smiled up at him, looking more relaxed, so Henry helped him get dressed and come downstairs for a space. Since Eddie was in the Union bar, which had already become his second home, Henry and Gavin watched TV for a while until the doorbell heralded David’s arrival. Gavin immediately retired into his shell in the presence of a new face, and was clearly intimidated by the public-school confidence and good looks of this vision. David did his best, but in the end he and Henry had no choice but to talk about common friends and what they were up to.
Finally, David got on to a subject that roused Gavin. ‘Rudi’s in the papers today. Some photographer got into his college and took pictures of him in the quad and on his stairs. The tabloids say he’s not covered by the same privacy agreement as the Windsors. Chancellor Trachtenberg has supposedly complained to the government about it.’
Gavin, emboldened by curiosity, asked timorously, ‘Er … who’s this Rudi?’
Henry smiled. ‘Rudi Burlesdon we called him at school, but he’s the King of Rothenia and he’s in Oxford this year.’
Gavin’s eyes widened. ‘You know the King of Rothenia?’
David grinned a little smugly. ‘Yeah, he’s a mate. We went with him last year when they restored the monarchy. It was an …. interesting few days.’ He caught Henry’s eye and flexed his eyebrows.
‘Wow, what a life you guys have led. I don’t know anyone even remotely famous, though my cousin was on Big Brother two years ago.’
David was a fan of reality TV. ‘Really? Which one was he?’ After that the conversation picked up a bit, and even more so when they began discussing media lust-figures.
Gavin maintained that the most beautiful man in the world was Brad Pitt, while David voted for Matthew White. ‘But he’s British,’ Gavin complained with something resembling a laugh, which showed he was coming on a lot in his present company.
Henry put on an offended air. ‘British guys can be sensuous and romantic too. You don’t have to be foreign to be interesting. You do realise what you said is heresy in this house.’
‘Matt White lived here as a student, and his dad still owns the place,’ Henry said.
‘Never! So it was here that …’
‘Yeah, he and Andy Peacher had their first fuck here, so he tells me: front first floor bedroom, and he topped,’ David declared.
‘What! You know Matthew White too! Who are you people?’
Henry grinned. ‘Just ordinary eighteen-year-olds who happen to know a few people. But Eddie, who shares here, he’s Andy Peacher’s little brother.’
‘Oh my God! And does the queen, like, come down here for tea from Windsor on Fridays?’
‘Gavin,’ smiled Henry, ‘that was almost ironic. You seem to be getting better.’
Gavin blushed. ‘But billionaires, models, royals … you people are jet setters. I knew I might meet interesting people in uni, but I never thought Cranwell would have the likes of you. You lot are supposed to go to Oxbridge or – I dunno – St Andrews.’
‘Cambridge turned me down,’ said Henry, ‘but Davey here could have gone to Durham, Bristol or Oxford if he had wanted.’
‘So why did you come here … David?’
David then pleased Henry enormously by reaching over, ruffling Gavin’s slightly greasy hair and saying, ‘Call me Davey too, Gavin. You’re a nice kid. Henry always picks them.’ Gavin positively blazed with shy delight. ‘No, the reason I came here is that I fell in love with a man who comes from Cranwell, and who has a flat here. I live with him when he’s at home, which isn’t often enough for me. That’s why I picked Cranwell over Durham. Not most people’s choice, I gather.’
‘The place seems to be looking up, though!’ Gavin laughed fully now, then winced when the sudden movement reminded him of the damaged state of his arse.
‘Back to bed, Gavin. You need the rest. We’ll help you up the stairs, and just take it slowly.’
As he cuddled back down into his duvet, Gavin murmured, ‘Who’d have believed it? I finally meet the jet set, and in Cranwell!’ Henry got the impression that Gavin was living one of his daydreams.
David grinned up as Henry came back to the lounge. ‘That’s a sad little refugee you’ve picked up.’
‘I wonder …’ said Henry. ‘I thought so too, but he perked up amazingly during that last conversation. He was almost funny. He can emerge from his shell in the right company. He has self-esteem problems, though, so much is clear.’
‘Henry, he is not your problem. Tell me that you aren’t going to take in a stray.’
‘I already have, but I’m sending him home tomorrow, is that OK?’
David laughed. ‘Come on Outfield, let’s go see what’s up with Eddie and the drunks.’
Eddie Peacher was holding court in the bar once again, with the same bunch of apprentice deadbeats around him. To be fair to Eddie, Henry registered, he was making nothing – indeed dodging away from – any reference to his background. So far as his mates were concerned, he was an amusing Yank out for a good time. Eddie’s ability to transcend the effects of beer was impressive too. He had been playing drinking games that involved reciting long lists of sexual diseases, and drinking half a pint if you went astray. His mates were nearly all under the table, but he still made perfect sense when talking to David and Henry, other than betraying a certain bleariness in his eye.
The entire group lurched off afterwards to the student nightclub on campus. It was Freshers’ Only Dance. The other years were technically banned from the premises, although Henry noticed the dark figure of Wayne Clanchy cruising the perimeter of the floor.
He nodded to David. ‘That’s the guy who tore Gavin.’
Eddie caught the remark and smiled dangerously. ‘Then let’s go say hello.’
‘Hey motherfucker!’ he snarled as he caught Wayne round the neck and slammed him into a brick wall, knocking all the breath out of him. Eddie was powerfully built on the lines of his father and had been a keen footballer in his college. ‘We got a kid at home you ripped up with your dick. It’ll be a week before he can walk properly. Just want you to know how little we think of you.’
Henry was impressed, although a little nervous as to what this could lead to. But he wasn’t feeling that friendly towards Wayne either. ‘I don’t think we’ll be seeing you in Gaysoc again, will we.’
Wayne had recovered, and a small crowd of staring students had gathered. Wayne began mouthing off for the benefit of the audience. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, get your hands off me! Fucking homophobes. Wait till the Union hears about this. You can’t take out your own inadequacies on gays any more.’
‘Oh shut the fuck up,’ David joined in, ‘you’re the sort that gives gays a bad name, you arsehole.’
Wayne began struggling and shouting and security came over. ‘Break it up, lads. What’s going on here?’
‘They’re picking on me ‘cos I’m gay!’ shouted Wayne.
Eddie was still smiling. ‘Not at all. We were reasoning with him. He shouldn’t be here, he’s a second-year.’
‘This true? Show us your card,’ the security man said. ‘Okay. Another one. You’re bounced. We’ll just check your card in at the desk. That’s an automatic month’s suspension, matey.’
As Wayne was hustled out, Eddie gave an even broader grin and called after him, ‘Wait for me outside, fucker, just wait and we can continue the debate any way you like.’
‘You’re a dangerous dude, dude,’ Henry said, although he was inwardly a little troubled by the ease with which Eddie slipped into violence.
Eddie seemed strangely sobered by the incident and got a coke rather than a beer at Henry’s round. They watched the dancing. Eddie sized up the girls and without warning launched himself on to the floor to put a move on a long-haired blond with a big smile. They talked easily and apparently effectively over the music.
David raised an eyebrow at Henry. ‘Are you daring me?’ Henry asked and David grinned. Henry grabbed his hand and pulled him on to the floor and into the moving groups. They were dancing, and were being very much noticed, but no one was going to say anything. David threw a very provocative kiss in Eddie’s direction when they passed. Eddie looked flustered for the first time since Henry had known him. ‘You are so gay, Davey,’ Henry murmured as they went to sit down.
They left at midnight and Henry felt very good about the world as he reached his house. Streaks, eh? Maybe I bloody well will, he thought.
Henry woke to the doorbell at ten the next morning. He staggered down in his boxers, struggling to contain his morning erection. He peered around the front door, then whooped, awake in an instant. ‘Justy, man!’
A dark-haired and cocky-looking lad in a suit and tie was on the doorstep. He caught Henry round the back of the head and began a thorough exploration of his mouth, licking his lips when they broke off. ‘Hey, Henry babe, I fink I knows what you wuz doin’ last night.’
‘Mmm. C’mon in, Justy, missed you so much. I haven’t seen you since … forever. How’s your Nathan?’
‘He’s good. He had a great year wiv the garden centre, and Uncle Phil is pleased. Course, part of his profits is because he don’t pay me nuffink when I works in the shop, the chiselling capitalist. But I don’t mind, Uncle Terry’s making me rich. In about one month I’ll be twenty and I got – well I ain’t gonna tell you how much I got in me bank account, cos it’ll make yer sick, yer poor student, and put you off yer studies. Just let us say that me bank manager kisses me feet whenever I comes through his door. And yeah, I will have a coffee, ta very much.’
Justin Peacher-White sat at Henry’s kitchen table, and they grinned at each other. They had formed a close if unlikely friendship two years before. Justin pulled out a pocket notebook and found a pen. ‘Okay, little Henry. Might as well get on wiv it. This the only back door? Is there an alarm system? What’s the access to the back yard?’ And Justin ran through two dozen pointed questions about the house, its access and security. Carrying his mug, he gave the back yard a thorough inspection, leaping up on to the brick walls and checking out the neighbouring gardens and back lane.
‘Is Eddie up yet?’ he asked.
Henry pulled on his trousers and shook his head. ‘But he’s definitely in, cos of the smell from his bedroom. I think he’s alone, too, though he was making out with a tidy girl last night. On past form, you won’t see him till about three this afternoon. He must have drunk fifteen pints last night.’
‘Christ almighty! What the fuck must his head be like this morning?’
‘He seems to shrug it off.’
‘Kids,’ scoffed Justin. ‘Okay, Henry babe. I got me bag in the car.’
‘Yup, for a week or two anyway. Eddie’s me new contract. I’m working to Jenna Rudat from Andy’s office. Grandad Peacher’s delegated Eddie to Andy’s people, and they asked for someone who might blend in wiv a student environment.’
‘And they came up with you?’
‘Whossamarrer? I’m nineteen … well for another six weeks anyway. I could pass for seventeen too, as a couple of criminals has learned to their cost. Is this a comment on me lack of education?’
‘But technically, Eddie’s your uncle! This is genuine nepotism! You’re the adopted son of his big brother. You may have to follow him to lectures and seminars, and you’ve got to get a student look.’
‘Aw thass easy. Just don’t wash or shave more than once a week, eat a diet of meat pies and curry, get spots and wear the same clothes for a month. I can do that.’
Henry shook his head. In fact, for all his street-kid background, Justin was very fastidious and fashion conscious. He had a lot of money and dressed expensively. He was Andy Peacher’s adopted son, and cost for him had been no object now for several years.
‘You’d better talk to Davey about student kit. I don’t think he’ll charge you for the advice. What exactly are you going to do? Are you going to follow Eddie round?’
‘A bit, until I get the lowdown on his habits and routines. See what his lecture timetable’s like, and what he does in between, library stuff and so on.’
Henry shook his head, but didn’t disabuse Justin of his illusions about Eddie’s academic lifestyle. He would soon learn.
Henry led Justin to the back loft room, which Matt had told him must be left vacant for the use of Eddie’s security people. Henry put his finger to his lips and whispered that Justin should be quiet as he had a sleeping guest in the opposite bedroom, then he went downstairs.
While Henry waited for Justin he took up the latest Alastair Bannow book, which David had given him: Staring in the Face of Christ. He was on the opening chapter where Dr Bannow was talking – pretty convincingly – about early depictions of Christ. It was an interesting mixture of genuine scholarship and mind-boggling speculation. Bannow had the old story of the letter of Abgar, king of Edessa, to Jesus inviting Him to take shelter in that city. The letter could still be seen several centuries later in the royal archives of Edessa, along with Jesus’ reply.
Bannow also told the story of the statue of Jesus at Caesarea, commissioned as a thankoffering by the woman whom he had cured of haemorrhaging. The statue was allegedly standing for many years thereafter in the city. Such relics, said Bannow, were cherished all across the Near East during and just after Jesus’ lifetime.
Henry sipped his coffee and reflected. It was a reasonable assumption, he thought. Hegesippus of Jerusalem, writing less than sixty years after Jesus’ death, had seen a portrait of Him said to have been painted from life by the evangelist Mark. Then Henry lost Bannow when the author went on to claim that at least one picture of Christ had survived and, indeed, still survived. Apparently he was not referring to the Turin Shroud.
Henry glanced at the back of the book, where there was a thumbnail picture of the author looking earnest and scholarly. The book was a major bestseller, and half the student population of Cranwell was reading it, or had read it. Henry studied the reviews on the back of the dust jacket: ‘Major revelation of the secret life of the Catholic Church, Sunday Times’; ‘Seamless work of historical and theological investigation, New York Review of Books’; ‘If true, makes you think hard about the nature of the Church down the ages, Church Times.’
Justin had changed into casuals, his favourite Milan leathers. He looked like a million dollars, and indeed the cost of the suit would have taken a sizable bite out of that sum. ‘Yer guest is stirring, Henry,’ he said, as he poked his head round the lounge door.
Henry went upstairs and knocked at the front loft room. ‘Morning, Gavin, how’s your bum?’
Gavin gave him a shy smile. ‘A lot better, thanks. I think I can get up, but I need to go to the loo bad.’
‘Oh,’ Henry replied. ‘Ah. Okay then. Best thing is that I wait outside the door and you don’t lock it. There could be pain and there could be blood.’
Gavin looked scared. But he went to the bowl of torture and only screamed a little as he passed a stool.
‘You alright?’ Henry called through the door.
‘Better now that’s done,’ Gavin said, with the trace of tears in his voice.
‘Blood?’ asked Henry.
‘A bit, but … it’s not sort of dripping out of me like before. I think I can go back to Stenton Hall safely now.’
‘I’ll walk you there. I’ve dried your jeans. The stains came out after all. They’ll be wearable again.’
‘Thanks, Henry. You’re so kind.’
Gavin was quickly dressed and ready, but had a major shock when he unexpectedly encountered Justin in the lounge. He immediately retired deep within his shell, hardly acknowledging Justin’s cheery greeting. Justin looked at Henry, who gave a little shrug. Rather than drag out Gavin’s social agony, Henry took him up Finkle Road to the main campus housing at Stenton Hall, in the suburb of Northside.
Gavin didn’t seem to find the walk too painful. He surreptitiously checked in his underpants as they parted and found no leakage. Henry hugged him in the empty lobby of Block 12 and kissed his cheek. Gavin kissed him back. ‘You got my number, Gavin? Then ring if you’re lonely, okay?’
But Gavin didn’t ring, and quite a few days went by until Henry saw him again. In the meantime, Justin settled into Finkle Road. Henry was delighted to have him there, endlessly cheerful and, more importantly, intimidating to Eddie. Eddie knew that Justin would be reporting on him to his big brother Andy and indirectly to his father. He got a hunted look on him whenever Justin was around, and began attending his lectures and seminars. But Eddie’s social life did not slow at all, and the rate he downed alcohol troubled Justin.
‘Can’t match him, Henry, and I thought I wuz dissolute. Still, it’s his kidneys.’
Henry tried to have a word with Eddie about his rate of sinking pints. He finally scored when he said, ‘Eddie, it’s hardly any wonder that no girl is going the whole way with you. Drinking like you do scares them; also, you’re getting a gut.’
Eddie looked down at his stomach, a little worried. He went to the gym the next day, and indeed for three consecutive days thereafter. The drinking slackened off a bit too. Henry hoped it had only been a phase associated with Eddie’s release into liberty in the world.
One area of Eddie’s student life that impressed Henry positively was his commitment to Paul Oscott’s course. He even said that Henry should come too. Apparently, a lot of students who were not actually on the course were turning up to the lectures. ‘He’s really something, Henry dude, he really is, and I’m not just saying this cuz he’s my brother’s best friend.’
In the meantime, Henry had been taken off to David’s stylists and streaks duly applied to his hair. He wasn’t too fussed at the end result, but he no longer looked like Henry Atwood, son of the rectory, that was for sure. And while he was in the chair, he noticed that the place did piercings, at which point Henry suddenly discovered his unsuspected wild side. David stared as he asked for a brow piercing. A curved metal rod was pulled by a thread through his pinched-up and anaesthetised right eyebrow. He grinned at the result. He knew it was there, but it didn’t hurt much. He felt wicked. He knew exactly what his mum would say. Then he wondered what his Ed would say too, all proper and conservative as he was at Cambridge. Henry shook his head.