HENRY IN FINKLE ROAD
David prodded Henry awake, got out of his beloved mini and stretched. ‘Hey, Henry, get your bags out the back. We’re here. It’s Finkle Road, and Gavin’s bobbing up and down on the spot with anxiety to hug you.’
David had driven Henry down from London that Monday, after spending the time following the New Year’s Party with Terry in Hawaii. David was looking fit and tanned, while Henry had the pallor of the office worker about him.
Henry yawned. Gavin helped him drag his bags out of the boot and off the back seat. He was back and the excitement in Gavin’s eyes made him glad he was. Eddie had not returned yet, so the two boys made the most of their opportunities to couple where they normally could not.
After dozing away the afternoon, Gavin got up and showered, pulling Henry after him. ‘It’s our first shift at six, Henry. Nice Mr Hutchinson will be so glad to see us.’
‘Nice Mr Hutchinson!’
Henry looked around the King’s Cross when they got inside the door. It appeared to be unchanged. The same somnolescent regulars were still clumped round the public bar, and Frank still glowered at them as he washed up glasses behind the counter. Then Henry noticed the gaming machines were gone. So the reign of Terry O’Brien had indeed begun.
‘You’re here then, you two. I’d almost given up on you.’
‘Happy New Year to you too, Frank,’ said Henry cheerily.
‘That’s to be seen,’ was the sour reply. Pointing at Gavin he said, ‘You need to be on that infernal machine.’
Gavin smiled, and said to Henry, ‘He means the computer. He’s got me organising the new web pages. Terry’s putting them up on his office server. I’m doing the design.’
‘I hope he’s paying you,’ Henry grumbled. Gavin disappeared happily upstairs to the pub office.
The pub was as dead that evening as it could be on a January Monday, but it livened up around nine-thirty when a mixed party came in, men and women on the way to a club, probably. The clientele of the King’s was clearly changing, and the regulars were not too happy about it. Young gays were one thing, but women were quite another. The party sat in the lounge bar, and Henry soon began to have his suspicions about the women in the group. As his mother would have said, they were a bit free and easy. While maybe not prostitutes, they certainly had more on their minds than just a quiet drink. But he served them with his confident smile, even when one of them began to come on to him.
‘Sorry,’ he grinned, ‘I’m gay … this is the King’s Cross, y’know.’
The slight dark woman was very pretty, if a little … he sought for a word: hard-edged came to mind. She leaned close, and he got a whiff of what he imagined was quite expensive perfume. ‘I find that men are men, and given the right incentive, even a nice little gay boy will come running.’
Henry looked at her with astonishment. This was a genuine and aggressive come-on from a woman. He was for once too taken aback to say a thing. She noticed and gave a low, throaty chuckle. ‘What’s your name, little gay boy?’
‘Lovely name, so old fashioned. I’ll be seeing you again … Henry. I’m Tina.’
He served her the rum and coke she wanted. She caught at his hand as he gave over the change, stroking it while she looked into his eyes in a very sultry way. When she took her hand away, she left a fiver in his. Although a very handsome tip, it was not the sort Henry wanted to earn.
The party left before closing time, Tina hanging on the arm of a big, wide man who was well on the way to alcoholic stupor. Henry rather hoped none of them would be in again.
The rest of the week was taken up with exam revision and assessment, so Henry only worked a Thursday night. Gavin was in most afternoons, beavering away on his web pages, setting up links and investigating advertisements on gay sites. Even Frank had nothing to complain about, because Gavin wasn’t being paid for it.
Eddie turned up in midweek, with the text of an essay to submit for Paulie’s module. He had also signed up for Paulie’s second semester module on Postmodernism.
‘Do you have any idea what Postmodernism is all about, Eddie?’
‘Nope. But I’ll bet Paulie’ll make it interesting.’
Henry smiled. ‘You’re probably right. That’s the best way to choose courses. Did you have a good holiday?’
‘It was OK. Great to see my sis – she’s a babe, ain’t she? Did you notice that Prince Fritzy fell for her big time – and she wasn’t interested! Still, it’s good to be back. I miss the guys. What did you think of Andy’s new place?’
‘It was really something. He’s got a butler!’
‘Nah, it was just for the holiday. He was from an agency. Normally Andy relies on a housekeeper, who just happens to be Mrs Atkinson’s sister-in-law, would you believe. She was responsible for the food, which was totally ace.’
‘How did it go with your father?’
‘Dad seemed unusually happy with me for some reason … maybe my being an A student at last has smacked him in the head. Harry was after him at some point, and so was Momma Sylvia. So I got a smile with the handshake, and he promised me a car.’
‘Oh yeah. Andy’s going to take care of getting it for me. You heard about the problem I had back in California? I’m not allowed on the roads back home, but that don’t apply over here. I’m signing up for lessons to teach me how to drive on the wrong side of the road like you guys do. Hey … maybe Davey’ll give me some practice in his mini!’
‘You can only ask.’
As Henry put the last of his essays to bed on Saturday morning, with Gavin still asleep upstairs, the postman rang the doorbell with a package to be signed for. Henry opened the padded bag and found old Mr Wardrinski’s notebook inside, together with a long letter from Dr Mac in Trewern.
Henry spread it all out on the lounge table. The personal part of the letter read as follows:
‘My dear Henry, I am returning the notebook of Stanislaw Wardrinski under this cover. The cipher in which it was written was a fairly standard transposition code, with the key text the prologue of St Fenice’s Meditation, would you believe! I am including that and my transcript of the first ten pages. It was an interesting challenge and I enjoyed the mental exercise. It reassured me that there is life in the old brain yet. If you wish to go on and do the rest, watch out for the process marks he places in the text where he has shifted the key. It makes things a lot easier. From what I can see, the document is more than just his memoranda on Rothenian right-wing politics in the 1930s and the progress – or not – of the KRB. You may have more luck with the mystical passages than I did. Your very dear friend, Neville Mackenna.’
Henry looked at the size of the notebook and was daunted. But when he read Dr Mac’s transcripts, he knew the job was one he was going to have to do, not so much for Marlowe Productions as for that much more powerful force, his own curiosity. Dr Mac had read through the whole book and decoded the folio headings with the aid of the process marks. Some were seriously intriguing: ‘Constitution of the Priory of St Veronica’; ‘The One Hundred and Forty-Four Names of MENDAMERO’; ‘The Sacred Lineage of Ruric’. The rest would have been interesting for a historian of the inter-war years in Central Europe, but Henry decided to let them pass. He began work immediately on the mysterious priory of St Veronica, and was still laboriously decoding when Gavin wandered into the lounge yawning, two hours later.
‘Now there’s a bloody odd thing,’ said Henry to Gavin, in a quiet moment at the bar of the King’s.
‘You mean Wayne with that girl?’
‘That’s exactly what I mean. I didn’t realise he was bi.’
Wayne Clanchy had taken a table with the woman Tina early on that Saturday evening. It seemed pretty obvious to Henry and Gavin that he was sexually very interested in her. He was buying the drinks, which for someone as tight-fisted as Wayne was quite a declaration of intent.
‘She seems to be around here a lot, lately,’ Gavin said. ‘I think she’s quite cute. She was very nice to me, and tipped me a fiver.’
‘When was that?’
‘On the Tuesday shift when you were at Gaysoc. She came over and stared at the “Achilles and Patroclus” poster, and asked me if the other boy who served at the bar was the model for Patroclus. So I said you were, and she said some really nice things about you, how kind and helpful you were, and how really good-looking. So I just had to agree and tell her just how nice you truly are, my Henry, and how you’ve made my shit life into heaven on earth …’
‘You didn’t say that!’
Gavin looked a little hurt. ‘No … not exactly those words, but I did say you were the most wonderful boyfriend anyone could dream of. Anyway, I told her all about the poster and how you came to meet Bolslaw Meric in Strelzen, and how you were a friend of the king of Rothenia and the Peachers.’
‘What did she say?’
‘She looked really amazed, and asked me a bit more about how that had happened, but a crowd came in and I had to get on with stuff.’
Just then, as Henry was struggling to come to grips with a feeling of unease that had descended on him, Eddie and the Surfing Soc arrived in the pub from their training session in the City Pool.
‘Henry dude!’ Eddie bellowed. ‘The usual, and whatever the guys want!’
The society was in a very good mood. Eddie had announced the Malibu trip was on, and they spent the next hour debating fund-raising events round the table they had occupied next to Wayne and Tina. Tina, Henry noticed, was very interested in the crowd of muscular and cheery young hunks of testosterone who had arrived in pheromone range of her.
And Wayne, he also noticed, was annoyed that he had lost her attention. Being Wayne, he could not let it rest, and the remarks he began making about her proclivities drifted even over to the bar counter. Tina was unmoved and said some things to Wayne in a low voice that made him flush bright red. He leapt to his feet. ‘Bitch!’ he shouted and slapped the woman so hard her head snapped back.
There was a sudden silence in the bar. Eddie, sitting at that end of the table, saw what had happened and stood. He took deliberate aim and hit Wayne so hard in the face that Wayne crashed right over a table into a group of denim-clad friends of Frank’s. ‘That’s for you, Fuckweasel!’ he yelled. ‘Now come back here, motherfucker, so I can give you some more education!’
‘No! No more!’ the woman cried out, her hand to her face.
The men who had cushioned Wayne’s fall picked him up, took him to the door and threw him into the lane outside. Henry ran out after them. Gavin had raced upstairs to get Frank.
Henry knelt down on the pavement. Wayne was moaning, and had a red mark on his cheek where Eddie’s fist had connected. He was coming round, mumbling ‘fuckin’ bitch, fuckin’ tranny bitch.’ He began struggling to his feet, and Henry helped him up. He stood on his feet weaving slightly.
‘I’ll get you a taxi,’ said Henry.
‘Fuck off,’ snarled Wayne.
‘Okay,’ sighed Henry, and left him. After all, he reflected, the Good Samaritan had at least a grateful recipient of his kindness. I’ll bet he would have thought twice about putting the mugged Jewish traveller on his donkey if he’d been told to fuck off.
When Henry got inside again, the lounge bar was still in a turmoil. Eddie was sitting on a plush bench holding up the girl, who was sobbing into his shoulder, her face hidden by her long dark hair. The Surfing Soc were standing round uncertainly, while Frank was talking earnestly to his mates, and casting ferocious glances over at the group.
Henry started picking up scattered glasses and ashtrays. Gavin had got the dustbuster and was clearing up spilled ash and trodden crisps. By the time everything was tidy, Henry noticed that Frank was leaning over Tina, talking earnestly to her as she burrowed into Eddie’s muscular protection. She answered in low tones. Then she murmured something to Eddie, who helped her up and took her out, carrying her handbag.
Frank came back to the bar as Henry and Gavin began restoring normal service. He looked oddly pensive and even sad, which was not by any means a usual expression on his face.
In the end, Henry asked him, ‘Do you know that Tina, Frank?’
Frank looked over at Henry, and instead of snapping at him, as he normally would have done, grunted an assent. And then Henry remembered what Gavin had said about Frank over Christmas. ‘Ah! His name’s not Tina, is it?’
‘No,’ Frank grunted, ‘it’s Anthony Morris, and he’s the most convincing transvestite in Swindon. He comes round here from time to time when he’s been thrown out of all the Swindon gay pubs and clubs. Terry O’Brien and him had quite a thing going when Terry worked here. In the end, I had to fire Terry, and he went off to Swindon with Anthony. But it didn’t last. Terry calls him “Anthony the Acid” for a good reason. He can give me a run for my money when the mood’s on him. It’s one reason why I respect the boy and let him stay here when things get too hot for him.’
Wow, thought Henry, working the King’s is a real education. Somehow, Anthony/Tina had touched the heart of Heartless Frank.
They didn’t see Eddie again, and Henry and Gavin got home round midnight.
Henry woke early on Sunday and went down to the kitchen. As he was poring over the Wardrinski notebook, a soft footstep made him look up. He was astounded. It was Tina, dressed in nothing but an old shirt of Eddie’s. Oh Jesus, no, Henry thought, please let this not be happening.
Tina smiled quite nicely at Henry. He was certainly pretty. His legs were slim, tanned and hairless, his feet small and perfect, and his toenails painted. Henry had sexual double vision. Seeing Tina as a girl, he could not be roused by her, but let his imagination once comprehend that this was in fact a boy, not a girl, and his erection nearly split the briefs which were all he was wearing.
Tina sat down and asked for a coffee. Henry obliged. Tina looked at Henry through the curling steam.
‘Er, how are things, Anthony?’ asked Henry.
Tina/Anthony laughed. Henry could now hear the male resonances in the voice. Anthony shifted and crossed his legs, and Henry was given a deliberate view of his genitalia. He was a man all right, and better hung than Henry. He also took off his wig and placed it on the table. This was quite some good-looking boy.
‘Do I need to ask where you slept last night.’
Anthony chuckled. ‘Oh I found someone to keep me warm. What a hunk. He’s not too particular who he screws either, is he?
‘You mean … he didn’t notice you were a guy?’
‘I keep my equipment out of the way unless I need it. No, he didn’t notice, he was in far too much of a hurry to do anal ... an ambition of his apparently. So he wasn’t looking, was he? Now for you, Henry, it’d be different, but a girl needs to be appreciated as a girl sometimes.’
‘For God’s sake, Tina, don’t ever tell anyone what happened, particularly Eddie! There’s just time for you to get away now.’
‘Why? I usually find that the straight boys quite enjoy the experience of fucking a male arse. You’d be surprised.’
‘I have no doubt I’d be stunned, but I do not think Eddie is that sort of boy.’
‘What sort of boy?’ came Eddie’s voice from the door, and then he bellowed, ‘JESUS FUCK!!’
‘Morning, lover,’ said Anthony, clearly enjoying the moment.
‘You’re a fucking guy!!’
‘Not just that, but a guy you fucked. It was my thank-you for your help with that shit Wayne.’
‘But you’re a fucking dude!’
‘Didn’t seem to bother you last night, Eddie baby.’
‘But I don’t do it with dudes. That’s my brothers, it’s not me. I’m a straight.’ Eddie fell into a kitchen chair, genuine horror on his face.
Henry was appalled. Whatever the comic circumstances, this was no joke. It was no joke on several levels, but the personal one was what concerned Henry at the moment. For all that Eddie was comfortable around gays, and had two out-and-out gay brothers, he had defined himself by not being one. Now he had blundered across the line. He had taken a man up the arse. He had done the defining queer sex act.
‘Eddie … I…’ he began, but he was cut off dead by the cruel voice of Anthony, feigning disappointment.
‘So that’s it, is it Eddie? Wham, bam, thank you ma’am? The one-night …’
He stopped, choking. Eddie had him by the throat, lifting him out of his seat, struggling to throttle the life out of him. Anthony’s eyes were bulging. Henry grabbed Eddie’s brawny arm and began unlocking the fingers from Anthony’s throat, appalled at the look of animal fury on Eddie’s face. Eddie was growling out staccato words from between his gritted teeth. ‘You’re … dead … you … fucker.’
With a heave, Henry managed to separate them. Anthony went down on the floor, his chest labouring. Eddie collapsed once again on a kitchen chair, putting his head in his hands. Henry grabbed Anthony and pulled him to his feet, pushing him out of the kitchen and up the stairs to Eddie’s tumbled bedroom, before finally throwing his clothes at him. ‘Get dressed and get out.’
Anthony was recovering as he dressed, and he looked mean. ‘Young Mr Billionaire hasn’t heard the last of me, little Henry. Oh no. You don’t think I can be treated like this. I was doing the boy a favour, and this is how I get paid back. Well, I can find other ways to take my pay. How does that sound? Give me £50,000 and it doesn’t get to the papers that Edward Peacher screws tranny rent boys. Don’t pay me and I have no doubt I can make even more money with the story from other sources.’
Henry threw Anthony’s wig at him. The transvestite caught it and stalked out, slamming the front door.
Henry’s mind was reeling, but his first responsibility was to Eddie. He raced back down to the kitchen, where Eddie was still sitting with his head in his hands. Henry went up to him and did the Henry thing of taking Eddie round the shoulder and hugging him, but the Henry thing was quite the wrong thing in the circumstances. He was shaken off roughly with the hissed words, ‘Don’t touch me, faggot.’
Henry’s heart lurched, but he strangled the feeling of rejection from a friend he loved. ‘We’ve got to talk, Eddie.’
‘What’s to talk about … seems I got the gay gene too.’
‘Eddie, you were tricked by a con artist. It wasn’t your fault. Christ, he fooled me too, and I’m gay!’
‘I’ve fucked a man. What if the guys find out?’
‘But you wouldn’t have done it, would you, if you’d known?’
‘No … I guess not. But Christ, Henry …’ Eddie’s eyes were full of tears. ‘He … she was so hot, he moved on my cock so fucking good. It was the best fuck I’ve ever had. That’s the horror of it. I loved it while I was doing it. What does it say about me?’
Henry couldn’t help himself. ‘It says your dick has been running your life, Eddie, not your head. And now it’s time to take a reality check.’
Eddie stood up. ‘I gotta get outta here.’ He grabbed his jacket from the banister and ran from the house.
Henry sat stunned for a moment, then shook his head. It was not a time to go catatonic. He reached for a card he had secreted in the back of a kitchen drawer. He rang a number, waited, and said, ‘Terry, it’s happened.’