HENRY IN HIGH POLITICS
Oskar kept on catching sidelong glances from Peter, as if the younger man was sizing him up before broaching a difficult subject.
Finally, Oskar grabbed him as he passed by the armchair in the drawing room of the Tarlenheim palace. ‘Sit here, Petey. Tell me what is up.’
Not resisting either the action or the command, Peter settled back into Oskar’s lap. ‘Okay, Osku. You want to know what all those calls were about. It’s like this: Dad’s on the move. He’s going back to the UK. If he migrates, the centre of gravity of PeacherCorp travels with him. There’s a major restructuring about to happen, and I’ve told him I want to be at the centre of it.’
‘So what does this mean, leblen?’
‘It means I’ve left Yale and I’m gonna be president of PeacherCorp Europe.’
Oskar frowned. ‘So, you will be heading back to London.’
‘Nope, babe, I’ve talked dad into locating PeacherCorp’s regional headquarters in Strelzen.’
Oskar stared. ‘Do you know what this will do to the local economy? It is amazing!’
‘Sure is. I got free rein to organise it too. Course, the low corporation tax here swung it. You could say the Maritz years are finally paying off. It’s top secret though, babe. PeacherCorp is setting up a temporary HQ in a new block by the airport, but there’ll need to be somewhere more permanent soon. I already have my guys buying up big areas of the Martzfeld in the name of dummy corporations. Can’t give the property market a chance to rise before I’m ready for it.’
Oskar nodded. The Martzfeld had once been an area of pasture and rough heath along the bank of the Starel to the northwest of the city. Used in the old days for military manoeuvres and reviews, it had been colonised by grim apartment blocks during the nineteen-fifties and sixties. Only the drug-dependent and desperate lived there now, amid serried ranks of grey buildings, many of them empty.
Oskar mused, ‘This, I suppose, is capitalism. You know that area is going to rise because you intend to locate a major corporation there. So you buy up all the available real estate at dirt-cheap prices and turn a huge profit selling what you don’t need to other corporations.’
‘Or you can call it speculative investment.’ Peter grinned. ‘It’s all risk, babe. How do I know your government will agree to the necessary infrastructure improvements? Without them, the land’ll be worthless. And here’s the down side for you. I may have told you what I just did, but now you have to forget it. If the Tarlenheim Stiftung starts buying alongside my holding companies, and our relationship gets out, there will be questions asked.’
Oskar stared, then grinned comically. ‘Why Petey! You’re ethical! Is that not bad for business?’
Peter gave a laugh. ‘Don’t be a jerk, lover.’
‘So I take it the move to Strelzen is not personally motivated?’
Peter closed briefly with Oskar’s mouth. ‘I believe in business and pleasure combined. I think this means cohabiting … are you ready for it, Osku?’
Oskar didn’t give himself a chance to hesitate. He nodded decisively and hugged Peter hard. ‘This is it, Piotrescu, the big one. I want it. I want you.’
‘So where will we do this big thing?’
‘We can take up residence here for the time being. I have my room on the second floor, which is big enough for two of us. But I suppose you are thinking of our own place. The Sixth District is getting populated by the new Rothenian middle classes; many ambitious modern houses are going up. It would be convenient for Martzfeld.’
Peter grunted with disapproval. ‘Don’t mean to be snobby, Osku, but that’s not my scene. I want to live out of the city, though within commuting distance.’
Oskar pondered. ‘There is the Wenzlerwald. It is a district called in Rothenian the Horjhaszelesnjes, or “The Green Hills” as you might say in English. That is where Horvath and his cronies built their dachas. They were not the first either. The minor court aristocracy started colonising it in the nineteenth century, those who did not have their own estates. It is less than twenty-five kilometres from the city’
‘That sounds more like it. I’ll have my people look into it.’
‘Your people! Petey, you already sound like a CEO.’
‘Intimidating, ain’t it dude? I’m still me though!’
‘This is good, Petey, really good. It means you and I can be together, and explore our relationship. There is also what we were discussing in London.’
Henry snuggled into Davey’s warm, bare back, clasping his friend with his legs, his erection running up the channel of Davey’s backside. Unable to stop himself, he began kissing the other boy’s shoulders. Once again, they were naked together, watching more of Davey’s new porn collection. This time it was wrestling, after which the victor got to fuck the loser.
‘There are men watching them, too,’ Davey marvelled, almost distracted from the devoted milking Henry was delivering to his cock. ‘Look, you can see! Fancy being fucked with all those guys watching from a stand!’
Henry’s dick was also straining as he watched the laptop screen over Davey’s shoulder. Davey’s hair smelled fantastic, a perfect complement to his bodily aromas, Henry thought, sniffing with appreciation. He switched one hand to manipulating Davey’s left nipple, which caused the boy to squirm.
‘Go on your hands and knees, Davey,’ Henry requested. He got instant compliance. Henry ran his thumb down the crack revealed in front of him, stroking the exposed anus, a slit shaded darkly with hair. Breathing deeply, Henry closed with Davey’s most intimate part and began a thorough rimming.
‘Oh, Jesus! Jesus fuck!’ Davey swore. ‘I can’t believe … oh my God!’
Henry broke off and had to say, ‘I love your smell, Davey. Shower soap and sweat, lovely.’
‘Oh please fuck me, Henry, please!’
Henry sat back on the bed. Much though he wanted to do what had been asked of him, it was that single step too far. He looked at the delicious sight of David Skipper submissive and beautiful before him – the curving muscles of his limbs, the slim belly, the hanging genitals, and most of all the tight buttocks and what was revealed between them – and marvelled that he could resist.
He had to do something, however, so he placed himself under Davey’s long, hanging dick and fed it into his mouth. Davey got the message, and Henry found his throat full of penis. He was experienced enough by now to take the energetic thrusts, and with a suppressed howl, Davey rapidly came inside him.
Henry disengaged. ‘Bit loud, Bounder.’
‘It was amazing. Let me do it for you.’
‘Er … no. I don’t think so.’
David turned to face Henry on the bed. ‘Why not, Henry? We’ve done almost everything else.’
‘It’s just jerking off, Davey. That’s all it is.’ Henry did not really convince himself even as he was saying it.
‘So let me do you then.’
‘No … I can’t. Stop pushing.’
‘It’s okay, Henry.’ David reached out and pulled Henry towards him.
Henry allowed himself to be gathered close. He was beginning to realise that David might be brash and hasty, but he had a deep sensitivity to others that made him much more attractive to Henry than did the appeal of his good looks. David’s arms were around him, hair brushing his cheek. He felt a kiss.
‘I know you’re with Ed, and I don’t want to take his place. Understood?’
‘Glad you realise that.’
‘I do. But I also need you, ‘cos there’s no one else to keep me from going mad. You don’t know how lonely it is for me, Henry. If I didn’t do this with you, I don’t think I could go on. It’s contact with someone who understands. Now, are we clear? Sure, let’s not fuck. I can deal with that. Though if you ever change your mind, Henry, let me know. Now, get your clothes on. Just come back sometime so we can do it again. Right?’
‘Glad that’s settled.’
‘Public schools always give me the creeps.’ Matt White had huddled himself into an armchair in Medwardine’s reception area in the Tudor building appropriately called Old School. He did indeed look uncomfortable.
Andy Peacher looked bemused. ‘It’s only a school.’
‘Okay for you, you went to one just like it yourself.’
‘So what is it? The air of social confidence, the embedded privilege?’
‘Maybe. There’s a long history of being common in my family.’
‘I don’t follow you, Matt. Take Henry. He’s just an ordinary kid … well, in social background anyway. He gets on fine here.’
‘Everyone loves Henry. It’s his personality. Check your mobile. Where are the two of them? Having lessons in social dominance and exclusion?’
‘Shut up, Matt. Here’s a text: Ed’s on his way. Nothing from Henry.’
Matt got up and examined some of the display cases. ‘Huge on trophies, aren’t they?’
‘It’s their way, sweetheart. Adolescent boys get off big time on tall shiny cups and shields.’
Andy chuckled. ‘You and Henry have more in common than you like to think. He too is a sporting anti-hero.’
‘What? I thought Henry was captain of hockey or something.’
‘He’s captain of the hockey B team in a school where rugby is the supreme exercise of manhood.’
‘Not good then.’
‘Actually, it is good. I think it shows that, little queer though our Henry is, he has a surprising gift for leadership and inspiring other men, even straights.’
‘Odd that. You’d think Ed was the man’s man. Henry seems … well, a bit childish. I don’t mean that in a bad way. He’s cute and cuddly. I always feel I should offer him a sweet and pat him on the head. It sounded odd to me just then, when you called him a man.’
‘You should talk to him more. The boy has depths.’
‘I will. I promise. But here’s the main man.’
Matt embraced Ed as he arrived, then passed him on to Andy. He took a seat between them, retaining Andy’s hand. ‘How are my dads?’
‘Just passing through,’ Matt replied. ‘We took a detour to come say hi to our boy. In fact I insisted on it, since the ultimate end of our trip is Andy’s mother.’
‘Oh, you mean …?’
‘Yeah,’ Matt growled, ‘the demon queen of Nuneaton.’
‘Matt!’ warned Andy.
‘Okay, okay! I admire your determination to do your duty, sweetheart, I really do. But I also resent her forcing me into the role of an intruder in her life to whom she has to be polite, because she’s too well-bred to express her deep irritation with me.’
Ed gave a quirky look. ‘Not just me with the weird mother, then?’
Andy became baleful. ‘Shut up the pair of you. My mum’s my mum. No more.’
Matt caught Ed’s eye, and they both subsided.
While the three were still exchanging chit-chat, Henry appeared at the run. ‘Sorry! Sorry! Didn’t see the time.’
‘Nearly given up on you, little one,’ said Matt, with a mock frown. ‘We’ve just got time to take you both out for lunch. Your headmaster says it’s alright.’
They headed for the High Street gate, the men enjoying very much the boys’ news and views on their school year. ‘So you have a genuine earl in school,’ Andy meditated. ‘I was at Rugby with the son of a viscount … not really that impressive in retrospect, I suppose, but it was Ed Roedenbeck, bless him.’
Henry chipped in. ‘I don’t think of Rudi as a lord. I mean, he’s just Rudi: a mass of contradictions and eccentricities. He’s ramrod straight, gloomy one moment, sarcastic the next, and then suddenly kind and considerate. I just don’t get him. He’s totally fascinating.’
‘And amazingly good-looking,’ Ed added. ‘But so straight – in the other sense. You can’t even fantasise about doing it with him. It’s inconceivable. Just as well, I suppose. You’d get really annoyed with me, wouldn’t ya, little babe?’
Henry blushed deep red.
After waving off Andy and Matt, the boys were returning up High Street to the school. Suddenly Ed thought he caught sight of a familiar face above the heads of the people around them. ‘Henry … that’s Terry O’Brien!’
‘Don’t be daft. He’s supposed to be in the USA. I don’t see him.’
‘Yeah, but you’d need a box to stand on to see anything in a crowd. Come on. He’s turned down Castle Street. After him!’
They pushed and manoeuvred through the pedestrian mob as rapidly as they dared, until they became inextricably caught behind a young mother pushing a double-wide buggy. There was no way of getting past her other than impolitely. By the time they reached the Castle Street corner, no Terry or anyone who looked remotely like him was to be seen. Convinced that his eyes had not deceived him, however, Ed pulled Henry down the street, and even checked out the pubs. There was no luck.
Discrete enquiries by e-mail to Ipswich and Highgate produced only the information that Terry was thought to be still in the States, although he had said he would eventually go down to his parents in Wiltshire.
‘That might explain it, Ed,’ said Henry. ‘He could be living with his parents and taking his mind off stuff by doing sight-seeing. Medwardine’s quite the tourist magnet, and he could reach here easily on a day trip.’
Ed was not convinced. ‘If he was coming to Medwardine, you’d think he’d remember we were here and say hello.’
Henry looked a little solemn. ‘It may be that, in his condition of grief, avoiding people he knows is his first priority.’
They looked sadly at each other.
Will Vincent was no great fan of Ribaud’s restaurant, but if you were involved in Rothenian public life in any capacity, you could not avoid the occasional meal there. It was where business was done.
Hendrik Willemin was sitting at his usual table in the back of the main room. He rose to greet Will, holding on to his hand a little longer than was customary amongst business acquaintances, before making an expansive gesture to offer him a chair.
The conversation opener over the starters was at least conventional. ‘So, Willemju, how’s business with you?’
‘Fine. Eastnet 24-Hour News goes live Saturday. Tomas Weissman is in melt-down. This is Strelsenermedia taking over the airwaves of Eastern Europe. We’ve got coverage in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia, and are launching a German-language service to cover the Federal Republic and Austria. We’ve opened offices in Vienna, Prague and Frankfurt.’
‘I admire the ambition behind it. How’s the advertising revenue?’
‘Not as strong as I’d like, but it should pick up. The on-line site has way better margins. It was about websites that I wanted to talk.’
‘Yes?’ Willemin settled back in his chair and crossed his arms.
‘You’re aware Oskar and I have been using your servers for our ventures in political blogging and websites. You have to know that with the elections coming up fast, we’re about to go highly vocal on the Elphberg candidature. Our sites are already getting a lot of hits, domestic and otherwise.’
Willemin shrugged, his face set and unsmiling behind his beard. ‘I’m not going to stand in your way. You know that. So far as it goes, you have my vote. I don’t charge you for the server space.’
‘Yes, well. I’d like a little more.’
‘You have two of the more popular tabloids in Rothenia in your stable. Now would be a good time to jump on board the Elphberg train.’
‘Are you boys planning a coup or what?’
‘No … well, yes, a coup of sorts. Just let’s say that we have more in our armoury than websites.’
‘Then it’s me that needs to be offered more, Willem.’
‘What d’you mean, Hendrik?’
‘You’re asking for me to talk to my editors so they’ll further the cause of that English boy, am I right?’
‘Yes. I suppose.’
‘If I do, I want something in return.’
‘What can we offer?’
‘Your influence. Rothenian law prevents me from owning both newspapers and broadcast media. It’s a stupid restriction. I want it gone.’
‘Hendrik, you know we can’t do that. Even if we can pull off the restoration of the Elphbergs, the king will have limited political power. It’s the elected government which will make or change the laws. You have to deal with them.’
Willemin brooded on this before nodding slowly, as if accepting the argument. ‘The question then is, who will form the next government? And who is it in my interest to support? Willemju, I think you’ve had all the assistance I’m inclined to offer.’
‘Please, Hendrik, you must see that the stability of the country is in all our interests. The renewed monarchy will give us that, and maybe more. All I’m asking is for a couple of friendly editorials. You can’t lose.’
‘Perhaps, and perhaps not. I’ve said my say, Willemju. When do you plan on bringing the boy to Rothenia from his English school?’
Will shrugged. ‘It does depend on the election, as you say. He needs to be in Rothenia before then. The CDP, the SDP or Unity? Where do they stand?’
‘I doubt if any of them would want a king in the Residenz. It would complicate their little games.’
‘Come on, Hendrik, you don’t really believe that. I may not have been born Rothenian, but even I get a thrill at the idea of the red-lion banner flying from the flagpole of the palace after all these years. Those politicians you despise are Rothenians. They know the people and what they think of the Elphberg past.’
‘Maybe. I’d rather worry about the steak menu for the moment. That means a red Tavelner, I think. How’s Oskar doing these days?’
Ed’s sporting prowess had a downside. It meant that his commitment to various rugby, hockey and soccer teams took him away from Henry every other weekend of term. Henry had to accept the separation, but he certainly didn't have to like it. He had a powerful sex drive and was beginning to recognise that he needed all of Ed’s enthusiasm to keep him satisfied. The Easter holidays were on their way, giving him weeks of rutting to look forward to, but in the meantime he was resorting more and more to his old autoerotic ways – and, of course, David Skipper.
What to do about the sex with David? Henry knew what he should do really. He got Ed alone out on the grounds, and told him about the mutual wanking sessions and the oral sex. He looked timorously at his lover, whose face was unreadable.
Eventually Ed growled, ‘You don’t love him, do you?’
‘Christ, no. He has an amazing body, but no, I don’t love him.’
‘And does he love you?’
‘He thinks he does, but he doesn’t.’
‘Henry, you’re a randy little sod, and at first, when you were telling me all this, I was a bit disappointed in you. But then I remember the other boys I fancy, and if I was sex-starved maybe I’d do the same. And I know I’ve not been with you enough lately, so maybe I feel a bit guilty too. Just please don’t do it again or I’ll have to add myself to the list of people who have beaten the crap out of Davey Skipper. Now get over by those trees.’
Ed marched Henry out of sight, ripped his trousers down, put him over his knees and spanked his bare arse – and not lightly. Henry squirmed and stifled his yelps. His bum was hot and red when Ed had given him five. ‘Now let that be a lesson to you.’
‘You’ve gone erect. Maybe we should try cuffs and whips.’
Accompanied by Peter Peacher, Oskar von Tarlenheim entered the dim spaces of the Salvatorskirk as above them in the belfry the chiming began for mass. It was barely seven-thirty and they were well-muffled against the chill of the spring morning.
‘Jeez, babe. Couldn’t they put heating in this place?’ Peter kept his voice to a whisper.
‘I don’t believe the residents complain, Petey.’
Oskar looked round. The great church was still dressed for Lent, with rich purple hangings on and around the nave altar. Early-morning mass, however, was held in the chapel of the Annunciation, one of the many side altars off the north aisle. A blaze of candles was lit on the east side of the chapel in front of the life-size fifteenth-century image of the archangel Gabriel addressing the Virgin at prayer. The angel was strikingly boyish, Oskar thought, dark-haired and somehow cheeky-looking. It was most unusual iconography, but then the Nuremberg school could be highly eccentric.
A dozen or so shop workers and security guards were already at prayer when the two men settled into the back row. Having been brought up Catholic, Oskar found no difficulty with joining the devotions. Peter, on the other hand, was uneasy and looked rather out of place. He tried to follow his lover’s actions during the service, which was conducted in a business-like fashion by the celebrant.
As the final commendation was given from the altar, the congregation stood for the priest’s departure. Some settled back for a brief period of private meditation before the reserved sacrament, but soon took their leave. Eventually, Peter and Oskar were the only people left.
The disrobed priest returned to snuff out the altar candles and put away the sacred vessels. Smiling down at the two men from behind the altar, he asked, ‘May I help you gentlemen?’
Oskar smiled back. ‘Perhaps you can. My young American friend here is a graduate historian visiting Strelzen. He’s researching the Tildemann years, and as we were talking last night, it occurred to him that the Salvatorskirk might have some records relating to Tildemann’s state funeral in 1930.’
The priest assumed a look of interest. ‘It’s not often we get such requests, but I may be able to help you. I’m Father Wladislaw, the chapter sacrist, and I’m something of a historian myself. I’m sorry, I should have asked. Does your friend understand Rothenian?’
‘Not very well, I’m afraid, though he reads it adequately. I’ll translate.’ Oskar briefly sketched out the conversation so far, and Peter nodded wisely.
The priest continued. ‘I have a little spare time. If you’ll accompany me to the chapter office, I can show you some interesting memorabilia of the event. In those days the chapter kept scrapbooks, and of course there is all manner of registers and accounts if your friend would really like to go into the detail.’
So the pair followed the priest out through an unsuspected north door, which led through a paved yard to a narrow – and plainly very old – building occupying the space north of the church behind the Rodolferplaz frontage.
‘My word!’ exclaimed Oskar. ‘I had no idea this was here.’
‘This is the old chapter house, mostly seventeenth century, I believe. It’s one of Strelzen’s secret treasures. It’s the clergy house, so we don’t open it generally to the public. Come this way.’ He led them out through another door and into a miniature cloister, the small, enclosed grassy space and the walkways around it populated with monuments to departed clergy. A medieval door led into a long room filled by a polished table and lined with cupboards. The priest indicated seats to Oskar and Peter, then began rummaging through drawers, pulling out large ledger books.
‘You’ll find this interesting,’ he declared, opening a dusty blue volume. ‘These are rare pictures taken at the time of the 1910 massacre on the Plaz, when troopers rode down demonstrators against King Albert. Here! There’s a series of photographs of Tildemann actually in the square being hurried to shelter by his supporters. This one shows Maxim Elphberg himself, as he worked to save the wounded. It was the beginning of his special relationship with our chapter, though of course, living in the Osraeum palace, he was technically our parishioner.’
‘Ah yes,’ Oskar observed, ‘the Residenz is exempt from diocesan and parish jurisdiction, being under the authority of the bishop of Luchau as arch-chaplain to the king, and dean of the chapel royal.’
Father Wladislaw looked very pleased with his audience. ‘You know your history too, sir! Not many Strelseners are so well-informed.’
‘You said you had materials concerning Tildemann’s funeral.’
‘Certainly. Here’s the collection.’
The priest opened another large volume. Oskar and Peter leafed through it, finding a dozen pages of yellowed newspaper clippings featuring the funeral, including some grainy but unrevealing photographs. Following that section came several programmes from the day’s event, one signed by King Maxim Elphberg, who had returned to Strelzen to say farewell to his old friend.
It was when the next page was turned that Oskar caught his breath, and went pale. It was so noticeable that the priest exclaimed, ‘Sir, are you alright?’
Oskar was staring at a large photographic plate. ‘These people! Who … who’s that nun?’
The priest looked startled, and then intense. He continued slowly, almost cautiously, ‘Why sir, that’s the famous abbess of Medeln, Mother Maria Nativitata, a very great person in the Rothenian Church between the wars. She was a good friend of the late president’s, though he was not much of a church-goer himself.’
‘My God! It’s her! The woman in my dreams! The woman Will saw in the Tarlenheim mausoleum!’
Now it was the priest’s turn to go pale. He went to a table and picked up a phone, dialling an internal number. ‘Serge! Come quickly! It’s happened.’
He looked intently at Oskar, making an effort to gather himself. ‘Now sir, tell me if you will, what is the ninth verse of the eleventh chapter of the Gospel according to St Luke?’ The man phrased the question as if he were asking for a password.
‘And I say unto you, ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you,’ Oskar responded.
‘My God!’ the priest breathed. ‘The prophesied day has come. The king will return!’