SON OF THE CHAV PRINCE
When Justin returned to Haddesley on Monday morning, he was bemused to discover the place swarming like an anthill. A police car was parked at the main entrance to the Hall. He dumped his bag at the cottage and went over to the centre, where he found Nathan on the till, instructing a new girl he did not recognise.
‘Whassup, Nate? Why’re cops everywhere?’
‘Gus has gone missing. Aunt Rosalind is trying to kid herself that it’s a kidnapping so she doesn’t have to face the truth, cos young Danny Hackness has gone missing too.’
‘Oh, the lovebirds have flown the nest then?’
‘Been driven out, if you ask me. It was all so predictable and so avoidable. A little love and understanding and it could have been sorted. Aunt Rosalind’s a fool. She has this nineteenth-century idea that Gus can be shipped off to the colonies till he comes to his senses. She’d already booked his flight to her brother’s in New South Wales, where he was going to be kept – or held prisoner, more likely – till the new term begins.
‘The Hacknesses were equally stupid. Danny is already his own man, and confrontation was just about the worst tactic they could have used. So he left and took his lover with him.’
‘They’ll soon turn up, you think?’
Nathan gave him a quirky look. ‘Justy, that boy Danny is not unlike you at his age. He makes his mind up and he makes his plans. Then he goes for it fearlessly. He’ll not be back unless he wants to be. You can be confident of that.’
Justin raised his eyebrows. Brash though he was, he had long ceased being certain of anything. A month ago he had been a happy-go-lucky twenty-something in a blissful relationship with his dream man. Now he was the obsessed and haunted would-be father of a possible son.
A bulky figure in tweeds appeared at the door. ‘Ah Justin, my boy,’ said Sir Philip Underwood. ‘I have been desperate to see you for quite some time. Have you a moment?’
‘Sure, Uncle Phil.’
Justin led Sir Philip across to the cottage, where he made a coffee as the situation was explained to him from the Haddesley Hall perspective. ‘So, dear boy, what would you suggest?’
‘Leave it to the police, Phil. But you gotta know that, once they hear it’s two sixteen-year-olds doing a runner, they’ll lose interest. Tens of thousands of sixteen-year-olds go missing every year. The police just don’t have the resources to chase ‘em up. They’ll put ‘em on the missing-persons register, ask you some questions about where you think they’ve gone, and then quietly file it away.’
‘I rather feared that would be the case. But could you take it on, you and your friends in Canary Wharf? We will of course pay.’
‘You need to talk to my boss, Mr O’Brien. It ain’t the sort of case we normally take, but still, here’s his contact details. Er … we cost a lot of money, Uncle Phil.’ Justin knew precisely how expensive such a search was, as he was currently footing the bill for one.
Sir Philip fluttered his hands in a deprecatory gesture.
‘So you heard anything? Note left by Gus or somethink?’
‘Nothing at all. We just hope he turns up when this business blows over. Poor Rosalind blames herself …’
‘Well, she did come down a bit hard on the poor kids.’
Sir Philip looked puzzled. ‘No … she blames herself for not getting Gus out of the country straight away. Then the Hackness boy would not have got at him.’
‘Aah. Right. I’ll talk to me boss Terry, see what he says.’
Sir Philip downed his mug of coffee. ‘Rightyo, Justin, I’ll be off to the Hall. And thank you for your time. You’re a good lad.’
Justin changed into his work gear and returned to the garden centre. He waited while Nathan finished explaining the till to the new girl, then sidled up to him as he headed out the back.
Nathan caught his lover round the neck and kissed him. ‘Sorry, chavyness, I failed to ask you how you got on up North. Did the disguise I suggested of a cloth cap and a whippet work?’
‘Ha ha, funny, Nate. I got a lot of windups on that very subject from the office. Leeds is quite the place, mate. Very sophisticated wine-bar scene. Went to this gay club, totally platinum card.’
‘Who took you?’
‘One of the blokes I was interviewing. Sussed me straight away, and came on hard, too. He really wanted the contract and was willing to put his bum in the air for it.’
‘No, serious. I was going to give it to him anyway – the contract I mean. He was the best of them, so I had fun stringing him along. In the end his boyfriend turned up, and we went out for a few drinks. Coulda had a threesome though if I wanted. The boyfriend was totally hot, a labourer type, but talked sophisticated, juss like you, lover.’
Nathan came over all indifferent, which was a clear sign that he was nettled. But he had started the windup, as far as Justin was concerned, so he had to stand the consequences.
‘When do they start work?’
‘They already have. Progress reports begin at the end of the week.’
Danny and Gus stood on the seawall of Walbrough South Bay looking down on the expanse of sand. It was a brilliantly sunny Sunday and a fresh breeze was coming in off the sea. Scores of yachts were out taking advantage of the weather, while pleasure boats threaded back and forth among them.
The beach below the seawall was filling up with day trippers. Kids in swimsuits were digging holes and building castles, or running down to paddle in the North Sea. Older lads, some quite tasty, were kicking balls or throwing frisbees around. Danny and Gus were in shorts, tees and flip-flops. Danny had some cool shades, while Gus was blinking and squinting from under a beanie at the morning light flashing off the waves. They were intending to explore the town and think out a strategy for survival as runaways.
‘First we need a flat, Gussie,’ Danny was explaining. ‘Then we need jobs so we can afford the flat, as well as food, and – who knows – clothes too if we’re lucky.’
‘How do we get a flat, Danny?’ Gus’s face radiated complete faith in his lover.
‘There must be letting agencies. The trouble is, I’ll bet there aren’t too many flats available here in the holiday season. So we’ll have to take what we can get. Let me do the talking, Gus. Your cheek is as smooth as a baby’s bottom, and you look like an overgrown choirboy. But I’ve been shaving since I was fourteen. I left the razor alone this morning.’
‘I noticed when you kissed me, my manly Daniel.’
‘Yes. I think I can probably pass for an eighteen-year-old. My story will be that I’m about to start as a student at the college outside town in September, and I’ve come to raise money by working on the beachfront throughout the summer. I’ll say my parents have given me enough for a deposit on the flat.’
‘What about me?’
‘You I won’t mention. I’ll aim to get a one-bedroom flat with kitchen and maybe bathroom, and once I have it, you’ll be my live-in lover, Gussie.’
‘That’s very logical, and as a plan, it inspires confidence.’
‘Another thing we should probably do quite soon is find a way to stay in touch. Perhaps we could invest a little of our money in a couple of pay-as-you go mobiles. None of your expensive types, just the cheap Motorolas. Since no one will know our numbers, there’ll be no chance we’ll reveal where we are.’
‘Another excellent plan, Sherlock Hackness.’
‘So glad you approve. Let’s go and check out the High Street right now to see what we can afford. Maybe we can get a bite to eat, too – not, of course, that we’ll ever be able to afford to eat much. But we need the flat to give us a breathing space. Seasonal employment will see us through summer, and then we can get something more permanent. Look at all the signs asking for assistants in these shops and stalls. There’s a labour shortage here.’
‘In summer, at least.’
‘One thing at a time, Gus. Survival is our first priority, with a roof over our heads.’
They strolled the town and soon found a shop selling the sort of mobiles they were looking for, at a price they decided they could afford. Gus broke new ground in humour, suggesting that they should have them engraved, like engagement presents. Then they enjoyed a good, cheap, fish-and-chip lunch. Danny remarked that so far it was like a holiday without the parents telling you what to do. Gus said he had never gone on holidays like that, but he liked the idea.
They went to watch a blockbuster in a seafront cinema. On the way back to the lodge, Danny found a local paper discarded in a bin. He scanned the Classifieds for rental accommodation. Tomorrow would be busy. He would make sure his mobile was fully charged.
‘So, Mr Hackness, what sort of place are you looking for?’ The rather hard-looking woman in the dingy office was giving Danny the sort of scrutiny he’d already got used to. This was his third visit to an agency and he was becoming a little desperate – not that he’d confessed his worries to Gus, who was sitting on a wall outside, full of serene confidence in his boyfriend. So far the price range of available flats was simply too high for them to afford from any weekly wage they could reasonably expect. The two previous agents had said unhelpfully that the cheap student accommodation all went over to holiday lets in the summer.
‘I’m looking for something around £40 a week. I’m here to earn some cash before I begin at Walbrough HE College in September, so it can’t be too expensive. Just a one-bed flat is what I want, be nice if there was a loo and a shower too.’
The woman sucked at her upper lip, a rather unattractive habit. ‘There’s not much like that at this time of year. We’re beginning to get a lot of Poles and Rothenians coming over looking for summer work. They soak up all the cheaper lets.’ She looked hard at Danny. ‘I did have one property in this morning though. One bed, but shared bathroom, though it has a lounge and kitchenette. The bed is a double. It’ll be £45 a week.’
The double bed perked up Danny’s interest. ‘I’m happy to look at it.’
She rang a number and had a muttered conversation. ‘Right. ‘The fee is a fortnight’s rent, and you have to put down a deposit of £150 with the landlord in case of breakage and damage. There is no landline, but you kids have all got mobiles nowadays so that won’t bother you. There’s a TV aerial socket.’ She scribbled an address before telling him, ‘Mr Heslerton will meet you there at three.’
Danny shook hands and caught that calculating look again, which he did not quite like. When he emerged gratefully into the afternoon light, his heart lifted at the sight of Gus’s smile. It was another sunny seaside day.
Danny looked at the address: 17 Ireton Terrace. ‘Got your map, Gussie? See if you can find this place.’ They set off, the route taking them to the southern part of town and into an involved area of small streets. Ireton Terrace was a tall, four-storey row built in yellow brick, with small front gardens and equally small backyards. No 17 was at the northern end of the row. Danny observed the sagging curtains and unkempt gardens, and realised why the area was so cheap.
Mr Heslerton was in his sixties, a bit vague in his manner. Danny introduced Gus as a friend who was helping him look around. The man ushered them into a dirty hall where they were met by a mixture of smells, mostly old food and drains. A child was crying weakly in one of the rooms above, as if it had more or less given up.
The three of them trooped up some dark steps to the top floor. ‘Naah, lad, this is the flat. The last occupant left a week ago, moved to York.’ (He had actually said ‘Yee-ark’, Danny realised.) ‘It’s not much to look at, mebee, but it’s clean. Mrs Heslerton was up here all yesterday putting things to rights. The toilet and bath is through there on the landing. You share it with downstairs. Go on in and have a look.’
Danny pushed through the door and found the place compact and full of ancient furniture, but at least Mrs Heslerton had done a good job of cleaning. The flat smelled of polish and disinfectant, and the windows had been left open to air it out. In the bedroom he found a double bed spread with a coverlet. A small sash-window opened on to the backyard. The room was dominated by an ancient wardrobe with a tall mirror on its door.
Mr Heslerton had followed him in. ‘You’ll need your own cups and plates, and your own bedding, but there’s most of the rest of the paraphernalia you need. The gas and lighting is on meters, in the cabinet there.’
Danny poked around dutifully, as if he knew what he was searching for. Finally he looked at Gus, who nodded at him. He said he’d be interested in taking the flat till the end of September. Mr Heslerton bobbed his head without smiling. Danny added that he wanted to move his stuff in the following day, if that was alright, and he’d have the money for the deposit with him. This arrangement met with approval from Mr Heslerton, who agreed to hand over the keys when he had the receipt from the agency confirming that Danny had paid the fee.
The two boys strolled back through the town. Danny was relieved that the first problem had been settled. They had at least somewhere to live after tomorrow.
Gus grinned at him. ‘Nice big bed, Danny.’
‘I think we may be giving the springs a real workout, and did you see the mirror? We’ll be able to watch ourselves doing stuff. Really hot! My dick is already leaking.’
The fees, the deposit and the month’s rent in advance made a very large dent in their finances, as did the bedding and towels they had to buy from a cheap department store in the town. But when Gus had finished setting the bedroom to rights, it looked something like home. Gus made them an instant coffee and they went about working up a list of food and groceries they needed. It was alarmingly long. They trudged along to the Tesco supermarket and filled a trolley, humping the result back a whole mile in plastic bags which cut into their hands.
After Gus put their purchases away in the cupboards and the little fridge, they contemplated how to feed themselves. ‘We gotta eat at home, Gussie, as we can’t afford to go to restaurants. What meals can you make?’
‘Sandwiches?’ suggested Gus vaguely.
‘Oh. That’s all? I sort of did pasta once.’
‘Well, I put the pan of water on to boil. I think I can fry an egg too, given a bit of luck. Bugger innit, Gussie? We run away together, find a flat, only to die of starvation or contract scurvy cos we eat nothing but biscuits. Not very romantic is it.’
They finally settled on soup and toast, but then had the problem of opening the can. Since there was no can opener in the place, Danny decided to go ask the floor below. He knocked on the door of number 3, but although he could hear the TV, no one answered. Flat 2 was opened by an old bloke who hadn’t shaved in a week, talked to anyone in a month, and could only stare vacantly at Danny. However, he finally produced a can opener, which Danny promised to return right away. After eyeing the device, Danny made sure he washed it carefully before using it. The boys added ‘can opener’ to their next shopping list.
The light lingered a long time in the latitude of Walbrough, and the sun was still shining brightly in the west at ten o’clock on that midsummer night. Danny was sitting on the sofa and looking hard at Gus on the armchair opposite. Suddenly, he began removing his clothes. Gus did the same. They were alone and independent, there was nothing now to stop their indulging their every sexual whim. They fell to their knees on the floor and embraced, belly to belly, feeling the smoothness of their warm flesh against each other.
Kissing and stroking took an age, the worn, old carpet rough on their skin. The light in Gus’s eyes invited Danny to go further than they’d ever dared before, and Danny got up, took Gus’s hand, and led him to their bed. They kissed standing at the threshold, both aware that, in its way, this was a solemn moment, the full consummation of their growing love. Then they lay down and continued kissing, all the while watching their mirrored selves do the same, like porn stars.
Their bodies, heaved, moved and joined. Danny was staring deep into his young lover’s eyes as he slowly made entry. So many expressions chased themselves across Gus’s face, but desire and love far outweighed the passing moment of anguish. Danny felt Gus buck beneath him, saw his eyes grow wider and more startled than usual.
‘OK?’ Danny gasped.
‘Unbelievable!’ Gus breathed back at him.
‘Does it hurt?’
‘Only a bit. Mostly it’s awesome.’
Gus gripped Danny with his legs, holding him tight with his arms, murmuring childlike endearments into his ears. It was quite a while before Danny felt his manhood emerge reluctantly from its new home.
Then they slept.