SON OF THE CHAV PRINCE
Something kept nagging at the edge of Danny’s mind all the rest of that day. There was a little alert-light flashing in his memory. He couldn’t remember what on earth it might have been, but he knew it was there. It was really annoying.
When he finished his shift at CostFayre, he was to meet Gus on his forecourt and walk with him into town. Danny found his grubby-looking boyfriend hosing down an oil spill from a tanker, his thick bangs of blond hair lank and hanging in his eyes. The young aristocrat from Haddesley Hall was quite gone now, and a working-class boy with a grimy face and filthy hands had taken his place. But Danny liked the new Gus.
‘It seems a bit bad that a bright bloke like you is missing out on his education.’
Gus smiled. ‘It’s delayed, Danny. I’ve not missed out on it. I’ll get to do my A Levels here in the local FE college in night classes eventually. University will still be waiting for me when I’m ready, and the same applies to you. You’re university material too.’
‘Do you think? I’ve had my doubts.’
‘You’re highly intelligent, Danny. Quite as bright as any in my peer group at Medwardine, and more so than most. You seem to have confidence issues, that’s all.’
‘I suppose I do. Maybe it’s more that I have no real biting enthusiasm to follow up. It’s not like you, Gussie. You know so much about things, and you pursue them with passion.’ Gus had joined the local library and always around the flat there was a stack of books, which was continually being renewed.
Gus smiled. ‘Then all we need to do is find that thing which sets you alight.’
‘Apart from Gus.’
‘Apart from me, of course.’
‘I love you very much, Gussie. I can see now why your friend Christopher fell for you.’
Gus blushed, but looked deeply pleased.
They headed on into town to buy groceries. Since Danny received a small employee discount on food purchases, they did their shopping at CostFayre. Danny had pledged to try making a real meal that night, so he bought pasta, mushrooms, and a selection of sauces. Half an hour later he stood at the cooker, contemplating a pan of boiling water. He emptied in an amount of pasta that seemed a reasonable, sautéed up some sliced mushrooms and added one of the sauces. Twenty minutes later he had two plates of what looked like regular food.
The two boys sat opposite each other at the table. Gus had solemnly laid out napkins and stuck a carnation in a glass of water. They drank a toast to their happiness with some inexpensive wine, and tucked in.
‘So how was it?’ Danny asked as Gus emptied the plate.
Gus looked pensive. ‘The pasta was a bit soft and bland. Did you put salt in the water like the packet said? No? Perhaps you overboiled it. But it was OK. The sauce was excellent. Very tasty. I liked it.’
‘Really? You’re not just saying that?’
‘No indeed. We genuinely have had a proper sit-down meal. Congratulations, Mr Hackness.’
‘My pleasure, Mr Underwood.’
They toasted one another in a second glass of wine. They managed to squeeze a third out of the bottle while they watched The Two Towers. It was as Isengard was being overwhelmed by the Ents that the wine or the relaxation prompted Danny’s memory. He sat bolt upright and stopped the DVD. Gus looked at him a little blearily, unused to alcohol.
‘I just remembered something important.’
‘Say on, fair Daniel.’ Gus tended to wax Shakespearian when he was tipsy.
Danny gave him an excited look. ‘I had a chat with Justin once in the garden centre. He told me how unhappy he was because he had a son when he was our age and had lost track of him somewhere in the North. All he knew was that the boy was six and named Damien.’
‘Oh, you mean …’
‘Here we are in Walbrough, we’ve found a kid with no dad, six years of age, and he’s called Damien.’
‘So you are saying that it is no coincidence, right?’
‘Damien looked a little like Justin too, before he got beaten up by that bastard Ahmed. Thick black hair and blue eyes.’
‘Also he swears like Justin.’
‘I don’t suppose that’s genetic, do you?’
‘With genes like Justin’s, I wouldn’t quite take my oath on it.’ Gus snorted his abrupt laugh.
Danny looked at him admiringly. The boy had come so far in a few weeks.
‘The thing is this. It may be a coincidence and it may not, but it’s too important not to let Justin know. But if we do, how do we avoid giving away where we are, and then getting hauled back to the Kingdom of Homophobia?’
Gus looked pensive. ‘I’m going to see little Damien tomorrow. If you come with me, you can chat up the nurses like you do the girls in CostFayre, and maybe they can tell you something.’
‘Are you getting jealous of my success with women?’ sniggered Danny.
‘Not at all. I would only be worried if you were hanging around with boys.’
Danny was on shift the next morning, but Gus had the day to himself. After lunch they met up at the library, where Gus had been online and had a sheaf of printouts to show for his efforts. On their way to the hospital, they paused in a small café to have a drink. Gus handed Danny one sheet, which showed a school picture of Gus staring amiably and vaguely at the camera.
‘Very like you,’ Danny observed.
‘Read the story.’
It was from a national newspaper’s website, and was headlined: BARONET’S SON MISSING. Rather than stating the obvious, that Gus had run off with his boyfriend, it implied all sorts of things. There were hints that he had been blackmailed by a local youth who was a dealer (‘I suppose that must be me,’ smirked Danny), or that he had been stressed by the pressure of schoolwork. There were fears that he was suicidal. A remarkable amount of money was offered to anyone with information as to Gus’s whereabouts. There had been sightings in Chester and Carlisle.
Danny pondered the story. ‘So they haven’t given up at Haddesley.’
‘No, it seems not,’ Gus replied. ‘I wonder if this has actually been in the printed editions. If so, we seem to have made a fortuitous escape. It was as well I was not there when the police came two days ago.’
‘I think people might find it difficult to link you as you are now and the picture in the paper, Gus. There’ve been changes over the past few months. You’re looking less … boyish, more like a man. It’s probably the sex we’ve been having. It’s putting hairs on your chest, my babe.’
Gus looked under his tee shirt to check that this was not the case. Danny could not always tell whether he was being sent up by Gus’s naïve reactions to his comments. He thought in this case that he was. He smiled. ‘What else you got.’
‘Oh … here are printouts of the O’Brien Associates corporate web pages. This is Justin’s. I never knew he was so high up in the organisation. I only ever saw him working the tills at the garden centre. But look, he has a PA and several secretaries and he’s a partner.’
‘Wow! I’d never have guessed. What if little Damien realised he has a dad like that? He wouldn’t have to make up a fictional superdad anymore.’
‘Oh there’s a lot more. Did you know that Justin’s adoptive parents are Matthew White and Sir Andrew Peacher, the gay über-couple?’
‘Sir Andrew Peacher … I know of him, he owns the Castringham estate. His lands are on the other side of our back-garden hedge. Dad says he’s a multibillionaire. And Justy is his adopted son? Blimey. Justy must be worth more zeroes than you can write on a cheque.’
‘Look at this lot of pictures. Justin goes into very high society. He’s friends with the king of Rothenia. Here’s one of him at Ascot with the Aga Khan. In the past year he’s been to Downing Street, Cannes for the film festival, and skiing with King Rudolf at Aspen, where his grandfather Peacher has a house.’
‘Be fair. He’s not a show-off, is Justy. You’d never guess. How do we contact him, then? What do you suggest, Gussie?’
‘I’ll ring the O’Brien Associates office, shall I?’
‘Go for it. But don’t tell him where we are, will you?’
‘No, I shall be very discreet.’
Gus took his mobile and rang the number on the printout. He put on his baronet’s son’s voice for a brief exchange before ringing off looking disappointed. ‘Justin’s in Japan on a contract, and then he moves on to South Korea. He won’t be back for three weeks.’
‘Oh shit. What do we do now?’
Gus pondered deeply as was his habit, then resurfaced. ‘We can’t ring Nathan, because that would put him on the spot. But he has always talked with great respect about Justin’s boss, Terry O’Brien, whom Nathan admires for being brave, kind and deeply unconventional. He’s got no contacts with Haddesley Hall, so he may not feel obliged to turn us in. Do you want to make the call?’
Danny nodded. He took Gus’s mobile and entered the switchboard number of O’Brien Associates. A female voice answered in a London accent. ‘Hello. This is O’Brien Associates. How may I help you?’
‘Er, hi, I want to talk to Mr O’Brien, please.’
The line clicked and another female voice, brisker and more classless, said, ‘Good afternoon. Mr O’Brien’s office.’
‘Can I speak to Mr O’Brien.’
‘I’m sorry but he’s in a meeting. Who shall I say is calling?’
‘Er … tell him it’s about Justin Peacher-White and Justin’s son.’
‘I’m sorry, who is this?’
‘The name is Daniel Hackness.’
‘Please hold on a moment.’ The line clicked over to something by Mozart, which was apparently intended to soothe Danny but failed miserably. The line clicked again, and a slightly drawling male voice spoke up. ‘Well Mr Hackness, you have something to tell me about my partner and his son?’
‘I do. But let’s keep this brief. You know who I am?’
‘Don’t think I’ve had the pleasure, no.’
‘I’m the boy who ran off with Gus Underwood, Nathan’s cousin.’
There was a pause, then the man said, ‘You have my undivided attention, Daniel – or can I call you Danny?’
‘Danny. This is not about me and Gus turning ourselves in, right? We’re happy where we are and we aren’t going back. This is about Damien.’
‘How in God’s name do you know about Damien Macavoy?’
‘I used to work at the garden centre with Justy, and he told me the story. Now it just so happens that Gus and I may have – I repeat may have – accidentally bumped into the poor little kid.’
‘You what? How can you be sure?’
‘We can’t, but the age and name are right, and the mum’s called Jade.’
‘Well, well,’ mused the man. There was a long pause. ‘This is complicated by you boys being on the run, isn’t it?’
‘Certainly is. Before we tell you anything more, we have to be sure you’ll keep us out of it.’
‘I can promise that. Justin’s happiness is far more important to me than whatever beef your families may have with you two.’
‘OK then. We’re in Walbrough on the North Sea coast, the holiday resort. We’ve got a flat and we’ve got jobs. Oddly enough, little Damien was in a flat in the same house with us. But it’s got very complicated.’
Danny told him in exhaustive detail everything that had happened since the confrontation with Julio Ahmed in the hallway outside the flat. The man whistled when the story was finished.
‘So what can we do about it, Mr O’Brien?’
‘Call me Terry. Look Danny, I think I’d better come up and scout this out meself. Not only that, I’ll be up there by this evening. This looks almost too good to be true. But if Damien Gardiner is in fact Damien Macavoy, then it’ll be a real can of worms, almost as much as how we keep your names out of the whole business. Where can we meet at, say, seven tonight? Do you know a pub?’
‘We’re too young to get in them. How about we meet you on the quay by the lighthouse. You can’t miss it. It’s got a big light on it.’
‘Very funny, Danny! See you at seven then.’ He rang off.
Danny told Gus, who approved of what had been arranged. They finished their cokes and headed off to the hospital.
They found no trouble getting to see Damien. The nurses were very friendly. Gus went in first. Danny stayed behind and chatted the women up, trawling for information about Damien’s mother and sister, and about what the social services’ intentions were for the boy.
When Danny finally entered the ward, he heard a boyish gurgling laugh: ‘You’re fookin weird you are.’ Plainly, Gus had made progress.
‘Hullo Damien,’ he said.
The little boy stopped smiling. ‘Lo,’ was all the reply he made before turning back to Gus. ‘So you has to take out animals’ insides when you stuffs them? Urggh. Does you do it wiv your fingers?’
Gus talked on and on. He had Damien riveted with detailed descriptions of his experiments in taxidermy. He went on to how the ancient Egyptians created mummies out of corpses, how people’s bodies could be preserved in bogs, and how to hang pheasants after a shoot. The little boy was rapt. He gurgled with laughter or grimaced in disgust as the occasion demanded. Danny looked on at his amazing boyfriend with a smile, and began chipping in his own experiences.
In the end they were chased out by the nurses who came in with the boy’s meds. They left Damien clutching Dr Ted, who had become the boy’s personal consultant and whose authority was used when he wanted to defy the nurses.
Danny and Gus took a long walk down to the seafront after their visit. They had a leisurely fish-and-chip dinner at the harbourside, the fish fresh that day from the sea. As they were waiting for Terry O’Brien by the lighthouse, Danny told Gus the news.
‘The kids have been remanded into temporary care while social services run an assessment. The mum’s still in the hospital, and tests have proved she’s been on crack cocaine recently. She’s still got Sunni May with her in the ward. The nurses think the boy will be fostered as soon as he’s recovered, but that’ll take a fortnight at least.’
‘So we have a breathing space,’ decided Gus. As he said it, they saw a tall man in a suit walking along the quayside. They stood to meet him.
Danny was impressed by Terry O’Brien’s looks. Though in his late twenties, he still had a deceptively youthful and elfin face, with tight curling blond hair. He was very fit, and radiated such strength and alertness that you did not have to be very sensitive to realise he was not a man to be taken on lightly. But there was also a kindly light in his eyes, and he scared neither boy.
He shook their hands. ‘So you’re Gus and Danny. I talked to your dad a couple of weeks ago, Gus. He wanted me to take charge of the search for you. I said no, by the way. You seem to have done a good job of disappearing. Let’s sit on this bench and you can tell me about it.’
So they sat together on the quay and watched the oily waves slide past them into the little harbour. The tide rose as Danny recounted the story of their flight from Haddesley.
At the end of it, Terry chuckled delightedly. ‘A great story, sweet babes. Justy’ll be proud of you. He’ll be even prouder when he finds you’ve discovered his son.’
‘It seems likely that he is,’ Danny agreed.
‘But I expect it’ll take a DNA test to make certain,’ added Gus.
Terry nodded. ‘What’s the situation at the moment?’
Danny gave him a rundown.
Terry looked thoughtfully at his expensive hand-tooled shoes while taking in the information. ‘It seems clear enough to me what you have to do.’ He picked a card out of his top pocket. ‘This is the number of the agency Justy hired to find Damien. You can ring them and tip them off. If I wuz you, sweet babes, I’d ask for a reward for the tip-off too. ‘Spect you’ll get a few thousand, no problem. Don’t worry, Justy can afford it. And don’t go all honourable. It’ll make your story a lot more believable if you ask for cash. Now then, let’s go and buy you a big meal. I’m at the Regal Hotel up in the town.’
‘Thanks anyway,’ Danny replied. ‘but we had a good fish dinner before you got here. We’re not starving. We’ve got enough money.’
‘If you’re sure. But come up to the hotel at nine anyway. I want to hear more about this little kid, and how you’re getting on here together. It appeals to the romantic in me.’
So they changed into their smartest clothes and joined Terry in the hotel bar, where they told him all about their life in Walbrough. In return, he told them of his own love affairs, which were very dramatic, touching and tragic. They learned that his present boyfriend, David Skipper, had just finished his business degree and now was launching a major new gay venue in Covent Garden, which Terry was financing. With David’s help, Terry had already started a very successful provincial gay club in his hometown in the South West. Now he was testing out the more competitive metropolitan scene.
At last the boys said it was time for them to leave, as they both had to work the next day. The three of them hugged and kissed goodnight, and Danny felt totally gay.