SON OF THE CHAV PRINCE
The brassy sky lay hot and heavy over the Marais. Even the birds couldn’t find the energy to take to the sky. They sheltered, hidden in the lower branches of trees, from the remorseless July sun. But Danny Hackness nevertheless was on his knees in the borders of the grand jardin, weeding. He concentrated his efforts, it has to be said, on the part of the border where spray from the fountain drifted towards him. He wore a long-sleeved shirt, along with a wide-brimmed straw hat to protect his neck. Heat this fierce was not to be taken lightly. It had reached 35oC yesterday in Poitou-Charente and was just as hot today.
He was lightly singing ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the Midday Sun’ to himself when Gus came up behind him with a bottle of water.
‘Are you alright, Danny?’
‘Hot, but not too bothered, Gussie mine.’ He put his trowel down and sat back on the grass. Gus was in a short white jacket, dazzling in the sunlight, a shirt and a black bowtie. Danny thought he looked stunning, with his rich golden hair, white teeth and newly brown skin: quite the most handsome boy he had ever seen. Gus was on waiter duty for Madame, who was making a first-rate manservant of him after a fortnight. Gus had finally found a job he could do well, which was rather odd considering the disaster of his first employment in Walbrough, not to mention his being the son of a family that customarily employed servants. But he was civil, hard-working and fluent in French. Indeed, in French he was a different boy: expansive and voluble. Madame loved him dearly already. She had consigned Danny to the gardens and grounds with her husband, who was rapidly improving Danny’s French too. Monsieur Cirier was not especially good in English, so Danny was acquiring a very specialised vocabulary relating to plants and gardening implements.
‘How’re things in the château?’
‘Busy. A new PeacherCorp conference is beginning today. The managerial élite are turning up from Germany and Rothenia to examine the challenge of alternative energy sources. I have been looking over some of the papers in the seminar room. It really is quite fascinating. PeacherCorp scientists in Rothenia have made a breakthrough in the use of vegetable oils to modify and improve the performance of fossil fuels. They are poised to build huge new refineries which may well revolutionise the western economy. If I had money, I would be investing heavily in PeacherCorp stock and Rothenian krone, and pulling out of the oil giants.’
‘That explains the tight security round the domaine.’
‘Yes, I suppose it does. Although I am not too impressed that they forgot to run background checks on the existing staff.’
‘What are you supposed to be doing, Gussie?’
‘Lunch is served for the early arrivals in half an hour, and I’m on buffet duty. They say Peter Peacher is going to be here soon, so I had better keep my head down.’
‘I have met him twice at his brother’s house in Castringham. He probably won’t remember me or make the link between “Auguste” the waiter and Gus Underwood, but you can’t be sure. One should never underestimate people.’
‘See you later, Gussie. Come out and see me if you’re free after lunch is cleared away.’
They smiled at each other and parted.
They were blissfully happy. They had left behind the insecurity and squalor of a northern English slum flat, and had found a safe refuge in a French mansion far from anywhere. They had been given a clean and comfortable room together in the rear stable block. Madame knew very well that Danny and Gus were lovers, as did the other staff, but no one commented on it. Homophobia was a bad career move in any Peacher establishment.
Besides, Madame Cirier loved Terry as a son, and would do anything for him. ‘Ah, Auguste!’ she had gushed, ‘what a beautiful young man he was when he first came here, such a willing worker, so brave and so handsome. And his boyfriend, Ramon, came looking for him from across the Atlantic. It was so romantic. He thought I didn’t know what they were doing, but I did of course. So tragic when Ramon died young. I don’t think Terry has ever really recovered. I light candles at St-Jean before la sainte Vierge for them both.’
Gus found his Danny at around three, taking a break in the shade below the terrace. Danny grinned. ‘Are you free now, baby?’
‘I believe so, at least until five.’
‘Good, because I have an idea.’
Danny led Gus, now barefoot in just shorts and a tee, down into the bois which surrounded the north and west of the big house. They walked the dry and dusty paths through the undergrowth to a long, dark pool under the trees. Monsieur Cirier had called it L’Étang du Domaine and pointed out to Danny the remains of an old water mill at one end.
Danny shrugged out of his clothes, paused naked and grinning, then cannonballed into the water, his flat and muscular buttocks making a hard slap on the surface. Gus was right behind him, and they frolicked and swam for a while, racing the length of the pool, and then lying together on the sand, hidden under an overhanging bank at the further end.
The inevitable soon followed, on that languorous and hot evening. They came together in passion, their brown bodies dappled by the sunlight. Their relaxed sex play went on for more than half an hour. Eventually, sated, they dozed for a while.
They awoke with a start to hear low voices on the bank above them. Danny gripped Gus’s shoulder. The conversation was in accented English. One voice was saying, ‘… then there is e-mail through my cell phone.’
‘No good,’ objected the other. ‘Transmissions are monitored within the grounds.’
‘So therefore all we can do is somehow to copy the documents and smuggle them out in our cases. But they will be searched. It is routine.’
‘We will find a way. The profits will be astounding. You provide me with the texts and I will do the rest.’
Danny crouched up and peeped over the edge of the bank. There was a screen of tall ferns and small bushes. He squirmed naked on his belly through the greenery till he could see the two men walking away down a path. Despite the dim light, he did not think he would forget the taller of the two men, with his red hair and stoop.
They disappeared, and Danny went back to the bank. He sat down, his rear end soothed by the cool grass.
Gus stood up and came to sit beside him, holding him round his flank and stroking his warm skin gently. ‘What do you think that was all about, Danny?’
The reign of terror began soon after Damien got out of the Jaguar in the car park of Haddesley Hall Garden Centre. He looked at his future home and said, ‘It’s a fookin hole. I thought you’d live in a big house wiv big gardens and a swimming pool.’
This was very unfair on Haddesley Cottage, which had four bedrooms and was fully modernised. Besides this, Nathan kept the little front garden beautiful, colourful with hollyhocks and summer flowers. But Damien was in no mood to be fair. Nathan came out of the cottage grinning broadly. He marched up, hand outstretched. Damien turned his back on Nate, walked to the hedge, pushed down his jeans and pissed away the drinks he had been given on the drive down. Nathan’s grin froze on his lips. He stared at Justin, who shrugged.
‘Damien, you go to the toilet to have a slash,’ ordered his father
‘Couldn’t wait,’ came the reply. ‘Want me to piss in me pants?’
They went inside. Justin led Damien up the stairs to look at the back bedroom that had been converted from a box-room. It was beautiful. Nathan had papered it in plain boyish blue, and painted it a lighter shade of the same colour. Little phosphorescent stars were set in the dark blue ceiling. He had put up framed posters of current kids’ cartoon and SF heroes. There was a Damien-size desk with a computer and a small chair. The bed was set high up to accommodate space underneath for storing toys and a mattress for a friend to sleep over. It still needed the toys and personal touches, and indeed the friend, but it was as perfect a boy’s bedroom as could be imagined. Justin told his lover so, and got a kiss.
‘You’re not gonna fookin snog all the fookin time, are yuh?’ Damien made puking motions.
‘D’ya like the bedroom?’ Justin asked.
‘Iss OK,’ came the cruelly indifferent response. It occurred to Justin that, if the boy was trying to hurt Nathan deliberately, he had succeeded. Nathan abruptly left.
Despite an urge to slap the boy, Justin suggested he stay in the room and get to know it. He went down to Nathan, who was making a coffee for him.
‘I’m sorry, Nate, he’s an ungrateful little pig. I think it’s totally brilliant, and far more than he deserves.’
So sorry for Nathan was he, that Justin took the bags upstairs and put the boy’s clothes and shoes away with a neatness that would have surprised many people who knew him, including his boyfriend.
Nathan did one of his magnificent pasta meals to welcome Damien to his new home. He needn’t have bothered. Damien toyed with it for a while, cried when he couldn’t have crisps, told his dad he hated him and stormed off to his room in tears.
‘Look on the bright side,’ philosophized Nathan.
‘There’s a bright side?’
‘Yeah, at least he recognised that his bedroom was his to retreat to.’
Justin went to check on Damien later. He was curled up asleep on the floor. Justin put him in pyjamas and tucked him in bed, discovering in the process, as many millions had done before him, that even children like Damien look beautiful and entirely innocent in sleep.
He called Nathan up to see the sight. ‘Make the most of it, Nate. We’ll be back to the Beast of the Apocalypse in the morning.’
But it was to be a long night before the morning. Damien trailed blearily into the lounge at eleven, soaking wet. He had urinated copiously over his mattress and bedding and also himself. He stank. Nathan turned the mattress and changed the bedding, while Justin stripped, washed and re-dressed his son. It took a whole restless hour to get him asleep again.
‘Make a note, Justy, we need waterproof covers for the mattresses and a lot more bedding. He’s a bed-wetter.’
At three, they were roused by the blare of TV from the lounge. Damien was awake once more and was amusing himself. By the time Justin staggered downstairs in his boxers the boy had helped himself to a bottle of coke and four packets of salt-and-vinegar crisps, which he’d excavated from the kitchen cupboard.
‘Bed!’ Justin snapped.
‘Not fookin tired. Cartoons are on.’
‘It’s three in the morning!’
‘So, you should be asleep.’
‘Not sleepy though, am I!’
Justin turned the TV off, picked the boy up and plonked him back in his bed. Damien sat there glaring at his father. ‘If you’re not tired, do some drawing, or read a book.’
‘Hate books.’ Justin reflected that the kid probably couldn’t read in any case.
Justin sat in the chair and waited in hopes that the boy would settle. At four, staggering with weariness, he picked up a sullen Damien and brought him into his own and Nathan’s bed. The boy almost against his will snuggled into the warmth of the trough between the two men, and fell asleep with gratifying quickness. Justin sighed and slipped gratefully away.
At four-thirty a feeling of pressure against his back woke him again. The boy had braced himself against Nathan in his sleep and was pushing hard against Justin with his feet. Justin turned his son and dozed off again.
At five, an ominous feeling of wetness crept under him. The boy had let loose a second tide of urine in his sleep. Nathan woke, turned with a squelch and yelled, ‘Oh my God ….!’ And that was it for that night.
Nathan staggered off to work at eight, but he at least had got some sleep, Justin reflected. He himself could do nothing but doze on the sofa for a couple of hours while Damien, as fresh as a daisy, watched CBBC with avid and blessedly quiet attention. Nathan had left a list of things necessary for Justin to get. Once the wash cycle had finished and he had hung up the bedclothes and pyjamas to dry, Justin packed Damien into his Clio and, still yawning, drove into town. He reached the IKEA, dumped a complaining Damien in the play area, and – after a long trek – found and bought multiple sets of bedding and plastic bed covers.
Justin then hit the supermarket. Surprisingly, Damien was quite good in that environment. He was happy to be pushing the trolley, and they had long and involved debates as to what constituted healthy eating. They found common ground, as they both liked Cheerios for breakfast. ‘Heredity,’ Nathan had scoffed.
Apples were alright with Damien, it appeared, though any other sort of fruit was poison. Justin himself had no objection to chips, beans, or even crisps in moderation. But sweets and coke were out, which caused some anguish. This morning, however, Damien was ready to bargain. His favourite ice cream was bought in exchange for not buying chocolate. They were therefore both in a fairly good mood with each other at the checkout, even though Justin had pointedly got some pull-up kids’ absorbent pants for the next night. As a reward for being reasonable, Damien got a giant box of Lego bricks he had looked at with interest.
Justin retreated to the sofa when they returned to the cottage, leaving Damien to puzzle over the various pieces of coloured plastic he had tipped out on the floor. It seemed the boy had an imagination. Towers and walls of a fortress arose. Justin made a mental note that toy soldiers were the next thing to get.
The front doorbell rang. Justin staggered up and, with huge delight, found his parents’ best friend, Paul Oscott, at the door.
‘Hey, Justy!’ Paul smiled. Then he looked closely at the rings under Justin’s eyes and his smile turned quirky. ‘Welcome to parenthood. Say farewell to sleep. Bad, huh?’
Justin told him exactly how bad.
‘I came over to check up on you. Rachel and Mattie are in the car if you’re up to a visit.’ Damien had trailed behind his father and was staring up at Paul with big eyes.
‘Hey, kid,’ Paul said with the confidence of a battle-scarred veteran. ‘I’m Paul. You’re Damien. We’re introduced.’ Damien said nothing. Paul looked around and whistled. His wife and son appeared. The boys stared at each other.
‘I’m six,’ Mattie opened.
‘Me too,’ agreed Damien.
‘You’re small for six,’ was Mattie’s second gambit.
‘You got a big mouth,’ sneered Damien, intending to be truculent.
‘I can eat a cookie in one gulp, too,’ parried Mattie.
‘You call ‘em biscuits.’
‘So, in one go? Show me. Gotta see that.’
Justin marvelled as the two small boys went off into their own world, heading for the biscuit bin.
Paul laughed. ‘They do that. It’s uncanny. Gives you hours of peace, too.’
‘Until they start fighting,’ added Rachel.
Sniggering could be heard from the kitchen, and the loud comment from Mattie: ‘It’s fuckin’, not fookin.’
It took a while before the two boys got tired and fell out with each other. Mattie had his Game Boy with him and they played away for hours with that and with the Lego. Justin was a little embarrassed at how few toys his son had. He took down a list of the essentials from Paul and Rachel, and listened with growing trepidation to their reminiscences of parenthood. Apparently, Justin had missed out on a lot of the worst stuff, for which he was profoundly grateful. The Oscotts stayed for lunch, and Damien ate a ham sandwich without too much protest, other than he hated wholemeal bread. ‘Iss got bits in it.’
Although by two o’clock Mattie and Damien were squabbling over who had broken whose model, the day had been an unexpected success. Mattie was to be dropped off the next afternoon for more play, and the two little boys both seemed quite keen on the idea. However, Justin was not yet confident that Damien’s level of civilisation was sufficient to support a visit to someone else’s house.
When Nathan returned home it was to a reasonably tranquil cottage. Damien had been tired out by the visit and was napping, while Justin had remade all the beds with waterproof covers.
‘Good day?’ he enquired hopefully.
‘Better than might have been expected, me mate,’ was the relieved reply.