SON OF THE CHAV PRINCE
‘So what do we do?’ wondered Danny, as he and Gus were clearing the dining room after a corporate banquet that night.
‘There is the question as to whether we should do anything at all, Danny.’
‘We can’t just leave it.’
‘We are not PeacherCorp employees, just temporary hired hands in a conference centre. We are not security consultants. We are not Terry O’Brien. Although we do have his phone number, the priority one which costs nothing even from abroad.’
‘So Gussie, I take it your idea is to ring Terry?’
‘It would seem to be the best option, Danny.’
They sat in their room. It was a hot night, and the stable block had no air conditioning. Danny was already naked. Gus, just in briefs, was absently fondling his boyfriend, and Danny was not objecting. Soon they were kissing. Danny lay on his back and raised his knees to his chest, and that was it for a sweaty half hour.
By the time they finished their erotic play, it was past midnight and far too late to ring England, but they resolved to do so the next day.
The morning light was penetrating the shutters of their room when Gus woke up Danny. Danny smiled back. Gus always looked simply beautiful in the morning, tousled and handsome, his eyes as clear and blue as a mountain lake. Danny cuddled into Gus’s warm and tawny body to suck the nearest nipple while he rubbed his morning erection against Gus’s thigh. The inevitable followed.
‘I love you, Gussie my own,’ he panted as they broke off. Gus held him and kissed him back, and so they lay for a while, until Gus reached past Danny and got his mobile. He flipped the lid, dialled Terry’s number and handed it to Danny as it began ringing.
A strange and sleepy voice answered. ‘Hi, Davey here.’
‘Oh! Sorry. I wanted Terry.’
‘You got him. Hold on, I’ll wake him up.’
So that was Terry’s boyfriend, Danny thought. Quite a sexy, upper-class voice, he concluded.
Terry took up the phone, sounding brisk. ‘Morning.’
‘Well, sweet babe! How’s France? How’s Madame? How’s Gus?’
‘Everything’s totally brilliant, Terry. Thanks so much. But something’s come up we need your advice on.’
Danny explained the overheard conversation. There followed a pause so long that Danny nearly asked if Terry was still there.
‘Interesting,’ was the eventual response. ‘Industrial espionage is a right bugger nowadays for PeacherCorp.’
‘You do contracts for them, don’t you? Can you get in touch with the management and tell them?’
‘I only do personal protection for them nowadays. Nope, Danny, you and Gus have got to talk to Peter Peacher and tell him about it.’
‘But if we do that, we’ll be sussed.’
‘Tricky problem, isn’t it? You’re left with a moral dilemma, boys. You can do nothing and PeacherCorp will suffer at the hands of criminals, or you can do something about it and risk being found out.’
‘That’s not very helpful, Terry.’
‘Sorry, Danny, but this is one time I can’t help you. If I came storming across the Channel to whisk you away, I’d have to explain to Peter’s security how I knew you’d be there. There was always a risk that the Peachers would show up at Courçon, but you could have kept your heads down if it had not been for this business. This time around, boys, Fate seems to have decided to turn nasty on you. Whatever you decide, though, I’ll be there for you in any way I can.’
‘Okay, we’ll discuss it between us then. Bye Terry.’
Danny looked at Gus, who raised an eyebrow. ‘Was that bad news?’ Danny shared the conversation, and Gus nodded. ‘I rather thought that would be the case. It’s nearly eight, Danny, and I’m on breakfast-clearing duty. Today’s seminar begins at nine. I shall see if I can find Mr Peacher and tell him about this. I’m sorry, but I can’t think of any other way to deal with the problem.’
Danny sighed and agreed. They dressed and each went about his job. Gus was in his white jacket, making it easy for him to check over the breakfast room to see if Peter Peacher was up and about. Unable to spot him, Gus trotted upstairs and found his room. Gus listened at the door, but it was quiet within. He tapped the door and there was no reply. As he went down into the entrance hall, however, the tall form of Peter Peacher walked right past him in jogging gear.
‘Oh, Mr Peacher!’ Gus blurted out in English.
‘Yes? Auguste isn’t it?’
‘Yes. Would it be possible to have a word?’
‘If you would, I would be very grateful.’
Peter looked at Gus consideringly. ‘Do you know, it occurs to me that you are not a young Frenchman. It also seems to me that we’ve met before. Where was that?’
‘At your brother’s house at Castringham. I am Augustus Underwood.’
‘Gus! It all comes back. Hang on. Andy told me that you’d run away from home. How did you end up here?’
‘If you could spare some moments, I really need to talk to you in private.’
Peter led the boy into an empty drawing room. ‘So talk. What happened to you?’
Gus began to stumble through a long explanation of what had occurred since he and Danny had run away from home. All at once he stopped dead, realising that he would compromise Terry O’Brien if he continued. Instead he said, ‘Anyway, the point is we’re here. What I wanted to tell you is that we heard two Peacher employees talking yesterday. We decided you need to know this, and it’s too important for us to ignore, even to stay in hiding.’
Peter sat down to hear Gus out, smiling broadly when Gus gave him a straightforward account of what they were doing when they overheard the two men. Then he became very intent and focussed. Finally he mused, ‘I’m not surprised. The money that could be made from disclosing what’s being discussed here today would make someone very wealthy. I thought we’d thoroughly vetted this group, but it looks like I was wrong. So the man Danny saw was tall and red-headed with a stoop, yes?’
‘That is what Danny said.’
‘Then it can only be one man: Heinrich Althoff from the Dusseldorf office. Interestingly, he was the man who made all the fuss about including Rothenians in the briefing team, because he said they could not be trusted. The jerk. But who was the other guy, huh?’
‘Danny did not see him well enough to say.’
‘He must be a member of the technical team. Only one of that group would have access to the relevant data. I had better call in security and brief them. They will be pissed.’
Peter fell silent, looking appraisingly at Gus. ‘You know that I can’t let you go, Gus.’
‘I had rather guessed there would be a price to pay for this. Can’t you just keep quiet about us being here? Danny and I could live at Courçon quite happily.’
‘I’m truly sorry, Gus. You are here illegally to begin with. You can only have obtained employment under false pretences. I don’t know how you got to France or how Mme Cirier was persuaded to take you in, but it has to stop. It will reflect very badly on PeacherCorp if it gets out that we’re harbouring runaways.
‘I will do this much for you boys, though. I won’t make any attempt to find out how you two left England or ended up in Courçon, because such information might be damaging to someone else – beginning with Mme Cirier. I’ll also arrange for you to be returned to England directly to your parents. At that point, if they decide to involve the police I can’t stop them, but I won’t do it myself. Just er … don’t think of running again. Security won’t let you leave.’
Damien’s second night at Haddesley Cottage was not quite as fraught as the first. Still, it was a major battle to get him to bed by eight-thirty, and he was too furious at the humiliation of being treated ‘like a little kid’, as he said, to go to sleep anytime soon. Nathan tried reading to him, but that did not do much good as he ostentatiously refused to listen and started blowing raspberries to disrupt the story. Justin’s reasoning soon gave way to threats, which Damien just laughed at. He finally dropped off at ten.
Justin flopped down on the sofa next to Nathan and sank his head in his lover’s lap. ‘Kill me now! This is only day 2 and I want to murder the little fucker. I’ve got at least twelve years of this still to go.’
Nathan looked grim. ‘You could send him back to his mother.’
Justin shot back up. ‘You can’t be serious! He’d be in care in a fortnight.’
Nathan smiled quirkily. ‘Then you’re stuck, mate – no, we’re stuck.’
‘I can’t survive another night like last night.’
Nathan’s smile straightened. ‘I did some serious talking to Rachel Oscott on the phone. She was extremely complimentary about you, y’know. She said you were her hero, taking on an abused kid like Damien.’
Justin shrugged. ‘What choice did I have?’
‘There was always a choice, Justy babe. But Rachel gave me some survival tips. Get proactive, she said. Lift the little bugger before his absorbent pants overflow and soak the bed. That means changing him before you go to bed. He might come round, but he’ll go down again. He should be sleeping at least eleven hours, so don’t put up with early rising. Send him back to bed.’
‘Easier said than done, mate.’
But Justin did lift Damien from his warm nest at eleven, to subdued and dozy protests. Nathan and he did a lightning-swift change and put the boy back down to continue sleeping. He was up again at five, which was not so bad. Despite making a scene in the front room, curiously he barely objected when Justin picked him up and carried him to their bed.
They all woke together at seven-thirty. As Justin came round, Damien was grinning in his face and sticking out his tongue. Justin made a grab for it, and suddenly found his son gurgling with laughter.
‘You missed! Ha ha ha!’ It turned into a game, Damien flicking his little pink tongue in and out like an adder. All of a sudden they were both laughing. Wow! Justin thought. This is fatherhood. I’m playing games with my little boy.
It stopped when Nathan groaned and got out of bed. Damien hopped out behind him and went running down to the TV. Justin found him there, chomping a gigantic bowl of Cheerios while glued to reruns of the Power Rangers. Justin himself could remember watching that series when he was his son’s age.
It was the day of the dental appointment in Ipswich. Damien had never been to a dentist, apparently, but he knew enough about them to grab his father’s hand when they went in. The smell of the place caused his grip to tighten on Justin’s hand. They waited. Eventually they were sent in, and Damien was told to hop up on to the chair. He looked both truculent and alarmed as he was asked to open his mouth.
The dentist took x-ray pictures, shone lights, picked at Damien’s teeth and then looked up at Justin. He asked him to step outside.
‘The state of that boy’s mouth is appal …,’ the irate dentist began.
‘Ease up,’ Justin cut in. ‘I only juss took charge of the kid. He was wiv his mum for the past six years. How bad is it?’
‘Fillings will be needed to keep some of the back teeth intact. The molars are in a shocking state. At least six teeth are beyond repair, including one of the incisors. I’m going to have to extract quite a few. He must be in a lot of pain from them.’
‘You can’t do all that at once.’
‘No, it’ll take a few appointments.’
Justin sighed. You’d better get on wiv it, then. I suppose they’re only baby teeth and will soon be replaced?’
‘Mmm, eventually, but the molars are bad and they won’t regrow till maybe he’s twelve or thirteen. The gap at the front will be with him for a few years. He’ll need to see an orthodontist from time to time to check out the pattern of growth. He’ll have to get braces eventually.’
Damien did not like the fillings. He had three done that morning, and he blamed Justin for it.
‘S’gotta be done. I told you sweets and pop are deadly. Now do you believe me?’
‘I fookin hates you. If you wuz me dad, you’d not have let that bastard hurt me like that!’
Justin felt guilty. He too had the idea that fathers were supposed to protect their kids, and he had not been around to do that for Damien. The fact that he had not even known of the boy’s existence was neither here nor there to his conscience.
Justin drove to a toy barn in a perimeter mall. Damien was mollified with two boxes of plastic soldiers and some toy tanks. But he didn’t say thank you and there was no forgiveness on his face when they got back to the cottage.
Damien played on the floor with his bricks and soldiers. There were quite elaborate scenarios being acted out. Nathan had already noticed that Damien’s imagination and ability to play were in surprisingly good order for such a boy, and now Justin could see what he meant.
Right after lunch Damien started asking, ‘When’s Mattie coming?’
‘His mother said at about two.’
‘Good. He’s cool. I wants him to see me soldiers. He hasn’t got a mobile like me.’
‘He’s staying for tea, too.’
Damien smiled to himself and went back to his toys. Justin reflected that it must be a new experience for his son to be able to outface other boys over his possessions, without resorting to lying.
Promptly at two, the front doorbell rang and there was Rachel. Mattie burst in ahead of her clutching a back pack, his face eager.
She kissed Justin. ‘It’s good of you to have him over like this, Justy. It can’t be an easy time for you.’
‘No it isn’t. But we’re making progress, bit by bit. Or at least I want to believe we are. Wanna coffee?’
So Rachel stayed and they chatted for a half an hour or so. Justin checked on the boys. They were deep into a game of their own invention. They looked up and said yes when he offered biscuits and juice.
Justin suddenly found himself at a loose end. He went upstairs and began cleaning the bathroom. After a while, he realised the boys had trailed in behind him.
‘We wanna go on an expedition,’ Damien informed him.
‘Out the back.’
‘OK. But you stay in the garden. Hear?’
‘Yes,’ the two innocent faces chorused. Justin resolved to check on them regularly. He did not trust innocent faces.
Half an hour later he looked for them out of an upstairs back window. They were trying to climb an apple tree without much success. When he next looked, Mattie had his jeans and pants down to his knees and was peeing against the park wall at the back of the garden. Damien seemed to find it very funny.
Justin was dozing on the sofa in the front lounge when he was jerked awake by shouts of ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ and the back door bursting open. He sat up wondering why this was odd, only to be knocked down again by a small body hurtling into him.
‘Dad! Dad! Come quick! Man’s got Mattie!’ Damien was shouting.
‘What the fuck!’ But by then Justin’s superb reactions had kicked in. He leapt up and was out the back door like a panther after its prey. No one was in the back garden, but there was a small ladder propped against the rear wall, which was also the park wall of Haddlesley Hall. He was on top of the wall in seconds, where he crouched poised. He saw a disturbance in the bushes and heard the sound of a boy crying. He leapt down and was through the branches in an instant.
There was Mattie, with James Underwood gripping the little boy’s throat. He was talking in an intense and threatening voice. It was clear that Mattie was so scared he had wet himself. Hearing Justin coming, James turned round quickly, but not quickly enough.
‘Hey fuckface!’ Justin shouted. He was fit, fast and trained, and his opponent had no chance. Justin’s fist slammed into James’s gut, doubling him over. Justin’s foot lashed out and took James’s legs from under him. The man was down, and Justin made sure he stayed down by taking an arm and levering his face into the ground.
Justin was barely panting. ‘You okay, Mattie?’
The frightened boy nodded. By then Damien had appeared from somewhere, and was looking at the scene, awestruck.
‘Right, yer arsehole,’ Justin snarled at James, ‘graduated to terrorising toddlers now, ‘ave you? You really are a sorry piece of shite, aren’t you.’
‘Let me fucking go, you bastard!’
‘Sure, wouldn’t want to catch something.’ He was contemplating giving James a good kicking when he remembered his audience and dropped the arm. ‘Now get the fuck up and get out of here, fast. I see you round my kid, or anywhere near him, and you’ll be missing your fucking balls.’
With a venomous but terrified glare, James stood up and limped off quickly towards the Hall.
Justin watched him go before turning round, feeling suddenly wobbly at the knees. Two deeply impressed six-year-olds were looking up at him.
‘Okay. First question. How did you get in here?’
Mattie pointed mutely to a broken door masked by ivy, which the pair had clearly worked at to make a gap.
Damien volunteered, ‘We wuz checking the wall, and someone had put a ladder up. So we went up the ladder and there wuz all these woods and we thought it wuz a good place for an expedition, so we found the door and it wuz broke, so we got through. You kicked that man’s arse fookin good, Dad!’
Justin guessed that the boy was trying to deflect him by crude flattery, so he continued, ‘And what happened when you got through the wall?’
Mattie had regained some composure, and his tears had dried. ‘That man found us playing scouts, and he grabbed us by the ears and started shaking us and threatening us. He called us “townie scum” and Damien told him to eff off and kicked him in the shins.’
‘Yeah, so I got away and ran home and came for you, Dad!’
Justin shook his head. ‘Home, the pair of you. We need to get you changed, Mattie.’
It was as he was following the two up the garden path to the house that two things were borne in on him. The first was that Damien had put his arm round Mattie’s neck in a rather touching gesture of sympathy and support while they walked along in front of him. The second was that Damien had been calling him ‘Daddy’ and ‘Dad’ for the first time since they had met. The sun came out in Justin’s heart. He would have been happy to kick the arses of a hundred Jameses at that moment.