SON OF THE CHAV PRINCE
Danny was carting grobags from the delivery van and stacking them neatly on pallets out the back of the garden centre. It was a brilliant summer morning, and somehow he was feeling a lot better. His brother and he were talking again, which meant a great deal to Danny. He had even managed to be civil to his parents that morning and there was a definite easing of domestic tension in the air. He seemed to have been recognised as an independent adult, his standing in the house having changed accordingly.
‘Will you stop that bloody whistling,’ Nathan grumbled.
‘Another bad night?’ laughed Danny.
‘The kid simply does not seem to need sleep. He was up four times last night, fizzing with something or other. He’s as bright as a button this morning, but I feel as though I’m just off an overnight flight from America. My head belongs to a different time zone.’
‘So? His dad should sort him.’
‘Justy does, but I get woken up just the same when the little sod bounces into our bed and starts burbling on … it was terrorists last night. He and Mattie were playing soldiers in Haddesley Woods yesterday, despite everything that’s been said to them. They get overexcited. How on earth does Damien reckon that Haddesley Hall might be a target? Uncle Phil’s highest responsibility has been deputy lord lieutenant.’
‘I’ll finish this and get you a coffee, Nate.’
‘Ta … you’re a love, Danny. Any news from the Hall?’
‘No call last night, but I’m gonna give the lump a ring right now.’
But Danny did not have to resort to his mobile. Gus himself walked in through the front doors of the centre, smiling vaguely. Danny turned round as he was stacking the last grobag, to be enveloped in a big hug from his boyfriend. They grinned at each other and kissed for a long time, long enough for Nathan to call over and tell them to break it up.
‘So are things cool with you, Gussie babe?’
‘They aren’t perfect by any means, but I have done the thing I should have done long ago. I kneed my brother in the crotch and left him gasping. I think the bullying will stop now, in at least its most offensive form.’
Danny stared at Gus and then chuckled. ‘Wes and I reached our own plateau of understanding last night. It involved me pushing him into a pond.’
‘So we appear to have found contentment by assaulting our elder brothers. How strange is that?’
‘My contentment doesn’t run very deep. Before pushing Wes in the pond, I had found him smoking stuff. That’s a bit worrying, really, ’cause I don’t think it was pot.’
‘There’s a drug problem in this corner of rural Suffolk?’
‘Baby, there’re drug problems everywhere. Don’t tell me your boarding school is any different.’
‘No, I suppose not. The housemaster searches Lang – that’s my house – once a week at unannounced times. There’s talk of random drug testing too, though I think that’s pandering to parental paranoia.’
‘Are you looking forward to going back to Medwardine?’
‘I’m not going back. I told my parents I would be staying in Haddesley and attending the local sixth-form college.’
‘Gussie! You did what?’
‘It seemed the obvious solution.’
‘How did they take it?’
‘Rather stunned, really. But I think they realised I was serious.’
‘But there is a condition.’
‘What’s that, Gussie?
‘You must do A Levels too. I don’t want you wasting your talents, Danny. You’re perfectly capable of higher education, and when your GCSEs come out next month, I’m pretty sure they will show you have potential.’ He looked pensive. ‘Also there is this, we can have sex in the toilets, the boiler room, or in a stationery cupboard, as they do in the stories I read. It sounds really quite exciting.’
Danny laughed at the serious expression on Gus’s face. ‘I’ll think about it. We won’t get much sex anywhere else, will we?’
‘It doesn’t seem very easy to arrange at the moment. I’d better get on. You seem to be busy.’
‘Ring me, Gussie. I finish at three.’
‘I’ll be over in the cottage. I shall volunteer to look after Damien, if Justin wants to go and do something else.’
‘You’re a saint, Gussie.’
‘Hopefully not a martyr, Danny.’
Danny put in a hard day’s work. He packed up at three and handed over to one of the girls before trudging across the car park – quite full of vehicles by then – to ring the bell of the cottage. Damien opened the door, wearing his normal satanic grin.
‘Iss your boyfriend, Gussie!’ he piped up at full volume.
‘Hiya, mini-thug,’ Danny responded. ‘What you been doing?’
‘Playing soldiers and learning to read.’
‘Really, all at the same time?’
‘Yeah. Gussie’s been teaching me letters. A is for Anti-Aircraft gun. B is for Brigadier. C is for Captain – thass my rank, that is, and Gussie is a Colonel, also C, geddit?’
‘Right between the eyes, soldier.’ He picked up Damien, tickling the boy till he begged for mercy before tucking him under an arm and carrying him into the lounge. They found Gus, a serious expression on his face, arranging a fortified gun position on the floor.
The three of them sat together companionably on the carpet, Damien making the noises of battle as his armies inevitably defeated Gus’s.
‘Where’s your dad, Damien?’ Danny continued.
‘He’s gone into Ipswich. He wants to book us a holiday before I goes to school. Somewhere foreign and sunny, he said.’
‘That’s nice. Hear anything about your mum?’
The boy’s face clouded. ‘She’s in a hospital, anuvver one. Dad said she’s gonna have to go into a home cos she can’t take care of herself.’ He brightened. ‘But Granddad Andy said he’s found her a place not far away, and I can see her when she’s well. Granddad Andy said since I’m his favourite grandkid, she’s family and he’ll do everything he can for her.’
Danny snorted. ‘You’re his only grandkid, Daimey.’
Damien shrugged. ‘So?’
‘How about your sister?’
‘Dad said she’ll be taken care of by a nice family in the country, and they’ve got ponies.’
‘Do you get to see her?’
‘Me dad said he’ll not allow me to lose touch wiv Sunni May, and maybe one day when me mam’s better they’ll live near us and I’ll see them all the time.’ Damien looked wistful momentarily, which reminded Danny that the child might have been reconciled to his dad, but not necessarily to the fate of his little family. There were likely problems ahead.
They chattered and played till five, when Justin returned. Damien was bouncing with excitement. Justin picked up his son and got a hug and kiss. Danny smiled at the change in the forthright little hellion he had first met on the stairs to his slum flat in Walbrough.
‘So where’re you three going,’ Danny asked.
Justin grinned. ‘Somewhere hot. Nate fancies Greece, and I been booking a villa on Kos for three weeks in August. Wanna come too?’
Danny perked up and looked at Gus, whose ears had also pricked. ‘Seriously?’ he said.
‘Waddya think, terror tot? Shall we take Danny and Gussie too?’
Damien grinned and nodded.
Gus thought for a moment. ‘We’ve still got some money that we … er, acquired in Walbrough. It would easily pay for our flights.’
‘No need,’ shrugged Justin.
‘There’s every need,’ Gus contradicted. ‘I’m sure Danny will agree with me when I say we would be much more comfortable if we at least paid to get there.’
‘Oh yes … absolutely,’ concurred Danny, as supportively as he could manage.
‘Then it’s settled. I don’t see your parents resisting in the present state of affairs. We’re off on Sunday providing I can get down to London and obtain an emergency passport for Damien. Costs a bomb.’
It was some villa. It stood on a barren hillside at the southern end of the long island, overlooking the blue, white-flecked waters of the Aegean. It had its own pool and an improbable terraced garden high on a cliff. Best of all, it had its own otherwise-inaccessible beach of white sand and shingle where all four young men were at present lying nude. Damien, who naturally tanned quickly and dark, had not worn clothes for days now. Like his father, he was completely indifferent to nudity. At the moment, he was skimming stones in the sparkling sea. Danny was admiring the boy’s perfectly proportioned brown body, supple and slim. Kids were at their best at this age, he thought. Damien was an elegant miniature of the man he would one day be.
Gus and Nathan had the usual pale-skinned northerner’s problems with sun, but sunscreen and patience had turned Nathan tawny without too much peeling. Gus was still brown from his time at Courçon. After ten days of relentless sun, Gus’s hair had bleached almost white.
Gus was, as ever, reading a book. He was going to drag Danny that afternoon round the island’s churches and Classical ruins. The villa came with small motor bikes. Danny had been practising on them, and was keen to drive Gus round on the pillion like the island boys did.
Nathan stirred on his bath sheet. There had been a long conversation about sixth forms the night before over a couple of bottles of retsina. ‘So any decision yet, babes?’
Gus looked up from his book. ‘We seem to be at an impasse. The one piece of progress is that Danny has agreed he will go ahead and do his A Levels somewhere.’
‘Ah, but where?’ Nathan wondered.
Danny chipped in. ‘The problems are obvious. I know the money’s there if I want it, but what will Gus’s parents do if I turn up at Medwardine? I’ll tell you what: they’ll shift him to some other public school. It’ll get comical, me chasing him round the boarding schools of England.’
Gus smiled. ‘Then I shall go to the sixth-form college.’
Danny raised his eyes to heaven. ‘It’s not as simple as that, Gussie. You won’t fit in there. The culture is all different.’
‘Surely they must have geeks. We are as universal as sparrows.’ He was looking at one of the very creatures hopping from rock to rock.
‘Geeks, yes. But you’re a mega-geek, and on top of that you look gorgeous. You’d make even the geeks nervous. Also the gay thing doesn’t go down too well in our part of Suffolk. I would guess they’re better able to deal with homosexual teens at Medwardine.’
‘Well, yes,’ Gus admitted, ‘we have had some high profile gay students. When I was in year 8, there was a very gay sixth-former called Henry Atwood, who’s quite well known in media circles now, I believe.’
Justin stirred and took off his shades. ‘He’s quite well known at Haddesley, too. He’s our mate. Me and Nate had group sex wiv him and his boyfriend in Amsterdam once. God, that was hot. Gives me a stiffie just thinking about it.’
‘So we see,’ Nathan laughed. ‘But that’s not quite accurate, as we stayed in our couples and just watched each other. You getting your oats, you two?’
Danny snickered. ‘Aren’t we just. Inside, outside, in the pool, on the beach, in the woods, anywhere as long as Damien’s not around.’
‘Ah, kids,’ Justin reflected. ‘We were just like that once.’
‘Then along came Damien,’ Nathan growled.
Gus smiled. ‘We’re very happy to take him away for an afternoon so that you can, er, do … stuff.’
‘Why thank you, cuz,’ Nathan laughed. ‘We’ll book you for tomorrow then. I want to make love to Justy so bad it’s like I’m going to explode.’
Damien trotted up the beach. ‘We gonna have proper food today? It wuz rubbish yesterday wiv all that green crap and stupid Greek sausages.’
‘Sorry Damien, I forgot to bring the chip pan. How about fish?’
‘No, fresh fish, hooked out of the Aegean Sea this very morning. The real stuff, on a bed of lettuce and rice.’
‘Oh foo …’ The boy caught himself, something he was doing more of lately. ‘It better not have bones in it!’
Gus rose and effortlessly picked Damien up round the waist. ‘Let’s go swim, Daimey.’ He cantered down the beach on his long legs with the boy squirming and shouting under his arm. Danny ran after them. Damien could not yet swim properly, but the older boys had fun for the next hour improving his flotation and strokes. And when that got boring, they threw him from one to another across the wave tops while he shrieked and laughed uproariously. He found it particularly funny to be dropped in the water.
The debate about Danny’s future education continued as he and Gus buzzed along the lanes of Kos between churches. Once they had dismounted in a village square and parked the bike next to a line of donkeys, Gus stated, ‘For me, it comes down to this. Where is the best place for us to be together? There are more opportunities for sex if we stay in Suffolk, but Medwardine would be a better environment, both academically and homosexually.’
‘But with less chance of getting our ends away.’
‘I might as well spin a coin, then.’
Gus sighed. ‘We had better leave the final decision till we get back. But we must move then. Medwardine has no quota on sixth-form entry, but it will take a week or two to arrange a place. Your GCSE grades will be another consideration.’
‘Fine. I’ll think it through. I’ll have made my mind up by the time we get back to Suffolk.’
Damien was on a high when they were flying in from Kos to Gatwick. He was sitting between Danny and Gus in the central seats. It had been a fight to get him back into clothes when they packed up on the island. His feet had got quite tough on the soles through running about barefoot for three weeks. He was currently in tee shirt, shorts and chunky little sandals. He had been charming the air hostesses, which had got him several glasses of coke.
He had also been spelling out words for Gus from the in-flight magazine. He had come on a lot. Fear of impending school had spurred him into overdrive with literacy. Gus was quite complimentary about his progress, and that had pleased the little boy who, like Danny, had fallen deeply under Gus’s gentle spell.
‘That was me best holiday ever. It was brilliant. Why do we have to come back? An’ I made friends on the nudey beach with Klaus and Willem. They wuz from Rothenia. Where’s Rothenia?’
Before they left they had spent a day on a nudist beach at Hagios Stephanos, where Damien had been a hit with a party of Rothenian tourists. It had included two boys of Damien’s age with whom there had been instant friendship, even though the foreign boys’ English had been skimpy.
Gus explained, ‘Rothenia’s a country in Europe, near Germany.’ It was pointless being more specific, as Damien’s geography was no better than any other six-year-old’s. ‘You may be going there soon. Rothenia’s got a king, and he’s a really good friend of your dad’s.’
‘Never! Me dad knows a king? He never said.’
‘Your dad’s quite a famous man,’ smiled Danny. ‘He knows everybody. Has he showed you the medal he got from the king?’
‘My dad said he was a spy. I thought he was just fibbing till he kicked James’s arse.’
‘No he isn’t a spy, but he does work in security, which means that sometimes he has to do dangerous things like spies do.’
‘Cool. I’m gonna be a soldier when I’m big.’
‘Better get growing then, kid,’ quipped Danny. Damien kicked him, and none too lightly.
Danny had not checked his mobile for a while. It did not connect with a Greek network in any case. They were in a very long immigration queue at Gatwick, and he idly flipped the top. The battery was low, so he just had enough time to see that he had over twenty texts waiting, which was rather a lot. Then it beeped and died on him.
They picked up the car and piled in the baggage. Damien was scrunched between Danny and Gus again, intent on his new Game Boy. Gus was already out of it with his MP3 player. Nathan took the wheel and they pulled away, heading north for the M25. The day was sunny but much cooler than they had been used to recently.
Justin was already on his mobile. He would be back to work in a fortnight and there was a stack of urgent messages from O’Brien Associates. He worked through them with a smooth efficiency that quite impressed Danny.
When Justin got to the bottom of his work list, he made an exclamation. ‘Buggerin’ hell.’
‘What’s up, chavvyness?’ Nathan wanted to know.
‘Iss a message from the Rothenian embassy. Ring urgently.’ Justin did so. From the end of the conversation they could hear, he was talking to the ambassador. It concluded with a ‘Yes, Your Excellency. I’ll ask him and get right back to you.’
Nathan was eyeing a stunned-looking Justin curiously. ‘What was that about?’
‘Er … y’know Rudi is getting married to Harriet Peacher in October?’
‘Yeah. Henry Atwood’s gonna be best man, apparently.’
‘They’re filling out the list of pages and bridesmaids. The Peacher family’s not got many small kids, though there is Elaine, and she will be bridesmaid for our side. But they need a Peacher page, and Richard Peacher has suggested Damien, as his great-grandson!’
Danny stared down at Damien, who picked up the sudden interest.
‘Waddya looking at me for?’.
Justin said, a little gruffly, ‘Son, there’s gonna be a big wedding in Rothenia in a couple of months. Harriet Peacher, she’s in our family, is going to marry the king, Rudolf VI, and become queen. They want you to be a page in the royal wedding of the century!’
Damien shrugged. ‘Okay. Do I have to wear a stupid costume?’
‘Army uniform, apparently, white and gold, with a sword.’
‘Oh fookin’ brilliant. Cool. Yeah I’ll do it!’
A torrent of laughter and speculation filled the car as Justin called the embassy back with an acceptance. When he finished, he noticed another urgent message. He rang the number, listened and his face became grave. Slowly people in the car realised that something was wrong. Justin turned to Danny with a very serious look.
‘Danny, bad news.’
‘Christ, no one died, did they?’
‘No. Your brother Wes, he’s been arrested for possession and dealing in crack. He’s in Ipswich Gaol. Here, take me mobile. Ring your mum.’