SON OF THE CHAV PRINCE
James Underwood was eating breakfast with Lady Rosalind. She was in a determined mood. ‘James dear, your gap year, as you called it, is nearly over. Your father and I were wondering what you are planning to do. It seems that Augustus will be returning to Medwardine after all, and Christopher is settled in the Blues and Royals. Your father was thinking that perhaps you might consider going out to my brother in New South Wales for some time. You might help on his ranch, or whatever they call it.’
James’s toast froze in midair on the way to his mouth. ‘Australia?’ he protested. ‘Surely you can’t be serious … Mother, you know I had a plan to go into the City in due course.’
‘Yes but James, we simply do not have the contacts to get you a place without a degree. You must think in terms of one of the red-brick universities, since your A Levels were not quite what we’d hoped for.’
‘Mother, I’m surprised you should throw that in my face. You know how the glandular fever affected me in my A2 year. The school was not at all understanding.’
‘That was very regrettable, of course. But now would be a good time to think of going to university. After all, I’m sure you would rather be out doing things in the world than sitting around at home, bored. It is your own best interests we have in mind, I’m sure you understand.’
But James had other short-term plans which demanded his attention at that moment. Out of the blue, Chris had told him there was another pusher moving in on his very profitable patch, and had produced four ounces of crack he claimed to have got for only half the price James was asking. James had a meeting with his suppliers from Harwich at ten. They wanted details about the rival gang, but Chris had been surprisingly reluctant to say anything, even under threat. Ungrateful bastard, thought James. If Chris believed he could blow James out, now there was another source in the area, he’d learn it wasn’t that simple. All James had to do was start circulating the pictures, and this was something he was quite ready to do.
James had a nasty smile on his face as he made his way out of the house and down to the lake. After glancing at his watch, he ambled casually towards the east lodge through Haddesley Woods. He stopped when he saw no car and lit a cigarette. He flipped his mobile but there were no messages.
He texted Chris a malevolent little note telling him to check the Bebo site for the sixth-form college. James had spent the previous night setting up a fake site for Chris ‘the Castringham cocksucker’, with some graphic photos demonstrating Chris’s prowess in that department, as well as a clip of him stoned and delirious in his back garden doing things to himself that would cause comment to say the least. By the time the site police deleted it, all the college would have seen it. James smirked.
A car pulled slowly past the lodge gates. It was his contact Ibrahim with Ibrahim’s sidekick and heavy, whose name James did not know. He did know the guy was armed, though, and had a look in his eye that hinted he knew how to use a gun.
James swaggered casually towards the car, a little too casually to impress his contacts. Ibrahim smiled. He had no use for James, other than to use as a low-level dealer to pedal his drugs, and he knew that the bravado masked a weak and cowardly personality.
‘Nice morning,’ James drawled. ‘Brought my new supplies?’
Ibrahim’s face went cold. ‘So you didn’t find who’s trying to move in on our territory?’
‘Er … no, I didn’t. Chris wouldn’t say.’
‘He wouldn’t say.’ Ibrahim turned to his companion. ‘You hear that? He wouldn’t say!’ He turned back to James. ‘You useless fucker. What you mean, he wouldn’t say? Couldn’t you beat it out of the junkie shit?’
‘Now hold on …’
‘Shut the fuck up, you little ponce.’ He jerked his head to his friend. ‘Stefan, show him how it’s done.’
Stefan emotionlessly clubbed James to the ground and began kicking him scientifically and perfectly without passion. By the time he had finished, James was sobbing and begging, ‘Please, please don’t hurt me … oh God, you’ve broken my ribs … Oh God.’
‘Shut the fuck up.’
James screamed as Stefan dragged him up by his long fair hair. ‘Now, you fucking ponce, you show us where Chrissie boy lives and you invite him into the car, then we take a little drive and we find out who’s been grazing our patch, yes?’
‘I don’t want anything to do with murder …. Urgh!’ James knelt and vomited after a fist punched into his gut. He was searched, picked up and thrown into the back of the car.
Ibrahim grinned when he counted out James’s cash. ‘I see business is good, ponce. I bet we were only going to get see half of this, weren’t we? Just take it as a lesson and an incentive. You gotta work harder in this competitive environment. You’ll need to clear today’s consignment twice as fast, ponce.’
The car reversed and pulled off, driving round the perimeter of the Hall until it passed the garden centre and approached Chris’s house. ‘Now, fucker, go tell your boyfriend we want him to come out and play. No word of a lie. We gonna have some fun before we finish with him, oh yeah. Fuck! Stop snivelling, you fucking ponce. Wipe your face, you’re disgusting.’
But James was crying now like a child. He had hit the wall of reality at high speed, and he wanted to go home to mother.
Stefan looked a question at Ibrahim, who shrugged. Stefan got out of the car and hauled James from the back. Ibrahim joined them. ‘Text your boyfriend and tell him you want to meet him … yeah, tell him you can offer him some wraps at a discount. He’ll come running, druggies always do. Yeah that’s right. Tell him to meet you at some pub. We’ll take him as he comes out. Now back in the car. Tell us when you see him, we’ll take it from there.’
The minutes dragged while they waited. James’s snivelling slowly ceased as he regained control. Finally, a dark figure emerged from the house to pick up Chris’s bike and begin pedalling down the road. Ibrahim’s car followed. It was as they turned the sharp corner at the garden centre that they realised the road was blocked by a line of white cars, and that other cars had come up fast behind them. Black figures in flak jackets were at the windows pointing guns. Stefan had his hands in the air, looking resigned. Ibrahim was swearing and pounding the steering wheel. James began crying again.
‘You shouldna been up in the bedroom window watching, yer tinker,’ chided Justy.
‘But it wuz better than the telly, Dad. Didya see Pig-face James crying when they took him away?’
‘I might have done.’
‘Wass happening now?’
‘They got James and his friends in the police station at Ipswich. Caught ‘em red-handed and raided their premises at Harwich. The police netted a million pounds’ worth of drugs that’d just arrived in a new shipment. Since I’d wired Chris before he talked to James, they had no choice but to release Wesley Hackness from gaol pending reports. He’s just got home to Castringham.’
‘Cool. Is Danny happy?’
‘Oh yeah. They’re not so happy up at the Hall, though, our kid. Lady Rosalind’s on the warpath. She’s been on the phone to Nathan’s mum, who’s a High Court justice.’
‘An important lady judge. She’s your sort-of grandma and she’s very famous. Anyway, they’re hoping she can get James off, but I’m not so sure it’ll be that easy. So, my little one, you’ve struck back at the drug dealers. You feel proud of yourself?’
Damien gave a huge grin. ‘Oh yeah!’
‘Good, cos your dad is very proud of you.’
‘Yeah but you wuz clever, giving that crack I stole to Chris and getting him to pretend he’d bought it cheap. He couldn’t say no, either, when he knew you wuz going to the police. Then the police set up the trap and … and, it was so cool, Dad!’
‘Now you gotta do something even braver, little one. You gotta start going to school and start learning. Let’s do your letters. I know Gussie and Nathan have got you to learn the alphabet. Now’s your chance to show off and make today totally perfect. OK. Away you go …’
Gus decided off his own bat to come round to Castringham Crescent. ‘You’ve met my mum and dad, but I’ve never met any of your relatives,’ he’d told Danny.
He walked over from Haddesley and knocked at the Hacknesses’ front door. After Danny greeted his lover on the doorstep, he deliberately and in sight of his parents hugged and kissed Gus. Then they walked inside, hand-in-hand.
‘Mum, Dad, this is Augustus Underwood, my boyfriend.’
Whatever emotions were running through Danny’s parents’ heads, they kept them off their faces. They shook Gus’s hand.
Wes came dashing down the stairs at that point. He grinned, went up to Gus and gave him a big hug. ‘Hey there, brother-in-law!’
Wes was feeling very chirpy. The police had dropped all charges against him, and he had learned that Gus had been instrumental in the arrest of the true villains. ‘Come up to my bedroom, you two,’ he ordered.
‘Is your brother always this bossy?’ Gus whispered to Danny as they went up the stairs.
‘He’s getting back to normal for him.’
Wes perched on his desk, while Danny and Gus sat on his sagging bed. ‘So I gotta say thank you, Gussie.’
‘It was nothing, really. It had to be done, brother or not. He’s in Ipswich Gaol, I believe.’
‘Yup, in the same cell as I was, with Sam the Sex Kitten, the kid I had to fight off for weeks. I wish him joy. Poor Sammy cried when the guards came for me. I promised to write – not!’
Danny grinned. ‘So did Sammy get anywhere with you?’
Wes flushed. ‘If you repeat this, I’ll kill you, but I let him suck me off in the end. It was the only way I could get any peace.’
Danny whooped. ‘How often?’
Wes looked sheepish. ‘Pretty often … OK, two or three times a day towards the end, if you really must know.’
‘So you enjoyed it, then.’
‘I did enjoy being able to get to sleep without waking up to find a naked sex fiend squirming next to me in the dark.’
‘But a boy’s been giving you regular blowjobs, Wes.’ Danny grinned at Gus. ‘We know what that means.’
‘Means nothing, arsehole, so don’t push your luck … but, OK, he gave good head, did Spotty Sam. Does this make me bisexual?’
‘Not really, as it wasn’t you doing the blowing. We’ll keep it to ourselves.’
Wes paused. ‘Danny, Mum said you’re off to public school for sixth form.’
‘Sure am. I’m going to be educated with the nation’s social élite. Ain’t I the lucky bunny?’
‘Are you sure you’re up for this? It’s a bit of a culture shock – no offence, Gussie.’
Gus beamed. ‘None taken, Wesley. But it probably will be easier for Danny in the sixth rather than had he joined lower down the school. A few local day boys always join for A Levels, so Danny won’t be the only newcomer in his year. It may be the boarding that is the most difficult for him. Even in the sixth, life is regulated.’
‘Ah yes,’ grinned Danny, ‘but they do your laundry for you. How about that? No washing our undies in the sink like we did in Walbrough, and dragging black bags to the smelly old laundrette.’
Gus laughed. ‘Happy days’.
It was on the very day Damien started at Castringham School that they were invited up to Andy’s house. Justin and Nathan picked the boy up from the school gate, still smart and indeed cute in gray trousers, blue pullover, white shirt and stripy tie. He came out with two other Year-1 lads, talking ten to the dozen. Clearly Damien had established his leadership over the pair, who resisted their mothers’ taking them away from him.
‘Hey Dad. Hey Nathan.’ Damien was cheery to say the least. He kissed both of them. Patient tactics had paid off. Since the holiday on Kos, Damien had made his peace with Nathan. Although he could still be really rude when he believed he’d been crossed, he no longer resented his father’s boyfriend.
‘Buckle up, sweetheart,’ Justin advised. They pulled away and drove through the village, then turned on to the oak-lined drive up to Castringham House.
‘Wass Granddad Andy want?’
‘He says it’s a surprise. A surprise for you, Daimey. How was school?’
‘It was OK. We did letters, then we had playtime. After playtime it was sums on our Year-1 table, and they wuz easy. I helped Aaron cos he wuz crying.’
‘That was kind,’ Nathan praised him.
‘Then there was dinner and I had sandwiches and juice, which wuz better than that crap the uvver kids had to eat. And we did play in the afternoon. They got a little house in our classroom, and that was our fort. Me, Aaron and Ben are an army, I’m the captain. Then the girls chucked us out. They’re mean and there’s too many of ‘em.’
Andy was waiting on the steps and reached down to pick up Damien, who gave him the by-then customary hug and kiss. But Andy kept hold of him as they went in through the hall door.
‘Now, terror tot, I know there’s one thing that bothers you more than any other. Since I can’t stand you worrying all the time, I’ve done something about it.’
‘Watchu mean, Andy?’
‘Come into the morning room, where there’s someone you’ll be glad to meet.’
He put Damien down at the door and told him to go in. Damien pushed the door open, stared, and shouted with glee, ‘Sunni May!!!’
There was the little girl in a flowery dress, in the arms of no less a person than Mrs Gardiner, Sunni’s grandmother as well as Damien’s. The woman looked a little disconcerted and out of place, but clung stoutly to the child.
‘What have you done, Dad?’ marvelled Justin.
‘Jade isn’t going to get any better in the short term, and the only thing that can be done for Sunni May is adoption. But poor old Damien will never settle down if she’s adopted by strangers, because he feels responsible for his sister. And you’ve got to respect the kid for that. We may not have any blood links with the girl, but she’s Damien’s sister after all, and we love Damien. So Matt went down to Holloway Road and talked to Jade’s mum. She was delighted to help, and will be taking on the care of her granddaughter with a bit of financial help from us. We found her a little flat in Ipswich.’
Mrs Gardiner had put down Sunni May, who had toddled off. Damien was looking up at his grandmother, who had clasped his cheeks in her hands, tears streaming down her face. ‘My little Damien, how you’ve grown,’ she sniffed.
‘I’m your grandma, luv, your mum’s mum.’
A brilliant smile lit up Damien’s face. ‘Hey Dad!’ he called over cheerfully. ‘Looks like we got some more ladies in our family.’
Mattie and his parents arrived at Castringham House the weekend before the royal wedding. Damien was bouncing up and down on the terrace as the Oscotts’ SUV pulled up, and he tugged open the door even before Paul had turned off the engine.
Mattie jumped out and the two boys hugged. Then they were off running through the grounds without bothering to ask anyone’s permission. They found their favourite hiding place, a tiny enclosed garden which could only be reached through a privet maze. It had a small fountain and was dominated by a brick wall-walk and turret. They treated it like a private fort.
‘So how was school, Daimey?’
‘S’alright. Me teacher is OK, but there’s too many girls in me class. But Aaron Tyler and Ben Arkwright are mates, we’re the only boys in year 1 so we plays at break. I stopped the year 3 boys picking on Aaron. Kicked one up the arse and made the bastard cry. They called Nathan over to the school, but he said it was self-defence and the school should look after the younger kids better in the yard.’
‘Brilliant, Daimey. Is your dad back?’
‘Yeah. He came back last week, and he brought me presents from America. I got a genuine baseball and a mitt. ‘S cool. Show you later. Me sis is here now. She’s living wiv me grandma in Ipswich. We sees her whenever Grandma babysits so Dad and Nathan can go out. Sunni May calls me “Dimon”. She can talk a bit now.’
The lunch bell summoned the two boys to the dining room. As Damien ran in, he was swept up by Matt for a kiss and a hug, which he endured with good will.
After lunch, Andy took him into the front lounge where an important package was waiting. Andy unloaded the contents and began dressing a grinning Damien. Finally it was finished.
‘OK, tiger. Look in the mirror. See what you think.’
It was perfect. Damien was in a child-sized but accurate version of the uniform of an officer of the Royal Rothenian Lifeguards, down to the spurs on his heels, the gold-striped white trousers and the laced white jacket with high collar. Andy smiled and belted a miniature sword to the boy’s waist, and then as the pièce-de-résistance placed the silver helmet with crest and plume on his head. Even the helmet’s scaled cheek guards could not conceal the delight on Damien’s face. He strutted round the room, as Andy took picture after picture, before he raced off to show the rest of the household his wedding costume.
‘Son, you look just totally magnificent,’ Justin exclaimed.
‘Can we go out and play soldiers?’
‘No chance, kid. It’s gotta be put away again, now we know it fits. You can wear it all day at the big event, though. You’ll get the attention of the world’s press alright.’
‘But can Mattie try on the helmet and sword, Dad?’
Mattie was looking wistful and Justin smiled. ‘Yeah, ’course.’
As the two boys swapped items of military dress and whooped, Justin looked at a smiling Nathan.
‘Inn he beautiful?’
‘Yes he is, Justy. He’s what you should have been at his age, my babe. Though you never had his chances, you’ve made sure he’s gonna have the best childhood a kid could want. And when he’s grown up, he’ll be someone in the world every bit as much as his dad is.’
‘If he’s just whole and happy, that’ll be enough for me, Nate. Hey, what about getting a dog? A nice Labrador. You think he’d like a puppy?’
‘I’m pretty damn sure of it.’
In the meantime, on the other side of England, Danny Hackness was touching down a try for Temple House, to whoops from the touchline. He jumped up and grinned at the Lang House boy he had dodged and tripped. He reached down and pulled up Gus. ‘That’s three points to Temple, Gussie.’
‘I can count, Danny. I suppose you’re going to go and convert it now.’
‘That’s my plan.’ Danny duly executed the conversion and trotted back down the pitch to clapping from the spectators and slaps on the back from his mates. He had played rugby for his old school, and played it well. He had quickly found a place on the Medwardine Under-18s first fifteen as a scrum half. It had assisted very much his integration into the alien environment of a boarding school.
Danny had been half resentful that he had fitted so quickly and comfortably into the new school. It had been so easy for Danny to make friends that it had quite disturbed him when he discovered how isolated his Gus was. But he was slowly changing that. He had humanised Gus and altered his style. With Danny to support him, Gus was fast losing some of his eccentricity and weirdness and was beginning to make connections with at least the more intellectual section of the lower sixth.
After the match and a shower, Danny and Gus walked together to the common room. Danny had joined the pool league and made Gus do it too. It was a good decision. Gus might have been awkward in some situations, but he had a shrewd eye for a shot. He was currently topping the league, and a lot of money was riding on his performance that evening against the upper-sixth champion, Aidan Westenra.
Danny and Gus had not come out as gay at Medwardine, but they found plenty of chances to be together. They disappeared quietly into Gus’s study carrel. With the door closed and the window covered by a prefect’s robe, they spend a leisurely time embracing and necking. Eventually Danny broke off to sit on Gus’s lap and melt into his boyfriend’s hug.
‘Gussie, see this carving here?’
‘The one that appears to read “Henry + Edward”?’
‘Yeah. Do you think that was cut by Henry Atwood and Ed Cornish when they were in this school years ago?’
‘I can’t think who else would have done it.’
‘So they must have used this carrel the same way we do.’
‘I imagine so. A rather kinky thought, Danny.’
‘They’re still together years after leaving Medwardine.’
‘Nathan told me it was not that smooth a romance. Henry apparently broke up with Ed and had another boyfriend for a while.’
‘Well yeah, but they went the distance. I want to think we will too, Gussie.’
‘You have my absolute assurance, Danny, that I want that very thing.’
‘Gussie, did I ever tell you that living in our grotty flat in Walbrough was the happiest time of my life?’
‘No, my Danny. But I guessed. It was easy enough, because it was the happiest time of my life too, and I recognised the symptoms.’
‘Remember you blowing up the garage?’
‘Indeed, and you being told off by little Damien?’
‘And you dropping a teapot in the councillor’s lap?’
‘A formative experience in my life.’
‘And it’s an experience we shared, Gussie. Those are memories that will always link us together, whatever happens.
‘We’ll get another flat one day. I daydream about it – you have noticed I occasionally daydream.’
‘It’s part of your charm, baby.’
‘Thanks for making my dreams come true, Daniel Hackness.’
‘Thank you for teaching me about love, Augustus Underwood. It was a fair trade.’