THE CHAV PRINCE
Justin turned around slowly.
‘This is a gun,’ the voice informed him pleasantly. ‘It’s real, and I’m quite good wiv it. Though from your point of view, I guess that “good” may not be the word of your choice. Sit down there by the sink and don’t make any sudden moves.’
Justin slid hopelessly down the wall on to his backside. Who was this? Was it the industrial espionage guy again? He doubted it, although he couldn’t make out much beyond the fact that his captor was above average height and had curly hair.
The man looked Justin over in the light of his torch. ‘You’re very young. Oh well, it’s a fault we’re all guilty of at sometime or other.’ He chuckled. ‘Let’s have your name, kiddo.’
‘Justin, you’re trespassing. And from what I can see here, you’ve been trespassing on Matt’s property for quite a while.’
‘How did yer know I was here?’
‘When you took off earlier, you left a dark trail across the wet grass. Bit of a giveaway, wouldn’t you say? You’d better remember that the next time you go squatting in someone’s basement.’
‘Who are you?’
‘The name’s not important, it's what I do that concerns you. I’m Mr Peacher’s security chief. I always check out things very carefully when he comes to a new house, or back to an old one. You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve found. And look! I found you, Justin.
‘Okay, kid, on your feet. You’re going above stairs now.’ Suddenly he spoke to a third person, using an earpiece mic, Justin guessed. ‘Jenna! I got the rodent. You can come in now.’
‘Do I ’ave to put me hands on me head?’
‘Tsk. You watch too many films. Anyway, I’d never shoot you, I’d juss break your leg. I’m good with limbs, me.’
They went up the stairs and into the brightness of the kitchen. Justin blinked. A cold-faced blond woman was coming in through the outside door as he entered. ‘Sit at the breakfast bar, kid,’ the man told him. ‘Watch him, Jenna. By the way,’ he added confidentially to Justin, ‘she’s five times as dangerous as me. She’s actually killed people. I think she quite likes it.’
The bastard’s winding me up, Justin thought. I hate him.
The man disappeared through the door and returned with Matthew White and Andrew Peacher.
‘You!’ exclaimed Matt.
‘You!’ exclaimed Andy.
‘You know this kid?’ asked the security guy, bemused.
‘You’ve met him?’ Matt asked Andy.
‘Yeah. I told you about him. This was that little bastard who told me to fuck off when I complimented his work in the garden last time I was here.’
‘Oh,’ Matt responded, ‘this is one of the Two Bares. He’s that nice kid I told you about whom I found with the other one from Andersons using our bathroom.’
The security man looked from one of them to the other. ‘There seems to be a back story here and it’s getting quite intriguing. Maybe we should relax and do some serious interrogating in the lounge. Coffee, Jenna?’
‘Mine’s white, Terry, no sugar.’
‘Thass not quite what I meant, but okay, I’ll make ‘em. I’ll bring ‘em through.’
A grinning Terry surprised Justin by offering him a coffee too, as well as a plate of chocolate biscuits, which he deposited next to the boy. He was a very fit looking bloke, Justin observed, athletic and self-possessed to a scary degree.
Justin sat there waiting for the interrogation to begin. It seemed to be down to Matt, since it was his house. ‘Justin Macavoy, we know you’ve been a non-paying tenant in my house for a week. Why?’
Justin sighed. It was back into custody and off to sodding Chelmsford, he thought glumly. ‘I’m on the run. I broke out of the secure centre in Finchley last week, cos they were fostering me out to Essex.’
Matt’s dark eyes seemed to bore into him. ‘Ah! The other of the Two Bares, the brown-haired boy from Andersons.’
‘Like I told you the day you caught us, we’re lovers. They were goin’ to break us apart and I couldn’t stand that. Hiding out here wasn’t his idea, though. I talked him into helpin’ me.
‘Why were you in the centre?’
‘Breaking a school-attendance order …’
‘One or two ASBOs. I’m a bad lad.’
‘We knew that,’ interjected Andy.
‘So why shouldn’t we hand you over, Justin?’
Justin grimaced, trying to figure out how to explain himself. Then, on the coffee table in front of him, he noticed a newspaper with the crossword half-completed. Picking up the pen lying beside it, he wrote across the top of the page: THIS HOUSE WAS BUGGED TWO DAYS AGO. He handed the paper to Terry.
Terry pursed his lips and looked hard at him. Turning to Matt he said, ‘No argument, I see. Okay, Justin, you and me are goin’ for a little ride. We’ll see what the centre has to say. Matt and Andy, you’d better come too. You may have to make a statement. You can go to bed, Jenna, but first please bring the boy’s stuff up from the cellar.’ He handed her the paper with a significant look.
Terry stood and led them all out the front door and into the car. Justin sat with Andy in the back. Terry drove them to the village, where he found a coffeehouse still open despite the hour. ‘Right, Justin, we don’t have to worry about listening devices in here. Now let’s have the full story.’
Justin told all he knew, while the three men listened intently.
Andy frowned when he had finished. ‘It’s happening again, isn’t it?’
‘Who is it this time?’ wondered Matt. ‘Anson’s still in prison.’
‘His friends ain’t,’ Terry observed, ‘and one of them was talking about someone called Johnny, his code name. Besides, he’ll be out in a few months. Should have expected it.’
‘What do we do with the boy?’ asked Matt.
‘I’m here, y’know,’ snapped Justin with a touch of acid.
‘Can’t let him go now,’ decided Terry, ignoring the comment. ‘We need him.’
‘I got an idea,’ offered Andy. ‘Leave it to me.’
Justin woke up the next day in a guest bedroom in Matt White’s house in Highgate. His clothes and possessions, minus the camping equipment, were stacked on a sofa. The bathroom was en suite, so he showered. As he was dressing in a fresh set of Nathan’s clothes, the door was knocked.
It was Terry. ‘Come on, Justin, time for breakfast, then we gotta go for a drive.’
He chomped through some Cheerios in the kitchen. At first there seemed to be no one else around. Then, with a longing lurch in his heart, he saw Nathan working in the borders, looking surreptitiously at the house. Had he found the cellar empty already? Justin stood up at the window and waited till he was glimpsed. Nathan shot up, appalled, and started towards the house. Justin urgently signalled him to go back.
They were staring hopelessly at each other through the glass when Terry returned. ‘Car’s ready, criminal babe.’
‘You’re gay too,’ Justin observed.
‘Not too hard to spot, is it?’
‘No. Your mate Jenna, is she a butch lesbie, then?’
‘Nope, she’s a married woman with a very lucky husband.’
Justin shook his head, gave one last longing glance into the garden where Nathan stood with a lost and indecisive expression on his face, and followed Terry out. He sat next to Terry in the front, while Matt White and Andy Peacher took the back.
They drove north to Finchley. ‘So you’re turning me in, you bastards.’
‘Wash out yer mouth, yer crude adolescent,’ Terry smilingly admonished him.
They turned into the centre. Tanya was on the steps waiting, but without a security officer or a cop in evidence, which puzzled Justin no end. ‘Welcome back, Justin,’ she said with an odd, unreadable stare at him. ‘Come into the office.’
They sat round her table. She had a stack of paperwork in front of her, but not his familiar and very thick file, which again puzzled Justin, as did the sullen glower on Matt White’s exquisitely handsome face.
Tanya looked hard at Andy. ‘Mr Peacher, you’re absolutely sure about this?’
‘As I explained, Tanya, there’re special circumstances. Had you realised the boy was an active homosexual?’
‘He hadn’t mentioned it.’
‘As we both know, this rules out a conventional fostering, except where the family has had experience. The Chelmsford people have not, have they?’
‘No. But your alternative, though generous, is … unexpected. I know you are a gay man in a stable relationship, and you have a good deal of background in youth care. Indeed, there’s probably no one better qualified … in theory.’
‘Not exactly theoretical,’ Andy corrected. ‘I brought up my younger brother, who’s now also in a gay relationship. Justin will be more of a challenge, but it’s excellent experience. Mr White is happy too, aren’t you, Matt?’
Matt grunted noncommittally.
‘Will someone tell me what the fuck is goin’ on?’ demanded Justin.
‘You see the problem?’ said Tanya to Andy. ‘Could you put up with that for months on end?’
‘We’ll have a trial period of a month.’
Tanya heaved a sigh. ‘I’ve waived some of the paperwork in light of your, well … massive experience, and of course the financial thing is out of court. But I need all this filled out, even though the reference reports are unnecessary.’
Justin was steaming. ‘The what-the-fuck-is-all-this-about question still stands, y’know.’
Tanya turned to him abruptly. ‘This is the way it stands, Justin. Mr White and Mr Peacher have offered to foster you for the time being.’
‘Is this okay with you, Justin?’
He sat there with his mouth hanging open. But his mind was racing. He didn’t like either of them particularly. On the other hand, this was the only option where he could still see Nathan, or at least he hoped so. ‘Is Terry part of the package?’
‘Where I go, so goes Terry,’ Andy replied.
‘Do I have to have anything to do with you two queers?’
Matt snapped, ‘This from you, y’little sodomite!’
Andy was more conciliatory. ‘We have responsibilities for you, but no, you're free to ignore us if that’s what you want.’
‘Then … okay. But I gotta see Nathan, or I’d rather stay here.’
‘Within limits you’ll be allowed to see him, but there are limits,’ Andy stated. ‘You’re not the first gay teenager I’ve brought up, y’know. So there will be rules.’
‘Hmmph,’ grumbled Justin, but the expected expletives did not materialise.
Tanya still looked troubled. ‘You’d better take him, then, along with all his possessions he left here when he broke out.’
‘Terry’ll get them.’
They drove back, the car very quiet. Eventually Justin said what was on his mind, a thing he was always good at. ‘This is all about that bloke I saw, innit? Thass why you wanna hang on to my little butt. If iss about sex, though, I doan’ fuck for free.’
‘I’m gonna vomit,’ snarled Matt. ‘Open the window!’
‘Make an effort, Matt,’ Andy shot back.
‘Look, Justin,’ he continued, ‘yes it is about that bloke, so much is true, but also it’s about you. You have a need; we can fill it. I work full time with disadvantaged kids, some of them in situations so bad even you might find it difficult to believe. One day I ought to take you on a tour of the parts of Washington tourists don’t see.
‘Then there's the fact that you’re gay. It’s not common to find one as decidedly out as you are who needs fostering – or someone willing to foster them, for that matter. So give us a break, Justin. Terry’s going to drop us off at Highgate and then take you into town and get you kitted out with new clothes and stuff.’
Justin snorted. ‘So buy my happiness, why don’t you.’
‘Is this about your happiness?’ Andy asked, silencing Justin for a moment. Then he smiled slightly. ‘We’re also going to get in touch with Nathan, and yes, you can see him. Since we’ve got to talk for a lot of reasons, we’ll be eating out tonight, all of us. We don’t want to be overheard.’
When Terry and Justin returned to Highgate, they were laden with armloads of bags and boxes. Terry had loved spending Andy’s money, and Andy had placed no limit on the amount. Justin hated himself for getting into it, but the size of the figures on the till receipts were exhilarating. They’d spent nine months of his mother’s income on one shopping trip.
Finally he could hold his curiosity in check no longer. ‘How wealthy is Andy Peacher?’
‘Iss not worth even thinking about, Justy,’ Terry replied, adopting unconsciously Nathan’s name for him.
In spite of everything, Justin decided he liked Terry. They seemed to recognise a kindred spirit in each other; they both smelled of the street. ‘Does he have houses, jets, yachts and stuff?’
‘No, he uses his father’s, though he rents a mansion in northern Virginia.’
‘Are you his butler or something?’
Terry laughed. ‘I have done the buttling thing once or twice, but no, I’m his chief-of-staff. I also supervise his younger brother Pete, who’s a student at Yale. Not that we see too much of him at the moment. I hired a minder for him who works to me.’
‘How much does Andy pay you?’
‘I receive in one year more than my father earns in five. I could retire tomorrow, but I like the work too much.’
‘How old are you?’
‘Not much older than you, criminal babe. Young, innit?’
Justin gave him a superior smirk. ‘You seems pretty ancient to me. Thought you wuz forty or something.’
For the first time in a long while, Terry looked disconcerted.
‘Why did you make me get this?’ Justin held up a bag containing full evening dress, which he had been secretly pleased to try on. Although Terry didn’t tell him so, he looked quite sensational in it, too, despite its being off the peg.
‘Matt and Andy go out a lot, and you may have to go with ‘em.’
‘In fact, we gotta return to the States in a few weeks, so you’ll have to get used to travelling.’
Now Justin was interested. ‘The States? Like in America?’
‘Yeah. You got a passport?’
‘Passport? I never even left North London!’
‘Damn, another job to do. That one sounds difficult too. I’ll pass it on to Dave.’
At the Highgate house, Nathan was waiting in the hall, in his socks. They looked at each other and, conscious of being watched, weren’t sure what to do. Then Nathan caught Justin’s eye, licked his lips and smiled hesitantly. That was it. Justin was in his arms and kissing him deeply. He saw Andy’s smile, but didn’t resent it. He was too caught up in his lover’s warmth and in sucking the tongue in his mouth. They broke off and held hands.
‘I rang mum to tell her I’m on a sleepover in Highgate with my friend Justin and his foster parent.’
‘Was she okay?’
‘Not until I told her who the foster parent is. Of course, once she puts two and two together she’ll make four, and then she’ll know what sort of friends you and I are.’
‘Do you mind?’
‘No. I only hope they’re grown up enough now to be able to accept it. It’d have to happen one day. I know what I am, Justy.’
‘I know what you are too, Nate.’ They separated. Terry sent them upstairs, where Justin spent a while showing Nathan his new gear. ‘But,’ he said seriously, ‘I want to keep your old stuff. It’s great just knowing it was once on your body. Gives me a continual hardon.’
‘Justy, a breath of wind on your crotch gives you a hardon.’ They chuckled.
There came a knock on the door and they looked around. ‘In here,’ called Dave the PA, directing delivery men with boxes.
‘Wassis?’ asked Justin.
‘Status goods for the young master,’ said Dave dryly. He also choreographed the arrival of a new work desk, which was placed under the window.
‘Sarky git,’ snarled Justin under his breath as Dave left.
The two boys looked at the boxes, which turned out to contain a computer, DVD player, PS2, sound system and TV. Justin shrugged helplessly at Nathan. They spent the next half hour setting up and connecting everything. Nathan tidied away the plastic and cardboard debris in the biggest box and put it on the landing outside, a courtesy that had not immediately occurred to Justin. The bedroom smelled of unpacked electronics, but when the new clothes were hung and the new shoes lined up, it began to look lived in. Justin started to sort through his old clothes, but in the end simply dumped them all in the box of rubbish on the landing. His CDs, however, he piled on the desk. He was no different from anyone else. New possessions made him happy and he had been given a place to be himself. He smiled shyly at his lover. ‘Ain’t I a poster boy for the middle class, Nate?’
‘Let’s take control of the kitchen, Justy.’
They thudded down the stairs and occupied the kitchen the way only adolescent boys can do, excavating the fridge, spreading debris everywhere, leaving packets of bread open and biscuits spilling out of their paper tubes.
Matt wandered in, saw the mess, grimaced and left after saying, ‘You’re going to clear that up, I hope? I don’t employ a housekeeper.’
Terry popped his head round the door a bit later. ‘I’ll have a tea if you’re making one. Two sugars.’
‘You’re a fixture already, Justy.’ Nathan grinned, adding, ‘You like Terry, don’t you?’
‘He’s cool for an old guy. Also he’s a really dangerous bloke. He’s got a gun in a holster, just like a gay James Bond.’
‘James Bond was gay. All that frantic laying of gorgeous women was massive overcompensation for sexual uncertainty.’
‘That’s always been my opinion. He was in denial, unlike Terry. I’ll put the kettle on.’
They took a mug to Terry, who was busy hoovering out the car, then sat companionably with him while he drank it. ‘Can we be overheard by the bugs out here, Terry?’
‘Just been sweeping the car in more ways than one, me babes. It’s clear, and we’re out of range of the house pickups. Can you show me later where in the cellar they put the transmitter, Justy?’
‘Sure. We’ve been very careful what we’ve been saying inside.’
‘You’re good lads. How you feeling, Justy?’
‘Weird. It must be like winnin’ the lottery. Suddenly I’m livin’ the life of a millionaire.’
‘Don’t get used to it.’
‘Wasn’t goin’ to, Terry. I may run away in a bit. I’m good at that.’
‘What were you two planning on doing if I hadn’t found you?’
Nathan chipped in. ‘We were going to get Justy a bedsit and a job, and live together as much as we could. One day when I’d finished at Hornsey College, maybe we’d go off to my family’s place in Suffolk and be gardeners or something.’
‘That’s sweet. Okay, time to show me the transmitter … but be nonchalant. Pretend we’re stacking all the packaging from your room down there.’
At seven they piled into the car and drove downtown. Andy liked eating at the celebrity Poivre Vert restaurant, in one of the small byways north of Oxford Street near the BBC. Justin was uncomfortable in a new blue shirt and black suit, wearing polished leather shoes for the first time in his life. He'd had his hair gelled up by Nathan, who squeezed his hand and told him he was so cool. Although Nathan was in his ordinary casuals, he looked as good as always.
The big car pulled up and Terry hopped out to open the door. ‘You first, teen babes,’ he ordered.
‘Cos that’s security. I cover Andy when he comes out last and your bodies are a useful screen.’
‘You’re kidding!’ Justin gasped, standing up next to him. ‘We’re expendable? Well thank you very much, Terry.’
‘Iss me that takes the bullet for him!’
There was a long queue at the door, but Mr Peacher’s party ignored it and walked straight in, past – as Justin noted – two soap stars and a news presenter. A table was waiting for them, candles lit. Smart young waiters swarmed round them, taking their coats and explaining the menu. The owner came out to shake hands, tell bad jokes and offer useful suggestions as to the meal and wine.
Both boys were gobsmacked. Nathan whispered, ‘Justy, did you see the price of the claret Andy ordered?’
‘At that price, it had better be good.’
‘At that price, I’d drink it whether it was good or not. I’d think of it as liquid wealth. What you having?’
‘A coke, chicken sandwich and chips.’
‘Do I look like I’m joking?’
Matt turned to him. ‘The coke you can have. The meal you’ll eat from the menu.’
‘Get as stuffed as that olive, Matthew,’ snarled Justin, reverting to his long-absent sneer.
Nathan looked unhappy. ‘Justy … please.’
Justin stared hard at Matt. ‘Sorry.’ He didn’t seem in the least repentant. He did let Nathan order for him, however.
The starters were small but succulent, the cuisine French. Justin became interested after the first bite. He leaned towards Nathan to comment, ‘Garlic, Nate. You know what that means in the morning.’
‘I’ll shove a bung up your bum.’
‘Ooh. I’d love that.’ They fell about, to the bemusement of the others. Nathan tutored Justin through the ritual of a restaurant meal, and they were soon wrapped up in their own little adolescent world of jokes and innuendo, ignoring the adults. Terry and Andy were smiling indulgently at them, while Matt looked on in sullen disapproval.
When the desserts were being served, Andy called the boys to order. Justin perked up and listened, which was new and encouraging.
‘We’ve got to let you two in on some family secrets, so you understand what we think’s going on here. I’m sure you’ll know not to repeat it. Now. There was once a wicked stepmother …’
‘I know this one!’ Justin crowed. ‘She tries to get some huntsmen to kill her husband’s kid, who instead ends up in a crummy cottage with a bunch of lower-class types like me. Anyway, stepmum tries to poison the kid, but a handsome prince kisses the kid and wakes her up.’
‘Spot on, apart from the fact that the kid was a he, not a she, and I was the kid in question.’
‘Wha … you’re saying this is a true story?’
‘I once had a stepmother who tried to do away with me. First she set the worst elements of the British press on me while I was a student. Then, when she had me in the States, she plotted to get me hooked on drink and drugs, and so destroy me. Fortunately, a handsome prince with a magic sword came and saved me with a kiss … literally.’ He looked at Matt with an expression of pure devotion, and for once even Justin couldn’t think of anything flippant to say.
‘The magic sword was a dossier of incriminating documents that proved what she’d done. If they’d ever got out, they’d have made her liable to a long time in prison. Unfortunately, she didn’t give up. She employed some very dangerous types to track down the dossier. Terry had to defend it, which he did very bravely, even though he failed. She took a contract out on him, and nearly succeeded in killing him and some other friends too.
‘In the end, she was defeated because my dad’s internal security team tracked her down and broke her influence in Peacher Corp. Terry had a starring role again. So she’s my ex-stepmom.’
‘… and in prison?’
‘No. She’s currently US ambassador to Thailand. People like her rarely end up in prison.’
‘Is she after you again?’
‘We don’t think so. She loves being an ambassador, and my dad’s got her on a tight leash now. He could destroy her with a single phone call. No, we think this is a consequence of Terry’s genius. He took out her entire strike team in one go. They were in a high security prison near Doncaster when last heard of, but their leader, a supreme git called Mike Anson, is close to release. I suspect he plans to deal out a revenge on Terry and me.’
‘Go to the police,’ advised Nathan simply.
‘Nah, Nate. They can’t do that,’ Justin contradicted instinctively. ‘If they did, Andy would blow his dad’s control over the stepmother, and a lot else would come out that he’d rather did not, am I right?’
‘In one, Justy,’ agreed Andy, using Nathan’s affectionate name for his lover without thinking.
Justin found he didn’t mind. He noticed Terry giving him an appraising look, almost as if to acknowledge something kindred in the boy.
‘What you gonna do?’ Justin asked with some interest.
‘As usual with Anson, he’s trusting in high tech and forgetting about people. He’s not aware we know we’re bugged, so we’ll be on our guard, which he doesn’t expect. What we don’t know is his purpose in planting the bug. He may be after information, material for blackmail or sale, or he may want to eliminate Terry, who he thinks of as his greatest enemy. He may want to get me and Matt too, or just me or just Matt. We don’t know.’
‘Nice of you to foster me into a house being targeted by a master criminal.’
Terry answered that one in a quiet voice. ‘I’m pretty sure you can take as good care of yourself as I can, criminal babe. You live on the edge, Justy. Iss my world too.’
Andy concluded, ‘So, my dears, we will sit tight and mind what we say around the house for a few days or so. Terry will get to work – and believe me, he’s quite something. Anson fears him as much as he hates him, and he’s right to do so. Terry also has a team, and a good one, of whom Jenna is only one – though perhaps the scariest. We will know a lot more in three weeks’ time when we return to Virginia for a bit.’
‘Virginia?’ wondered Justin.
‘Dave has the forms for your passport. He’s already been to get your mum’s consent. Now all we need are the official fostering papers, which’ll be faxed tomorrow … oh, and a nice photo.’
‘Cool!’ Andy smiled at him, and Justin finally gave in and smiled back. ‘Thanks, Andy.’
‘My pleasure, Justy.’
They exited to a flash and flare of paparazzi cameras. Justin was stunned. ‘Do they follow you two everywhere?’
‘No,’ answered Matt. ‘They were following two of the latest Big Brother microstars, who’re inside. We’re just an extra dividend for the paps. Hope you smiled. You’ll be in Gay Universe or Hello next week.’