Michael Arram








  In the morning, Justin found breakfast on the stern promenade.  The choice of dishes offered was too much for a guy who only wanted a bowl of Cheerios.  It took him a while to find something that looked like them amongst the gleaming steel and silver heaters, masses of platters and myriads of jugs laid out on the white-draped tables.  In the end a smiling steward gave him a hand.  He decided a cup of coffee would help get his day going, especially if he shovelled in the sugar for an extra buzz.


  Two of the Yale boys appeared and sat across from him.  He was friendly toward them but answered their enquiries noncommittally, being far more interested in the twinkling blue sea, where early-morning jet skiers and paragliders were already out.  The waves had got a little stronger overnight, with white foam appearing at the foot of the low cliffs he could see up the coast from Basseterre.  There was also a slight motion in the deck under him.  When the Yale boys announced they were going scuba diving with Tim and Peter on Black Coral Reef, they neglected to ask him if he would be joining them.  In the circumstances, he was not bothered by the omission.


  Justin had to decide how to spend his own day.  Loafing round the small city seemed like a plan if he could find who to ask to get him on shore.  He knocked on Andy and Matt’s cabin door.


  ‘You asking for permission?’  Andy attempted with little success to hide his amusement.


  ‘Nah … well, whatever.’


  ‘That’s a first, Justy.  Use your cabin phone to ring the bridge.  They’ll sort a boat for you.  Oh, and tell them when and where you want to be picked up too, or it’s a big fuss signalling from the harbour master’s office.  You’ve got a watch, haven’t you?  Money?  No?  Matt, give him some dollars.  Oh … and don’t spend it all on cigarettes, though they are a lot cheaper here.’


  When Justin reached the gangway, the yacht's tender was waiting for him with a crew of respectful but smiling Filipinos.  He sat at the back and clutched his favourite straw hat as they shot away towards the harbour.  The big catamaran ferry from Nevis was arriving just then, and as they swept past its towering metal walls, he looked up and waved to the grinning faces peering down.  After dropping him off on the quay, the tender roared off on its return trip to the yacht, lying white, sleek and handsome beyond the bay.


  He made his way into the city through an impressive arched building.  Staring at the crowds of tourists and locals, he decided that, apart from the sun and the deep blue sky, there was something strangely resonant of his native London in the racial mix.  The low houses and bars had verandas, and he eventually took a seat outside a relaxed-looking drinking hole, where he ordered a coke from a smiling waiter.  He watched people go by, suddenly aware that he had no idea what he wanted to do or where he might go.  His preferred style in life had always been just to turn up anywhere and let things happen.


  Then he noticed a guy at the next table – about Matt’s age, British, with a cheerful face – staring at him.  The guy caught his eye.  ‘You from North London, mate?  I twigged the accent.’


  ‘Yeah,’ Justin confirmed.  ‘You too?’


  ‘Southgate.  I like the hat.’


  ‘Iss been a hit on the boat.’


  ‘Oh.  You’re on a liner?  Didn’t know the QM2 was at Port Zante this week.’


  ‘Nah … it’s that boat out there … the white one.’


  ‘Wow!  Isn’t that the Peacher yacht that anchored last week?  Are you a Peacher kid?  Thought they were all Yanks.’


  ‘Well, no … iss a long story.’


  ‘Do you know Andy Peacher and Matt White?’


  ‘You gay then?’


  ‘What, me?  Nah.  But you read about them in the celebrity rags.’


  Justin’s natural evasiveness, cultivated in many police interview rooms, kicked in.  ‘You here on holiday, mate?’


  ‘Yeah, but with a bit of business too.  I’m a photographer part time.  I sell a few of me pics.  Here … this is some of me work.’  From a backpack under the table he pulled a portfolio containing a number of pretty impressive scenic shots, as well as some beach-model photos, male and female.


  ‘Neat,’ Justin complimented him.


  ‘If you doan’ mind, I could take one or two of you.  You got a spare half hour?  No charge … but no fee either.’


  ‘What would you use ’em for?’


  ‘I sell ’em on to catalogues and brochures for wallpaper shots.  Pretty people with camera faces ain’t as common as you might think.  Not every looker takes a good picture, but there’s something about you, kid.  You might well do.’


  ‘I keeps me clothes on though.’


  ‘Sure … I’m not that sort of photographer.’


  ‘Also, you gotta send me copies.’




  They exchanged names.  His was Declan, he said, Irish on his mother’s side.  He talked a lot on the road to the beach.  Eventually he pushed a bit.  ‘You din’t say why you were on the Peacher yacht.’


  ‘Din’t I?  Me mum’s the younger kids’ nanny, so I got taken along for the ride.  Neat innit?  Freeloadin’ in the Caribbean while me mates are swimming in Camden Lock to keep cool.’


  Declan laughed.  ‘So do you get to see any of the first-class passengers?’


  ‘Only from a distance, like.  I stays down in the crew cabins, but we got access to the pool and gym sometimes, when the ship’s empty of guests, and they let me come ashore too when I wants.’  Justin’s criminal mind had been ticking over, but now it went into gear.  He suspected this guy.  He added slowly, ‘Mind you, that Andy Peacher’s an arrogant little bastard.’


  ‘Oh … why do you say that?’


  ‘Ee found me at the pool side at a permitted time.  Said he din’t like it, no matter the hour.  Then he had me told off by the first officer and confined below decks.  When me mum complained that I din’t do anyfing wrong, he was real rude to her and said that kids’ nannies were two a penny.  She’s thinkin’ of telling them where to shove the job.  The crew reckon he’s a total shit.  Poncing round like a little queen and touchin’ up the younger hands.  There’s one of ’em goin’ after ’is dad for sexual harrassment.’


  ‘An’ he’s not interested in a nice-looking kid like you?’


  ‘Doan’ know about that … ’ee had a hardon when ’ee saw me in me cossie.  An ’ee got pissed off wiv me at the pool when I wouldn’t go wiv ’im to ’is cabin.’


  ‘Christ, what a predator.  You can’t be of legal age yet.’


  ‘Nah  … not quite fifteen, though I’m big for me age like.’


  Declan, intrigued, in the meantime had found the wharf he wanted to use, and very professionally choreographed Justin in some poses on the old timbers down by the water.  Whatever else he might have been, he was a genuine photographer.  Telling Justin to lose the hat and deck shoes and open his shirt, he took more pictures with a beach background of a pensive boy gazing moodily out to sea.


  ‘Have a look, kid.’


  Justin stared at the digital images.  They were good, really good, catching a delicate charm about his face and figure that he’d never dreamed he possessed.


  ‘Look, let me do some face shots, with and without the hat.  You’re better than a lot of boy models who get paid for this, in my opinion: natural poise, pretty smile and wide grin.  Really nice.  You done your hair up stylish too.’


  ‘Whatchu gonna do wiv ‘em?’


  ‘I might show them round and see if an agency would be interested in you.  I receive a commission if they are.  You can’t lose by it.  Juss give me a forwarding address for the prints and any follow-up.’


  Justin gave his mother’s address in Holloway.  He was still working out whether this guy was all he seemed, when Declan said the words that confirmed Justin’s suspicions.  ‘You can’t stand them Peachers, can you?’


  ‘Nah …’ Justin replied fluently, ‘… hate ’em.  They humiliate me mum on a daily basis.’


  ‘Then maybe you can pay ’em back.  I do a bit of work for the papers, not just picture stuff, but I feed ’em information.  Here’s me card wiv me mobile number on.  If you get wind of where they’re goin’ and stuff, and when, and if there’s anything juicy about trouble on the boat, lemme know straight away.  If you can slip me names about the boy Andy Peacher harrassed, giss a ring.’


  ‘Yeah, but wass innit for me, Dec?’


  Declan brought a wad out of his back pocket.  ‘Here’s three hundred dollars, mate.  There’s more where that came from.  Just ring, okay?’


  ‘Cool!’ Justin enthused.  ‘I’ll be here tomorrow.  Maybe I’ll see ya?’


  ‘I’m always round the quay.’


  Justin walked away feeling very pleased with himself, though still full of questions.  He was an accomplished and convincing liar, as his teachers, the Metropolitan Police and his mother could all attest.  The deception he was engaged in now was not just troublemaking, it was fun too.  He imagined it was something Terry O’Brien would approve of, and he’d even made three hundred dollars doing it.


  He strolled the streets and looked in the many craft shops for something to give Nathan.  Finally he found a brilliant necklace in a surf shop.  He spent most of his day’s earnings on it, which seemed like a good use to make of the money.  It was also the first time he could recall buying a gift for anyone other than his mother.  It was his conscience which was accusing him of doing it out of guilt over Tim’s blowjob the night before.








  The tender was waiting for Justin on time, bobbing easily up and down on the oily swell from the sea.  He hopped in, to be grabbed and steadied as he staggered on the boat’s rise.  The crew cast off and they skipped out over the water, kicking up spray.  He sat back, enjoying the ride, and as he ran up the companionway to the yacht, he felt he was returning to somewhere he belonged.


  No one was around.  The Yalies were all out on the dive boat, so he retreated to his cabin for a wank and a snooze.  It was six when he woke up.  He showered and changed to swimming trunks, putting cargo trousers over them and slipping on a pair of flip-flops.  He left his hat on the table.


  The twins were on the pool deck, splashing around.  ‘Hey!’ they called.


  ‘Hey back,’ Justin replied, sitting and dangling his feet in the water.


  ‘You coming in?’ they asked.


  ‘Okay.’  He dropped his trousers and cannonballed into the water on top of them.


  ‘That’s really juvenile,’ sniffed Harriet.  ‘You’re Justin.  Momma Sylvia said you’re related to us, but you’re not called Justin Peacher.’


  ‘No, Harry,’ Ed corrected her, ‘Sylvia said that Andy’s fostering Justin, so he’s sort of our foster nephew.  That right?’


  Justin grinned as he bobbed in the water. ‘Yeah.  Thass it!  Uncle Ed and Auntie Harry.’


  They laughed.  ‘Weird.  Your mom and dad dead then?  You an orphan?’ asked Harriet.


  ‘No.  Me mum’s fine when last I heard.  She’s just not able to take care of me.’


  The twins shrugged off the problem.  ‘Can we call you Justy, like Andy does?’


  ‘That’ll be cool.’  They talked about starting high school in August, visiting their ‘real mom’ in Washington soon for a week, and life in the Peacher compound in Santa Barbara.  Ed saved him from drowning when Justin ventured too far into the deep end and lost his nerve.  But he redeemed himself by playing all sorts of games.


  As they were splashing about, the dive boat returned and the rest of the passengers drifted past.  ‘Gotta go, kids.  But I’ll see ya later.’  He put on a robe over his dripping swimsuit, and went to find the person he thought could advise him best.


  ‘Pete!’ he called.


  ‘Hey, Justy.’


  ‘You gotta mo?  Iss important.’


  ‘Sure.  Come into the aft lounge.’  Peter was in just singlet and shorts, looking remarkably cool and hunky, his bleached and tangled hair making him seem like a gay fantasy of a surfer.  Justin wondered how Tim could be eager for sex with anyone else when he had a lover like that.


  They sat on a bench next to an open picture window, through which a cool breeze was blowing.  Justin quickly recounted his adventure in Basseterre.  Peter listened quietly, raising his eyebrows occasionally.


  When Justin finished, Pete reached over and grabbed him behind his head, kissed him and ruffled his hair.  ‘Terry would be proud of you, Justy.’  Justin grinned from ear to ear with the praise.  ‘You get these guys hanging around all the elite resorts.  At first hearing it sounds as if this one’s a freelance looking for dirt.  Poor bastard must have thought he’d hit a stream of pure sewage with you, buster.  Still, there is one odd thing.’




  ‘He wanted to know about our movements.  They’re usually only interested in rumours and pictures … preferably scandalous ones: nude sunbathing, kissing the wrong girl or boy, that sorta thing.’




  ‘So, maybe this is Anson at work, looking to put moles under the Peacher lawn.  You might have been quite a gift for him if you had been what you were pretending to be.  Makes me wonder if Terry is really Anson’s target after all.’


  ‘Should we contact Terry?’


  ‘Yeppers, I think we should.  Leave it to me, Justy.  By the way, have you ever gone diving?’


  ‘Wha … me?  Nah.  I can barely swim.’


  ‘That’s no problem.  Tell you what.  Meet me at the pool after and I’ll fit you up with the gear and teach you some basic drill.  Then you can come with me and Tim out to the coral reefs tomorrow and we’ll give you some more instruction.’


  ‘Jeez.  That’d be the best, thanks bro!’




* * *




  The next day found Justin in flippers and wetsuit jacket, fifteen feet below the surface of the Caribbean, amusing a lot of passing fish by blowing streams of bubbles from his mask.  The sand below him was white and the rocks and anemones a kaleidoscope of colour.  He swam easily and confidently now, Tim and Peter watching him carefully, lazing along just above him.  This was indeed the best.  His one lingering fear was of the sharks the films he had watched told him must be lurking there somewhere.  For luck, he patted the knife strapped to his bare thigh.


  He was still bubbling, although in quite a different way, when he got back to the Speculator.  The Yale boys, who had been dumped on shore that morning and looked a little the worse for wear following their afternoon in the bars, were leaving the next day, so that night a barbecue in their honour was being held in the Peacher house on shore.


  ‘You’ll take the chopper in with me, Justy,’ said Andy, to whom the whole tale of Declan the Dirt-digger had been told.  ‘We don’t want you being observed in our social circle coming off the boat.  We may have to make use of you again in your alternative persona.’


  Before the party started, Justin rang Nathan.  ‘Evening babe … it has to be before midnight where you are.’


  ‘It’s eleven.  The boy can learn.  I’ve been waiting up for the call.  What did you do today?’  Justin told him.  ‘Oh Justy, that’s so brilliant.  I love scuba diving.  Maybe one day we can do it together, you and I …’


  ‘… and the sharks.’


  ‘There weren’t sharks!  You’re making it up.’


  ‘Not in the sea, maybe, but I met one on land, a real basking shark looking for blood in the water.’


  ‘Go on.’  Justin filled him in.  ‘So you think this is all tied up with what you saw and heard in Highgate that night?’


  ‘Pete does – you’ll love Pete, he’s a lot like you, Nate.  We may be seein’ Terry soon.’


  They kicked the idea around for a while, until eventually Nathan signed off with a kiss down the phone line.  ‘Take care of yourself, my mad little Justy babe.’


  The barbecue was not like anything Justin had experienced in a North London back garden.  It had waiters, chefs and Caribbean musicians.  Justin and the twins climbed a tree, where they sat in the branches with plates of food, swinging their bare legs and chattering.  Ed and Harriet brought to the surface the long-suppressed little boy in him and gave it an outing.  After having missed out on most of his childhood, he had finally found a place and company where he could briefly reclaim it.


  The fireworks display took him by total surprise.  It was stunning, like the big public ones he sometimes watched at a distance over Central London.  Here, however, it thundered and exploded right overhead, detonation after detonation, colours blooming on top of more colours, banishing the tropical darkness and silencing the cicadas.


  Exhausted after what had perhaps been the most wonderful day of his life, Justin slept that night in the Peacher mansion, an impressive eighteenth-century plantation house on a hill above the inland jungle of the island.  He woke late to tropical bird calls and the flutter of curtains in the morning breeze from the sea.  He went in search of breakfast in shorts and tee-shirt.


  ‘Morning, criminal babe,’ said Terry, looking up from his paper in the dining room.


  Justin whooped and launched himself on his favourite security agent to give him a tight hug.  ‘Christ Terry, when did you get in?’


  ‘Early this morning.  Iss all your fault, so it better be good.  Have some breakfast first.  Why not try the cantaloupe or the grapefruit?’


  ‘Yuk.  There’d better be Cheerios.’


  They grinned at each other.  Justin suddenly felt his day had been made.


  As he munched down his bowl of cereal, he responded as best he could to Terry’s very thorough interrogation.  When it finished, he asked, ‘So tell me, Terry, who is this Declan bloke?’


  ‘No idea.  I got lots of sources in the tabloid world – I need to, as the scandal sheets give us plenty of grief – but they don’t know any photographer called Declan anything.  So I got a couple of me people down in Basseterre looking for him this fine morning.  When we get a picture and some information as to where he’s staying, we may learn more.  You did good, Justy.  I couldna done better meself.  Thass twice now you’ve been a diamond.  I won’t forget it, sweet babe.’


  Justin smiled into his breakfast.  This was the sort of approval he wanted to hear.  It gave him a glimpse of something important he might accomplish with his life.


  When Terry ran out of questions, he sat back and tapped his teeth reflectively.  Then he gave Justin a big grin.  ‘Now, my little delinquent babe, I ’spect you wanna be naughty again.  I think a brisk walk down into town would be a good idea later.  See if you can meet up wiv Declan Whoever and draw him out.  We need more information before I can assess whether he represents a threat greater than the usual.  You up for it?’


  ‘You need to ask?’


  ‘You’re an imp, Justy!  No I don’t.  I know you’re eating this up.  Just don’t forget that you could be hurt.’


  At eleven Terry drove to the outskirts of Basseterre in a jeep and dropped Justin at the top of a street leading down to the harbour.  He radioed for a boat to pick the boy up at one in the afternoon; gave him a serious look and told him to take care.


  Justin strolled down the street.  He was the perfect image of an ingenuous young tourist, backpack over his shoulder, beanie hat shading his face, his eyes flickering everywhere on the pretext of taking in the sights.  He found the bar where he had met Declan, but the man was nowhere around.  He took a seat nonetheless, got a chilled coke and watched the world go by.  He could see the yacht, white and impressive beyond the bay.


  In the end he gave up and moved on to do touristy things.  As he was mooching around one of the many gift shops near the central post office, he caught sight of the back of a familiar head.  ‘Hey … hey, Tim!’ he shouted.


  Tim looked back surprised.  ‘Hello, Justy.  What’re you doing here?’


  ‘Hanging … thass all.  What about you?’


  Tim looked momentarily disconcerted.  ‘Oh, you know.’


  ‘No,’ Justin responded, and then remembered the smell that hung round the local cafés.  ‘Oh, hang on, maybe I do know.  You been buying … stuff?’


  ‘Maybe,’ Tim replied evasively.  ‘Er, gotta go, Justy.  I’m picking up a boat out to the yacht in fifteen minutes.  See ya later, okay?  Unless you want a lift?’


  ‘Nah … mine’s coming in at one.  See ya.’


  Justin smirked.  It appeared he wasn’t the only bad boy on board the Speculator.  Oddly, it hadn’t occurred to him to buy marijuana.  It was difficult enough getting tobacco on board.


  As he was standing thinking about the chances, a familiar voice hailed him in the accents of North London.  ‘Hey … Justin.’


  ‘Hi, Declan.  Didn’t think I’d see ya again.’


  ‘Fancy a drink?’


  ‘Sure.’  Justin was led into the dark interior of a serious bar.  There was a scent to the air that caused Justin’s nose to tingle.  ‘Can you get pot ’ere?’


  ‘You use that shit?’


  ‘Aw yeah.  Come on.  At my age and a Londoner?  Whatchu think?’


  Declan laughed.  ‘Any news for me?’ he asked abruptly.


  ‘Depends what you mean.  The crewman bein’ harrassed by that little blond arsehole was fired yesterday and flown back to Manila wiv a payoff.’




  ‘Yeah.  But Andy came on to me again.  He wants to screw me little butt so bad.  He’s disgusting.  ’Ee had his sweaty hands all over me, tried to fiddle wiv me dick an all through me shorts.  I ran for it in the end when his boyfriend turned up.  They’re an odd pair.  I think they both wanna do me at the same time.  Iss a bit scary.  I told me mum I wanna go home.  I doan’ fancy this.  I doan’ like poofs, and this makes me sick.’


  ‘Jeez.  Sounds like they wanna use you like some sex toy.  Did he offer you money?’


  ‘Nah.  But he more or less said that if I din’t lay it out he’d get me mum fired.’


  ‘Shit … he wants to do this on the boat with all the rest of the people there?


  ‘He said he knew somewhere nice and quiet on the island where we wouldn’ be bovvered, where ’ee ’ad some … whadee call it?  Equipment, ’ee said.’


  ‘Fuckin’ ’ell!  Like the bloody Marquis de Sade.’




  ‘Never mind.  Look, Justin, I can help.  I got friends who can make the little pervert pay for what ’ee’s trying to do to you.  Whatchu got to do is this.  Go along wiv him.  Try to get him to tell you where his little love nest is.  Lemme know, and when he takes you there, we’ll be waiting.’


  ‘You woan’ let him do things to me, willya?  Iss horrible wha’ he says he’d like to do to me.  Urghh.  Makes me shiver.’


  ‘No, no, Justin.  I mean, you’ll have to be in the same room as him, and maybe let him start.  But then we can move and sort him out, the perv.  You okay wiv that?’


  ‘Yeah … but can I trust ya?’


  ‘Course.  And there’ll be money for you too, lots of it.  How about five thousand dollars, how does that sound?  Worth a grope or two?’


  ‘Now you’re talkin’!  Okay, you’re on.  But you promise you woan’ let him … do stuff to me?’




  ‘Okay … I’m trustin’ you now.’


  ‘Giss a ring this afternoon.’








  Justin made his way down to the quay and waited for the tender, which came skipping across the waves, the crew waving as they saw him.  As soon as he was aboard the yacht, he went looking for Andy to fill him in on the latest development.


  ‘This is new,’ Andy said.  ‘I mean, I’ve had the press go after me, even making things up, but this is a step beyond.  It’s entrapment, and it’s going a lot further than even a tabloid hack would.’


  ‘Where’s Terry?’


  ‘He’ll be along when he’s talked to his people in Basseterre.  Meanwhile, let’s go and tell Matt and Pete.’


  Terry arrived late in the afternoon and joined them in the lounge.  Justin told his story again, with many interruptions from Andy, who was deeply amused by his foster-son’s depiction of him as a half-crazed paedophile.


  ‘Justy, you’re a real artist,’ Terry complimented him.  ‘Also, you’ve read too much internet porn for a kid.  But there’s no doubt Declan the Dirt-digger swallowed it all – hook, line and sinker.  Andy’s right too.  This is no ordinary press harassment.’  He gave a picture to Justin.  ‘Is this Declan?’


  ‘Yup.  Thass the guy.  You found him?’


  ‘I didn’t, but two of my guys from Santa Barbara located him from your description and tailed him.  He’s in the Coconut Tree Hotel.  Nice.  Three stars.  He’s registered as Barry McGuire.  My people are running a check on that name, but it might just be another false identity, I’d guess.  He’s been hanging with these other two guys.  Any recognition?’


  They all shook their heads.


  ‘So there’s a team at work here.  Obviously a deal of money behind them, too.  Iss looking more and more like Anson’s at it once again.  I’m gonna have to hand him another upset, poor guy, cos we’ll have to take out this team too.  They’re too persistent and too dangerous.’


  ‘Wha …?  You gonna shoot ’em?  Cool!’


  ‘No, Justy, you know very well I’m gonna do nothing’ of the sort.  We aren’t the police or the CIA.  We gotta be a bit more subtle than that.  We’ll just entrap the entrappers.  I’ve devised a scheme which amazes even me by its very subtlety.’