THE GREEN SIDE
It was midday and Damien Macavoy wandered out of his homeroom looking for the lunch hall. The other kids flooded past him chattering in groups. Damien wanted to stop one of them and ask the way, but somehow he couldn’t. He felt shy and lost.
At that moment a heavy whack on the head took Damien by surprise. A big lad in a passing group had slung his bag round his shoulder and into Damien’s head just as he was level with the smaller boy.
‘Ouch! That fookin’ hurt!’ Damien yelped.
‘Sorry, Einstein!’ came a careless response. The boy didn’t even look round, though two of his smaller mates looked back over their shoulders and grinned.
Einstein! Damien was now utterly miserable. His entire young being revolted from the stigma of nerdiness, but that was how he was being characterised: class swat and brain-box. Just because he was good with sums and reading. He wished he had hidden it and pretended to be as dull as the rest of them, but he remembered what Nathan had told him: ‘Darling, it’s what you are. You’re quick and clever. Don’t ever be ashamed of it. It’s their problem if other kids resent it.’ His dad had nodded and added, ‘Yer can kick their arses later.’
Damien clenched his fists and looked after the retreating backs.
An American voice came from behind him. ‘Lo. What’s your name?’
Damien turned to see a thin and very pale boy standing nervously by. ‘Damien Macavoy. Who’re you?’
‘You bin here long?’
‘It’s my second year. Mom’s at the embassy. What do your mom and dad do?’
Damien heaved a sigh. Here it goes. ‘I lives wiv me dad and Nathan.’
‘Your dad gay?’
‘Cool.’ Reggie was grinning. ‘My mom lives with Esther.’
Damien was grinning back by now. At last, someone who shared his peculiar circumstances. ‘Which way’s the lunch hall?’
Reggie told him to follow. They took a table, where they unpacked their lunches. Damien was his father’s son in many ways, not least in his capacity to assess and analyse others. Reggie had pale, freckled skin, singularly light-blond hair and very clear eyes of an almost translucent grey. He seemed to be trying to be the invisible man. But once past the shyness, Reggie was funny and interesting in ways new to Damien. The boy was quite fascinating, his manner of speech rather older than his nine years.
‘Who’s that big fooker?’ Damien eventually asked, pointing to the boy who had deliberately clobbered him with the backpack.
Reggie tittered. ‘“Fooker?” That’s some bad word. Him? Take no notice. He’s a jerk. He’s Anatole. His dad’s something at the Russian trade commission. Thinks he’s God’s gift to the fourth grade.’
‘Has he got a gang?’
‘A few morons hang with him. Ignore them, I do.’
But Damien never ignored a challenge. Anatole was two tables away, sounding off in the centre of a group of other boys, dutifully laughing at what Damien assumed were jokes. He remembered what his dad said. ‘You take down the big one first, babes. The rest’ll be too scared to try anything.’
Eventually Anatole got up and shambled along the aisle past Damien’s table. Damien was annoyed to see Reggie look nervous and drop his eyes. Anatole’s reign over Year 4 at the Strelzen International School had gone on long enough.
Damien anticipated the move this time. Anatole’s sort were so predictable. As he passed, he darted a fat hand out to cuff Damien, but Damien wasn’t there.
Anatole’s eyes bugged when a hand gripped his testicles and twisted. As he keened and doubled, Damien slipped behind him and gave his plump behind a boot right in the coccyx. Anatole went down on the floor tiles, squirming in agony.
Damien leaned over the bully, a devilish little grin on his lips. ‘Call me Newton, yer fatso, not Einstein. That wuz the third law of motion, that wuz: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If you fooks wiv me, I fooks back hard. Bye-bye.’
‘Suits you, Danny.’
‘Oh yes. There’s something about your expression that really is quite Gothic.’
‘You’re not thinking Igor the laboratory assistant here, are you?’
Gus laughed a little, a habit he had been increasingly getting into as he grew older. ‘Not at all. But the tight frock coat and wing collar make you look the complete Victorian gentleman.’
‘Not like an undertaker?’
‘There is a bit of that. But no undertaker could look quite so sexy, whereas David Copperfield could.’
Danny grinned. Gus had a surprising ability to lift him, surprising that is to anyone who failed to be aware of the devotion and love that radiated out from Danny’s intellectual boyfriend.
Gus himself was garbed as a Transylvanian peasant, and his healthy blond looks made him very convincing. Wulf Sczneczen, whatever else you might say about him, had a remarkable talent for presentation and design.
Danny was not at all sure he liked Wulf. But since Wulf was a friend of Davey Skipper’s, Danny was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Nevertheless, Danny found the manager’s face lascivious and dissipated, with its full lips and baggy eyes, and did not need to look at his CV to know that he was addicted to sex any way he could get it.
A particular reason for Danny to dislike him was the way Wulf hung around Gus, walking in on him after he had stripped to put on his costume, and staying to eye him up. True, Gus was a sight to see: thick, dishevelled strawlike hair, toned, pale body, long legs and unselfconscious beauty. But these were Danny’s own joys. It was like having a marble nude by Bellini for your private enjoyment, so he believed, and thanked God for it. Wulf had no right to ogle Danny’s lover in that way.
Danny and Gus went together from the staff changing-room into the main floor of the bar. Wulf was talking to two other bar boys, one a pale, dark-haired lad in a monastic robe, the other a tall, striking young man in evening dress and a red-silk-lined cloak. It seemed that Wulf selected the costume to suit the wearer.
He turned to Gus and Danny. ‘Daniel, you go with Pavel upstairs to the champagne bar. He’ll show you the procedures. August, you stay down here with Anton. Jump to it.’
With a hesitant smile at Pavel the monk, Danny walked with him up the Gothic timber stairs into a space fitted out like a vault, with real candles that flickered mysteriously.
Pavel grinned and said in excellent English, ‘We have to replace them and clean up the wax. It’s a mess. Are you from Britain, Daniel?’
‘Call me Danny.’
‘Then call me Paul. I’m from Moscow. Are you a Londoner?’
‘No. Gus and I are from a little country village in Suffolk.’
‘Ah. Is he your boyfriend?’
‘Yes he is. We came here to study at the Rodolfer.’
‘Oh, students. I’m at the Technische Universität in Sudmesten myself. It’s the poor cousin of the Rodolfer, but the town-planning course is generally admired. How are you getting on here?’
Danny began explaining things. Such was the friendly nature of the Russian boy and so many were Danny’s anxieties that he unburdened himself to Pavel the way he hadn’t even done to Gus.
Pavel proved to be a sympathetic listener while showing him the till and the stock. ‘The language is much of the problem, I think.’
Danny nodded. ‘I feel isolated.’
Pavel beamed at him. ‘Then you’re in the right place. Bar Melmoth will be a crash course for you in Rothenian and Czech.’
‘I thought I just needed English.’
‘Not all the customers are English or American. The Germans will speak English but Rothenians won’t order in a foreign language in their own country. And more and more Czechs and Rothenians visit the Wejg gay canton.’
‘Is something wrong?’
‘Well … I don’t know if I’m up to it.’
‘I think you’ll soon recognise the main phrases, and you’ll be too busy to worry about the language when the rush starts. This is our first week and the place is really taking off.’
Danny began to panic. ‘But … I don’t know … I’m not sure …’
Pavel soothed, ‘Don’t you worry, Danny. I’ll be here. I may not be a native speaker, but my Rothenian is good. If you don’t get it at first, I’ll cover for you till you do.’
Danny brightened. ‘Oh … I suppose that’ll help.’
‘How much Rothenian do you have?’
‘I did a crash course before we left. But it was just books and listening to a CD.’
‘Do you know the Rothenian numbers?’
‘Well … yes, I guess.’
Pavel grinned. For the next half hour, as they were readying the bar to open, he tested out Danny’s knowledge of numbers and simple questions. With such smiling encouragement, Danny decided the language didn’t seem quite as intimidating as he had originally thought.
When the early customers began to filter into the upstairs bar, Danny met them with a smile and managed to get the drift of the first order. He gave his friend a dazzling grin as he made the change and worked the till.
Pavel came close. ‘You’re brilliant,’ he whispered, kissing Danny lightly on the cheek. It was at that point that the problem actually began, because Danny promptly sprang an erection. Pavel noticed him reach down to adjust his dick in his tight black trousers.
‘So how was school, babes?’
Damien climbed into the back of his dad’s SUV. The day ended much earlier in Strelzen than at home, and Justin had adjusted his lunch hour so he could pick up his son. The boy grunted. ‘Wuz awright, s’pose.’
‘D’ya make friends, Daimey?’
Damien shook his head, then thought about it. ‘There wuz this American kid who wuz okay. We had lunch an’ all together.’
‘Invite him round.’
‘Course. Iss one way to get together. Wass his name?’
‘Reggie. His mums are lesbies.’
Justin’s eyebrows shot up. ‘What, really?’
‘Yuh. His proper mum’s at the embassy. An’ his second mum’s an artist. Hey dad, how about this: You could marry his mum and Nathan could marry his second mum, and then we’d be two proper families.’
The car swerved slightly as Justin’s head jerked round in astonishment.
Damien sniggered happily. ‘S’okay, juss jerking your chain, dad.’
‘Little sod. You’re mine alright.’
‘Is Nathan home?’
‘Yup. Iss warm enough to use the pool if you want, babes.’
‘Good. I fink I will ask Reggie if he’d like to come round after school, maybe tomorrer.’
‘Not a problem.’
‘Oh, an’ I got a letter to you from the principal.’
‘Already? Who did you duff up?’
‘I took down a dickhead called Anatole, the Year 4 bully. He wuz a cry-baby and told on me.’
‘Bigger than you?’
‘Huge, wiv piggy eyes and flat feet. The principal looked at me weird when he called us in together.’
‘Fair enough. Usual arrangement. You’re grounded over the weekend.’
‘Yuh. Since I got him out of the way, shouldn’t be any more problems.’
‘Yeah, well leave it a while before you start sorting out the older kids, will yer?’
‘Loves yer, Daimey.’
‘Love yer too, dad.’
Prema looked over the Lady Benefactor’s shoulder and into Vedayah’s eyes. They had her in a sandwich, synchronising their fucking, and her groans advertised her satisfaction with the arrangement. She was still trembling with the aftershock of her latest climax, while building up to the next. Vedayah was nothing if not enterprising.
Prema did not like what he had been talked into doing, but fear for the future of the order, together with Vedayah’s influence over him, had persuaded him into the scheme. It was Prema’s first sex with a woman, and it was not quite as bad as he had feared. With Vedayah’s help he had managed an erection, which a ring was helping sustain. Entering her from behind had not been much different from doing it with the boys he had sometimes fucked, though she was more heavily scented than he liked. He had feared she would be wizened and unattractive, but her body was still well-toned and lithe. However, from time to time he had to catch a glimpse of Vedayah in action so as to keep his interest up.
Despite quickly getting bored, Prema remembered what Vedayah had said: ‘She’s gotta think we’re loving it, Mal. I mean, she’ll only half believe us … she’s a cynical bitch, but we have to give satisfaction. We gotta fuck her senseless in fact.’ Prema sighed, but when he caught Vedayah’s warning glance, he turned it into a sob of lust.
Vedayah closed his eyes and engaged with the Lady Benefactor’s mouth. Prema knew what a great kisser his lover was, and rather envied the woman.
A long time later, Vedayah withdrew from her and with a satisfied whimper the Lady Benefactor settled face down on the silk sheets of the bed. Prema was expelled as she moved off him, clearing him to begin the next phase in their plan. He settled on his back and stared at the ceiling. Vedayah on the other side of the Lady Benefactor was massaging her shoulder. She cooed and nestled into him and eventually, she slept.
Vedayah mouthed at him, ‘OK, Mal, get busy!’
Prema moved delicately off the bed, avoiding making it lurch. He padded quietly into the lounge of the Lady Benefactor’s suite, where he perched on the chair at her open laptop. It was in hibernation mode, but a tap on the keyboard brought up the blue screen. The e-mail programme was closed and an attempt to open it revealed that it was password protected. Prema just smiled. From the inner pocket of his robe, which was lying across an armchair, he pulled out a flash drive and plugged it into a USB port. A programme – one of his own devising – immediately activated and began colonising her operating system. The e-mail opened itself and copied its inbox and outbox on to the drive. It was done in barely a few minutes. For good measure, Prema also copied her documents on to a second flash drive, before returning the laptop to hibernation.
Vedayah grinned as Prema reappeared in the bedroom door. He motioned with his head for Prema to go to the loo and flush.
Rejoining them in bed, Prema spooned up to the dozing woman. He reflected that the world of computer programming, which he had joined the order to escape, was pursuing him in his new life, in the same way as their sins continued to pursue Christian monks, or so he had heard. Soon he too drowsed off.
He woke suddenly as the Lady Benefactor yawned and stretched. Vedayah quickly scrambled out of bed and motioned for Prema to do so too. They stood respectfully while the woman eyed them approvingly.
‘Thank the Father Abbot for your … spiritual assistance. You may tell him I’m very satisfied.’
The two young men put their hands together and bowed. Wrapping their robes about themselves they left her quarters. Prema carefully checked for his flash drives and found them in place.
It was late afternoon, and the rest of the community was in the Garden of Thought. Before they joined their brothers, Vedayah interrogated Prema as to what he had obtained.
‘I’ve got her mail, Chris. That and I don’t know what else. Krishna! What if she finds out? What if the abbot finds out?’
‘Relax, babe. You were good back there. For a queer you sure got into it.’
‘You were totally into it. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. At least she wasn’t all wrinkly, just smelled like an accident in a Parisian parfumerie.’
Vedayah sniggered. ‘Naw, these rich old dames look after themselves. Probably drinking the blood of nubile young virgins. But Christ, she is insatiable. Dravvie’s on night duty. Poor bastard fell asleep at morning prayer. She must keep him up all hours … so to speak.’
‘When’re we going to have a chance to scan the files, Chris? It’s not easy getting to a terminal. The only one on open access is in the library, and we’re not allowed to talk in there.’
‘Relax, Mal. Give me a day or two. I’ll work it out. Just keep your eye on those flash drives, hear?’
‘You look dreadful, sir.’
‘Well thank you, Oskar. You, on the other hand, look offensively fit and cheerful this fine morning. Oh! Let me guess, your partner isn’t pregnant, is he.’
‘Seemed as slim and desirable as ever when I saw him in the shower this morning, your majesty, and may I say that last remark was a new low even for you. Irony is tolerable, sarcasm less so.’
The king of Rothenia crumpled a little more. ‘I’m sorry, Oskar. It’s getting to me, it really is. She can’t settle at night. My shoulder is bruised blue from the punches when she claims I’m snoring. She was eating in bed, too, something she’d never have done in other circumstances. There were Bath Oliver crumbs all over the place. You know the story of the Princess and the Pea?’
‘A fairy story by Hans Christian Andersen, I believe.’
‘Yes, well, if it was the King and the Bath Oliver Crumb, I can assure you it would do just as well in my book. I could not sleep. What can I cancel today?’
‘A full diary, sir. The new Ukrainian ambassador at eleven, and coffee with him after receiving his credentials. Lunch with the chairmen of the Rothenian branches of Oxfam and Médecins Sans Frontières. A reception for army officers returning from Afghanistan, with presentation of medals. Before, during and after tea, a briefing from the ministers for State Security and Justice: that may go on a while.’
‘Find half an hour for a drooling snooze in there somewhere. I don’t mind what it costs.’
‘Certainly sir. Drooling snooze at one-thirty it is.’
‘Now that was irony. Oskar, what’s going on that two ministers want to see me? Do I sense thunderclouds looming over our fair land?’
‘Yesterday evening I talked with my cousin Tomas Bernenstejne zu Orbeck at the ministry. Tomasku says there is a continuing problem in the aftermath of the Dressner affair.’
‘Have they located Amir Josseran?’
‘No sir, that’s part of it. They think he’s back in the country, and being protected. He’s certainly evading the border police’s attempts to locate him.’
‘Possibly. But they also suspect he’s made it up with the rival Balkan gangs, at least for now. They seem to rally to each other if they’re under mutual threat.’
‘Diabolical. Crime at that level is a danger to the State as well as to public safety. It cannot be allowed to continue.’
‘I believe the ministers think so too, sir.’
‘It begins.’ Justin gave a mock groan but grinned up at Nathan from the kitchen table. His lover was at the range, where he was preparing a rather magnificent meal. Justin caught his son’s eye and licked his lips. Damien grinned back, making the same gesture. Damien had learned to love his second father’s cooking, although as much as he consumed of it – and he consumed quite a lot – the boy still looked lean and wolfish.
Nathan glanced over his shoulder, his raised eyebrow clearly visible. ‘First blood already?’
Damien shrugged. ‘He was a fat bully and he made me new friend Reggie nervous. An’ he thought he could bully me too. What could I do, Nate?’
Nathan was learning. ‘Well, it’s never good to start a fight, but if he picked on you …’
‘He did, Nate!’
‘… then there was nothing you could do but finish it.’
Damien smirked piously. He was not one to care much for adult approval, but he made an exception of his two dads, as well as his big friend Gussie, Nathan’s cousin and Danny’s boyfriend.
Nathan asked for more information about Reggie, which Damien obliged as far as he was able. ‘You like him then?’
‘Yuh! He’s diff’rent from me mates Aaron and Ben back home. He’s funny and he makes me laugh. Maybe he’s a bit weird but he’s clever. An’ he’s American too. He reminds me of Mattie.’ Damien frowned and added with an air of accusation, ‘Doan see ‘nuff of Mattie.’
Justin gave his son a look of approval. ‘About the fight. You did right, babes, but there are rules. As I told you in the car, a letter home from the school means grounding for a weekend, you know that.’
‘Yuh. But Reggie can still come and swim in our pool tomorrer, can’t he?’
‘Course, babes. No problem. Now why don’t you go off and ring yer nan and yer sis on yer mobile. You said you would. They’ll wanna know how you’re doin’ at yer new school. Dinner’ll be quarter of an hour yet. And wash yer hands while yer at it.’
‘Sure, dad!’ Damien hopped off his chair and trotted away.
Nathan looked after the small figure as it disappeared towards its bedroom. ‘Is he alright?’
Justin shrugged. ‘Doubt it. But he’s not the sort that’ll let it get to him. An’ he seems to have made a friend. That was quicker work than I expected.’
‘He’s made an enemy too.’
‘Made him and flattened him in the same day. I think me boy’s got that end covered.’
‘How about your first day at your new school?’
‘Yeah, well. I’m startin’ at the top, inn’ I. I feels like the headmaster when I walks along the corridors. The staff sorta stiffen when I goes past, and I doan mean that sorta stiffen either. That would at least be flattering. I makes ‘em nervy, and I haven’t even told ‘em off yet!’
Nathan smiled. ‘I hope you haven’t made any enemies, chavvy babe.’
‘What, me? Enemies? Garn!’