THE GREEN SIDE
‘I like the garden.’ Nathan was jotting notes down as they surveyed the third property that weekend.
‘The house is okay too. They done out the bathrooms nice. Loves the sauna cabin out the back, an’ there’s a gym … oh fuckin’ hell, where’s he gone now? When did you last see him?’
‘Damien? He was with us before we came upstairs.’
Justin looked deep into his own mind as he calculated where his son might have gone. What would he have been drawn to as a kid? ‘The gym!’ he cursed.
He ran quickly down the stairs past the surprised-looking letting agent, who was on the way up. There was an ominous whirring and clanging coming from the basement, getting louder as Justin reached the gym. He could also hear a familiar satanic chuckling mixed in with it.
Damien had set the running machine on maximum and was using it to catapult grenades of dried mud he’d picked up from the garden. His missiles were bursting, zinging and clattering amongst the weights apparatus, spraying out puffs of brown dust and small stones like shrapnel. Intent on his fun he shouted gleefully, ‘Fookin’ ace …’
Then he noticed Justin. ‘Oops.’
‘Shut that machine off, yer sod!’
‘Not doin’ nuffink.’
‘Yeah? Well look at the mess you’ve made of that bloody machine. That’s not nuffink, those’re dents there. We’ll have to pay for that!’
‘Nuh. S’just mud. See, it rubs off.’
‘Why can’t I leave yer for just a minnit!’
‘Wasn’t doin’ anyfink wrong.’
‘Thass a matter of opinion, that is!’ Justin struggled to come down off the boil. He had long ago learned that anger and confrontation did little good with Damien. ‘Come back upstairs, Nate wants yer opinion on the house.’
For his part, Damien had learned that confrontation with his dad made him uncomfortable, despite his vast reserves of wilful defiance ready to be called on if needed. So he trotted quietly after Justin, observing nonchalantly, ‘Likes the garden.’
‘Yeah, well apparently we’re all agreed on that.’
Nathan looked at Justin with a raised eyebrow. Justin shook his head. ‘No permanent damage.’
Nathan gave a tight smile before asking Damien, ‘Do you think Granddad Andy and Granddad Matt will like this place?’
‘Yuh … ‘s great! Likes the pool and stuff. Better than that last place. Yer can have fun ‘ere.’
‘As he’s juss bin proving,’ Justin groaned.
Nathan flipped his notebook closed. ‘I’m in favour of making a bid for a lease on this property. Maybe we’ll take it for a year, and if Matt and Andy like it, they can buy it outright.’
Justin nodded. ‘Good plan. I’ll get Magarethe to hire staff from an agency and send in the cleaners … especially for the basement gym. Me dads can come over to Rothenia and look to see if there’s more they’d like done.’
‘I’ll ring them tonight.’
Justin put an affectionate hand on his son’s shoulder. ‘So we’re sorted. Come on, our kid, let’s get yer back to Strelzen. Reggie wants to come round for anuvver sleepover.’
‘Cool. We’re goin’ to the palace on Wednesday. Auntie Harry’s gonna show us ‘round. Uncle Oskar’s gonna be there too.’
Justin smiled down on his excited son. ‘Sweetheart, it’ll be a real family day for yer.’
Danny was finding it hard to meet Pavel’s eyes. They were serving the upstairs bar at Melmoth together on an unusually busy Monday. Pavel was himself a little abstracted, not attentive to the customers and slow to fill orders. It was not at all like him.
A discontented, shaven-headed Englishman in front of where Danny was pulling beer turned to his mate. ‘Fucking barboys. Remember Queen’s Court in fucking Leeds? I’d thought it’d be better here. But they’re all in love with themselves, or trying to fuck the other bar staff. Bleeding narcissists.’
Danny simmered. ‘Can I get you something? Manners? More varied vocabulary?’
The bloke looked a little disconcerted. ‘Uh … you’re English.’
‘You want a drink or a meeting with our security staff? They’re very ill-natured.’
‘No offence. Two Fosters … er, please.’
When Danny had served them and seen them on their way, he found Pavel at his side, smiling sheepishly. ‘I deserved that, Danny, but thank you for standing up for me.’
Danny took Pavel’s hand and squeezed it. ‘When I turned you down Thursday night, it wasn’t because I didn’t want to go to bed with you.’
‘It was because I wasn’t sure what you wanted from me.’
‘Wasn’t it obvious?’
‘It was about more than sex, wasn’t it?’
‘No … yes.’
‘Which is it?’
Pavel dropped his eyes. ‘I’m lonely, Danny, and you’re really something: kind, funny, great body, hell of a dancer, good looking, sexy …’
‘Good looking? Sexy?’ Danny was not used to thinking of himself in those terms. ‘That’s the sort of thing people say about Gus.’
‘Gus is not sexy … though he is good looking, beautiful even. But he’s not a man to touch your heart.’
Danny said with an air of decision, ‘He’s touched mine.’
‘Yes, I realise that now. And I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done what I did.’
‘I don’t get it, Pavel. A lot of guys at Liberation would have jumped at the chance of taking you to bed. You’re so sweet and hot.’
Pavel brightened a little. ‘That’s kind, but I’ve never seen myself that way.’
Danny thought back to what Davey Skipper had said. ‘Tell me about Yuri.’
Pavel became shy and sad again. ‘He was my boyfriend of two years. When my father got his post in Strelzen, I talked Yuri into joining me in Sudmesten, but he was unhappy this far from home and wished to return. I just couldn’t go with him. Coming here has been like waking up. I never want to go back to Moscow. But Yuri … I think he loved … loves me, but he missed his family too much.’
Danny couldn’t decide how to help. All he could do was advise Pavel to keep his eyes open and he’d soon find someone.
Pavel cast a slightly scornful glance around the bar. ‘Who’d try to find a lover in this place? It’s just men out for casual pickups, to have a good time. Sure I can get laid. But I want more than that.’
Danny had customers and couldn’t carry on the conversation. As he smiled at a very sexy young German in front of him and got a suggestive smirk back, he too was wondering what he wanted out of his bar work in Melmoth.
The German boy was one of a group of four, dressed in low-slung tight jeans and studded belts hanging below their buttocks. The other three had dyed hair gelled chaotically. They talked fitfully, not looking at each other, eyes roving around and hands limply holding their glasses. Danny could not tell whether they were seeking amusement or talent.
Kurt shook Danny’s hand and introduced himself. He had a tanned face, bright blond hair, and disconcertingly black eyebrows which made Danny wonder if the hair was dyed. Unlike his companions, he was wearing a simple yellow tee-shirt and white jeans. Despite seeming younger than the others, not much older than Danny himself, he was very interested in Bar Melmoth and the way it was managed. ‘Do you know Davey Skipper?’
‘He gave me the job here.’
‘What’s he like?’
The chitchat went on for a while. Danny soon got an unfriendly look from Kurt’s buddies. They tried to move Kurt on, but he told them he’d join them later. They went over to another part of the bar to look bored.
Between serving customers, Danny returned to talk to the German boy. By ten, it was pretty clear how Kurt wanted the evening to end. Finally he asked, ‘When does your shift finish?’
‘In a half hour.’
‘I’d like to go on to Liberation.’
‘It’s quiet on Mondays, also it’s mixed, gay and straight.’
‘Never mind. Would you come with me?’
Danny knew the question was coming, and had his answer ready. ‘Yes, I’d like that.’
Kurt grinned and leaned over for a kiss. Danny did not stint, blushing as he caught Wulf Sczneczen’s eyes when they broke the liplock. The bar manager’s evil glare reminded Danny that he had broken a rule, but by then there was nothing he could do about it.
He said goodnight to a startled Pavel and took off to Liberation, where the first-floor dance area was reasonably full. Danny and Kurt danced close, Kurt’s arms hanging over Danny’s shoulders, Danny’s hands on Kurt’s backside. Their mutual interest was very obvious to them both.
‘Where does it happen?’ Kurt murmured.
‘Upstairs. There’s lube and stuff.’
‘I want you in me.’
‘I know.’ Danny grinned in the boy’s face. ‘Do you dye your hair?’
Kurt gave a low, seductive chuckle. ‘You’re about to find out.’
‘Are you so bored, darling?’
‘I’m catching up with my reading, Rudi. It helps. At least there’s a little family entertaining I can do.’
‘Oh yes,’ the king of Rothenia looked frosty, ‘your mother’s back at the palace tomorrow.’
Queen Harriet gave an irritated twitch of her head. ‘I have to get my amusement where I can, Rudi. Little Damien and Justin will be here on Wednesday for tea.’
King Rudolf brightened. ‘Ah, Justy. That’s more like it. I haven’t seen him since he arrived in Rothenia.’ His face grew less cheerful. ‘I suppose we have to have the boy too.’
Harriet put down her book and shot a hard glance at her husband. ‘“The boy”, as you call him, is a dear, sweet little guy, and if our own son turns out half so bright and loving as Damien, I for one will be very satisfied.’
Rudolf backtracked. ‘I didn’t mean that the way it came out. I know he had a rough start in life, but for God’s sake, the bill to clean his scrawl off the Van Gogh was in excess of 50,000 krone!’
‘The insurance covered it, so what do you care? Besides, I didn’t like the slapping you gave him when you caught him at it in the gallery.’
Rudolf too could be truculent. ‘What was I supposed to do, hand him over to the police? I caught the little sod red-handed – literally – and I am the king of this country. If I want to give a small vandal a spanking I damned well can!’
Harriet looked mutinous. ‘Any spanking done on the future duke of Mittenheim will only be done if I’m consulted first.’
Rudolf caught himself, took a visible deep breath, and then smiled. ‘His royal highness will of course be an angel, and there will be no need even to raise our voices to him.’ He leaned over the sofa and kissed his wife.
After a while they broke off. The queen picked up her book again. ‘Mom is going to stay for a week this time.’
‘A week! Doesn’t she have other things to occupy her time? Wasn’t there some United Nations agency she worked with?’
‘Exactly. Then there’re her houses in London and DC. Has she sublet them or what?’
‘Rudi, she’s getting older, and as women age their families means more to them.’
‘I don’t notice Peter and Ed going out of their way to host her on her travels.’
‘Petey’s going to come over Wednesday afternoon to help take the strain off you.’
‘I love your brother.’
‘I know you do. As for Ed, he’s still living the student life in Cranwell, and even in the unlikely event of her wanting to go to his place, he is not equipped for entertaining.’
‘In short, we’re the ones who are always going to be dumped on. The idea of a daughter as a queen is any mother’s dream.’
‘Don’t forget the bump. She’ll want to be seeing her first grandchild regularly, and she does have a right.’
Rudolf gave a sudden nasty smirk.
‘What is it?’
He straightened his face. ‘Well, I was just remembering that I too have a mother who also will be wanting to see her grandchild.’
Harriet too now looked impish. ‘Oh … you mean?’
‘Both of them in the palace at the same time?’ The king chuckled. ‘Battle of the titans! I could sell tickets.’
‘Oh my God! What a wicked thought.’
‘The countess is the only person ever to have successfully looked down her nose at Mrs Eleanor Marquesa.’
‘Perhaps you could get on the phone tonight.’
‘I miss my mother.’
‘Yes dear … it has been a while since she was here. I miss her too.’
The king and queen of Rothenia burst into laughter.
Danny found the aftermath of sex with Kurt disturbing. Not that the sex had not been good, it had been fantastic – not better than sex with Gus, but different. There was a spontaneity to it which was quite exciting. Then there was the different feel of the lithe and smaller body under him, the different smells. Where Gus was fairly quiet, Kurt was noisy, swearing colourfully in German at the moment of penetration and giving sweet little moans and loud grunts at each thrust. Kurt was also very experienced, and Danny discovered from him that there was a lot he had yet to learn about sex. Kurt could clench and unclench on Danny in a way Gus could not, almost as if Kurt was using his sphincter to massage Danny’s cock. He came very quickly.
Once dressed, they went back down to the bar. They enjoyed a more leisurely second round later on, when Kurt had a turn on top in one of Liberation’s private rooms to which Danny had access.
They took a very fond farewell of each other in the Rodolfsplaz, exchanging e-mail addresses and MySpace sites, but Danny knew they would not meet up again anytime soon, if at all. That was the disturbing thing. The casual nature of the sex was like a declaration and also an accusation. It was disturbing that he did not feel guilty, and even more disturbing that he knew he might well do it again if the opportunity came looking for him.
Midday found Danny walking down Mikhelstrasse, Strelzen’s main shopping street. He was free of lectures that day. He had not seen Gus since the Kurt episode, and was not entirely sure how to handle it when he did. Gus had said it was up to him if he wanted to talk about sex outside their relationship.
He dodged into a Starbucks and got a small, freshly brewed coffee, then sat at the window nursing it and watching the shoppers go by. Across from him was the Fenizenkirk, and he waited, as several tourists also did, for the hour to strike. The great clock overhanging the street whirred and banged. The figure of Death, wielding a scythe, popped out of a door and struck the bell eleven times, while a knight with levelled lance chased a Moor around a track. The hour struck, the carillon played some old hymn tune – maybe by Bach. Death made an ironic bow to the onlookers before disappearing back inside the clock.
Danny barely saw the show, being far more concerned with examining his own self-image. The fact that he had now had sex with a second man somehow made a great difference. When he tried to analyse it, it seemed to him as if he had finally become a grown-up queer. There had been something adolescent about him before, which the experience with Kurt had burned away. He could see himself now as a more independent man, more confident and in control. Gus clearly did not need that, but Danny decidedly did.
Looking into his heart, Danny came to the conclusion that he was as much in love with Gus as ever, but – and this maybe was the heart of it – his feeling for Gus had become a different thing. He could choose to love Gus, knowing what it was like to be with another man and enjoy his body. He was now certain just what was superior about Gus’s love-making, and felt at last that he knew how lucky he was. Sex with Gus involved a commitment of heart that he did not need to have with Kurt. Sex with Kurt had been animal fun, but when he joined with Gus, Danny affirmed a bond that linked their souls. And realising what the difference was, Danny smiled. He was certain his love for his mate was as pure as it had ever been; he was absolved of his own accusations.
As he left, he caught the eye of a male barista: there was an appraising and lingering edge to the glance which told Danny that another opportunity awaited him, if he chose. This time he chose not.
Nathan turned his SUV off Brückestrasse and approached the arch into the palace stables. There were no foot guards in full dress at this entrance, although national police in black uniforms and soldiers in battledress were much in evidence.
Damien craned up from his seatbelt to get a good view. ‘Reggie, look! That bloke’s got a machine gun on a strap.’
‘American M249,’ Reggie replied laconically.
Damien was impressed. ‘Cool, Reggie. You know yer stuff.’
‘I’ll show you a good site when we get back.’
A police lieutenant came over to check Nathan’s papers. Damien explained it all to his friend. ‘This is the back entrance to the palace. Nathan’ll leave the car in the yard, and we goes through the gardens in the back. Queen Harry and King Rudi live at one end of the palace in a sorta flat.’
‘Flat?’ Reggie looked puzzled.
While the policeman was checking his clipboard, Nathan commented, ‘He means “apartment”, sweetheart.’
‘Iss really big, like a super-deluxe hotel. But the pictures and the big rooms and stuff are downstairs. Maybe they’ll let us play hide-and-seek.’
Nathan smiled. ‘Don’t count on it, babes. I don’t think Rudi’s quite forgotten what you did the last time you wandered off through his house.’
Reggie looked intrigued. ‘Why? What happened?’
Damien was displeased. ‘Yer never lets me forget that.’
Nathan chuckled but did not reply. He put the car in gear and drove under the arch, parking where a palace worker indicated. The boys hopped out, taking Nathan’s hands. They strolled together through the gardens, enjoying the immaculate green lawns. Swans glided across the dark waters of a small lake fringed with hanging willows.
Nathan stopped and looked around, casting his professional eye over the flowerbeds. He delayed too long, as he became aware when he felt his hands being tugged by two impatient boys. ‘Okay, babes. I’m coming. What do you think of those banks of flowers by the terrace.’
‘Colourful?’ suggested Reggie.
‘Overplanted,’ observed Damien, who had lived long enough with Nathan to acquire opinions.
‘That’s what I thought too.’
They found the rear entrance to the palace’s west wing, which was opened for them by a white-gloved footman in olive-green coat and white tie. He ushered them to the red-carpeted stairs and preceded them up three flights, at the top of which two soldiers in the full-dress white-and-gold uniform of the Life Guards stood with drawn swords.
Reggie stared up at the glorious vision. Next to him, Damien sniggered and announced, ‘They gotta stand still and quiet whatever you do or say to ‘em. I could piss on his boots and he couldn’t do a fing!’
‘Try it, kid!’ snarled one of the guardsmen in American-accented English.
Disconcerted, Damien trotted through the door to the private wing, casting an annoyed look back over his shoulder.
‘Ere, ‘ang on, Reggie.’ Damien tugged his friend to a stop. ‘Thass me there!’ He pointed to his own depiction on a huge canvas portraying the marriage of Rudolf VI and Harriet.
Nathan smiled. ‘That was the royal wedding. Damien was the pageboy for the Peacher side; they made him a wonderful miniature Life Guard uniform. We brought it with us, though he’s outgrown it now.’
‘But yer could try it on, Reggie.’
‘I’ll get it out for you, next time you visit.’
Their guide brought them to a double-leaved door and tapped discretely before opening it and announcing, ‘Mr Nathan Underwood.’
Damien’s first impression was that the room was full. He homed in on Queen Harry, who put out her arms to him. He whooped and barrelled into her, hugging her round the neck. Damien knew he was a favourite and grabbed a kiss.
The king lifted him off her and stood him down on the carpet. ‘Harry’s in a bit of a delicate condition.’
‘Yuh, up the duff. Dad said.’
‘Wuz that irony?’
King Rudolf did a double take. ‘How do you know about irony?’
‘Dad sez yer an ironical bastard.’
A plate clattered to the floor and there was a sudden silence in the room as half a dozen people stared at the boy.
Harriet stifled a giggle and took Damien’s hand. ‘Come along with me, Damien and Reggie. I’ll introduce you around. This is my mother, Mrs Marquesa.’
Damien looked up at the older woman. ‘Lo, I’m Damien.’
She glared down at him, astonished. ‘You must be the rudest boy I’ve ever met.’
‘Thanks.’ Damien seemed to feel he was being complimented. ‘This is me mate Reggie. He’s clever.’
‘Hey, you’re American. Me too. How’re you doing?’ Reggie also looked up at the elegantly dressed woman, a friendly smile on his little face.
Mrs Marquesa turned back to her son Peter, dismissing the children. Reggie blushed.
Damien, on the other hand, was not so easily dismissed. ‘Hey, missis. I may be rude, but I could take some lessons from you!’
Peter Peacher’s face performed a wonder as he appeared to grin but at the same time froze his expression into solemnity. ‘Nice to see you, Reggie. You’re a brave lad, following Damien around.’
Reggie seemed to approve of Peter. ‘Daimey’s the best friend in the world,’ he proclaimed.
‘Come on, dears.’ Harriet tugged them along. ‘Drinks and cake are over here. Let’s fill your plates.’ She took the boys to a corner table and got them what they wanted, then sat between them on a sofa, chattering and laughing.
After a while the other guests drifted in their direction, led by the king. ‘I wasn’t angry with you, Damien,’ he insisted, sitting on the floor next to the sofa. ‘I’m just not good with kids.’
Damien gave him a tolerant look. ‘S’awright. It took me ages ter train me dad.’
Rudi relaxed and laughed. ‘Perhaps I’d better sign you up for a day as a consultant in fatherhood.’
Harriet seemed to like the idea. ‘D’you know, darling, that’s not a bad idea at all. People go on placements to learn things. Damien could be your parenting placement for a day.’
‘Now hold on ...’
A tall, handsome blond man appeared behind the sofa. It was Count Oskar of Modenehem, the king’s chief of staff, who leaned over and grinned. ‘Hello, Damien.’
‘Hey, Uncle Oskar!’
The count reached down and ruffled the boy’s dark hair. Glancing at the king he remarked, ‘Sir, it’s not a bad idea. I could make something of it with the media: Prince for a Day; subheading: Palace Tries Out Idea of Boy at King’s Side.’
Damien beamed. ‘Only if Reggie can do it too!’
Nathan arrived, listened and nodded. ‘I can square it with the International School. They might appreciate it as an example of community outreach.’
The king looked vaguely appalled. ‘Hey! You’re all against me. Is this treason?’
‘Nuh! S’fun!’ Damien and Reggie did a high five.
Peter Peacher had by then joined the others, leaving his mother alone and fuming. ‘I’d not mind the idea. I’ll have second go at it. I’d just love what a Damien placement could do to one of my board meetings.’
At that moment the door to the salon opened and Justin entered. He froze, glanced around the room, and adopted a worried look as he took in the group. ‘Whass he done now?’
Danny found Gus in his room in the dormitory block. He had not slept with his boyfriend following his encounter with Kurt. They had never had much chance to cohabit since their days on the run in the northern English resort of Walbrough, and did not usually occupy the same bed at night.
At home and at boarding school, they had taken their opportunities where they could get them. They had hoped they might be roommates when they got to Strelzen, but the only available rooms were singles. Although they were now able to indulge in sex whenever they wanted it, the beds were too narrow for them to sleep together comfortably.
Gus’s eyes brightened at the sight of his lover, as they always did. He reached up to Danny. Soon they were naked and embracing, their mouths pressed together. Gus had mastered kissing, which they both found gave them a huge erotic charge. After a while Danny transferred his attentions to a part of Gus’s anatomy that was urgently demanding it.
Eventually Danny lay back on the tiled floor and pulled Gus on to him, raising his own legs back to his chest. Gus had jelly to hand and soon he was pushing in to Danny, his eyes no longer reflective or vague, but burning blue with passion.
Danny groaned as Gus’s large cock broke through and slid inside him. Danny loved the moment of penetration and the powerful shock it sent through him. He loved the way Gus took him, with tenderness but determination. Gus had power and stamina, and when he went on top, there was no doubt he would fuck away for as long as he could.
The first tremors began to build up in Danny’s interior. He squirmed on Gus, trying to get more cock inside him, his panting convulsive and orgasmic. He shouted out his ecstasy. Almost automatically he tried to do to Gus what Kurt had done to him, tightening the top of his sphincter to squeeze his lover’s member, and then clamping on it with his anal lips. He did it again and again, groaning as he closed on the length and bulk of Gus inside him. He was aware of Gus’s questioning stare. They came at the same moment, with Danny needing little help from Gus’s hand.
They lay out on the room’s cold and grimy tiles. Eventually, Danny broke the silence. ‘How was it, babe?’
Gus stroked Danny’s chest and kissed him. ‘Different. It was very exciting what you did ... what you did down below.’
Danny didn’t reply
After a moment Gus added, ‘I think you learned that trick from someone else.’
Danny sat up. He looked down at his lover. Gus didn’t seem annoyed or even concerned. ‘Yes. He was a German boy at Melmoth last weekend. Er ... do you mind?’
Gus shook his head. ‘I think I made my feelings clear.’
‘We took precautions.’
‘I know, Danny. I trust you. But it seems you picked up at least one thing from him.’
‘Oh ... the clenching movement.’
Gus gave a small laugh. ‘I must try it the next time you top me. It was like going into you twice, as if I was pushing into a second Danny.’
‘Really? So a good trick then?’
Gus hugged Danny. ‘I love you. For all my brave words, I was a bit worried what I would feel when you went with another boy. But it seems I really don’t feel challenged by it. So ... who was he? What was it like?’
Danny hugged Gus back. After a moment he began, ‘Well, his name was Kurt ...’