THE GREEN SIDE
Prema perched a peaked leather cap on his shaven head. There were no mirrors in the monastery outside the guest rooms, but he remembered the angle he liked to put his hats at when he used to cruise Canal Street as a teenager.
Vedayah looked around the door and grinned. ‘Cute, baby.’ He came in, adjusted the cap and kissed Prema. ‘Ya look like a model. Very sexy. Where did you find this stuff?’
Prema spun on the spot, displaying his tight, muscular backside clothed in blue denim. ‘You like?’
‘Looks better out of clothes, but I like the effect. Where did you …?’
‘There’s a storeroom. It’s got boxes full of the stuff we were wearing when we joined, and other stuff: work jeans and overalls. I just had to excavate a bit and look at us, hey!’ Prema continued. ‘Mind you, I feel a bit weird. I’ve not had anything constricting my balls and dick for over a year now. I’m used to them swinging in the breeze.’
Vedayah’s grin widened. ‘Itchy, isn’t it? Hot too. Still, it’s only for a brief while. Ready?’
‘I suppose.’ Prema looked anxiously at his lover. ‘This is all going to work out, isn’t it?’
‘Baby, of course it is. You trust me?’
‘I have a choice?’
Vedayah looked a little irritated with Prema. ‘Mal, we can do this and save a guy’s life and maybe our monastery, or we can let it all happen the way the cow wants it to: so the guy dies and we’re screwed too. There is no choice, not if we believe in what we say we do.’
Prema felt hurt. He didn’t like it when Vedayah seemed annoyed with him. So he gave a firm nod, and was rewarded with yet another grin and kiss.
‘Let’s go, baby.’
‘We’d better say our goodbyes to the abbot. Does he have any suspicion?’
Vedayah shrugged. ‘He’s a wise man who doesn’t tell anyone what goes on in his head. Still, I think maybe he gave in just a little too easily to our suggestion that we should go down to Glottenberh.’
They stopped by the abbot’s study and knocked on the door. He was sitting at the keyboard of his desktop when he called them in. They went to their knees, their trousers stopping the fluidity and grace with which they normally made the gesture. They were blessed, and Prema took off his cap so that the abbot could kiss his head.
‘Now do be careful out in the world, my children,’ the abbot admonished them.
‘We will, eminence,’ reassured Vedayah.
‘Take this extra money just in case …’
‘Well, in case you have to stay on an extra night or so. Or perhaps you may come upon … unexpected difficulties.’
‘Thank you, father.’ Prema struggled to his feet.
As they went out, Vedayah murmured, ‘He guesses something alright.’
The two young men found the monastery’s Volkswagen van parked in the old stable yard. It was freshly cleaned and gleaming, inside and out. Vedayah nodded his satisfaction. ‘Dravvie said he’d give it a valet job this morning. He’s a great guy.’
‘Shall I drive?’
‘Do that, babes. I gotta think and look at these here maps.’
Prema started the van. Driving was something he missed. He was higher up from the road than usual, but he soon got into it as he steered along the driveway. Every one of the other brothers, seeming to sense that something was up, was standing or working at some point between the yard and the gate of the estate, ready to wave at Prema and Vedayah. Dravadam, the last they saw, threw flowers over the van as it turned on to the main road. A carnation caught in the windscreen wiper and stayed there for a good ten miles.
The New Vedanta Foundation, as their monastery was properly called, lay in a wooded valley high in the Glottenberh Massif, the mountain range separating Rothenia from the Czech Republic. They drove down toward Ranstadt, forested hills on every side. Sometimes the way led through wide, green pastures dotted with sheep, goats or cattle. At other times it closed about them in deep canyons made by overhanging pillars of granite.
Prema followed the main A44 route as it climbed a wooded ridge. At the crest, he pulled into a tourist vantage point. There below them opened out the broad valley of the Radeln as it flowed south to join Rothenia’s great river, the Starel. Woods, fields and white church towers, occasionally flashing with gold, receded into the blue distance.
Nearer at hand were the red roofs and grey towers of the ancient city of Ranstadt, with its picturesque castle and cathedral atop a mass of granite. ‘Lunch down there, Chris?’
‘Yeah, why not? There’s a steakhouse in the marketplace.’
‘Steakhouse? We’re supposed to be vegetarians.’
‘I am but a poor sinner. Forgive me, I’m from Houston.’
Prema smiled a little. ‘Then just this once, though it’ll put my digestion out for weeks.’
He found a parking space behind the market place. The two monks strolled through the town, admiring the picturesque overhanging gables of its timber-framed houses. Midday clanged and rang from several church belfries, a message reinforced by the puff of smoke and report of a cannon from the castle walls. Ranstadt was a city that recent centuries had completely passed by.
The steakhouse was a traditional Rothenian restaurant, with hanging baskets of flowers outside. The interior was dark with wood panelling, which made the white tablecloths look all the brighter in contrast. The pleasant waitress flirted with them, but in a way that more than hinted she knew they were a gay couple.
Vedayah tucked into a plate heaped with fries, beef tomatoes and meat. Just the smell was enough to feast on. Prema was all but drooling as he ate.
After the first orgy of greed was done, Prema wiped his mouth on a napkin and asked, ‘This bloke they’re gonna assassinate ...?’
‘The Peacher guy, yeah.’
‘Do you know what he looks like?’
‘Got pictures in the file back in the van. He’s cute – I mean really tasty – with dark hair, only five-eight. He’s in his mid-twenties but could easily pass for nineteen.’
‘And why does the Lady Benefactor want him dead?’
‘Ah now, Mal, you’re getting ahead of yourself. The printouts you showed me said she wanted him “out of the running” and “to be less of a concern”.’
‘But we know what she meant.’
‘Maybe. In fact certainly, but she’s not specific. It’s her ex-husband’s adopted grandson we’re talking of here.’
‘So who gains from his ... disposal?’
Vedayah chomped meditatively on a mouthful of rare steak. ‘The way I see it, this Peacher-White guy ...’
‘Yeah ... Richard Peacher has decided to hand over the running of his empire to this Justin and his second son, Peter. Now Peter Peacher is the real high flyer, the guy most like his paw. I guess the Lady Benefactor – Mrs Marquesa – thinks the whole lot should be in his hands, not shared with Andy Peacher’s adopted kid. She thinks Justin’s an intruder ... she doesn’t have much time for his morals or background either. The things she says about him ...’
‘I saw them.’
‘So he’s gonna be made to disappear. This Josseran dude, the gangster, he’s got links with kidnapping rings who’re gonna put their trademarks all over the business. Then when the demand for ransom fails to materialise it’ll look like a snatch which went wrong, geddit?’
Prema nodded. ‘In fact they’ll do the poor bloke in.’
‘Zactly, babes. No link to the Lady Benefactor, and people’ll just shrug and ask themselves what else you can expect of a corrupt and lawless East European state.’
‘Sure is, and that hag’s fixing to compromise the Order with her scheming and plotting. Now, Mal, let’s go over how we’re gonna head her off at the pass ...’
‘Is that what he said?’
‘In the hearing of your eight-year-old son you called the king of Rothenia an “ironical bastard”?’
‘He’s nearly nine.’
Rudolf shook his head.
Justin looked apologetic. ‘It musta jess slipped out, Rudi. I’m always talking crap, yer knows me.’
‘All too well, you tosser. If I didn’t owe you so much, I’d have you run out of the country.’
‘It was meant sorta affectionately. I must have said something like, “Rudi’s a real great guy …”’
‘“… for an ironical bastard.’”
‘Yer not gonna let it go, are yer.’
‘Not for a few years. You can say goodbye to the Order of the Rose.’
Nathan intervened. ‘Damien’s just a kid, Rudi. They’ll repeat anything, and never mind the context. You can’t hold it against Justy.’
The king looked coldly at both of them before abruptly giving a brilliant grin. ‘I don’t.’
Justin looked simultaneously relieved and annoyed. ‘Then what was all that about?’
‘You deserved a windup, considering the way you wind everyone else up.’
Justin rolled his eyes. ‘Those days’re gone, mate.’
‘Life’s got serious and seriously boring. I’m an executive, hadn’t yer noticed? A suit-wearing, agenda-constructing, minuted executive. Fun belongs in the past.’
The king looked sympathetic. ‘It catches up with us all, Justy. And anyway, your last bit of fun ended with a bullet in your leg and another in your shoulder. How long were you in hospital?’
‘It wuz for a good cause, though.’
Rudolf nodded. ‘Yes, you did my country a great favour – you, Terry and Henry. Don’t be too sure those days are gone, either.’
‘Why do you say that, Rudi?’ Nathan was intrigued.
‘Josseran and his gang are still on the loose. They’re cooking up something nasty, too. We just can’t find the swine. I have a feeling you may be called upon again, and sooner than you might like.’
Justin perked up. ‘What does yer know that yer not saying, Rudi?’
‘Stay here for much longer and you may find out.’
‘Thass pretty mysterious, mate.’
‘Yes, isn’t it. Anyway, we’d better get back to Harry and the kids. Is she serious about this “Prince for a Day” scheme?’
Nathan chuckled. ‘She seems to be, and it’s not such a bad idea.’
‘I can see one reason you might be keen on your new job at PeacherCorp, Justy.’
‘Pity me, Rudi. Tomorrer iss off to Glottenberh to inspect security at the divisional distribution plant.’
‘Give my love to the Black Virgin.’
‘Yer what? Oh … yer means the relic in the cathedral. Nah, I woan be going near there, mate. The plant’s out beyond the ring road.’
‘Welcome to my life. Sounds like the sort of place I usually cut a ribbon to open. Anyway, Oskar and I need squash partners badly. What’re you doing this weekend, lads?’
Danny and Gus strolled down the crowded Wejg. Gus was reflecting on how quickly this riotous red-light district had become familiar and even normal to them, with its roving gangs, prostitutes of both sexes, and brassy, extravagant sensuality.
Danny seemed to be thinking the same, as he confided, ‘My brother’s coming out to Strelzen next weekend, taking the Ryanair flight to Hofbau and then the train. He won’t believe this place!’
Gus nodded. ‘Will you be bringing Wesley down to the gay canton?’
‘Why not? He hangs round Earl’s Court and Old Compton Street, which is just up the road from his college. There won’t be anything here he’s never seen before. He was boasting to me that he’d had an evening in G-A-Y with three of his queer mates from art school. I sometimes wonder …’
‘Well, either he’s getting camp, or more than a little bisexual.’
‘More likely he’s picking up camp from art school. I believe they have to do a module on it.’
Gus arched his eyebrows. ‘Did I just make a joke?’
Danny hugged him round the waist. ‘I think you may have done, sweetheart.’
They walked on to Melmoth, where they were greeted by the bouncers, Sven and Albrecht, with a slap-tap. As usual, Gus got the timing wrong and dithered, at which Sven just grinned and embraced him. Gus smiled sheepishly. Melmoth was bringing him into closer and closer orbit with the human race.
Danny was feeling very happy. Having confronted his demanding sexuality, he had found that for once giving in to it was best. Then Gus had demonstrated his love by being understanding and encouraging. Danny could not have asked for more.
He abruptly came off his cloud when Wulf Sczneczen leered up at him from the newspaper he was reading at the bar and called him over.
‘Hi! What can I do for you?’
‘Danny baby, you broke one of the rules of the house last weekend.’
‘My till checked out …’
‘That’s not what I meant. You slept with one of the punters.’
‘Well … er … not on the premises.’
‘Pickups are not allowed by staff. This is a bar, not an escort agency. We can’t afford a reputation.’
‘I need more than sorry, baby.’
‘Why shouldn’t I fire you? It’s a sackable offence, kid.’
‘Give me a reason.’
Danny looked into Sczneczen’s bleared and greedy eyes and realised what was the cost of his continued employment at Melmoth. ‘No chance.’
Sczneczen pushed an envelope across the bar to him. ‘I thought so, baby. Here’s your pay owing. Bye-bye.’
‘Is that it!’
‘What did Davey Skipper say?’
‘I run this bar, Danny baby. Now piss off out of it or Sven and Albrecht will have something more to do than freeze their balls off in the Wejg.’
Danny turned. ‘Gus! I gotta go.’
‘I’ve been fired.’
Gus wandered over. ‘Is this true, Mr Sczneczen?’
Wulf just looked at Gus and rolled his eyes.
‘Then I resign. You can send my pay to me.’
Sczneczen was taken aback. ‘Now hold on, you’re not being fired.’
Gus’s civility didn’t waver. ‘I realise that, Mr Sczneczen, but I find I don’t like you very much, and I despise your management style.’ Gus threaded his arm through Danny’s and they wandered out together into the neon-lit darkness of the Wejg.
Danny sighed. ‘I suppose we could go and complain to Davey. But somehow …’
‘Yes, it would seem like running to mummy when the world was cruel to you. I understand. In any case, I believe Davey is in London at the moment.’
‘Ah… reunion with Terry, you think?’
‘I imagine so.’
They wandered back up the Wejg in silence. Gus was thinking that the employment at Melmoth had run its course and he was more than a little glad of it. It had given Danny his new confidence in foreign languages, as well as allowing him to explore his sexuality. But that was all done now, and Gus had no regret that their time on the Wejg appeared to be over. The next time they walked its cobbles, they would be customers.
Prema, at the wheel of the van, carried on down the A44. Ranstadt disappeared behind them. With the road signs beginning to tell them the distance to Glottenberh, he found their message increasingly ominous, like a countdown to something unpleasant.
The great valley of the Radeln widened out. The mountains on either hand receded to left and right, appearing to shrink, while the villages through which they passed seemed to grow larger.
Towers, at first blue and pale on the horizon, sent a lurch through Prema’s stomach as they heralded Glottenberh. It was now only ten kilometres to GLOTTENBERH NORDH, according to the signs. ‘Where do we turn off, Chris?’
Vedayah checked his road map. ‘Next major crossing. It’ll be about three kilometres. Then I’ll navigate ya to the depot. We gotta pick up the supplies first, ’cause that’s why we’re supposed to be here, after all. When we’re finished we can go and check in at the gasthaus Dravadam uses.’
The monastery’s order was ready at the wholesale supply depot. Krishanna had rung it through two days before, and the cheerful Rothenian supervisor had the boxes and cans waiting at the loading bay. He had good English. ‘Where is the usual fellow? What’s his name?’
‘Dravadam. He’s got another job on.’
‘Big man. I’m not surprised it needs two of you to fill in for him.’
‘Dravvie’s amazing,’ Vedayah agreed with a laugh, signing for the order.
Prema took the wheel again. He drove the Volkswagen out of the yard, and then was directed towards the ring road.
They turned on to the dual carriageway. As the city’s spires were passing them on the left, Vedayah pointed out a large complex of new silver warehouses and an office block on the right. The Peacher name and logo were prominently displayed.
‘That’s where the fun’s gonna start tomorrow, Mal. Now take that service road up ahead.’
Prema did as he was told, pulling up outside the chain-link fence that enclosed the Peacher site. They surveyed the main gate with its guard post, where Peacher security men were standing in a knot, chatting and smoking. Suddenly Vedayah clutched Prema’s arm.
‘Move on, bud. We have a problem. Keep driving slowly, and for God’s sake don’t look at that car on the right, just past the gate, as we go by.’
‘What is it, Chris?’
‘If I had to guess, I’d say it’s a party of Josseran’s people also scouting out the plant. Ain’t we all such professionals. Okay, babes, now just carry on down through this industrial park for a while. The map says there’s a left turn up ahead which’ll take us back on the ring road.’
Once on the dual carriageway again, they motored through the northern suburbs of the city and, eventually, into a quiet, tree-lined square. At an old inn advertising itself as the Kung Heinrich der Leuwen, they drew up in the car park.
Vedayah reached into the back and pulled out a tool bag, which he unzipped in his lap. ‘Now, babes, let’s be sure we’re not missing anything. Balaclavas, truncheons, plastic ties, oh and this …’ He pulled out a pistol and handed it to Prema, who took it gingerly.
‘I don’t like this.’
‘We’re up against it, Mal. We have no choice. If we get the timing right, though, there’ll be no problem.’
‘I wish I had your confidence.’
‘Check your bag. Got everything?’
‘Yeah, clothes, razors, shaving foam. All here.’
‘Good. Then let’s go inside and register, watch some TV, review our plan, and – hopefully – sleep.’
‘No, babes. First we got some serious sex to catch up with.’
Prema admired his lover, who laughed as if he had not a care in the world.