THE GREEN SIDE
Justin rode between Vedayah and Prema in the front seat of the Volkswagen van heading back up the A44 to Ranstadt. Once the two monks had resumed their monastic robes, he felt seriously odd sitting with them. It was if he was naked. It didn’t seem to bother the other two in the least – but then, they were used to it.
In a way, the drive was even sexy. Justin’s arse was bare on the seat and his heavy balls were loose and flopping around in ways they never had done before. He kept getting erections, which the robe tended to conceal. On more than one occasion, however, he caught sight of his penis jutting out in his lap.
Vedayah noticed. ‘Happens all the time,’ he drawled, then proved it by showing his own. It was quite a respectable size, too.
‘So … er … you two are lovers, yeah?’
‘I thought monks didn’t do sex.’
‘Some do. You’re thinking about Christian ones. New Vedanta believes that sex is part of what we offer to the Great Ones. It should be done reverently, at the right time and with love. And it shouldn’t take over your life.’
‘Men or women?’
‘Are all you monks gay?’
‘No, just Prema and I, so far as I know, though I wonder about Dravadam at times. He likes seeing me nekkid. Always catching my eye. Problem is, he’s got an enormous cock. He’s built for women, not men. I couldn’t take him, I’m pretty sure.’
‘Me neither,’ added Prema from the driving wheel, blushing.
Almost against his will, Justin was getting more comfortable with these two strange young men.
It was becoming dark now, and the headlights from the other direction regularly swept the cab. Vedayah had been silent for a few minutes before he spoke again. ‘We’d better fill ya in on what’ll happen when we get back. We gotta tell the father abbot, I guess. He suspects something already, but now we gotta explain to him exactly what the cow has got us into. She’ll be back at the monastery tomorrow too. That’s why ya need to be in disguise, Justin. She’ll never recognise you as you are now, believe me. You’re very sexy too, did I mention that?’
‘I gotta boyfriend.’
‘That’s not what I meant, baby. Point is, we have to sleep with the cow. No, seriously. All of us. Our order embraces the Vedic way, so sex is not absolutely against our rules, though the way she wants it, it sure is. Anyway, she’s likely to ask the abbot who the fresh young monk is and be straight after your dick.’
Justin was appalled. ‘Oh fuck! Thass sick, that is! I only does it with blokes, and one bloke in particular.’
Prema nodded vigorously. ‘Me too. It made me puke when it was my turn.’
‘She’s the mother of two of me best mates! No way am I going to bed wiv her!’
Vedayah seemed rather amused. ‘You might have to, Justin. Sorry, but if you’re going to masquerade as a monk, it’s not all chanting and praying. For that matter, we gotta give ya a crash course in New Vedanta.
‘First thing, we’re all westerners, apart from the abbot, so your pale skin won’t be a problem. But ya’d best say as little as possible, and what ya do say better be mumbled. You’re not our usual type, baby.’
‘No offence, dude, but we tend to be better … er … educated.’
When Justin scowled, Vedayah moved on fast. ‘Anyway, point is, if you’re required to fuck her, you have to do it or we all get caught out.’
‘And ya need a Vedic name.’
‘Well, how about Chavindar?’
Justin’s eyes rolled. ‘Y’know, I thought it might be something like that.’
Vedayah took Justin round the shoulder, cuddled him and kissed him on the cheek. Strangely, Justin did not resist or even resent the gesture. There was something about the American that he found warm and reassuring. It reminded him of Terry O’Brien, who was also a man difficult to resist.
For the moment, Justin could think of no better plan than to go along with the two monks. They were obviously sincere, even if they were wildly eccentric. He also believed their interpretation of events. It tallied too well with what he knew from other sources.
King Rudolf of Rothenia checked his watch. It was getting late, and the current exercise was scheduled to end in half an hour, though there would be night exercises to follow. The two NATO generals, a German and an Italian, were smiling and congratulatory about the performance of the Rothenian troops.
The conversation with the NATO delegation had been in English, so Damien had been able to follow most of it. There were constant and mysterious references to what they called the ‘Red Zone’ which Damien found fascinating. He drew Reggie’s attention to it, as they sat at the map table sucking at the cokes Ed Cornish had found for them.
‘What do yuh think this “Red Zone” business is all about, Reggie?’
‘Dunno, Daimey. Sounds top secret, though, and “red” is like for danger, isn’t it?’
‘Yuh. An’ the NATO blokes are on about the Rothenian army’s ability to protect it.’
‘I wonder …’
‘Well, they’re talking about it being in the north, right?’
‘There was a big thing in our embassy last year about the missile shield our government wants to stretch across Eastern Europe. The Secretary of State came and talked to the Rothenian chancellor about building radar bases and missile sites that the Czech government wouldn’t let us have in their country.’
‘They got an agreement. I think they’re supposed to be building them this year, and it was gonna be in the north.’
Damien was still considering the implications of this information when a messenger arrived and handed a note to the king. Rudolf read it, looked sharply across at Damien under his eyebrows, and then called over Ed Cornish. There was a hurried and whispered conversation during which Ed became noticeably serious. He too shot a look at Damien.
The boy was not therefore surprised when the king came over and held out his hand. Damien took it and Rudolf led him out to a side room.
Damien looked up. ‘Whass happened?’
‘You’re going to have to be strong, Damien. I have to tell you we’ve just heard that your father’s car has just been found abandoned in Glottenberh, but there’s no sign of him.’
‘I’m sorry, but it looks like a kidnap. PeacherCorp is awaiting the demand and is ready to meet it. Nathan is being brought up here in a police car, and we’ll all get together in Glottenberh. The police have set up a crime unit in the regional headquarters there. I’m taking you to the governor’s mansion where we can watch the progress of the investigation.’
Damien stood stunned. He shook his head. ‘What about Reggie?’
‘He’ll have to come with us for the night. But I’ll send him home tomorrow. I’m really sorry.’ The king’s large hand rested on Damien’s shoulder and gave it an awkward squeeze.
‘Uncle Rudi … he will be alright, won’t he?’ Rudolf could hear the tears in the little boy’s voice as he tried valiantly to maintain his tough facade.
The king’s stern demeanour melted. He hunkered down and brought his face level with Damien’s. ‘Sweetheart, I won’t let anything happen to him if I can help it. I’ve got the state police mobilising across the province and I’ve put my troops on alert.’ He hesitated before taking Damien’s small body in his arms and hugging him. After a while he picked him up and rocked him as the boy hung around his shoulders and gripped his neck.
‘Come on, Damien, let’s face the world. Time to be strong.’
‘Uncle Rudi, I’ll kill the fookers if they hurts me dad.’
‘And I’ll give you the gun to do it with, baby. Let’s go meet the public.’
Danny was stiff and cold on the floor of his kidnappers’ van. His companion in captivity kept rolling against him. He rather thought it was Gus, as he believed he recognised his lover’s scent when they were thrown against each other. This discovery made him simultaneously comforted and concerned. Gus would have laid into his captors and tried to free him, so Gus himself had been taken to avoid the kidnappers having to risk a protracted slugging match in the busy end of the Rodolferplaz. But now Danny had the fate of two people to worry about.
‘Gussie?’ he called through the racket of the engine.
All he heard in reply was a muffled attempt at communication. Gus had been gagged.
The drive went on and on, so long that Danny began to realise he badly needed to pee. In the end, the agony of retention was too much and he had to let loose. The stink and feel of the wet van floor added to his miseries, as did the knowledge that Gus too was rolling around in a pool of his piss. He kept telling Gus how sorry and embarrassed he was. He thought he heard Gus attempting to reassure him through the gag.
It seemed hours before the van came to a halt. The doors were wrenched open and Danny was hauled out. He collapsed on to his back when an attempt was made to put him on his feet. Swearing, men hooked hands under his armpits to drag him face-upwards across some grass. The clarity of the night sky and the blazing stars told him he was in the deep country.
Finally he was picked up and carried into a house, where he was briefly blinded by the electric light. As he blinked he was hauled up again, this time remaining on his feet because his biceps were firmly gripped from behind. Gus had been brought in after him and deposited on a chair, where a leather-jacketed thug had him covered with a shotgun. He no longer had the gag in his mouth.
Danny looked around. They seemed to be in the kitchen of some sort of farmhouse. It was cosily domestic, with wellington boots lined up next to the back door and coats hung on pegs. There were even children’s paintings attached to the fridge by magnets. It was a disturbingly commonplace sight.
His captors, silent apart from the odd muttered exchange, continued to hold Danny upright. When he went to speak, an aggressive movement from a shotgun silenced him. Everybody seemed to be waiting for something.
Finally a car could be heard approaching, and the gangsters stiffened. Danny watched the door. It opened to admit a tall, hooknosed man, his eyes an icy blue, who surveyed Danny with a quizzical expression before addressing him in Russian. When Danny looked blank, Hooknose tried again more impatiently.
‘Danny,’ murmured Gus, ‘he believes you’re Yuri.’
Though the interjection cost Gus a warning clout around the head, the nature of his captors’ mistake now came home to Danny.
‘Please, I’m not who you think I am,’ he pleaded with Hooknose.
This time it was Hooknose’s turn to look blank. Then he fixed his aquiline stare on to his associates, who wilted under the glare.
Hooknose glanced back at Danny. ‘You’re not Yuri Mednehev? Then who the fuck are you?’
‘I’m just Danny Hackness, an English student.’
One of the associates broke in at that point, and since he used Rothenian, Danny understood he was telling Hooknose how the picture matched and how Danny was walking with Yuri’s boyfriend.
Danny was searched and his passport found.
‘You stupid sons of bitches,’ Hooknose raged. ‘You have got the wrong queer! Look at him! He’s not the Mednehev boy! The hair’s not right, to begin with. Have you any idea how badly you’ve crapped up? Now what the fuck are we going to do with these two jerks? For the moment, lock ‘em in the cellar with the family.’
Danny and Gus were hustled out of the kitchen and down some wooden stairs. A door was unlocked, they were pushed inside and the door was slammed behind them. Although the light was very dim, they could tell there were four people inside already, two adults and two children aged about eight and ten.
Danny looked around. As he did, Gus mused in the sudden silence, ‘Mednehev. That’s the name of the Russian defence minister. Now, I wonder …’
One of the children complained in Rothenian, ‘Those men smell bad.’
Nathan had brought pyjamas and a change of clothes for Reggie and Damien.
‘But I doan wanna go to bed, Nathan! Gangsters have got me dad!’
‘I know, sweetheart, but you’ve had an exhausting day. Get some sleep while you can. I’ll wake you if anything happens, honest. Grandad Andy and Grandad Matt will be here tomorrow to help. You’re not alone, baby.’
Damien consented to go to bed with Reggie after it was pointed out that Reggie wouldn’t go himself unless Damien did.
When Nathan looked in a quarter of an hour later, the boys were fast asleep, cuddled up together side by side. Nathan glanced at Rudi standing next to him in the doorway and noticed a new expression on the king’s face. ‘You okay, Rudi?’
‘Me? Why do you ask?’
‘You seem a bit … different.’
‘In what way?’ The brusqueness in the king’s voice had certainly not changed.
‘Never mind. What’s the latest?’
‘There are blocks on the main roads all over the province, up as far as Ranstadt. But we have no clue as to who took Justy and in what. There were surveillance cameras on the entrance to the distribution plant, but the kidnappers avoided the field of view. All the police got from the Peacher security people on the gate was that they thought they saw a white Volkswagen van take off at speed on to the ring road, heading westward.’
‘White Volkswagen van,’ sighed Nathan. ‘Only the most common vehicle on the autoroutes of Europe.’
‘Fraid so. And they would have shifted into another vehicle pretty soon afterwards, certainly well before we were alerted to the kidnap. We need them to make contact to state their terms. But so far there’s not been a word.’
‘How much to ransom a Peacher, I wonder.’
‘Rather more than they’d get for me, I’d guess.’
‘Are there any leads as to who might be behind it?’
‘There are kidnapping rings operating in Serbia, Kosovo and Croatia who work this way. I’d say that Josseran might be one possibility for the mastermind behind it all, though he’s got no previous record in that sort of crime. However, he is supposed to be holding out in the north and our sources say he’s chronically in need of money. Maybe he set up the deal.’
‘I don’t suppose you could trace Justin through his mobile.’
‘No. It was thrown out on the road verge just past the hijack site. All part of the method of the known gangs. Let’s hope they don’t do their other signatures.’
‘They cut bits off the victim. Bits you really wouldn’t like to lose.’
‘Oh shit. My poor Justy.’
‘It’s got to stop. I’ve ordered the fourth division up towards the Czech and Slovak borders. The frontiers have been thoroughly sealed for five hours now. Between the police roadblocks and the troop deployments, I think I may have acted quickly enough to paralyse the kidnappers’ possible movements faster than they could have anticipated.
‘On top of that I mobilised the guard division from Strelzen. Ed Cornish has just gone to take command of his battalion of the Guard Fusiliers at Ranstadt. He’s got heavy helicopter backup, and nothing now will stir in the north of the province without his knowing it. The Foot Guards are in Piotreshrad; the Life Guards and Guard Dragoons in their armour and gunships are arriving in Glottenberh as we speak.’
‘Jesus Rudi, it sounds like you’re starting a war. Is there something you’re not telling me?’
‘Maybe, but there are things I can’t talk about even to mates. This is one of them.’
It was dark when the van turned off the main road into the monastery grounds. Prema drove round to the back of the house where there was a yard, then pulled the van directly into a barn and parked it neatly. The two monks hopped out and began unloading the back.
‘Can ya give a hand, Chavindar?’ asked Veyadah with a laugh.
Despite believing he was being made the butt of inappropriate humour, Justin got out gingerly and picked his way round the van. The other two had hardened soles to their feet, as they rarely wore shoes. Justin found barefoot walking less than comfortable.
Justin saw that a tarpaulin had been covering a pile of domestic supplies at the back of the van. He stacked packages and cans with Prema and Vedayah before being given a box of perishables to carry into the house. Feeling odd, he followed the other two through a lighted doorway into a large kitchen.
A well-built young man in a robe and apron was presiding over a restaurant-size range. ‘Made it for supper then, Vedayah? We expected you hours ago. Who’s this?’ He eyed Justin with interest, then put his hands together and bowed over them.
Justin had the mental quickness to duplicate the gesture, however awkwardly.
Vedayah replied easily, ‘This is Brother Chavindar. We picked him up in Ranstadt.’
‘Father abbot mentioned no new arrivals from Bangkok.’
‘Didn’t he? Well, maybe he’ll tell us about it in chapter tomorrow. Gotta go see his reverence. Is he in his study?’
‘When last I knew, yeah.’
‘Come on, Chavvy,’ smirked Vedayah.
Justin followed him silently into a carpeted passage and then a hall. A large staircase led up to a gallery off which numerous doors opened. Religious icons and statues of all sorts occupied niches and corners. Everywhere there were rather fetching flower arrangements in tall porcelain vases.
The three young men padded up to a door and Vedayah knocked. When they entered, a bespectacled Thai monk – probably not much more than thirty – looked up from his computer terminal. Vedayah and Prema went gracefully to their knees and bowed low over their steepled hands waiting for his acknowledgement.
‘Gracious me!’ Abbot Vindahayah stared in astonishment at Justin. ‘My community seems to be reproducing. Now who are you, child?’
‘Er …’ Justin began.
He was cut off by Vedayah. ‘Father, this is Justin Peacher-White. We kidnapped him to save his life and brought him here to hide him from his enemies.’
The abbot kept his cool impressively. He sat back and, after a few moments’ thought, signalled the kneeling monks to stand. When he himself got up from his work station, he proved to be tall for a Thai, Justin’s height in fact, though he was rather shorter than his monks. He led the three to a corner where narrow cushions were laid out. Justin joined them when they all sat cross-legged on the floor.
‘I think you have a story to tell me, Vedayah, one that involves the Lady Benefactor, I believe.’
Vedayah, bowing over his hands to his abbot, began his explanation. Justin listened astonished as he took in the full story of Mrs Marquesa’s plots and schemes, and learned to appreciate the ingenuity and courage of the monks.
‘So you see, father, we had to bring him back. We couldn’t really tell you beforehand what we were doing, either. You do understand?’
Justin caught an edge of pleading in the American’s voice. It occurred to him that Chris-Vedayah enjoyed his life there in the community and loved his abbot, whose approval he needed. Justin’s heart warmed to the man.
The abbot was silent for a while before turning to Justin. ‘Mr Peacher-White, I hope you don’t think unkindly of my children. What they did, they were trying to do for the best. The problem is they felt they had to juggle what was best for the community with what was best for you. I do apologise for your temporary loss of liberty and the rest of it.’ He smiled slightly as he indicated Justin’s disguise with a gesture.
‘Er … thanks, yer fathership. I understands, no problem. Look, mate, I gotta ring me friends and family to tell ‘em I’m okay.’
The abbot smiled. ‘Naturally. But before you do I have to repeat what Vedayah has said. It seems you are in serious and continuing danger. Mrs Marquesa – I will call her benefactor no longer – will be here early tomorrow morning, and with her always travel a couple of Josseran’s men. She is dangerous in her own right, I believe.
‘It seems clear that she absented herself to the capital so as to distance herself from your kidnapping and murder. She is now coming back to verify your decease. It will not take long for her to discover that she has been cheated of her prey; perhaps she already knows. Then the search for you will begin. Reassure your friends by all means, but be careful what you say.’
Justin nodded. ‘No probs, yer reverence. But I think me mates will be able to protect me. Soon as Rudi – the king – knows where I am, he’ll have half the police and army in Glottenberh out here.’
The abbot looked slightly relieved that at least one problem was off his hands. ‘Even so, there will be danger for you in the proximity of the Marquesa woman. We have also to decide what to do about her. My children here can prove her complicity in a murder plot. I feel she should be made to pay for her malignity, and we must discuss how this can be accomplished.’
‘Problem is, chief, she’s the king’s mother-in-law. Rudi’s a strong king and all, but the idea of the press finding out that the queen’s mother is a scheming, murderous bitch – pardon me French – may be more than even he’s willing to allow to surface.’
‘I see. You are a wise young man, it seems. Well, we can talk of this more in a few moments. Please take my phone and ring whomever you wish. Your people must be anxious.’
Justin got up and went over to the desk. He picked up the phone, listened for the tone and began tapping in numbers. As he did so, the lights in the house flickered and went out, then came on again as the distant whine of a generator began to be heard through the house. Justin looked startled and shook the phone. ‘Iss gone dead,’ he pronounced, ‘and with it yer computer connection, reverence!’
The abbot and his monks had stood as the lights died.
Justin took command. ‘You got a mobile on the property?’
Vedayah shook his head. ‘No. We have no use for them.’
‘Yer does now, mate. But I has a feelin’ that somefink big’s going down, and maybe the network also has been taken out. It looks like we’re on our own.’