Michael Arram









  Sunday was a day of partings.  When Harry Baxter left for the airport in the morning, Will was at the hotel to say goodbye and explain that he was staying on.  Harry looked a little miffed.  Then he shrugged and agreed to water the pot plants in Will’s flat, so Will told him about a spare key he kept under a mat.  Finally Will checked himself out and moved his bags by taxi to Lindenstrasse, where an excited Oskar and Marietta were waiting for him.


  In the afternoon, Terry and Ramon were leaving by Lufthansa for Washington via Berlin.  Will rode out to the airport with them.  Strelzen International, several kilometres south of the city, was brand new, all stainless steel and polished grey granite, full of expensive shops selling things at prices that most local people could not dream of paying, as Oskar had complained to him before he left.


  All three had a McDonald’s, much to Ramon’s disgust, but Terry said he had an addiction problem.  Looking at his physique, Will doubted it.  He still chewed a chicken sandwich along with his friends.


  It was as Ramon made a dash to the loos that Terry fixed a sharp gaze on Will.  He had been an easy-going and happy lad in all Will’s contact with him so far, but suddenly all the cheeriness evaporated.


  Will was looking into the calm and slightly grim face of a man who he guessed had seen some terrible things and had survived them, perhaps against the odds.  Will realised there was an awful lot he did not know about this man.  He remembered Matt’s words.  He was about to meet the real Terry, and was not certain he wanted to.


  Terry cocked an eyebrow and leaned towards him.  ‘Did I ever explain my job, Will?’


  ‘You mentioned you were in security for PeacherCorp and minded Andy Peacher’s back.’


  ‘That’s true, but perhaps I should have told you that I am the senior security consultant for the Peacher and Roedenbeck corporations, two of the biggest conglomerates in the Western world.’


  ‘Er, sounds like an important job.’


  ‘It is.  I’m telling you this because I want you to take what I’m going to say next very seriously.  You must not trust Oskar.’


  ‘What the hell!’


  ‘You heard me.’  The calmness of Terry’s response quelled Will like a face full of cold water.


  ‘Why do you say that?  You know about the porn stuff?’


  Terry gave him an appraising look, which made Will feel very uncomfortable.  ‘So you did know then?  Well that’s interesting.  I wasn’t actually going to tell you.  I recognised the boy as soon as I saw him, of course, having been a bit of a perv on the quiet in me younger days and more than friends once with a mega-perv from Germany called Axel Friedrich.  Your Oskar – or shall we say Marc – does have a distinctive face, doesn’t he?  I spotted him online two years ago, and, well, you don’t forget a bod like that in a hurry.  But it’s not the porn which bothers me.  Don’t tell Ramon, but I actually was in a lower-end porn video meself once, so who am I to throw stones at your Oskar?’


  Will was intrigued despite his unease.  ‘Then what is it?’


  ‘He’s lying to you.  I’m not sure what about, but there’s something behind his words.’


  ‘How can you be so sure?’


  ‘I’m a human lie detector: face, voice, eyes, pulse, perspiration – they give themselves away to me.  You have to be real good to get past me.  He lied twice in my hearing.  The first time was about the attempted mugging.  He’s also concealing something about that place, Terlenehem.  I don’t know what’s going on, but I doubt you fell into his bed accidentally; he wanted you there.’


  Will was deeply shocked, yet he found the courage to ask the important question: ‘And did he lie about his feelings for me?’


  Terry gave a half-smile.  ‘Perhaps, but I … no, I can’t say.  There is something there, maybe.  I can’t suggest more than that.  What I can do is give you this.’  He handed Will a business card with the well-known Peacher logo embossed in one corner.  It was very impressive.  ‘This is my special card, given to few.  The number will reach me priority, toll-free even from abroad, and the e-mail address is for my private account.  If you are in trouble at any time, contact me.  I can do things.  For you I will do things.’


  ‘Why me?’


  ‘I like you, Will, I like you a lot, and I won’t have you harmed.  At the moment, I suspect you are in the grip of people who may not have the best of intentions towards you.  Besides, you remind me so much of someone I knew and loved, but who …’  He shook his curly head.  ‘Enough of my many tragedies.  But it’s not just that you’re a friend and fellow-tenor.  You’ve come into the orbit of Matthew White, and anyone whom Matt takes on is my responsibility too, because Matt is my boss’s reason for living.  I won’t have either of them upset.  It offends me.  There are a number of people in prison now because they offended me.’


  Will was cowed.  This was no braggart.  He had never met such a man before, so very cool and controlled, so much in the moment.  It was a little awesome.  And at the time he heard it he believed everything Terry was saying, even though his heart was crying out for love of Oskar.


  Terry’s eyes flicked over Will’s shoulder.  Will glanced around to see Ramon on the way back.  When Will returned his gaze to his friend, the old grinning Terry was there again.  Nothing more was said, but it was a very troubled Englishman who got on the shuttle train back to the city.


  What was he to make of this?  He found it difficult to dismiss the things Terry had said, yet he did not want to think any ill of his Rothenian lover.  He began to believe what was the most convenient thing to believe, that Terry was over-suspicious.  Suddenly it occurred to him that Terry did not expect to be taken seriously, which was why he had left the card.  Will studied it again before shoving it firmly into the back of his wallet.  His one concession to Terry’s suspicions was not to throw the card away.


  At Strelzen’s main station, the König-Rudolfs-Bahnhof – a passable copy of the Gare du Nord in Paris – Will hopped on the tram to the Lindenstrasse.  As it clanged its way through the quiet Sunday streets, his thoughts continued to wrestle with what Terry had said.  He found he could not deny that his own mind had been troubled.  There was something bugging him … but what was it?  Whatever it was, it wouldn’t come back to him at this point, but he wouldn’t forget it.




* * *




  Hendrik checked over the menu at the Köningen Flavia.  ‘Drink, boys?’  He noticed how moody both Felip and Oskar were.  ‘So how is it going?’


  ‘I’ve persuaded him to stay on in Strelzen.’


  ‘I can’t imagine how.’  Hendrik gave a bland smile and got a cool look by return.


  ‘Not only that but we’re going to work together on Matthew White’s current project.  He’s paying me a lot more than you ever did.’


  ‘Remember your contract with me, Oskar.  But well done, well done indeed.’


  Felip cut in.  ‘I don’t think that much about the boy.  He is thin and whey-faced, like all those English.  How can you be so sure he will perform?’


  ‘You only saw him in the club, late that night.  I’ve slept with him.  I’ve seen him naked in the morning sunlight.  I’ve had him groaning beneath me with lust for my cock.  He’s crazy for it.  And he took all of me in one go.  I know how he will perform, believe me.  He is a natural and he’s an unmistakable Westerner.’


  Felip wasn’t giving up.  ‘But he’s English and we want an American.’


  Oskar shrugged.  ‘He speaks English, and so do the Americans.  Also, he made the table laugh when he put on an American accent to amuse Dr White’s party.  They said it was brilliant and they all live in America.  It’s not a problem.’


  Hendrik looked at them both appraisingly.  ‘I need to see him.  Bring him to Ribaud’s tonight.  I’ll be at my usual table.’




* * *




  Will encountered the surly concierge on the way in.  The man blocked his access to the stairs, clearly out for trouble.  He was subjected to a barrage of incomprehensible questions in Rothenian by a man who knew no English – or pretended he didn’t.  Brandishing the door key Oskar had given him produced no let-up in what was plainly becoming an abusive tirade.


  Will was almost in tears when Oskar entered behind him and began laying into the concierge passionately.  Eventually the man turned his back on them, slamming his door.  Oskar took Will’s arm and pulled him into the lift.  They kissed as it clattered and groaned its way to the fifth floor.


  ‘He’s a surly bastard,’ Oskar explained, ‘and homophobic too.  He was a secret-police informer in the old days, I think; most of the concierges made extra money that way.  I bet he wishes he could put me in the labour camps as they did to people like us under Horvath.’


  ‘I wish I knew Rothenian,’ said Will plaintively, opening the door.  Marietta danced round them both.


  ‘We can start this afternoon, if you want.’


  ‘I do want.  Can I learn the rude words first?’


  Oskar laughed.  ‘You get those as a reward if you work hard, men leblen Will.’


  ‘Men leblen?’


  ‘My darling, my love.’


  Will flushed red with delight.  ‘That I will remember.’


  They sat in the flat for a while over a rich, dark coffee that Oskar made, then took Marietta on a walk through the back streets to a small park, never ceasing to work on words and phrases.  Oskar was a very good teacher, as Will easily recognised, being a rather fine one himself.


  They made progress slowly, with much repetition.  Oskar reinforced his instruction with funny little jokes and surprise tests.  Will just hoped his memory was up to the demands on it.  The fact that the language was so heavily drenched with Germanic and Latin words helped a lot, although the common and highly irregular verbs were going to be a problem.


  After they returned, they kept hard at it.  At five, Oskar finally stretched and rose from his chair.  He pulled Will up and kissed him, then looked down at Marietta.


  ‘What is it with you, dog?  Don’t you want to defend my honour from Will?’


  The terrier gazed up at him and snuffled.  Shaking his head, Oskar went back to kissing Will.  They adjourned to the bedroom and were soon naked together on the covers.


  ‘You kiss me full on when you make love to me,’ said Will.




  ‘In the films, you guys sort of flicker your tongues together, like this.’  He demonstrated and Oskar co-operated.


  ‘It is the way we do it for the cameras – porno-kissing.  It is supposed to arouse the watcher.  It tickles nicely.’


  ‘Does nothing for me.  Well, not entirely true.  It’s sort of sexy when you do it, it just looks weird.’


  ‘You would be amazed how traditional is the porn business, my Will.  Some of my colleagues would be offended if you criticised their age-old practices.  Anyway, I know one place where you will like it.’


  He got Will on all fours and demonstrated, then followed his tongue into the same place with a longer and more solid organ, sheathed dutifully in film.  He took his time beating leisurely into Will, on his knees panting in a high-pitched moan when he wasn’t licking and kissing the back of Will’s neck.


  ‘You are so sexy, leblen.  You make the cutest noises.  Ooo … you’re going to drip on my bed; let me lick that off.’  He pulled out, leaving Will a little distraught at being empty and ready to admit to himself that he really was a bottom boy.


  Oskar drew back Will’s penis and suckled the precum off it.  ‘I love your juice,’ he said.


   Will recognised the words from Rothenian Boys 7.  He found them deeply arousing.


  Then Oskar reengaged with Will’s anus, and picked up his speed.  Five minutes later he came with a remarkably extended groan.


  After a nap, Oskar checked his watch at the bedside.  ‘Let’s go out and have a drink and a meal.  I know this great place on the Radhausplaz, away from the tourists.  It is called Ribaud’s.  Have you heard of it?’


  ‘No.  Is it expensive?’


  ‘A bit, but Dr White’s money will take care of that, hein?’


  ‘I suppose, though I don’t want to take advantage of him.’


  ‘Of course not.’




* * *




  ‘How many words for penis in Rothenian?’  Will was impressed.


  ‘I have counted twenty-four, but some of them are not for ordinary use.  We must be a very fixated nation, do you not think?’


  ‘Strewth.  Mind you, English has got quite a few, not that I’ve sat down and actually counted.’


  Will looked around the restaurant.  They were eating inside, though most people were at the big array of tables out on the cobbled Town Hall square, because Oskar said he occasionally got stared at by passers-by and didn’t like it.  Will saw his point.  He had let Oskar order for him, and they were tucking into a meaty game stew with lots of mushrooms.  Stews and casseroles seemed to be the Rothenian speciality.


  Will had kept a menu card and was throwing out random questions about foodstuffs and eating.  His initial enthusiasm for Rothenian had not at all died down, nor had Oskar shown any boredom in answering and tutoring him.  ‘No, Will,’ he was saying, ‘we always put the accent on the first syllable of every word.  If you don’t do that it sounds really weird to a Rothenian hearing you.  Try again.’


  Across the restaurant, a fuss began as waiters scurried round a new arrival, a tall, bearded, charismatic man who came in with two young girls hanging on his arms.  They were seated in state and the maître d'hôtel hovered over them solicitously.


  Oskar caught Will’s gaze.  ‘Don’t stare, Will, it is rude in Rothenia.’


  Will snapped out of it.  ‘Oops.  Sorry.  It’s rude in Britain too.’


  ‘Did you get a good look, then?’


  ‘Who is he, a minister or something?’


  ‘No, but he is famous.  He is Hendrik Wilemmin, and you have heard of him, I think.’


  ‘Rings no bells …’


  ‘Pardon me?’


  ‘I don’t recognise the name.’


  ‘Oh.  How about “Anton Aramis”?’


  ‘That’s familiar, though I can’t work out why.’




  Now Will knew who it was.  That was the name adorning the boxes of his now-forgotten porn collection, the producer and mastermind behind the Rothenian porn industry.


  ‘That’s your boss?  He’s younger and fitter than I thought.’


  ‘You can rise fast if you are as clever, unscrupulous and energetic as he is.’


  Will paused, and then launched into the question he had been longing to ask even before he had met Oskar Prinz, and knew only Marc Bennett.  ‘Oskar, how did a man like you get into an industry like this?’


  Oskar smiled slightly.  He had been expecting the question, and was surprised it had taken so long to come out.  ‘Are you being judgemental, dearest Will, about what I do for a living?’


  ‘I guess I am,’ Will admitted.


  ‘Ach.  The answer is really quite simple.  When I was eighteen and doing my military service, my parents were killed, crushed on the autoroute by a Serbian truck.  It was terrible.  I was not allowed to go home and help Helge, my big sister.  I was in a very bad state.  A friend in barracks helped me a lot, gave me love and attention and taught me how to be queer.  When we were let out on weekends we used to go to King Henry.’




  ‘You know, the big statue on the Rodolferplaz.  That is where young, gay soldier boys often spend the early evening looking for a pickup.  He took me with him, and we began cruising.  It was exciting, and sometimes I was not so proud that I did not take money for it, money I could send home to Helge.  I am a real whore, as I have warned you too often now.


  ‘One evening just before my eighteen-month term was up, Hendrik approached me in the Rodolferplaz, not for sex but with an offer of model work.  By that time I was so screwed up I had no plans, so I knocked on his door for an audition.  It was pretty soon clear that more than modelling was involved, but I was a young gay full of himself, and pretty shameless when it came down to it.  It was not too difficult to go along with things because the money is very good, even if not as frequent as one would like.’


  ‘How much does he pay?’


  ‘Hendrik is a bastard, but he’s not a cheap bastard.  You can get three thousand dollars for a set with a guy, even more for the big ones.  A starring role in a special is worth at least three times as much.  That sort of money goes a long way in Rothenia.  Some of Hendrik’s earlier boys have already retired and opened their own businesses.  Others of them do casual or full-time work for Falkefilm.  Some are now cameramen.  Felip, for instance …’




  ‘For a moment, Will, I forgot we are only recent friends.  Felip you would know as Max Wolf.’


  ‘Oh right … the guy who …’


  ‘Yes, the boy whom I screwed and who screwed me in Rothenian Boys 7.  He is the only one at Falkefilm I’d consider to be a friend, although he can be irritating.  We socialise sometimes.  No, not like that, Will.  We are not lovers, at least off-camera.  Anyway, Felip is one of Hendrik’s scouts, he goes to swimming pools, clubs and gyms looking for talent and inviting them for an audition.  He gets head money for it, a finder’s fee.  The gay boys home in on him, so half his work is done by his pretty face.  He is pretty, is he not?’


  ‘Not as handsome as you are, Oskar.’


  ‘Thank you, but you will never convince him different.  Most of Hendrik’s boys come from that sort of approach.  I was a bit of an exception to get a personal invitation.’


  ‘Er … was he interested in you sexually, then?’


  ‘Hendrik’s sexuality is a bit of a mystery.  Mostly he sleeps with women, but there are some stories about him and one or two of the boys.  But not me.  Me he is a little protective of.’


  ‘I’ve heard that Falkefilm gets a lot of guys who are straight, but will have gay sex for cash.’


  ‘Certainly it happens.  Sometimes boys are bisexual.  Sometimes they think they are straight but find out otherwise when they give it a try.  But many of us have long known we are gay.  Sex is complicated, is it not?  When did you know about yourself, Will?’


  ‘Not till university for sure, and I only lost my virginity a month ago.’




  ‘It’s true.’


  ‘Jesus.  But you are so hot in bed.  You English are strange …’


  ‘Even the queer ones.’


  Will was so intent on the conversation that the sudden looming above him of a tall man took him quite by surprise.  Oskar stood, and Will did too.  It was Hendrik Wilemmin.  They shook hands and there were formal introductions.


  ‘This is Will, William Vincent, an English friend I have made,’ Oskar said to his boss.


  ‘Good evening, Will, do you like our city?’  There was more than a trace of American in the accent of his English.


  ‘Very much, Mr Wilemmin.  I could easily stay here forever.’


  ‘I expect sweet Oskar would be part of the attraction.’


  Will smiled, but did not answer.  He was not going to discuss his sex life with a porn king.


  ‘Oskar, Josep said to remind you that you’re needed for a workout tomorrow at nine-thirty.’


  ‘Sure.  I will be there.’


  ‘Have a good evening, boys.’


  They thanked him and resumed their seats.


  ‘Powerful character, that,’ concluded Will.


  Oskar was quick to agree.




* * *




  The next day, they were supposed to meet Matt at his hotel for lunch.  Having the morning free, Will readily agreed to go along with Oskar to his gym.  Will had a pair of shorts, trainers and a singlet, so he thought he’d work out too.  It had been a while.


  The World Class Fitness Center and Solarium was only three blocks away west on Lindenstrasse.  It was impressively well equipped.  ‘So this is where you get your physique,’ Will observed.


  ‘Something of it, but I was always a keen swimmer.  Although that’s where most of the muscles come from, Josep here tones me up.’


  Josep was a shaven-headed muscle man who came up to them unsmiling.  He took them into a glazed-off area, where he had Oskar get up on a table and began working on what Oskar said was a recent muscle strain.  Will sat and watched.  He tried to pick up words from their conversation, but they talked far too fast for him.  Eventually Oskar sat up and received some instructions.  He looked at Will and grinned: ‘Your turn.’




  ‘Get up here and take off everything except your shorts.  Josep’s agreed to look you over and give you some advice.’


  ‘Really?  I never had a personal trainer before.’


  ‘You’re nice looking, my Will.  You could be better looking yet with a proper regime.  Josep is an expert.  And it is free because he works for Hendrik.  We are here on Hendrik’s bill.’


  Will shrugged and did as he was told, lying on his back.  Josep, at last giving a small smile, began a systematic exploration of his muscles, poking here and pressing there.  Josep stretched his arms and legs and rotated his neck, which gave a disconcerting click.  His eyes were checked with a small torch, as also were his tongue and ears.  Then he was shifted on to his front, and the same happened.  Will almost leapt in the air when a hand reached under his shorts to give his buttocks the same treatment.


  ‘Okay, Will, sit up!’ instructed Oskar.  As Josep said a few things to Will, Oskar translated: ‘Josep says you are not in bad shape, but you could be a lot better.  Your legs and pecs are excellent.  Your ass and shoulders could do with some work.  He is afraid he cannot compliment you on your abdomen, which is slack and needs some serious work.’  There was some more Rothenian.  ‘Josep will draw up a plan for you.  We will be coming here regularly, as I too have to tone up, so we can exercise together, is that not good?  Oh, and he wants you to lie on your stomach.’


  ‘Why?’ asked Will, as he complied.  ‘Ouch!’ he yelped, when Josep pulled down his shorts and injected his backside with a clear fluid.


  Oskar laughed a little wickedly.  ‘Josep says you have a bad vitamin B deficiency, which he has now corrected.  If he remembers, he will give you a booster next week.’


  ‘Hey!’ objected Will resentfully.  ‘He should ask first!  You don’t just jab people.’


  ‘You got on his couch, Will, so as far as he was concerned you became his patient.  He is a qualified physiotherapist.  Say thank you to the nice man.’


  Will was still a little peeved as he rubbed his bottom, but the sting soon faded.


  Josep went to a desk in a back room, scribbled some Rothenian instructions and handed them on to Oskar, who led Will into the main gym, singlet and trainers in hand.


  ‘Okay my Will, thirty minutes with these weights, get down there.  Good.  Lift with your legs, that’s fine.  I will be on the running machine.’




* * *




  They exercised for two hours.  Although it left him aching, Will did feel a lot better for it.  He was also ravenous, and ready for lunch.  After showering they returned to the flat to change.  Realising they were running a little late, they took a taxi to Matt’s hotel, the Strelzen Hilton, a large new block northwest of the palace gardens, looking down on the New City.


  They found Matt already in the restaurant, a book propped up in front of him.  He rose and exchanged handshakes with his guests.  ‘Good to see you, boys.  First we order.  Can you get egg and chips in Rothenia?’


  ‘Egg and chips?’ asked Oskar.


  ‘It’s England’s great culinary contribution to the world.’


  ‘I thought it was the fish and chips,’ Oskar countered.


  Matt sighed.  ‘Many people make that mistake.  Somehow my life is a conspiracy to deny me what I want most in the way of food.  My trainers forbid it to me, and I’m never in a place where you can order it off the menu.  Oh well, it’s eating Rothenian I suppose.’


  After they had made their choices, Matt got out a notepad.  ‘How long can you give me, Will and Oskar?’


  Will pondered.  ‘I can go as far as four weeks before I’ve got to get back home …’ he glanced apologetically at Oskar, who looked mournfully back at him.


  Oskar said that, apart from some odd commitments, he could be with Will for most of those four weeks.


  Matt nodded.  ‘Four weeks is good.  I’ll need to be updated by e-mail every so often on what you discover.  Remember, I need information that will assist me in writing the script.  The focus will be on the royal Elphbergs, and I think we’ll be concentrating on Osra and Flavia.  The men come into it, but only as they touch on the women’s stories.  Oskar, we need those folktales about Osra you mentioned.  Will, I want to know everything about the assassination of Rudolf V in 1862.  The uniting theme will be the eighteenth-century zenith of the Elphbergs, their unification of the country and the tragic collapse of the dynasty only a century later.  We focus on women in love.  Got it?’


  ‘Yes sir,’ they said together, and grinned.


  Matt smiled kindly back.  ‘Visual sources are a priority, of course … portraits, woodcuts, objects of art.  Just don’t make the mistake that a lot of documentaries do by ignoring the literature.’


  The food began to arrive, and Will did it full justice.  They busily exchanged ideas across the table, both Will and Oskar getting caught up in Matt’s enthusiasm.


  ‘So that’s that,’ Matt concluded.  ‘I’ll be off tomorrow to follow up some leads in England.  The last king of Rothenia, who died in exile in Surrey in 1979, has relatives still living both there and in Norfolk.


  ‘I’d like to see you in London in a month’s time, Will.  This card contains the e-mail address and telephone number of my PA, Dave Evans.  He’s scarily efficient.  He’ll fix up the appointment.  And if you ever change your mind about teaching, believe me, the job offer is always on the table.  Finally, there is this.’  He produced two fat envelopes, which the boys opened.  ‘I think this should pay for all expenses and your labour.’


  Oskar looked up in disbelief.  ‘Dr White, this is a quarter of a million krone!’


  ‘Good, the bank got it right then.  Will has got 100,000 more than you.  He has to get home afterwards, and this way he can go first class.  But I’ve paid you both the London research assistant’s rates.’


  Oskar swallowed hard.  ‘You can count on us, sir.’


  As they left the hotel together, Oskar said, ‘This is very generous, 50,000 krone is two months’ wage for a doctor or a teacher, and he is giving me that much for less than a week with books.’


  ‘Even more generous than Hendrik, isn’t he?’


  ‘He is.  I think we need to celebrate tonight with Tomaszu and the others.  I shall ring around.’