Michael Arram









  Terry pulled Will into a taxi.  Will looked fixedly ahead as he was driven to Terry’s hotel and booked in.


  Terry joined him later with a bottle of whisky.  ‘It’s as well I was following you, my babe, wasn’t it?  Give me the story.  I need to know it all, and fast.’


 Will stared dazedly at him, then glanced down at the glass in his own hand.  He gulped its contents and coughed.  He told what he knew, slowly and deliberately, watching the look of compassion grow on Terry’s face.  His head was starting to pound and his eyesight blur as the flashing lights of an imminent major migraine began blocking his vision.  He had already lost sensation on his left side and his speech was slurring before he finished.


  Afterwards, Will sat blankly.  Terry stood up and paced the room.  It was pointless asking Will what he wanted to do next, for he was in deep shock and appeared very ill.  Terry wrapped a blanket round his friend and poured him another drink, which Will slugged down mechanically.


  Eventually, as might have been expected, Will slumped into unconsciousness, adrenalin shock and extreme stress having overwhelmed him.  Terry lifted him on to the bed and left him to get what rest he could.  After returning to his own room, Terry began making phone calls, tapping his teeth as he did whenever he was thinking deeply.


  Will woke curled on top of his bed in the early morning.  His head was beyond splitting; the mother of all migraines seemed to have cloven it in half.  But that couldn’t be: it had hit him the previous evening and should have cleared by morning, yet the pain was inescapable and worse if anything.


  Just as he vomited catastrophically over the side of the bed, Terry came in to see how he was doing, took one look at him, checked his pulse and called an ambulance.  Will was unconscious when the paramedics arrived.  He didn’t come round until late that night, to find himself lying in a hospital bed hooked up to a drip and a monitor.  Terry, dozing in a chair by his side, snapped awake when he croaked, ‘What happened?’


  ‘Massive allergic reaction, babe.  Something to do with serious steroid abuse combined with an unregulated adrenalin gland.  You might have died if you’d been on your own, but the good people here stabilised you.  Thank God you had your travel insurance card with you, or I would have had to pay.’


  ‘The bastards at Falkefilm almost got me, then.’


  ‘I don’t think they were actually trying to kill you, but that’s what they nearly did.  Not the best of employers, are they?’




  ‘Gone.  No sign of him or his little dog.  I opened his apartment and removed your stuff.  A very co-operative concierge, happy to do anything you like for a thousand krone.  Sort of reasonable human being I can deal with.  Then I had a chat with a friend of mine in PeacherCorp Rothenia, who has a friend high in the Strelzen Police.  We all called on your friend Josep, who is now cooling his heels in a very clean Rothenian prison cell until Hendrik’s lawyers can get him out.  The Rothenian authorities don’t like illegal drugs.


  ‘I went to see the good Mr Wilemmin, your employer, this afternoon.  An impressive sort of man, and very reasonable too after his own fashion.  To tell the truth, I rather liked him, the way you might like a handsome tiger – but wouldn’t want to share the same cage .  The thing about Wilemmin is, as is true of any tiger, he has a good nose.  He can smell wealth and power, and detected them on me.  It helped.  But he wouldn’t give up the tapes he had, although a friend of mine was willing to make it worth his while.’


  ‘Has Matt that much money?’


  ‘Matt has quite a lot, but nowhere near as much as this man.’


  ‘Andy Peacher would have helped me?’


  ‘He’s a very special person, sweet babe.  Awesome really.  He cleared me for up to half a million dollars.  Anyway, Wilemmin got all arty on me, saying the tapes were sensational and he’d be a fool not to produce the DVD.  So I’m afraid Jason Williams is going to be famous.  I’ve already pre-ordered my copy.’


  ‘You may not be disappointed.’


  ‘Good to see you still have a sense of humour.’  Terry laughed before continuing, ‘What I did do was get your cash from Wilemmin, with a huge extra bonus, plus his regrets that you won’t be working for him again.  The bonus was more like a damage settlement, really, because I had the biggest, scariest local law firm serve papers on him this morning to sue his arse for what they did to you.  The suits had fun with his contract.  I don’t suppose you’ll begrudge the big cut they took you for.


  ‘Anyway, when we’d got over that social obstacle, Hendrik was an interesting man to talk to; turned out we had some common acquaintances.  He said you are one of the greatest natural talents he has ever encountered.  I think he meant it.’


  ‘Can you get the money to Oskar?’


  Terry looked stunned.  ‘Seriously?’


  ‘Yes, seriously, that and what Matt paid me.  I want Oskar to have it all, it’s important.’


  ‘After what he did to you?  Will, you’re nuts!  Oh well, thank God you called me when you did.  I could smell disaster all over this affair, and I wasn’t wrong.  I shall make a point of personally delivering the money to his Serene Highness.  While I’m at it, I may even be able to restrain myself from beating the crap out of him.’


  ‘Don’t mock him, Terry.  He was doing what he thought was right – for his family’s future, if not for mine.  He kept warning me all along about the way it was.  I just didn’t listen to him.  I was high on Strelzen and romance.  But Rothenia is not safe for the likes of me.  This is a place of noble ambitions and passions, unbridled lust and sudden violence.  I belong to Berkshire and a cup of tea with the ten-o’clock news before an early night.’


  Terry gave a long, low laugh.  ‘Sweet babe, you are one of the best boys.  If it wasn’t for Ramon, I don’t know what I might do.  We fly out tomorrow afternoon, anyway.  I’ve borrowed a plane and it’s waiting at the airport.’






* * *




  Will was dressed and sitting on his hospital bed when Terry came for him the next afternoon.  Terry looked at him, smiled and kissed him lingeringly.  ‘I found the guy where you said he would be, at Terlenehem.  He didn’t seem surprised to see me or what I gave him on your behalf.  He accepted it, and thanked you.’


  ‘Did he say anything else?’


  ‘Not much beyond formalities.  He stood throughout the meeting, as did his sister.  She’s a serious sort of babe, ain’t she?’


  ‘But nice.’


  ‘She told me to tell you something in Rothenian, which I can’t remember because I didn’t want to write it down.  I think it was meant kindly.  She said it involved a kiss on the forehead.’


  ‘Then I know what it was.’


  ‘Come on then, me babe, it’s time to leave the Land of Fairy Tale, if you get my rather complicated meaning.  I’ll take your bags.’


  Will looked out the windows as the familiar streets of Strelzen retreated past him, and the cathedral towers disappeared behind the car.  So many memories, so much joy, so much pain.  His eyes filled with tears, which streamed down both cheeks.  Terry left him alone, his insensitivity only an act, as Will knew well.


  At the airport, crewmen in Peacher uniforms were already waiting to stow their bags in a large PeacherCorp jet.  Will was ushered through exit formalities like a VIP.  After the sleek new plane launched itself effortlessly into the air, he absently watched videos with Terry all the way to Heathrow, although his concentration was poor.  A car was waiting and he was dropped at the entrance to a house in Highgate that he was ashamed to say he recognised.


  Matt White was waiting on the doorstep and took his bags.  They said farewell to Terry, who kissed Will tenderly like the good man he was, before returning to board the Peacher jet again en route for Washington.


  ‘Well, young William Vincent, what a summer, eh?’ said Matt.  Then that beautiful man gathered Will in his strong arms, allowing him to sob unashamedly on a sympathetic shoulder for a good twenty minutes as Matt rocked him gently.


  Will stayed with Matt in the handsome house on Highgate Hill for the next two weeks, the butt end of his summer.  It seemed accepted and arranged that he would do so, although he couldn’t remember how and when he had agreed.  So he occupied one of the guest bedrooms, put his feet up in the designer lounges and walked the well-tended walled garden on warm afternoons.


  Matt’s generosity was surprising.  He gave up most of his time to a very grateful – albeit puzzled – Will, who knew he must have better things to do.  After two days Will made some noises about getting back to Whithampsted.


  ‘Are you sure you want to?’ Matt asked.  ‘Wouldn’t you rather be out of things for a while, lost and anonymous in London?’


  ‘Well, yeah Matt.  Y’know, though, while it’s all very generous of you, I hate to distract you from more important things in your life.’


  ‘Who says you’re not the most important thing for me at the moment?’


  ‘That’s certainly flattering, but why?  We’ve only known each other a month or so … leaving out the years of fantasising I did over your face and body.’


  Matt smiled the smile, causing Will to nearly faint again.  ‘Will, let me tell you something about myself.  I’m a sad, obsessional bastard.’


  ‘Er, I think those words apply better to me, really.’


  ‘Hear me out.  This is what I mean: I fell for my Andy in my second year of uni … as you probably know, since you seem to have acquired every bit of available information about me.  We had two months of the most delicious and extraordinary love that ever could be.  I’ve never felt so exalted, so alive as I did then.  Never have since.  Never will again.  And it ended.


  ‘It ended because he hid from me the most important thing about himself: who his father was.  Happiness was then replaced with fear of discovery, and when the world and the tabloids did find out, something far worse than that followed: horrible libels, persecution and humiliation.  Our happy little gay love affair was ripped open, exhibited, lied about and sneered at.  And then the worst thing of all happened.  Andy couldn’t cope with it and … and he left me, he dumped me and walked away.  He betrayed me as completely as Oskar betrayed you.’


  Living it again in his head, Matt could not stop his eyes from tearing up.  He paused to pull himself together before continuing.  ‘What I felt then was a loss so complete and so horrible I never recovered from it.  Oh, in the end we drifted back together.  He got into trouble in the States and I was able to go over and pull him back from the brink.  We were a couple again, and a happy couple for most of the time, but I never lost the blackness of abandonment.  It’s taken me years to recapture the feeling of safety with the poor little guy.  The supreme happiness of those first days of loving … that’s never coming back, it’s just a memory of a lost Eden, one that you can’t recover in this world.


  ‘What I’m saying is, you can’t compare Oskar and Andy, but you can compare what I felt then with what you feel now.  We were both betrayed in the middle of something wonderful and were both abandoned.  I took the wrong way of dealing with it.  I let the blackness overwhelm me, I got obsessed about it, I blamed Andy and went under the waves of grief.  I didn’t let my friends help, though they tried.  I only snapped out of it when I realised that, because of my own selfishness, I was in a fair way to abandoning another friend who needed me desperately.


  ‘It doesn’t need to be like that for you, not if you live here with me and talk about it.  Get away from it for a while; get perspective.  Most importantly, let your friends help you.  I am your friend, Will, you poor silly sod.’


  So for whatever reasons of sympathy and shared disaster, they did become close friends, and talked as freely as such friends do.  Lying on Matt’s sofa, with Matt holding Will’s head in his lap, playing with his hair and kissing it, they talked a lot about love and disappointment.  Matt told him some more stories that helped him cope.


  They walked the North London parks.  They ate out sometimes.  Will got used to being stared at when he was with Matt.  He even got photographed with his hero by a solitary paparazzo having nothing better to do.  On good days, they talked also about their love of history.  They did some serious work on the Elphberg project, painful though Will found it to look at Oskar’s handwriting in the files Matt brought him.


  Will kept faith with his lost love; no word of the Rassendyll story ever escaped his lips, or ever would.  Remembering Marie at the Modenehem Gallery, he arranged for Matt to send a handsome donation towards the collections.  Will wrote an affectionate letter in Rothenian to accompany it, giving her his address if she wanted to reply.  He often played Rothenian classical radio, which was available over the Internet, and it comforted his heart to hear again the beautiful language he had grown so to love.  He swore to keep it up somehow.


  He woke on his last day in Highgate to hear a flurry in the hall below.  His door burst open and Terry bounced on to his bed.


  ‘Thank God, babe, I knew Matt would do his magic on you; you look vaguely human.  Oh.  No clothes.  But I love the six-pack.  Josep might have been a bastard, but he gave you a physique to die for … oops, you almost did!’


  ‘You’ve been taking those sensitivity lessons then, Terry?’


  ‘And the sense of humour’s there too.  What more could we want?’


  ‘What are you doing here?’


  ‘Ah.  The boss is here with me.  Look!  Shoulder holster.  Real gun.  ’S okay, I have a permit for it.  Come on, get up.  We’re having breakfast.’  And he bounced out again, like Tigger.


  Will showered slowly, reluctant to join a social group.  He couldn’t drag it out forever, though, so he dressed and went down to find everyone sitting in the big, handsome kitchen.  He instantly recognised Andy Peacher, hand in hand with Matt.  Andy was smaller than Will had expected.  He got up and shook Will’s hand with almost the same smiling formality as a Rothenian.


  Will didn’t contribute much to the conversation, but they didn’t expect him to.  They were talking about friends he didn’t know, and the impending new semester at John Adams College.  It was suddenly borne in on Will that the new term for him at Whithampsted Grammar would begin in only ten days.


  In the end, he found himself alone with Andy Peacher.  Despite wondering why, he shrugged off his bemusement and said what he had to say, thanking Andy for attempting to help with Falkefilm even though there was no need.


  ‘It was worth a try, Will,’ Andy replied in a marked American accent. ‘If money could have done some good, you were welcome to it.  The way dad’s coining it at the moment, we may soon control the world economy anyway.


  ‘Now then, have you looked at  Jason Williams’s model shots are on there, and I have to say they are something else … not that I printed them out, of course.  They’re advertising the American in Strelzen DVD for September.’


  Will’s heart lurched.  However, he’d known the possible consequences of what he had done when he had done it, and would take them when and if he had to.  He told this to Andy, who nodded.


  ‘I just want you to know that, if it goes pear-shape, I can get you away from it all pretty damn quick.  You have only to ask.  Ring Terry and he’ll arrange it instantly.’


  ‘Thanks, Mr Peacher.’


  ‘Andy, please.  Now I’ve got to go and look at a youth project in Hackney, and attend a reception at the Prince’s Trust.  I think Matt wants you to check with him before you leave.’


  They said goodbye.  Later that morning, his bags packed, Will looked in on Matt in his study.  ‘Did you ever tell Andy what pain he caused you?’ he asked, knowing there was nothing now that he could not ask Matt.


  ‘He knows deep down, I think.  But that’s all in the past.  He has grown up into a very loving person with no hard side left to him.  He truly is a man cascading with warmth and affection, and I’m so very proud of him.  The problem in the end was mine, not his.  I grew tougher, if not harder.  Eventually, after two years of silent suffering, I left him.  When I did that, I realised I was just trying to get back at him in kind, and in so doing I was as wrong as he had been.


  ‘At last, praise be, it turned out there was something unexpected and deeper in both of us beneath all the hurt and suppressed anger.  It was a different kind of love, something patient and calm, not exciting and not exalting, more of a foundation rock really.  Nobody can get excited over foundations, but you try building a structure without them.  That’s what we are doing now.  We may have lost paradise, but we’re building something more human and intimate, more fit for this world, in hopes of a world to come.’


  ‘And what will become of me, Matt?’


  ‘Nothing bad, unless you give into the blackness, which I don’t think you will.  You have your kids to teach.  They’ll not let you moon around being tragic.  Besides, when all’s said and done, you know you don’t hate Oskar.  Oh … he was wrong, make no mistake about it.  He used you … maybe not ruthlessly or without cost to himself, but he did use you.  Still, there was something noble in him.  He did what he did to help others he loved in what he saw as a worthy cause.


  ‘When Andy betrayed me, it was because of his fear and pain.  He behaved as a scared child would.  Oskar at least betrayed you looking you in the eyes.  He stabbed you in the heart as a prince might, for reasons of state, like King Henry the Lion and his would-be Bavarian assassin.  Don’t hate him for it.  There is also this: You’ve loved well once, if not too wisely.  You can love again.’


  They embraced for a long time and kissed.  Matt exacted a promise to let him know if he could help in any way, and assured Will the job offer would always be open.  He added that he would miss Will, who was to think of the house in Highgate as his own, and that they must meet regularly.  Thus Will’s oldest daydream came true, although not in the way he might have expected.


  A taxi took Will to Paddington, and the express got him to Didcot in less than an hour.  He sat next to a Rothenian family from near Modenehem, with whom he chatted fluently and happily all the way.  He shook their hands formally when he disembarked, utterly charming them.


  It was only two-thirty as he climbed the steps to his flat.  Finding most of the plants dead, he had to assume that Harry Baxter had forgotten his promise.  The place smelled stuffy so he threw open the windows.  He leaned out the one in back, looking across the narrow gardens to the church, just breathing in the air of normality till the clock struck three.  His eye was caught by his DVD player and the discretely stacked gay porn.  He shoved the boxes in a bag, deciding to dump them at the first opportunity.  He was no longer the man he had been at the beginning of summer.  He started working his way through the drifts of unread mail.




* * *




  Weeks passed by.  Term recommenced and the choir geared up again.  It was as though his wild summer had never happened, though of course it had.  Yet Matt White had helped him a lot, and he blessed the man for it.  He had gained enough perspective that the darkness did not overwhelm him.


  Harry was very keen to see him and even keener to resume sexual relations, but Will would have none of it.  He had chosen the love of his life, no matter how disastrously.  There could be no other, particularly someone like Harry.


  Oskar still haunted his dreams both night and day.  At one point he opened and sniffed the attar Helge had given him.  The reaction was so powerful that his eyes were flooded with tears and his brain with maddeningly vivid memories.  He put it away.


  Time began to heal him in its rough way, even though the scars remained.  The demands of teaching were as ever enormous, allowing him no self-indulgence.  He was soon submerged in his routine of preparation and marking, grateful the old delights of the job had not left him.  He found that the most helpful of all.


  On Thursdays and Sundays he sang in the choir next to Harry, with whom he remained apparently cheerful.  So the crash of his world at the end of November was all the more shocking.


  As ever, he arrived at school early.  He found the head waiting for him.  ‘Will, can you give me a moment?’




  They sat in his study, where the head passed him a printout.  ‘I found this pinned to the Year 10 noticeboard when I came in this morning.’  It was the picture from the publicity set: a smiling, provocative Will, naked and erect, his legs crossed, leaning back on his arms.  ‘It says it is an American called Jason Williams, but it is you, isn’t it?’


  Will was sombre but ready for this moment.  ‘It is.’


  ‘I’ve just checked the site.  It’s East European porn, and you are all over it.  I take it you are gay?’


  ‘I am.’


  ‘I don’t like to ask these questions, as being gay is neither here nor there.  But being a porn actor is.’


  ‘I understand.  The parents will be in arms if and when it gets out, and it seems some pervy Year 10 boy is determined that it will get out.  I’ll clear my desk.  My resignation will be with you by tomorrow.’


  ‘Why did you do it, Will?  Was it for the money?’


  Will smiled sadly, shaking his head.  ‘No sir, it was for love.  I’ll be off now.  I have to find a new life.’


  The head shook his hand kindly and held it.  ‘I’m so sorry, Will, you were the best young teacher to come to this school in years.  We’ll all miss you.  I do wish you well and there will be no trouble about references, even if you want to carry on teaching somewhere else.’


  Will started packing up his flat, giving the landlord the month’s notice required.  He sat and thought of what to do next.  There was not much choice really, and in the end it was not a hard one.  He rang Matt White’s PA and asked for an interview.  Matt was out of the country, he was told, but had left instructions that Will be referred to the Marlowe Productions office in Camden if he took up the offer.  The house in Highgate was his for as long as he needed it.


  So, on an early December morning, Will shook the dust of Berkshire from his feet and followed his worldly goods up to London, where Dave Evans, the PA, sorted him a room and stored his possessions in the big, empty house.  Dave, who had an office in a converted garage out the back, was quietly kind and helpful.  They regularly had coffee together in the kitchen.  Will was very much amused with Dave’s gossip about the Peacher circles in which he moved.  He had, it seemed, been in the same year and department as Matt and Andy at university.  He had watched the great romance unroll and then unravel in front of his eyes.  Dave filled in a lot of details for him about Matt as a student.


  ‘He was so … so beautiful as a boy, you wouldn’t believe it,’ Dave explained in his soft southern-Welsh accent.  ‘Hang on, I’ve got some pictures.’  He reappeared with amateur snaps of himself, Matt and their circle of friends.  One of them was truly sensational.  Somehow the essence of the young Matt had been caught as he turned towards the camera: a nineteen-year-old boy of deep lovability and heart-breaking vulnerability, as well as a beauty far beyond the ordinary.


  ‘I’m damned proud of that one.  It was taken just after he and Andy got together.  You can see why I was so jealous of Andy Peacher.  God, that boy Matt had it all.  The whole world loved him.  But he changed.’


  ‘How did he change?’


  ‘It was the breakup.  He became moody and withdrawn, never recovering the innocence he once had.  Even though most people would now say his beauty has matured and grown – maintained and polished as it is by trainers and consultants – still, they never saw him the way he was when he was eighteen.  But I did.  It breaks your heart.’


  Following a telephone chat with Matt, Will turned up the first Monday after his arrival for his new work as a production assistant, on twice the salary he had enjoyed as a teacher.  The Marlowe offices were near the Sainsbury’s in Camden, occupying three houses in a shabby nineteenth-century terrace.  The office was already busy when he knocked on the door marked Producer.


  A good-looking older woman glanced up at him with a tight smile.  ‘You must be Will.  Matt’s told me about you.  To be honest, I’m glad you’re here, because the Elphberg project’s suddenly become a nightmare.  We had a translator but she’s gone back home for Christmas with no promise she’ll return.  Matt says you’re fluent.’


  ‘I get by.’


  ‘It’s a lifesaver for us, however good you are.  I’ve put you in the office with Melanie.  You’ll work with her on the Elphbergs and the Grimaldis.  She’ll take you through the files.  Staff meeting at three this afternoon.’


  ‘Cheers.’  Will wandered off to find Melanie, who turned out to be a recent Oxford graduate in what appeared to be a semi-permanent tizzy.  His assigned desk was shabby and stacked with her files, which they moved on to the floor so he could set up his laptop.  A phone and modem turned up later and were jacked in.


  Will spent the day getting his bearings.  Media types seemed to exist in a state of chaos and panic, laced with hopeless optimism.  He was bemused, order and organisation being what he preferred.


  The staff meeting was at least revealing of a plan behind the chaos.  There were three teams, all working on two projects, one of which was further advanced than the other.  The pressure was on him and Melanie to be first to present a draft screenplay and script, because the Elphbergs were to be the first episode.  Since neither of them was experienced, the producer kept a close supervisory eye on them.


  Will settled into the job.  Although it took him a while, he eventually got used to a workday not divided into forty-five-minute chunks punctuated by bells.  He imposed his sense of order on both Melanie and their joint environment, seriously improving their performance.


  He was soon popular around the office, even more so than he had been at his school.  He had changed, though he did not know it.  His tragedy had made him softer, more patient and sympathetic.  His uncertainty had been burned away now too.  He knew exactly what he was, having become his own man at last.  People warmed to his combination of good looks, level gaze and half-sensed sadness.  He stopped hiding from a world which was getting increasingly keen on him.


  The change became a bit clearer to him over the holiday season.  At Christmas he boarded the train for Plymouth and his parents.  He was not looking forward to it.  His father and he had a long history of mutual coldness, and his visits had tended to be short since he’d left home.


  His sister met him at the station in his mother’s car.  ‘Will!  Wow!  You’ve been working out, man, and what have you done to yourself?  You’re like … a god!’


  He smiled and kissed her.  She too had grown up.  He heard all about the recent boyfriends and the progress of her studies in Electronic Engineering.


  He entered the house and, to his own surprise, shook his startled father’s hand.  ‘How are you, sir?’ he asked coolly and confidently, astonishing his father even more.  Rothenian formality had made deep inroads into Will’s soul.


  After that, his father was cautious about this new, polite and deferential but still assertive son, keen to talk and to listen.  Also, he was plainly glad Will had given up teaching, so much so that he never asked why.  Will’s mother glowed at him.  He felt enough at ease to stay the whole week.  When he left, he wished his sister would have blessed him and kissed his forehead, but such things did not happen in England.


  Matt returned to London in the new year and was seen round Marlowe Productions a lot.  Will, taking care to claim no special friendship with him, could tell that Matt approved of his cheerful presence in the office.


  In the first week of January, Will moved out of Highgate into a small flat Dave Evans had found for him in Kentish Town.  It was expensive but quite near the tube.  He and Dave – and sometimes Dave’s partner Steve when he was not on shifts – began drinking on quiet evenings in the gay pubs of North London.  Matt never did, for obvious reasons.  But it was not long before Will also found a reason not to.


  They were in a pub near Camden Lock rather later than usual one evening.  It was live music night and very busy.  Steve and he were enjoying a pint and a good laugh in a corner, when Steve looked startled at three grinning and drunken teenage boys who had settled on the other side of the table.  The cheekiest of them, an Asian lad, declared to Will.  ‘Hey mate!  We think you’re fit, we do.  We think you’re that Jason Williams, innya!’


  ‘You what?’


  One of them objected, ‘Nah!  He’s English.  Listen to ‘im.’


  The first looked unconvinced.  ‘Look at ‘im.  Iss ‘im all right.  I got the DVD.  Iss fuckin’ fantastic, mate, even on a pirate copy.  You can ‘ave my arse anytime you want, Jason.  Hey!  Can you get me into porno?  I reckon I’d be great.’


  ‘Nah,’ denied another.  ‘Iss foreign where they make ‘em, innit mate?  Russia or somewhere like that?’


  Steve, a large and intimidating man, leaned across the table.  ‘Why don’t you baby queers just fuck off so I can finish my drink?’


  The mouthiest of them seemed to fancy his chances of facing down Steve, but his friends took one look and dragged their mate away.  They stayed within eyeshot, however, making comments and staring.


  ‘Okay, Will,’ said Steve, ‘are you going to tell me what they were going on about?  It suddenly occurs to me that half the bar is looking at you.’


  Will blushed when he noticed there were indeed a few sidelong glances from others in the pub.  He sighed.  So this was what it was like being Oskar in Club Liberation in summer, only here in London it would be all year round.  ‘Er, well, Steve … have you ever heard of Falkefilm?’


  The explanation took a good half pint to make, and when it was finished, Steve whistled.  ‘Imagine you being a famous gay porn star.  Funny, you look such an innocent guy.  Well … it’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr Williams.’  Even as he laughed, Steve made a mental note to check the web the next day.


  So it was that Steve, Dave and Will started drinking in straight pubs, where they got mercifully no attention.  Nonetheless, a smirking Steve claimed he had quite enjoyed the notoriety of drinking with the famous Jason Williams.


  The situation was less straightforward in the gym.  Having achieved his physique at an appalling personal cost, Will decided it would be idiotic to let it go.  He undertook a strenuous exercise regime, toned up and consulted respectable trainers.  He got the eye sometimes, though, in that peculiarly British way where people both looked and didn’t look at you at one and the same time.


  Once a cheery and genuine-looking younger man on a running machine tipped him a wink and called out, ‘Hey, Jason!’


  ‘Hey back, you!’ Will replied in his Bostonian drawl.


  They grinned conspiratorially at each other.  They even had a chat over an isotonic drink later, and Will checked him out.  Well, why not?  It might be a pleasant distraction, and there was no one for him to be faithful to anymore.


  He began coming on to the guy, who said his name was Tony.  Will was astonished to discover he could seduce a man.  What an exotic flirt he had become!  Tony was desperately interested and invited Will back to his flat, only a few streets away.


  Will found himself in the position – unusual for him – of making all the running.  Tony was clearly extremely nervous, although he seemed to be not just out but experienced.  He appeared to have had all the right equipment, however.


  Okay then, thought Will, let’s be the hot porn star here.  He pulled Tony to his feet, locked lips and began undressing both of them slowly, using all the little tricks Oskar and Felip had taught him.  He had got them naked and had just begun serious work on Tony’s straining dick when he caught a faceful of premature ejaculation.


  ‘Oh God!  I’m so sorry, Jason!  Oh, I didn’t want it to be like this.’


  Will smiled up at him through the dripping spunk.  ‘Just lick it up, Tony.  It happens.  I’ll take it as a compliment.’


  Tony looked at him earnestly.  ‘God, you’re just too hot.  It’s like living a total fantasy.  No one is going to believe I was in bed with you, no one!’


  Will suddenly remembered his first night with Oskar.  ‘At least you didn’t faint, Tony.  But I’m a real person, believe it or not.  Forget the fantasy.  Now, let’s get into some mouth action.  We’ll have you up and ready again in no time at all.’  Unfortunately, he had to take Tony in a number of positions without ever managing to get the penetration he so liked.


  Despite being less than satisfactory, the evening was still an important milestone for Will.  His sex life was not over, even if it had taught him that men from now on were going to have unreasonable expectations of him.  As they lay in bed later, he was amused when he had to answer the same questions from Tony that he had asked Oskar.


  Will didn’t stay the night.  He never gave his real name.  He took Tony’s mobile number without expecting to continue the relationship.  He only hoped he wasn’t getting like Harry.


  Although there were odd times like that when being Jason Williams didn’t bother him much, he made no attempt to buy the DVD or check on the web about the state of his celebrity.  But sometimes it was forced on him.  He regularly bought Gay Universe. Since Falkefilm took ads in it, he could not avoid the spread for An American in Strelzen.  One issue ran a cover picture of Oskar and himself naked and grinning at the camera.  There were some highly coloured reviews down the sides.


  The  following week, he saw Jason Williams had been elected Most Promising Newcomer in a porn magazine called BoyMan, which ran one of his audition shots on the front cover.  His modelling set was all over the next Gay Universe.  This was fame, of a sort.  He wondered wistfully and stupidly if there was any money involved.


  Money or not, there was definitely fame, as he discovered on another Saturday afternoon in February while strolling Old Compton Street.  Now he was a Londoner, with an Oyster card to prove it.  He did not walk sheepishly past a gay bar this time, but strode directly into it.  He perched on a stool and ordered a gin and tonic, catching the double take of the barman with a smile.  There were sidelong glances everywhere he looked, although whether because he was recognised or was just confident and hot he couldn’t tell.  Will suddenly realised that, had he been a different man, he could have screwed half the patrons without too much effort.


  When the drink arrived, he gave the barman the change.  ‘Cheers, Jason,’ the guy said with a conspiratorial grin.


  Will turned round and rejoiced perversely in the attention.  Jason Williams was at home here.  One table of young men, who obviously must have had a good collection of wanking material between them, was particularly gobsmacked.  As often is the way in London, Will recognised one of them.  He got up, smiled sunnily down at the group and asked if he could join them.  They grinned, shuffled and mumbled as he took a chair.  They may have been worried as to what he was after.  Perhaps they should be, said Dangerous Jason in Will’s head.


  They were first-year students from Imperial College, as it turned out.  The boldest of them said, ‘We thought you were American, Jason.’


  ‘I’ll accept that as a compliment to my acting abilities, but no, I’m from the West Country.’


  ‘What took you to Rothenia?’ another asked.


  ‘A holiday, originally, and then I just couldn’t get away.’


  ‘So are you and any of those other guys you have it off with boyfriends?’


  ‘No.  I’m unattached.  There was a guy …’


  ‘Yeah, that Marc Bennett, it was pretty obvious, though Max Wolf seemed dead keen on you too.  Did Marc cheat on you or something?  Sorry, you don’t have to answer that.  I was being nosy.’


  These were nice boys, and Will suddenly liked them a lot.  ‘It just didn’t work out, but it was the best while it was happening.’


  ‘We could tell.  Are you going to do any more films?’


  ‘Nope, I’ve had enough of fame.  I’m keeping my head down in London for the time being.  It’s a good place just to disappear.’


  They talked about being gay students and coming out.  Two of the boys were only gay in London.  He sympathised.


  After half an hour or so he finished his drink.  As he was saying goodbye, he caught the eye of the quietest of them, winked and indicated with a slight nod.  He had only been outside a few moments when he was joined by his choice, very attractive and coy, as complete a turn-on as when Will had last seen him.


  The boy smiled with a mixture of shyness and impishness.  ‘Hello, sir.’


  ‘Robert Franks.  So you came out in London.’




  ‘Just call me Will.  You don’t even have to call me Jason.’


  The Whithampsted boy laughed.  ‘It doesn’t seem right … Will.  I couldn’t believe it when I saw you in that DVD the lads bought.  But then my mates still in the sixth said you’d been forced to resign ‘cos of your being caught out doing gay porn films, so there was no doubt after that.  It’s weird discovering one of your teachers being so incredibly hot and sexual, almost like watching your dad doing it.’


  ‘Totally gross, Robert.  I’m only four years older than you.’


  ‘I’m Robby now.’


  ‘Nice.  Does Robby have a boyfriend?’


  ‘Well sorta, but not really.  I went boldly to GaySoc as soon as I arrived, and this second-year guy picked me up.  He was nice to me, but he was high on being my gay mentor.  He wanted to mould me and educate me.  I just wanted a good fucking.’


  ‘Robby!  What would they say at St Mary’s?’


  ‘That was what I was escaping, Will.  Did you ever find out who informed on you?’


  ‘No.  Not that it mattered.  It was a disaster just waiting to happen.’


  ‘It was Simon Baxter.  He was suspended for it, and now everyone thinks he’s gay.  He isn’t, though, take it from me.’


  ‘Simon Baxter!  What, Rupert Baxter’s son, the nephew of Harry Baxter the solicitor?’


  ‘That’s him.’


  ‘Jesus wept,’ Will groaned, ‘then it does matter.’


  It did.  There could be no doubt then that Harry Baxter had not been as cool about Rothenia and losing Will as he had pretended.  Maybe also he was envious at Will’s seedy triumphs in Strelzen, from which he had been excluded.  He must have found out all about An American in Strelzen, being such a devotee of hardcore porn.  It would have been quite in character for Harry to get peeved at Will and decide to take a petty revenge, using his own nephew as his dupe.  But in the light of what Harry had known about Will’s dedication to his career, the revenge had been anything but petty really.  It was truly vicious.


  Will felt both chilled and appalled at the callousness of it, too appalled even to be angry.  Never mind what Andy had done to Matt or Oskar to him.  What Harry had done was the real depth of betrayal, mean and deliberate with no morality behind it.


  He and Robby found a Starbucks, where he spent a while explaining in detail what had happened.  The kid was shocked and really sweet, almost on the verge of tears as Will sketched in for him the consequences of his big mistake.  They talked and talked, and Will felt a real connection beginning.  They moved on to a pub near Seven Dials and, well before ten, Will knew how it was going to end.  They took the Northern Line to Kentish Town and fell into his flat trying to suck each other’s tongue out by the roots.  They began undressing in his living room.


  ‘This is so totally cool, Will.  I’m going to have Jason Williams’s cock up my arse.’


  ‘Actually, I’d just as soon have Robby Franks’s cock up mine.’


  Robby dropped his pants and looked comically down at himself.  ‘It’s not so big, and you’re used to such well-equipped guys: that Max Wolf, mmm!  What’s he like really?’


 ‘Do you know, it’s odd you should ask.  I didn’t get to know him that well …’


  ‘… apart from his fucking the crap out of you.’


  ‘Well, there was that, it’s true.  But he was an odd bloke.  I thought he hated me when we first met, until he did some really quite sweet things.  He even tried to help me, I think.’


  ‘Did he love you?’


  Will thought about it.  ‘No, I suspect he loved Marc Bennett.  Who knows?  Anyway, now that we’re both naked and we’ve got the necessary – and I see you do have a penis of some sort there – let’s get busy.’


  It was a really enjoyable night with an eager and pretty if inexperienced young man.  They took turns.  Will was delighted to wake up next morning to hear a skinny boy, naked with tousled hair, in his kitchen making himself breakfast and singing Coldplay songs.  They never left the bed all that Sunday and ended up spinning a coin as to who went on top.  They met up for sex several times throughout February, and it was always good.


  For a while it seemed as though Will might have found a regular partner, if not love.  Somehow, though, neither of them wanted to take that step, so the affair petered out at the end of the month.  Will didn’t resent it, understanding that Robby was trying to learn about life in a better and more courageous way than he had chosen to do.  He wished the boy well.


  Will had Matt and the others to talk things over with, which helped.  Matt was often in the States with his Andy, but when he was back in London he had a small, select social circle into which Will was drafted because, unlike others of Matt’s acquaintances, he was interested in music and art.


  The group included close women friends, which should not have surprised Will as much as it did.  One night he attended a Covent Garden first night in evening dress with Matt, Rhiannon and Katy.  It was like being out on a conventional date.  Matt naturally gravitated to the smaller Katy, his cousin and a high-flying criminal barrister.  Will, being six feet tall, matched nicely with the svelte and taller Rhiannon, a young university lecturer.


  ‘Yikes!’ Will exclaimed, as a volley of cameras went off in his face.


  ‘That’s the trouble with Matt and premieres,’ sighed Rhiannon, ‘the paps.  You get used to the reflected glory.  The trouble is that, when you appear in the supplements and celeb mags, it leads people to make unwarranted assumptions.  My students are impressed, even though my husband’s a bit quirky about it.  But as long as I’m only on the town with gays he can’t complain.’


  A breathless phone call soon thereafter from Will’s mother confirmed Rhiannon’s appraisal.  Who was that very beautiful woman she saw him with in Hello magazine?  Why didn’t he tell her he was seeing someone?  Why didn’t he mention he had famous friends, even if they were homosexuals?


  Will pondered telling her the truth at that point, but decided it could wait a month or two.  He wondered if she might like to know about his own modelling career, but sternly suppressed the thought.


  As it was, Gay Universe ran a few pictures of him and Matt under a half column gossip feature: ‘Is it the end for Andy and Matt?’  There was a rebuttal from Matt’s office, saying that the mysterious date was no more than a professional colleague and friend, Mr William Vincent.  Fortunately, nobody connected Will with Jason Williams, or things could have got very hairy.