Michael Arram










  One day in March, when Will came in for work, he found Matt already in the office, looking over the files.  ‘Morning, boss.’


  He got back that glorious smile which always turned his legs to pink jelly.  Without any lead-in Matt began, ‘Progress has been pretty good, Will.  Now I think we need to get into production with the Elphbergs.  I’ve contracted a British production team for June and July.  I will be presenter, while you and Melanie will be assistant producers.  The director is going to be a former Channel 4 guy I’ve worked with in the past.  Carol tells me the screenplay and storyboards are nearly done?’  Will nodded.  ‘Fine, then the next thing is for you and Melanie to head for Rothenia to set up locations, local contacts and interviews.’  Matt looked anxiously at Will.  ‘Are you okay with that?’


  ‘Yes, boss.  It’s a big country.  The odds of bumping into my former friends and acquaintances are pretty low, and I won’t hunt for them.’


  ‘As long as that’s alright…’  Matt gave a half-embarrassed chuckle.  ‘I’ve no intention of going into partnership with Falkefilm over distribution.’  Will laughed back dutifully.  ‘However, Carol has had a good idea about using Rothenian actors to dramatise scenes from the historical narrative.  To do that, we need to link up with a local agency to hire suitable people, contract a second unit, and stage all the theatricals.  Carol can give you some contacts to follow up.  You will have authority to interview, audition and sign for Marlowe, while Melanie can do the sums and the bookwork.’




  ‘So you’re off next Monday.’


  ‘That soon!’




* * *




  Melanie, Will and a lot of excess baggage flew out of the London City Airport for Frankfurt, where they transferred to a Strelzen flight.  It was with a catch in his throat that Will set foot once again in Rothenia.  His eyes clouded as they caught the distant view of the cathedral spires, and his nose filled with the seductive scents of the countryside.


  They were staying at the downtown Hilton in Strelzen’s prestigious Sixth District, which to Will’s mind was just barely distant enough from the Rodolferplaz for his comfort, although he could see it over the palace roof from his tenth-floor bedroom.


  He and Melanie had supper in the hotel, Will impressing the hell out of her with his fluency in the language and knowledge of the menu.  The waiters were very attentive.


  After the meal he said goodnight and walked out into the city, eastwards towards the Rodolferplaz where it abutted the walled palace grounds.  He strolled along the west side of the square, looking up at Hendrik’s offices on the opposite corner as he passed by.  There were lights still on in the upstairs studios.  He remembered Oskar telling him that Hendrik preferred late-night filming because it cut down on city noise.


  He turned down Mikhelstrasse before he reached Club Liberation.  Nearing the Flavienplaz, he remembered the doubt he’d had about the marble plaque outside the former Gestapo HQ.  There, in the light from the streetlamps, he discovered near the bottom of the second column of names the one he was searching for: Hugo zu Terlenehem, and beside it 15-5-44, the date Oskar’s great uncle, age seventeen, was executed by a pistol shot in that building’s basement.  Will wondered idly what young Hugo would have thought of Oskar’s way of redeeming their family’s fortunes.


  He walked on, taking in the familiar noises and sights, trying hard not to cry from sheer happiness.  What a bizarre thing, that his heart should be dancing with joy to be back.


  As he climbed the dark lanes leading to the cathedral, he came to the conclusion that there had been a lot more than Oskar that he had loved about this country.  Oskar might be gone, but Will’s underlying affection for Rothenia survived.  So he sat back on his favourite bench under the south wall of the abbey and looked down fondly at the city lights.  It was chillier in spring, though not unpleasant.  The cathedral bell was chiming eleven when he finally decided to call it a night.


  Re-entering the Rodolferplaz on the southeast corner, he noticed it was relatively quiet around Club Liberation, although the Wejg was busy enough.  Erotic Dream Video was still open, reminding him of another doubt he wanted to clarify.  He dodged in, nodded to the till attendant and found the gay section.  No Falkefilm products were visible at all, so it seemed Hendrik did keep his promises about circulation.  Very few Rothenians would ever see the face, dick and butt of Jason Williams.


  The next morning, Will’s first priority was to subcontract a suitable Rothenian production team.  This was a tricky business for a novice like him, and Melanie was no help at all.  The contacts Carol had given him proved to be duds.


  In the end he remembered Bolslaw.  He nervously rang the Falkefilm desk and – playing up the English accent – obtained a phone number.  ‘Ahoi, Bolslaw?’




  ‘It’s me, Jason Williams.’


  ‘Jason!  My love.  My favourite boy.  You are in Strelzen?’


  ‘Yes.  Can we meet sometime soon?’


  ‘Sure.  Today if you like.  It’s quiet at Falkefilm and my other contractors.  Is this business?’


  ‘As it happens, yes.  Oh, and my name is not Jason.’


  Bolslaw chuckled.  ‘Of course I knew that, silly boy.  Will you meet me in the Köningen Flavia at midday?’


  ‘Where is it?’


  ‘On Rodolferplaz, the top bit, away from Liberation, next to the Salvatorskirk.’


  ‘Lunch is on me,’ Will agreed, ringing off.  He put on his Bvlgari shades and his new Aquascutum business suit, certain no one would recognise the expensively dressed international executive as either Will Vincent or Jason Williams.


  At twelve he found Bolslaw occupying the largest part of a booth in the old inn.  They embraced and shook hands.  Bolslaw looked impressed at Will’s turnout.


  ‘The name’s William Vincent, Bolslaw.  I work for a London production company.  Here’s my card.  Please, call me Will.’


  ‘Thank you.  So how did a London media executive get involved with the likes of my friend Hendrik?’


  ‘A very long and complicated story.’


  ‘Hmph.  A story which has a lot to do with that sweet boy Oskar Prinz, I think.  Yes?’


  ‘Yes.  But that’s in the past.’


  ‘I’m sorry to hear it.  I have never seen such passion as that between you two boys.  It made me wish I was young again.  I suppose that is why Oskar and Hendrik have parted company.’


  Almost against his will, he had to ask, ‘You haven’t seen Oskar since last summer?’


  ‘No.  He has disappeared from Strelzen.  Some say he has gone to America, others that he has moved to Prague.  I miss him.  So beautiful, so professional.  Not like the new boys, stupid and cross-eyed.’


  Will dragged his mind back to business.  ‘Bolslaw, I need some professional help.  I’m here in Strelzen managing the production of a documentary on the Elphbergs.  I have to assemble a Rothenian second-unit crew, as well as a catering and support team.  I must also make links with a local casting agency.  There will be a fee for you.’


  ‘Now you’re talking … Will.’  He smiled.  ‘That is definitely your real name, pretty boy?’  Will grinned.  ‘I’m your director and lead cameraman if you will take me.’


  ‘Sure, Bolslaw, as long as you forget you ever heard the name of Jason Williams.’


  ‘I understand.  I have some good friends whom I have worked with in the past on productions.  I have a portfolio, if you can tell me where to send it.’


  ‘I’m at the City Hilton.’


  ‘Only the best for you I see, my pretty Willemju.  Now, as far as casting goes, there is only one serious agency, it is the one that Hollywood uses when they come filming spy flicks in Strelzen.  I’ll give you their contact number and the name of a good friend there.  He will look after you.’


  Will filled Bolslaw in on the project, and the old man became quite enthused.  ‘So you know Matthew White?  My boy, you seem to collect beautiful men like a horse collects ticks!’


  They enjoyed their meal and talked a lot about Falkefilm.  Will reluctantly had to hear how his shooting star of a career as a porn actor had gone down.  ‘It is already a sell out.  They’re on the third impression.  You naughty boys tricked the director into including clever English dialogue, which has taken the porn world by storm.  And you could act!  You were so funny and natural and oh-so-very passionate.  No one has seen anything like it.  I really believe Hendrik would give you and Oskar half his kingdom to do a second.  Have you read what the gay press is saying?’


  ‘No.  And I don’t want to know.  It’s already meant there are parts of London I daren’t go to.’


  They embraced as they parted on the Rodolferplaz, with a second meeting arranged for a week’s time to include Melanie, who had taken responsibility for costing.  That seemed fair to Will, since he would authorise a handsome finder’s fee for Bolslaw’s help so far.




* * *




  Will walked the great square and watched the guard change in front of the palace.  He looked around, breathed deeply and hopped a tram to the University, where he had an appointment with a possible talking head from the History Department.  It was a disappointment.  The man was Germanic and boring and would never do.


  Emerging on to a familiar street lined with cafés, Will noticed the half-concealed door of what he called in his head ‘Oskar’s Bar.’  The spring afternoon was already darkening towards dusk as his feet took him through the door.


  His expensive suit was desperately out of place, and it wasn’t until he took off his shades, grinned at the barmaid and gave the formal Rothenian greeting that the atmosphere relaxed.  She remembered him as the English boy with Oskar, whose disappearance she much regretted.  She still saw his student friends from time to time, although less and less.  He chatted with her for quite a while about the tourism blight, the euro and the deficiencies of President Maritz, before taking a friendly leave.


  Out on the dark street, Will suddenly had a bad reaction to his recent euphoria.  He felt lonely in a way he never had before in Strelzen.  When Oskar left, everything he had once lit up with his smile and laughter went dark.  Melancholy, like a winter mist, chilled the places where he had been.  It had been silly to think things might be otherwise.


  During supper with Melanie, he gave her an update on what he had accomplished.  Then he told her he was taking three days off.  Impressed at progress so far, she didn’t mind.  Afterwards, he passed a depressed evening in the hotel, where he watched TV, drank too much beer and fell asleep in a chair.


  The next day, mildly hung over, he dressed casually and hopped the bus to the Spa.  He was going to spend a Rothenian day and forget Will Vincent.  He paid his money and stuffed his clothes in the locker.


  No one was outside on such a fresh morning, but people were in the gyms, the caldarium and the inner spa pool, in which he found a corner of his own.  Like many of the locals, he had brought a book, intending to embark on the rich stream of nineteenth-century Rothenian literature.


  He rested his head on a plastic pillow and enjoyed the stimulation of the warm and bubbling waters.  Quite a few people were around now.  He found it very easy just to lie there for ages and be a Strelzener.  He felt a lot better than he had the day before.  After a while he left his book and robe and moved to the caldarium.  Grinning despite himself as he remembered Oskar’s warning about towels, he lay on his stomach on a slab to absorb the damp heat.


  He found himself wondering, as he often did, when it was that Oskar had finally fallen in love with him, for he knew that at the end the man had truly loved him despite the betrayal.  He thought that, by the time of the first session with Josep, Oskar had been uncomfortable with the trickery.  During the visit to Terlenehem there had been no doubt of his real feelings.  Their rutting was neither here nor there.  Oskar was truly a whore, as he had always told Will he was, and could have sex without emotion being engaged.


  And how did Oskar feel now?  Had he got his way in the courts?  Will had done nothing to find out.  Had Oskar forgotten him?  His pride made him think Oskar would not find it easy to get over him, but how was he really to determine that?  Believing he had known the man, he had trusted Oskar with his life, and Oskar had destroyed it.  Will had been only a pawn in a far bigger game, and had been sacrificed.  Although you could not forgive callousness on that scale, Will’s treacherous heart desperately wished you could.


  He dozed in the heat and the steam, feeling the perspiration trickle between his buttocks.  Wait a minute, that was no perspiration!  It was a finger tracing lightly down his crack.  He looked around in alarm.


  He saw a pretty, nervously grinning face behind him with a finger to its lips.  Felip!  Will sat up and his heart swelled.  He was genuinely delighted to see this man, whom he had long ago forgiven.  Felip had redeemed himself in Will’s eyes in the very moment he had dislodged the stone that swept away his relationship with Oskar in an avalanche of revelations.  And the man had tried to help him, desperately and selflessly.  No, Felip had been a true friend, all unacknowledged.


  Will looked around to see if they were observed.  He smiled in Felip’s relieved face.  Then he closed with and hugged the other man’s sweaty body, catching a hint of the same odour that had triggered his suspicions.  Clasping hands, they left the steam room to dive together into the cold pool and chase each other out again.  Felip kissed him in the empty locker room as they were dressing, and they took their time over it.  Where on earth was this sudden erotic passion coming from?  But he felt it as much as Felip plainly did.


  ‘You were here on scouting duty, weren’t you?  Rascal!’


  ‘Will, you sound more and more like him.  You’ve even got the Husbrauener accent.  They only say “rostac” in Husbrau.’


  ‘I didn’t know that.  So were you?’




  ‘Having any luck?’


  ‘Now yes, but until you turned up, a dead loss.  It’s been weeks since I had any good prospects.  Hendrik has lost interest in me.’  Felip looked a bit down, his clothes definitely shabby.  ‘He hasn’t forgiven me for driving Oskar and you away.  He found out it was I who warned you.  I’ll never get another role.  I’ve seen it happen before.  You get pushed out to the margins and forgotten.  One guy, a star five years ago, is a janitor now, still hoping he’ll be taken back into favour.’


  ‘Then move on, Felip.’


  ‘Easy to say, Will, if only Rothenia didn’t have thirty percent unemployment.  How do you think we find so many pretty boys willing to shag in front of cameras?’


  ‘Come on, Felip, let’s go have lunch in town.’




* * *




  Strelzen came alive for Will again as he travelled back on the bus to the city with a handsome, laughing man once more next to him.  Felip was not as clever or quick as Oskar, but Will had realised on that final night with Oskar that there was far more to Felip than he had thought.  Felip had real heart.  He had tried to warn Will what was going on at Falkefilm, and had come within an ace of revealing Oskar’s plans.  Recognising Will’s love for Oskar, however, he had stood aside in a generous way.


  Felip was far less of a whore than Oskar.  And Will thought too that someone who could share his passion for Oskar had a link with him and a claim on him.


  ‘When was the last time you ate at Ribaud’s?’


  ‘Last September.  Will, this is kind.  I don’t know why you are being so nice to me.’


  ‘It’s because I was not fair to you when you tried to help me, and because you once loved Oskar as much as I did.’


  ‘And you don’t mind that?’


  ‘Now that we’ve both lost him?  No.  It makes us more than brothers, Felip.  It makes us sad bastards.  Welcome to the Rothenian Brotherhood of Sad Bastards.  I am chairman and you are secretary.’


  Felip’s green eyes sparkled with laughter and tears simultaneously.  ‘You are so like him, but less scary, less aloof.  I was never clever enough to attract him.  I bored him, I felt it.’


  They held hands for a while on the empty bus.  As a comfortable silence settled between them, Will gradually began to realise the truth.  He saw the look in Felip’s eyes.  Felip had tried to help him and stood back that night, not so much because of Oskar but because Felip had fallen for him, Will Vincent.  It gave him a shock, followed by a very warm feeling in his stomach.


  Ribaud’s was full, but a small bribe secured an inside table, even though Felip’s dirty jeans got a sidelong look.  They had a long and very ample lunch, during which Will found himself chattering and laughing with Felip as he had done with no one since he had been last in Strelzen.  There was a fund of quiet humour in Felip that he was only now beginning to recognise, and which Felip’s defensive arrogance had once masked.


  Will began the long explanation of himself to an interested listener.  So Felip learned what had brought him to Rothenia the first time, and what had happened since he had left.


  ‘Ah, the burden of fame, Will.  Now you know what it’s like being Max Wolf and Marc Bennett.  At least you can avoid it in London.  Here you have to make the most of it.’


  ‘What do you mean?’


  ‘Escort work.  It meets the expenses and American gays pay a lot for an evening with Max Wolf, although he is a declining asset.’


  ‘How long have you been doing it?’


  ‘The past two weeks, as the season starts gearing up.  But the agent takes the lion’s share.’


  ‘This must stop.’


  ‘I’ve got to live, Will.  I owe two months’ rent.’


  ‘There may be better ways.  It’s time you went legit, Felip.’


  After Will paid the bill, he suggested Felip accompany him to the Hilton, where he rang up to Melanie and asked her to come down to reception.  ‘I’ve found you a unit translator, Melanie.’  She looked intrigued and interested.  ‘This is Felip … do you know, I have no idea what your surname is.’


  ‘Felip Ignacij.’


  ‘What he says.  Melanie, I want you to get him a contract and give him a month’s advance.’


  Felip looked bewildered.  As Melanie disappeared, he hissed, ‘I’ve never done translation before.’


  ‘You speak good English, so what?  It can’t be too hard.  And you know about films and stuff, from the sharp end of the camera too.’


  Melanie returned with a pro forma she had obtained from the British Consulate for the employment of Rothenian nationals.  Felip sat down at a table and filled it in.  While he was doing that, Melanie said she was impressed with Will’s dedication on his day off.  He shrugged.  Felip pocketed the thick wad of cash with a grin, after kissing it.


  Over a drink, Will came to a decision.  ‘I’d like you to come up to my room with me.’  A nod succeeded an intense stare.


  Will led Felip to his suite, closed the door behind them and took him round the waist.  ‘Shall we try that last scene again, Felip?’


  ‘What scene?’


  ‘The one with the armpit.’


  Felip was laughing as Will pulled his top off.




* * *




  So Will Vincent found happiness once again in the city of Strelzen.  It was a different sort of happiness, one that was rooted in mutual affection, not danger and excitement.  He fell asleep in the arms of a loving man who was stroking his hair and singing to him gently and beautifully in Rothenian, as Oskar never had done.  Will was once again blissfully contented, knowing himself to be unconditionally loved for the first time in his life.


  He awoke with his heart beating high to see the small globes of a gorgeous naked rear as Felip leaned out the open window looking down on the city.  Will leapt out of bed, grabbing a condom on the way.  He knew Felip was waiting there expecting him to do just that.  It was a delicious standing fuck as they groaned out their passion to the early morning city below.  They coupled twice more before lunchtime.


  ‘Are you clean, Felip?’ Will whispered to his dozing lover after the second time.


  ‘Don’t know, leblen,’ was the reply.  ‘I can’t afford the test.  But I’ve not done anything wild since the last one, especially with the Yankees.  So I should be okay.’


  ‘Then let’s find out,’ Will said, ‘so we can really get to know each other.’


  A taxi ride brought them to the same clinic he had used before.  They both had themselves tested, although Will knew there was little to fear in his own case.  He had taken care in his brief London flings.


  They slept together again that night, and a phone call in the morning sent Felip plunging into Will without a sheath and with a loud whoop.


  In the afterglow, Will murmured into Felip’s smiling face, ‘Hello, my boyfriend.’


  ‘Hello back, leblen Willemju.  This is it, isn’t it?’


  ‘This is love between two sad bastards.  I love you, Felip.’


  ‘As I love you, Will.  I loved you even before I knew it.  You’re Oskar without the sarcasm.’


  ‘Let’s go find us an apartment.  Then we gotta get to work again.  This love stuff is great, but it does get in the way of earning a living.’