The Crown of Tassilo 3
THE UNNATURAL ARCHEOLOGIST
‘What’s a gauleiter? Is it something to do with cigarettes?’
Leo rolled his eyes. ‘I’m sure you know what the NSDAP is – the National Socialist German Workers Party. Well, a gauleiter is one of their regional organisers. You should recognise the origins of the word. “Gau” is Old High German for region, while “leiter” of course is “leader”.’
‘I thought they called their leader a “führer”?’
‘That’s their big boss, the small Austrian fellow.’
‘So their Gauleiter of Thuringia wants an audience. Why?’
‘Ah, that’s the question, isn’t it? I have some ideas. I also have an emissary from the KRB in Strelzen who wishes to see me. He’s cooling his heels in Ernsthof right now.’
‘You are in demand. What’s going on?’
‘Several things, I think. I had a long and serious talk with Maxim before I left. He said last year’s elections destroyed the centre ground in German politics, and as a result there is a growing instability. The socialists are getting redder, the right-wing parties of the Stahlhelm bluer. Many of them are monarchists and there is quite a groundswell in favour of restoration, which has a lot of support in the upper echelons of the Reichswehr. The president is of course a notorious Hohenzollern loyalist. It could happen, and the support of the Prince of Thuringia would be welcome.’
‘What with your being the wealthiest of the remaining resident royals, and uncontaminated by any association with the previous imperial regime.’
‘Exactly. You and Max think alike.’
‘And how about this Rothenian fascist, what does he want?’
‘Actually, probably much the same thing. These right-wing movements cross frontiers just as Communism does. They share agendas. The KRB is strongly monarchist, providing the king is politically neutered. Now that Tildemann’s republic is in crisis, his opponents see the monarchist issue as the best way to bring the old fellow down. The Crown of Tassilo is their rallying cry.’
‘Will you see them?’
Leo sighed. ‘I suppose I must. When I do, you will too. I’ve just appointed you my confidential secretary.’
‘Really? Do I get paid?’
‘No, of course not. But it’s an excuse to have you in the room when they come. I need a witness I can trust.’
‘It was Gus’s suggestion.’
‘What, the not paying me?’
‘No, ass. Give me a kiss. I have missed you.’
‘Your royal highness, it was good of you to make time.’ The NSDAP Gauleiter of Thuringia was a tall and angular man. He wore the brown uniform of his paramilitary colleagues, though this one was obviously tailored. The man looked as though his previous profession might have been that of an academic. There was a certain dreaminess and hesitancy to his eyes, not at all in keeping with the rabble rouser and street fighter they had expected. He had taken his peaked cap off and stood civilly awaiting the prince’s attention.
Leo indicated a seat before taking his own behind the library desk. He steepled his fingers and asked how he might help the gauleiter.
‘Your highness may be aware of the current crisis in the republic.’ Leo nodded. ‘Because your name counts for so much in this province, the movement I represent would certainly benefit from your endorsement at this juncture in our nation’s affairs.’
‘And why should I do that, Herr Korngeibel?’
The man’s eyes became slowly more focussed, and his voice took on a certain intensity. ‘The destiny of the German people is to be united, sir. These are decadent times in which the corruption of our nation’s life needs to be purified. When it is, our people will once again boast the leading position we formerly had in the world, and which is our right.’
‘And how does this concern me?’
‘You are a German. You are a born leader, latest of a dynasty which has worked tirelessly for the Reich and its emperor. Our aims are yours. It would much assist our struggle against the Bolshevik elements in our nation if you placed the weight of your name behind us.’
‘Behind the NSDAP alone, or the right-wing alliance, the Stahlhelm?’
‘They are divided, but we speak with one voice, the voice of our Führer.’
‘The man who will save and restore our nation.’
‘Herr Korngeibel, although I know only a little of National Socialism’s programme and ideas, some of what I’ve heard quite disturbs me. Your notions about racial purity for instance.’
‘It is a fact of science that some races are inferior and are meant to serve others. I could also say it is a fact of history. The German people have ever pushed eastward and southward to extend their dominion.’
‘And what of the peoples and nations who stand in the way of this expansion? What is their allotted fate?’
‘They will be protected and allowed the running of their own affairs, but must subordinate their national aspirations to conform to those of the Führer’s master plan.’
‘Then world domination is the overall aim.’
‘Yes, the world will have peace for a thousand years and more when the Führer’s plan is complete: peace under the imperium of the Aryan race.’
‘How … inspiring.’ Leo’s face was perfectly controlled.
‘All empires will end with the rise of the Aryan people. The British, the French, the Americans, they will each succumb in turn, either by persuasion or … or …’
Leo’s eyebrow was raised. Korngeibel recollected where he was. ‘I have drifted off the point, sir. In the uncertain times in which we live, while Germany still lies under the occupation of the Allies and while they plunder our economy, we must band together and ask those who can lead the Reich out of its stagnation to unite and point the way forward.’
‘I get your drift, Herr Korngeibel. I think I understand you and your organisation rather better for this conversation. You have put your case most persuasively, but you will be aware of the limitations on me. I am not yet of age, and cannot take any political position without the sanction of my guardians. Even if I could, it would not be appropriate for me to favour one party in the Landtag of Thuringia over another. I am not the sovereign prince of this land and my title is only honorific.’
Korngeibel looked disappointed. He had clearly expected more of the interview. He stood awkwardly, then abruptly took his leave when Leo rang for a footman to show him out.
Leo sat for a while thinking. Martin knew better than to interrupt him. He had learned to respect his lover’s intellectual powers.
Eventually Leo looked up and gave a faint smile. ‘What a sinister man.’
‘Sinister? He seemed like he might have been a pastor or a country solicitor if he hadn’t learned to like a brown uniform. I was expecting someone more obviously bullying and blustering.’
‘My dear, the man is a fanatic. He has bought heart and soul into his master’s ideology of racial hatred and conquest.’
‘Just as well the NSDAP has only a small number of seats in the Reichstag.’
‘But in the Landtag here it controls 28% of the votes. It rose on the back of the collapsed liberal vote last spring. Pray God the chancellor pulls off some sort of success dealing with the Allies over the Rhineland and reparations. Any failure could open the door for Korngeibel and his like to take power and then … God help us all.’
Martin and Leo were to spend a fortnight in Heinrichshof. Gus was going to be there for the last week, but for the first seven days they had the place to themselves. They stayed in the same adjoining bedrooms they’d had when they were boys of fourteen, although the servants must have noticed that Martin’s bed was not slept in. There was a stern prohibition on awakening the prince or entering his room first thing in the morning.
They lay drowsing together early on New Year’s Eve morning, as the dawn light began to find its way in through the cracks in the curtains.
Leo sighed and wrapped himself around Martin. ‘So tell me about this Eric Kirby.’
Martin chuckled. ‘He made Berlin interesting, that’s for sure. Had I not been on the way to you and Heinrichshof, I would have liked to spend longer with him … ouch!’
Leo had pinched him. ‘You slept with him?’
‘It seemed polite. Besides, it turned out there was only space in one room over his friend’s bar, and it was Eric’s.’
Leo’s face had taken on a look of concern which was not entirely caused by Martin’s philandering. ‘Do you trust him? He is a young man of very easy virtue, a Puppenjunge if ever there was one.’
‘Maybe. I’m sure that’s one German word he’s familiar with. But I think a lot more of his head after talking to him on the train and in the bars of the Motzstrasse. He certainly shares your view of the Nazis, who he believes are far more dangerous than foreigners realise.’
‘But he knows too much about us now. He knows who you are, and it won’t take him long to make the connection with me.’
‘I stalled him. I said nothing.’
‘Nevertheless, he is persistent and intelligent. The information is highly marketable.’
‘I’m afraid I think it could be on the cards. Our excursion to Soho looks likely to have unfortunate consequences, Martin.’
‘What’ll we do?’
‘I’ll talk to Gus. Thank God he knows about us and we have nothing to hide from him.’
‘Oh double damnation! What a pig of a world. Eric didn’t seem like a blackmailer.’
Leo let go of Martin and turned to lie on his back. ‘Perhaps not. Still, he’s an acute young man with ambition and no money. I fear that would make him likely to take advantage of the opportunities fate has given him. You know the way it goes.’
Martin did. He and Leo used to read to each other in Leo’s rooms in St John’s about the not-infrequent scandals involving scoutmasters, vicars and the occasional public figure, which seemed to feature almost weekly in the News of the World. He could imagine how much the sensationalist press would pay Eric for revealing the perversions of a wealthy Anglo-German prince who had recently been installed as a Knight of the Garter. His heart sank.
‘Don’t accuse yourself, dearest.’ He turned. Though smiling in Martin’s face, Leo’s blue eyes showed his concern. ‘It had to happen sooner or later. We have not been discreet. Still, we’ll get through it.’
Martin buried his head in the hollow of Leo’s neck and kissed him, laying his length along the warm and silky smoothness of his lover’s skin. It occurred to him as he did so how desirable Leo was, how tender and passionate. So why did he feel the need to run after other men?
Suddenly emboldened, he wanted to know what it was like for his lover. ‘Darling, what do you feel when you have sex with other fellows?’
Leo gave him an odd look. ‘I haven’t done it much.’
‘Well, there was that Fred at the Ploughmen, and – what was his name? – Aubrey Childs in your college.’
Leo smirked. ‘Fred was a bit ... unhygienic ... and he didn’t have much to say for himself. He was just a pretty, shy boy. Aubrey was a Harrovian, and you know what they’re like. That school seems to train them up to be vigorous and brief in copulating. Remarkably well-hung though.’
‘What about Pip?’
The sheets rustled as Leo turned. ‘We played with each other when we were small – well, you know what boys are like – and we had full sex just the once, when we were thirteen, right before Medwardine. I pretended it was research, as we knew even then what English schools were famous for. I enjoyed it immensely. Pip seemed to know what to do with his equipment, yet it was obvious his heart wasn’t in it. I have to say I kept angling for a repeat performance, and nearly got it once, but then you turned up and my every need was met.’
‘You mean that, don’t you.’
‘Yes, I do, darling. You’re all I want.’
‘So why the others?’
‘Oh, it seems to be expected of one. But I really have no great urge to go out looking for it. And we’ve seen the unfortunate consequences when I do.’
‘True.’ Martin paused. ‘Darling, you know I feel differently about that.’
‘So what do you think of it when I do it.’
Leo sat up before answering, his lean body tilted forward as he put his elbows on his knees. ‘I’m not entirely sure. Take our outing in Soho, for instance. Watching you mount Eric was very exciting, especially as Wilf was at work on my cock at the time. The pair of you were very erotic to observe. But I have to say that in general I’m not entirely comfortable when you disappear with another man.’
‘I’m being honest here.’
‘I realise that.’
‘And since we now know the dangers of adventuring ... or at least of my doing it ... then I’d be happier if we were more exclusive in our relationship.’
Martin nodded and agreed as his lover said this, but in his heart he had to admit that his burgeoning sexuality would not be so easily contained as Leo seemed to think. There was a hot hunger in his loins that he could not easily turn off.
New Year’s Day brought Leo’s interview with the KRB ambassador from Strelzen, who at least did not wear uniform but rather a well-cut grey suit and a black homburg he was currently holding in his hand. He introduced himself as Mr Wardrinskij, adviser to Stefan Gulik, the KRB Direktor. Shaking their hands he remarked, ‘It is a great pleasure, your royal highness. I knew your mother slightly. I attended her salon on Starel Heights on several occasions.’
‘Indeed? What were you doing in those days?’
‘During Beck’s government I was in the Foreign Ministry, where I was a parliamentary undersecretary. Your mother was a very beautiful and gracious lady.’
Leo inclined his head but did not smile. Martin knew that his mother’s murder in Berlin in 1919 had left many unresolved issues for Leo, and alluding to her was a sure way to close down his usually open nature.
Mr Wardrinskij seemed not to pick up on the signal. He continued, ‘The Direktor has sent me with a personal message to you, sir.’
‘Go on then, I take it the message is verbal, not written.’
‘Indeed. You will be aware, sir, that President Tildemann must soon fall. Having now lost its majority, his government may collapse at any moment if a vote of confidence is called.’
‘Then there will be elections, one assumes. That is what the constitution demands, is it not?’
‘Of course. But the point is that the mood in Rothenia at the moment is very much changed towards the monarchy. Professor von Tarlenheim’s book has been remarkably influential. People think very differently now about King Maxim. He is a hero to the younger generation.’
Leo frowned. ‘So he should be. King Maxim was one of the greatest men to wear the Crown of Tassilo.’
Martin noticed how Wardrinskij’s eyes widened at those words. The Crown of Tassilo: that was a magical phrase in troubled republican Rothenia on the first day of the year 1929.
Wardrinskij continued blandly, ‘King Maxim’s conduct in the civil war and during the Mittenheim rebellion is now the stuff of legend. He was a great hero and king, and an even greater political visionary. Everyone is agreed on this.’
Leo said with more than a hint of sarcasm, ‘They took their time about realising it.’
‘Yes sir. I make no excuses for the political classes of Rothenia. I was just as misguided as the next man in those days. Everyone was hot for revolution or counter-revolution. Few had the sense to perceive the value of what was in our hands.’
Despite himself, Martin found he was warming to Wardrinskij. There was a certain pained honesty about him which hinted at political wisdom and breadth of mind. Gulik had selected his ambassador with a degree of intelligence.
Leo leaned back in his chair. ‘So, Mr Wardrinskij, apart from your retrospective absolution of Maxim Elphberg, what more do you have to say to me?’
The man gave a slight nod, as if he had expected that question. ‘All the right-wing parties are agreed that the time for restoration of the monarchy is come. It would rally the vote against Tildemann’s republic. Maxim Elphberg would be king again …’ Wardrinskij hesitated.
Leo finished for him. ‘But you and I both know the king has no wish to return to his throne.’
Wardrinskij sagged a little. ‘Unfortunately that is the case, and he cannot be shifted in his determination. We even suspect Tildemann himself of having put out feelers towards Belsager Priory to see if King Maxim would return under his auspices.’
Martin caught Leo’s eye. Was this true? Leo gave no indication.
‘So I ask again, what more do you have to say?’
Wardrinskij was silent for some moments. Then he continued, ‘I think we can say that the prospect of a young King Leopold II would be more than acceptable to the people of Rothenia. You are very popular there, sir.’
Silence followed his proposal. Martin stared at Leo. Had he expected this? His lover stayed impassive for a while before standing slowly. Martin and Wardrinskij both knew their protocol and stood too.
‘Mr Wardrinskij, thank you for coming. I had wondered why you wanted to see me, rather than King Maxim, and now I understand. You must be aware that in my mind Maxim Elphberg is the rightful king of Rothenia, and will remain so until the day he dies. If there is a monarchy to be restored it can only be through him. I trust I have made myself perfectly clear?’
Wardrinskij did not seem nettled by the dignified snub he had just received. He merely bowed and offered his hand, which was taken.
‘Sir, I shall convey that message to the Direktor. He will be disappointed, but as a Rothenian, I can understand and honour your views. I hope we shall meet again.’
Leo smiled. ‘I am not averse to the prospect. Good day to you.’
That same New Year’s Day, Martin and Leo rode out into the forest which surrounded the castle of Heinrichshof. It was midwinter, with drifts of black and brown leaves lying everywhere. The pale sun reached them through thin, high clouds.
Leo cantered ahead along one of the great rides his ancestors had cut through the woodland. This one rose to a green hill on which had been built a castellated tower. Leo reined in as he reached it and waited for Martin to join him. There was a spectacular view across the treetops to the great castle on its hill.
‘My God, that’s a glorious sight!’ Martin’s breath steamed in the cold air. Vapour rose from the flanks of his mount.
Leo laughed. ‘My ancestors were not noted for their aesthetic sense and good taste, I have to say, but sometimes they created beauty regardless.’
‘What is this place?’ Martin indicated the nearby tower.
‘It’s what you English call a folly. It’s a memorial erected by my great-grandfather Ernst Albert II on the occasion of his marriage into the Rothenian royal family. You see the Rothenian royal arms there? It was a great thing for the Thuringian dynasty.’
‘My word! And of course, there’s the Crown of Tassilo carved above them.’ Martin dismounted and walked across the damp grass to get a closer look. He glanced back at Leo, who was leaning on the pommel of his saddle smiling down at his lover.
‘What happened to the Crown of Tassilo, Leo? Hasn’t Maxim got it?’
‘It’s disappeared. I know for a fact Maxim did not take it out of Rothenia. He may have concealed it somewhere, but no one knows where. It was lost once before, after the death of Queen Flavia in 1880. It never rested on the head of the three Thuringian kings who followed her. But suddenly and miraculously it reappeared when Maxim Elphberg claimed the throne. It is a symbol of such power in our country, it convinced many people – perhaps most people – that he must be the rightful monarch.’
‘That’s the power the KRB wants to harness, isn’t it?’
‘Yes, I believe it is. If their odious Direktor got his sweaty hands on it and produced it at one of his rallies, he could claim it was divine sanction for his seizure of power. People would believe him, too.’
‘Aren’t you curious as to where the crown is?’
‘A little, but there are things that puzzle me more.’
‘What we are going to do about Eric Kirby.’
‘We need to talk to your grandfather about that.’
‘Yes we will. He’s here tomorrow.’
‘But the Crown …?’
‘Oh Martin, it’s the archaeologist in you, isn’t it? Ask grandfather. He’ll no doubt tell you to keep your nose out of it.’
‘There are dangers involved in hunting for an object like the Crown of Tassilo, such as the sinister nature of your competitors.’
Martin fell silent. He remounted and the two cantered off down the rear slope of the hill.
‘So you expect the worst from this young man.’
‘Yes grandfather. I’m sorry, I don’t know what you think of us.’
Gus looked at his grandson solemnly. The young man wilted, and seemed on the verge of tears. Then Gus chuckled and held out his arms. Leo looked relieved and went to sit on the old man’s lap, hugging him hard. Gus groaned as his legs took the weight, but he did not cease smiling. Martin came over and kissed him too.
‘Up! Up, Leo! I can’t take your weight too long nowadays. Thank you. Now. Firstly, I don’t think any the less of you. To be perfectly truthful, I had my own adventures in the bathhouses of Vienna and on the Wejg with Oskar when I was young. You’ll surely recall old Marek Rustak, for whom pursuing men was his way of life, alas. There’s nothing new about such things, my dear. It’s part of your growing up and, provided it doesn’t endanger your relationship with your beloved Martin, I see no wrong in it.’
‘Thank you, sir,’ Leo whispered gratefully.
‘Of course, you will meet – perhaps you’ve already met – men whose lives have been consumed by such adventuring. They become as addicted to sex as others do to opium. That way lies the danger, for they become more and more reckless in pursuit of firm young flesh. The older they grow the worse it often gets. I pray you don’t become that sort.
‘Now we have that settled, I think you must leave the rest to me, though I may need Martin’s assistance.’
Martin was intrigued. ‘What do you propose, sir?’
‘That you may well discover. But I think your news will have one disagreeable consequence, which is that I must cut short my stay here and go on to Berlin.’
Leo looked guilty. ‘I really am sorry, grandfather.’
‘I know, my boy, I know. It can’t be helped. But I tell you what. I’ll come over to Oxford for a week or so next month and buy you dinner at the Randolph. It’s been so long since I was at St John’s, yet I think I still have dining rights, as I took my MA. Yes, I’ll do that. I can also drop in and see your great-uncle Lewis at Haddesley. It’s been far too long since I visited him and Lady Underwood.’
Leo mustered a small grin. ‘We’d love to have you visit us. Maybe we’ll even return your offer of dinner. By the way, sir, Martin had something to ask you.’
‘Go on, don’t be shy.’
‘Oh, very well. Sir, it’s about the Crown of Tassilo. I was wondering whether – hoping really – you could cast some light on its travels since 1880.’
Although still a young man, Martin was quite acute in some matters. He saw Gus’s face close down briefly. It was clear to him that Gus did know something.
The old man pondered a moment before explaining, ‘It’s public knowledge that the Crown went missing at the time of Queen Flavia’s death. There were all sorts of theories. As you may know, Leo’s father was suspected of spiriting it away from the Osten Tor in the course of his bungled raid on the royal treasury.’
‘Ah yes,’ Martin interjected, ‘but had he done so, it would have reappeared when his uncle became king.’
‘Quite so. Nothing was seen of it for thirty years after the tumultuous events of 1880. Then suddenly it reappeared during the brief civil war which resulted in Maxim’s triumphant seizure of the throne. It was used to great acclaim in his coronation.’
‘And had Maxim found it, sir?’
‘Who can say? I won’t speculate. It was not seen again after he abdicated. Tildemann’s government formally requested that he account for it as a national treasure. His reply was that he had put it back into trust for the future. He said it was a matter for the Elphbergs alone what became of it, for they were its trustees.’
‘So I must ask King Maxim? I daren’t do that.’
Gus gave Martin a keen look. ‘Rightly so, young Tofts. These are high matters. A streak of the uncanny runs in the red-headed dynasty of the Rudolfs. The fate of the Crown is wrapped up with the fortunes of Rothenia. Its disappearance is a harbinger of great trouble, I fear, as much as its reappearance means help and comfort.’
Leo looked pensive. ‘You know the KRB fascists are desperate to have it.’
‘I would not be at all surprised, my dear. And they must be prevented at all costs from obtaining it. But let us think firstly of Mr Kirby and how we are to deal with him. Martin, I’m afraid your penance is to accompany me to Berlin the day after tomorrow. That should give me time to make some arrangements.’
‘But …!’ Martin was plainly upset.
‘I’m coming too, then.’ Leo jutted his jaw in a pantomime of determination.
It occurred to Gus that Leo looked rather like his late father when he did that.
Nollendorfplatz station was a striking building, Leo concluded, almost as if it were a Gothic pavilion. On that January afternoon, as the sun sank over the roofs and the streetlights came on, it reminded him even more of a great spider crouched over the elevated railway. Crowds were entering the brightly illuminated cinema opposite, where Marlene Dietrich was starring in Die Frau, nach der Man sich sehnt.
Martin and Gus had disappeared down towards the lights of Motzstrasse and Holge’s bar, leaving Leo bundled up in his overcoat, hat and scarf, trying not to frown at the female prostitutes who were leering at him in brazen invitation.
Feeling a twitch at his sleeve, he glanced down at a twelve-year-old boy who stared boldly back up at him. ‘You wanna meet my sister, mister? She’s good. Clean too. Come with me. I’ll show yer.’
Leo shook his head, at a loss.
‘Come on, mister.’ Dropping his voice a little, the boy looked conspiratorial. ‘I gotta brother too, if yer’d rather. He’s fifteen. He’s up at the Tiergarten but I can go and get him. Ten marks, it’s a bargain. He’s cute.’
‘No … er, no thanks.’
The urchin glared at him reproachfully, as if to ask why he was hanging round outside the station if he wasn’t interested in those sorts of goods. Then an arriving train disgorged its human cargo, at which point the boy disappeared in search of customers who were more clear as to what they were interested in.
Leo suddenly wanted to be anywhere other than this sordid place, but he had been told to wait. He moved away from the station towards Nollendorfstrasse and into a pool of light below the lamp standards.
Gus had outlined his plan, such as it was. Martin would accompany him to Holge’s and ascertain whether Eric was in the bar, and if not, where he might be. Gus would then, he said, take it from there. He did not elaborate on what he would do or say.
Martin hoped Gus was not proposing to bribe Eric to forget he had ever met Leo, in order to defuse the boy’s curiosity about the as-yet-anonymous ‘royal highness.’ ‘To begin with,’ Martin had said, ‘he’s met you. He must know you were my companion that night in Soho. It’d be easy enough for him to ask around and find out if there is any royal prince currently studying at Oxford, and then a search of the newspapers would tell him a lot more. When I slept with him a week ago, he kept nudging gently at the mystery. He isn’t going to let it go. And once he knows the truth, the trouble will really begin.’
Fidgeting in the cold, Leo was relieved to see his lover returning through the gardens. Martin was alone, so presumably his grandfather had gone into action. Martin took Leo’s arm and walked him to one of the brightly lit cafés.
‘Gosh, I hadn’t realised it was getting so cold. It’s going to snow, I’m sure. Let’s get a hot drink of some sort.’
‘It’s a pity we’re here. Heinrichshof in the snow is a magical place. Ah well, we’re paying for our sins, I suppose. What’s grandfather up to?’
‘I have no idea. We went through the door, then he patted me on the arm and sent me on my way once I had pointed out Eric clearing tables at the back of the bar. He said he’ll meet us at the station in an hour.’
They sat gloomily over two frothy chocolate drinks, their eyes cast regularly out through the café’s windows into the lamp-lit square, looking for Gus’s return.
When his stocky figure did appear, however, he was not alone. A youthful figure was walking with him. It was Eric Kirby, wrapped in a trench coat with a bright red scarf twisted rather stylishly around his neck. They stood for a while talking at the station steps, laughing at some joke or other. Finally Eric shook Gus’s hand, hesitated as if he were thinking of kissing him, and then took off back along Motzstrasse with a swinging stride.
Leo looked astonished at Martin. ‘What on earth …?’
They left the café and walked rapidly across to Gus. ‘Grandfather! What happened? What did you do?’
Gus beamed at Leo. ‘I confirmed my suspicions about your playmate. The odd thing about getting older, my boys, is that you don’t necessarily become more cynical and less trusting.’
‘I’m sorry, sir? What does that mean?’
‘Everything you’d said about young Mr Kirby hardly told me he was going to be a threat. You assumed because he was a prostitute that he would betray you for money. Yet you told me other things that were very much in his favour: his aspirations, his intelligence, his determination to overcome his background.’
Martin felt he had to interject. ‘Yes, but …’
‘My dears, had he intended you harm, you left enough clues for him to have begun work on it when you encountered him in Soho; he could have searched your pocketbooks as you slept or followed you when you left. But he was just curious about you, that’s all. And when Martin encountered him on the train, he was happy to be with good company – well, that and to try to get Martin into bed. Had it occurred to either of you that he might like you?’
Leo shook his head.
‘To have two intelligent and attractive men of his own age in his bed must have been a real delight to a young fellow who is – for all his disadvantages – himself intelligent and attractive. Think of the sorts of men he must usually sleep with. Of course the hardened prostitute in him couldn’t say that to you. But he said it to me.’
‘Oh! My word.’ Martin was at a loss. ‘So how did the conversation go?’
‘Very well.’ Gus’s expression came as near to that of a boyish grin as was possible for a man on the verge of his seventieth birthday. ‘He starts working as my confidential secretary in a week’s time.’
‘What?’ Martin and Leo were wide-eyed with astonishment.