THE  BOOK
 by Jack Kendle

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I am grateful to the distinguished artist, Maurice Heerdink, for his permission to reproduce three of his excellent pictures, without which this story would be the poorer.

Other images are, to the best of the author’s knowledge, in the Public Domain. If, however, you feel that an image reproduced in this story is in breach of copyright and can be proven to be so, the image in question will be removed.

©2011 Jack Kendle – All Rights Reserved

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TO THE READER

Although most of the places and locations described here are real, this does not mean that the persons represented here or the actions described in this story actually took place at these real locations, nor should it be inferred. The locations are used purely for atmosphere and veracity. The story is of course fiction from beginning to end and similarly, all characters are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

The story contains scenes of man/boy sexual relations, some of which are non-consensual, which may upset some readers and this being the case, they are advised not to read any further. Similarly, if the reading or downloading of such material contravenes laws or regulations in your community, state or country, then you do so at your own risk.

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DRAMATIS PERSONAE

The Present

Peter Taylor, 23 – Book illustrator and main protagonist

Jeremy, his current lover – Lawyer (takes no direct part in the action)

Sebastian Walker mid 30’s – Portrait photographer, a neighbour

Dr Jerzy Szczepkowski – Peter’s downstairs neighbour (takes no part in the action)

Albert Pennyweather, 70+ – A regular at “The Crown” – Peter’s local pub

Simon Stafford-Jones 50+ – Retired professional singer

Lars, 16 – Peter’s young friend and eventually, his lover

Stanhope Robertson 80+ – Retired organist & choirmaster

Lancelot Cruickshank – Deceased. Former Rector at St Giles Church

DCI Morrison – Police detective, London

DS Richards – his sergeant (London)

DS Barnes – Police detective, Bournemouth

Sergeant Villiers – Policeman (Bournemouth)

Joshua Hallam – Peter’s agent

Hugo Montagu – 14th Earl of Pevensey

Phyllida, Lady Pevensey – his wife

Kieran Montagu, 13 – their son

Ambrose – butler to the Pevensey household

Dr. Towns – Archeologist

Douglas Champneys – current Rector of St. Giles

 

The Past

Man in bookshop

Izaak Waldon, author

Tom Thatcher, about 12 y.o. (takes no direct part in the action)

Philip J.W. Montagu, 3rd Earl of Pevensey

John Montagu, 2nd Earl, Philip’s father

James Venables, 14 y.o. Apprentice, son of

Edward Venables, 46, Master mason

Will Fremantle, 13, chorister at St. Giles, diarist.

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“Use him as thoughe you Loved him, that is, harme him as little as you maye poffibly, that he maye live the longer”

Izaak Walton, on the use of frogs as bait – from The Compleat Angler

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The book is gone now and I know I will never see it again. Even now, as I sit at my desk, I vividly remember the texture and feel and slightly musty smell of the worn calfskin binding with its patina of age from much handling. I will never forget the shock when I first read that title page and the subsequent stories the book showed me. 

How I came across this book and what it led me to might sound unbelieveable, but I assure you it all happened, exactly as I write it down. Everything.

But I must start at the beginning.

 

ONE
(SUNDAY – MORNING)

It was raining. Not just ordinary common-or-garden rain, but London Rain; the type of rain which, like stair-rods, clatters indiscriminately down from leaden skies on to grey slate roofs, squealing black taxis and the fume-belching red double-decker buses. Rain which, with the capital’s typical lack of subtlety and a mixture of Cockney brashness and the arrogance of a capital city, insinuates itself between tiles, down drainpipes, down the soot-caked walls of buildings some of which, for centuries, have survived innumerable such assaults, fills the gutters, overflows the cast-iron grilles, bearing on its inexorable tide the flotsam of the busy thoroughfare; discarded bus-tickets, burger wrappings, cigarette stubs and the yellow-brown leaves from the now nearly-bare branches of the plane trees lining both sides of the busy road. The noise of the downpour almost drowning out the hooting of the stressed-out drivers, weaving through the fleeing pedestrians, who, umbrellas up, dodge and scurry through the slow-moving traffic like carapaced, two-legged beetles of every shade and hue, seeking shelter from heaven’s watery invasion.

It was an early Sunday in November and I was in the Charing-Cross Road, on my way home from Jeremy’s. I had spent the night with him, saying goodbye – he was off to the States on a job for the next three months at least. I wouldn’t be going with him, not only because the high-profile case he would be working on would certainly take up eighteen hours of his day, but also because I just happened to have a project of my own which I was working on and which was due to be completed within the next month or so.

Perhaps I should introduce myself before I go any further. My name is Peter James Taylor. I am a twenty-three-year-old gay man and I am what people call – not quite accurately – one of the idle rich. Idle because I don’t have a fixed nine-to-five job, but work as an illustrator, mostly those coffee-table type of book, authors’ personal views on a place, be it city, town, location or country. Rich, because I am good at my job and can now name my price for the jobs I do and thus in the enviable position of being able to choose my projects. My fortune is due also to the untimely death of my parents, who themselves were certainly not idle and very, very rich.

On my way home the heavens opened, catching me without an umbrella. I ducked into the nearest doorway. It was a bookshop – hardly surprising really, as Charing-Cross Road is lined with bookshops for much of its length.

As I dashed inside, I was vaguely aware of green paint, plate-glass with gold lettering and the tinkle of the small bell as I pushed the door closed behind me, blocking out the pelting rain and the noise of the traffic, hissing over the slick tarmac.

Not only was it suddenly very quiet here in the shop, the gloom was positively Stygian and my eyes took a while to accustom themselves to the dimness within. I was aware of long lines of shelving, sagging under the weight of hundreds, thousands of books, stretching away into the dim interior of the shop. Tables piled high with books reduced the floor space to narrow corridors, towers of books threatening to topple over and engulf me in fluttering avalanches of paper, print, leather and pasteboard.

There wasn’t a soul in sight. I peered past the vertiginous towers of books, hearing nothing but the ticking of what sounded like a large clock, as yet still hidden from view. As my eyes began to get used to the dimness, I began to get my bearings and started to walk down one of the aisles before me. I heard the still hidden clock begin a sonorous chiming. I glanced at my watch; noon. I remember vaguely wondering where there was wall-space for a clock; every available surface seemed to be covered with shelving or tables piled high with books. There was a faintly musty odour; not at all unpleasant, reminding me slightly of the bark of trees or leaves in a foggy night. Now and again, there was a faint rustle; I fancied it might be mice, scurrying to and fro behind the vast brown bookcases. What a feast they had! I wondered whether the proprietor, whoever and wherever he was, consigned the lesser books to the lowest shelves, where the mice (and possibly rats as well), could gnaw and nibble without destroying great works of Literary Art.

“Hello! Anybody there?” My voice sounded faint and as there was no echo, it fell flatly to the ground, I fancied, unheard.

My eyes glanced along the uneven rows of books, picking out various titles on the spines. Some were great tomes, inches thick, with ornate lettering, stamped in gold, others slim volumes with no word to indicate what lay between the covers. I seemed to smell centuries of dust, imagining it, inches thick, lying over everything in this seemingly forgotten world. My fanciful imagination felt as if this place had been abandoned for millennia; it had the air of forlorn, yet dignified solitude, like a Miss Haversham Wedding Breakfast of books for the mice and beetles.

I slowly ventured deeper into the sepulchral interior. Ceiling-high shelves met at rightangles, narrow avenues of books leading in all directions. The place was huge! Much larger than one would have thought, passing by. As I went deeper into the almost palpable gloom, all noise from the outside faded to nothing and the silence, like the towers about me, became almost oppressive. Faintly, I still heard the ponderous chimes of the clock, somewhere far away, it seemed to me. Still no sight nor sound of an owner or employee. Only the tiny rustlings and an occasional creak from the overloaded shelves.

The shop seemed enormous. I could see no sign of walls at the ends of the narrow lanes of books, only vague shadows of more shelves and yet more books. Looking down, I saw thick dust on the bare floorboards. I glanced back and saw that only one set of prints followed me; mine. I felt a slight shiver run down my spine. This was distinctly odd. Had no-one honestly been into this part of the shop in all the time it took for that amount of dust to form?

I looked at the shelves; more dust, books seemingly untouched for years, decades even. This was very strange. More than strange, it was positively creepy.

I was just about to turn and retrace my steps, when I was literally halted in my tracks by a sound. In normal circumstances, the sound would not have awakened any suspicion or fear on my part, but here, now…

It was a small sob, a child’s sob. It didn’t come from behind me, but somewhere ahead of me, as far as I could tell. Somewhere ahead in the gloom. I looked down again; still no footprints ahead of mine. Yet the sob, though stifled, I fancied, was distinct. I was sure I heard it, or was I?

I stood stock still, trying very hard not to breathe, straining my ears for every sound, my eyes wide open and scanning my surroundings for any movement. The place was as still and as quiet as the tomb, which is why that alien sound had startled me so. There it was again! So soft, yet it wasn’t my imagination. It was a sob, made by a child, as far as I could make out and it definitely came from ahead of me in the darkness.

I inched forward, every nerve jangling, a sweat beginning to break out on my body, droplets coursing down my back. As I slowly moved forward, I was aware of the sound of quiet sniffling, like a child’s crying. It was so soft, I thought I must have imagined it, but there it was again, still very quiet, but I had the feeling it was closer. I reached an intersection in the tall shelves, a kind of crossroads. Which way? Where were these sounds, if indeed they were real and not the product of my imagination, coming from?

At the junction, I stopped again, and as I looked down the three aisles, I listened out for the sounds to come again and if they did, see whether I could work out from whence. There! I heard it again! A gentle sob followed by a sigh. A sigh so heartbreakingly sad, a tremulous sigh as if from one in deep grief. It came from my left, and as far as I was able to judge in this strange, dead acoustic, only a matter of feet away from where I was standing. Who was making these forlorn sounds? And how did they get there? It really sounded like a child’s voice, and I wondered what a child was doing here, all alone, in this place.

I turned left and walked as quietly as I could, ears and eyes alert for any sight or sound of my invisible companion. I arrived at an intersection and, out of the corner of my eye, thought I saw a figure, only feet away, in the gloom, standing by one of the shelves, looking upwards. But as soon as my mind registered it, it was gone. It must have been a fraction of a second, maybe a fraction of a fraction, but I had the distinct impression that I had seen something …  no … I had seen someone.

I went quickly to where I imagined it to have been. Nothing. I looked along the endless corridors of shelves, disappearing into the gloom. Only my footprints in the dust. I looked down at my feet and stared in horror at what I saw: the small imprint of a child’s foot; heel, arch, five toes. A child’s bare foot. Just one. I fell back into the shelves, fingers clawing at the leather, hand-tooled spines, almost pulling them from the books, dust flying into the air. I felt as if my knees had turned to jelly. I must be imagining things, the poor lighting playing tricks on me. I looked down again. The child’s footprint still there and next to it, the mark as if a drop of water had landed in the dust – a teardrop.

I lay back against the bookshelf for support, my hands instinctively holding on to the books in the shelves to prevent me sinking to the ground. My breathing was laboured, as if I had been running and there was sweat on my brow. I found I was trembling as if in fear. I had to be imagining this, some sort of dream. I would wake up soon, I was sure – or rather I hoped I would.

I looked around me. My eye caught sight of the corner of a book poking out over the edge of the top shelf on the bookcase opposite me. My nanosecond’s vision returned; hadn’t whoever I imagined I saw, been looking up towards that spot?  Slowly, I reached up and my fingertips found the corner of the book. I teased it towards me until gravity took over and the volume dropped over the edge of the shelf. Somehow I managed to catch it, a small volume making a muffled slap as it met my outstretched palms.

As if a switch had been thrown, the place became brighter and the noise of the traffic outside was suddenly audible once more. I found I was right at the back of the shop – no long corridors of shelving stretching away into the distance, no sepulchral silence nor dust of ages. Looking down, I saw the plain brown floorboards of the shop, polished by years of browsers – no sign of a child’s footprint, nor teardrop. What had happened? Had I had some sort of blackout? Had I somehow or other had a dizzy spell, or even fainted? I had no recollection of falling to the floor, no feeling of dizziness. I couldn’t understand what had happened. I wasn’t drunk, of that I was sure. I had only had one drink with Jeremy.

The clock was chiming. Wait a minute! The clock was still chiming! I looked at my watch; noon. No time had passed! Yet, in that ‘no time’, I had walked along many yards of shelving, deep into the inner recesses of the shop, or somewhere, heard the sobbing of a small child, seen the book and taken it down from the bookshelf yet the clock was still chiming! This wasn’t just creepy, this was impossible! Yet there it was, in my hands, a small, leatherbound volume, obviously worn with age, with faint gold lettering; “The Compleat Angler”.

I was shaken out of my reverie by a soft voice at my elbow. Startled, I looked around to see who was speaking.

“Ah! I see the book has returned and found its new owner!” I looked at the man, for it was indeed a man, aged about seventy or so, I guessed, soft-spoken, snow-white hair wildly spreading in all directions around a pink tonsure, like a mad monk, I thought to myself. He must have noticed – who wouldn’t? – the stare of blank incredulity I gave him. His gaze indicated the small volume in my hands.

“It vanishes for years at a time, then suddenly out of nowhere, Pouf! it reappears in the hands of its next owner, or should I say caretaker.” He paused for a moment, screwing up his eyes as if trying to remember something.

“Let me see, it must be ten – no twelve years ago since it was last here. I remember the last one it chose…” he gave me a speculative look.

“I wonder… how long you’ll have it for? And why has it come back now? Hmmm.”

“But I didn’t choose this,” I said. “I didn’t come in here to buy a book. I came in to shelter from the rain…”

“The important thing is, you came in,” said the old man, enigmatically, his pale blue eyes twinkling behind his old-fashioned half-moon glasses.

“You might not have chosen the book, but it chose you! Take it, young man! I have no idea what’s in it this time, but may it be of use to you…” he paused, almost melodramatically, adding in a stage whisper, glancing about him as he did so: “…but use it wisely. Do no harm.”

Again he paused me and fixed me with his steady gaze, emphasising every word with a finger pointing at me. “Do no harm!”

“What am I supposed to do with Walton’s The Compleat Angler?” I asked, somewhat amused by the old man’s theatricality, “I don’t even fish!”

“Take it home and read it carefully. Use it wisely!” the man repeated, beginning to move away.

“But, but what does it cost? I’m not buying something for which I have no use!”

“You will find a use for it, young man!” he replied. “Take it! No charge! Free. Gratis! Now go! Look, the rain has stopped. Shoo! Go!”

The old man more or less pushed me out of the shop. He was right. The rain had stopped. I looked down at the book, lying innocently in my hand. What a very weird thing indeed! Firstly, what had happened in there? Had I blacked out? Was I dreaming all this? A speeding cyclist rushed right past me, almost knocking me down. I almost went flying. The pain in my shin proved it: I wasn’t dreaming!

Had I slipped into a parallel universe? Had I witnessed a haunting? As my mind whirled, the explanations became more and more outlandish, bizarre and crazy. I had to face it, there was no rational explanation. Somehow or other, I had picked out a book, been given it by the proprietor and been given a bum’s-rush out of the shop.

I turned and went back in. The lights were blazing, several browsers were scattered around the shop, whose back wall I could now clearly see and a young shop-assistant at the till looked up and asked if she could be of assistance. The old man I had just spoken to was nowhere to be seen.

“Er… I wonder, could you tell me how much this costs?” I asked, holding out the small well-worn leather volume. The girl at the till gave me an odd look.

“No, sir, I’m sorry, but we don’t sell second-hand books here.” She made it sound as if I had just shown her hard-core porn. With even more undisguised distaste, she added,   “We only sell new books.” She continued to look at me as if I might be slightly mad and about to cause trouble.

“Oh, er… thank you,” I replied somewhat awkwardly, putting the book away, rather hastily, as if it were an unclean thing.

I looked around me once more. This was quite a different establishment to the one I had just moments ago exited. I felt the eyes of the young girl at the counter on me as I left the shop, even more confused than before.  Why had I been given this book, a book I had no use for and what was all that babble about it choosing me and the appearing and disappearing stuff? I reckoned the old bloke in there must be mad and I had just been the victim of a practical joke. Maybe I was being filmed secretly and any minute now someone would come leaping out at me, all fake tan, white teeth and exuding equally fake bonhomie, telling me I was on “Candid Camera” and would I look over there and smile?

I studied the little volume, lying innocently in my hand, turning over the recent events in my mind.

Fact number one: I had rushed into the shop out of the rain.

Two: I had heard or thought  I heard the sounds of a child crying.

Three: I saw – or thought I saw a small figure, a boy, whom, I thought, was sobbing and seemed to be trying to draw my attention to the book which I now held before me.

Four: I was approached, one could say I was almost accosted by an elderly gentleman who insisted I take the book. What had the old man been rambling on about: Use it wisely, do no harm! He must be mental, I thought.

Five: did the man have any right to give me the book which must be merchandise? And yet… the shop I went back into seemed to be quite a different place!

Six: the sales assistant had told me quite categorically that the book was certainly not one of theirs – they only dealt in new books, she had said. Well, I had done my best to return the book, but no-one was interested. Convinced that at least I wouldn’t be chased down the street by someone accusing me of shoplifting, I pushed the book into the pocket of my Burberry and headed for home, my head reeling from the inexplicable experience I had just had.

As I walked, I gradually came to the conclusion that I must have had a sudden drop in sugar-levels, which to all intents and purposes made me almost faint and in that brief second, I must have had this strange hallucination.

But something niggled at the back of my mind. Something wasn’t quite right with that explanation. Just in case, however, I took a small chocolate bar I keep about me for just such an occurrence (I have a medical condition which means I have to keep a watch on my sugar levels) and as I allowed the dark, sweet chocolate to melt in my mouth, I began to calm down and rationalise.

‘It must have been a drop in my sugar’, I thought, as I neared home.

 

TWO
(SUNDAY – LUNCHTIME)

Home, was not far away, a leisurely five-minute walk brought me to my front door close to Seven Dials. My flat was the top floor of a flat-fronted, brick-faced Georgian house in one of the narrow streets just off the junction. Not ostentatious, it nevertheless had all that I needed for comfort. Both my parents were dead, victims of a car accident three years ago, when I had just turned twenty. They had left me more than adequately provided for; in fact, as their sole beneficiary, I had no need to work for a living. With some of my inheritance, I bought and furnished this flat in central London, invested most of the rest and lived off the interest.

The original layout of the Seven Dials area was designed by Thomas Neale in the early 1690’s. The original plan had six roads converging, although this was later increased to seven. Following the successful development of the fashionable Covent Garden Piazza area nearby, Neale aimed for the Seven Dials site to be popular with well-off residents. This was not to be, however, and the area gradually deteriorated. In the centre of the open area still stands a tall column, with a sundial based on that which had stood there from earliest days. At one stage, each of the seven apexes facing the column housed a pub. Now only one remains, The Crown. The original sundial column was removed in 1773. It had been believed that this was due to being pulled down by an angry mob, although recent research suggests that it was deliberately removed by the Paving Commissioners in an attempt to rid the area of undesirables. In those times, according to contemporary accounts, the monument was a renowned meeting place for whores, both male and female and other disreputable characters. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, press-gangs roamed the streets, capturing young men and boys worse for drink from any of the pubs at Seven Dials and condemning them to a life in His Majesty’s Navy – or darker, more sinister fates.

I was the only full-time resident in the house. The basement had its own entrance around the side. It seemed to be the offices of some foreign import-export firm, according to the very tarnished brass plate on the door.  “Offices” is probably too grand a term; more likely the basement flat was simply used for storage. The windows were grimy and the equally shabby curtains were always drawn.

I never saw any signs of life there and certainly no-one either entering or leaving the place. I did notice, though, that the parking-place which went with the flat was occasionally filled with a dirty and rather beat-up old windowless Ford Transit van. It would stay parked there, usually for no longer than a few days every month or so. That was all that showed that the flat was not derelict. However, whoever it was that rented the place must have kept up with their payments and I knew that the Residents’ Association payments were dealt with by a local solicitors’ firm.

A prime piece of real-estate in the heart of London standing empty and ostensibly unused. That mysterious import-export company obviously had money. Occasionally I idly wondered what kind of imports and exports, but other than that, I didn’t give the place a second thought.

The ground floor housed a portrait photographer’s studio and the middle floor was rented out to some sort of academic, who was very rarely home, spending most of his time, I assumed, on expeditions to all corners of the globe.

The photographer, Sebastian, was the only near neighbour I knew. He was about thirty or so. I occasionally met him in the hallway or in the local delicatessen. He did well and many of the portraits he displayed in the window of his studio were of the rich and famous.

The academic was an anthropologist, from somewhere in eastern Europe, I think – Poland I thought, who spent months at a time away, probably looking for lost tribes deep in the Amazonian jungle or cannibals in Papua. I had only seen him once or twice; he couldn’t have looked less like the “Indiana Jones” type – he was short, almost totally round and with thick spectacles. The only times I saw him he was dressed in a thick dark overcoat and large scarf which all but obscured his face. He reminded me of a very fat Mole from the “Wind in the Willows. There was no name on his doorbell, but Seb, who seemed to make it his business to know all there was to know about the local area and our neighbours, assured me that the man was from Poland and was called Jerzy. He couldn’t pronounce his surname, saying it lots of ‘s’s and z’s’.

As a consequence, the large Georgian house was deserted most weekends, although Sebastian might occasionally come in for a sitting and if the academic was at home, he stayed indoors, probably writing some learned thesis, or poring over maps, I fancifully thought.

I lived a quiet life. If I wasn’t staying at Jeremy’s, he was here with me and we might occasionally go to the cinema or the theatre, although most of our time was spent at home, either in bed or else just reading, nattering – or just cuddling.

I met Jeremy shortly after my parents’ death. Although still a young man, aged only thirty, he had become a partner in the small solicitors’ firm who oversaw my parents’ affairs and my first meeting with him was when he told me how wealthy I had just become.

We had a few meetings over the months following my parents’ death, to sort out the sale of the house and all the other stuff and one day, almost by accident, after a long meeting involving probate, taxes, investment-portfolios, I found myself asking him if he wanted to come and have a drink with me at the local pub. He gave me his charming lopsided smile, blue eyes twinkling, and said he thought I would never ask! The rest, as they say, is history.

We’ve been together now for nearly three years. We don’t live together; he keeps his bachelor pad in Islington for when he needs to do some serious solicitor work and I have my own space to myself. We enjoy this arrangement; flexible though not mutually exclusive. I think we both need our own time and space for ourselves. We are also not exclusive partners. At the outset, we both agreed to have a ‘no strings attached’ relationship: if Jeremy found a handsome guy (I know he has fantasies about black guys) that he wanted to have fun with, then fine. The same went for me – my tastes ran to younger guys, a ‘bit of rough’  – some of the workmen who occasionally drank at the pub on the corner were very good-looking young men and not averse to bit of gay sex on the side, as long as their mates didn’t suspect. The funny thing was, that these ‘mates’ were also having a bit of arse on the side! Despite our freer lifestyle, Jeremy and I had a happy and stable relationship. Ours went deeper than just a ‘quick bit on the side’ – we might spend days together without making love, we didn’t feel it was such a big thing; so our ‘sexcapades’ kept our libidos in check.

I arrived home via the local delicatessen to stock up on my favourite Kenya Blue Mountain, a few slices of Parma ham, some home-made ‘tapinade’ and a couple of freshly-baked rolls as well as the proprietor’s own pistachio-flavoured ice-cream; lunch was usually a simple affair when I was at home alone. Adding a couple of bottles of Montepulciano, I paid and walked the last few yards home, stopping off to buy a newspaper from the newsagent’s on the corner. I skirted around a fenced-off area, which boded ill, I thought. With a mental sigh, I envisaged being disturbed by the rattle of pneumatic drills over the next days or even weeks. If there wasn’t building work going on in the neighbourhood, they were digging up the road.

Sebastian was coming out through the front door.

“Hiya Jack!” he said, giving me a flamboyant peck on each cheek. We had been an item for a short while, just after I moved in and before I got to know Jeremy. Seb is a sweet guy, but just a little too demonstrative and more than a little camp in manner for my taste . However, when Jer showed up, he was most gracious in defeat and he even treated us to dinner, to congratulate us. He still teases me and asks “how that boy-stealer” is.

“Hi, Seb. Jer’s fine,” I replied with a laugh.

“Well let me know when he dumps you. You can come cry on aunty Seb’s shoulder!” he replied with a flick of his immaculately cut and blow-dried wispy blond hair.

The joke was so old, he said it every time we met. “I will Seb, promise!” I gave my usual reply as I entered the house.

“I’m off for a week to my island paradise!” Sebastian called after me. “I’ve left a note for the milkman. You’ll keep an eye on the place and water the plants? Key’s in the usual place.”

He swept into his waiting cab in a waft of cologne, his long scarf billowing behind him.

Sebastian’s ‘island paradise’ was Mykonos, where he went two or three times a year. I knew he had a young man there, a fact I discovered after we had spent a night together and Seb had drunk rather too much and in his remorse had confessed to me all about his “Adonis on Mykonos”.

He had shown me a photograph of a young man in the briefest of Speedo swimming trunks; “Adonis” was the right name for the gorgeous hunk in the picture: piercing black eyes, curly black hair, worn shoulder length and a body to die for.  He was a local fisherman and Seb had met him on one of his holidays and fallen head over heels in love with the young man, who must be about nineteen now. Lucky boy! Seb had bought him his own flat and, I suspected, kept him in the manner to which the youth wanted to become accustomed.

I had my doubts that such a relationship could work; “Adonis” had to be having a bit on the side, I thought – no young man could go without sex except for the sporadic occasions that Seb visitied the island. Whether or not he did was not my concern; it seemed he was very discreet and Seb was always excited to see him and always in a blue funk after his trips to Mykonos.

“Have fun!” I waved goodbye to Sebastian and walked up the stairs to my flat.

The Polish man was away as usual, but I did not have the same arrangement with him as I did with Seb.  Someone came regularly when he was away, but I never saw who it was who took his mail or looked after the flat on the second floor. I occasionally heard the sound of his door opening and closing, or occasionally the vacuum-cleaner, but that was all.

Reaching the door to my flat, I fished in my pocket for my keys and my hand brushed past the little book I had been given earlier under such mysterious circumstances. The small volume slipped out of my pocket and landed on the carpet with a gentle thud, raising a small puff of dust. As it fell, I fancied I heard a small, quiet sigh. Bending down, I retrieved the leather object. It felt cold to the touch. Pushing open the door, I went inside, kicking it closed behind me.

My light lunch eaten and a glass of red wine in my hand, I went to the sofa with the small book and settled down to study the curious and mysterious tome. I opened the front cover, the slightly musty smell and dust making me sneeze. I was face to face with a picture of a gentleman in old-fashioned clothes, gazing at me out of the yellowing pages. I spent a few moments taking in the image; the man was kindly-looking, bearded, square black cap,  lace ruff, puffed sleeves and a black gown over what seemed to be a surplice. In the background was a cityscape, I assumed it was London, although I couldn’t say for sure. The man’s oddly gnarled hand was holding a book not dissimilar to that which I now held – perhaps he suffered from arthritis?  I particularly noticed his eyes, large and kindly, his brow slightly furrowed. He looked gently and I thought, a little sorrowfully out at me.

Deo Gratias  

I turned the page, totally unprepared for what stood there.

The

Compleat angler

A JOURNAL

here compiled

by

 izaak walDoN Esqre

 

wherein are descrybed

the sad tales of the baityngE, pErsuit and capture of

boyEs & youthes

for sportE & perverse pleasure – also a description of those places where they have many beene secretlie DIsPOzED

printed at the sign of the crown

IN MERCER’s lane, london

MDXCIII

 

I had to read and then re-read the title-page to be sure that I hadn’t misread or misunderstood the shocking message contained therein. Still scarcely able to believe what I had just read, I turned back a page and took another, longer look at the picture of whom I assumed was the author. He looked more like a clergyman than a pederast, but, I thought wryly, that was nothing new, in the light of recent exposés of clergymen and their abuse of children. Nothing new under the sun, then! I worked out the date from the Roman numerals at the bottom of the page; 1593.

What was Izaak Walton, the famous author doing writing not one but two books called “The Compleat Angler”? It was only then that I noticed the name of the author on the title page in front of me. It wasn’t Walton but Waldon. Close enough to be confused with the famous author of the treatise and anecdotes on fly-fishing. I went over to my laptop and Googled Izaak Walton. The date on the book, I now saw, was wrong; Izaak Walton lived from 1593-1683 – this was dated the year he was born! I found nothing under the name Izaak Waldon.

Images from the bookshop flashed through my mind; the sobbing boy, the vast, deserted bookshop, more like a mausoleum than anything else and then the odd man with his wild white hair and strange remarks about the book choosing me and use it wisely. I felt an involuntary shudder tingle up and down my spine, giving me goosepimples. This was decidedly creepy!

I turned the page, not knowing what to expect. What I saw produced all the effects I thought only happened in horror novels: the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, I felt shivers running up and down my spine, I broke into a sweat, my hands shaking and clammy and I dropped the book. This had to be some sort of practical joke; a weird practical joke. But who would have thought of it, who could have put it into operation? Not for the first time that day, my mind reeled. I felt giddy and slightly nauseous.

I lay back into the soft cushions of the sofa and closed my eyes, trying to get my head round what I had just seen. How was this possible? My eyes returned to the small volume, lying almost innocently on the carpet by my feet where I had dropped it. It looked so innocuous, so ordinary where it lay, the warm brown of the well-worn leather almost gleaming in the late afternoon light. To the casual observer, it might conjure up images of a prayer-book belonging to a well-to-do country parson, such as in the picture I had just studied; or the diary of a noblewoman. Perhaps even a book of poems, a love-token from a young man to his beloved. Yet to me, it suddenly had become none of these; it had no innocent prayers, no gentle thoughts, no lovesick sonnets. The title page had been enough, but what I had seen on the following page gave the book a sinister, evil aspect.

The small boy sobbing flashed before my eyes again; now I thought I could guess why the poor mite had been in such distress. Yet… I had to open the book again, read what was contained within its pages. I felt an inexplicable compunction to see what was contained there. It was as if I heard thousands of tiny voices, childrens’ voices, crying out to me to read on and by so doing, save their souls, for I knew, with a certainty which was absolute, that it was too late to save their young lives.

My shaking hand reached once again for the book. I turned again to the page which had shocked me so deeply just before. I shall never forget those opening words:

 

By what manner and fortune hath thine hand and eye been drawn unto me, most honourable Gentleman Mr Peter Taylor Esqre of the Seven Dyles! For unto thee hath I turnéd and into thine hands hath the Spirit of thefe times – may they for ever be plagued – for this will be for thee and thine allies fuch a puzzlement until thine eyes shall be open’d and thou shalt feeke and, mercifulle God-wyllinge, discovere the Truth of these Thinges which have come to passe and save those who suffer yet.

By thine Hand, Master Taylor, may Deliv’rance be found and through it mighte come unto oure Soules the Peace for which we have struggled to fynde to no avail. Deepe are our Troubles and Tribulationes!

We beg Thee that thou mighte overcome the Darknesse   which shroudes our soules and bring us Peace.

De Profundis clamavi ad Te

If this was a practical joke, a forgery, then it was a damn good one. For whatever reason, someone had gone to a great deal of trouble – but for what?

And why?

After hesitating, hardly wanting to touch it again, I nevertheless leant down and picked up the book and began to study it more closely. Everything about it seemed to be genuine; it looked right, felt right, dammit it even smelled right! There could be no doubt about it that the volume I held was from the late 16th Century and that the pages it contained were original.

So how did my name get there? Had there been some incredible coincidence and the book was addressed to my exact namesake from more than three hundred years ago? I had to dismiss that fact. But what was left was even more fantastic, even more unbelievable; someone in the late seventeenth century had written and printed a book that they knew I would find, quite by chance, in 2011. Ludicrous!

Yet, as Sherlock Holmes is supposed to have said; ‘When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth’. Well, this was damn impossible and more than improbable, but what other explanation could there be? A cry for help from the seventeenth century, addressed to me, ‘Peter Taylor of Seven Dials’ – personally!

I realised that I had been holding my breath and now inhaled deeply, my mind refusing to believe what my eyes told me, but not knowing what other explanation there could be for this extraordinary book.

 

THREE
(SUNDAY – EARLY AFTERNOON)

I now had no idea of what to expect when I turned the page. After what I had already read, I was past the stage of being surprised. If it was a forgery, or an elaborate practical joke, then I wanted to find out more. I didn’t want to even speculate if I couldn’t find an explanation – this was just too strange. So, I wasn’t overly surprised when, as I started to read the next page, that it was written in slightly antiquated English, although quite understandable and a usual typeface. I began to suspect that this was indeed a hoax.

But there was something odd about the story, or rather, how the story unfolded. It seemed to me that, as I read, the lines became visible only moments before I got to them – as if some sort of invisible writing was gradually unfolding before my eyes. The strangest thing, however, was the fact that I couldn’t seem to re-read what I had just read; it was as if there was a veil and I couldn’t backtrack – I could only read forwards.

Perhaps I was just tired or still in some state of shock, but it seemed as if I were being pulled along by the narrative, without being able to look back. However, the strangest thing is that I seem to have total recall of the texts, even as I sit here trying to write down the series of events from that week, the texts from the book come back to me, clear as crystal, word for word.

The writing was elegant, beautifully formed letters, with a pleasing flow. I read:

Tom Thatcher, aged about twelve winters. A fair youth, an open, honest face and eyes of purest blue. A pretty nose and perfect lips of coral red, an angelic countenance. His neck is slim, his shoulders too and not rounded. A fair-formed chest and well turned limbs.

He stands about to my chest in height and when he turns his pretty countenance to mine, I can deny him nothing. Little devil in angel’s attire! He knows he has me under his spell and spares no wile or guile whereby to achieve his will! And I allow him to! Mine, then the weakness, but in the face of such delectable beauty and perfect form what can I do but to quietly aquiesce to his every demand, however petty or great. For he has me in such thrall to his beauty and his inventiveness when we are alone that I am in awe of him.

He has kept me entertained many a long night, never seeming to tire and always teasing my old body back to life and vigour ‘tis as if I were a youth myself again! What a cherubic form he has! His boyhood belying his young age, a goodly handspan and of good girth. And his rump! Delightfully dimpled, plump and within its secret place a rosebud of such delectable form – winks at me & invites me in to where I am transported to such shores of pleasure, such a land of lust and wantonness that I can hardly believe my good fortune to have this boy as my private plaything, under my sole command.

Turning the page, I was faced with a picture:

My Tom is an orphan, left without a mother or father after the Great Sickness two years since. Alas, his sweet younger brother, Percy, also perished before I had the chance to sample the delights his happy form furnished me with. But Tom – my Tom – more than amply makes up for his individual state and his sweet mouth can perform such clever tricks upon my ‘pipe’ – he knows all the sweetest tunes and plays with such dexterity with both hands and lips that I sing, nay shout in the throes of my passion.

I feast upon his tender stalk, his sweet young eggs hardly showing, yet, just recently, he began to bring forth such sweet nectar to rival that of the very gods on Mount Olympus itself!

I feast my eyes upon his body; no blemish – no mark of imperfection to mar his boyish beauty. Not a hair that is not upon his head. His sweet-scented form so patient under my roaming hands! Alas, the time will come when I shall have to give him up; when tempered blade he will have to use upon his cheek and chin. And then around his boyish cocklet, where, daily I inspect him for the first signs of disfiguring sprouting hairs. So far none have appeared, but I am beginning to suspect my little imp/angel of plucking them out.

But for now, my Tom satisfies my every need and anticipates my demands with an obliging meekness which I have taught him to adopt. Long gone are the days I have had to chastise him for any wrongdoing – my beatings now are solely for our mutual pleasure – and when he wields the pincers or the tickling tassels, our heights of rapture are magnified a thousandfold.

Poor boy, when his time comes to leave my service. I shall miss him for a while, perhaps a night or two, but I already have my eye on his successor; a charming little sloe-eyed beauty from the kitchens, barely seven years of age. Alas that I had to dispose of his parents, but with me he shall lack nothing, if he does what he is told. I have him under supervision of the head kitchen lackey, whom I had as a boy this twelve year ago. When I had finished with him, I had him gelded and his tongue cut out to be my caretaker of those precious youths that I need. He knows better than to tamper with my property!

Tom will go the way of the six or seven others I have owned. In a dark , quiet place, late at night. A swift knifestroke to the throat, he will not even know it. A shame, but necessary. I cannot let my goods or chattels fall into the hands of less salubrious characters. Nay, nor can I have my good name besmirched by idle gossip or careless chatter. I shall provide a penny for his winding-sheet. Anonymously, of course.

Ah, here comes my little wanton now, a silken rope around his swanlike neck and his pretty hat with that great feather his only attire, the whip he so craves in his hand, the sweet cocklet already risen. I feel lusty tonight and ready to use him to the full. But first, some wine.

The narrative left me feeling nauseous. The images burned upon my brain. Was the writer that same man in the picture? And the boy in the hat? Tom himself? I had no way of knowing. Poor Tom! Dead by thirteen! Raped and abused for the filthy pleasures of the idle rich. How many more were there? How many poor boys abused and disposed as if they were not even human. Dammit, I bet this man cared more for his dogs than he did for the human lives he so wickedly destroyed.

I found myself weeping. Those poor, innocent boys raped and murdered, mourned by no-one, forgotten by everyone, destined to leave no mark upon this earth.

Despite myself, I turned the page. It seemed as if I was no longer in control of my own actions. I’m sure, that however hard I tried, I would not be able to shut the book until it let me.

Another portrait:

Philip John William Montagu, third Earl of Pevensey,his ‘coming of age’ portrait, aged fourteen.

My son, my only son! My Philip! You have a father’s love, his great love for you, my precious boy! I have watched you as you grew, became a tall, serious youth. You have your mother’s looks, her kind smile, her easy natural grace. The heir to my title and fortune, you shall one day be master here. I adjure you to love, honour and obey the King, as I have done. Love thy brother and when the time comes, you must teach your sons what I must now teach you. You are now fourteen summers and will soon be wed to the fair Catherine. But for now, my darling boy, you are mine; the fruit of my loins. My blood flows in your veins, my seed begot you. Your seed will keep the name of Montagu alive. When your son is your age, you must teach him as I have taught you. For it was out of love for you that I took you to me, my dearest boy. Write it down here, so that you may remember, without fail what passed between us and what you must pass on to your progeny. The love of a father for his son is the most sacred love as was our God in Heaven’s love for his only Son. For this love, have I done these things which you must do. Now, my son, write here what you must recall.

‘My name is Philip Montagu, eldest son of John Montague, the second Earl of Pevensey, Lord of the Marches, Keeper of the Falcon, Knight of the Most Ancient and Honourable Order of the Garter. My father is a great man and has shewn his deep love for me in the only way a man can show his love for his son. I am his, bound to him by blood. I am the fruit of his loins, the keeper of his seed. He hath shewn me the skills I need for a balanced life – how I may best serve him? I kneel before my father, a mighty man and a loving lord. Thus hath he instructed me in the ways of love a father has for his son, a master hath for his servant.

I had just celebrated my fourteenth birthday with great pomp and circumstance, when my lord and master drew me aside.

“Philip, my son,” he said. “Now is the time when boy turns to man and children put away their childish toys. Now you must learn the arts of love.”

He took me to his chamber and after dismissing the servants, bade me approach. My father stands tall and proud, his coal-black hair wild and unruly, bearded and with eyes like steel. His chest is broad his arms and legs thick and strong, like the trunks of mighty oaks.

“Come closer, son” he says in a kindly manner to me as he pours two cups of malmsey for us. He strokes my still beardless cheek, his calloused fingers rough against my smooth skin.

“Drink a cup of wine with me, my pet” he says, “you will feel less nervous and more at ease.”

I must say I am in awe of my father, a giant among men, the lord of all he surveys. His anger can be ferocious and yet I know he can be tender and most loving. I have seen how he is with my mother.

I drink the slightly bitter wine. My father strokes my face, my hair, and before I know it, he has leaned down and placed a loving kiss on my forehead. I feel one of his hands as he strokes my back, and lower. His touch is gentle, yet his eyes seem urgent.

“Come, my boy, a kiss for your father!”

His beard tickles me. I smell the wine on his breath and the other odours of a man.

“My son. Now is the time you must trust your father completely in everything. You must know how I love you, now I need to show you how much I care for you. You and I must share a bond that is unlike all others. It is more scared even than the bond between husband and wife. The love of a son for his father must be complete and unconditional. Can you love me thus?”

“I trust and hope, my lord, that I can” I replied, my mind all awhirl. I knew what was surely to come. My tutor, the monk Ambrosius had been dropping hints for weeks now. Clucking over me like a mother hen, he had shown me the delights of self gratification – he called it the ‘sin of Onan’ but, as he slept in my chamber also, I knew how often brother Ambrosius sinned when he thought I was fast asleep in my bed! Ambrosius had been pleased with my member, calling it a ‘veritable Rod of Aaron’ and when I started to produce seed of my own, he pronounced it ‘sweet as honey’ – I let him teach me the various ways a man can bring pleasure to himself and another. It was Ambrosius who told my father when I was ready for my interview and initiation ito the world of man-love.

“Come, then, my boy, put off thy garb and help me do the same.”

I fumbled with the buttons on my doublet, untied the silk cravat about my neck and untied the strings of my blouse. As I removed my shirt, I saw how my father gazed at me, as if under a spell. His eyes were wide, his mout half-open, his breathing heavy. As my fine lawn shirt fell from my shoulders, he reached over and stroked my chest, making the flesh rise in goosepimples. His touch was light as a feather, almost reverential, as when he took the sacred relics in the chapel to his lips to kiss them.

His hand wandered over my upper body, sending shivers through me. I felt my manhood rising beneath my drawers and pantaloons.

I began to untie the drawstring, loosening my hose. My slippers I kicked off, as my hose fell to the floor. My drawers stood out in front, betraying my state of arousal. I saw my father’s eyes fixed on the outcrop made by my boyflesh and as if he had no control over his actions, his hand gently reached out and caressed my throbbing hardness. His great ham-fist so unlike brother Ambrosius’ feminine hands, I felt the strength of my father in his grasp, so much so that a small cry left my lips. Instantly, my father withdrew his hand, his eyes wide in abject apology. “Forgive me my son, I did not mean to harm you!”

“No harm,” I replied my voice quavering slightly, not through pain, but by the feeling of excitement I felt coursing through my veins. “I did not expect your great strength, that is all!”

By way of reply, or perhaps reparation, my father leant down and kissed me full on the lips, yet so gently, ‘twas like the sigh of a breeze on my mouth. My legs felt as if they would not hold me up any longer. I reached over and held on to my father’s arm, for fear of falling. His hand returned to my staff and gently caressed me through the material of my drawers.

“Come, show your father thy pride and joy!” he whispered into my ear. I untied the bow and eased my undergarment over my stiff, hard tool until I stood before my lord and master – my father – as naked as the day I was born.

The fire burned brightly in the grate, the autumn sun poured through the diamond panes of the window, the tapestries hung on the walls, the silence was like that in a cathedral. I stood before my father as he gazed upon me with what can only be described as wonderment. He knelt before me as if I were a holy statue, his eyes feasting on my naked flesh. Standing there, alone with my father, I suddenly knew what power was. I had this great man, my lord and master, the King’s favourite, on his knees worshipping me – my body – and I knew that I had but to state my wish and it would instantly be granted. I also knew that this was the time to hold my tongue. I would not willingly break the atmosphere of near-holiness which was here. It was as if Time itself had ceased to move forwards, frozen in a moment of eternity.

Then I felt my father’s breath on my throbbing member, then his lips, as they kissed the purple head thrusting out from the skin encasing it, already a few drops on it to show the state of arousal and excitement I was in. I felt my father’s wet, warm tongue, tasting my aching member. Brother Ambrosius had never presumed to perform such an act on me – it would not be right. I had let him lick the seed from my belly after I had pleasured myself, or after he had brought me to climax with his womanly hands, so soft from his potions and prayers.

My father, therefore, was the first to perform this act upon my person and the feeling it produced in me was like a thunderbolt from the blue skies. His mouth, so warm, so wet, engulfed my rod, right down to where the few hairs which grew at its base. I felt my father’s moustaches gently caress my belly, where he suckled on my flesh. I could hardly support myself, my legs shaking like saplings in a gale. I leant towards my father’s kneeling form, resting my weight on him as he sucked my rod. Unable to control myself, I found I was thrusting as far as I could into my father’s mouth, it seemed it went right down his throat. As my moment of expulsion grew near, I called out, to warn my father, so that he could release me, but my cries only made him suck the more, as if he would suck the very life from my body. And then my crisis was upon me and unable to control myself, I cried out as I shot my seed into the warmth of my father’s throat. Five, six times did I eject my seed with such a force, I thought I would faint – I am sure that at the height of my passion I swear I did see the stars and all the heavens exploding in a myriad of colours.

Spent, I fell across my father’s broad shoulders, gasping for air like a trout out of water. My father suckled some more until I could no longer bear the almost painful ecstasy and I withdrew my deflating member from that warm cavern. Not yet trusting myself to stand unaided, I remained leaning over my father’s shoulder, the hairs on his chest tickling my cock. In the throes of my crisis, I must have scratched my father’s back; there were marks made by nails and even a few drops of his blood.

Gently, my father’s hands on my slim waist, he eased me upright and leaning back on his massive haunches, hungrily surveyed my nakedness. I saw specks of white in his black beard – some of my seed had escaped the corner of his mouth.

“Ah, Philip, my angelic boy!” My father seemed not yet to be wholly in this world; his eyes were glazed o’er, his speech almost slurred as though he had drunk too much wine.

“My lovely, beautiful boy!” His massive hand stroked my chest, belly, soft cock and hanging orbs. He reached down between my legs and stroked behind the hanging balls, inching closer and closer to my most secret place, my “hidden treasure” as Ambrosius called it. The monk had hinted that this place was for some men – he did not to say whom, I guessed already by the state of his arousal beneath his cassock – that this secret place, the ‘holy-of-holies’ was the sweetest of all and that when the time came, I should give my father free and willing access to it. “It will hurt,” he warned me, “but after the pain, which shall be shortlived, shall come such pleasure that neither you nor your father will ever forget it.”

The time was approaching, I now knew, for that moment. My dearest wish was that the pain would not make me cry like a girl and that I would be able to please my father, my Lord and Master and also that I would find and enjoy the great delights that brother Ambrosius said I would.

It was a with not a little fear and some trepidation that I gazed down into my father’s ice-blue eyes. He said nothing, only nodded gently as his finger found my deepest, most intimate place and he began to push gently at first with his finger until I felt him push past my barrier. I coulds not help but gasp. There was a brief shot of pain and as the digit moved further, I found myself leaning down upon it. Without any warning, the finger found an obstacle, it seemed right at the root of my member, but within me. It was as if I had been struck by a bolt of lighning and another involuntary cry issued from my lips. My father glanced hastily up with concern, but seeing the smile on my lips, he too smiled and stroked the spot some more. I writhed, pierced upon his finger, unable to speak, unable to think any thoughs save that of feeling pure pleasure. Wave upon wave swept over me and my body glistened under a sheen of sweat. I was amazed to see my cock rise up again, so soon after disgorging its seed. My father slowly withdrew his finger from my very private place and I immediately wanted it back there; I felt empty. My father smiled at my sad face.

 “Do not despair, Philip, my beautiful boy! What I shll give you now will far outdo my poor finger’s ministrations!” He rose to his feet, towering over me. “Help me disrobe, boy!” he ordered as he took a large swig of his wine.

For the first time in my life (but not the last) I helped my father divest himself of his garments until he finally stood before me, a giant of a man, the thick black hair matted on his chest, thighs and calves. His powerful chest and flat belly, below which such a monstrous organ – to me at any rate – rose thick and solid, curving towrads his belly. The head of my father’s rod poured forth great quantities of clear fluid, which ran down the throbbing, blue-veined shaft, gathering in the copious amounts of hair about the base and around his vast balls, which hang low – I was reminded of my favourite horse, who, before he mounted a mare, would rear up, his vast cock hard and the balls swinging.

I must have gasped at the sight, for my father, chucking me neath the chin gave a great guffaw as with the other hand he fondled his manhood.

“Tis verily a mighty member!” He laughed again, before his expression became serious again. “Philip, my boy, are you ready for this?”

It dawned on me what my father meant – this was what was awaiting me; my father’s mighty rod, like iron and velvet to the touch, would be put where his finger had just been. I think I must have gone pale, for my father, wiping his great cock across my lips, said to me, “Taste it first, my little plover! Then, you shall have plenty of wine and before you know it, you shall have my joint in your sweet arse and be calling for more!”

Again, he became serious and looked me straight in the eye. “Fear not, my darling boy. It shall not go ill with you. I shall go most carefully. Come! Have some wine and then lie with me upon the bed.”

Hardly being able to tear my eyes away from my father’s great manhood, and as naked as the day I was born, I went to the pitcher and filled my beaker, drinking it down in almost one gulp. Lying on the bed, my father resembled more a Goliath than a man and I wondered how he could possibly let his rod fit my private place. Looking down, I saw that my own boyhood was rampant and leaking great gouts of clear fluid ‘the ladies’ friend’ as Ambrosius called it. He told me that this clear, slightly sticky fluid would help to ease my cock into the dry cunt of any a maid and heighten her pleasure. I only hoped that my father produced enough of it so that I would feel no pain. His member rose from his body, a good two-handspans, glistening in the autumn sunlight, throbbing to his heartbeat. I poured another beaker of wine which I quickly finished off. With slightly unsteady steps, I headed for the bed and my father’s rampant manhood.

“Come, sweet Philip and taste your father’s pride” murmured my father as I crawled on to the bed beside him.

“Lie atop me, boy, with your sweet pole at my face and go down upon me with your fair mouth.”

I climbed on to my father’s great barrel-chest, his coarse hairs rasping aginst my smooth skin. I felt his tongue lick my cock and nuggets as my nose was filled with the almost overpowering aroma of my father’s organ as it throbbed in time to his heartbeat. I was minded of the smell of my hounds when the bitches were in heat.

My lips reached the head of my father’s mighty club ans as I moved in closer. The purple crown, glistening reared to meet my boyish mouth. With some hesitating, I licked upon the musky helmet and, finding that its taste was sweet and much to my liking, I ventured a little further down the mighty rod of my father. My jaw was stretched and I could only manage a thumb’s length of his rampant member before I had a fit of choking and had to relinquish my prize. Meanwhile, my father’s tongue licked my balls, his juices mingling with mine.

“Tis time!” my father murmured. I felt a greasy substance rubbed on to my arse, and one, then two fingers gently probing into my rosebud. The odour was at once familiar and foreign. My father must have sensed my curiosity. He laughed as a third digit stretched my hole.

“Mutton grease with cinnamon” he said as his greased fingers churned in my hole. I shall never forget that sweet yet slightly pungent smell.

“You are ready, my angel,” whispered my father. “Turn around, Philip and straddle me. Lower yourself slowly. Do not worry, I shall hold you so you do not go too fast.” I turned and saw as my father anointed his throbbing pole. I trusted my father with my life, but at that moment, I could not possibly imagine how that great, rampant throbbing piece of manflesh could possibly fit into my arse. My father must have seen my trepidation and, as I was slowly impaled upon that massive organ, he whispered sweet words of encouragement. He held me tightly, as he promised and every time I winced or gave a cry as his massive cock seemed to split me in two, he held me motionless so that I could grow accustomed to him. It seemed to take for ever, being lowered down on to my father’s massive manhood. Luckily my father was as strong as an ox and not once did he let me slip too fast. His cock inched deeper and deeper into me, stretching my hole – it seemed to me – as wide as a grown man’s forearm. How long it seemed to take! However, finally, I felt the coarse hairs of my father on my fundament, and it seemed I could breathe again. “Good boy, my sweet Philip! So tight! So hot!”

My father’s massive manhood was as hard as iron, I felt it surely must come out of my throat!

“Now my lovely boy, ride it, like your favourite pony” said my father, his breathing ragged, his brow beaded as if he had a fever.

I felt his strong hands on my slim hips as he pushed me gently up, then down again, an inch, no more. I felt momentary pain with each thrust, but gradually the pain subsided as another emotion overtook me. My whole world seemed to be centred on my father’s cock and my hole and the sensations I was beginning to feel.

Gradually the discomfort vanished and I ventured longer, deeper strokes, raising myself higher up my father’s shaft and allowing myself to come back down faster. Before I knew it, I was bouncing up and down on his pole with such speed and length of stroke, I knew not where I was. All I wanted was my father’s rod in me, deeper and deeper, longer and longer. My own cocklet rose again, throbbing, harder than it had ever been, juices pouring from its tip and down the shaft, down past my balls, down to where my father’s piston pushed and pulled. My juices lubricated the mighty organ, as it slickly pounded in and out of me. I felt faint, I was seeing stars, when all at once my father pushed me down on to himself and I felt his cock enter deeper than ever and I felt it engorge yet more as my father growled and yelled and shouted, like a crazed person.

All at once, my father went quite still and silent, his arms about me like iron bands. His face was fixed in a rictus of passion, rather like the images of the Holy Catherine in my father’s private chapel, as she felt the living God move within her.

I could hardly breathe, the tears sprang to my ears through a mixture of pain and extreme pleasure, the like of which I had never before experienced. I thought this would be my last moment on this good earth and that within one short breath, I would be face to face with my Maker.

As it was, my ‘maker’ had his body pressed close to mine and then, with a mighty roar, I felt him release his seed deep into my entrails, in great surges like a mighty ocean wave. His eruption triggered another of my own as, untouched, my own organ spewed forth yet again like a mighty fountain, spraying my thick white seed in great ropes, high into the air, to land heavily upon my father’s face, chin, chest and belly. Our shouts mingled; my own piping like a broken reedpipe and my father’s deep, rich and sonorous, like mighty thunder.

All at once, I felt as though the wind had been knocked out of me, and I fell forward, on to my father’s prone, massive chest, the hair matted with sweat and my seed. I felt as his mighty club slowly diminished in size, before pulling out of my fundament with a loud obscene squelch. Unable to control myself, I broke wind and felt a mass of my father’s juices expelled through my hole and down my thighs. Our hearts beat violent tattoos – mine like the skittering of rats in a granary, my father’s like the cannonfire from the battlements.

Slowly, our breathing slowed, the trembling earthquake receded and I lay upon my father’s great naked body, content and fulfilled.

My father called for his manservant. I hurried to cover myself, but my father stopped me. “You will be his lord and master one day, Philip. Remember this! Show no fear, no shame, no cowardice. Be yourself and be proud of who you are and what you represent. Learn this lesson well, my little plover and you shall be a great Lord!”

We lay back on the great bed as the manservant, with two lackeys, washed down our sweatridden, seed-covered bodies with warm cloths and sweet-smelling unguents. We climbed off the massive marriage-bed and my father bade me kneel at his feet. I thought perhaps he wished me to suckle upon his great member again and leant forward as if to take his limply hanging flesh into my mouth, but my father stopped me with a hand under my chin.

“Not now, my sweet boy! Perhaps later. First, You must be marked as a true Montagu! Offer me your breast, boy!”

Still naked as the day I was born, I threw back my head and arched my back, kneeling at my father’s feet, so that my breast was offered to him. The two servants came forward and placed a white shirt over my head and a noose of finest silk about my neck. The noose was heavy and one end of it was placed in my hand. There were barbs there and as I clenched it, I felt them pierce my skin and the blood ran down my wrist. Then I saw my father take his great sword from its sheath and, still naked, he placed the point of the razor-sharp blade above my heart on my proffered breast.

“Philip, my son and heir! Be it made known that today thou hast begun the path to manhood and thus doth a father mark his son with this wound of pride, the scar of honour which thou shalt bear unto thy dying day! Let it be known, that I, thy Lord and Master, do endow thee with this mark as a sign to all that thou art to be Master here after my day!”

With that, he pushed the point of his sword into my breast, so that it did truly pierce the skin and my blood did freely flow. I gave a short, sharp cry, not from the pain, for it was a mere scratch, but more from the surprise. My father then knelt before me and suckled at my wound.

“Now I have tasted thy seed and thy blood, Philip my son! We are one!”

He gave a sign to the squires and we were clothed again in rich apparel and my father let the trumpets be sounded and the armaments fired to announce my ‘true’ coming-of-age.

“Let the musicians play sweet songs for my sweet boy!” commanded my father. “Tonight we feast and in three month on Michaelmas shall my Philip be wed.” He turned to me and whispered, his whiskers tickling my ear – “until then, my little plover, we shall have such sweet times together and I shall teach you all I know!”

All this took place three days since and as I write these lines, I am preparing to go to my father’s chamber again – this time I am to plough his furrow. I am most excited.’

* * *

This story left me feeling exhausted. I did not feel as sad as I had after having read the story about poor Tom, but even Philip, despite seeming to have been his father’s willing sexual partner, had still been exploited, this time ostensibly as part of a ‘rite of passage’ but in reality just another underaged boy for his father to abuse. I presumed that, if he survived, and had sons, the young Philip, in his turn would do the same to his offspring – so the cycle continues. Maybe even to this day, I mused, there was a descendant of this Montagu, doing exactly the same as his forbears before him. It seems that sexuality was much freer in times gone past, despite all the talk we have today about sexual freedom.

Power, strength, dominance. Those were what called the shots in earlier ages. A man like Philip’s father would not understand the word – and probably not even the concept of homosexuality. His behaviour was ruled by power and dominance. What we might call ‘feelings’ in these touchy-feely times just didn’t enter into the equation back then. Sex was a tool for domination and subjugation. Men like John Montagu and poor Tom’s tormentor could get away with molesting little boys, because they were lord and master. Through status, money and position, they owned them, like so much furniture or grain. John Montagu might use his son’s coming of age as an excuse, but that’s all it was; an excuse to fuck a little boy and know that there was nothing the lad could do to protect himself. In a way, the boy could be called lucky, if lucky is the right word, for the young aristocrat was in a better position than poor Tom, who, when his pederast tormentor had tired of him, he would be cast aside and murdered in cold blood without a second thought. Philip Montagu kept his life and status – but he also went on to repeat the actions he had undergone on his own sons, if he had any. What goes around, comes around. How true the old adage.

The book had slipped from my hand and I suddenly didn’t have the will, or the urge to pick it up again. As I looked at the small object on the carpet, it appeared to telescope far away into the distance, finally disappearing altogether.

 

FOUR
(SUNDAY LATE AFTERNOON – EVENING)

I awoke with a start and a severe crick in my neck. It was dark. I looked at my watch; six o’clock. I had slept for almost two hours – an unusually long time. I occasionally snatched a ‘power-nap’ in the afternoon, usually no more than about twenty minutes, which was enough to revitalise me if I was particularly busy.

I eased myself off the sofa, rubbing my sore neck. My sleep had been deep and dreamless, but I wondered why I had awoken with such a start. It was as if I had heard a loud noise and that had woken me. But as I listened to the deep silence around me, I could not recall whether I had in reality heard the sound or just dreamt it.

The traffic outside was light, the shoppers and tourists mostly left the area, a few dropping into the Crown for a drink before going to their homes. Seven Dials was very quiet in the evenings and there were very few people out and about at night around here. I was one of very few residents; most of the houses on my part of the street had long been converted into offices. Ground floors had been turned into either swish specialist shops or businesses, of which Sebastian’s was an example.

On summer nights, one could hear the crowds at Covent Garden, but as winter drew in and the tourists stopped coming in such large numbers, even that faded away. I looked out of my window. I noticed the black van drawing up in front of the house. It was unable to use its usual parking-slot down the side of the house because of the imminent roadworks, so it had to park in front of the building. Without knowing why, I drew back slightly into the darkened room, keeping my eyes on the van. I was curious, yet did not want to be seen to be spying.

Two men got out, a driver and another from the passenger side. They wore duffle-coats and black woolen caps, so it was very hard to see any details or what they might look like. One, I noticed, however, had a very pronounced limp. Both men went round to the back of the van and after a short conversation, the driver disappeared down towards the basement entrance at the side. The other waited by the van. After a short time his partner returned and they opened the double doors at the back of the van and they removed a long bundle, a carpet by the look of it. It seemed very heavy. I watched as they struggled the few steps to the side of the house, before disappearing from view. A few moments later, the driver (the one without a  limp) came back and closed and locked the van before disappearing again into the basement of this house, I presumed. I wondered idly if they were smuggling Persian carpets into the country, then admonished myself. “Why on earth do you immediately associate them with criminal activity?” I asked myself out loud. Leaving my own question unanswered, I turned back into the room to turn on some lights.

Even today, months after the event, I am convinced that what I saw was real; although my rational side says it was a trick of the light, the reflection of the streetlights coming into the darkened room. As I said, my rational mind tells me that, but I am convinced that I saw what I saw. I still get a frisson when I recall what happened.

As I turned from looking out of the window, I saw the figure of an extraordinarily beautiful young person standing in the room.

In that short fraction of a second in which I observed the figure, I took in long brown hair, wide brown eyes, pale features, a white lace collar and dark clothes disappearing into the darkness of the room. Whether the figure was a boy or girl, I could not be certain, but I had the distinct impression it was a boy. A boy with exquisitely fine-boned features and such a look of sadness on his face, I felt such a pang of grief that I almost cried out loud. As I said, the image was so clear, so detailed, I was – and still am – convinced that I witnessed an apparition.

Before I could do anything, the vision disappeared. It must have lasted a second or less, but it was so vivid, so real. I will swear to my dying day that it was not a trick of the light and that what I saw was the figure of a young adolescent standing in my room, with a look of such sadness, it tugs at my heart even today.

Without even thinking, I quickly went to my workdesk, where I keep a sketchpad and watercolours ready and did a hasty impression of what I had just seen. As I feverishly worked, my mind recalled more details of the vision I had just seen, such as a gold anchor, or perhaps a cross at the boy’s neck (I am now convinced, in the light of subsequent events that the visitor as I shall call it, was a boy – it could not have been otherwise).

He seemed to have a gentle kindness about him, yet at the same time, there was a certain haughtiness in his manner. But the overbearing feeling I got was that of sadness.

This is what I sketched in haste that dim November evening, immediately after having witnessed him:

I looked at what I had created and am satisfied that the likeness is as accurate as I witnessed it.

As I worked, it seemed as if a name kept repeating itself in my head. James … James… James.

I finished the hasty sketch and all at once, the shock set in and my legs felt very weak. I plomped down on to the nearest chair, wondering how I had managed to have the presence of mind to sketch the boy seconds after having had such an experience – or thinking I had had such an experience.

What a day this was turning out to be! First the strange episode in the imaginary bookshop, then the strange texts in the book I had mysteriously acquired, now a supernatural apparition in my own flat!

I had to call Jeremy, if only to be able to talk to someone else, another human-being, but I knew he would be boarding his flight to the States about now. We had arranged to talk tomorrow. Suddenly, I felt very alone and now, for the first time, more than a little scared. I needed to get out, find other people, if only for the indirect companionship that would offer. I decided to go over the road to the Crown for a drink. Grabbing my paper, I hurried out of the flat, making sure to leave all the lights on. Somehow I didn’t relish the idea of coming home to a darkened home.

Seven Dials is a junction of seven roads, which during daytime are snarled up with traffic. However, at weekends and after the offices and shops close, the area quietens down. Now, on this cold and damp Sunday evening in November, the roads were practically deserted, save for the ubiquitous black cabs shunting around the small monument in the centre of the junction, going off in all directions. The theatre crowd, going into the West End for an evening at the theatre, or the opera at the Coliseum or perhaps a concert at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Tourists returning to their hotels after a long day sightseeing and unable or unwilling to risk using public transport in a strange city. Taxis going to and from nearby Charing Cross station, ferrying travellers far and wide. All of them driving around the old monument at the middle of Seven Dials, hardly giving it a glance, knowing nothing of the history of this strange, unique little confluence of roads.

In years gone by, there had been a public house on every apex of the junction, but the ‘Crown’ was the only one left. It did good business at lunchtimes and immediately after the offices and shops closed, but round about seven, the place was very quiet, just a few silent locals, some of whom I had seen often around the area, but never spoken to. The lunchtime menu was good, but the pub did not serve food in the evenings, so only the local hardened drinkers were to be found scattered throughout the cavernous bar.

In the Victorian and Edwardian times, the public house, as with just about every such establishment in Britain, had been divided into two separate areas;  a ‘saloon-bar’ with carpets, comfortable chairs and even a good fire for the more well-to-do customers in the times when there was a sharper divide between the classes. On the other hand, the ‘public’ bar usually had bare floorboards covered in sawdust and minimal comforts, maybe a coal-fired stove and the odd bench and table. Working men usually stood at the bar in the times when it was unheard of for a woman to be seen in a public house, accompanied or no, it was just ‘not done.’

Now, the pub had been opened up, the two bars now just one general drinking area, with tables and chairs dotted around. The emphasis had shifted towards a lunchtime restaurant and the evening clientele was thin on the ground. The established ‘regulars’ had their own favourite places where they would sit and hold court or just mull over their drinks in silence and God help any unsuspecting stranger who came into the bar and sat in a ‘regular’s’ chair. The unfortunate would be literally stared down by the aggrieved regular until he slunk away, vowing never to return. The landlord, who was happy with the takings from the lunchtime and tourist crowds did not admonish his regulars, preferring to work there in the evenings himself and have a good chinwag with his cronies from roundabout.

The landlord, a large, loud man and, according to the small painted wooden sign above one of the entrances, George Edward Smith was  ‘licensed for the sale of alcoholic beverages for consumption ON or OFF the premises.’ In fact, the Crown served a dual purpose as far as I was concerned. If it happened that I needed a bottle of something after the delicatessen had closed, then I could always nip over to the Crown and take away whatever it was I needed. There wasn’t an off-licence close by, this being more of a working-area than a residential one, so the Crown was very handy indeed in case of emergencies. Of course, if I ran out of whisky or wine after closing-time, then that was my own silly fault, but that has, so far at any rate, not happened.

Not only did George Edward Smith purvey the above-mentioned wines, spirits and tobacco, he also allowed smoking in one part of the bar, but in the evenings only. Being a smoker himself and one who enjoyed a large Havana cigar of an evening, I suppose he felt he was entitled to break the law just ‘a wee bit’ as he put it. Also, and probably more importantly, a couple of the older cronies also smoked, so I assumed Smith didn’t want to lose his oldest and probably most valuable customers in cash terms, so he was prepared to flout the law prohibiting smoking in pubs. Being a quiet establishment, the pub was obviously not on any police list as one which needed watching or raiding, so the smokers enjoyed their vice in peace.

Although a non-smoker myself, I have to admit that an old-established pub such as the Crown (an inn has stood on the site since the 17th Century, according to a large, rather crudely-done painting hanging on one of the walls) lost much of its character after the smoking-ban was introduced. The point about pubs was that it was a place where one went to relax, talk to one’s friends, enjoy a drink – or several … and smoke, if that’s what you did. What fun was it to be in the middle of an interesting conversation – or even argument – if one had to break off in order to go out for a fag? If smoking bothered me, then I could always go to another, more law-abiding establishment, but as it didn’t and the smokers at the Crown were anyway usually congregated in one place up at the bar, then I really didn’t mind. After all, George Smith ran the gaffe, not me.

Another thing which acted in the Crown’s favour as a place to spend time, was the fact that Smith did not have any so-called ‘entertainment’ in his pub. No one-armed bandits pinging away, with flashing lights and annoying beeps and buzzes to advertise when some lucky punter hit a jackpot. Nor was there any canned muzak – the aural wallpaper which in so many establishments was turned up so high as to make any form of communication impossible except for shouting. No dartboard, no bar-billiards, nothing.

For me, this was the pub’s greatest redeeming feature. Here one could relax one one’s own if one chose, with one’s own thoughts for company, or else be able to hold a conversation with the next man in normal tones, without going hoarse. I would sometimes go into the pub with my sketchpad with me and be able to work on the illustrations of my current project with the knowledge that I would not be distracted by any ‘atmosphere’ nor interrupted by unwanted conversation from anyone there. If I wanted to join a conversation, then it was I who initiated it. The great British tradition of not putting oneself forward, not mixing oneself in another’s business held true here. I knew that if I chose, I would be left entirely alone for the whole evening, even though there were people there with whom I had spoken before. It was is if all the regulars were there at the pub on their own terms, deciding for themselves if they felt sociable or not. This might be intimidating to someone who did not understand the English character, but seemed quite normal to me and those others who drank in the evenings at the Crown.

I was still a ’newbie’ even after three years, but I knew that I was tolerated. I was always careful to observe the etiquette of ‘buying one’s round’ if I got involved in a conversation with a couple of the locals and I felt that, if not totally ‘one of them’ at least I was a good regular customer and (to my knowledge at any rate) had never made the dire mistake of occupying a seat belonging to a regular.

By now, I even knew one or two of the cronies by name and if I felt so inclined (or they) then it was now not so much of a problem to get into conversation with them. As I said, the usual form was that one or other of the older regulars would ‘hold court’ and offer their opinions on what was going on in the world and the pub seemed to subtly divide into two camps, the men – for it was exclusively a male company – choosing which ‘leader’ they would support. Very tribal and as ancient as mankind itself, really.

This evening, I was more than glad of the fuggy atmosphere and restrained ambience of the Crown. Just to be among people was enough for me, at the moment anyway. I needed a bit of time to try and get my head around the day so far. I went to the bar, nodding to the few regulars who had already arrived, receiving the usual grunts in return.

Behind the bar, the lofty landlord, cigar clamped between his teeth asked me what I wanted. Since my first appearance at the pub, I had always had the same drink, a large Chivas Regal, no ice. I had never varied my order, never broken the mold. Yet, as if to imply, in a not so subtle way, that I was still a ‘stranger’, George Smith always asked what I wanted to drink. I let him do it, it didn’t matter to me. ´Mine host’ was just letting me know that I was on his territory, I suppose. I let him have his fun. I knew the ‘real regulars’ would have their drinks placed before them without having to utter a word.

As Smith got my drink, I idly wondered how many years it would take for me not to have say anything in order to get my drink. Not that he was impolite or rude, but it was simply the way these things worked in England. It took time to become a member, one of the gang. The Old Boy mentality, I suppose. Neither Smith nor the regulars had any real idea about who I was, where I came from, what I did. Or rather, they knew as much as I chose to reveal.

It’s not as if we were all from the same neighbourhood, grew up together, went to the same schools, worked in the same places. I was an outsider and in subtle ways such as having to re-order the same drink every time, I was not allowed to forget it.

As I waited for my change, I wondered what the assembled drinkers and Smith would think if they knew I was gay. I didn’t think it would go down well. I had been into the pub on a couple of occasions with Jeremy, who does not act in an effeminate manner, and is just about always dressed soberly in suit and tie on weekdays at any rate and at weekends his clothes are sober, earth colours. Nobody appeared to notice or if they did have any suspicions as to my sexual preferences, they did not voice them.

That was what this little society was; a collection of individuals who kept themselves to themselves and only spoke in the most general of terms. Once or twice, the more dominant regulars, the ‘ringleaders’ as I called them, those who seemed to lead the conversations, would become more personal, especially towards the end of the evening when it was the drink speaking rather than the man, but on the whole, everyone kept out of each other’s business.

Smith  placed my drink on the bar before me.

“Chilly out,” he said, as I paid him.

“Yes, and more rain on the way, they say,” I replied as I took my change.

A good, safe topic for noncommittal conversation, the weather. Time-honoured way of saying something without really saying anything.

Pleasantries over, Smith moved back to his usual place at the end of the bar, the large Havana clamped between his teeth. I sat on the high stool and opened the paper, but couldn’t focus on what was written there. I kept seeing the face of the boy who appeared to me in my flat – the boy I had, for some reason given the name of James.

I don’t know why I had fixated on that particular name, it just popped into my head as I sketched and seemed to repeat itself insistently all the time I worked. Who was this boy? Was a ghost or just a trick of the light? Maybe I had still been half asleep and was dreaming after reading those stories in the book. I had lived at that flat for three years and never seen or heard anything remotely strange, so why today? I must have been under the influence of the odd occurrences in the bookshop, the book with its sad stories. That had to be the explanation.

Yet the vision had been so vivid, so detailed. I was certain the sketch I had made was a very good likeness of the boy. So who was he and how did he relate to me? Was he trying to get a message across? Was I being warned? I have never had any reason to believe in the supernatural, spirits and ghosts and all that, I’m a down-to-earth person and would be the first to say I was a sceptic. Yet I had definitely been confronted by something and that ‘something’ made me feel very uneasy.

The whole day had been unnerving and I was grateful for the albeit, silent company of the other regulars and to a slightly lesser extent, the glass of whisky, although I knew I didn’t really need it, but one couldn’t go into a pub without ordering a drink, now could one?

I thought again of the unfortunates I had already read about; Tom and Philip. Was James’s story going to appear in its pages? Had something similar (or worse) happened to him? In my flat even? What other horrors would the book reveal to me? What was its purpose?

Use it wisely, do no harm. What did that mean? My mind was going round and round in circles, trying to make sense of the day’s events, the purpose of the book, its origins – what my place was in this whole puzzle. One thing was certain; someone or something  was crying out to me, either across the centuries or as a result of an elaborate setup.

Which was it? And what was I meant to do about it?

“Penny for them?”

The quiet voice startled me out of my reverie. The owner of the light baritone, slightly raspy voice belonged was Albert Pennyweather, a tall, thin man, one of the regulars with whom I had perhaps spoken most often and, if it can be said, the one I was best acquainted with. I knew more about him than anyone else in the pub. He had a slightly lugubrious air, almost a parody of an undertaker. I knew he wasn’t an undertaker, though. He was a retired accountant, who had spent his entire working life employed by the same company in the City. “Fifty years, man and boy, to the day!” he would say with an almost triumphant glee accompanied by a broad, nicotine-stained smile as if it were a huge joke. Albert was one of the few smokers in the Crown and I had often observed his dexterity as he deftly and quickly rolled his almost match-thin cigarettes between long, yellowed fingers.

He still dressed as if he were at work; a suit (admittedly somewhat well-worn) a well-ironed shirt, well-polished, though obviously old, shoes. His only concession to being retired was his lack of a tie.

His thinning grey hair was at odds with his bushy black eyebrows and was carefully combed and held in place by Brylcreem. He was clean-shaven and had a typical smoker’s  face; wrinkled, pale and slightly cadaverous, adding to the undertaker-quality of his appearance. Yet his eyes seemed to be youthful still, a light, bright blue. He wore a dark grey overcoat and a wide-brimmed fedora, which to me seemed, for some reason,  a little incongruous on him. I would have expected a bowler hat, or even a top-hat with mourning bands.

From our previous conversations, I had learned that Albert was a widower, had been exempted from military service due to his flat feet, had been involved in some ‘hush-hush’ operations during the war and that he was a keen crossword enthusiast. In fact, that’s how we first met; over a particularly annoying clue in The Times.

I also garnered the facts that he had travelled widely and had a broad and extensive general-knowledge. He once admitted to me, in a most modest, almost apologetic way, that he had reached the semi-finals in the TV programme Mastermind. It was interesting to talk to the old man and he, in his turn, seemed grateful for our occasional chats.

We didn’t often coincide at the Crown – it couldn’t be said of me that I went there on a regular basis – but  we enjoyed each other’s company and would often talk for at least a couple of hours about all kinds of things when we did meet.

I was genuinely glad to see him.

“Good evening, Albert! Oh, nothing really,” I lied in answer to his query. He gave a quick look at the barstool next to mine and then raised one of his bushy eyebrows at me in a quizzical way.

The unspoken language of the bar: is this seat taken. Do you mind if I sit next to you? I won’t be disturbing you, will I? All this with one raised eyebrow! My reply was just as succinct. I gave a small smile and nodded my head in the general direction of the empty seat. By all means! Do sit! No problem!

If only all communication was that simple and unambiguous! However, my not minding him sitting next to me was not an open invitation for him to start speaking to me. The unspoken etiquette had to be observed and followed through. As the invitor as opposed to the invitee, it was my job to let it be known whether conversation was or was not welcome. I had to be the one to start speaking. Unwritten rule, but a very important one. It had everything to do with personal space, privacy. If I didn’t speak, Albert would know I wasn’t feeling sociable and he would read his evening paper or continue his wrestling with the crossword. He wouldn’t take offence; indeed he might even quietly move to another stool – and neither of us would be offended. The old nursery rule about speaking and being spoken to still held good in these circumstances.

“It’s been a while, Albert!”

The invitation to social intercourse had been made and we would now sit and chat contentedly, buying each other a drink each and then one of us, (it was usually Albert) would make his excuses, thank the other for an interesting ‘natter’ and leave.

I was grateful for the company, our conversation would help put the other, more disturbing matters out of mind, at least for an hour or two.

Albert put his copy of that day’s Sunday Times down on the bar. “Can’t seem to figure out 19-across,” he said as he reached into his pocket to pay for his Guinness which George had placed before him; Albert didn’t have to order his drink, I wryly noticed. But then, he had probably drunk here for as long as he had worked at his accounting firm. He had certainly outlived several landlords of the Crown!

I had completed today’s puzzle with Jeremy this morning, so I teased Albert a bit as we usually did, if one had got a clue which eluded the other.

“Remind me of the clue,” I said, as Albert removed his hat and coat and settled down on the stool next to mine.

For whom spring rapidly follows fall, 6,6” replied Albert, his brow furrowed.

Have you got most of the letters? “ I asked, peering over Albert’s shoulder at the crossword. I noticed he had got one of the adjoining clues wrong, putting an erroneous letter into what was to be the answer to 19 across, so he would never be able to guess the one he was stuck on. I pointed at the offending answer. “You sure about that one?”

He looked doubtful, then his brow cleared. “Of course! What an idiot I am! It’s suck  it and see, not lick it…so that makes 19 across… he paused for a moment…”Bungee jumper!” He almost crowed.

“Thanks Peter. It was really beginning to annoy me!”

Crossword completed, he folded the newspaper and took a long swig of his Guinness. “Cheers!”

As we settled into our chat, I wondered whether I should tell Albert about the strange incident in the bookshop this morning and the subsequent happenings, but decided against it. Part of me thought I would sound like a raving lunatic if I did, so I reckoned that discretion was the wisest course. There was no harm, however, in maybe mentioning the subject of ghosts and hauntings, sound Albert out on his point of view on the subject.

“What’s the average age of houses here in Seven Dials?” I asked Albert after we had exhausted the topic of the weather and the latest political scandals.

Dexterously rolling one of his thin cigarettes, Albert replied, “well, as you know, Peter, the area was started to be built up at the end of the seventeenth century, but there are very few original buildings left. It’s a bit of a mish-mash now; some of the houses are Georgian, say early to middle of the 18th Century, a lot of Victorian buildings and then, after the Blitz some of that hideous stuff they put up, all that functionalism!” He visibly shuddered. “Mercifully, there’s not too much of that, so I suppose the average age of the area is two to three hundred years.”

“Old enough to collect their own ghosts, then,” I replied with a slight laugh.

“Oh most certainly! Take the Crown as an example. There’s been some sort of inn or hostelry on this site since the earliest days, just look at that hideous  painting over there!” He grimaced theatrically.

The story went that the painting was done about seventy years ago by a then regular at the pub, a minor artist, who offered to pay for his tab with a painting of the pub. The landlord, like an idiot, agreed and was stuck with the garish job which he had the further poor taste to hang on the wall. Luckily for him, the painter died shortly thereafter (probably from cirrhosis) and it was thought to be disrespectful to the dead painter’s memory to take it down.

And there it has hung ever since. It portrayed a thatched building in front of which a horse-drawn dray, loaded with barrels had stopped. There were figures in ragged clothing dotted here and there and a sign proclaimed the establishment to be “Ye Crowne”. It really was a bad painting. However, years of it hanging in the bar had muted its colours to a great extent and it sort of blended into the wood paneling of the wall. Now, it was as much a part of the pub as the bottles behind the bar or the handpumps for the beer.

Albert continued, “so there’s been a pub here for over three hundred years and they say that the Crown is haunted.” He paused to hold out his empty glass for George to refill it. “And whatever Peter is drinking,” he added. “I’ve heard so many different stories, I don’t know what to believe any more!”

George delivered our drinks. “Few stories about ghosts in this place,” he said as he dealt with Albert’s change. “Some people have sworn they’ve seen the ghost of a potboy in the corridor on the way to the Ladies’ and there’s meant to be a woman in grey who haunts the upstairs function room. Can’t say as I’ve ever seen or heard anything odd here…although…” he leaned forward over the bar in a conspiratorial manner, lowering his voice. “Some people have said that when they go downstairs to the Gents’ they find themselves in a completely different place, the old cellars. They say it’s very creepy! However, they always seem to find the toilets and relieve themselves, so I reckon it’s a case of a pint too many!” He gave a great guffaw and went back to the end of the bar, where Sidney was holding forth on whether or not a famous actress was indeed a lesbianist. I caught Albert’s eye as Sid was spouting his nonsense and he just rolled his eyes to heaven.

“So why the sudden interest in ghosts, Peter? Witnessed a haunting?” If Albert was having a joke at my expense, he had a perfectly straight face as he asked. He seemed genuinely interested. I took a deep breath and plunged in, telling Albert the story of the apparition I had seen earlier that evening. I deliberately did not tell him about the book; that was altogether too weird and were I Albert, I would most certainly think I had a screw or two loose.

So I told him about the fleeting appearance of the boy I called James and how I had managed to make a quick sketch of him after the event. Albert listened to my story and when I had finished he remained silent for a while.

“And you say you’ve had no previous hauntings or strange feelings in your flat?”

I concurred.

“You say there were no lights on in your room, but that there was enough reflected light from the streetlamps outside. Did the figure seem substantial, or did you get the impression you could see through him?”

“He looked pretty solid to me,” I replied. “He was pale, but I got the feeling he was real – (the image of another boy flashed before me, the one I thought I saw in the bookshop).

“Could you tell, roughly what era this ghost was from? Clothes, hair, that type of thing?”

“I don’t really know,” I paused to think. “It certainly wasn’t a boy in modern clothes, you know, shirt and jeans, and stuff…he had a large white collar and long hair – not hippie-like. He looked about thirteen or so, hard to tell the age. I suppose his clothes were old-fashioned, but nothing really definite. He had some sort of brooch or pendant on the collar, either a cross or an anchor, I can’t be quite sure.”

“And he didn’t say anything, or look as if he were about to speak?”

“No, but I got the feeling of sadness, a kind of proudness, but deep sadness as well. I’m still not really sure it was a boy, but my instinct tells me it was.”

I didn’t say my ‘instinct’ was born of years of studying boys that  I saw around me, in the park, on the train, walking along the street. I always had my eyes open for a good-looking specimen of male adolescent beauty.

Albert nodded slowly as he took another sip from his glass.

“Well, it’s not impossible that it was some sort of visitation from the other side,” he said, turning thoughtful eyes on me, “have you been under any strain recently, stress or feeling under the weather?” I felt his gaze intensify.

“No, not really… no not at all,” I replied, wondering if Albert thought I had gone crazy.

“Remind me, Peter, how long ago is it since you lost your parents?” Albert’s voice was quiet, almost gentle. He had a concerned look on his face.

“That’s over three years ago now,” I replied. “It’s not that…”

“No, I didn’t mean to offend, but sometimes grief has a way of lying hidden and then re-surfacing when one least expect it to…”

“No, Albert, I’m sure it’s not that. You’re probably right…maybe I’m just tired.”

Suddenly I didn’t feel like continuing the conversation and now regretted bringing the subject up in the first place.

Albert, tactful as ever, was quick to change the subject.

“I see that Sydney is back on his favourite subject yet again!”

We looked over to the end of the bar. Sydney, obviously a little bit drunk, was hectoring George.

“Dammit old man! Don’t you see? Of course it’s a plot to bring down the institution we all feel so strongly about! Of course he should be King when Her Majesty pops her clogs. You damn republicans!”

Albert and I smiled as we prepared ourselves for the next round in the George vs. Sydney endless argument as to whether the UK should become a republic.

Shortly after, feeling strangely tired despite my long sleep earlier on, I made my excuses and made to leave.

“Get a good night’s sleep, you’ll feel better in the morning!” Said Albert, touching my arm lightly and solicitously.

“Thanks, Albert. See you soon! Goodnight.”

I left the pub and found everything as I had left it at home, all lights blazing. Still feeling very tired, I switched off the lights and went straight to bed.

 

FIVE
(MONDAY MORNING)

I was awakened by my mobile chirping. It was Jeremy, calling from the States.

“Hi babe! Just to let you know I’m in one piece, settling in at this amazing apartment. Bitch of a journey, but they’re very efficient over here; limo at the airport and this great place to stay – all mod cons and what a view! Private condo with a swimming-pool, sauna, gym you name it! Don’t know how I’ll be able to tear myself away from here to go to work!”

It was so good to hear from Jer. He sounded happy and excited; this was a big break for him, a big-time case, high profile. I knew how much he had worked to prepare for this and how much it meant to him and his career.

We chatted for a few more minutes. I consciously decided not to tell him about yesterday’s odd happenings and the book. Jer needed to focus on his work and didn’t need to have to worry about me. Something in my voice, though must have sounded false, out of the blue Jeremy asked,

“You okay, Pete? You sound a bit distant!”

“Well, you are the other side of the Atlantic!” I jibbed, “I’m fine Jer. Just missing you. That’s all.”

“Why don’t you go and fins a nice teen hunk to keep yourself amused while I’m away? Keep the bed warm!”

“Not missing you that much yet, loverboy!”

“Seriously, Pete, you remember the deal?”

We both knew what he meant. Ours was an open relationship, just as long as we were honest with each other – which, so far, had worked out just fine.

“Yeah, Jer. I remember, but it hasn’t got to that yet!”

We chatted some more, said our fond farewells, promising to keep in touch via all the electronic means we had at our disposal.

As I showered, I thought of Jeremy and what we meant to each other. One thing led to another and I ended up having a good, long solitary wank, thinking of how Jeremy and I made love.

As I reached my shuddering climax though, it was James’s face I suddenly saw before me in my mind’s eye – not Jeremy’s.

I dried myself off and went to make my morning coffee and the two slices of toast and marmalade which made up my breakfast. Just as I sat down, the pneumatic drills started up outside; the roadworks outside my flat had begun. Sighing, I wondered how long the din would be going one. One thing was sure; I couldn’t stay at home while they were digging up the road. I had some errands to run in town anyway, my publisher to meet with, some shopping I needed doing, that sort of thing. I thought that seeing as the house would be unlivable in during the day, I might even go to the Tate Modern and catch an exhibition I wanted to see.

I thought over our conversation from last evening and wondered whether Albert was right and that my ‘haunting’ had just been a trick of the light and some deep buried image had resurfaced in my mind’s eye just as I turned back to look into the flat. Maybe I was suffering from some malaise that had been buried since my parents’ death but I didn’t quite buy that explanation.

At Jeremy’s suggestion, I had had some sessions with a therapist about two years ago and after six months’ treatment, I had been told that I had worked everything out of my system and that I was in ‘fine nick’ as my therapist, Dr. Highwater had said at the time.

Personally, I felt fine, in control and in good balance. Jeremy and I had a good relationship, I had no financial worries, my work was going well. I had nothing to worry about. There had to be another explanation for those strange occurrences yesterday. The only one I could come up with was that what I thought happened did happen and that I had stumbled upon the most amazing set of incredible circumstances. My eye sought out the book which had dropped to the floor before I fell asleep yesterday afternoon.

It wasn’t there.

I distinctly remembered I had seen it fall to the floor and I was sure I hadn’t touched it since. I peered under the sofa. Not there. I looked around the drawing-room. No sign of the small leather volume.  I went to my desk.

There was James, gazing solemnly out of the page. I took another look at the portrait. He really was an extraordinarily beautiful boy.

As I looked, I felt a kind of shiver go through me. Last night, I had done James’s portrait in a rush, using only black watercolour paint. As I looked at the picture now, it seemed to have gained some colour… how was that possible? The answer was, it wasn’t possible. I took the portrait to the window to see it better in natural light. There was no doubt about it. The picture was now no longer just a pen and ink wash.

There was colour there. A hint of ebony to the cheeks, brown hair, a red hue to the lips. The background was also a soft sepia tint. I had not sketched in colour last night. The jar of water on the desk testified to that; it was quite black and only the black ink had been used. What was going on? The thought came to me out of the blue that it was as if the boy, James, was taking on a life of his own – coming back out of the page, becoming solid – real. Despite myself, I felt my cock give a little twitch as I recalled my recent copious orgasm.

I felt my hand tremble as I turned to replace the picture.

There was that bloody book! It had been lying under the sketchpad. How had it got there? I was convinced I hadn’t touched it. Or had I and I was losing my mind?

James gazed out of the page – I felt as if he had a secret to tell me.

I looked long and hard at the boy’s face.

“Do you need help, James? Are you one of the ‘lost boys?’ What can I do?” I found myself speaking aloud as I gazed at the likeness of the extraordinarily beautiful androgynous face.

The drills outside impinged upon my consciousness. I couldn’t stay here today. I felt uneasy and there was a familiar headache beginning to build. I deliberately avoided touching the book as it lay on my desk. I must have moved it myself yesterday, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember doing it.

I collected my materials that I would need for my editorial meeting, put on a nice warm camelhair coat, wrapped a scarf around me to keep the bleak November chill out and left my flat. I almost felt a sense of relief as my front door closed behind me, the evidence of yesterday’s mysterious events remaining there, while I escaped, it felt to me, into fresh air and freedom.

A watery November sun was struggling to shine down on the still damp streets. The roadworks outside the house necessitated me to skirt around the black van which stood right outside the door.

As I passed it, I glanced through the window of the van; the cab was filled with a vast amount of fast-food packaging of all sorts; pizza boxes, hamburger containers, paper cups, plastic cutlery and a vast array of sachets of ketchup and mustard. Whoever used this van wasn’t concerned about what he ate and keeping his immediate surroundings clean. I winced at the thought of all that junk food, clogging arteries, destroying the stomach, killing brain-cells. The Cokes and other soft drinks eroding teeth, burning through the stomach wall. Added to that, the ashtray was full to overflowing.

Various newspapers in a language I didn’t recognise made up the rest of the unholy mess there. The partition between the cab and the rest of the van was solid wood, painted black, with just a narrow grille at the top. I noticed the van was left-hand drive, but the numberplate and tax-disc were British. The van was as grimy on the outside as it was inside, but there were no dints or prangs to the bodywork, so the driver was careful at any rate. The lights were also all unbroken, implying that whoever drove the vehicle did so well and with some care. He just didn’t bother to keep it clean.

Well, none of my business. I skirted around the van and seeing a taxi coasting around the corner took the opportunity and hailed it.

The day passed. Meetings with my agent, lunch with a client at a favourite little Italian place, the new exhibition at the Tate Modern, a call from a friend so an early evening drink, then, still not feeling like going home just yet, on impulse I bought a ticket to a concert at St. Martin-in-the-Fields; string music by Bach and Vivaldi.

As the austere counterpoint washed over me, in my mind’s eye, for the first time since the morning, my portrait of the boy I had called James appeared before me. This time though, he was facing straight at me, not into the middle distance, as I had seen him last night, but right at me. I felt the intensity of his gaze. I got the impression that this was no image, but a real face and that the boy was on the verge of speaking to me.

The image faded, and Bach’s disciplined lines weaved their counterpoint, almost physically seeming to soothe me, bring order into my chaotic thoughts. The grave notes of the slow movement of the Sixth Brandenburg Concerto brought some sort of peace to me and the rhythmic finale cheered me up a little.

Yet James’s sadness seemed to cling to me, like an Autumn mist.

I felt weary by the time I got home. The hole in the road in front of my house was surrounded by a fence with flashing yellow lights. The house was in darkness.

However, I thought I discerned a faint light through a chink in the grimy curtains of the basement’s front window.

There were no letters for me in the dark entrance hall. The atmosphere in the empty hallway was almost brooding. It was very quiet. It was then that I heard it; a quiet,  tapping, very faint. I couldn’t work out where the sound was coming from. It sounded like someone was tapping one of the radiator pipes somewhere in the house, but I couldn’t get a certain bearing. Maybe it was next door, or even outside. The tapping was rhythmic, but kept stopping and starting, with longer and longer pauses in between. I wondered if the plumbing was playing up. Then it stopped and didn’t start again.

All the time I had been listening, I had been standing in the downstairs entrance hall. There was only Sebastian’s studio on this floor. I fished out the spare key and opened the door, just in case the plumbing had been playing up and Seb’s studio was being flooded. I went into the back of the studio, where there was a small lavatory and cubbyhole of a kitchen – no signs of leaking radiators or dripping taps. The darkroom was also in order.

I left the studio, locking the door behind me and went upstairs. Pausing outside the middle-floor flat, I listened out for any sounds coming from within, but heard nothing.

There was nothing out of the ordinary in my flat, though it did feel a little chilly; the radiators were only lukewarm, so I turned up the thermostat a couple of degrees. I found myself almost tiptoeing around, and I purposefully switched on all the lights in the flat, dispelling the November gloom. I peered through open doors into the other rooms, not sure whether I did or didn’t want to have another visitation. I poured myself a glass of wine and picked up the picture of James.

He stared calmly out of the picture, as before, sideways out of the painting. The colours appeared to be getting a little stronger, but it was hard to tell in the electric light. Still studying the portrait as I replaced it on my desk, I reached for where the book had lain that morning.

It wasn’t there.

It      was     not     there.

I looked around in panic, expecting I don’t know what to happen next. Where was the damn book? Was I asleep? Were these whole two days just a dream? What the FUCK was going on?

I groaned out loud. I knew now that I must be losing my mind, going stark staring crazy. The bloody book, if it existed at all, had been on my desk this morning under James’s picture. I knew I had seen it there. I hadn’t touched it before I left the house. So where was it?

I stared wildly around the sitting-room. Armchairs, coffee-table, bookcase, sofa…SOFA! The bloody thing lay on the floor by the sofa where I thought I had dropped it last time. Then I couldn’t have seen it on my desk this morning! It didn’t make sense. I searched for it, by, on and under the bloody sofa and it had turned up on my desk. This was too much!

I went over towards the sofa. I had made up my mind. That damn book had to go! I would chuck it away, take it downstairs to the bins, get it out of my house and throw the bloody thing away. Then, perhaps, I would get some peace.

Do no harm! Use it wisely!

The words echoed in my brain. Now, to me, it sounded like a young boy’s voice – a voice still unbroken, yet with that slight breathless quality to it – a voice on the cusp of breaking – a boy on the verge of manhood … James?

Do   no   harm.

I let myself drop into the sofa, head in hands. I knew I wouldn’t be able to throw the book away. What had the man in the shop said?

“You might not have chosen the book, but it chose you! Take it, young man!”

What was the purpose of this book coming to me? What was the importance of the two accounts I had read so far? What, if anything, was I meant to do? How was I supposed to know? I had the overwhelming feeling that I had landed in a situation over which I had no control, I was just a helpless worm on a hook, wriggling, not being able to escape. Now I felt that a presence in my own flat was also beginning to take control of me; the boy I saw (or thought I saw) last night. Just at the time when I needed him the most, Jeremy was away. Coincidence? What could I do but wait and see what happened next?

I felt myself leaning down, reaching for the book. All my self-will gone, my fingers wrapped around the leather object and I opened the book. The pages flipped over, opening by themselves. When it at last seemed to decide where I should start reading, the book lay flat in my palm, as if inviting me to read. As before, I couldn’t seem to retrace my steps, I was led onwards by some invisible, small but insistent force. I looked down at the pages before me. At first they appeared blank, but as I looked, an image began to form, followed by words. Unable to help myself and now in its thrall, captured by the book, like so much bait on a hook, I resigned myself to its power and read.

Unsurprisingly, another picture. This time, however, it was a photograph and it seemed to me that it had been taken sometime in the fifties or sixties, although it was hard to tell as choristers’ garb of cassock and surplice could have come from any era. The hairstyle seemed the giveaway, ‘short back and sides’ with perhaps some Brylcreem to keep it in place. The serious youth stared out at me, frozen in time and place. I felt a knot in my stomach. What sad story would this turn out to be?

November 8th 1963

Help me! (I read)I don’t know who to turn to. My Mum won’t believe me, they would accuse me of spreading terrible lies and send me to the Rector to apologise.

I couldn’t do that. I can’t speak to anyone. And certainly not him. No-one would believe me and I would just get into worse trouble than I’m in now. I’ve tried praying but I know God doesn’t hear my prayers because I am a wicked sinner.

I am impure, unclean. Unworthy to share in God’s communion here on earth. I have been damned and I will go to eternal hellfire.

It’s all my fault. I should have said no to him. But I couldn’t. He’s bigger and stronger than I am. He says I should do what he tells me and that God understands. He tells me that I am doing His work.

Now every time I see him, he smiles at me and tells me what a good boy I am. But I know that am not a good boy. I am wicked, dirty– full of sin.

I can’t even trust my choirmaster, Mr. Robertson. He and the Rector are friends.

I’ve seen them when they think they are alone, when I’m hiding in the church, on those days when I have had enough and need to get away. I’m in my secret place in the cupboard in the sacristy, behind the cassocks.

I see what they do. I hear them. They drink whisky that Mr Robertson brings and they laugh and joke and do things to each other. I’ve even heard them talking about a couple of the other boys, Charlie Mason and Paul Hunter, Simon and me, ‘young Will Fremantle’ and how they’d like to do things to me together.

God hates me for what I’ve done. My Mum will hate me. I know that Mr Robertson and the Rector want to do things to me that I don’t want. But they are bigger and stronger than I am. I’m only thirteen. They’re grown men. If I don’t do what they ask, they’ll hurt me and only do it anyway.

Mr Robertson  got me once, after choir practice. He smelled funny and started to stroke my tummy and then he told me I was a little tease and he made me touch him ‘down there.’  He hurt my wrist. He pushed against me and started to rub my privates. I managed to wriggle away and he was very cross. He shouted at me but I escaped into the church. I bumped into the Rector, who was so surprised that he didn’t have time to grab me. He started shouting at me as well.

I’m trapped. Nowhere to go. No-one to turn to. It’s better this way. Better that I vanish, then they can’t hurt me. No one can hurt me. Better that I roast in Hell than stay here near them.

I’ve got the key to the tower. I stole it off its hook the other day. One day, soon, I’ll climb up there and jump off. It’s very high. Then it will all be over.

The worst thing is that I can’t tell anyone. They’d never believe me. The Rector is liked by everyone here. He’s been here for ages. But nobody knows what I know about him or Mr Robertson.

And I don’t expect anyone ever will.

Unless you find out and tell my story for me, Peter.

I’ve left my diary in the church tower, behind some loose bricks under the west-facing window. I’ve made a list of what they did to me.

You have to help me! Set me free!

I need you to do this for me, Peter! Please….

I suddenly felt nauseous and only just made it to the bathroom before I retched up my breakfast.

He had used my name. Will Fremantle, a dead choirboy from 1963, had used my name, asked me for help.

Coming back into the sitting room, feeling more than a little shaky, I sat back down on the sofa. The book now lay open at a picture:

It must be the church the young choirboy, Will Fremantle was referring to. I knew where it was, it was not far away.

If there had been any doubt in my mind before, there was none now. This book had been sent to me – somehow – call it Divine Providence if you will and it became clear to me that it was my duty to try and right some of the wrongs I had seen listed here.

Of course I could do nothing about the young 17th Century lad, Tom Thatcher, who had been abused by his Lord and master, but maybe I could do some research on the Montagu family, see what I could dig up there.

Concerning Will, that should be easy; gain access to the belfry, find the hiding place he described and take the evidence to the police. I wasn’t sure what that would achieve, but it might go some way to solving the mystery of the boy’s suicide – that is if the story were true and the book was genuine. I had no real reason to doubt it, yet no-one would believe me if I said my evidence came from a book written three hundred years ago and addressed to me personally. I would need to martial my resources, gather my thoughts and work out a plan of campaign.

Then there was the question of how many more stories I would be told – how long would this go on for? Would I be expected to solve tens, hundreds, thousands of crimes against young boys? Had I been picked for some sort of crusade – or was I just going out of my mind? Was this all an overactive imagination run riot?

Help us!

My head whipped round at the voice. Had a figure just been standing there, by my shoulder? Had it spoken, out loud? Did I see the residual image of the young boy, James?

I shivered. The flat was ice-cold.

I’m not sure how long I sat there, my thoughts all jumbled, trying to make some sort of sense of what was happening to me. Was all this just a very elaborate practical joke – though who would be so twisted? Was I dreaming? Would I not wake up in a minute and find myself in my warm bed, next to Jeremy?

Or was I going slowly mad?

Albert hadn’t said it, last night at the pub, but his eyes were so eloquent he didn’t need to say anything… or maybe that was a dream as well.

And James? Another manifestation of a sick mind?

I sat on my sofa in the quiet flat, unaware of everything around me.

Silence. Cold.

I felt as if I were lost in a thick grey fog, with nothing to give me my bearings. Lost in a limbo.

Like those poor boys, lost beyond hope…

It didn’t even register that the drilling outside suddenly stopped and did not start again.

 

SIX
(TUESDAY MORNING)

I don’t know how long I sat there, almost trancelike, but when I roused myself, came back into myself, as it were, it was if I had been asleep for a hundred years.

Suddenly, I felt more alert, alive. During my – for want of a better word – limbo, it seemed as if I had found a new purpose, almost a need to try and do something, anything, to have some sort of effect on the fates of those poor boys as I perceived them in the little book. And I wasn’t alone in that flat. Somehow I felt a presence – close by, willing me on. It wasn’t evil or malign. It didn’t feel oppressive or threatening, it was more as if someone was urging me on, encouraging me, giving me confidence and reslove.

I felt both elated and not a little scared. I knew who the unseen presence was.

It had to be James.

I looked at the sketch I had done and was now totally unfazed to see it was in full colour. He still looked pensive, but the sadness seemed to have diminished; he was calmer, more self-possessed, if that was possible. And very, very beautiful.

I felt my groin stirring again. “Wouldn’t turn you out on a cold night!” I whispered half to myself, half to the picture. It might have been my imagination, but did I not detect an extra glint to his eye? A hint of a smile on those ruby lips?

A brief image of James, naked in bed with me, his sweet cock, inches from my waiting mouth flashed before my inner eye. I shook the delightful vision off. I must be going mad, having lewd thoughts about a ghost I thought I might have seen! I was losing it! I needed to concentrate.

I now realised there was something I could do. At least I could investigate the local church, see if what Will the chorister had written was true and that there was ‘evidence’ against the Rector and choirmaster as the boy had said, behind the bricks in one of the tower’s windows.

As I put on my outdoor clothes, I thought I sensed James’s presence, very close by. I almost felt that if I reached out, I would be able to touch him. The atmosphere in my flat seemed expectant, as if the world was holding its breath. I found myself talking out loud as I donned my overcoat.

“Don’t worry, James!” I said, “I will try what I can – at least to belp where I can. But what happened to you, James? What’s your story? Will I be able to help you?”

Of course there was no reply, but I felt a stream of air on my cheek – hardly noticeable, it was like brushing past a spider’s web, yet somehow I knew it was James – and that he had kissed me. My heart gave a great surge and for a moment I thought it might burst in my ribcage. For a fraction of a second, I felt an unbounded love for everything and everyone.

Then it was gone and suddenly my flat was warm again.

As I went downstairs, I heard the tapping from last night again. It seemed faint and not as regular as then. I decided to knock on the door of the offices in the basement, in case anyone was there and ascertain that their plumbing was in order.

Outside the house, a makeshift tent had been put up over the hole in the road and there seemed to be quite a lot of people milling around and going in and out of it. There was also a police car pulling away. I idly wondered what was wrong, probably a dodgy gas-main or something. Maybe the knocking I heard was someone in that hole in the road, checking the pipework. The black van, I saw, was gone. All the same, I went down the side of the house to the door to the basement. I knocked and waited. No answer. I made a mental note to try again later, if the strange banging persisted, just in case.

There are very few churches left in the area around the Charing Cross Road and Tottenham Court Road; mostly due to massive rebuilding after the Blitz. The area is not as residential as it had been in the past, so the need for churches and spiritual needs has been replaced by Mammon and the overriding call of commerce. However, there has been a church or place of worship on the site of St. Giles-in-the Fields since medieval times. In the twelfth century, there had been a leper colony here and it was in this parish that the Great Plague began in London. The small churchyard is said to be stacked several layers deep with the unnamed dead and unmarked graves of the victims.

The surviving building is from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and it was here that convicts on their way to execution on Tyburn Hill made their last stop. They were given a free beer at the inn next door, so that they met their Maker with both spiritual and corporeal refreshment, with the smell of alcohol on their breath.

The church has an unprepossessing air about it, both outside and in; clean lines and the minimum of decoration – almost Spartan in its severity. I had often walked past it, but never been inside. My thoughts went to poor Will and the torments he must have suffered, most likely within these very walls and my heart went out to him. “I will try and give you peace Will, if I can,” I muttered to myself as I pushed open the heavy oak door to the building.

The church was built on the plain pattern of 18th  century classicism; a long, wide construction, with only hints of side chapels. The building was not cruciform like the great Gothic cathedrals, but shaped like a large shoebox, with pleasing proportions. A gallery ran round three walls, with a carved oak and gilded organ towering above the west door. Large latticed windows, plain on either side, but filled with stained glass in the chancel at the east end.

Down the centre of the barreled ceiling hung three large chandeliers, which led the eye to a large, plain altarpiece with gold crucifix and candlesticks on the high altar which stood up against the east wall of the building.

On one side, half way down the aisle, against a pillar stood a pulpit and to my right as I stood at the west door, was a plain marble font, with a wooden cover.  A table on the left held a collection of pamphlets, a collection box and a pair of ladies’ brown kid gloves. There were no statues of saints, no sacred images on the walls, just a few carved memorials to the former Great and the Good of the parish.

A tablet behind me listed the names of the former rectors of the parish. I wondered which of those names carved there had been the boy’s tormentor. Another plaque listed the organists of the church. With a lurch of my stomach, I recognised Robertson’s name. I was now sure that at some time, there had been a choirboy here, of the name William Fremantle. I saw the dates of Robertson’s tenure and compared it to the relevant rector. Stanhope Robertson had been organist at the church for five years, between 1958-1963. I checked the rectors.

There was one listed as being at the church for twenty five years, leaving in 1963: L.W.Cruickshank DD. He was the author of one of the pamphlets on the small table: “The Way to God Through Love.” Oh you cynical bastard, I thought. I looked at the picture of the author on the front of the booklet; a grainy black-and–white photograph of a middle-aged, rather plump, balding man with dog-collar and white surplice standing on the church steps, with choirboys around him. Dr. L.W. Cruickshank looked past the camera at something to the left of the lens. He had a slight squint, but that may have been the sun in his eyes. The boys looked solemn. I couldn’t see a boy that resembled poor Will – I wondered when the photograph had been taken – before, or after…

Was this the man who abused Will Fremantle to such a degree that he felt he had no other choice open to him but to kill himself? In the silence of the austere and empty parish church, I felt myself growing both angry and sad at the same time. That poor boy! If it were in my power to do something to ease his spirit, then I would.

I found that without knowing it, I had ripped the slim pamphlet into two. What an almighty cynic, this Dr. Cruickshank had to be, to write something like that at the same time as he was sexually assaulting God knew how many boys, leading to the death of at least one. I hoped he had at the very least, a bad conscience.

I wondered how old he would be now. In the picture he looked to be about forty, but that could have been taken at any time during his tenure here. No later than 1963. He would have to be dead by now, I thought. Rot in Hell, you bastard! Without really thinking about it, I took the rest of the pamphlets and stuffed them into my coat pocket. I’d take them home and burn them. It was the least I could do. I didn’t want his name to live on while Will had been so cruelly mistreated and forgotten.

I needed to get into the tower and find the evidence that Will said he had hidden up there.

I went through a door further along the back wall, which led up to the gallery and organ-loft. I wasn’t at all sure that I would be able to get into the tower, but I had to at least try. I would get the lie of the land and if I couldn’t get any further, then I would have to regroup and rethink my strategy, such as it was.

From the organ, I looked down into the large space of the church. Despite it being built in a busy part of London, the noise from outside was muted, I could only just hear the sound of the traffic outside. The silence within the building was profound. Again, I got the feeling that the whole world was holding its breath. Including me. I exhaled noisily, my nerves jangling, ears alert to any sound. Not that I was doing anything wrong; the church was open to all and sundry. I wasn’t trying to steal the silverware or force open the poor box.

Yet I still felt as if I were an intruder. The light seemed to fade. I looked around me, seeking the door which would lead me up to the tower. It was behind the large organ, in a small room, more a cubby-hole really, which is where the organist could keep his music and which also provided a place to sit while the sermon was going on. I saw the stacks of hymn books, organ music as well as an electric kettle and some instant coffee. I wondered if it had been here that Will had been assaulted along with countless other boys. Once the thick door was closed, a stronger man could well overpower a smaller boy. I tried to shake off these thoughts as I tried the handle of the door which obviously led to the tower.

At first, to my bitter disappointment, I thought it was locked, but as I turned the handle with more force, I realised that the lock was only stiff. Slowly, I turned the handle and the dark door swung creakily open towards me. I saw the beginning of a spiral flight of stone stairs, snaking upwards.

I began to climb.

The stairs were worn smooth, slightly concave from nearly three hundred years’ use. They wound round a central pillar, darkened by the thousands of hands which had rubbed along its smooth, cool surface. An iron rail fixed to the outside wall followed the stairs. I’m not very keen on heights, so I didn’t look out of the narrow windows as I passed by, keeping my eyes fixed on the stairs immediately ahead of me. There were exactly one hundred and twenty six stairs before I reached a trapdoor above me. Pushing hard, I emerged into a large space; wooden floorboards, large windows – the old bell-ringers’ loft. The wooden ceiling had holes for the ropes from the days when the bells were hand-rung, but there were no ropes there now; the bells had been modernised to be run by electricity and operated from somewhere else in the church.

There were some old, faded framed photographs on the walls, images of strong men, shirtsleeves rolled up, bulging biceps – bellringers from years ago, standing in a semicircle, with strong hands on their ropes and looking solemnly out of the dusty frames.

A plain wooden bench ran round three of the walls and on the fourth wall was fixed a large trestle which had obviously supported a barrel of some kind; a bellringers’ job was thirsty work.

Just above the trapdoor entrance, six hooks were fastened to the wall, with faded labels beneath them: Old Bob, Big Jack, Tall Tom, – I realised these were not the names of the bellringers, but the bells themselves. Once in here, each man was assigned his bell and assumed its name for as long as he worked in the belfry. I imagined the generations of tough men, calloused hands, bulging muscles as they waited, pulled, released, listened and counted – the patterns emerging, stabilising, melding into another pattern, all in time to the senior bellringer, who usually rang the deepest bell, the so-called tenor, while calling the changes, his great booming bell holding the others together, each peal according to age-old tradition.

I knew that some great churches had their own special changes, or patterns which generations of campanologists, the bellringers, had kept alive.  Evocative names like  Grandsire Triple, Bobs, Stedman. Sadly, the art was a dying one, particularly in London and the other large cities. People did not have the time any more to devote to practicing the complicated art of campanology and more and more of the so-called ’rings of bells’ in churches were disappearing, either having been destroyed during the second World War and never replaced, churches demolished, the bells dismantled, or else, like here, mechanised.

The feasts of the Anglican calendar, most notably Christmas and Easter, weddings, days of national celebration, great victories won, monarchs crowned – all the occasions when these bells would peal out, pulled by the dedicated men who gathered in this high, cold loft and worked up a sweat – and a thirst – while the results of their exertions rang out over all and sundry in the neighbourhood.

It was quiet up here – and cold. The room was now used as a storeroom for old hassocks, the stuffing leaking through the patched needlework. Ancient-looking carved chairs, a lectern shaped like an eagle, candlesticks of all shapes and sizes.  Stacks of old parish magazines, dog-eared hymnals, motheaten cassocks hanging on iron rails. There was a musty smell in the air, emphasising the abandonment here. The bellringers had gone for ever and silence and decay now reigned up here in the tower.

I looked around, searching for the window Will had written about in the book. The message he had left for me, personally. I shuddered. Would there be anything there, or was I suffering from delusions? I would soon find out. Will had said he had hidden the ‘evidence’ against the Rector and the organist behind some loose bricks under the west-facing window of the tower. I assumed he meant here, in this loft, rather than in the belfry itself. Looking around, I saw a ladder disappearing up to the floor above, a gap in the ceiling offering a partial view of the belfry itself. I wondered if I had to go up there. I decided to start my search down here. If there was nothing to be found, then I would have to climb the rickety ladder to the next level. I didn’t relish the idea.

Most of the junk was piled up against the west wall of the tower, but I was able to worm my way between the mothball-scented racks of cassocks and some pews lined up on end. The window was almost completely concealed, but by pushing through, I was at last able to reach the wall. To my disappointment, I saw that the wall was plastered, no loose bricks anywhere. I cursed to myself. What on earth was I doing here, following the writings in some weird book which most likely was either a prank, or a delusion? Again I found myself wishing that this dream would end and I would wake up in my nice warm bed.

Crouching inbetween the mouldering cassocks, teetering pews and piles of parish magazines, I silently cursed myself for being an absolute idiot. It was then that I heard the sound of a distant voice.

“Hallo! Anybody up there?”

The voice sounded as though it came from the tower’s spiral stairway. I must have left the door to the tower open. I heard steps and the voice drew nearer.

“Hallo? John, is that you there?”

I shrank back into the debris around me, keeping as still as I could, hardly daring to breathe.

Steps on the ladder up to the trapdoor. Only a matter of feet from where I crouched.

“Is there anybody here?”

Silence. I held my breath.

Then, to my immense relief, I heard another voice, fainter, answering my invisible interlocutor. I couldn’t make out the words, but it seemed as if ‘John’ had turned up and was downstairs. I heard the trapdoor close and the sounds of retreating steps, growing fainter.

I let out my breath in one long gasp, like a diver after being too long underwater. I felt slightly dizzy and was sweating, despite the cold. I thought I was going to faint. Putting out a hand to steady myself, I came in contact with the wall below the bench which ran around the room. I felt bricks and mortar.

Loose bricks and mortar.

Trying to work as quietly as I could, not sure how much sound travelled in this old building, I pulled at a brick and worked it loose. I did the same to its neighbour, laying the bricks gently on the floor under the bench. With a deep breath, I reached inside the cavity, fingers searching for anything that might be concealed there.

I felt the outline of a thin book. Will’s diary. It was in actual fact a cheap exercise-book, with the year written in large, childish letters on the front: 1963 and the legend: MY DIARY! PRIVATE!! DO NOT READ!!!! and a crude skull-and-crossbones sketched below. Despite the circumstances, I could not help but give a small smile, as I recalled my own childhood and my ‘journals’ which no-one else was to read on pain of death or plagues of boils or somesuch horrible punishment. Will Fremantle’s innocent voice echoed down the years and I felt a lump in my throat.

As I held it, I was again conscious of a heavy, profound silence all around me, as if I had gone deaf. All I could hear was the rushing of blood in my veins and the pumping of my heart. The small cheap book lay there, a mute testament to the story I had read, the cry for help. I had in my hands the proof I needed. For what? It was most likely that the Rector, Dr. Cruickshank was dead, so how would this discovery help Will’s cause? That would have to be a question I would answer later. For now, I had the proof that the book had somehow lead me here for a reason. What that would be would surely become clear later, of that I now had no doubt.

My most pressing problem was how to get out of here without being observed by the two people I certainly knew to be here – possibly more, I didn’t know. I reached again into the small gap in the wall, just in case I had missed anything. I had missed something; at the back, my fingers felt a ribbon. When I pulled it out, I saw it was attached to a chorister’s medal. Silver, with an image of St Cecilia on the front. Will Fremantle had been head chorister.

“I will get justice for you, Will. I swear!” I whispered to the small medallion on its red ribbon, before I tucked it away in my pocket, along with the diary.

Not bothering to replace the bricks, I slowly began to edge my way through the piles of junk, back into the centre of the room. After waiting a while, alert for any noise close by, I slowly lifted the trapdoor and descended the stairs, making sure I closed it behind me. Far away, it seemed, I could hear the sound of the organ.

I slowly went downstairs, my nerves jangling, legs shaking like jelly. The door at the bottom of the stairs was ajar. The noise of the organ was louder here. Peeping trough, I saw that the small room was empty. If I was lucky, I just might be able to escape unseen.

I left the organist’s small sanctum and was able to edge behind the organ casing. As I crept past, I heard the most beautiful treble voice singing – soaring with ease over the organ’s mellifluous notes; it was Mendelssohn’s  “Oh for the Wings of a Dove” – it seemed to me at that moment that it was a message from Will. His spirit would now be free to soar, freed from his limbo – his soul could now go to the Light.

 

Oh for the wings, for the wings of a dove
Far away, far away would I rove
Oh for the wings, for the wings of a dove
Far away, Far away, Far away, Far away would I rove.


In the wilderness build me a nest
And remain there forever at rest
In the wilderness build me, build me a nest
And remain there forever at rest.


In the wilderness build me a nest
And remain there forever at rest
Forever at rest
Forever at rest.


And remain there forever at rest
And remain there forever at rest.

Tears filling my eyes, I crept away, down the stairs and out of the door, the exquisite voice following, like a benediction.

The invisible ‘John’ – who, without even  being aware of it – had, for a brief moment assumed the persona of his poor, sad forbear to let me know that I had done right.

 

SEVEN
(TUESDAY LUNCHTIME & 1963)

My mind was a whirl as I left the church. The discovery of the diary had confirmed two things for me; I was not going mad and the book and its contents were real.

However difficult to explain it, the stories in the book – or at least the latest one – were real, they had happened and somehow or other, the cries for help by these poor misused boys had reached out over time and space to me and I now saw that it was, for want of a better word, my sacred duty to these poor forgotten boys that they be remembered, their sufferings made known and their tormentors condemned and if not brought to justice, then at least their crimes recognised. As yet, I had no idea how I was going to set about this, but I assumed that as the book had come to me in mysterious circumstances, then I was sure to be shown a way as to how to act upon the evidence portrayed therein.

I walked on, neither knowing nor really caring where I was going, until I decided I was now ready to sit down somewhere and read Will’s diary. I was still half afraid that there would be nothing of interest there, just the usual jottings of a young teen boy, whatever they might be, but the fact that there was a roll of film as well made me suspect that there was damning evidence against Cruickshank and Robertson in the diary.

I wondered how I would be able to present this evidence and, not least, to whom and how I could get redress for Will, all these years later. I wondered about the choirmaster, Robertson; how old he was now – if he was still alive – and if so, whether he was still involved in his paedophile activities. There might be a slight chance that Will’s diary and the film might at least be enough to get Robertson punished, and, by association, condemn Cruickshank also. I had no idea whether or not whether what the Americans called the Statute of Limitations applied in cases such as child molestation – I hoped it didn’t. If what Will had said in the book was true and was confirmed in this diary, then I really hoped it would be accepted as evidence.

I needed to sit down, digest all of this. I saw a small cheap-looking café and went inside. It was practically empty. I took the cup of tea I ordered and found myself an empty table near the back of the dingy cafeteria.

I was struck by a chilling thought. What did that make me, then? Hadn’t I just this morning been drooling over the picture of a teen boy? Didn’t I check out teen boys? Wasn’t I not interested in sexual relations with what the law called ‘minors’?

I was no better than these two men who had abused Will – with one big but. I had never, would never assault a teen boy against his will or coerce him to do anything he didn’t want to. I had never done that – ever.

Not only that, but I had never had sex with a boy younger than sixteen, which ‘normal’ people would still condemn, but the fact remains I had never seduced a boy younger than that and indeed, all my teen sexual partners – and there had been very few, perhaps about four of five during the past eight years or so since I had become a sexually active homosexual – had been at their instigation. I had never made the first overt move, although I might have made it obvious I was interested and/or available, I had never been the first to instigate the sexual side of things – at least I’m fairly sure I’m right, but wasn’t I still a hypocrite? Swearing vengeance because of the actions of men, to whom, let’s face it, in the eyes of the world at large, I was very similar?

Although, to date, I hadn’t been guilty of assaulting an underaged boy, how could I be sure that I wouldn’t do that in the future? How could I guarantee that my ‘preferences’ wouldn’t change and that I might be suddenly wildly and uncontrollably attracted to a younger boy?

Even if he were a week younger than sixteen, and I had sex with him, I would be called a sexual offender, a predator, pederast, pervert, criminal. My name forever on the Sexual Offenders List, no better than the men I was condemning, the Dr. Cruickshanks and Robertsons of this world, whose crime was that they were unable to control their lusts. The phrase, There but for the grace of God, go I came to mind.

But where can the line be drawn? Can suddenly being sixteen turn you into an adult? One day you are jailbait, the next it’s all alright? I do not have an answer to this problem. It has to depend on so many things.

There is a prevailing school of thought which says it is never alright for an adult to engage in sexual relations with a young person – but what do they mean by ‘young’? There is an age below which it is a criminal offence, but if the young person involved is older, then, by law, it is permitted but society thinks otherwise. And what about the stories one reads about multimillionaires aged in their seventies or even much older, falling for and marrying girls a third or even a quarter of their age? Society says ‘tut-tut’ but there are no laws broken, and whatever the motives are on both sides they are allowed to continue to live together in matrimonial bliss til death do them part and the Will is read. Who is taking advantage of whom?

While the human species exists, there will always be a percentage of it which will not conform to the ‘norm.’ There will always be gay men and women, men who are sexually attracted to young boys, women attracted to young girls and some attracted to both, or none at all. However, it is my belief that such words as ‘deviant’ or ‘pervert’, ‘normal’ in the context of sexual behaviour be erased from the language. They infer judgment, crime and punishment.

Is it possible for there to be a good ‘healthy’ sexual relationship between a boy and a man? Where are the borders? When would such a relationship become unacceptable – not only to ‘society’ but to me, personally? The fact that I have these desires infers that I am not in agreement with society in general as to acceptable sexual behavior. Society decrees that it is not acceptable to have sexual feelings for your own gender and it is certainly not acceptable to have sexual relations with members of the same sex who are considerably younger – or indeed of the opposite sex come to that.

If the sexual side of a relationship between two people is consenting and each party enters into that relationship of their own free will, then I say it is good and healthy and should not be condemned. If, say, a sexually active thirteen year-old boy has sexual relations with a man ten, twenty or even thirty or more years older than he is and they enjoy a close, loving relationship with mutual respect then I can see nothing wrong with it.

However, if the boy is too young, is not sexually active, does not understand the implications of a sexual relationship, then the situation is very much different. The older man is really using the young boy’s body for his own sexual gratification, a living masturbatory tool, if you like and the young boy’s immaturity prevents him from understanding how a loving relationship works. He is just literally being used – abused.

So, what is ‘too young’? Mental age, or physical development? Most boys enter puberty around the ten to twelve year old mark. Is it then acceptable to have sex with them? Other boys don’t develop sexually until much later and a very small percentage might be sexually developed at a younger age. What is the criterion?

What about intelligence? Should that be factored in? Is it alright to have a sexual relationship with an intelligent boy who has passed puberty but is only ten, for example? Conversely is it a crime to engage in sexual relations with a boy who is fully-developed physically, above the legal age of consent, but with a diagnosed mental age of someone much younger, say nine years old? The law says no and most sane, rational, intelligent people would agree, but some would not.

The question is complicated, the motives of the older individual must always be questioned and the individual cases must be examined from every angle. There is always the question of the right of the individual to their own dominion over their own person. No-one else has the right to violate that person’s right to themselves.

The ‘normal’ heterosexual can never understand the feelings of a gay person and even less so, the feelings of a gay person who is attracted to persons younger than themselves.

A double whammy. It’s bad enough being gay. It’s even worse being attracted to young people as well. Society cannot understand it and what it cannot understand, it condemns. The gay  – the paedophile is an object of derision, fear and ultimately hate.

Of course, I oppose sexual abuse and I am certain the vast majority of gay men would too. But there is a percentage of the population who would see nothing wrong with it. Using superior strength, or intellect, threats or bribes in order to gain physical and sexual submission over a weaker (usually smaller and younger) person has to be wrong and has to be condemned by gays and straights alike. Even though they themselves might have sexual feelings for younger people, the line has to be drawn somewhere.

It is difficult for me to take the moral highground, I have to be convinced that I am not similar to the universally accepted view of the gay pederast, stalking young boys, grooming them, and ultimately raping and abusing them. I don’t. But say the words ‘gay man’ and ‘boy’ in the same sentence and 99.999% of the population would immediately say ‘pederast’ to themselves. Tarred with the same brush. A no-win situation.

I stared into my cold tea, a feeling of desolation overwhelmed me. I was the same kind of pervert who forced poor Will to his death. I was the same sick man who found small boys as sexual toys, before disposing of them in a cruel and callous manner. I was the same as the father raping his son as a sort of twisted rite of passage. I was the scum of the earth, despicable, worthless.

Because I had sexual feelings for teen boys, I was no better than those who I had read about in that hateful little book which had come into my possession. I didn’t deserve happiness. I was a hypocrite. Saying one thing while thinking another. Disgusted by other men’s acts whilst at the same time almost doing the same thing.

Almost but not quite. I had to believe in my self control, my ability to tell right from wrong, my social conscience. Without it, I was no better than the animals I condemned.

What a fragile difference! A slippery pole indeed. My sexual preference for teen boys and my moral outrage at paedophiles – strange dichotomy.

I ordered another cup of the overstewed tea, deciding against ordering any of the ‘choice’ items on the menu; death by frying.

Back at my table, I fished Will’s diary out of my pocket. I had to physically steel myself before opening it. I didn’t know what I would find there, but my heart suspected the worst.

On the front page, written in a boyish hand, name, age, address. I recognised the street. It was mostly offices now. I decided I would walk back home via that way, just to see for myself.

The first entry was in February:

Thursday 13th More snow!  First meeting of St. G’s boy’s club at the rectory. Not many turned up. Tea and biscuits. Dr. C. told funny stories. Mr. R there too. Played ping-pong with Charlie Mason. I won.

There was a gap of about five weeks before the next entry, although the intervening Thursdays were marked St.G.B.C. which I took to mean St. Giles Boy’s Club. The next entry was in March:

Dr. C says he’s going to take some of us to the seaside on the Whitsun Bank holiday. Looking forward to it already! He’s very friendly and Mr R. has made me head chorister! Not many boys left in the club, Charlie, me and about four others. The older boys left saying the Club was for cissies and that Dr. C was ‘creepy’. I think he’s nice. He says I’m a very polite and charming boy.

Another couple of weeks without an entry and then:

Dr. C has asked me to help him catalogue his library. He says he’ll pay me half a crown for helping him on Saturday afternoons. It’s as much as I get for my paper round! Mum says I can. I’m going there next Saturday.

The entries became more regular and the whole, sad saga gradually unfolded through the accounts left by Will in his diary.

Helped Dr. C today. Funny to see him not wearing his cassock! He looks just like an ordinary bloke in his corduroys. He has thousands of books. I don’t really know why he needs my help, all I seem to be doing is taking them off the shelves and moving them about a bit. He gave me a Coca-cola, saying I shouldn’t tell my Mum  – we don’t have pop at home. Dr. C said it would be ‘our little secret’. He gave me half a crown and I’m going back there next Saturday.

***

Did hardly any cataloguing today. Dr C and me just chatted. He had a beer and gave me a sip! I didn’t really like it, but he really wanted me to taste it. Next week he says I have to put on my oldest clothes because we have to go up into his loft and clear out all the old books there. Another half a crown! I’m going to be rich! I’m saving up for a new locomotive for my train-set.

***

Dr. C was a bit strange today. We were up in his loft. It was really hot and cramped. He said I should take off my shirt. I didn’t feel hot, but he sort of told me to, he got a bit bossy about it, so I had to. He seemed very pleased after that and said I had a ‘nice physique’ whatever that means. He kept saying how fit I looked. I didn’t really like the way he kept staring at me, but maybe it’s because he’s a bit shortsighted and it was a bit dim up there in the loft. He gave me four shillings this time ‘for the inconvenience.’ He wants me to come twice a week. At this rate I’ll be able to afford loads of coaches for my train-set. I don’t think Mum will mind.

***

Went to Dr. C’s yesterday after school, like we agreed. It was a hot day and it was funny to see Dr. C in shorts! He  suggested we sat in his garden. He gave me a Coca-Cola and said I should let the sun ‘do its work’ on my chest and back. I must say, I did feel hot in my school uniform, so it was good to get rid of my blazer and shirt. Dr. C had a camera with him and said he wanted a few snapshots for his collection. I didn’t know what collection he was talking about, but I didn’t mind. He had lent me a good book to read, “Biggles” and I really enjoyed sitting there in the sun reading and didn’t take much notice of Dr. C. He said I should have some sunburn lotion on in case and that he had some handy. He offered to put some on my back. It felt a bit funny, Dr. C putting this cold stuff on my back and rubbing it well in. He tickled me a bit and then said he would do my tummy. I said I could d it myself, but he sort of got a bit tetchy, so I just let him. It felt funny and I got a funny feeling while he was doing it. Dr. C was really red in the face and breathing hard while he stroked my tummy for an awful long time. I began to feel a bit odd and asked him to stop. I could tell he didn’t really want to, but he did, pretending to smile. I began to think about what the older boys had said about him being ‘creepy’. But then the ice-cream van stopped outside the garden and Dr. C treated me to a double 99, so I forgot about how odd I had felt. We chatted for a bit and he asked me all sorts of questions about me and my friends and what I like doing in my spare time, that sort of stuff. He gave me half a crown even though I hadn’t helped him at all with his books!

***

Dr. C made me work quite hard today, probably to make up for last time. Went through heaps of books! While Dr. C was making some tea, I saw a few magazines behind some books, right at the top of the shelves at the back. There seemed to be lots of pictures, but I couldn’t see well enough. I climbed up on to a  chair and tried to reach, but they were too high for me. But they seemed to be pictures of muscly men. I suppose Dr C was interested in bodybuilding, he is a bit podgy. I couldn’t see any more, so I climbed down. I wondered why they seemed to be hidden away. I suppose being a rector, Dr. C shouldn’t really want to be a Mr Atlas! Funnily enough, when Dr. C came in with the tea, he said something like I should maybe put on a bit of muscle, so Isuppose  he is keen on bodybuilding. When I asked him, he seemed to get a bit cross and asked me why I said that. I said I had noticed his bodybuilding magazines on the top shelf. I thought he was going to be really angry, but instead he just smiled and asked me if I wanted to see them. I didn’t really care, but I didn’t want to make him cross, so I said I didn’t mind. Dr. C said he would have them ready next time. We didn’t speak much after that, but did tons of books. Dr. C said he didn’t have any change and could he owe me my half-crown and he would give me five bob next time. I said it was OK, but I don’t know how I am going to remind him, it seems a bit rude. But an agreement is an agreement after all!

***

Lots of extra choir-practices for Easter. I have to learn loads of solos, so I couldn’t go and help Dr. C last week. Mr Robertson, (we call him Golly because of the jam,) says I have a very special voice. He calls me his little angel, which is a bit embarassing in front of the other boys. They call me Golly’s pet, though I’m not. I wish he wouldn’t do that, but I don’t know how to ask him. Anyway, he says I need extra vocal training and I have to go to the church next Saturday. When I explained that I was meant to help Dr. C he said it would be alright and that he would sort it with the Rector. Not sure Dr. C will be too pleased and he owes me half a crown. He’ll probably forget now. Really annoyed.

***

Golly was really odd today. When I turned up for my extra coaching he acted really strange, saying he was so glad to see me and that I was such a talented boy and that I had such good looks. It was quite embarassing. We practised my solos over and over again. I don’t know why I had to do them so often, I know them inside out, but Golly kept saying ‘Once more for luck, my little angel!’ I began to feel heartily sick of him! Then he started to show me how I was supposed to breathe, using my diaphragm (I just looked up the spelling in the dictionary). He kept stroking my chest and tummy while I was singing. It was really awkward! His breath smelt funny, too and he kept standing behind me and leaning over me, while he pushed my tummy. I began to feel a bit odd and I didn’t like him so close, so I wriggled away, saying I was thirsty and needed some water. I think he was trying to touch me up. Some of the other boys say Golly is a queer and say he’s been looking at them funny. I must say, I did not feel comfortable. Then suddenly, like he was cross, or bored with me, he just tells me to go away. (Actually he said a naughty word, he said ‘bugger off  then Fremantle’) which is a naughty word, though I don’t know what it means. So I went and I was rather glad to get out of there, I can say.

***

Easter services were good, my solos went really well and everyone was pleased with me. My Mum really embarassed me when she was talking to Golly, saying stuff like I was a little cherub and how proud she was of me. Golly just smirked and ruffled my hair saying I was ‘his star chorister’. Mum was really glad, I just felt a bit sick. I don’t know whether it was an accident or not, but just before the morning service, he came up to me a put his hand on my bum and kept it there while I was trying to get my surplice on. He kept saying what a good boy I was and how he liked me. The other boys didn’t notice, because Golly had sent them into the rehearsal room for warm-up. Golly kept his hand on my bum for ages and was sort of stroking it. Now I know what the other boys mean. Golly’s a queer and he wants to touch me up. I am going to have to be careful. Then he started telling my Mum that I should try for a scholarship and  he was grinning all over his stupid face. I think I want to leave the choir. But now Mum thinks I’ve got talent and I bet she won’t let me leave the choir. Really annoyed. I’ll have to try and keep out of Golly’s way from now on.

***

Dr. C showed me the photographs he had taken of me in his garden. He had taken a whole roll! I don’t know why he wasted so many on me, I think I look so scrawny, reading that book. Dr. C said I looked ‘wonderfully innocent’ and ‘delightfully nubile’ whatever that means. He also had a pile of magazines on the table, saying they were the ones I had spotted last time and if I wanted to I might look. I must say, I had forgotten all about them, but seeing as he had taken all that trouble, I couldn’t really say no. They were boring, really, loads of muscly men, looking at the camera and smiling, showing their bulging muscles. I don’t see the point, really. Dr. C kept on pointing ones out to me, saying that they were ‘wonderful examples of  the masculine Helennic ideal’ and stuff like that. I had no idea what he was talking about. He asked me if I liked them. I said I didn’t mind. He asked me not to tell my Mum, or anyone else that he had those magazines, saying he was a bit shy about people knowing about how he liked bodybuilding. I said I wouldn’t tell anyone and Dr. C seemed very pleased with me. Quite honestly, I thought the men looked a bit silly, bulging muscles everywhere made their heads look so small!

Dr. C asked me if I had any shorts, as the weather was getting warmer. He told me to wear them next time, if the sun was out and we might do some work in the garden. He hadn’t forgotten; I got five bob for that visit!

***

Because it was sunny, I remembered to wear shorts, as Dr. C had asked. When I got to his house, Dr. C already had a glass of pop for me and said we should go to the garden and perhaps look at more magazines. I was enjoying getting money for not doing anything, so I didn’t mind if Dr. C wanted to show me more pictures. I got a bit of a shock, though, because some of the pictures showed men wearing no clothes at all. Dr. C explained that they were Greek and Roman statues and showed how the ancient civilisations worshipped the male form, as he said. I thought they looked a bit cissy and some of the men’s willies were really small, like mine, even though they were grown men with beards and all. I drank my Cocoa-Cola, which tasted a bit funny, but I supposed it was the slice of lemon Dr. C had put in it. I felt a bit dizzy as he showed me more and more boring pictures of statues.

Then he showed me some naked women statues, with their bosoms all showing (Charlie says they’re called tits, but that sounds really rude). Dr. C asked me if I liked those pictures. I thought they were better than the ones of the men and said so, but Dr. C said they were not nearly as perfect as the others.

Then he started lecturing me about the ‘sins of the flesh’ and whether or not I was having ‘impure thoughts’. I think I knew what he meant; I had been thinking about Susie Butler from next door a few times and once I dreamt she had no clothes on and she let me touch her between her legs. I remember I woke up with wet and sticky pyjama-bottoms. Then Charlie told me his Dad had talked  to him about ‘self-abuse’, he called it and how it was ‘normal’ and perfectly natural. I’m not sure what he was getting at, Charlie wasn’t really sure either. But it was something to do with touching oneself ‘down there’.

Once or twice recently, my willie has got really hard, I don’t know what’s wrong with it. I just lie on top of my bed til it goes down again.

Dr. C said he would talk to me next time about ‘the facts of life’. Because I had no father, he said he would ‘take it upon himself’ to ‘enlighten’ me. He said I needn’t worry my mother with this information, it was to be another of our ‘little secrets’.

Then he took lots more photos of me in his garden, basically just standing around or playing with a football. He offered me another Coca-Cola, but I said no and said I had to be getting back. Dr. C stroked my back and chest and said I was a ‘wonderful creature’ and that he looked forward to seeing me next time.

Another half a crown! This is money for nothing, I could get used to this! I just have to remember to tell Mum that we are working very hard on Dr. C’s library, but there are thousands of books to get through, so it might be for the whole summer. I don’t think Mum would be very pleased if she knew that I was getting money from the Rector without working for it, so that’s what Dr. C and I agreed would be our story – another ´little secret – just an ‘embellishment’,not a lie’, said Dr. C as he said goodbye.

***

I don’t think Dr. C is as nice as I thought he was. When I turned up today he said he had been looking forward to ‘our little talk’. We went into his study. Even though it was daytime and very sunny out, he had the curtains drawn and had one of his reading-lamps switched on. He told me to sit on the sofa and then he sat down next to me, really close. He smelt funny. Anyway, he was sitting right up next to me, which was a bit uncomfortable. I had my shorts on, because I thought maybe we would be in the garden again, it being sunny and warm. Dr. C looked a bit red in the face and he must have had a temperature or something, because he seemed to be sweating a bit. I could see dark patches under his arms.

He started asking me whether I had a girlfriend or not, (he actually asked if there was a ‘special girl I was sweet on’) I told him, no, I didn’t have a girlfriend yet, but I liked Susie from next door. The he started asking me all sorts of embarrassing questions, about how I thought of Susie, and what we could do together. I said I didn’t know, but he kept asking me, getting really personal, like if I had kissed her yet and whether I liked it and whether she and I had ‘taken it any further’ – this was getting creepy, how interested in Susie he was getting. I just told him I didn’t know what he meant, which I didn’t really and hoped that we could get on to going through his books, but Dr. C just seemed to get even closer to me and then he started asking me whether or not I ‘played with myself’. I wasn’t sure what he meant. Dr. C laughed at me, which I didn’t really like and asked again if I interfered with myself ‘down there’ and he put his hand on my willie! He took it away again very quickly, but he definitely touched it. I was really embarrassed. He said that it was alright to tell him, my secret was safe with him. I just said I didn’t know what he meant, though I think I had an idea.

Then suddenly, he started talking about Charlie, my best friend. He asked me if Charlie and I ever wrestled. I said that we did, sometimes. Dr. C asked me if I liked wrestling with Charlie. It was OK, I said. He asked if Charlie and I had ever talked about girls. I said, not much. Then he asked me if me and Charlie had ever stayed over at each other’s house. I said that we had. Dr. C seemed to get really interested and asked all sorts of questions like where did I sleep when I stayed at Charlie’s and where did he sleep when he came to mine. I just told him that we had our sleeping-bags with us when we went to stay.

I didn’t like all these questions and the room was dark and getting stuffy and Dr. C was too close and smelling funny. He had his hand right close to my leg, resting half on his leg and half on mine. I was so squeezed up against the end of the sofa, I couldn’t move my leg away. Then I felt like my willie was getting hard again. I was sure Dr. C could see the lump in my shorts.  I was getting embarrassed. I made an excuse and said I had to go to the loo and asked for a glass of water.

When I got back, Dr. C had opened the curtains and we did some book-sorting. I was very glad. While I was in the loo, I had been trying to find an excuse to go, I felt uncomfortable with Dr. C so close and asking such personal questions. I didn’t understand why my willie suddenly got hard, but when I was in the loo, it went soft again.

After I got back, Dr. C was like he normally was and we chatted about the cricket and the trip to the seaside at Whitsun. He told me to practice my swimming, so  that I could go into the sea, and also to ‘put some meat on those bones’.

When it was time to go, he asked me if I was alright and if I trusted him. I didn’t know to how answer him, so I said I did, but  secretly I was very glad that he had stopped asking me awkward questions. As I was leaving, he stroked my cheek  and said that he hoped he and I would ‘remain good friends’ and  then he gave me three shillings, because he said he didn’t have half a crown on him.

I was rather glad to go, I think Dr. C asks too many personal questions and I don’t understand why he was asking  so much about Susie and Charlie. I didn’t know if that was ‘the talk’ or not; somehow I thought there was more to come and that Dr. C hadn’t said everything that he was going to say.

I hope he didn’t notice when my willie got hard. I don’t think he did.

I said I’d be back next week, but would have to miss  Saturday, because Charlie and me are going to the cinema.

***

The next time I went to see him, Dr. C had his camera with him. He said he would like to take some more photos of me, if I didn’t mind. I wondered why he wasted so much money on taking pictures of me, but I said it was okay. Then he asked me if I remembered those pictures of the statues he had shown me. I wondered what he was thinking. Then he said he would like to take some snaps of me, posing like a Greek god’ like he said. I really didn’t know what he meant, but he quickly said that it would be alright, that he had some fun costumes for me to wear and that I would enjoy it. He said he would give me five shillings! He showed me a few of the statues, to give me an idea of what I would look like and then said I should choose what I wanted. There was some material, a sword, a helmet and some funny sandals. Dr. C said he would leave me alone to change into the costume and then I was to call.

Actually, the costumes weren’t up to much; a kind of small kilt and a few leaves tied together like a sort of crown. There was some sort of scarf thing, I suppose and a bit of old sheet by the look of it. The best bit was the sword and a helmet with a plume on it and a large sort of fork thing and a big round shield. I got undressed down to my skivvies and put on the costume. The kilt thing was really quite short, with pleats round it and a leather belt for the sword. The sandals were quite tricky to put on, but I managed somehow.

There was a knock on the door and Dr. C asked if I was ‘decent’. He came in and said I looked wonderfully ‘archaic’. My chest was bare and the only other clothes I had on was this kilt thing and my underpants underneath. Dr. C noticed and said that my underwear ‘ruined the effect’ and would I remove them. I felt a bit shy, because the kilt thing was really quite short, like those miniskirts the women are wearing, but Dr. C assured me that it was alright and that I was perfectly decent. He didn’t have a mirror in there, so I had to trust him. He put the helmet on my head and a couple of heavy bracelets on my arms and asked me to hold the sword high in the air. He said I looked ‘divine’.

Anyway, he must have taken at least three rolls of film; me with a sword, then with the fork (he called it a ‘trident’) and then with a shield and spear. I felt really exposed, I was sure he could see my willie under the kilt, but he didn’t say anything so I suppose he didn’t. He kept coming up to me and changing my pose, moving my arms and legs, and stroking me. He kept saying things like ‘divine’ and ‘exquisite’ and what a ‘wonderful physique’ and how ‘alluring’ I was. I didn’t understand half of what he was saying.

Though I must say, once I got into it, I was enjoying myself, waving the weapons, imagining I was at the siege of Troy and being a hero in battle. Dr. C then took the weapons and helmet from me and put the leaves on my head and gave me a kind of churchy cup to hold (he called it a ‘goblet’) and said I looked like ‘Ganymede, cup-bearer to the gods’. He kept telling me how handsome I was. Anyway, he finished all his photographs and said I could change back into my clothes while he made the tea.

When he got back, there was biscuits and Battenburg cake. Dr. C said he was very grateful to me for being such a  ‘good sport’ and a ‘willing accomplice’, whatever that was and that he would develop the photos himself and that if they were any good he would show me some.

He said he thought it best not tell anyone, in case they ‘got the wrong idea’. I didn’t quite know what he meant, but I knew that maybe Mum wouldn’t like it if she knew how short that kilt thing was, so I agreed that it would be another of our ‘little secrets’. We seem to have quite a lot of those, but I have to tell someone, that’s why I’m writing it all down in my diary. Anyway, Dr. C was really nice to me and told funny stories and we had a good laugh and he gave me five shillings and told me to ‘spoil myself’- so I bought myself an ice cream on the way home.

***

I am so confused. Dr. C was really mean to me today. He even shouted at me and called me a ‘stupid little tease’, whatever that is. I don’t know why.

We were stacking some books  and I was up on a chair while he passed them up to me. He began to touch my leg a lot, every time he passed a pile of books up to me, his hand would rub up against my leg. Sometimes his hand got really close to my willie and it was getting uncomfortable. All the time, he was talking about something or other, but I wasn’t really listening, because I was not liking his hand on my leg. Then I just jumped down and said I had to go. Dr. C grabbed me and said I was being a silly, immature boy and that I should grow up. He held me really tight and he hurt my wrists and that’s when he called me a little tease.  When I started to cry, he suddenly got all kind and nice again and kept saying how sorry he was and that he was just carried away and ‘overwrought’. He kept begging me to forgive him, saying that he hadn’t been feeling well recently. He looked so pathetic, I just said it was alright, but that I wasn’t happy standing on the chair and that I felt uncomfortable. Dr. C seemed to recover and told me to sit down and we would have a nice cup of tea.

Anyway, he made the tea and I began to feel a bit better. Maybe I was being a bit silly. Maybe it was all an accident and a misunderstanding and that Dr. C wasn’t really feeling me up. I decided I would apologise to him.

When I said I was sorry, Dr. C seemed so happy. He stroked my cheek and said it was all alright and that he hoped I would forgive his ‘little lapse’. I didn’t know what he meant, so I said it was okay. But I must say, I’m not really sure I like being alone with him so much, he’s getting a bit creepy. Charlie doesn’t even know about Dr. C and I think he’s a bit cross with me, because we don’t see as much of each other as we used to. He’s even left the SGBC, saying that Dr. C and Golly are creeps. He said I should leave as well, but I don’t want to stop being head chorister and I’m sure Golly would do that if I left the club. I think maybe Charlie is a bit jealous, but I didn’t tell him that. Anyway, he and Susie are getting very chummy, which is annoying.

Anyway, I like the money I’m getting from Dr. C. I’ll just make sure that things don’t get ‘out of hand’, as my Mum sometimes says when my room needs tidying.

***

I’ve been practicing my swimming. Charlie and I go to the public baths twice a week now and it’s good to be friends with him again.  We share a cubicle, which is sort of against the rules, but nobody checks the changing-rooms; the old man who is supposed to just sits in his little cubicle reading the paper.

Charlie says Susie has chucked him because after she finally let him stroke her tits, she wouldn’t touch his willie and called him a ‘little pervert’. Charlie says she is a slag. Charlie’s willie is a bit bigger than mine, I suppose it must be about two or three inches long and he’s getting a few hairs down there as well. Mine’s only about two inches, I suppose, but when it gets hard it’s bigger, but not much. I still haven’t got any hairs there yet, but Charlie says I will, I’m just a ‘late developer’. He showed me under his arms; he’s getting hairs there as well, but my armpits are still hairless. Charlie’s voice is breaking, sometimes it sounds all squeaky and then it goes deep and then high again. Golly has moved him into the altos and says he’ll soon be singing with the men. I’m still a treble, which I’m glad about, because it means I’m head chorister. Only trebles are head chorister, so I hope my voice doesn’t break for a long time. Charlie says his willie gets really hard and stiff and then he says it’s five inches long! I think he’s fibbing, but there’s no way of finding out whether or not he is, so I have to take his word for it. Mine’s about two and a half inches when it gets hard. I hope it will get bigger soon.

Charlie doesn’t seem to unhappy about not having a girlfriend, but he does say he can’t wait to get another one. He’s already tried chatting up Naomi, but she’s too good for him, her friends say. Charlie says he’s getting all frustrated. He says he thinks about Naomi when he tosses himself off. He asked me if I ever got a hard willie. I told him I did and then he asked me how often I tossed myself off. I said I didn’t know what he meant. He just laughed at me and told me I was a sad case. I asked him what tossing off was. He said if I didn’t know by now, then I was a poor old sod. Then we  went to the pool and started a diving competition and dropped the subject.

I think tossing off must be something you do when your willie is hard. I’m going to try after I finish writing this and just see what all the fuss is about. I can feel it getting hard now, just thinking about Susie’s tits.

***

When I got to Dr C’s today, Golly was there as well. I wasn’t too happy about that. Golly’s been very odd since Easter. Sometimes he’s really nice to me and tells me how much he likes my voice and how I’m ‘very special, and then other days he bites my head off for next to nothing. I’ve managed to steer clear of him as well, so he hasn’t got me alone – maybe that’s what’s been annoying him. Last choir practice he hardly talked to me and spent the break talking to the new boy, Simon. I noticed how he kept looking over at Simon during practice and smiling. I think Golly’s a creep and got the hots for Simon. Well at least he won’t be trying to grope me any more, so that’s probably a Good Thing.

I could tell that Golly and Dr. C had been drinking when I arrived, their breath smelt funny and Golly sounded a bit slurry when he spoke.

“Ah, Lancelot, your willing little helper has arrived” he said as I followed Dr. C into his study. Golly was sitting in the armchair, a glass of something in his hand. I didn’t like the way he looked me up and down, it felt like he was staring through me and I could see him staring at my fly. He even licked his lips. He reminded me of a snake, his eyes half closed like that. I felt really uncomfortable and decided I was going to go, but just then Dr. C gave me a small soft package, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.

“Open it, dear boy, open it!” he said. It would have been rude not to, so I tugged at the string and opened the package.

It was something made of material and it was a few seconds before I realised it was a pair of swimming-trunks. They were blue and made of some shiny material and looked really small.

“Just a small token of my gratitude,” said Dr. C and he ruffled my hair. “Something for you to wear on the beach at Whitsun. Now, try them on and see if they fit.”

I started to leave the room, when Dr. C caught hold of my arm. “Where are you off to, laddie?”

“I’m going to the lavatory to change,” I replied. I felt Dr. C’s grip on my arm grow a little tighter.

“Oh there’s no need for that, young William! We’re all men here. Nothing we haven’t seen before! I’m sure you’re not ashamed of the body God gave you are you?” He looked for a moment so severe and my arm was beginning to hurt, I only managed to stammer something, I don’t even remember what I said. Dr. C went on talking, his hand stilll holding my arm really tight. He bent down to look me straight in the eye. His breath smelt funny.

“You must learn to rejoice in the body that God gave you, young Mr. Fremantle. You remember the hymn we sang last Sunday? “God who created me, nimble and light of limb” You must give thanks for God giving you such a fine body, Will and be glad that you are whole and not deformed or twisted. You have been endowed with a fine stature and you should be only too glad to enjoy displaying yourself! You remember when you tried on the Roman costumes? That was a true rejoicing of your fine young form, Will. Surely you won’t mind though Mr Robinson and I are here, do you? We praise the Lord through his wondrous works and you, Will, are one of God’s masterpieces. So no more talk about being ashamed, or shy or embarrassed! Come on lad, don’t be afraid, it’s just us here. Our little secret. Try them on, Will.”

Dr. C let go of my arm and gave me a smile. Suddenly I was reminded of the wolf in a fairy story and I felt uneasy. But Dr C had been really clever. If I didn’t change there and then, it meant I was being unthankful to God and He would be angry with me and I would be punished. I had no choice. Dr. C had sat down next to Golly and they both looked at me expectantly.

I felt my cheeks burn with embarrassment as I slowly changed.

“Good lad,” said Dr. C as he stared at me as one by one, my clothes came off; shirt, vest, socks. I began to get more nervous as I clumsily tried to unfasten my snake-belt. I wished I had kept my shirt on til last – at least that would have given me some cover, but it was too late for that now. The belt buckle came apart and I opened the buttons on my fly, one by one, until my shorts fell to the floor round my ankles. Golly and Dr.c seemed as if they were hypnotised, they didn’t move, just stared at me. I knew what they were staring at – my underpants. My willie felt as if it was about to shrivel right away. I even think my knees were knocking together.

“Go on, boy,” whispered Dr. C “try on those lovey swimming trunks. I’m sure they’ll suit you to a T!”

I thought I might try and get the trunks on over my underpants and reached for the flimsy garment, but Dr. C interrupted me.

“Stupid boy!” He sounded and looked cross, but quickly started to smile again, but his eyes stayed hard. “People don’t go bathing with their underpants on under their trunks, now do they?” He was right, of course. I felt myself go even redder as I slowly began to pull down my pants. I was wishing the earth would swallow me up. Why hadn’t I just gone when I saw what was happening? I could have outrun both of them. But the problem is what stories they would tell my mother. It was probably better for me to do what they asked. Anyway, Dr. C was a priest. He wouldn’t do anything to me. It was Golly that I was more worried about. I hoped that Dr. C would not let Golly do anything to me. I felt the cooler air around my willie and marbles as the pants fell finally to the ground. I tried to cover myself, but Dr. C said, “Remember what I said about not upsetting God with your silly shyness, William! Enjoy your young body! Revel in His creation. Delight in His perfection! Praise the Lord!”

Dr. C was beginning to sound a bit mad and Golly just stared at me, his hand in his pocket, I think he was feeling himself up. I stood there, naked as the day I was born in front of these two men and could see how they looked at me. Neither man moved. I felt as if I were rooted to the spot, caught in their stares. I even think I heard one of the men groan quietly.

I reached again for the trunks which had fallen to the floor. As I bent to pick them up, I heard a click. Dr. C had produced his camera from somewhere and was snapping away. I got confused and a bit angry. He hadn’t said anything about taKing pictures of me with no clothes on. I managed to stammer something about not to do it, but Dr. C and Golly just laughed. “Come along, William, don’t be such a prude! Remember to rejoice in your body which is a gift from God, like your beautiful voice! You like singing don’t you?”

I nodded, I did like singing.

“Well this isn’t any different really,” said Golly. He looked very red-faced and seemed to be panting like he had been running. Meanwhile Dr. C was still clicking away, so I hurriedly put on the trunks, getting them all twisted as I rushed to pull them up over my willie.

“Don’t rip your nice new present, William!” Dr. C sounded a bit cross. That’s no way to show appreciation for the kind thought behind your gift! Now do it properly!”

I adjusted the flimsy material, pulling the drawstrings and tying them in a bow, but my fingers were shaking too much.

“What’s that? A grown boy crying like a little girl?” Golly sounded like the boys in the playground, when they picked on someone samller than themselves, using a sing-song voice. For a moment I really wanted to hit him, but I kew I never would. One small boy against two grown men, I didn’t stand a chance and I realised that they knew it. I was at their mercy. In that moment, I realised into what trap I had fallen. Dr. C wasn’t being nice to me because he wanted to be my friend. He had only paid me to come to his house so that I would be under his power. I realised, too late, that I wouldn’t even be able to tell anyone about what had happened at Dr. C’s house and at choir practice. It was only the word of a small, stupid boy against theirs.

Now I knew why Dr. C had given me money, won my trust. He was a dirty old man, and so was Golly. I couldn’t believe how dim I had been, not to have realised sooner. But now I realise that, deep down, I had guessed about them but didn’t want to see it. I thought it would be alright, that they wouldn’t actually do anything to harm me, but now, standing infront of them, practically naked – well I had been naked,  then these men might actually do domething bad to me.

“Don’t worry, young Will” Dr. C sounded coaxing, but I could see through his act. “Don’t worry, my boy! You needn’t be afraid or anxious! We’re your friends, Mr. Robertson and I. We wouldn’t do you any harm, sweet William!” He reached over and put a hand on my shoulder, letting it rest their. His hand felt warm, large, heavy.

“Nothing bad will happen to you, I promise! Do you believe me, William?”

I didn’t know what to say. I just looked at the carpet, the faded pattern breaking up through the tears which were forming.

“We wouldn’t do anything you didn’t want, Will. Do you believe that?”

He sounded so kind and his voice was so soft, I found myself nodding my head.

“Good boy! Sensible lad, William! You can trust me. I won’t let anyone do any bad things to you, William”

The room went very quiet. I couldn’t see Golly, Dr. C was kneeling in front of me, his hand gently stroking my shoulder, chest and tummy. He was murmuring something like it would all be alright and that I would enjoy myself. H put the camera on the floor and gathered me into his arms, hands stroking me all over. I had lost all sense of me, I seemed to go all limp and I remember thinking that there was nothing I could do about anything any more. I had fleeting memories of me as a child, Mummy, playing on the beach, conkers, my best friend Charlie, singing in the choir. I thought I heard God telling me I was a good boy. I felt as if I were a puppet and someone or something else was making me move.

I don’t know if I dreamt it or if it really happened, but I felt the mens’ hands all over me, stroking caressing me. My new swimming trunks disappeared. I felt my willie being stroked. Something wet and warm seemed to engulf it. I couldn’t help myself, my willie got hard. The hands and wetness continued until I felt spasm after spasm and it was like stars popped in my head. Everything went dark, then very bright again. It felt new, strange and after the first shock, very good. I heard a voice cry out and realised it was me. But it wasn’t a sound of pain, but of pleasure. Release.

I don’t know how much time had passed, but I seemed to wake up, lying on the sofa. I was naked. Golly was standing over me. He must have thought I was still asleep. He had his fly open and his willy was sticking out and he was rubbing it up and down very fast. I pretended to be asleep, but watched through half-closed eyes. Golly was moaning as he rubbed himself. I didn’t know where Dr. C was, I didn’t dare open my eyes to look. Golly kept rubbing his willie until, all of a sudden he groaned and stuff shot out of the end of his willie. It was a white gooey liquid, in ropes, reminding me of snot. I felt a few gobs land on my tummy. It was warm. Golly groaned some more and more of the white stuff leaked out of his willy, running over his fingers and on to the sofa and carpet. He bent down and I quickly shut my eyes hard, pretending to be asleep. I felt Golly’s breath on my tummy and he must have stuck his tongue out because I felt him licking the white stuff off me. He played with my willie a bit, but I didn’t get hard. Then I heard him get up and leave the room.  I opened my eyes. There was Dr. C with a video camera pointing at me. He had been filming Golly and now he was filming me. I covered myself.

“I want my clothes now” I said, before I could think.

Dr. C smiled at me, turned off the camera and handed me my clothes. I couldn’t see the swimming trunks anywhere.

“There you are, William. You’ve been a very good boy, but you know  this must be one of our little secrets, don’t you? You don’t want to upset your mother now do you? It would be most unfortunate for you if she found out that you were not able to control your animal lusts. But I’m sure you won’t say anything will you, dear boy? You see, God doesn’t like little tale-tellers and telling fibs is just about the biggest sin there is and if you tell fibs, you go to Hell. So you see, you must forget everything you think you saw and heard and did here, William. Everything. If you do that and behave yourself, then I’m sure you’ll get a reward. You’d like a reward, wouldn’t you?”

While he was speaking, I was getting dressed again, I just wanted to get out of this house and was ready to do or say almost anything to get away.

“Yes,” I replied. “I won’t say a word. Scout’s honour.”

Dr. C ruffled my hair. It cost me all my self-control not to recoil from his touch. I felt dirty, used, wicked.

“Good boy, good boy.” Then he handed me a ten-shilling note. It was more money than I had ever had, except from a postal order from my Granny on my birthday.

“That’s for you, William. For our little secret. Don’t forget your promise! And if you want more, then you know where to come! Our little secret!”

I got out of the house as quick as I could. I don’t know exactly what had happened, not in detail, everything seemed jumbled up, disjointed, like a dream, but I did know that I never wanted to go there again. All I knew was that I had been a wicked, sinful boy and that Dr. C and Mr Robertson had somehow defiled me and God was angry with me. I can’t tell anyone. No-one. Not Charlie, certainly not Mummy. No-one. That’s why it’s written here, so that I know it happened. How am I going to keep out of their way? If I don’t do what they say, they might tell Mummy what a dirty boy I am and I don’t know what will happen to me. Will I be sent away? What would they do to me? I have to go along with them. They’re grownups and too clever for me. They’re stronger than I am and I know that they haven’t finished with me.

This will never end.

***

There were no entries for a few weeks.

I felt numb. There, in Will Fremantle’s diary was catalogued the cold, cynical and calculated destruction of a poor defenceless boy’s will. Those two men, devils incarnate – and one of them a priest, for God’s sake – had, in the most despicable and vile way betrayed the trust and innocence of a young mind; a mind confused enough as it was. Easy prey for the two evil men to exploit for their own perverse pleasure.

Then followed the extract I had read in the book. I began to dread what would come next:

I don’t know who to turn to. My parents won’t believe me, they would accuse me of spreading terrible lies and send me to the Rector to apologise.

I couldn’t do that. I can’t speak to anyone. No-one would believe me and I would just get into worse trouble than I’m in now. I’ve tried praying but I know God doesn’t hear my prayers because I am a wicked sinner.

I am impure, unclean. Unworthy to share in God’s communion here on earth. I have been damned and I will go to eternal hellfire.

It’s all my fault. I should have said no to him. But I couldn’t. He’s bigger and stronger than I am. He says I should do what he tells me and that God understands. He tells me that I am doing His work.

Now every time I see him, he smiles at me and tells me what a good boy I am. But I know that am not a good boy. I am wicked, dirty– full of sin.

I got Dr. C to give me some of the pictures he had taken of me. They’ll be proof. He told me I had to be very careful and keep them well hidden. I promised, but I’m glad I’ve got them. If anything happens to me, they will be proof.  No-one but he and I knew about them, he said. I’ve stuck one of them in this diary. The others I have put into ‘safekeeping’. I know where they are, who has them, but I have made them promise never to tell anyone or show anyone, unless they absolutely have to. They are my insurance.  Some people might say there’s nothing wrong with them, but I know how I felt while he was taking those pictures and now I know why he did. Dr. C and Mr Robertson are perverts. They like feeling up boys and they tricked me. I hate them.

Yesterday was the worst day of my life. My mother made me stay in the choir, even though I told her I wanted to leave. She said Mr Robertson had been adamant that I stay in the choir and she thought it was good for me. It would “keep me off the streets and out of mischief”, she said. She doesn’t know anything!

After choir practice yesterday, Mr Robertson cornered me. I wasn’t quick enough to get out and he caught me before I could get away.

“Young Will! A moment of your time please! Head-chorister matters!” I think he only said that in case any of the other boys were still hanging around. He told me to go to his little cubby-hole behind the organ, where he kept his music. I had no choice. He made me wait ages for him. Then he came in and closed the door behind him. He told me to sit down, while he made a couple of cups of tea. I could tell he was trying to act all nice and friendly, but I knew that I couldn’t trust him. I mustn’t let my guard down for a moment.

“Why the long face, William? What’s bothering you, dear boy?” He was all smiles, but I still didn’t trust him. Not after what he had done at Dr. C’s house, though he had more or less left me alone since then.

“Come along William! Don’t be such a sourpuss! All’s well that ends well, eh?” He gave me a cup of tea. I didn’t want to drink it in case he had drugged it, so I put it on the table.

“I think it’s time we had a little chat, William my lad. Sit yourself down over there!” He more or less pushed me over to the chair furthest from the door. He stood in front of me, looking down like he was a judge or something. I felt very small and a bit afraid. I was wondering if he tried anything, how I could get past him and down the stairs and out of the church. I was a quick runner, but Mr Robertson was bigger and stronger than me. If I wasn’t quick enough… I didn’t want to think any more about that. I listened to what he was saying.

“William, you’re not upset by our little… ‘adventure’ are you? Let me tell you, dear boy, that you really didn’t do anything wrong. It’s quite natural for a boy your age to be curious about, … you know what.”

He was twisting everything, making out it was me who had started it all, when it had been him and Dr. C and those swimming trunks.

“You see, William, some people, some men are very fond of boys like you; handsome, young, curious. Dr. Cruickshank and I like to nurture the enquiring mind, we are only to keen to help young lads like yourself who might be a bit confused, or curious. You could say it is our sacred duty to try and help boys find their way in life.

God made us all different, William. Some people have red hair, others are blonde or dark. Tall, short, thin, fat. It is a great tapestry we are weaved into and there are so many colours in that tapestry. Or think of it like music. Sometimes it is fast and jolly, sometimes slow and sad. Think of the solos you have been singing; Stanford’s ‘Magnificat’ or Bach’s ‘Komm süsser Tod’ – different pieces with different messages. Well, William, people are like that too. Some boys like to play rugby, others like to draw. Some boys dream of being adventurers like Edmund Hillary or Scott of the Antarctic, others want to paint masterpieces or write great music like Tchaikovsky. Some men like to marry and start a family, others prefer the company of other men. Dr. Cruickshank and I understand this, William and we see it as important to guide the young boys in our charge, so that they reap the full benefits of what God gave them. Are you following me?”

I thought I was and nodded my head. Mr Robertson seemed to be making sense, but I still didn’t understand fully what he was getting at.

“William. William,” he lowered his voice and smiled at me. He almost looked human. “Don’t you see what I’m saying? I just want you to know how special you are. Special in the eyes of God – and in my eyes too. You are a very sweet boy, William and I am very fond of you.”

He must have seen the look of surprise I gave him because he repeated,  “Really, I am. Very fond.”

He put a hand on my leg and stroked my thigh. “Drink your tea, young William and tell me what’s bothering you.”

I tried to get out of the chair, but Mr Robertson pushed me back down. No more smiles. He looked cross.

“Oh no, you little cocktease. You’re not going anywhere! Not until I’m finished!” He raised his arm as if to strike me. I gave up. He was so much bigger and stronger than me.

He pushed me back into the chair while with the other hand he fumbled with his fly-buttons. I was pinned down, his hand pushing hard against my chest as he pulled down his trousers and underwear and his enormous willie sprang into view. It was long and hard and had blue veins on it. His nob stuck out, all purple and shiny. There was some stuff leaking out of it. Mr Robertson stroked it a few times, licking his lips and staring right at me.

“You know what this is, boy?” He looked like a madman. I froze in my chair, unable to move.

“This is a man’s cock, young William. This is no ‘willie’ or ‘winkle’ this is all man, my cock, penis, rod of iron. And do you know what it’s for, boy? It’s for young pretty boys like you to suck on, feast on, worship. Go on little boy! Take this offering!” He was shouting by this time and still held me firmly in the chair. He leaned closer and closer, bringing his monster willie right into my face. I felt the soft, slick and spongy head stroke my cheek, lips.

“Open your mouth you little whore. Take my rod in that sweet mouth and keep your bloody teeth out of the bloody way or I will give you such a beating! Now suck on it like you do on your mother’s tit, you little slut! Suck it!!!”

He was screaming almost out of control and I could nothing as he pushed the great smelly thing into my mouth. I felt the ridged pole pushing into my mouth, the large red nob prising my jaws apart. He kept on pushing, I felt like I was going to be sick, I even gagged.

“Stop your snivelling little catamite! Take it like a man!” He did stop pushing though and left it there in my mouth, throbbing.

“Now use that sweet little tongue of yours, Will. Work it boy! Suck me, lick me!”

He kept pushing and pulling his cock in my mouth. My jaws ached, I felt the tears running down my face.

“Don’t stop, boy! Suck me like there’s no tomorrow! Suck it!”

I don’t know how long I sat there, Mr Robertson’s cock in my face, but after a while, he began to push and pull even more. I felt his cock get even bigger. Then, with  a last push, it seemed like he just peed in my mouth: Hot, salty liquid everywhere, pumping out of him into my mouth. It overflowed , it went up into my nose and without knowing what I was doing, I swallowed and I felt the slimy juice go down my throat. He kept pumping more and more of the stuff into me and I just kept swallowing, coughing and crying all at the same time.

Finally, I felt it go soft. Nothing more came out and he pulled it out of my mouth. I couldn’t look. I was sobbing. Snot and other stuff his stuff running out of my nose, leaking out of my mouth. My mouth hurt, the taste on my tongue was like salt. The smell was like at the swimming-pool. I thought I was going to be sick. He eased the pressure on my chest and began to adjust his clothing.

“Good boy. Good, good boy. See! It wasn’t so bad was it?” He kept repeating himself, in a soft voice. He was still breathing heavily. I felt his hands fumbling with my belt. I had no resistance in me. I closed my eyes and let him do what he wanted. I felt him pull down my trousers and underpants. His large, sweaty hand stroked my willie. To my shame, I felt it go hard.

“You see! Young Willie likes his willie stroked doesn’t he? Young willie is a slut, a cocksucker, a whore. But he’s oh so sweet. Delicious boy!”

He stroked me, teased my foreskin, juggled my balls. My little cock was very, very hard and without warning, it spurted two or three squirts of juice all over his hand.

“Oh delightful nectar! Sweet Jesus!”

I just let it happen. Then he stood up and took a step backwards.

“Look at me William. Look at me!”

I looked up at him, afraid of what was coming next.

“You tell anyone about this, anyone at all, and I will give you such a beating! Understand? Not even Dr. Cruickshank. No-one. Is that clear?”

I nodded. How could I tell anyone? No-one would believe me anyway. I am just a boy and they are grownups.

“Say you promise not to tell a soul, so help you God!”

I promised. I had no choice.

Then he was all nice and smiles again. “Get yourself cleaned up, lad!” There were stains on my pullover and some of my stuff running down my still bare leg.

“Get yourself dressed and sorted and then you’ll feel better. Take this.”

He handed me a handkerchief to clean myself up with.

“Now I’m sure a good boy like you should get a reward! How about a shilling?”

I didn’t have the strength to refuse and was frightened to, so I took the small silver coin he offered.

“We must do this again, young Willie. Very soon. I’m sure you’ll get to like it a lot! Now bugger off, boy. And don’t forget. Not a SOUL.”

The entries after that were brief; a sad catalogue of abuse.

Mr. R. same as lat time

***

Dr. C made me feel his cock 2/6d.

***

Choir practice. Robertson made me suck his cock.

***

Dr. C tossed me off and I felt his cock, 5/-

***

Choir practice. Robertson sucked me. Tossed him off.

***

Dr. C took more photos. Me no clothes. 2/6d.

***

Choir practice. Simon there too. Mr Robertson made us toss each other off.

***

Sucked Dr. C. Had to spit it out. He told me I would get used to it by the time he had finished with me.

***

Dr. C tried to stick his cock in my bum. Hurt a lot. Hit me. Called me a ‘little girlie.’

***

Dr. C and Mr Robertson tossed me off. Put their fingers in my bum. Had to suck them both off. They made me swallow. Felt sick. They poured vodka down my throat.

***

They made me toss myself off while they took pictures of me. Drank vodka. They tossed off all over me.

***

Simon there as well. Lots of pictures. Me and Simon tossing and sucking.  Got vodka and lime to drink. Simon sucked Robertson, Dr. C pushed his cock up my bum. Hurt a lot. I was sick when I got home. Mum thinks it’s the ‘flu. She knows nothing!

***

Still ill. Bum sore. Tried to pray, but I know God isn’t listening.

***

Don’t feel like going to school. Told Mum I was still ill. Can’t face going back to choir practice. Don’t ever want to go there again.

***

Had to go to school. Charlie ignoring me. He’s with Naomi now. Someone told me they had ‘done it.’ Susie ignoring me. She’s hanging out with McGregor, the captain of rugger. He’s  a twat.

***

Mum forced me to go to choir practice. Robertson ignored me. Simon not there. No-one talking to me.

***

Bunked off school and hung around the ’rec. Saw lots of sad old men going in and out of the public toilets. Now I know what they do there. One even came up to me. Told him to piss off. Went to the Wimpy bar and had three burgers. I can afford it now. Thought I saw Dr. C going into the local fleapit. Hid for the rest of the afternoon. When I got home, Mum told me thay had ‘phoned from school and asked if I was still ill. Mum furious. Told her to bog off and went for a walk. I’m in real trouble now. Wish I could get away from here. Maybe I’ll run away.

***

Mum kept me in my room all day. She says she’s ‘very disappointed’ in me. What about me? I’ve got no-one to talk to. Don’t want to go to church again. Don’t want to sing in the choir. Don’t want to see Dr. C ever again. I want my Dad to come back. But he’s dead.

***

Bad day. Mum dragged me to church. Said I had ‘responsibilities’. She doesn’t know what’s happening to me. No-one does. Just Robertson and Dr. C and they’re mean perverts. I’m frightened. I don’t want to do anything more with them, but they’ll tell on me, or beat me, if I don’t do what they say.

 

The list went on until the final entry which was sickeningly familiar; from the book again:

I’m trapped. Nowhere to go. No-one to turn to. It’s better this way. Better that I vanish, then they can’t hurt me. No one can hurt me. Better that I roast in Hell than stay here near them.  I’ve got the key to the tower. I stole it off its hook the other day. One day, soon, I’ll climb up there and jump off. It’s very high. Then it will all be over.

The worst thing is that I can’t tell anyone. They’d never believe me. The Rector is liked by everyone here. He’s been here for ages. But nobody knows what I know about him or Mr Robertson.

And I don’t expect anyone ever will.

 

EIGHT
(TUESDAY AFTERNOON)

The dreadful, sorry journal had no more entries. I sat in the almost deserted café, the images summoned up by Will’s sad story in my mind’s eye. I cursed Robertson and Cruickshank for what they had done, literally destroying a young life. They took advantage of a thirteen-year-old, playing terrible mindgames with him, using their strength and the threat of physical violence in order to subjugate the boy and have him comply with their every perverted whim.

How many other boys like Will Fremantle had suffered at their hands? How many other young lives thrown away were on their consciences? I wasn’t sure these evil men had any consciences at all. Seizing on vulnerable boys, boys who were still struggling with their identities, or like Will, on the cusp of becoming fully-fledged members of society, only to be tormented to the point of self-destruction.

The fact that I had found the diary where the book had said it would be confirmed it once and for all – if I had had any doubts until that time – that somehow or other, in some supernatural way the book was genuine and that the information it held was real. Cries from the past for my help. The book’s foreword named me and Will’s appeal had also been made to me, by name. Somehow or other, he had communicated to me from beyond the grave and it was my duty to somehow get justice for him.

If I were to be able to help, I would need to get facts. If I could find out exactly where Cruickshank and Robertson had got to, whether they were even still alive and if I could have a shot at someone in authority listen to me and read Will’s diary, maybe I could at least try and get an admission of guilt. I didn’t even know if too much time had elapsed for charges to be brought. I was sure forensic tests would show that the diary was genuine. Either way, for me it would be enough just to confront either Robertson or Cruickshank with their wicked misdeeds and somehow get justice for Will Fremantle and perhaps more of their victims.

I looked at my watch; it was well into the afternoon and outside,  the November light was beginning to fade. I decided to go over to the London Library and research the local paper from 1963 and see if I could find any reports of a teen suicide or accident outside St. Giles’ Church. I could narrow down my search to the latter part of the year, maybe from July onwards. I left the café and hailed a cab and made my way to the London Library.

I am a member of the London Library and it was easy enough to get access to microfiches of the local paper from 1963, but a lot more difficult to trawl through every one, looking for the report I so both wanted and didn’t want to see. Luckily, the paper was a weekly, so it meant there were fewer numbers to go through, but they were also jam-packed with all sorts of news items, page after page of all kinds of reports from dog-shows to local council reports.

July: no mention of a teen death either accidental or suicide. However, there was a report about St. Giles’ Choir winning a competition, there was even a photograph. The grainy snap showed the twenty-or-so strong choir and their choirmaster, Mr Robertson. At last I could put a face to him. He was a stocky man with a florid complexion and sour expression. He appeared to have a large birthmark on the left side of his forehead, which spread half-way down his cheek. I guessed his age to be in the thirties, but it was hard to tell as the clothes he wore, along with the haircut made him look any age. I made a quick calculation in my head. If the man was in his early thirties in 1963, over forty years ago, then he would be in his seventies or early eighties now. He could still be alive somewhere. I scanned the boys’ faces looking for one that might be Will’s as I remembered him from the book.

With a shock, I recognised him. There he stood, at the end of the second row, his head chorister’s medal around his neck. He looked tired, almost haunted, with sunken eyes and drooping shoulders, in complete contrast to the other boys, who looked chirpy and lively. I gazed for a long time at the boy, seeing him now with the knowledge of what he was going through. With a pang I realised in this photograph the poor boy only had weeks left to live. There was the face of a poor tormented soul who could find no other way out but to end his own life and standing only a couple of feet from him was one of the men who made him do it. I cursed Robertson under my breath and fervently hoped he was still alive and that I would find him and be able to punish him for what he did. I wanted to strangle the bastard with my bare hands.

I wondered if the other boy, Simon, was there also, but if he was, I had no way of knowing who he was. Perhaps he was the one standing next to Robertson, the man’s hand resting on his shoulder. Pure conjecture on my part. Knowing what I now did about Robertson, it could be any boy he had taken a fancy to. Perhaps this one too, would be the paedophile’s next victim.

August: The Great Train Robbery dominated the paper after the Bank holiday. I remembered the sensation at the time and the almost unheard-of sum of money the train robbers had got away with.

No mention of Will’s death in that paper nor any others from that month.

I ploughed on, through September, October and then, in November, there was the report I was looking for. It was tucked away on one of the inner pages, a very short piece indeed, under the same picture of the church that I had seen in the book:

BOY IN FATAL FALL

Fourteen year-old William Freemantle fell to his death from the bell-tower of St. Giles Church where he was head chorister. The boy’s body was discovered in the early hours of Saturday morning. It is not yet clear exactly how or when the accident occurred and police say they have ruled out foul play. The key to the tower was found in the dead boy’s pocket and police say the boy had probably been in the tower after the church had been locked for the night. Organist and Master of the Choristers, Mr Stanhope Robertson, said yesterday he was ‘shocked’ by the ‘terrible’ accident adding that William Freemantle had been a promising member of the choir. He said the accident was probably the result of ‘horseplay or a dare’ among the choristers. Members of the choir said they had lost a ‘popular’ member of the choir, but refuted the theory of a dare, saying that the tower was strictly out of bounds. Rector of St. Giles, Dr. L.W. Cruickshank, said he was ‘deeply saddened’ by the boy’s death, adding that Freemantle’s ‘exceptional’ voice had brought ‘light and joy’ into the church.

I read and re-read the paragraph. They had misspelt Will’s surname throughout, which angered me enormously. Why hadn’t whatever hack who had written the piece, or the news editor, whose job it was, bothered to check his facts? I pictured both Cruickshank and Robertson adopting suitably serious demeanours, making sure they said the right thing, appearing to be sad. The cynical bastards! They had killed William just as surely as if they had pushed him out of that window with their own hands! It was because of them that the boy ended up dead on the pavement outside the church. Shame on you! I spoke out loud, eliciting harsh looks from readers close by in the sepulchral library.

I printed out a copy of the article after checking through the rest of that year’s papers, just in case there was a follow-up story. There wasn’t. William Fremantle was dead. Cruickshank and Robertson had got away with it. Life went on. Will got forgotten, the older men probably carried on their disgusting abuse. Sic transit.

That was the year Kennedy was assassinated. How much press did that death engender? That was the year Will was, to all intents and purposes, murdered and that single factually incorrect paragraph was all he got. Well, I would do my damndest to make sure that Will Fremantle wouldn’t be forgotten.

The nebulous strands of a plan were already forming in my mind.

My first step, was the most obvious one: the names Stanhope Robertson and Lancelot W. Cruickshank were uncommon enough and if either, or both, were still alive, I might be lucky enough to trace them, or at least get a good lead.

I went to one of the computer terminals in the library and Googled Cruickshank first.

It didn’t take long to find him: Lancelot Wystan Cruickshank, born 20 April 1920, Edinburgh Scotland, died 13 September 1999, in Bournemouth. So, the bastard was dead and beyond my reach. I only hope he met his just desserts in the hereafter that he professed to believe in. The sad thing is, he probably saw nothing wrong in what he was doing.

As far as he was concerned, William Fremantle killed himself by accident or else because the boy was ‘unbalanced’. It probably never even crossed the Rector’s mind that being the victim of sexual abuse could have been – was – traumatic enough for the boy to want to end it all. As his diaries plainly showed, Will was both upset and confused by the actions of the two older men.

I was convinced that Lancelot W. Cruickshank, like most child abusers, convinced himself that he ‘loved’ the boy and that he was not doing the lad any harm, indeed the boy seemed willing and co-operative.

Of course he was. The boy was frightened by the two men; their positions of power and authority as well as their superior physical strength. How often had Cruickshank drummed into him that what was going on was ‘good’ in the eyes of God? How could a thirteen year old boy understand that? For him it was not good, it was unnatural, a sin, yet the Rector and organist both said he was angering God by not participating.

In the end, the poor boy seemed to have been totally brianwashed and succumbed to his tormentors’ abuse as if he were an automaton. By switching himself off emotionally, he was trying to distance himself from the torture he was undergoing. The two men just thought the boy’s passiveness was acquiescence, when in fact it was a way the boy was using to try and survive.

Even that failed him and William Fremantle ended his short life by throwing himself from the tower of the place which should have been a sanctuary for him. To him, even God must have turned his back on him and the boy met his death afraid and alone.

I hoped Cruickshank was burning in the eternal hellfire that, in life, he professed he was trying to save souls from.

I turned my attention next to Stanhope Robertson. I had hoped his unusual name would make him easier to trace, but my initial searches threw nothing up. I would have to try a more circuitous route. Being a church organist, I assumed he had studied possibly at the Royal College of Organists or one of the other music colleges. I would begin my search in London and work from there.

It seemed a daunting task; this Robertson could have read music at a University or else even abroad. I would have to try and narrow down the search. I knew when he was organist at St. Giles, the question was whether there was any information on their website, if they had one. I could try and find out where he went after 1963. I also had to try and find out why he left. Had he been discovered? Had he been reported for molesting other boys? Did he leave St. Giles under a cloud, or was his departure coincidental? Was St. Giles his first position, where had he been before then?

So many questions. It would be more comfortable for me to do my research on my own computer at home, so I packed up and made my way back to Seven Dials.

 

NINE
(TUESDAY – EARLY EVENING)

The hole in the road was even larger now and completely covered by a tent. A more substantial fence had been put up around it and there was even a policeman pacing around, obviously ‘guarding’ the site. I approached him and after satisfying him that I lived in the house close by, I asked him what was going on.

“Found a body”, he replied, nodding his head towards the tent, which I could now see was illuminated from within. I saw a couple of shadows moving around inside.

“Forensics and a couple of archaeologists,” replied the young policeman to my query. “It’s in the evening papers,” he went on, obviously not willing – or able, more likely – to complete the picture for the curious passers-by. I wondered why archaeologists had been called in. I thanked him and decided I would get a paper and read it over a drink in the pub. I realised I was famished; I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, most of which I had thrown up anyway. I wondered if the Crown had any food left over that I could trust.

I bought a paper and went into the pub. There were more people than usual in this evening and there was a general, low buzz of conversation. No doubt the discovery of the body had brought out the curious. Well, it had brought me out!

There were a couple of reasonably fresh-looking roast-beef sandwiches left, so I decided to risk it. Along with my usual Chivas, I ordered a still water. I was able to find a table in the far corner, close to the stairs down to the toilets; not the best seat in the pub, a bit draughty, but it meant I could read the paper in peace.

BOY’S VIOLENT DEATH DISCOVERED: THREE HUNDRED YEARS ON
By our Staff Reporter

The boy does not have a name, but he is not unknown. Scientists are reconstructing his story from a skeleton, found yesterday in Seven Dials, London, buried underneath a layer of fireplace ash, bottle and ceramic fragments, and animal bones.

Resting on top of the rib cage was the milk pan used to dig the grave.

When workmen unearthed a skull during roadworks, first the police, then archaeologists from London University were called in. After archeologist Dr. Dave Towns had made an initial survey, he identified the remains and immediate surroundings as being from the 17th Century. He recognised that the skull belonged to a Caucasian male. First impressions indicated the male was aged between 12 and 16 years old. The boy’s spine and teeth were damaged from hard labour or disease. This profile fits that of a servant in mid-17th century London. During this time, according to Dr Towns, young men and women were employed by merchants and tradesmen. It was not uncommon for them to die during the harsh conditions of bondage.

Based on the artefacts surrounding the body—including a coin dated 1694 and a piece of window that has a date stamp of 1693 — Towns determined that the boy had died between 1695 and 1700.

That time frame corresponds to when laws were being passed against the private burial of indentured servants, to prevent owners from covering up instances of abuse. The boy’s right wrist was fractured in a way that suggested he used his arm to block a strong blow shortly before his death. That injury, along with the awkward burial, points to a violent end. “They were burying him in secret so they would not have to report the death,” said Towns.

The remains are still where they were found, pending a full excavation which Dr Towns will be heading. “It’s a very exciting find,” he said adding that it could throw more light on living conditions in London from that time. When asked if he expected more bodies to turn up, Dr Towns said that it was early days yet, but he thought it was ‘rather unlikely’.

I suddenly felt almost overwhelmed by so many accounts of the abuse of young boys; first from the book, then from Will’s diary and now here. It seemed as if I was being made aware on purpose of terrible things, things of which I had no idea until yesterday. Like suddenly seeing things under a microscope. Too many coincidences, too many dreadful things happening. Now this boy’s body, which had lain undisturbed until yesterday, as if it were waiting for that day to be found. Maybe the universe was trying to tell me something, or more accurately, maybe I was now listening and the time for action on my part had arrived; a tap on the shoulder and a whispering in my ear; “Peter Taylor – help us.”

“Poor lad!” The voice was Albert’s, who, with Guinness in hand had come over to where I was sitting. I motioned him to join me.

“Nothing more than goods and chattels” I replied. “Human life and dignity not worth much in those days.”

“Not much better these days,” replied Albert as he folded his tall thin frame into the seat opposite me. “One hears all these stories about drug-pushers, illegal immigrants, sex-slaves. There will always be people ready to exploit those in a weaker position than themselves, more’s the pity.”

I nodded in agreement. There seemed to be no limit to man’s greediness and inhumanity to their fellow beings, just in order to make money.

“Surprising that the skeleton’s been there all this time and never been discovered, what with the constant rebuilding of the area,” said Albert.

I agreed, but didn’t voice my thoughts on the matter; a skeleton waiting for me in order to make its appearance would make me material for the funny-farm, in any sane person’s opinion.

“So, any more mysterious occurrences at home?”

Again, I decided discretion to be the right course to take. I shook my head. I would keep James to myself, as it were. I did however decide to broach the subject of St. Giles, see if Albert could supply me with some background information. It was worth a try.

“You’ve lived here a good number of years, Albert,” I began.

He nodded. “Been here, man and boy, all my life!” He gave a short laugh, showing his yellowing, horselike teeth.

“It used to be much more of a residential area back then, but after the German bombed the heart out of the area during the war, the houses began to disappear and were replaced by offices. Took a long time, though. There were still whole streets of residential houses here in the ‘sixties. They were gradually pulled down and the neighbourhoods vanished. It was a poor part of town, but the people were honest and hardworking.”

From previous conversations, I knew that Albert’s father had been a costermonger and the young boy had literally pulled himself up by the bootstraps and studied hard at primary school, winning a scholarship awarded by the Worshipful Company of Mercer’s to St Paul’s School. The Company is the premier Livery Company of the City; it ranks first in the order of precedence. It is thus one of the so-called Great Twelve City Livery Companies.

“Was St Giles the only church?”

“Well, as you know, there’s St Martin-in-the-Fileds not far away,” replied the older man. “In fact, St Giles was also ‘in-the-fields´- seems sort of odd to think that this was a rural area once upon a time!”

I agreed with him. This part of London was so heavily developed and so full of buildings, traffic, people, that one could easily forget that the area was once outside the City, sheep and cattle grazing where Centrepoint now stands and the pub where we were sitting once a country inn.

“There was a leper-colony here back in the twelfth century, I think, so it must have been well out of the way in those days,” Albert went on, “and there’s been a place of worship there ever since. The building we see today was rebuilt in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was the local parish church, yes. I don’t think there’s many people worship there any more. They have regular music recitals there. I’ve been to a few. They used to have a good choir as well.”

“Yes, I saw a report that they won a competition, sometime back in the 1960’s,” I replied. “I was doing some research for a book I’m illustrating,” I lied by way of explanation as to why I should be reading old articles about St Giles.

“I was a parishioner for a while, but I stopped going. There were nasty rumours flying around and I felt that I couldn’t go there any more. Anyway, it was at that time that I sort of lost my faith and nowadays I’m not much of a churchgoer.”

Hearing about ‘nasty rumours’ got my interest. I wondered what they might be. Had Dr Cruickshank’s dirty little secret  been discovered? I recalled that Robertson had left the church in the same year that Will had died.

I got up to replenish our drinks. When I got back, Albert looked pensive.

“Penny for them, Albert!” I said as I sat down again.

He seemed to physically shake himself from his reverie.

“Oh, just thinking about St Giles,” he replied. “There was a tragedy there…”

“Yes, I read about it, a choirboy fell out of the tower.”

“Bad business. Nothing was ever openly said, but there were hints that the poor lad actually killed himself. Something to do with the choir or something. I’ve often wondered…” he trailed off, looking into the middle distance, brow furrowed, as if trying to remember something.

“What was his name again…?”

“Who, the boy?” I asked.

“No, I remember the lad well enough. Young Will Fremantle. He had a beautiful voice. Quite effortless and pure. Some said he would make music his career.” He became silent for about half a minute. I wondered what he was thinking. Then he cleared his throat and continued:  “The organist. What was his name? It was strange, I remember; Stanford, Standish? No…”

“Stanhope. Stanhope Robertson” I said.

“That’s right. Robertson.” Albert curled his lip.

“Never liked the fellow. Some of the parents said afterwards they thought he was ‘interfering’ with the boys. Nothing ever proved, mind you. He and Cruickshank were close, though. Very close. I think maybe the Rector covered up for him. Anyway, this Robertson left somewhat under a cloud shortly after the boy died. That was the end of the choir, really. They didn’t find another organist for a while and the new one had no luck in getting boys to join. Rather a question of being ‘tarred with the same brush’ if you get my meaning. Cruickshank, that was his name… he stayed a few more years and then retired down to Bournemouth. He was popular, but the affair over Robertson rather dented the Rector’s shining armour I think and people started whispering. Well, you know what people are like…”

This was one of Albert’s longest speeches. I just let him carry on. Maybe he had some clue which would help me find Robertson.

“Do you know where Robertson went, after he left there?” I asked, hoping to sound casual.

“Oh, he went to Bournemouth! That’s why tongues wagged when old Cruickshank retired down there. People said they were living together. I never believed it. I think Robertson just needed to get away and well, Bournemouth is meant to be a place for retired Rectors, isn’t it?”

There was a glint in Albert’s eye as he said this. Bournemouth had the reputation for being the geriatric capital of the English south coast, summoning up visions of wheelchairs and elderly folk sitting on the promenade in all weathers with no-one but the gulls to talk to.

Anyway, I had a lead, of sorts. If Robertson went to Bournemouth, maybe he had been organist at one of the churches there and it wasn’t completely impossible that he still lived there, moving into a retirement home in the same town must have been an easy and simple solution. At the very least, I could check out the churches and see if his name popped up anywhere. It was a start, at least.

“I wonder who he was,” said Albert softly, indicating the report in today’s evening paper. “What his name was and if anyone missed him, or whether he was just forgotten, doomed to anonymity for all eternity. Sad.”

I had to agree. A nameless boy, probably used as slave labour, or as near to it as made no difference, murdered and then chucked into a hurriedly-dug grave, covered with rubbish. What a sad end to a young life. How many more were there, just like him?

I recalled the first tale from the book; the poor lad, outgrown his usefulness as a sex-toy, murdered in cold blood and abandoned. Then young Montagu, abused by his father, and so on to Will and now the story in the paper…

Was there no limit to man’s inhumanity to man?

The supernatural appearance of the book and the strange events since were now showing me this world of which I knew nothing and the cries for help were growing. I had no doubt whatsoever that the discovery of the skeleton outside my house was predetermined and closely involved with the book and its contents. It was down to me to do what I could.

Use it wisely – do no harm.

Albert and I sat and chatted amiably about this and that for an hour or so more before I excused myself. He had told me many anecdotes about the local area, giving me a flavour of what the place must have been like back then.

As with so many areas of London, it was like a self-contained village; people knew their neighbours, stood together in the face of adversity, looked out for each other. Poor Will had no-one to look out for him and he fell into the clutches of those two ruthless men at St Giles. Men he should have been able to trust. Men who should have been above the meanness of the world. Men who should have known better than to abuse innocent and helpless teens, or younger. And because of their invidious behaviour, Will could find no way out, no-one to talk to. His only escape was to end it all.

The light was still on in the tent covering the excavations and I could discern movement inside. The policeman, I noticed, had gone. As I passed by, the flap of the tent was raised and a man emerged. He looked to be in his early to mid thirties, long curly black hair escaping from beneath a woollen bobble hat and an equally black, bushy beard. He was tall and powerfully built. As he emerged, he was holding something in his giant paw-like hands. He held it so gently, almost reverently, belying his large stature and slightly wild, unkempt appearance. He noticed me looking through the fence. His eyes had a glint to them.

“Wooden button!” he said, his voice quiet, but seeming to tremble with emotion. I must have smiled a little at the thought of a plain wooden button arousing so much passion in such a big man that he stopped and fixed me with a hard stare.

“It might mean nothing to you, but to me, it opens up vast avenues, great stretches of history – the story becomes alive. This wooden button…” he seemed unable to continue, such was his emotion at the small, oval object, encrusted with London clay that lay in the palm of his massive hand. He placed it carefully into a plastic bag, sealed it, marked it with a number and then put the seemingly holy object into a larger container. I had images of Parsifal and the Holy Grail, so much did this man seem in awe of the little wooden button.

I let myself into the dark, silent house and after sorting through the letters on the hall floor, took those which were mine, leaving the rest on the slender hall table; a couple for Sebastian and what looked like a periodical for the Polish anthropologist, Dr Jerzy Szczepkowski. I agreed with Seb; lots of s’s and z’s!

I riffled through the mail on my way upstairs; nothing much – a statement from the bank, an invitation to a book-launch, a bill from my artists’ materials supplier and a final letter; handwritten, block capitals, slightly crudely formed letters, in biro. It’s postmark was dated yesterday.

Inside my flat, all was as I had left it that morning, I was slightly relieved to see. I don’t really know what I had expected or feared, but everything seemed normal. The book lay where I had left it. It was closed.

The picture of James lay on my work desk, still in full colour.

He really was a very beautiful boy.

Suddenly, without any warning, I was overtaken with such a feeling of sexual arousal, my penis stiffened and I was rock hard in a matter of seconds. I felt incredibly horny. The head of my cock rubbed against my clothing giving me such excruciatingly wonderful, almost painful feelings, tingling up and down my seven inches. It was almost too painful to bear. I felt dizzy, my throat was dry, I broke out in a sweat – all in the space of about ten seconds. I hadn’t been so aroused for a very long time – not even with Jeremy.

The urge was so strong, I couldn’t fight it. I flung down the letters I was holding and tugged urgently at my zipper. I felt as if I could cum at any second. My legs felt weak, as I let my trousers fall to the ground and, pushing down my underpants as fast as I could, I grabbed hold of my throbbing erection, precum pouring out of the piss-slit and began to furiously jerk myself.

Still wearing my outdoor clothes, my front door hardly closed behind me, I pulled at my cock, faster, faster, until almost before I knew it, my orgasm was upon me.

Rope after rope of cum jettisoned from the end of my cock, arcing high into the air, as I leant back, a loud moan escaping my lips; jet after jet of my seed shooting from deep within me. With my free hand I reached for the wall, to steady myself as my knees gave way and I sank to the floor in the throes of this almighty ejaculation – the most intense orgasm since my teens!

I slid to my knees as my cock began to soften and the final drops of semen leaked from my bright red glans. My seed lay scattered in front of me on the polished floorboards, creamy white against the brown of the oak. The furthest drops were about three yards away, I guessed, as I sat there, panting, gulping for breath, the rest of my cum running over my fingers which still caressed my now limp cock.

“Wow! What the fuck was that?” I said to myself when I was again capable of rational thought. It was if my body had been taken over – almost as if I had had a seizure of sorts. I had completely lost control of my body. That had never happened to me before – at least not when alone. Unconsciously, I licked my fingers clean of the sperm which had dribbled over them – the glutinous opaque cum with its sweet yet tangy flavour, slightly nutty and with a smell not unlike chlorine; my own ejaculate reassuringly familiar.

I sat there for a little while, reliving that incredibly powerful orgasm, as I gently milked my penis, gradually coming down from the incredible high the orgasm had produced. What had brought that on? I struggled to my feet and with a tissue, wiped my still sensitive cock, before readjusting my clothing. My legs were still a bit shaky as I went to my little kitchen to get a damp cloth to wipe up the wads of sperm scattered over my floor.

When I had got rid of my overcoat, picked up my letters, I went back to my work desk.

There was the picture of James.

It could have been a trick of the light, or the angle at which I looked at the picture, but it seemed to me that he was smiling.

“Oh FUCK!

 

TEN
(TUESDAY EVENING-NIGHT)

My head reeled – and not from the couple of whiskies I had drunk at the pub. It was as if I were suffering from sensory overload; my discoveries in the church, Will’s desperately sad story, the newspaper article and now this uncontrollable sexual arousal, causing me to behave like a teen on a hormonal roller-coaster ride. I hadn’t done anything like that since I was thirteen! At least not with that feeling of total loss of control, sheer abandonment and not to mention an unbelievably intense and satisfying orgasm!

With slightly shaking hands, I poured myself a drink and, sitting in my sofa, tried to regain my composure. The portrait of James now looked as it always had. I took a sip of whisky and began to relax. After a short while, I turned my attention to the letter.

The handwriting on the envelope seemed to me that quite some effort had gone into trying to disguise the handwriting. Whoever wrote it had, in places, pushed hard with the ballpoint pen, almost going through the flimsy, cheap envelope. I could make out yesterday’s date but the postmark had smudged, so where it had been posted was illegible.

I slit open the envelope and drew out the single sheet of writing paper on which was printed:

MR TAYLOR

YOU DON’T KNOW ME BUT I HAVE SOME INFORMATION WHICH YOU MIGHT FIND USEFUL.

MEET ME AT ST. GILES CHURCH ON THURSDAY AT 4 pm WHERE YOU WILL LEARN SOMETHING TO YOUR ADVANTAGE ABOUT STANHOPE ROBERTSON.

“A FRIEND.”

I stared at the single sheet of ordinary A4 office paper. What new twist was this? I quickly glanced over at the book where it lay closed, the picture of innocence.

How could whoever wrote this letter know anything about me and my involvement with Will Fremantle’s story? I had only learned about him, Cruickshank and Robertson this morning – the postmark on the envelope was from yesterday.

There was no way I could not take this letter seriously, but I was damned if I knew how anything was happening any more. My world seemed to be getting crazier and crazier – or maybe it was I who was losing it and I was hallucinating the whole thing! For all I knew, I might just wake up any moment now, in my own bed, and everything would be as it was before any of this weirdness started.

At least the letter seemed to be an offer of help, but who could possibly know anything about this, unless they had read the book and followed me to the church and read Will’s diary, literally over my shoulder? I gave a shudder and even glanced behind me. Too many ghosts – too many inexplicable occurrences.

I picked up the book and opened it. Every single page was blank. No title-page, no pictures, no stories – nothing. I flipped through the whole volume. Every page pristine. Not a mark. Had I imagined the contents as well? Or maybe it just wasn’t time for me to read another tale of woe. Perhaps I was meant to bring justice for Will before I would be able to read any more in the book.

I had to find Robertson and somehow get revenge for Will – however I managed that. The anonymous letter might help me, offering as it did the opportunity to get more information on Robertson. I just had to trust this strange offer of help and hope that it brought the episode to a satisfactory conclusion. I had already decided what I would do if I could get Robertson to admit his guilt. I couldn’t realistically expect there to be justice in the form of a conviction, not after all this time, but I did expect I could get Robertson to admit his and Cruickshank´s guilt and even get an apology out of him. The man would have to have his actions and what they led to, on his conscience for the rest of his life and maybe he would be willing or forced to admit to any other instances of child abuse.

In any event, I had to see what this meeting on Thursday would bring, if it brought anything at all. Until then, I would have to try and get on with my life.

Getting up, I put on some music and poured myself another drink. I replayed in my mind’s eye that incredibly powerful erotic sensation from earlier. I smiled to myself, recalling some of the hot nights of passion I had shared with various lovers. I wished one were here right now; I needed to snuggle up close to someone, be held tight, be made love to.

I daydreamed on, recalling past lovers, casual meetings, more serious affairs, my first grand passion. I can’t remember when I wasn’t interested in my own sex; my feelings for Timmy, in primary school, although of course not yet sexual, were still intense. I remember being in the boy scouts and how I enjoyed the uniform, the little tasks assigned to pairs of boys; Stephen was my best friend at that time – one weekend sleepover when we both discovered the joys of mutual masturbation, although neither of us had started producing sperm, we did experience intense dry orgasms which we couldn’t explain, but couldn’t do without. We jacked each other off countless times, until sadly, he moved away and we never met again.

Connor, with his ash-blond hair and almost self-destructive urge to do dangerous things, with me and Stephen, slaves to his good looks and derring-do, following blindly; going on night-time trips into the woods, exploring derelict houses,  playing soldiers in the quarry. It was with them that I tried a threesome; fumbling experiments with fellatio and the novel, if not yet enjoyable sensation of anal exploration.

In my middle teens, I particularly recall Paul, a dark-haired lad with the most intensely blue eyes I have ever seen. He and I experimented a lot, discovering not only how to pleasure ourselves, but also finding out that giving could be just as exciting as receiving. I found I was versatile, enjoying being both a top and a bottom.

Their faces – and bodies – flashed before me in my half-drowsy state; the way Andrew’s unbelievably long cock bent sideways when he was erect, Justin’s foot-fetish, Dave’s little whimpers when he came, Robby’s beautiful low-slung hairless balls, Jake’s overlong foreskin, Reuben’s lack of one. It seems, looking back, that my teenage years were from one cock to the next! And then there was Raj …

Each boy I had loved. Inevitably, each boy, or I, moved on.

Although Jeremy and I were lovers, we each had our own independent lives. I knew he had his affairs and I, though not very often, had mine. We both accommodated each other, allowed each other plenty of slack. It was an open relationship. Our only rule was that we both had ourselves  regularly checked for STD’s and HIV.

Yet, suddenly, I felt I wanted more. I wanted someone to be unconditionally mine. I wanted someone to protect, to nurture, to cherish. Someone to discover the joys of a loving relationship. In other words, I knew it now, I wanted a younger man. Although myself only twenty-three, I knew that my ideal lover would be younger than I was – maybe still in his teens. Hell, who was I kidding? I wanted a buff, fit young youth, an Adonis, like Seb had! Lucky sod!

I was feeling horny again. Not the mad, uncontrollable feeling like before, but still, that gnawing need, making me semi-hard, my balls almost churning. The awesome climax from before seemed only to have made me want even more. I needed someone in my bed tonight; a real, living breathing body next to mine – a willing accomplice – a one-night stand.

That shouldn’t be a problem; I had a few numbers I could ring.

Lars arrived half an hour later and with this sexy teen, I was able to forget about all the strange things which were happening in my life. Lars had the ability, inventiveness and stamina to keep me fully occupied for most of the night before we both fell, exhausted, to sleep.

 

ELEVEN
(WEDNESDAY MORNING)

I didn’t resurface again until noon. The lovely Lars was lying there next to me, still comatose. I couldn’t resist pulling back the duvet and drinking in the sight of this beautiful well-endowed sixteen-year-old, feasting my eyes on his slim, smooth athletic body.

I watched him, mesmerised, daydreaming, his chest slowly rising and falling as he slept on:

‘You lie there, naked. Long lashes flutter so gently over moving orbs. Your breathing is shallow, I can hardly detect a movement in your chest. Lips slightly parted, those lips I would have kissed a thousand, million times; pink, moist cupid-bow lips. Beyond which I glimpse your teeth, pearly, straight, except for that one eye tooth, sharply out of place, which makes your smile lopsided, genuine.

I gaze down at you, following contour of brow, jaw line, chin, throat, neck and shoulder. I imagine the soft curves, smooth and cool to the touch. Through the mass of the tousled blond silkiness of your hair, your ear, shell-like whorls, the lobe not quite detached from the neck, whose milky contour I follow past the crook where your soft shoulder joins; my preferred resting-place for my lips. Your throat, white and smooth, the definition of your Adam’s apple breaking the long deepness. I follow it down past the furrow between your collarbones; a deep cavern where I want to bury a thousand more kisses, inhaling your scent, nuzzling the softness of a throat untouched, as yet, by razor.

There you lie, unknowing, unconscious. Exposed to my longing looking. A tear breaks your image into a thousand splinters before falling on to the sheet by your hand; slender musician’s fingers splayed by your head. I follow the length of your arm, spy the faint traces of blond hairs along the honeyed skin. Leaning close, my breath disturbs the almost invisible blond strands, which, from a distance, give a glow to you as if you had been dipped in a vat of gold dust. I watch as goose bumps appear spontaneously on your forearm at the same time as a small sigh escapes your lips. With my forefinger I gently wipe away a trail of your saliva from the corner of your mouth. Another sigh. Yours or mine? I cannot tell.

My gaze moves to your chest, finely chiselled, each rib faintly visible beneath the pale gold skin. On either side, orioles of dark brown, puffed and raised from the surrounding skin. I scrutinize them, wondering at their complete contrast. What can be their function? No infant will ever suckle there. But I so long to take them in my mouth, run my tongue across their uneven erectile surface, take them lightly between my teeth, hear your sighs and groans.

My eyes roam downwards, over your flat abdomen, creamy white, against which a sparse trail of surprisingly dark and slightly coarse hairs, lead downwards, from your navel; a ‘treasure-trail’ indeed. I have seen your slightly long guitarist’s nails entwine in those hairs and longed to imitate your actions. I stroke the wiry follicles, feeling their resistance, watch them spring back after my fingertip has moved across them.

Downwards, my eyes and finger wander to where the sparse hairs become a bush. Reddish brown, not blonde, hidden, tightly coiled, not straight and silky as your public image. Secret, thick, protecting your hidden parts. The root of your manhood closely surrounded. I gaze in awe and wonder at what makes you a man.

In repose, loosely hanging, resting on milky white thigh, elongated, dark, a longer fold of skin protecting the delicate organ within. Beneath the slightly darker skin, a tracery of thick blue veins. My eyes drink in the sight. Below, hanging loosely in their fleshy sac, ripe and plum like, two orbs, soft and generous.

Even as you sleep, I see the organ of your manhood lengthen, harden slightly. What are you dreaming about? I would like to think it is about us. I am fascinated by your nakedness. I look on as your organ engorges, to reveal the glistening flesh within, purple, imperious, pushing through the flap of skin, emerging prouder and prouder as the blood rushes in some primitive response to stimuli either real or dreamt. The two heavy orbs behind seem to churn in their confinement.

I look on, mesmerised as a cobra by a fakir’s pipe.

You sleep on.

A name escapes those sleeping lips: it is mine.’

The deliciously sexy boy stirred in his sleep. As I watched him lying there fast asleep, as naked as the day he was born, I couldn’t hold back. Leaning over, I gently suckled his cock, which, in response, began slowly to lengthen and harden. I heard the waking boy quietly sigh in contentment as my tongue went to work on the sensitive cockhead and turgid shaft.

What a wonderful way to wake a boy up – what a wonderful way to be woken! My nose filled with the musky scent of Lars’ prodigious organ and generous balls, I began to really get into my oral ministrations; licking, sucking, the occasional playful nip with my teeth, all stimulating the young boy to the point of no return and in so doing, being rewarded with several generous spurts of his teen cum, sweet yet salty, rich and creamy, every drop eagerly swallowed.

Needless to say my young bedfellow was not slow to return the compliment, his wet, warm mouth lovingly encasing my throbbing member. Soon, I too was writhing in ecstasy as the teen teased me, bringing me to the edge, retreating, then again, until I was literally begging him to let me cum. My lover/torturer relented and expertly brought me to a powerful orgasm as I came in great shuddering spasms, releasing my juices down the boy’s throat.

Afterwards, we lay in each other’s arms in our post-orgasmic glow, gently stroking, fondling, licking, nibbling and kissing each other. I was addicted to his body, his scent, our intimacy. I could not get enough of him and was so loath to leave our warm bed, but Nature called and I reluctantly had to leave my teen lover or else soil the sheets even more than they were already and in not such a nice manner!

My usual morning routine completed, and now showered and shaved, I padded, still naked, to the kitchen. It was too late for breakfast and my stomach couldn’t yet handle lunch, so I made a pot of strong coffee, while Lars was taking his shower. We would probably nip out for something to eat in about an hour or so.

My mind went back as the coffee gently percolated.

Lars; tall, blonde and blue-eyed, my “Viking” as I call him. We met only last year, at a careers talk I gave at my old school. I had been invited back, an example of a success story I suppose, ‘local boy made good’ sort of thing. I make a good living as an illustrator, I’m good at it, too – no need for false modesty and I can choose the projects which interest me.

I have my Art master at the school I was at to thank for where I am now, I suppose. For the first couple of years at school I wasn’t really motivated enough to want to do anything except hang around, listen to music and enjoy myself – typical teenager, I suppose. My grades were good, I had no problem with my schoolwork, in fact it seemed to easy for me. Perhaps if I had had more challenges, I would have been less of a layabout at school. I did reasonably well in exams, so I didn’t draw any adverse attention. I didn’t cause trouble, didn’t get into fights or bunk off school. I was a fairly quiet boy, though not a recluse. I enjoyed the company of some of my schoolmates (it was a all-boys’ school) avoided sports as much as I could, but if I had to, then I got stuck in at rugby, but preferred not to!

I never made prefect, I wasn’t interested in the almost Medieval hierarchy at school; Headmaster, Deputy Head, then the Housemasters, Masters, followed by Head Boy, who had his own lackeys, the prefects, who lorded it over the ordinary boys. To me, the system stank of favouritism and sometimes I was annoyed that some boys were rewarded or not punished for a misdemeanour for no other reason than they were someone’s favourite, either a prefect’s or a master.

The school is a Grammar School, not a boarder or private school and is quite small by most standards, numbering only about five hundred boys. I can’t say I was either happy or unhappy there, I just was.

By my fourth year aged about fifteen, I was quietly trying to do as little work as possible and concentrating on not drawing too much attention to myself. I was also deeply in love with another boy, my first real Grand Passion. I had anyway by then sussed out that I wasn’t interested sexually in girls, and had many fantasies about some of the boys at school. There was one new boy, who joined the school in the second year, so he must have been just thirteen then. I lusted after him in an almost uncontrollable way.

Rajeev was an Indian boy, the son of a diplomat. He was slim, petite, with the sexiest smile I had ever seen. He had soft, large dark brown eyes, slightly oval which however flashed dangerously when he got angry. He had a vicious temper and a mean left hook if he was insulted and he was quick to flare up though equally quick to calm down afterwards. In his defence, he was the target of some racial abuse to begin with, so his reaction I understood. However as he went through this first year, these racial slurs vanished, no doubt either by his fiery temper or else his astounding good looks. By the end of his first year, in fact, he had become one of the most popular boys at the school.

I, of course, noticed him as soon as he joined the school. With hindsight, I wonder how many other of the boys, or masters for that matter, were infatuated by him. All I know is that I did all I could to be near him, which was difficult, as we were in different years; he was, after all two years younger than I and in an environment like that, the different years did not mix.

Except on public occasions such as Sports Day or School Concerts… or the School Play.

I had no talent nor indeed inclination for acting, but I was a talented draughtsman and spent a lot of my spare time in the Artroom, painting and drawing. Of course, I was asked to help with the props and to paint the scenery for the school play. The woodwork department saw to making what was needed and the art department decorated it. The school orchestra played the music and the whole shebang was directed by our Senior English Master, Mr. Abbot. Raj was also in the squad detailed to decorate the scenery. This meant I could see him much more often and even, if I could wangle it, work with him, without raising any eyebrows – we all mucked in together for school productions.

I was delighted with this turn of events and, being an older boy, I had seniority and therefore was made a ‘squad leader’ as Mr Abbott, who had been in the army, called it.

The play was Edward II by Christopher Marlowe and in hindsight it seems an odd play to choose for an all-boy school, dealing as it does with King Edward II’s homosexuality, his infatuation with his favourite, Piers Gaveston and his grisly murder by red-hot poker!

The boy chosen to play the King was one of my crushes – a Senior boy, Tim. He was a very good actor and really seemed to enjoy the role – in my fantasies I imagined him, the boy playing Gaveston and me in a variety of threesomes.

The female roles, Queen Isabella and Elizabeth, Gaveston’s betrothed, were obviously chosen for their feminine good looks rather than their acting prowess. They seemed to really get into their roles and by the end of the production, it was clear they had become lovers. They certainly enjoyed their costumes and I overheard them giving each other tips about how to make their bust look convincing (‘socks’) and by the end of the run, they were adept at doing their own makeup. I must say they looked stunning in drag and I’m sure a few masters’ heads were turned when they were on the stage.

However, I was content to have Raj working with me and I took as many opportunities as I could to stay close to him, ‘accidentally’ brush past him, kneel or stand closer to him than was really necessary while painting the various nooks and crannies of the set.

His body was slim, but not skinny. He played fives for the school and was also an excellent sprinter. His smooth skin was a dark, chocolate brown, he had a fine bone structure, long arms, slender fingers, long legs and one day I caught a glimpse of his feet; such slender ankles and long toes – I longed to kiss his feet, and suck on those toes.

His jet-black hair was worn just longer than school regulations permitted, slightly curly, one errant lock constantly falling over his smooth forehead, his ears small and close to his skull, the lobes full and plump – another of my favourite boy-spots! A defined nose, but not too sharp, above a cupid-bow mouth, so pert and small, the lips not too thick and often moistened with the pinkest tongue I had ever seen. A slight down adorned his upper lip, but otherwise his jaw and neck were as smooth as silk. In total awe, I drooled over the boy and I suspect I wasn’t the only one in the school to be bewitched by this specimen of boy beauty.

However, there were no rumours flying about concerning Rajeev’s sexuality; I suppose the yobbos at the school were too obsessed with the colour of his skin. Yet the fact that he hadn’t been branded a fairy somewhat surprised me – he was so good-looking, almost feminine. Perhaps his fists silenced the rumours, who knows? Many a jack-off session I spent fantasising about the Indian boy’s body close to mine, imagining my white sperm spattering his Bournville-coloured skin, as I spurted all over my own pale-skinned abdomen.

I had never had the chance to see him naked, so I had no idea what his cock looked like. Was he circumcised? Did he have a thick pubic bush? What was his cock like? Small, large or average? So many questions, never any answers! I really hoped I could get to know the younger boy better during our work together for the play. How euphemistic does that sound? No, the truth was I wanted sex with the boy during – and after – we worked on the play!

Fate was about to be very kind to me.

Not only did we have to paint the scenery, we also had to paint the flags and banners that the production needed. I was quick to volunteer and put in charge of that project, so I immediately seconded Raj to work with me. This involved working after school was over up in the art-room, cutting the old sheets and then painting them to my designs. Mr. Abbott asked me if I didn’t need more volunteers, but I was quick to say that ‘too many cooks would spoil the broth’ and that Rajeev and I would be quicker if we were left alone to do the job. I don’t know if I seemed too eager, but I fancied I saw Mr Abbott smile faintly, before agreeing with me.

So, I had the perfect setup; the object of my lustful desires, alone with me up in the art-room on the top floor after school hours! I also had a key to the art-room and the little storeroom adjoining and immediately my hormone-charged brain went into overdrive. I pictured the two of us, bollock naked, kissing, hugging, stroking each other’s body, wanking each other, sucking each other’s cocks. In my mind’s eye, I saw Raj’s pink, catlike tongue licking my cock, his long slender fingers bringing me to hitherto unknown heights of ecstasy. Just thinking about it mad me almost cum in my underpants without even touching myself.

I was more or less in a permanent state of arousal or semi-arousal during those few weeks at school while the school play was under preparation. This ‘situation’ was resolved one Friday evening, one week before the First Night.

We had arranged to meet at the Art room on the top floor. I had suggested that we each bring old clothes to work in, so as we didn’t get paint on our school uniforms. Raj , I noticed was quick to agree, even though that until then, we had worn old lab coats over our school clothes and that had sufficed. I wondered if maybe Raj’s swift acquiescence went deeper, or maybe he was just being practical. Whatever, at least it meant we would have to get undressed together and that had been the point of my suggestion.

All day I had been thinking about Raj and me, alone together in the little storeroom, getting changed together. I had a hardon practically all day and I was tense with lust and excitement as I waited for the divinely beautiful Indian boy to arrive. I had imagined the scenario a thousand times that day instead of concentrating on my Algebra or History or English. The lessons had completely passed me by as I sat imagining me and Raj together alone, naked, our bodies pressed together, lips locked, tongues battling, as we brought each other to massive climaxes…

Suddenly the boy of my daydreams was there in front of me. He was carrying a bundle of old clothes and a beautiful smile, teeth pearly white, eyes dancing. He seemed as pleased to see me as I was to see him. With a shaking hand, I unlocked the door to the Art room and we went in. As I fumbled for the light switch, Raj, I noticed, didn’t put the door on the latch, pushing the door gently closed behind us.

“Let’s change in the storeroom,” I said, my mouth so dry it came out like a sort of croak.

“Good idea.”

I unlocked the door and was about to switch on the light when I felt a hand on mine. I felt a shock go through my body at the gentle touch. His hand was warm and dry and seemed to linger a little longer than necessary on mine.

“We don’t need the lights on, do we?”

I was a little disappointed that I might not see Raj undressing in the dim room, lit only by the light from a street-lamp, but I tried to cover my disappointment and replied that ‘I suppose we didn’t really’.

In fact, it wasn’t so dark  there, once my eyes had grown accustomed to the gloom. For a few seconds there seemed to be an anxious pause, as if both of us weren’t quite sure how to proceed – I was certainly suddenly very nervous. Maybe we would just get quickly changed and start our work and nothing would ‘happen’. I suddenly felt very nervous – what if I made a move and was rebuffed? I would be branded a queer throughout the school and all that went with it.

I realised that I didn’t know what to do, or how to do it. I had worked myself up to such a fever pitch over Raj that I suddenly lost my nerve. I couldn’t take the risk of making a wrong move and being outed. My life at the school wouldn’t be worth living; I’d seen how another boy had been humiliated because the others (wrongly, as it turned out) had thought he was a ‘poof’.

I was aware that both Raj and I were both standing there, in the half-lit room, neither of us moving – it seemed to me as if a spring had been coiled too tightly and was on the point of unravelling.

It was the younger boy, Raj, who broke the tension.

He put his old clothes down on a chair and said, almost too quietly for me to hear, “well, here we are then!”

After a long moment, he reached hesitantly over and began, slowly, to ease my blazer off my shoulders. I felt his warm hands through the fabric of my shirt as he pushed the jacket back. I stood, immobile, legs like jelly as I gazed back at Raj, who wore a look of intense concentration on his face, brows furrowed, eyes fixed on my collarbone region.

A thousand lights seemed to flash in my brain as I realised what the younger boy was doing and how brave he was. Almost in a trance, I dropped my bundle of clothes, letting my arms hang loose as I allowed Raj to take my jacket off. I remember thinking: “It’s happening! Me and Raj! It’s happening!”

I looked the beautiful Indian boy in the eye and saw both lust, fear, and the determination in his expression. It was absolutely silent in that little storeroom, more of a cupboard really. The smell of the paints and turpentine assailed my nostrils. Whenever I smell turps to this day, I am brought back to that quiet, dim storeroom and Raj.

I could hear our breathing; ragged, uneven. We stood there for what seemed like an eternity as Raj slipped my jacket off and let it fall to the floor. I was too stunned to move or say anything until, as if hypnotised, which I suppose I was, I reached over and likewise began to remove Rajeev’s blazer.

His jacket now also ended up on the floor. We stood facing each other, hands resting on each other’s shoulders, gazing straight into each others’ eyes. I’m sure we wouldn’t have noticed if a bomb went off – we were totally zoned in on each other.

I took in those limpid brown eyes, the irises wide open in the gloom, the dark eyebrows, which nearly met in the middle, the slight bridge of his nose, his downy upper lip and cupid-bow mouth. I felt his breath on my cheek as our bodies seemed to get closer and closer, both of us leaning forwards. My knees were shaking and I was leaning on Raj for support.

Inexorably, slowly, our faces inched towards each other and after what seemed like an eternity, or lips met.

How can I describe that first kiss? Even now, years later, I can still recall that sensation, the first tentative meeting of our mouths, clumsily banging our noses together, before working out to turn our heads slightly. Gradually, we pushed our mouths together, slowly opening lips to admit our tongues – gently probing, teeth grating together before we worked out how to avoid that, ragged breathing through our noses, my heart beating so fast and hard I thought it would jump up out of my throat.

Holding on to the other slim body for support, who was holding equally tightly on to me. Soft, wet mouths, tongues interweaving, the faint smell of sweat, shampoo … lust.

Our hands roamed over each other’s back, kneading the hot flesh beneath our shirts. We inched closer and closer together as we kissed, hardly drawing breath. I was aware of my erection, pushing tightly, urgently at my clothing and when our bodies touched, I felt Raj’s hardness grinding against my own.

My hands dropped to Raj’s buttocks, I savoured the feel of the younger boy’s full, ripe glutes. Faint moans, from deep within us escaped our lips as we kissed deeply, passionately, urgently. I felt my precum leaking from my rock hard cock, the sticky wetness soaking into my underwear. The smell of our lust became stronger, intoxicating.

Finally, breathlessly, we broke our kiss and as if on a regimental sergeant-major’s orders, began to tear the clothes from each other’s body, our urgent fingers hardly able to negotiate shirt buttons, trouser clasps,. Raj’s slim, chocolate-brown chest, the clavicles jutting out above the sternum, his aureoles a different shade of brown, flat abdomen, ribs, navel… I fumbled with his trousers, my hands brushing the bulge, my ultimate target.

Somehow, we managed to remove all but our underwear and we both hesitated, each of us probably realising all at once the enormity of what we were about to embark upon. Rajeev’s penis was outlined behind his tight, white briefs, a large damp spot highlighting the head of his cock. I smelt the musky scent of teen boy lust. Raj was concentrating on my cock, which strained against the material of my underwear, the head peeping out from the waistband, gushing precum.

I see it before me now, clear as day, the images etched on my mind’s eye. Even now, my adult body reacts; I feel hot and cold flushes, I break into a slight sweat, my cock hardens as I replay that scene from long ago, the moving pictures alive and clear.

I observe, caught in the moment.

Another long look into each other’s eyes, hands beginning to inch down towards the last piece of clothing, thumbs in waistbands, pushing downwards, over hard flesh; down, down, our cocks springing free, slapping against our stomachs, heaving with our gasping breaths, the rigid poles of flesh throbbing in tandem with our heartbeats.

Down, down, the skimpy briefs falling to the floor. We are naked, in each other’s arms. Kissing, moaning, stroking, tongues intertwining.

Legs like jelly, cocks like iron.

Hot breath searching fingers hands stroking grasping teasing pounding – no time for subtlety no time for finesse just an urgent primeval need for release until with loud gasps and half-stifled moans from deep within  simultaneously we are no longer able to hold back and with youthful suddenness urgent strength our seed shoots forth hot white sticky wetness over chests and stomachs leaking down over fingers, shafts, balls to the floor – one two three four five gouts of hot ropes of glutinous opacity boiling hot lava of ejaculation leaves us gasping for breath collapsed in each other’s arms barely able to stand…

We hold each other semi-upright, chests heaving, hands still lightly grasping the other’s cock, heads resting on each other’s shoulders. I feel Raj’s heart pounding away, his hot breath on my naked flesh. I tease the last drops of cum from his rapidly deflating penis – he is circumcised, I suddenly realise, the short, tight curls of his pubic bush drenched in the overflow of precum and sperm. His scrotum loosens, the soft balls hang low in their hairless sac. Without thinking, I bring my fingers covered with his seed up to my lips and taste the salty sweetness of his cum. Smiling now, Raj looks at me and imitates my actions, placing the last drops of my whiteness on his delicate pink tongue, showing it to me before he swallows.

Our breathing returns to normal and we stand a little apart and openly survey each other’s nakedness.

Raj stands a little shorter than I. He is fine-boned, long slender fingers and toes. His ankles are slim and my eyes follow up his slim calves, rounded knees and not too fleshy thighs. His circumcised penis has now returned to its modest two or so inches and his balls hang behind. His pubic thatch is very self-contained and is the only extra hair on his body save for slight wisps under his arms. A flat belly, almost concave, prominent pelvic girdle and that delicious ‘V’ of his abdomen which again draws my eyes downwards to the penis. I tear my eyes from his delicious cock, onwards and upwards, the narrow chest, ribs showing beneath the taut skin, his nubs of erectile tissue standing out from his body. Slim neck, deep hollow at the throat, small chin, ruby lips, brown eyes, black hair – the sum of parts that is my beautiful, my lovely Raj.

He stands proudly as I drink in his beauty and allows his eyes to rake across my body. In repose, my cock is about three inches, fairly thick and my balls hang low. My pubes are reddish-brown and still not very bushy. When my cock gets hard, it reaches about five inches and the loose foreskin retracts to reveal a large fleshy glans. The veins on my cock are becoming more prominent as I begin my final growth spurt and before the year is out, I will have grown a further six inches and my cock, flaccid, will reach a respectable five.

We stand facing each other, hands wandering over each other’s body, fingers bringing up goosepimples on chest and arms. The evidence of our recent manual stimulation is drying on our skin, flaky white, still damp in patches.

Adventurously, for a thirteen-year-old, Raj leans in to me and licks the spunk off my skin. I follow his cue, our tongues tickling and making each other giggle. We haven’t spoken a word since we began, the silence is intimate, secret, private. Our licking turns back to kissing, planting butterfly kisses on each other’s bare torso, my lips brush Raj’s still-erect nipples. I hear his sharp intake of breath and low moan – he likes what I’m doing, so I carry on, nibbling, licking, my tongue teasing the aureoles of flesh to become even more taut. Raj grips me tightly, his eyes closed as I plant more kisses all over him. I want to go lower, want to experiment with my mouth on his cock. I want to taste him all over. He lets me go and I slowly sink down gently licking, sucking as I go. His matted pubes, still damp and smelling of his cum. I plant kisses on his cock, balls, inner thigh, feel his boyhood respond, thickening slightly, it’s still too soon since his last orgasm to become fully erect – even for a thirteen-year-old! I gently lick along the shaft, sucking on the head like it was a lollipop. I hear a moan and Raj pushes my head away, gently but firmly. He’s still too sensitive there. I know how he feels. I finally prostrate myself at Raj’s feet and gently kiss and lick the slender, delicate ankles, instep, toes.

I worship this stunningly beautiful Indian boy, my Rajeev, my own!

 

TWELVE
(WEDNESDAY LATE MORNING – EARLY AFTERNOON)

I am back in my kitchen, cock rock hard under the table, the smell of freshly-brewed coffee assailing my nostrils. Lars scavenging, going through my fridge looking for something to eat. I shake off my lovely recollection of Raj – he and I were inseparable for a year, before his diplomat father was relocated and the beautiful boy left my life for ever. But what a year we had!

As my hardness subsides, it is back to the present and today’s problems. I needed to try and find out more about Stanhope Robertson. It was becoming increasingly important to me that I did what I could to get some sort of justice for Will – otherwise why had that mysterious book come to me? If for nothing else, then it had to be for Will.

Then there was the question of the anonymous letter. Who wrote it and how had it come to be written and sent before I had even heard about Will Fremantle?

I was still naked, so while Lars put together some vile sandwich with what he could rustle up from the fridge, I went into the bedroom to dress. I needed to get to work. The morning had already gone and I really needed to do some serious detective work. While I planned what I would do, I remade the bed and bundled the dirty laundry into the washing machine. I rejoined Lars for some coffee.

“I ‘phoned the school and said I was ill,” he said in reply to my query.

“Well, we mustn’t make this a habit,” I said with a laugh, tousling my blond Viking’s hair. I really didn’t want to interfere with Lars’ schooling, it was important he completed his education.

“Won’t your parents be worried, about you not coming home last night?”

“I called Dad last night when you were on the john, said I had missed the last bus and was staying with my mate. He was pissed off, but there was nothing he could really do.”

“Well, let’s not get him too riled,” I replied, planting a kiss on my sexy youth’s lips. I wondered what this boy’s father would do to me if he knew what I was doing with his son.

I knew nothing of Lars’ family circumstances, whether he was an only child or had brothers and sisters, what his parents did – if they were still together. What their circumstances were. All I knew was that Lars lived in a fairly well-to-do part of North London, so his parents were most likely professional people, but I had no idea what they did. Maybe if Lars and I became closer, I would find out. I realised that I was beginning to have very strong feelings for this boy. I realised that they went beyond the sex we had – way beyond. I made a mental note to take things slowly.

We moved into the sitting-room with our coffee.

“Who’s this?” asked Lars, picking up my picture of James. “Nice looking guy! Your latest one-night-stand?”

I made a swipe at Lars’ head but he dodged me with ease.

“Nah,” I replied, deciding not to talk about what had been going on the past few days. I decided to tease the sexy boy. “You’re my latest one night stand!”

Luckily, the fact that we were both holding our coffees saved me from a swipe from the boy.

“The picture is just my imagination,” I went on after I had kissed the boy again, to let him know that he wasn’t just another in a long line of bedfellows.

“Dirty bugger!” was Lars’ reply. He even licked his lips as he stared at the portrait.  “Wouldn’t kick him out on a cold night!” he said appreciatively, as he pinned the sketch up on my corkboard.

His gaze fell on the small book, which was still on my desk. For no reason, I froze. What if there were something weird in there? Would he be freaked out? Quite irrationally, I wondered what if that little book decided to play a trick on me? I know, it sounds lunatic, but nevertheless, the thought crossed my mind. I held my breath. Idly, he picked it up and flipped through the pages.

“Neat sketchbook!”

The pages were still blank. I breathed again. For some reason I didn’t want anyone else to know of this book. Yet, in hindsight, if I thought about it like a rational human being, I should have wanted Lars, or anyone else, to see what was written there, so that I would know it’s contents weren’t a figment of my imagination and I wasn’t going insane. But the little book was innocently blank.

Lars continued padding around the apartment, examining my collection of Roman busts, my pictures, books, CD collection.

“Man, you’re old!” he said, without being funny or teasing. He really thought of me as much older than I was.

“There’s only seven years difference between us,” I replied, a little huffily.

“Yeah, but all this stuff you read and your dead Romans! And your CDs!” He rolled his eyes as he read out some of the titles of my music: ‘Petrouchka,’ Stravinsky, ‘Concerto for Orchestra’ Bartok,  ‘Siegfried,’ Wagner. This stuff is for old people, Pete!”

“One day you may appreciate the finer things in life!” I replied, only half seriously. I knew my taste in music was a little staid for a 23-year-old. I wasn’t interested in the music which young people were supposed to like; rock, rap, indie – whatever it was all called. It didn’t do anything for me and loud music anywhere put me off. I hated clubbing and only went with Jer if he absolutely insisted and then I wore earplugs, but even that didn’t stop the heavy beat going right through me. It just wasn’t my thing. I had never been into pop music.

In my early teens I had listened to Bach, Mozart and Schubert, going through the late teens with Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler and more recently, getting into Wagner and early serialism; Berg, Webern, Schoenberg. Strange, I suppose, for one who didn’t play an instrument, never even had any formal training in music. My tastes had been defined by my parents, a favourite uncle who had himself been a professional musician and a sympathetic music master at school.

However, my eclectic DVD collection did meet with the approval of the sixteen year old youth: Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter (I secretly drooled over Daniel Radcliffe) Casino Royale, with Daniel Craig’s buff body (what is it with the Daniel name?) –  as well as my more ‘personal’ collection: some very raunchy and explicit man/boy videos, smuggled in to the country after several weekend trips to Amsterdam.

“Dirty bugger!” exclaimed Lars as he looked through the collection, unconsciously groping himself as he did so. Certainly, the porn was very hardcore, no holds barred sort of stuff. Jeremy and I had had a few wild sessions after watching those videos, drinking too much, smoking weed and with the help of poppers. I found myself blushing furiously – despite the fact that only a matter of a few hours ago, this lanky youth and I had done pretty much everything in those videos. I had no reply save for the very lame schoolboy retort: “Takes one to know one!”

We laughed.

“I’m hungry;” I said. Lars gave me a lecherous grin and began to pull down the zipper on his jeans.

“Not that, you randy sod – you and your one track mind! I mean real food! Let’s go down to Luigi’s and get ourselves a pizza or something.”

“We can come back for dessert later on,” said Lars, closing his fly again, still with his sexy, lecherous smile. The boy was insatiable!

“Maybe you could help me,” I said as I packed my laptop. “I’m looking for a man…”

“I’m not good enough for you…?” Lars pretended to be hurt.

“No, dickhead! I’m trying to trace someone… for work… maybe you could help me search?”

“Sure. Is he rich? Good-looking? My type?” Lars went on like this all the way downstairs and out of the front door. I couldn’t help but smile. I could see myself getting very fond of this boy – which would leave me and Jeremy where, exactly? I pushed the thought away, I didn’t want to think about it right now. I had to get to the bottom of this Will Fremantle case, find Robertson and confront him. There would be plenty of time later to worry about where I was heading in life.

We managed to find a table for two and ordered pizza at Luigi’s – a small, local pizzeria tucked away off the main thoroughfare and only really known to the locals who lived and worked in the area. It was always busy; the service was quick and efficient and Luigi’s pizzas were something special.

I opened the laptop and with Lars by my side,  Googled Stanhope Robertson putting in as many search words as I could. I began with the most obvious; organist, St. Giles, RCO, Bournemouth.

The search threw up just over 12,000 results, but it was obvious the name Stanhope wasn’t there. Plenty of Robertsons played the organ, several with the initial S, but each one that we investigated turned out not to be called Stanhope. Maybe it was a long shot because the man was so old by now and not in any digitised records. Meanwhile our pizzas arrived, so we took a short break. I was extremely hungry and Lars wolfed down his as well. It wasn’t long before we had returned to our search.

I typed in  St. Giles-in-the-Fields

The church’s official website popped up and we spent a long while going through the web pages, but there was no mention of previous organists or Rectors for that matter.

“Are you really doing research for a book illustration?” asked Lars after about half an hour of surfing on the Net. “Or is this guy some sort of long-lost relation or something?”

I decided that Lars needed to know at least some of the story and told him that I had read ‘somewhere’ about what might have been a crime and the boy’s suicide all those years ago and how I wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery. Who these men were and whether there had been any further crimes they were involved in.

“Poor sod,” whispered Lars, when he heard about Will’s fate.

“Let’s do another search for Cruickshank, see if I can get any more information,” I said, typing in the Rector’s full name. I got the same results as last time, but this time I explored further, examining each entry that had his name, until, finally I came across an entry that could be some sort of lead; it was the name of the retirement home where Cruickshank had died. It was a long shot, but not inconceivable that the two men had been at the same place. It wouldn’t hurt to try, at any rate. I made a note of the address: Sunny Vale Assisted Living, with an address and telephone number. I was not really surprised to see that there was no website and no e-mail address. It was probably an old-fashioned institution, still way behind the times.

On our way home, we stopped off to buy some food and the newspapers. We stopped for a little while to watch the archaeologists who were still sifting through the London clay and had expanded the hole in the ground. Dr Towns was lumbering to and fro, examining any find that came out of the ground and looking very happy. He caught my eye as we watched.

“Found a buckle, some more coins and a pewter mug!” From his excitement one would have thought he had discovered King Solomon’s mines! I made an encouraging noise. Lars looked fascinated. He even began to ask the older man questions. I looked at the boy in a new light; he seemed to have a very good knowledge of archaeology and had the terminology off pat. Dr Towns obviously warmed to the lad and invited us both on to the site, as long as we only walked on the wooden planks which had been put down. I had the shopping in two bags, so excused myself and told Lars to have a good time and that I would see him upstairs later.

I spent the rest of the afternoon doing further checks on the Internet and organising a visit to Sunny Vale the day after tomorrow, Friday, under the pretence of checking it out on behalf of an elderly relation.

When Lars came back, we chatted about the excavations – he certainly seemed knowledgeable and said he might even consider doing something like that when he was older. I had a mental image of the tall blond young man making exciting finds and talking enthusiastically about some bit of dull pottery he had dug up. The picture made me smile for some reason.

***

We spent a second night together, which was as good as, if not better than the previous one. Lars was very attentive for a sixteen-year-old.

He wasn’t like so many teen boys whose ultimate aim is the orgasm, who only want to cum, forget foreplay or post-sex ‘smooching’. A lot of teen boys are very sexy, but if you are lucky enough to get them into bed, they turn out to be quite a disappointment, for the reason stated above. Once they have been sucked or jerked off, they lose their sex-drive and are not so keen to look after their partner. They become sleepy. Some men don’t mind this. For them it is their ultimate goal just to have the delight of a teen boy in bed. The older man will often do everything he can to please his young partner and when he has sated himself on the boy’s body and penis, will quite happily jerk himself off, his proximity to the boy stimulus enough.

Lars, however, was exciting, inventive, loving. I was getting seriously fond of this boy! He took the time and trouble to find out what I liked, what turned me on, pushed my buttons. Our lovemaking was, by turns like a huge joke, such fun and also intense, serious, passionate. He enjoyed teasing me, bringing me to the very edge, then holding back, so that when he finally allowed me to cum, I was almost a jibbering idiot. Lars had mastered the art of deep-throat and he drove me wild when he went down on me. He was demonstrative in his affections and versatile, equally at home as a top or bottom. I loved watching his face as I made love to him; he screwed his eyes tight shut and seemed to hum as we fucked, the deep bass notes seeming to come from somewhere deep within his smooth, chiselled chest.

He would invariably reach orgasm at the same time as I, his sturdy seven inches jetting streams of boiling hot cum all over his torso at exactly the same instant as I came deep within him. As he climaxed, he clenched and unclenched his rectal muscles drawing even more of my juices than I thought I even had. When I slipped out of him after sex, the condom held an enormous amount of cum and Lars would tip my sperm into his mouth and we would french-kiss, sharing my slippery ejaculate. I would then lick his torso clean, savouring every drop of his sweet boy-juice that his cock had produced without him even touching himself.

He could be a very gentle lover, his seven inches bringing me to such heights of ecstasy as his iron-hard cock massaged my prostate. He preferred to start off from behind, his strong hands on my hips as he plunged deep into me. He would fuck me very slowly and sometimes take the better part of an hour gently screwing, often changing position, without ever taking his cock out of me. This was so unlike most teen boys, whose primary objective, it seemed to me, was to cum as quickly as possible. How Lars managed to keep it up, I don’t know, but these sessions were magical, intense and incredibly intimate – I was falling seriously in love with the boy.

That night we made love for four hours, each reaching orgasm three times.

 

THIRTEEN
(THURSDAY MORNING/AFTERNOON)

I woke late and alone. I could still smell the scent of Lars in the warm bed and the dull ache in my arse was a happy reminder of the night before. Lars had warned me last night that he had to leave early – he had to go home for a change of clothes and get to school after having bunked off yesterday. I felt a momentary pang of guilt that I might be leading this boy astray, but it had only been one day. I would have to make sure in the future that I didn’t interfere with his education.

My morning routine over, I moved into the sitting room. My eye was drawn to the picture of James on my corkboard and it seemed as if the dark-haired enigmatic youth was smiling back at me. There was something written on the blank part of the page beneath the picture. I moved closer:

He is nice, Peter, I do so like him!

No end of surprises from Lars! I admired the exceptionally elegant handwriting – though the style seemed a bit antiquated for a sixteen-year-old in the 21st century. Definitely the ‘artistic’ type! I thought to myself with a grin.

Today was the day I would be meeting the writer of my anonymous letter. I wondered, somewhat anxiously, who it might be and whether he – or she – were friendly or lunatic. What information could this person have for me and how would it would help me in my efforts to get justice for Will? There was also the puzzling question of the postmark – it had to be an error in the franking machine. It couldn’t be possible that the writer of the letter had any knowledge of what I was doing. However, it still got to me very quickly – too quickly. It was as strange as the book’s appearance, James and the stories. Not for the first time, I had serious thoughts about my own sanity. However, there was Will’s diary and his chorister’s medal. At least  they  were real, tangible.

I spent the rest of the day sketching ideas for my latest project, before I had to go out and meet my anonymous letter-writer. I read the letter again, as if by some mysterious means it might contain more information than last time:

MR TAYLOR

YOU DON’T KNOW ME BUT I HAVE SOME INFORMATION WHICH YOU MIGHT FIND USEFUL.

MEET ME AT ST. GILES CHURCH ON THURSDAY AT 4 pm WHERE YOU WILL LEARN SOMETHING TO YOUR ADVANTAGE ABOUT STANHOPE ROBERTSON.

“A FRIEND.”

I wasn’t sure where I would meet my mysterious letter-writer; inside the church or outside. The letter said ‘at’ St. Giles Church, rather than ‘in’ it, so I opted to wait on a bench outside in what was left of the churchyard.

As I passed by the front of the church, I looked up at the window in the tower, from where I presumed poor young Will Fremantle had flung himself. The pavement beneath my feet of course bore no trace of the violent scene that had taken place there nearly fifty years ago. All those years and how many thousands, millions of feet had trodden on that very spot since? No-one knowing or caring that the body of a boy driven to suicide had lain there, his brief life snuffed out one dark, lonely night. I felt a shudder go through me as I crossed the spot where I supposed his body to have been.

Ghosts from the past.

The weather was bright, but chilly and the garden was deserted. Through force of habit, I had a sketchpad with me and, arriving a few minutes before the appointed time, I made some sketches of the church and garden.

I was interrupted by a quiet, polite cough. I looked up to see a tall, white-haired, rather distinguished looking gentleman; casually but expensively dressed and aged, I guessed, in his early to mid-fifties.

“Mr Taylor, Mr Peter Taylor?” he asked in a quiet, cultivated baritone voice as he extended his hand. We shook hands as he introduced himself.

“My name is Simon Stafford-Jones. I’m very pleased to meet you.“ There was a slight emphasis on the word ‘very’, I noted. His eyes which fixed on to mine, were a very pale blue, like sapphires; bright but not too penetrating. His luxurious white hair was worn slightly long, but obviously expensively cut and he had a well-trimmed moustache. In those first few seconds, I got the impression of good taste and breeding.

“You must have thought it odd – the rather, how shall we say, enigmatic way I had of corresponding with you? I thank you very much for both doing me the honour and showing me your trust in meeting with me.” He gave a stiff little bow.

I got up off the bench, tucking my sketching materials into my coat pocket. Stafford-Jones stood a little over six feet tall, his bearing almost military. He raised his arm slightly, an invitation to walk. “Shall we perhaps go into the church? It’s a little chilly out here.” I acquiesced and for the second time within a few days, I went into the church.

“I must admit I am a little bewildered,” I replied as we entered the quiet, deserted building.

Stafford-Jones didn’t reply, but motioned me to a pew where we sat down. After a few moments, he began to speak, his rich baritone voice hushed.

“It’s been a long time… a very long time,” he finally said, after looking around and taking in the high barrelled ceiling, the oak panelling and the gentle gleam of the brasswork.

“I was a chorister here, when I was a boy. I was a contemporary of Will Fremantle’s.” He paused. I felt him looking searchingly at me.

I stared back, not sure how to react.  I couldn’t disguise my surprise.

“How did you know that name would mean something to me, or were you guessing?”

“So, the name does mean something to you!” Stafford-Jones seemed relieved.

“What made you write that letter?” I asked. The blue eyes surveyed me, the expression grave.

“To be perfectly truthful with you, I honestly don’t know,” the older man replied. “Premonition, perhaps.” He paused and gazed steadily at me and I felt as if he were weighing up with himself whether or not he could trust me.

For a while there was silence in the large, dim church and then, with a deep breath, as if he had come to some momentous decision, Stafford-Jones spoke again.

“I’ve been having the same dream, over and over again, night after night for the last year or so,” he said. He looked wearier, older. I waited for him to continue.

“It’s always the same. It feels as if someone a long way off is calling my name, over and over again. It’s a boy’s voice and it’s familiar, but I can’t remember who it is or see where it is coming from. It’s very dark, I hear bells ringing, voices singing and I get glimpses of people I used to know … from the past … bad people. They try and stop me going towards the voice. I can feel their hands trying to pull me back, downwards. The voice is getting hysterical and further and further away. Suddenly, it stops and everything goes quiet. It’s the silence that frightens me the most. It’s still dark and I can hear quiet voices whispering.”

He paused, lost in thought. I waited for him to continue.

“Then, about a week ago, there was a new ending to my nightmare. I kept hearing a name. The frightened boy’s voice was now whispering to me, begging, pleading. In my dream, I suddenly realised it was Will and he was telling me to write this letter. It was Will Fremantle who gave me your name and address, Peter. God knows how, or why, but the dream kept recurring. I was at my wits’ end. So I wrote the letter and sent it to you and now we’re here and now I know that it wasn’t just a dream.”

Stafford-Jones paused again. He seemed shaken. In a very quiet voice, so low I had to lean close to him to hear, he said, “I’m Simon, from the choir. Those bastards Cruickshank and Robertson as good as killed Will and I did nothing, said nothing. Robertson threatened me, saying the same would happen to me if I opened my mouth. Those two … they raped and killed Will, raped and abused me and I did nothing. Nothing.

Stafford-Jones bowed his head. Again, I waited for him to regain his composure.

“Since the nightmares started, the memories have been coming back. I thought I had buried them … I had buried them, deep down, but the nightmares brought it all back. I’ve been in therapy for nearly a year. Things are slowly getting better, but I now realise how those bastards have completely ruined my life. I’ve never been able to have a proper, meaningful relationship with anyone; never known what it is like to have a loving, intimate relationship. Sure, by repressing the traumatic events in my childhood, I’ve managed to have a good career, but I’ve been alone for just about my whole life. When I kept getting a name and address in my dreams, from Will, I thought that it could do no harm to write that letter. If nothing came of it, then so be it, but if anything did, then I hoped, I hope it will be for the good. It was just a shot in the dark.” He paused, then added, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

Stafford Jones paused before he spoke again. “Now that I know that this isn’t mumbo-jumbo, or madness and that you are a real, living person who knows about Will, you have no idea how good that makes me feel, Peter… I may call you Peter, may I?”

“Of course you may”, I replied. My thoughts were all jumbled up. All I knew was that I wasn’t going crazy. Here was more physical proof that Will had existed and that I had somehow been led to this man.

“You said in your letter you had information for me,” I went on, “something to my advantage.

“Yes, I did,” for the first time since we met Stafford-Jones smiled, a faint, weary smile. “That was a little ‘cloak-and-dagger’ of me, I know, but maybe I can help you.”

He reached into his inside pocket and drew out a small sheaf of photographs.

“Will gave them to me just a few days before…” he paused, obviously on the verge of tears. He cleared his throat before continuing. “They were in a sealed envelope. He made me promise never to open it unless…” again the older man paused. This was obviously very difficult for him.

“Well, when I heard what had happened to him, I opened the envelope. These are what he had left me. No-one else has seen them.”

I reached over and took the photographs.

Will, Robertson, Simon, Cruickshank. Photographic evidence of the sexual abuse these boys had undergone at the hands of the two older men.

In some of the pictures, it was obvious that the boys had been either drugged or given alcohol. They were in all sorts of combinations and degrees of degradation. The boys being photographed with the mens’ cocks in their mouths, being buggered by one or other of the men. Will and Simon obviously forced into acts of fellatio or mutual masturbation.

The older men had not even bothered to be careful when they took the pictures; both were easily identifiable, committing acts of such perversion on those two innocent boys. I felt my eyes beginning to water as I witnessed the images of what they had undergone, matching them to the account left by Will in his diary.

“Bastards knew we would never tell…” said Simon after I had handed back the pictures. “That’s why they didn’t bother hiding their faces. They had us where they wanted us.” He made as if to tear up the photographs, but I reached out and stopped him.

“Keep them for a little while longer, Simon. They might be useful as evidence.” I then went on to tell him about my plans to visit the retirement home in Bournemouth.

“It’s a very long shot,” I added, “but you never know, we might find the bastard.”

I paused for a moment, wondering whether to ask the question.

As if reading my mind, Simon said, “I want to come with you, Peter. I want to see that bastard face to face. Don’t deny me that. All I have left is to be able to confront him with …” he waved the sheaf of photographs infront of him, “…this filth! I want him to apologise, accept the wrong he has done, own up to it and beg for forgiveness!”

Simon flushed as he almost shouted out, his strong voice echoing around the grave, silent church, the place where all those years ago, he had to endure the unwelcome attentions of Robertson and the Rector.

“Let’s get out of here!” he suddenly said, pushing the photographs back into his pocket. “I can’t breathe in here!”

On the way out, I noticed that the stand which had held the pamphlets written by Cruickshank still stood empty. For some reason, it made me very glad. One little victory, albeit petty, but it felt like a victory nonetheless.

Once outside, in the fresh November air, Simon seemed to recover his composure. He even managed a wan smile.

“I’m so glad you’re real, Peter and not a figment of my imagination. Thank you again for taking the time and trouble to answer my letter. It’s good to know there are still good people in the world…”

I held up my hands to stem this fulsome praise, which I felt I did not deserve.

“I’m sure anyone else would have done the same, “ I replied.

It was Simon’s turn to interrupt me. “No, Peter, anyone else would not have done the same. Thank you.”

There was an awkward silence, before I asked: “Would you like to come for a drink, maybe have a chat, get to know each other a little bit better? That is, if you don’t think it impertinent of me and if you have the time.” The last bit came out in a bit of a rush, as suddenly, for no good reason, I felt a little flustered.

“I would like that very much,” replied the tall, elegant gentleman and we walked together to a pub nearby making small talk as we went.

 

FOURTEEN
(THURSDAY EVENING)

Simon Stafford-Jones proved to be an excellent conversationalist. He was widely read, knowledgeable about a great many subjects and, like myself, a bit of a crossword buff. He had made his career in music, becoming, in his own words, an ‘adequate and useful baritone.’ He had sung on the ‘oratorio circuit’ as he termed it and also in a few vocal ensembles, a couple of which I had heard of but for the last two years had more or less given up performing and was now employed as a vocal coach by the Royal Opera House. He also did some private teaching, which, he said ‘paid the rent.’

About his early life, he was reticent and I did not want to drag up painful memories; those pictures of the degradation he was subjected to in his boyhood still burned on my inner eye. All he said was that shortly after Robinson left St. Giles ‘under a cloud’ as he put it, he too left the choir and when his family relocated, he joined another one. This one was a much better place and the choirmaster was a good man.

“I really wanted to sing, so I mustered up the courage to audition for the other choir. It was a completely different atmosphere; the choirmaster was kind, able and happily married and he taught me a great deal. It was his idea that I thought about music as a career. I carried on in the choir after my voice broke and Mr Jenkins, that was his name, found me a very good singing teacher. I’ve been very lucky since and managed to make enough money to invest wisely. Now the Opera House pays me a decent wage for not doing so very much and then there are Masterclasses, adjudicating, the odd guest appearance, so all-in-all things have worked out well for me.”

He paused and a shadow crossed his features. “Now all I have to do is exorcise this business and then I’ll be fine – I hope.”

“You will,” I replied and at the time, I really believed it.

Then he asked me to tell me about myself. I gave him the potted version. He was interested in my job as an illustrator and made suitably regretful noises when I told him of my parents’ death.

“Not easy to be alone in the world so young. How old are you? Twenty two, twenty three?”

“Spot on,” I replied. “No, it wasn’t easy, but I’ve got through it with the help of some very good friends – one very good friend anyway.”

“And he’s been supportive?”

“Yes, I have to say…” I stopped suddenly and stared at Simon. He had said he. He had either assumed or else detected that I was gay.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. I hope I haven’t offended you?”

“No, not at all. I just didn’t think…”

“I suppose my ‘gaydar’ is very finely tuned. I really do hope you are not upset…”

“No…” I paused for a moment before I continued, not quite sure why I was confiding in this man whom I had only just met and whom I had read about in Will’s diary.

“…The fact is, Simon, I’m not just a gay man…” I swallowed nervously, wishing now that I hadn’t started speaking. I took a deep breath and plunged on, feeling myself blushing as I did so. “… I’m attracted to teen boys. I prefer to have sex with a teen boy than a man…I’m sorry, so, so sorry…” I faltered, staring down at the table between us, unable to meet Simon’s gaze.

We had been speaking quietly in the crowded pub and I suddenly had the feeling that everyone in that bar had heard what I had just said. Ridiculous of course, but I suddenly felt deeply embarrassed, ashamed – as if I had admitted to something vile, disgusting, filthy. Which, in many peoples’ eyes is exactly that. I felt like a criminal and was now awaiting sentence from the judge, who was Simon,  We were sitting so close, that our knees were almost touching under the small round table.

Simon remained silent.

I eventually looked up at him. I couldn’t describe the look he gave me, but his words were unequivocal, direct.

“My dear young man! Don’t you dare apologise! You needn’t feel you need to say you’re sorry to me!  I should be thanking you for having the courage to tell me, a perfect  stranger, about your inner self. I know- you’re thinking, that because of my experiences, I’m judging you for your orientation, your feelings, but I promise you, Peter, I’m not! I know that what I went through was awful, dreadful at the time, but it doesn’t mean that I condemn others. If I’ve learnt nothing else, then I’ve learnt that in the past year! You are, I’m absolutely certain, not the same as those monsters, Cruickshank and Robertson. I can see that. Even without you having told me anything about yourself, I might have guessed. I know you’re not the same type as them. I know you would never abuse a boy in the same way as they did. Trust me, Peter, I can tell and I’m damn certain Will wouldn’t have ‘got in touch with me’ as it were, if he didn’t trust you and know you for who you are. I’m convinced of it. So no more talk about saying sorry. Just promise me one thing: Never take advantage of a minor because of your superior strength or intellect or position of authority. Promise me!”

“I would never do that! I promise you, Simon!” I had listened to his long speech with growing amazement at how magnanimous he was, despite having been abused for months on end when he was just a boy. That took great strength of character and I saw now how he had managed to come through all this, how his therapist had obviously helped him and now, how Simon had also begun, selflessly, to help me.

“Let’s go somewhere quiet for a spot of dinner,” said Simon. “I think we need to have a long conversation in a more relaxed atmosphere.” He indicated the post-work crowd. “I know a nice little place not far from here where we can talk in peace. That is, if you’re free?”

“I would like that very much, Simon,” I replied, still feeling a little empty and drained. There was nothing I wanted to do more than to get out of this noisy pub.

“Good. My treat! Follow me!”

Over dinner, our talk became more personal. I felt I could say anything to this kind man and I knew I could trust him implicitly. He was a good listener and I found myself telling him things I hadn’t even told Jerry; about my boyfriends, my likes and dislikes in a boy, what turns me on, what turns me off. I told Simon about Raj, about Lars and my feelings for him. Simon listened attentively throughout, occasionally adding a comment here, an observation there. Before I knew it, I had been talking almost exclusively about myself, for nearly two hours.

“I’m so sorry!” I said, when dessert arrived and I realised I had done all the talking. “You must think me so rude!

Simon held up a hand. “Not at all, Peter! It seems to me you needed this conversation! Don’t you worry about me not getting a word in edgeways, I’ve been seeing a therapist for a year, I’ve done my fair share of the talking!”

We laughed, each of us, I suspect, feeling comfortable in the other’s company.

The atmosphere became a little subdued as Simon asked: “So what will you do about Jeremy? Is he about to become an ex-boyfriend?”

“I’m very fond of him, we have a good time, but…” I had to think in order to make my point clearly and concisely. I went on: “…I think that it is I who has to change, to adjust. I can’t help it that I have preferences for younger men, well, boys, I suppose…”

I found myself beginning to blush again, but Simon interrupted me; “There’s nothing to be ashamed about, Peter! The lad’s sixteen, he’s responsible for his own actions. It sounds to me that he’s ideal for you; he seems to tick all the boxes, yes?”

I nodded. Lars did indeed ‘tick all the boxes.’ What would he say if I asked him if we could take our relationship to the next level? How would his family react? My friends? Jeremy?

And then, when Lars was no longer ‘sweet sixteen’? How would I feel about him then? Would I just be attracted to the next young teen? Would there be a long line of young boys, (I should be so lucky!) whilst I grew older, fatter, bald, disgusting – ending up a dirty lecher?

How was my life going to shape up? I had no way of knowing, but at the same time, I knew one thing: I had to be true to myself and make my decisions, follow my convictions. The future would have to take care of itself.

It was all going to be either a horrible ordeal ahead or else things would just slot into place. It was up to me to decide what I wanted and then follow that. No-one else could do it for me and I had to just face up to facts and make my decisions.

Simon sat quietly as all these thoughts went through my mind.

Eventually, I sighed. “Yes, of course, I’ll just have to see how things turn out, but there’s one thing I know and that is I am beginning to fall for Lars, in a big way. The next step is up to me I suppose…”

“And Lars,” chided Simon, gently.

“Yes, of course. Lars as well.”

“You must be prepared for the fact that he might baulk at the idea of having a male lover who is older than he is, Peter.”

I recalled my earlier conversation with the boy, where I had reminded him that there were only seven years between us, although, if I was really honest, the cultural gap was much, much wider. The difference between a sixteen-year-old schoolboy and a twenty-three-year-old professional man is great. I would have to try and view our ‘relationship’, if there was indeed a relationship, from Lars’ perspective.

“You’re right, Simon.”

We paused in our conversation as the waiter brought coffee and a couple of snifters of cognac. I have to say, the food went by almost unnoticed as I had been talking so much, but the restaurant was first-class.

“How did you come to find out about Will and what had happened at St. Giles all those years ago? The whole thing had been very thoroughly hushed up. Admittedly there were rumours, but as you know, I never spoke up, though I should have and poor Will…”

Simon broke off to clear his throat. He appeared very moved.

“I was very, very fond of him, you know, Peter.” He paused again, his eyes distant, before resuming, his voice still quiet, but angry now.

“But for those bastards he and I might have had a wonderful friendship. They robbed us, Peter! Robbed us of our childhood, our innocence. Took away from us everything we had! And poor Will paid the ultimate price. He couldn’t take it, was confused, angry. He thought it had been his fault, that it was he who was in the wrong! The cruel, cynical bastards!

There was another pause. The time had come, I decided, that I share with Simon what I had discovered; tell him about the book, James, the whole story. I needed to share my experiences with someone and Simon seemed suddenly exactly the right person for that. I spoke almost without thinking.

“Will you come back to my flat, Simon? There’s something I need to show you.”

“Certainly!” He looked curiously at me. “Everything all right, Peter? You look pale all of a sudden.”

“I’m fine,” I replied, now not too sure that I had made the right decision.

We finished our coffee and cognac and despite my protestations, Simon settled the bill. “My treat, remember?”

We stepped out of the small, cosy restaurant and into the crisp November evening.

 

FIFTEEN
(THURSDAY – LATE EVENING)

The ‘dig’ outside my house was deserted, the enthusiastic Dr Towns was nowhere to be seen, I suppose even he had to sleep sometime! The gate in the fence around the site was padlocked. As we went upstairs to my flat I explained to Simon what had been discovered there. Seb was still away and there was no sign of life in the middle-floor flat. As we went upstairs, I thought I heard the same kind of tapping from the other evening; it was very faint, but it was rhythmic, as if someone were tapping on radiator pipes.

Simon heard it as well. We looked at each other and shrugged. “These old houses,” said Simon. I had to agree with him, but I wasn’t quite as convinced as he that it was dodgy plumbing.

We reached my front door and went in.

“Lovely prints!” exclaimed Simon, examining my set of four Dürer etchings of which I was very proud. They had also cost me a small fortune, but they were truly magnificent.

The portrait of James was still there. My worktable was as I had left it. The small book still lay there, closed.

I took Simon’s coat and offered him a drink. In the kitchen I made some coffee and poured a couple of glasses of Chivas Regal.

I came back into the sitting room. Simon was on the sofa with the small book in his hands. He was staring down at it intently. He remained quite motionless as I put the tray of drinks down on the table. There was, I saw, what looked like a picture in the book. Yesterday, when Lars had looked at it, the book had been blank. Totally empty, devoid of pictures or writing. The pages were blank when I last looked at it. What was it showing Simon? I felt anxious, my heart was beating fast, thumping in my chest. I found it hard to breathe and I felt the sweat breaking out. What was there? Part of me was glad to see that it hadn’t only been I who had seen things in the book, whilst another part was worried about what the book was revealing to Simon.

“Is this a practical joke, Peter? What’s going on?” He held out the book to me.

Another picture:

And written below it:

Those days are lost and gone for ever, Simon. But you will have to make one more painful journey before it is all over, for good. Then I will be at peace. And I hope you will be at peace too – Simon, can you ever forgive me?
Will

“That’s me,” said Simon, quietly, staring intently at me. “At the other church I sang in, after…” he paused. I nodded.

“But how did it get into this book? This message…” He looked helplessly up at me. “What’s going on?” He murmured to himself, shaking his head in disbelief.

“I don’t know,” I replied, feebly. “This book…” how could I explain how this book came into my possession, its contents, the fact that, with the exception of this latest picture, was totally blank?

“I wish I knew, Simon.”

It was time. Suddenly, I knew that I had to tell Simon all about the book, its contents, how I got it – everything.

I took a deep breath and recounted the story of how I got the book and the accounts I had read there, including that of Will Fremantle. I finished up by saying, “It’s an extraordinary tale, I know. But it’s all true! This book led me to the tower at St. Giles where I found Will’s diary. And I’m sure this book had something to do with you getting in touch with me – that was hardly ‘normal’ now was it? And then there’s that excavation outside – I think that’s involved, but don’t ask me how – or why. I’m just as much in the dark as you, Simon!”

I went over to the drawer in my desk and took out Will’s diary and his chorister’s medal and handed them to Simon. He was silent as he turned them over in his hands. He seemed to be miles away.

“I think you should read it, Simon.” I said.

We sat in silence, the coffee forgotten as Simon read that sad, terrible account, written by his friend from all those years ago. Memories of that dreadful time, when he and Will were at the mercy of those two evil men.

Simon finished reading and closed the diary, Will’s last testament. He sat very still, head bowed, for a long while, folding and refolding the ribbon of Will’s medal between his fingers, obviously deeply moved.

I waited for the older man to speak, acutely aware of how it had been I who had caused these memories to come flooding back. Though he had been in therapy, it still must have been very difficult for Simon to read that journal. Finally, he raised his eyes to meet mine. He wiped the tears away as he handed me the diary, book and chorister’s medal. I locked them away in my desk drawer.

“Thank you, Peter. Thank you for sharing that with me. Poor Will. My dear friend! I will never forget you!”

I handed Simon another Scotch.

“Tomorrow we’ll hopefully face that bastard Robertson and get some sort of satisfaction.”

We raised our glasses and drank, a silent toast to Will. Truth be told, I was only half convinced by my words. I had no idea whether Robertson would see us, or whether or not he was senile. It could turn out that he would have no recollection, or worse, no remorse. Maybe he would deny that anything at all had happened, back in 1963. It was all a very long shot and the outcome was by no means a foregone conclusion. But for Will’s – and Simon’s sakes, it was important that the old man was confronted. We had damning photographic evidence as well as the journal. All we needed was confirmation that Robertson was responsible for the suicide of a young boy and hopefully an act of remorse. Maybe we were hoping for too much. We would find out the next day.

Simon drained his glass and stood.

“Thank you again, Peter,” he said as I handed him his coat. He gave me a printed card with his details. “Give me a call tomorrow. When were you thinking of setting off?”

“I thought we should go at about one o’clock,” I replied, “I’m going to hire a car. I’ll come and pick you up just before one?”

“Sounds fine.” The older man embraced me, holding me tight. He spoke gently into my ear, “Thank you again for what you are doing, Peter. You are a good man.”

I hugged him back, “It’s the least I can do,” I replied.

After Simon had left, I felt restless. It was obvious I would not be falling asleep any time soon. I randomly selected a CD and without looking, put some music on and turned off the lights. It was Handel’s “Messiah” and as I sat there, nursing a whisky, the pure soprano notes filled my ears: I know that my Redeemer liveth.

In the darkness, I wept. For Will, for Simon, for all those boys who have been abused, tormented, defiled; their innocence ripped away from them to sate the lusts of the perverted monsters who cared nothing about the young lives they destroyed.

 

SIXTEEN
(THURSDAY NIGHT – FRIDAY MORNING)

I woke in the middle of the night on the sofa in my living-room. My neck ached and there was a dull throbbing behind my eyes. My mouth was dry and I needed to pee. The flat was still cold, even though the radiators were warm to the touch.

I struggled to my feet and went to the bathroom, finished what I had to do as quickly as I could and still half asleep, fell into bed. Just before I was dead to the world I was vaguely aware of a tapping somewhere, but maybe I dreamt it.

Burying my head under the duvet, I turned over and slept.

‘“Peter! Peter! Wake up!”

The young, urgent, slightly husky voice whispered into my ear. The verbal pleadings were accompanied by gentle fingertips playing across my chest, nipples, abdomen – lower and lower until I was delightfully aware of slender fingers gently grasping my member, playfully stroking and teasing me to an urgent hardness. My eyes still closed, I revelled in the sensations this unseen lover was giving me and my manhood responded accordingly, growing ever harder. I felt warm breath on my leaking cockhead, then a wet tongue, licking the juices flowing from me and then down my shaft, across my scrotum, before returning slowly upwards again.

The mouth was expertly bringing me closer and closer to the point of no return, but each time that I thought I wouldn’t be able to hold back from spewing my life-essence into the teasing, wet and wonderful mouth, it was withdrawn and I hovered agonisingly, delightfully, on the point of orgasm before retreating again from the edge; that dizzyingly wonderful precipice from which I wanted, needed to hurl myself.

Five times this cunning little mouth and tongue performed their magic on me and five times I screamed out in frustration that my ultimate pleasure was being denied me by this expert in exquisite torture.

My cries must finally have awakened some pity in my fiendishly adept provocateur so that when I felt myself on the edge for the sixth time, the lips, wrapped around my manhood increased their suction, the warm mouth took more of my member into itself and I, with an animal cry of lust, passion and ultimate release gave up my semen in five great explosions of seeming white-hot lava into that waiting orifice and thence down the avariciously swallowing throat.

I opened my eyes. It was just getting light. My bedside clock read 07:15. My sheet was soaking wet and My body was running with sweat. My cock was still semi-hard and dribbling cum and I was panting.

Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a movement in my doorway and sat up quickly, my heart racing. It was as if someone had just gone out of view, through the door into the next room. I threw the duvet off me and leapt out of bed. Looking through the doorway into my sitting-room, I saw nothing at first. Then, very slowly materialising in one corner, I made out a figure.

The same as I had seen the other night.

James.

The apparition gave me a smile and opened his mouth to show me his tongue. It was coated with a white substance – my semen! Slowly, James closed his mouth, swallowed and then licked his lips, fixing me with a smiling, cheeky look.

And then it was gone. I found myself staring at one of my collection of Roman busts. I shivered, though the flat was now very warm.

“Well I’ll be…!” I thought to myself, once I had calmed down, collected my thoughts and put on a dressing-gown. The dream had been almost real, just as much as the vision from the other night. The figure of the boy, James had been as clear and as solid as if he were a real, corporeal being, which of course I knew he wasn’t.

I put this latest experience down to the emotional turmoil I had undergone in the past few days. Yet, if I weren’t a grown-up, rational man, I could think I had been seduced and practically raped by a ghost – for the second time! – I recalled my sudden irresistible urge to masturbate,  just after I had got home the day before yesterday – or had it been yesterday? The days seemed to be telescoping in on themselves and I seemed to have lost all track of time.

What I did know was that today was Thursday and Simon Stafford-Jones and I had to drive down to Bournemouth and run the vile Robertson to earth.

It was too late to go back to sleep, so I took a shower, once more remade the bed (this soiling of the sheets was getting to be a recurring event!) I then brewed myself some coffee and after calling the car-hire firm, I looked for any information on the Statute of Limitations on the Net. I learnt that the correct term was ‘Limitation Period’ and some other information.

I read:

‘Limitation periods in England are fixed by the Limitations Act. Expiration of a limitation period makes a complete defence available to a defendant to the claim made by the claimant. The limitations periods in English law apply as it is contrary to public policy for persons to be perpetually exposed to litigation for wrongful acts. Limited exceptions to the general rule however do apply. When significant time has passed after the events giving rise to the cause of action, witnesses’ memories fade, documentary evidence available to properly judge the case is less likely to be available, and indeed may have ceased to exist. These factors prevent justice being served. Therefore it is in the public interest that a claims become statute barred after an appropriate period of time.’

The following paragraph aroused my interest:

‘Certain professions and employments are exempt from the Act so that individuals are not allowed to withhold details of previous convictions in relation to their job when applying for positions in similar fields. These professions include :

Those working with children and other vulnerable groups, such as teachers and social workers; those working in professions associated with the justice system, such as solicitor, police, court clerk, probation officer, prison officer and traffic warden; those working in medicine, such as doctors, dentists, chemists or nurses; accountants.’

The passage mentioning working with children was particularly pertinent. I suspected that Robertson had not been reported; poor Will was dead and Simon had been frightened into silence. Also, I suspect Cruickshank had probably covered for the organist, allowing Robertson to leave after ostensibly ‘hearing’ rumours about the organist’sbehaviour towards his young charges. Certainly Albert seemed to remember these rumours and that Robertson might have left ‘under a cloud’ as he had put it.

Maybe I could put the wind up Robertson by mention the limitation period and that Simon was going to file charges. It’s quite possible the old man wouldn’t know whether or not he was in the clear because of the time since the offences and he might be ‘persuaded’ to talk and more importantly, ask forgiveness.

I closed my laptop and spent the rest of the morning working on some ideas for my next project, but my mind kept wandering back to those two incredible orgasms I had experienced and I found myself now and again glancing at  the sketch of James or the corner where I saw him earlier.

Contrary to last evening, when Simon was here, the atmosphere in the flat was now comfortable, almost cosy. It reminded me of the evenings Jeremy and I sometimes spent together; me either reading or sketching and Jeremy going through his papers. An atmosphere of close companionship, where words were not necessary, the silences comfortable, almost intimate. It had a domestic serenity about it – that was the only way I could describe it.

That brought on my next question. Was there a future for Jeremy and me? He was on the brink of a high-level career. Maybe he did not want personal issues to get in the way of what looked like becoming a very high-profile future. I dismissed the thought. I was just rationalising, trying to make my decision easier. I think I had come to a decision. I was becoming besotted with Lars and he was obviously growing fond of me, or so I thought.

I was torn between the two; Jeremy, whom I had known for some time now and was very attached to and my lusty Viking, Lars.

That was the dilemma I was facing and I would have to make my mind up soon. Perhaps the answer lay in what I had just thought; the fact that I was attached to Jeremy, but not ‘in love’ with him. It seemed to me that I had feelings for Lars that I did not have for Jeremy and it wasn’t just because Lars was a sexy, handsome, oversexed teen, although that had to have something to do with it. There was more to it than that.

I was beginning to feel that I wanted to spend a lot of time with Lars. I wanted to find out more about what made him tick. He was an intelligent lad and had his sensitive side. I was fairly sure he was fond of me, but I didn’t know how fond and also whether his feelings would change, become deeper. I really hoped they did, but I knew that I couldn’t, mustn’t rush into things with him. If anything came of our relationship, it had to be Lars who decided. I was seven years his senior and I did not want to coerce the young man into a relationship  that he didn’t want, that he wasn’t ready for. Dammit, he was still a schoolboy, aged only sixteen!

And then there was the fact that Lars and Jeremy were so different in bed; Jeremy was more passive, he very seldom initiated our lovemaking and when we did have sex, it seemed to me that it was something that Jeremy had to get through, rather than participate in wholeheartedly. Sure, we had our moments, like when we got randy after watching porn, or drinking too much or smoking, but it seemed that Jeremy almost preferred our sex to be one-sided; I fucked him, we kissed a bit, then he turned over and went to sleep.

Thinking back on it, I tried to remember the last time I had brought Jeremy to orgasm, either by masturbating him, or sucking or other means. I couldn’t remember. He never seemed to get very hard, or sexually excited. He just seemed to almost roll over and expect his fuck. I saw now how unsatisfactory that situation was. I knew that he had sexual relations with other men, so his sexuality wasn’t in question. I could only assume that he found sex with me to be a chore, something to be got out of the way. So maybe it was the time for us to part ways. I knew that soon I would be having that ‘Dear John’ conversation with Jeremy. Maybe it would be for the best – for both of us. There was also the fact to consider that my tastes ran to boys, like Lars.

At noon, the car I had ordered was delivered. A sleek, comfortable Mercedes-Benz CLK 280, one of my favourite cars. As I didn’t see the need to drive in London, I did not own a car; life was too short for all the hassle of driving in town, but I often went on trips out into the country – most of my friends seemed to have left the big city and I enjoy driving on the open road. I like driving fast and also in comfort. I could afford any car I wanted and the Merc suited me to a T. In the summer, I would choose the convertible, but now, in November, I opted for the coupé.

I called Simon and arranged to pick him up. I also ‘phoned Sunny Vale and confirmed that I would be arriving later that afternoon. Everything was in order, although the person who took my call said that Mr Robertson was ‘a little forgetful’ – as she put it – which I took as professional carerspeak for senile dementia. The Registrar at Sunny Vale said that Mr Robertson wasn’t quite sure who we were, “but then again”, she added in a lower voice, confirming my assumption,  “…he isn’t too sure who he is, most of the time!”

I also learned from her that Robertson had no family – at least ‘none that ever bothered to visit him’ and that he hadn’t had a visitor in several months. She asked me if I was anything to do with “that awful Funeral Directors’ establishment who seemed to be going the rounds at retirement homes blatantly ‘touting for business!” I replied that I wasn’t and that my business was purely professional. I deliberately didn’t say exactly what I did and she didn’t ask, but I allowed her to believe that I was involved in music, as he had been.

That he was hazy as to who we were suited me perfectly, but I only hoped that he still recalled what he had done to poor Will back in 1963. For the first time, I had doubts that my plan to confront Robertson would produce anything of use. However, Simon was keen and we were committed, so why not go through with it?

As I was leaving my flat, my eye fell on the little book. It was lying open on the sofa. I found that strange. I recalled that after I had shown it to Simon and he had then read Will’s diary, I had locked them both away in my desk drawer.

Yet here was the little brown leather book, lying on my sofa. I knew by now that as far as this book was concerned, there was no such thing as a coincidence. That book was there because it needed to be found by me. Just in the same way that it had led me to it in the bookshop. There was obviously something in it for me to see. I went over and picked it up. Sure enough, it was open at a picture – the photograph of Will Fremantle. Under it was written, in the same hand as his story, a message, simple and clear:

Take me with you, Peter!
“Of course I will, my poor boy!”

I also made sure I had the diary. If it came to nothing, then so be it, but I reasoned that the book must have given me Will’s story in order that I could put things right, so I clung to that thought as I navigated the lunchtime traffic to where Simon lived.

Being a ‘useful baritone’ in some of the country’s better-known vocal groups, plus coaching and teaching had obviously proved a lucrative career for Simon Stafford-Jones. His unprepossessing yet obviously expensive Georgian house gave of an air of success and discreet wealth. He came out of the front door just as I pulled up.

“I do appreciate punctuality!” he said with a warm smile as he lowered himself into the passenger seat. “It’s the one of the few things in this life we can all manage without causing any pain or discomfort. I hate people who are habitually late!” Although he said it with a smile and a laugh, I could tell he meant every word. I was very glad for the fact that I hadn’t rolled up late;  I am myself usually very punctual.

I weaved through the London traffic; so many cars, taxis, buses, all vying for a clear stretch of road! Pedestrians dodging, weaving, dicing with death as they scuttled across the busy roads. Then there were the cyclists who seemed to be a law unto themselves. I had to concentrate very hard and on several occasions, mindful that I was not alone in the car, I had to literally bite down in order not to let out a few well-chosen expletives.

After not too long, however, we out of the worst of it and heading out of London on what was once called the Great West Road. I felt my hands relaxing on the wheel and my breathing becoming easier. I was now able to devote more of my attention to my travelling companion.

“Sorry about the tenseness,” I said, but my apology was brushed aside. Simon chuckled. “I know, Peter. It’s a real bugger driving in town. It’s a question of ‘dog-eat-dog’ and survival of the fittest! I just close my eyes and put my foot down!” He laughed and I had to as well. He was right; it was like a jungle out there!

We didn’t speak for the next couple of miles and then it was Simon who broke the silence. His voice was quiet and even in the compact space of the car, I had to strain my ears to hear what he was saying.

“Peter, I can’t thank you enough for what you are doing,” he said. I started to protest, but raising his hand slightly, he stopped me and continued:

“No, Peter, I mean it. You don’t know how much what you are doing means to me. You have nothing to gain from this, you are acting, as far as I can see, in a completely altruistic manner and that more than does you credit, Peter!”

“Do you have the photographs with you?” I asked. I had some sort of idea that they might be instrumental in getting Robertson to admit to his crimes. At any rate, they seemed to me to be very good bargaining chips to have.

Simon patted his breast-pocket. “Yes, they’re all here. You’ve got Will’s diary?” I nodded.

We fell silent for a while, each busy with our own thoughts. I mused on what Simon had said and wondered: Why am I doing this, really? I answered my own question;  I really do want justice for Will and for Robertson to own up to what he did.

After a while, Simon began speaking again:

“I was only twelve, dammit! Those two … monsters! Will had become a friend – he was head chorister and I looked up to him. He had a wonderful, pure voice and I remember thinking at the time that I wanted to be like him. We became friends, or rather, Will befriended me. Whether or not he took pity on the younger boy who obviously idolised him, or whether it was genuine friendship, I don’t know and honestly it doesn’t matter.”

He paused again. It was obvious to me that this was difficult for him, so I kept quiet and allowed Simon to make the going – at his own pace. If he wanted to confide anything in me, then I would be there for him. If not, then that was his prerogative.

“Then Robertson began to ‘show an interest’ in me. Looking back, I see now what an insidious, premeditated process it was. It began innocently enough, I suppose; ruffling my hair, the occasional pat on the back. Gradually, the physical contact became more insistent, more explicit. He would make a point of shaking my hand every time we met; I will never forget the feel of those hot, clammy hands.” Simon actually shuddered and then lapsed into another silence for a mile or so.

“Then he would take me for extra ‘coaching sessions’ as he called them. These would involve Robertson purportedly giving me tips on how to control my breathing, voice etcetera; he would make me do breathing exercises while he held my stomach, pushing against me, the other hand on my back. He would stand very close to me and I could smell that he had been drinking. He would always compliment me on my voice, my looks, everything. Despite the fact that I felt slightly uncomfortable alone with him, I also relished the attention – well, what twelve year old boy doesn’t like getting exclusive attention? I’m sure I led him on…”

I had to interrupt. “No, Simon. You didn’t lead him on!” My voice was louder than I intended, but I needed to make my point. “You were the victim of circumstance – you had no way of knowing how to handle the situation. You did not lead him on. Robertson took advantage of you. He was in a position of authority. He was supposed to protect the boys in his care, yet instead he systematically abused them. He and Cruickshank together!” I banged the wheel of the car. I didn’t realise how angry I was.

I took a deep breath and let this statement sink in, before continuing, in a lower voice, “Sorry, about that!”

Simon waved my apology aside. “You’re right, of course, Peter,” he said, giving me a tired smile. Just at that moment he looked twenty years older; a tired, old man.

I continued, “Apart from Will, were you aware of any other ‘special’ boys whom Robertson or Cruickshank paid attention to?”

Stafford-Jones shook his head. “No. I could see that something was bothering Will, as the summer went on. He had been so lively, funny – but after the trip to Southend at Whitsun, he seemed more withdrawn. And then when Robertson took me that first time to Cruickshank’s house…” his voice faltered again and I was aware of the pain Simon was undergoing.

“If you’d prefer not to speak, I would understand,” I said, but Simon, almost angrily interrupted me. “No, Peter. I need to talk to you! You’ve read Will’s diary, you know the kind of things that he and I were … forced to do… trust me, Peter, talking about it is what I need to do. There are some things I haven’t even been able to bring myself to tell my therapist, but with you…”

Again, he lapsed into silence. This was an ordeal for him, I could see that and I hoped that I was being a help, not a hindrance. I didn’t want to force Simon to rake over his past, he had had therapy for that, but if, as he said, he needed to talk, then I hoped it would be to the good.

We drove on, the clouds giving way to a watery sun. The traffic was light and we were making good time.

“I suppose I liked the idea of being ‘special’. Robertson was always praising me, looking at me. I began to like being in his good books. I enjoyed singing in the choir, I had a couple of good friends, there was Will, whom I idolised. I enjoyed the services, the music – until it all started to go sour.

I remember when Robertson took me to Cruickshank’s house and Will was there. It was a sunny day and the grownups suggested we play together in the Rector’s garden. There was a football we kicked around, I remember it was a real leather one, with a lace and a bladder inside that one had to inflate.

We had soft drinks and one or other of the men suggested we take off our shirts because it was so hot. Then Cruickshank got this old camera out and began to take pictures of us. He got me and Will to stand together, arms about each others’ waist. I remember the occasion very well. I was thrilled to be so close to my idol and that day both Cruickshank and Robertson seemed very nice. They even gave us a couple of bob, if I remember rightly.

‘Will told me he was helping the Rector catalogue his library and was getting paid. He said it was a ‘doddle’ getting money for doing practically nothing. I went round there a few more times and then one day, it was before Whitsun, I recall, Will wasn’t there, only the two men. Robertson made me sit next to him and he showed me some dirty pictures – they were I suppose quite tame by today’s standards, but for me, they were very wicked indeed; topless ladies, saucy costumes, that sort of thing. Robertson kept asking me if I liked what I saw. I was a boy, with no experience of anything sexual, although even by then I had started masturbating. It was inevitable, really, that I had an erection. Robertson noticed and, well the long and the short of it is that he ended up wanking me…”

Simon paused, his eyes focused on something in the far distance, something only he could see. He cleared his throat and resumed his narrative in his quiet, silky baritone voice:

“Then the sessions with Will and both men started. I suppose by that time I sort of knew that I preferred boys to girls, although I was still very naïf. I remember Will whispering to me not to worry, that he would look after me and make sure that the men didn’t hurt me, physically at any rate. Robertson and Cruickshank would give us alcohol to drink and we would get very drunk and very daring. All I knew was that if Will said he would protect me, then he would. I trusted him implicitly. I had to. If I didn’t then, I knew I was lost. And I knew Will was trustworthy. He often let those men do things to him rather than to me, I can see that now. What he went through… it was horrible!”

Simon paused to wipe his eyes with a handkerchief. After blowing his nose, he continued, his voice more tremulous.

“It was better – those sessions when it was just Will and me – and the men just drank and watched us, sometimes taking photographs or filming. I hated it when we were forced to perform on those men… at least with Will we had some sort of bond; he would be gentle and kind and although I know he wasn’t homosexual, at least with me he made it feel like it was more than just an act of sexual perversion, defilement. I also think he knew that I was, at best, ambiguous about my sexuality. He knew that I had a ‘crush’ on him and those times when it was just him and me, ‘performing’ for those bastards, Will at least acted as though he loved me; tender, gentle, considerate.

‘The first few times were the worst, but quite honestly, when we realised it wasn’t going to stop, or change, we just sort of accepted it. We went through the motions, did what those … monsters wanted and got through it. I didn’t realise that it was affecting Will so badly. I remember vividly when he handed me the photographs. He told me to hide them, look after them and never let any one else see them or have them. He said they were his ‘insurance’ but I didn’t know what he meant.

‘By that time, early autumn, he looked awful. I knew he was beginning to bunk off school; he got involved with some very dubious characters – girls from a nearby school and their hangers’-on, juvenile delinquents, more or less. He was involved in shoplifting, vandalism and he began to drink and smoke. He hardly ever came to choir practice unless his mother forced him to. I was surprised she didn’t suspect anything.”

Another pause. It could sense Simon was trying to control his emotions enough in order to continue his harrowing tale.

“Then came that Sunday in November.  It was Remembrance Sunday and the church was very full. The congregation was there, we had some buglers and a contingent of young cadets to lay the wreath. The choir was ready to go in, except that Will was not there, but he had been missing rehearsals and services recently, so it wasn’t unusual.  I remember both Cruickshank and Robertson were very late, they only just got to the church in time. Both of them looked like they had been up all night. Robertson looked awful, unshaven, bloodshot eyes and you could smell the booze on his breath a mile away. We in the choir of course had no idea what had happened, until Cruickshank made his announcement from the pulpit, after his sermon.”

Simon’s face contorted with anger as he spat out the next words:

“The cynical BASTARD! How he could stand there, in front of the whole congregation and say those things – how ‘God had seen fit to take his young servant, Will Fremantle to Himself’ and how much he and the rest of us would miss him. The callous bastard had the nerve to stand there and lie blatantly, to us all, to the God he was supposed to believe in. He said that Will would be in his prayers and that his thoughts went out to the boy’s mother. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! I remember looking over at Robertson while this … travesty was going on. He was very pale, and his hands were shaking, but he gave me such a look, as if to say that if I said anything, he would make sure I suffered. It was in that moment, by that glance, that I was convinced that Robertson was quite capable of killing me if I breathed a word of what those two had been up to and how they bore the responsibility for poor Will’s death.

‘Of course, we in the choir were all interviewed by the police and I am deeply ashamed to say that I told them I knew nothing and that Will’s ‘accident’ had come as a shock. Of course that’s what everyone called it – an accident. But I was sure that if either Robertson or Cruickshank hadn’t physically pushed Will through that window, they had as surely killed him. But I was too frightened to say anything. Poor Will! I’m so sorry, my dear, dear friend! How can you ever forgive me?”

Simon Stafford-Jones wept. For his friend, for his lost childhood, for his ruined life. As the sleek car sped down the motorway, Simon’s tears flowed freely down his cheeks, his sobs a testament to his deep grief and, I suspect, his shame at not having stood up for his friend.

 

SEVENTEEN
(FRIDAY AFTERNOON)

Sunny Vale is a substantial red-brick Victorian building in the suburbs of Bournemouth. The original house has been added to several times and the building stood in extensive grounds. Not just an old-peoples’ home in the generally accepted sense of the word, it also has self-contained so-called ‘retirement apartments’ for couples or individuals. By the look of the place I reckoned it must cost a fortune to live there, at least in the self-contained flats.

We went into the reception area and asked after Stanhope Robertson. Simon had earlier told me to leave the introductions to him. Robertson was a resident in the general part of the home and had been there for twelve years, according to the Registrar who invited us into her office. She pulled a file from the filing-cabinet and after glancing at it, began to ask Simon and myself questions. This was obviously a ‘vetting’ session, to establish exactly who we were and why we were visiting one of the residents. At least they had some sort of screening system in place to protect the elderly folk from harassment from individuals who might prey on their frailty or confused state of mind.

Simon, it turned out, was a very convincing liar. He spun a tale about Robertson being his mentor and colleague from years ago and how he wanted to include some anecdotes about the old man in his memoirs. He certainly knew how to switch on the charm and before long, the Registrar was smiling and showing us to the visitors’ sitting-room, saying ‘someone would be along shortly’ with Mr Robertson and that she herself would bring us some tea in a short while.

Now that the moment was almost upon him, Simon looked pale and nervous. I felt sorry for him. He was about to come face to face with the demon from his childhood, who had not only robbed him of his innocence, his childhood as well as someone of whom he was very fond, but Robertson had also abused him in the most vile and disgusting manner when he, Simon, was at his most vulnerable, with no way of defending himself. I saw how worried Simon looked and my heart went out to him. No amount of therapy can completely prepare you for a meeting such as this.

“I’m here for you, Simon,” I whispered, just before the door was opened and a large, muscular orderly, dressed in the regulation white uniform came in, supporting on his massive arm a bent, shuffling old man.

The only time I had seen Robertson was in that newspaper article from 1963, standing outside St. Giles with the choir. I would hardly have recognised him now. The frail old man before me might have stood at about five-foot ten, were he able to stand upright. His iron grey hair was wispy and seemed to be missing great tufts. His shoulders were hunched and rounded and his thin, bony hands clutched tightly at two walking-sticks. Stained grey flannel trousers flapped around the man’s ankles and his rather large feet were encased in shabby, worn-down slippers. The only thing that identified the husk of a human being before me was the livid birthmark – the strawberry-coloured splotch which ran across his forehead and down one side of the gaunt face. That was instantly recognisable as being unique to Stanhope Robertson, former organist and Master of the Choirboys at St Giles-in-the-Fields; pederast and all-but-murderer of an innocent boy. I heard a sharp intake of breath from Simon and I almost felt my gorge rising as I viewed the pathetic, wheezing old man.

After seating him in a chair, the orderly made as if to stay and wait with his charge, but I asked him, very politely to leave. What we had to say to Robertson was, for the moment at any rate, not for other ears.

With a long, almost hostile stare at us, the orderly left.

The room was quite silent except for Robertson’s raspy breathing. His fingers were heavily nicotine-stained. He let his sticks drop to the floor with a loud clatter and I noticed his hands shook as his fingers fluttered over his upper torso, the age-old habit of a lifetime of a smoker seeking cigarettes. He had none on him – there were doubtless rules about  smoking at Sunny Vale. However, he went through the ritual of patting the breast-pocket of his shirt and his trouser pockets in the vain hope of one day striking it lucky and then when he finally realised that it was a hopeless search, he finally raised his eyes to meet ours.

After what we had been told about Robertson, I was expecting a vacant unintelligence, but instead I noticed a sharp, almost accusing look which flashed in the man’s eyes before he seemed to suddenly recall himself and the expression became dull and lifeless. It was only for a brief flash, but I fancied I saw intelligence, and a malign look in that glance. It was gone almost before I could register it.

I looked over at Simon. He was pale and looked as though he had seen a ghost – which I suppose he had in a way. In front of him was the man who had robbed him of his childhood and innocence and haunted his adult life.

I cleared my throat. I had thought long and hard about how I would handle this confrontation with Robertson, but now that the man was before me and it had come down to it, I felt unsure, uncertain how to handle this meeting. I knew that it would in all likelihood be our only meeting and I had to make it count. For Simon and for Will, I had, somehow to get a result.

“Mr Robertson? Mr Stanhope Robertson?”

No response, but I fancied I saw the eyes flicker again, although the man’s facial expression didn’t change. He was staring at a point just past and over my left shoulder and I had to exercise all my willpower not to turn and see what he was looking at. I decided to play the same game and only looked obliquely at the old man’s unshaven, heavily creased face.

“Mr Robertson,” I started again, in a slightly louder voice, enunciating every word in case the old man was hard of hearing – or an idiot. “You don’t know me, Mr Robertson, my name is Taylor. Peter Taylor. I’m from London.”

I don’t know why I added the last bit, but there was still no visible response from Robertson. He sat, hunched in the straight-backed chair, his knees pressed close together, his hands, having given up their search for a cigarette were now in his lap, and his fingers, which I now noticed were severely rheumatoid, were splayed along the old man’s thighs, drumming very slightly as if playing a half-forgotten toccata. He continued to stare blankly past me and did not seem to react at all to what I was saying or even acknowledging the fact that we were there.

This was getting us nowhere. I wondered how much of this indifferent silence was an act and how much was genuine. I had to plough on, try and get some sort of reaction from the old man.

“We’ve come to ask you a few questions, if we may,” I said, trying to control my voice, attempting to keep calm and stay polite, although inside I was beginning to become agitated and increasingly angry. I couldn’t be sure that the man opposite us was genuinely senile or whether he was putting on an act. That glance I had observed earlier seemed to suggest to me that Robertson had some idea of why we were visiting him and he was on his guard. It was up to me to try and get under that façade that I thought he was hiding behind. I would have to box more cleverly than him, I thought grimly.

“You’re not from those undertakers?”

The question was almost spat out, with an anger belying the visible frailty of the man.

“No,” I replied, “we’re not.”

“Because there’s no point in trying to promise me a grand send off. There’s no-one left who’d care or come and I certainly shan’t spend that kind of money for something I won’t even be around to see. You can take your fancy caskets and big black cars! I wouldn’t even mind being buried in a cardboard box!” The sentence ended in a spluttering coughing-fit.

“We’re not from the undertakers,” I repeated, once the old man had finished coughing his lungs up. “We’d just like to ask you a few questions, that’s all.”

“I’ve arranged for a cremation, anyway,” continued the old man with an almost belligerent stare at us as if he were daring us by continuing this charade.

“Mr Robertson,” I interrupted, still trying to keep calm, “We’re not from the undertakers. I just wanted to ask you a few questions about your job, when

you worked in London. You did work in London, about forty years ago? Do you remember?”

“What do you want to go asking questions from all that time ago? What is it you want?” He looked suddenly suspiciously at me and Simon, giving us each a long, hard look.

“There’s just a couple of things I, er … we need to get sorted out,” I continued, still unsure of how to handle this situation.

“Are you people from the Income Tax?” Another hard stare, another bout of coughing.

“No, we’re not officials of any sort,” I replied, becoming increasingly worried that we were going to get nothing out of Robertson.

“Then what is it that you want? Why are you here, bothering me?”

“Were you the organist at St. Giles-in-the-Fields?” I burst out, “Roundabout 1960-63?”

There was a sudden silence in the room.

I felt rather than saw Simon stiffen in his seat. I was almost trembling with a mixture of anxiety and excitement. Robertson seemed to freeze where he sat hunched in his chair. His fingers ceased their silent tattoo and his eyes flickered over to where Simon sat. He licked his lips, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down in his throat as he swallowed. Almost immediately, his eyes moved away, became lifeless again as he replied in a disinterested tone:

“May have been. Such a long time ago. Can’t remember…”

I knew that he was lying. His reaction, however fleeting, however quickly he covered it up was enough for me to be certain that we had the right man. Robertson had been that organist, he had been the man who had abused Simon and he did bear the responsibility for Will’s death.

It was now time for me to get irrefutable proof – if not an admission of guilt, then at least a recognition of what he had done and maybe even an apology, although I wasn’t at all sure we would be so lucky.

Feeling absolutely certain of his guilt, I pressed on: “You knew a boy there, William Fremantle, didn’t you? He sang in the choir, was Head chorister. You and Cruickshank knew him, didn’t you, Robertson?”

“So long ago, can’t remember…”

“You were involved with Cruickshank. You knew what he was up to with William and Simon. You took part in certain – activities – involving those two boys, didn’t you, Robertson?”

“I don’t know what…”

I took Will’s diary from my coat pocket. I opened it and began to read out loud from it. As I did so, I was aware how Robertson’s expression changed from indifference to one of almost fear. I read Will’s account of his encounter with Robertson in the cubby-hole behind the organ in St. Giles:

“Open your mouth you little whore. Take my rod in that sweet mouth and keep your bloody teeth out of the bloody way or I will give you such a beating! Now suck on it like you do on your mother’s tit, you little slut! Suck it!!!”

He was screaming almost out of control and I could nothing as he pushed the great smelly thing into my mouth. I felt the ridged pole pushing into my mouth, the large red nob prising my jaws apart. He kept on pushing, I felt like I was going to be sick, I even gagged.

“Stop your snivelling little catamite! Take it like a man!” He did stop pushing though and left it there in my mouth, throbbing.

“Now use that sweet little tongue of yours, Will. Work it boy! Suck me, lick me!”

He kept pushing and pulling his cock in my mouth. My jaws ached, I felt the tears running down my face.

“Don’t stop, boy! Suck me like there’s no tomorrow! Suck it!”

I couldn’t go on. The atmosphere in the room was such that one could have cut it with a knife. Robertson’s expression was a mixture of fear and something else… cunning is the only word I could find to describe that look. He seemed like a cornered animal, ready to take desperate measures to escape. I found another passage at random and read it out. It was Will’s last entry:

I’m trapped. Nowhere to go. No-one to turn to. It’s better this way. Better that I vanish, then they can’t hurt me. No one can hurt me. Better that I roast in Hell than stay here near them.  I’ve got the key to the tower. I stole it off its hook the other day. One day, soon, I’ll climb up there and jump off. It’s very high. Then it will all be over.

The worst thing is that I can’t tell anyone. They’d never believe me. The Rector is liked by everyone here. He’s been here for ages. But nobody knows what I know about him or Robertson.

And I don’t expect anyone ever will.

No-one moved. Robertson had turned sickly pale and his leg started bobbing furiously up and down. I thought, just for a moment, that he might speak, but he remained silent, avoiding our eyes.

I waited, closed Will’s diary and looked at Robertson.

“You used those two boys for your own perverse pleasure, Robertson! You forced them to participate, against their wills, in various acts of sexual deviation, to satisfy your unnatural lusts, your disgusting depravities! You filmed them, you photographed them. You forced yourself upon them. You raped them, Robertson! You made their lives a living hell and finally you forced one of them to kill himself, didn’t you Robertson?”

I was shouting by now and the old man cowered in his chair, looking down at the floor, knotting and unknotting his swollen fingers. His leg furiously pumping away, as if he had no control over it.

I glanced over at Simon and held out my hand. Pale and without a word, he handed the photographs over to me. I got out of my chair and strode over to the old man. I chose a photograph at random and shoved it under Robertson’s nose. He tried to look away, but I saw that even now he couldn’t avoid looking at the picture. Robertson was easily identifiable in the photograph.  In it, he was sodomising Simon. The boy was obviously crying and anyone could see that he was in great pain.

“Do you deny that that is you in this picture? Do you deny that you abused at least these two young boys, if not more? Do you accept responsibility for those acts you committed? Do you accept responsibility for those lives you ruined, and at least one life you caused to end?” I was shouting now, my face close to the old man’s:

Do you, Robertson?”

I was shaking with anger, the photographs still in the old man’s face. I chose picture after picture, showing the unspeakable acts being perpetrated on those two innocent boys. Robertson tried to ignore them, but I saw that he eyed them surreptitiously, as if he had no control over himself. Even now, he was fascinated by the pictures, his monstrous lust overtaking any sense of decency he might have had. I felt almost physically sick. I handed the pictures back to Simon, who put them in his coat pocket. Robertson’s eyes remained fixed on the spot where he imagined them to be. I wanted to throttle the old man. He was beneath my contempt.

Slowly he looked up at me. He had a petulant almost defiant look on his face.

“You say you’re not any sort of official?”

I stepped back. I could see where the wily old man was leading. I had lost.

“No.” I replied coldly. I had already said we were not here in any official capacity. With a hardly perceptible grin, the old man’s eyes glinting, he went on:

“So, why are you two here then? What do you think you can do?”

“I still have these photographs,” I replied.

“Anyone can forge photographs,” replied Robertson, with a sneer. “What’s to say you two didn’t cook this up and come here to harass an old man? And that diary! Could easily be a forgery. You’d never be able to prove a thing! You have no real proof, no witnesses. No lawyer would touch your case. It would be your word against mine!”

He turned to face Simon, who was still sitting immobile in his chair.

“Are you trying to make me believe that you were an innocent victim? You were a little slut! You enjoyed every minute of it! Oh yes, I know who you are, little blond arse-wiggler! I remember your pretty little face, your cocksucking lips on my dick! You little arsewipe! You loved every minute of it, you and your little bumchum!”

With an almost  animal cry of hate, Simon started out of his chair and launched himself at the old man. I only just managed to step between them in the nick of time, otherwise Robertson would been sent sprawling.

“Do no harm!”

I heard a voice shouting inside my head:

“DO NO HARM!”

“No, Simon! That’s not the way!” I shouted, holding the struggling man. I do believe that if I hadn’t stopped him he would have done his best to kill the old man.

Simon’s shoulders drooped and he went limp. I helped him back to his seat. As I did so, I  happened to glance where my coat was hung over the back of my chair. As I looked, I saw the little brown book fall from my pocket and hit the linoleum with a sharp thud. Without thinking, I bent to pick it up. It had fallen open. I read:

Take me to him

I brought the small volume over to where Robertson sat with a triumphant look on his face. He looked incuriously at the book which I held before him.

“So what’s that then? A sketch book? Do you want me to draw pictures for you?” He was sneering, thinking that he was home free and that, if he didn’t confess to anything, he would get away with his crimes.

“Turn the page,” I said. Somehow I knew that the book would change things around.

“What fucking game is this?” The unexpected expletive shocked me.

“Open it!” I commanded. With a  murderous look, the old man took the book and with his arthritic fingers clumsily opened it. The pages were blank.

“Wha…” he began, but suddenly he stopped speaking as he gazed at the page in front of him. I looked down. Writing was slowly appearing on the blank page…

Remember Ben? Only two years ago, surely you haven’t forgotten him? Anyway, the police are very interested in what he’s got to say. Your accomplice lost his nerve, Golly. He’s squealed! They’re on their way…I think they’ll be asking a lot of questions very soon! You’re not going to get away with it this time! My friends are going to hand over my diary and those photographs. That was a silly mistake, Golly! Now you’re for it!

Robertson had gone deathly pale. I took the book from his shaking hands and put it in my pocket. Already the writing was disappearing.

“You can’t prove…” Robertson was cut off by a knock at the door. The Registrar, looking worried came in, followed by a uniformed policeman and two plainclothes men, presumably detectives.

“I’m awfully sorry to interrupt, but the detective wants a word with Mr Robertson and he was most insistent that it be now.”

She looked worriedly over at us, he brow knitted in consternation.

The plainclothes officer advanced, looking grim.

“I’m Detective Superintendent Barnes and this is Sergeant Villiers.” He fixed us with an icy, questioning stare.

“I am Peter Taylor and this a friend of mine, Simon Stafford-Jones,” I replied.

Barnes nodded curtly before turning his cold blue eyes on the seated old man. “Are you Stanhope Robertson, resident at this address?” asked the detective.

Robertson gave no reply, he just sat, gazing at the floor.

“I’m afraid I must insist that you answer my question, Sir. Are you Stanhope…”

He was interrupted by Robertson: “Yes. I am. What is the meaning of this?”

His bravado didn’t convince anyone in the room, least of all the tall, lean inspector.

“Stanhope Robertson, I am arresting you on charges of assault, lewd and indecent behaviour, aggravated sexual assault, in collusion with another, on a minor and possible further charges. You have the right to remain silent butit may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. Do you understand what has been said to you?”

For a moment, it felt to me that Robertson was going to play the senile old man card, but after a brief moment, he nodded his head and said in a barely audible, tired-sounding voice: “Yes, I understand what has been said.”

The detective motioned to his sergeant, who stepped forward and assisted Robertson to his feet. He reached for his handcuffs, but Robertson snarled at him: “Does it look like I’m likely to fucking run away or try and resist arrest, you stupid bugger?” The sergeant glanced at his superior officer who merely nodded to the constable who picked up the old man’s walking-sticks and placed them in Robertson’s gnarled hands.

Barnes turned to me. “Might I ask if you are personal friends or relations of Mr Robertson, sir?” I noticed the overly polite demeanour of the detective and wondered whether or not he suspected us of being in league with Robertson. I thought not, seeing as he hadn’t made any move to caution us.

“We came here because of this,” I replied, handing Barnes Will’s diary. “I found this diary and began to investigate – under my own auspices – and my investigations led me here, to this man.”

I indicated Robertson, who seemed to have dissociated himself from the scene playing in front of him. He stared at the floor.

The detective raised his eyebrows and gave me an appraising, curious look, not without a hint of suspicion.

“And where, exactly did you come by this book?” His tone was hard, his eyes unblinking.

“I found it hidden in the tower of St. Giles Church in London,” I replied, knowing that honesty was the only policy.

Again, I was fixed by the policeman’s steely eyes.

“May I ask what you were doing in the tower of St. Giles?” He gave a sardonic smile. “Are you perhaps from the Ministry of Works, looking for dry-rot in London churches? Or maybe a student of campanology, perhaps?” His sarcasm was heavy, but his intention was deadly serious. I knew that the real explanation would sound, to put it mildly, ludicrous, but I had no option to try and be as honest as I could.

What he would have made of the real story, I could only guess, but I would have thought the only outcome would be that I would be arrested as well and most likely committed to an asylum for the insane. I took a deep breath and ploughed on, feeling as I did so, that I was digging a wide, deep hole for myself.

I faced the inspector. “I have to ask you to believe me that I found it as a result of a dream…” here I did need to bend the truth, the real explanation would be totally unbelievable. This way, at least, it was my word against theirs. There was no way the police could disprove my story and I could show them the loose bricks in the church tower. Also the entries in the diaries would bear my story out and if they conducted forensic tests on the book, they would see for sure that it was genuine.

Robertson gave a snort, as he eyed me and Simon with loathing. Barnes gave me a long hard stare, his eyes as cold as ice. He looked back at the book and skimmed over a page or two. He looked back up, unable to disguise his disgust, before giving me a curt nod.

“I will need your names and addresses, if you would give them to my sergeant before you go.” He was about to leave, when Simon stepped forward.

“Inspector!”

The policeman stopped and turned to face him. Simon reached into his pocket. Robertson lunged forward, shouting something unintelligible. He was restrained by the constable and sergeant.

Simon produced the sheaf of photographs and handed them to Barnes.

“Inspector, these were taken by Robertson and his accomplice, Dr. Lancelot Cruickshank, who was Rector of St. Giles in 1963, when I was a chorister there. The other boy is William Fremantle, who killed himself because of what those two animals did. The other boy is me.”

Barnes showed no emotion as he looked at the top two or three pictures, but when he looked up at Simon, his expression was a mixture of sympathy and anger. “Thank you sir. I’ll have to hold on to the diary and these pictures, if that’s alright with you, Mr Stafford-Jones…” Simon nodded, his face ashen. The detective continued, “And of course, I will need to talk further with you both at a later date, regarding these…” He paused, as if trying to contain his emotions, until with a curt nod of the head in Robertson’s direction, he said, “Take him away!”

After we had given our names and addresses, Barnes said we were free to go. As he was leaving, he said to Simon in a grim voice, “the wheels of justice grind extremely slow, but they grind exceeding fine.” He gave a slight shrug and with a tired sigh went on, “It’s not much compensation for a lost life, sir, but we do our best. One more statistic.” He continued, more to himself than us, as we left the building into the gathering November gloom, “I had better see if I can trace the boy’s mother, if she’s still alive. Too late of course, much too late…” He turned and went to his car.

Neither of us spoke for the whole journey back to London. Simon seemed to nod off – the afternoon’s events seemed to have shattered him. Sleeping, he looked tired and old.

As I drove, I kept hearing, over and over in my head, Mendelssohn’s Oh, for the Wings of a Dove. The treble voice was pure and clear.

Will was singing his heart out for me.

I drove on, blinking away my tears.

 

EIGHTEEN
(FRIDAY – EARLY EVENING)

We arrived at Simon’s house. I gently shook his shoulder. He woke with a start, not at first realising where he was.

“Oh, Peter! Not been much company have I? I’m so sorry – I felt as if I had been through ten rounds with Muhammed Ali! I just switched off. I’m sorry!”

“It’s no big deal, Simon,” I replied. “You have had a rough day of it! How are you feeling now? Will you be alright this evening?”

“Thanks, Peter, I’ll be fine. I’ll just go straight to bed, I think. Thank you again for all you’ve done. You don’t know what today has meant to me.”

“Well, I’m glad the bastard’s been caught,” I replied. “I’m sure Barnes will see he gets what’s coming to him. I can’t feel sorry for him at all. Even though he’s old and frail.”

“I don’t think he’s as frail as he’s been making himself out to be,” replied Simon, grimly.

He paused before he continued, hesitantly, “Peter, I do hope we will become friends.”

“Of course we will!” I replied, warmly.

Simon shook his head. “What a strange couple of days it has been! First that dream, then me writing to you out of the blue and that strange book. It’s downright spooky!”

“We were meant to meet,” I replied, half in jest, half in deadly seriousness. “Will brought us together and we were meant to find Robertson. Now Will can rest in peace.” I paused before I went on: “will you find peace now, Simon?”

The older man looked at me, a gentle smile on his lips. “Yes, Peter, I think I will! For just about the first time since I can remember, I feel at ease. It was a difficult day, but now it’s nearly over and the outcome is what it is… Yes, I think I will be fine. Thank you, Peter!” With that, he leant over and planted a chaste, dry kiss on my cheek. So light and almost fleeting, it felt like a butterfly’s wing.

Simon quickly left the car. “I’ll give you a call in the next day or two, if I may?”

“Certainly!” I replied.

I waited as Simon let himself into his darkened house.

I switched on the ignition and drove to the car-hire firm. After I had settled up with them, I decided I needed a stiff drink.

I headed for the Crown and a double Chivas.

***

Albert was there, at the smokers’ end of the bar. He raised a hand in greeting and I made my way over to where he perched on his barstool.

“The usual for my friend Peter, if you will, George!” He gave me a quick, searching look and added, “make that a large one! The lad looks as though he needs it!”

Although he said it mainly in jest, he looked at me worriedly. “Grab a pew, Peter! You look as though you’ve seen a ghost! Everything alright, son?”

“Yes, thanks Albert,” I replied, knowing that my answer didn’t sound convincing.

Albert gave me another worried look. “Well, you don’t sound too sure,” he said, as George placed my drink in front of me. I reached for my wallet, but Albert stopped me. “I said it was on me, my friend, but in return you have to tell me what’s up. You look all washed up.” I gratefully accepted Albert’s kind offer and took a long sip of whisky.

“You remember I asked you about St Giles?”

Albert nodded.

“And you said you remembered some sort of scandal there about thirty-forty years ago?”

“Yes,” replied the older man, his look becoming grimmer, “after you left the other night, I began to remember more details. Terrible business! But why mention it again, Peter? What’s been going on?”

“Well … ” I began,  not for the first time wishing that I hadn’t broached the subject. “I did some … research of my own,” I lied, “and to make a long story short, I’ve just been down to Bournemouth, where you helped me to track the organist…”

“Stanhope Robertson,” Albert interrupted, his tone hard.

“Yes, the very one,” I said. “Anyway, I had been contacted by someone who had been in the choir at the time and had proof…”

“So, there was something going on!” Albert broke in again. I could tell he was very angry.

“Yes,” I said. “And recently it came to light that he and an accomplice attacked and abused another boy, not so very long ago. The accomplice obviously had a guilty conscience and admitted everything to the police. They arrested Robertson while Simon and I were there.”

“Simon?” asked Albert, a puzzled look on his face.

“Simon Stafford-Jones, the other boy Cruickshank and Robertson were abusing,” I replied. “He had photographic evidence and I had Will’s diary. They seemed to be more than enough to convince the police. Robertson will probably end his days in prison.”

“And a bloody good thing too!” said Albert, vehemently. “The bastard deserves to be gelded!”  He paused, looking a little confused. “But how did you come by Fremantle’s diary?” he asked, brow furrowed.

I was about to give Albert the same untrue explanation about my dream that I had given Barnes, but as I was about to speak, I found myself pulling out the small, leather book from my coat pocket. Almost as if I were unable to help myself, I placed it on the bar in front of the older man.

“I got the information from this,” I heard myself saying.

I might have imagined it, but I sensed that Albert suddenly tensed. However, his voice, when he spoke, sounded as usual.

“May I?” he asked, beginning to reach for the book.

“Go ahead,” I replied, wondering what had possessed me to show it to him.

Albert opened the book and began to turn the pages. Suddenly he stopped and sat still, as if transfixed by something he must have seen in the book.

What had I done? Again, as when Lars looked at it, I got the irrational feeling that the book was playing some sort of trick on me, perhaps saying something about me that I didn’t wish to be known. I watched apprehensively as Albert gazed at a page. He held the book so that I couldn’t see what, if anything, was written there. I nervously took another swig of whisky, which went down the wrong way, causing me to choke.

Albert looked at me sharply as I recovered myself. It felt as if he were looking straight through me. For a moment he looked stern, then, as he closed the book and placed it back on the bar, he said, “Thank you Peter. Thank you so very, very much!” He looked again at the small, worn leather book and reached out with his slender, nicotine-stained fingers and stroked the soft leather. He was smiling.

I must have looked very confused, for Albert now openly laughed. “Don’t worry, young man! It’s perfectly alright! It’s just…” he paused, his eyes gleamed and his face was lit up with such a beatific smile, his happiness was almost palpable. I was hoping that Albert would tell me what he had seen in the book, but instead, he raised his glass and said, “Thank you again, young man. You have made me very, very happy! Cheers!”

I was disappointed when I saw that Albert was not going to elaborate and it would have been crass of me to question him further, so I just smiled back and raised my glass as well. Whatever he had seen or read, it was obvious that it was none of my business. Yet again, the little book seemed to have fulfilled some purpose through me. That should be knowledge enough, I thought. Being careful not to open it, for fear of Albert thinking me prying, I took the book and put it back in my coat pocket.

“Cheers!” I said and we drank.

I stayed another hour or so and drank more Chivas than I ought, but Albert was in sparkling form and we had a very pleasant evening talking about this and that. Neither of us referred to either Robertson, St Giles or the book.

By the time I bid farewell to Albert and got home, I was more than a little tipsy. There was the usual pile of letters on the hall floor, mostly circulars and a few for Sebastian. Nothing for me or the Pole.

I was on my way upstairs, when I heard the tapping. I paused, mid-flight and strained my ears. The noise was faint, regular, but not any Morse Code that I recognised. It was regular enough to convince me that it was man-made, not any random plumbing noise. Where was it coming from? It had to be the basement, but what was going on down there? The place was practically abandoned, seemingly only used as a sort of depot. Certainly no one lived there and the black van only rarely visited. I hadn’t noticed it on my way into the house. Who or what was making that tapping sound?

I stood quite still and concentrated on the faint sound. It really did sound like someone was hitting radiator pipes; it was rhythmic, but very faint. I put my hand on the radiator on the middle landing. It was warm, uniformly so and therefore definitely not expanding or contracting, so the noise wasn’t caused by that. I took my pen and tapped on the pipes. Listening, I heard the distant tapping stop, then start again. After a few seconds it stopped again. I tapped again: dot-dot-dot- dash-dash-dash -dot-dot-dot: Morse code for SOS. I waited, hoping not to hear a reply. There was a long silence, then came the reply I feared: S-O-S.

Somewhere in the house, most likely the basement, someone had been trying to attract attention for God knew how long. Finally they had been answered – by me. What was I to do? The tapping came again, the same pattern repeated again and again: S-O-S.

Someone was in trouble, Someone needed help.

I had to do something.

I had left my mobile at home, so I went upstairs to my flat and called the police, explained what I had heard, described the circumstances and asked them to look into it immediately, someone was certainly in trouble down there. I had the distinct impression that the officer who answered my call thought I must be imagining things. I tried to sound as reasonable as I could, but was painfully aware of the fact that the whisky was making me slightly slur my speech. I wouldn’t have blamed the policeman for not believing me. I tried to give a clear account of what I thought I had heard.

Finally, the voice on the other end of the line said in a tired, resigned voice, heavily patronising; “Thank you sir. We’ll look into it for you. Why don’t you get some rest and let us care of it?”

If that wasn’t a brush-off then I don’t know what was. I broke the connection. I decided I needed to do something myself. I had to at least try and find out what was going on in the basement. If I could get more evidence – whatever that might be – then I could call the police again and insist they come. I found a torch and as a precaution, took a hammer from my tool-box. I also took the keys to Sebastian’s studio. Suddenly feeling stone-cold sober, I crept quietly downstairs, past the second-floor flat, down to Seb’s. I opened his front door as quietly as I could and crept in, closing the door behind me.

My eyes grew accustomed to the darkness. I had no real plan in mind by going to Sebastian’s, but there was something at the back of my mind, some niggling thought; a half-remembered conversation, which seemed to me could be of help. Something to do with Seb’s premises. The thought remained frustratingly out of reach.

Although I knew the layout of Sebastian’s studio and could manoeuvre through there in the dark I had to be as quiet as possible. The basement was immediately below and I did not want to draw attention to myself by banging into some piece of furniture in the dark. I switched on my torch and moved through to the back of the studio.

The darkroom had only one entrance and of course, no windows. The walls were shelved almost up to the ceiling and in one corner was Seb’s safe. There were no built-in cupboards. I looked into the small lavatory. The window was narrow and only opened a few inches at the top, for ventilation. No cupboard either.

It was in the small kitchen, at the back of the premises that I found what I had half-remembered; a door leading out into an extension, more of a lean-to, really. I recalled Sebastian saying that he had always intended to demolish it, he had no use for it. He called it his ‘morgue’ because he was always finding dead pigeons or rats in there. He said he had plans to get rid of it so that he would be able to take outdoor photographs in the good weather. So far, many years down the line, nothing had yet come of his plans.

There was an enclosed space behind the house, which once might have been quite a nice little garden, but it had fallen into serious neglect – no-one in the house had any use for it, nor the inclination to maintain it. There were a couple of trees and a small patch of what had once been a miniature lawn, but was now overgrown. Somewhere among the knee-high grass and weeds was an ancient sundial, I used to be able to see from my bedroom window – I wasn’t even sure it was even still there.

My vague plan was to see if I couldn’t gain access – or at least see more of the basement from the back of the house. I stopped and listened. The tapping had stopped and the house was as silent as the tomb.

The back door was locked and bolted. Very gingerly, I tried the top bolt. Luckily for me, Sebastian was very safety-conscious and kept the bolts well-oiled in case he had to use the door for any reason as an emergency exit. The bolts slid back silently and I turned the lock. The door swung outwards and I could see there were some stairs down into the extension. I hoped the outside door was in as good condition as this one was. There was a smell of a mixture of damp, rotting wood (or worse; I didn’t want to think what might be causing the odour) and cats in the shed. I grasped the hammer firmly and slowly went down the wooden steps, one at a time, testing each one before I put my full weight on it. I didn’t want to find a rotting step and fall headlong and wake the whole world.

There were ten steps before my feet found the concrete floor. I pointed the beam of my torch around, picking out a couple of old chairs and a rickety table in one corner and an abandoned old-fashioned lawn-mower propped against a wall, its blades completely rusted. On a couple of shelves were various old tins of paint, a box with what looked like gardening tools sticking out of the top and some earthenware flowerpots.

The door to the garden was to my left. I shone my torch at it and noticed Sebastian had had a new lock fitted and the bolts here were also well-oiled. Thanking Seb under my breath for his foresight, I gently pulled back the bolts and opened the door into the overgrown garden.

The back garden may once have been well-tended and enjoyed by previous owners of the house but now it was an overgrown jungle. I suppose it was about sixty feet square.

When I had first moved in, the recently-widowed owner of what was to very soon become Seb’s studio still lived there and he took some pride in his little garden. After he left, it became abandoned, as Seb was only there for his work. No-one left to take the garden on. I recalled there were a couple of flowerbeds and a rosebush, an apple tree in one corner, which though it had never to my knowledge produced fruit, did blossom prettily in the Spring, as did the other tree, an ornamental cherry. The back wall was covered in thick swathes of ivy, in which, I knew, were the nests of various birds in the springtime; sparrow, blackbirds and a couple of wood-pigeons.

The grass was waist high in places and the rosebush had become a tangled clump of thorns. The old sundial lay on its side against the back wall of the house.

Now outside, I turned off my torch. I didn’t want anyone who might be in the basement to have advance warning of my presence there. The garden was overlooked by another house which had been converted to offices and was deserted at this time of night. Otherwise, high walls on either side gave the garden its intimate privacy, an unusual commodity here in central London.

I paused to get my bearings and give my eyes time to adjust to the darkness. The residual glow of the street lights filtered around the side of the house and I was gradually able to make out more details of my surroundings. The only way into this little patch was either from where I had just come, or else the side door of the basement flat, which was on the other side of a high wall with a locked door in it. Either that or one of the windows of the basement’s back room provided access to this wasteland which had once been someone’s oasis in the busy city.

There was a chink of light coming from between the drawn curtains of the basement window, which was slightly open at the top. I heard voices, followed by a sharp cry of pain. It was a child’s voice – boy or girl, I couldn’t be sure, but something in the timbre made me think it was a young boy’s voice, a voice just prior to breaking; slightly husky, vulnerable.

The voices started again; I reckoned there were two adult males there, one with a very deep voice, the other higher-pitched, lighter in colour. I couldn’t make out what they were saying to each other, but their tone suggested they were having a disagreement. I was also pretty sure that these two men, whoever they were, weren’t speaking English. Immediately, I recalled the two men I had seen getting out of the van – was it only a couple of days ago? It seemed like weeks. I had a mental image of the two dark-clad figures carrying a carpet into the basement flat.

Carpet.

Or maybe…

I inched closer towards the window and ever so carefully, peered in between the badly-drawn dirty curtains. The room was dingy, lit by one low-watt bulb hanging from a cord in the ceiling. There was little furniture in there; a hardbacked wooden chair, a small table and a mattress on the floor by the far wall.

The two men had their backs to me, looking down at the mattress, upon which, one arm chained to the radiator, lay a young boy. I guessed his age to be about twelve, thirteen at most. He was shabbily dressed in a pullover full of holes and wearing dirty football shorts. His feet were bare. One of the men was saying something angrily to the other and without warning, kicked the prone boy, hard, in the midriff. The boy cried out again. The other man was obviously not happy with this state of affairs and was trying to pull the larger one away. All the time they were arguing in hushed, yet violent whispers.

As he looked up at the men, the boy’s eyes flickered past them towards the open window. It could only have lasted a fraction of a second, but in that short space of time he gave me such a pleading look, such a cry for help was in that glance, it went right to my heart. The boy was in serious trouble, God alone knows what those men had already done or were going to do with him.

One of the men must have sensed that the boy had seen something behind him, that he began to turn. I didn’t need any urging. I backed away, turned and made for the small shed. I got inside and pushed the  bolts home. I knew that I had a long headstart on those men; if they went into the garden, they would have to go through the side door, then unlock the garden door, by which time I knew I could be safely back in my flat, behind at least two locked doors. But I didn’t want to hang about.

I ran up the steps into Seb’s flat, closed and quickly bolted that door and then, as if the Devil were on my heels, I raced upstairs to my flat, bolting and putting the deadbolt on my door. From my darkened bedroom window, I peered down into the garden. I couldn’t see anything, but I heard low voices as the two men searched around. One of them had a torch. They obviously thought that someone, a tramp maybe – or possibly a burglar, had somehow got into the garden and was probably still hiding there.

I flipped open my ‘phone and called the police again. This time I didn’t allow myself to be brushed off and demanded to speak to a senior officer. I explained exactly what I had seen and made the urgency of the situation very clear to the policeman. He, at least, seemed to believe me and said he would send a squad car ‘right away’ and that it would arrive within a matter of minutes.

There was one thing I knew I had to do. I put on my overcoat, took a sharp screwdriver and put it into my pocket. Quietly, I unlocked my door. There was no sound.

I decided there would be no point in trying to be quiet or discreet, so I turned on the lights as I went downstairs, making as much noise as I could, and all the time having an imaginary phone conversation with someone. If anyone was listening, they would assume that I, a little drunk, was on the way out of the house, maybe a club, or party.

It didn’t matter what they thought. What was important was that I should appear to know nothing about anyone else in the house and that my going out at this time of night was a normal occurrence. I clumped down the four flights of stairs and made sure to bang the front door behind me, all the time laughing and talking into a silent mobile phone.

Once outside, still gabbling into my phone, I looked up and down the street for the black van. It was parked about thirty yards away. I walked towards it and once I had drawn level, after checking that no-one was about, I knelt down and punched the screwdriver as hard as I could into the nearside tyres. I was rewarded with a satisfying hiss of escaping air. If they decided to try and make their getaway, these men would find their van incapacitated.

I hurried along the street towards the corner and turned into a side street. I stopped, lungs heaving, the adrenaline flowing. I heard hurried steps further back from where I had just come. Peering round the corner, I saw the two men were running towards their van, the larger of them with what was obviously the boy slung over his shoulder, covered with a blanket. He bundled the boy into the back of the van and after shouting at his comrade, most likely to tell him to get a move on, he started the van. The other man flung himself into the vehicle as it began to pull away from the kerb.

Just then it seemed as if everything happened at once. Not responding correctly to the steering, and with an ugly screech, the van lurched sideways, scraping past the car parked in front of it whilst in that same instant, with lights flashing and siren blaring, a police car drew up in front of the house. Obviously having spotted the erratic driving of the van and mercifully putting two and two together, the squad car shot forwards and blocked the van’s path. There was a screech of brakes and then a thud as the van hit the police car on its left wing and came to a halt. The police were out of the car in a second.

By now, another police car had arrived from the opposite direction and the men saw that they didn’t have a chance. They didn’t even resist and were arrested. They didn’t put up much of a fight, I assumed because they were probably just hired thugs. If they ran true to form, they would probably try and bargain with the police, getting a lighter sentence in return for leading the authorities to the real players;  those behind the abduction of the boy – or boys; I assumed there had to have been more than this poor mite.

The ‘brains’ and money behind an operation such as this had to be key players, probably running all sorts of other little ‘operations’ – gun-running, prostitution, child-pornography, drugs. They might be well-known entrepreneurs with legal businesses as well; donating to charity, attending black-tie receptions for good causes, whilst at the same time their seamier side was hidden from public view.

They slept safe in their luxury houses, protected by sophisticated alarm systems and other grunts like these two. They undoubtedly had good lawyers and plenty of influential people in their pockets. These big bosses wouldn’t go down as a result of this bust, probably some unfortunate small-time player who was expendable would take the fall. And before anyone had time to draw breath, the child-smuggling operation would be up and running somewhere else.

In reality, the authorities are fighting a losing battle, but one has to believe in every hard-won victory, every arrest hopefully making life a little harder for the criminals.

I stepped forward and approached one of the officers.

“My name is Peter Taylor. It was I who called you here,” I said, before he assumed I was either one of the bad guys or else just a bystander in the way. I saw the eyes of the larger man boring into me, glittering with hatred. He said something in a language I didn’t understand and spat in my direction.

By now a third car had drawn up, this time with two plainclothes officers. For the second time that day, I was asked to supply my name and address and how I had become involved in the proceedings.

Meanwhile the two men were bundled into the police cars and driven away.

“The boy’s in the back,” I said, indicating the black van.

A sorry sight met our eyes. The boy, pitifully thin, dark circles under his wide eyes stared back at us from the piles of rubbish in the back of the van. He looked scared and tears were running down his cheeks. He shied away as one of the detectives leant into the van to take him out. The boy’s eyes found mine and a spark of recognition lit them up. He began to speak fast in a foreign language, sobbing now, so that even if we had understood what he was trying to say he was almost incoherent. He looked at me again and tried to raise his arms towards me, but they were tied behind his back. It was obvious he wanted me to take him out of the van. I looked questioningly over at the detective.

“You maintain you do not know this boy?” asked the detective. He was a tallish man, sandy-coloured hair, slightly receding, pale blue eyes, constantly on the move and which seemed not to miss anything. His jaw was firm. I thought he was probably of Scottish descent.

“I never saw him until just before I called you,” I replied almost indignant that he should think I would be involved in anything like this. The man thought for a moment, keeping me constantly under his gaze. After a moment, he gave a curt nod.

“Go on, then.”

I slowly reached towards the boy, murmuring gently, as if to one’s favourite cat: “There, there! It’s going to be alright! Trust me, you poor thing! I won’t hurt you. We want to help! That’s it come on! My poor boy!”

I kept eye contact all the time with the small, confused and frightened child, hoping my voice would soothe him and that he understood what was happening, that he was – for the time being at any rate – safe.

I leant in towards him. He recoiled. I kept saying soothing things to him, but he obviously still didn’t understand what was happening. Then I had an idea: I started clicking with my tongue, the Morse-Code for S-O-S. Suddenly the boy must have realised who I was and what was happening. He ceased to shrink away from me and allowed me to pick him up. I gently put my arms around his little body. So thin! So light! I had no problem in lifting him out of the van.

From nowhere, a policewoman with a blanket materialised and I handed the shivering, scared little boy over to her. Like me, she crooned over the shaking form, making comforting noises as she deftly untied his hands.

More flashing blue lights; by now an ambulance had arrived. The policewoman carried the small figure over to one of the paramedics who placed him on a gurney and made a superficial examination.

“No bones broken,” he said after a minute or so, “but he’s been thumped about a bit. Poor bugger! We’ll do a more thorough evaluation down at the hospital.”

By that, I assumed he meant they would determine whether or not this poor boy had been sexually assaulted or not.

“Anyone know where he’s from?” asked the paramedic.

“It sounded like Polish,” said one of the detectives.

“Well, we’d better find an interpreter. I want him under guard at all times!”

The gurney with the small, frightened boy, was put into the back of the ambulance and the policewoman got in with him.

The senior officer then turned to me.

“I am Detective Chief Superintendent Morrison, and this is Detective Sergeant Richards,” he said as he flashed his ID card at me, the second time that day I had seen the same routine.

“I wonder if you’d mind asking a few questions, sir. You live near here?”

“Same house,” I replied, indicating where I lived. “They were keeping the boy prisoner in the basement flat.”

The senior detective turned to his colleague. “Richards, get forensics in there a.s.a.p. And go over that van with a fine-tooth comb!”

He turned back to me; businesslike, efficient but not unfriendly.

“Now, sir, perhaps we would be more comfortable in your flat?”

I knew very well that this wasn’t a question and I anyway preferred to be there than having to go down to the station. I wondered whether he suspected me of being a part of this and what his line of questioning would take. I had nothing to hide, yet I was still slightly nervous.

We walked the few yards to my house in silence, leaving the sergeant on his ‘phone as he made the arrangements for teams to come and start the forensic investigations.

 

NINETEEN
(FRIDAY – LATE NIGHT)

I saw how Morrison quickly scanned my flat as I ushered him in.  His eyes flickered over my things, seemingly taking everything in at a glance. His face was expressionless as he made his quick inventory; bookcases, furniture pictures, the Roman busts, worktable.

“Do sit down,” I said as I took off my coat. The screwdriver I had used to slash the black van’s tyres dropped out of the pocket and clattered on to the oak floorboards. Morrison cocked an eyebrow as I blushingly retrieved the tool.

“That might be described as an offensive weapon – in certain circumstances, but not this evening, I think!” He had the ghost of a smile and I saw he knew exactly what I had done.

“Quick thinking, Mr Taylor!” He paused, for the first time his eyes showed more than a cool professionalism, they glinted with humour. “Under the circumstances, I think we’ll overlook the case of … er … criminal damage, – not that I think anyone will be filing a complaint!”

I breathed a sigh of relief and gave a half-hearted chuckle. “I didn’t know how else to..”

Morrison interrupted me with a wave of his hand. “You acted quickly and correctly, Mr Taylor. Without your foresight, those thugs would have got away and God alone knows what might have happened to that poor boy…”

He became more serious. “Now, sir, if you would tell me, in your own words, what exactly happened this evening and how you managed to get involved in this.”

I poured myself a drink. Morrison declined my offer to join me. I sat down and recounted the evening’s events and also the fact that I had been aware of tapping for a few days. Morrison didn’t interrupt, but made careful notes.

After I had finished, the detective closed his notebook. “That all seems in order, Mr Taylor. By the way, can you give me the details of other residents in this house?”

I told him about Sebastian, and the Polish man on the middle floor. When I mentioned him, the detective looked for a second more alert, suspicious even.

“You don’t see him much then?”

“No. He’s hardly ever here. He’s an anthropologist or something, always on trips. Someone comes about once a fortnight to collect his mail and check his flat, but he’s hardly ever here…”

I paused. “You don’t think that he’s…?”

“I don’t think anything at the moment,” replied Morrison quickly. “At the moment, I’m just trying to get an overall picture, an idea of the situation here.” He paused again before asking, “You live alone, Mr Taylor?”

“Yes, I do,” I replied, for some reason feeling uneasy under the seemingly innocent question.

“No ‘better half’ – no ‘significant other’?”

“No, Inspector, at least…”

“No one else lives in this flat but you?”

“No.”

Morrison looked around again; pictures, Roman busts, books, CDs, my knicknacks. He got up and wandered over to my worktable, picked over a few of my sketches, looked at my noticeboard.

He studied my sketch of James.

Suddenly I felt nervous again.

“You an artist sir?”

“No, er yes, that is I’m an illustrator…”

Morrison raised his eyebrows. “Illustrator?”

“Yes, I illustrate books mainly,” I replied. “I do the artwork and designs for special Collectors’ Editions,” I replied, before realising how suspect that sounded. As far as Morrison was concerned that could mean anything from hard porn to Gardeners’ Annual.

I took one of my books out of the shelf and handed it to Morrison. It was a study of Oxford Colleges by a very famous writer, for which I had done the artwork. It had been very well received and had led to other similar commissions.

Morrison flicked through it. As he was looking through the large, glossy book, he asked in a casual voice, “…And the picture of the boy on your notice-board? It is a boy isn’t it?”

“Oh, that’s just a study I did,” I replied, convinced that Morrison could see straight through my lie and that any second now he would have me in a half-Nelson  and handcuffing me and arresting me for being a purveyor of pornography. Instead, he carefully handed me the large  coffee-table book and nodded his appreciation.

“Anyone you know?” His look indicated the sketch. Again, a casual question, but to me loaded with all sorts of overtones.

“No,” I replied, this time more truthfully, “just a sketch from memory, an aide-memoire, if you get my meaning.”

He shot me a quick glance, clenching his jaw very slightly. For the first time, he seemed slightly irritated.

“Yes, Mr Taylor, I am familiar with the term.”

“I’m sorry,…” I hadn’t intended to rub him up the wrong way, implying that as a plainclothes policeman he wouldn’t know what an aide-memoire was. I looked suitably chastened.

Seeing my discomfiture, Morrison seemed to unbend a little, “I did a few courses in Art Appreciation, Mr Taylor and what’s more, I do know your work. I own a copy of this book. Very fine indeed. Very fine!”

I murmured my thanks, duly chastened.

He happened to glance down on to the table.

There was the little leatherbound book.

“May I?”

I nodded, wordlessly. I just hoped there was nothing in there that Morrison might find odd or make him suspicious of me. I couldn’t remember where I had last left the book. Maybe I had put it there after getting home from the pub, but if I had, I had no recollection of doing so. It seemed to have an unsettling habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time – or was it the right place at the right time? I was no longer sure of anything.

I watched Morrison’s face carefully as he opened the book and flicked through the pages. He stopped at one and stared at it for a long while. His pale complexion seemed to go even paler. He turned the book to show me, a curious expression on his face, his voice slightly hoarse as he asked:

“Another aide memoire?”

It was a pencil sketch of a man’s head. A portrait of a man seemingly in his forties, receding hair, strong jawline, piercing eyes.

Inspector Morrison to the life.

I couldn’t help myself, I gave a sharp intake of breath. What was the book doing now?

There was some writing beneath the picture, very faint as if it had been rubbed out. It said: Unknown man, Cromarty,the Black Isle, August 2010.

I shrugged. What could I say? That the picture had appeared by itself? That it was a magic book?

“A sketch I made in the summer,” I lied.  Morrison looked closely at me turned the book back and studied the drawing closely. When he spoke again, his voice was hard and his manner seemed suspicious.

“Can you remember more about this man? Where you saw him? Did he give a name?”

I shook my head. I had never seen that man before, that is until he had introduced himself as Detective Chief Inspector Morrison about half an hour ago, but I couldn’t tell Morrison that. I just shrugged.

“Just someone I spotted on a walk somewhere. I don’t really remember at all, I’m afraid. But he is astonishingly like you!” I pretended that I had just spotted the likeness.

“Are you sure you don’t know any more about this man?”

I shook my head. “I make a lot of sketches when I travel,” I replied, quite truthfully. I don’t recall anything more, I’m afraid.”

“This is the only sketch in the book,” observed the Inspector.

“Must have been all I had to hand at the time,” I replied, none too convincingly, I thought, but it seemed to satisfy the detective.

“Is this man perhaps a relative?” I asked a little hesitantly.

There was a long pause while it seemed that Morrison was deciding whether or not to say anything. Finally, it appeared he had made up his mind and he began speaking, more to the picture than to me.

“I had a twin brother, Ian. He left home when we were eighteen. There had been some trouble at home…” he paused again, his face working with emotion.

“Well, in fact our father threw him out of the house. Ian told him something which made him very, very angry…” another long pause, as Morrison seemed to relive his past. I waited quietly, wondering where this story was going, but at the same time knowing the answer and suddenly realising why the drawing had appeared.

I let Morrison continue at his own speed. He seemed to have forgotten that I was in the room and was more or less talking to himself, all the time gazing at the pencil sketch.

“Ian had told me when we were sixteen that he thought he, …” Morrison coughed, cleared his throat and went on: “…that he knew he was gay. Queer. A Nancy-boy. Faggot.” He said the last few derogatory words angrily, as if quoting someone else, his father, I presumed.

“Well, when he turned eighteen he finally got up the courage to tell our Dad, and the old man went ballistic, calling him all sorts of names. If Ian hadn’t been bigger than him, I swear he would have hit him! Anyway, Ian left the same day and hasn’t been seen since. Hasn’t been in touch, no letter, phone call, nothing. Not even when our mother died…” Again, almost overwrought, Morrison became silent. After a moment he added:

“So when I saw this picture…”

I knew for sure now why that picture had appeared.

Use it wisely.

“Why don’t you go up to the Black Isle?” I suggested. “It’s a start, anyway. There aren’t many people in that part of the world. Maybe he lives or works on one of the few farms up there. Or at Poyntzfield House.” I recalled the name of a large country hotel there where, in fact, I had stayed once, many years ago. “You never know,” I went on, “he might still be there.”

I was improvising, but Morrison seemed to agree with me. Suddenly he looked more hopeful.

“Yes, maybe I will! The Black Isle! We used to spend our holidays there, as children. I’ve been back a few times, a while ago now, but no-one had seen him. Maybe he’s recently returned. It’s been too long and Dad’s regretted it ever since, though he’s too proud to admit it. I know he’s deeply sorry for what he said, but no-one has had any idea where Ian might have landed up, – until now… He’s getting on and in poor health. I know that all he really wants is to see Ian again and make amends for what happened.”

He looked once more at the drawing before handing the book back to me.

As I reached out to retrieve the book, the page with the drawing seemed literally to detach itself.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to …” Morrison started to say. I interrupted him, handing him the loose page with the picture.

“Take it! A memento.” I said, “I hope you find your brother,” I added.

“Maybe it will help. It’s the best lead I’ve had in years. Thank you again, Mr Taylor!”

“Don’t thank me,” I replied, “put it down to, er – Providence.”

Morrison carefully placed the page into his notebook.

“Maybe this time I’ll be lucky and find him…” He became thoughtful for a moment before he seemed to shake himself out of his sadness.

“Thank you, Mr Taylor! What a strange coincidence that I should meet you and see this and…” I knew that this had been no coincidence, but agreed with him.

“Yes, remarkable!” I said.

“And thank you for what you did about saving that poor wee mite. We’ll be in touch with you for an official statement in due course. Let’s just hope we catch the bastards!”

I agreed with him and showed Morrison out.

After the inspector had gone, I realised how dead tired I was. It was late and the day had been, to put it mildly, exciting. As I was turning out the lights, my cellphone beeped. It was a text message from Lars:

Been trying to rch u all day! Who was tht guy? Yr new lover? 😉 Can I cum up and c u?

I looked out of the window. The detectives’ car was pulling away. There was a police van outside, probably the forensic team who would be working through the night in the basement. No sign of Lars.

I texted him back:

Cum on up, but dnt expct 2 mch action. Dog tired! :-*

The doorbell rang about thirty seconds later and five minutes after that, Lars and I were naked and snuggling down in bed. About two minutes later, at a guess, I was fast asleep, my hand gripping Lars’ cock, my head on his chest.

 

TWENTY
(SATURDAY – LATE MORNING/AFTERNOON)

I was awoken next morning by a naked Lars bringing me a cup of hot black coffee. It was late, just after eleven.

“Police are back,” he said as he sat down on the bed, handing me my coffee. “There going in and out of the basement flat. What’s been going on? Did you find the man you were looking for? I must have called you at least a hundred times, but you never answered!”

I chuckled at the earnest young boy’s concern. I deliberately didn’t have my phone with me yesterday but when I checked after Lars’ text message last night, I saw he had only rung three times. I stroked his naked thigh, relishing the feel of his firm young flesh.

“I went to Bournemouth and, yes, I did find who I was looking for. He got what he deserved…”

Lars looked at me in astonishment, “You mean you … ?”

“I mean he was arrested,” I replied with a laugh, wondering what on earth Lars thought I might have done – or was capable of.

The youth of today, grown up before their time; surrounded by violently aggressive popular music, the rap culture,  graphic no-holds-barred films, gratuitously violent computer games, while both parents – if they are lucky to have both parents living at home and in employment – are forced out of the house to work, leaving their offspring exposed to Internet ‘reality’ – chat-rooms, sleazy or, worse, sado-masochistic porn, the subjugation of women or abuse of children.

Not surprising, then, that the innocence of childhood has vanished. Swallowed up. Suffocated in the cheap, trashy, uncaring mass-media-manipulated world.

And then there was Lars. Unlike any other; loving, sensitive, caring, sexy Lars. Sixteen years old, but with a gentleness and a kindness well beyond his tender years.

And a body to die for.

I stroked his warm, downy thigh as we chatted about one thing and another and – as they do, one thing led to another and we spent the next two hours making gentle love, one to the other.

When we finally emerged, flushed and sated, it was nearly three in the afternoon. Hungry as lions after our exertions, I rustled up some food with what I had left in the kitchen; it seemed ages since I last shopped for food. I managed to find some pasta and the wherewithal for a passable Carbonara which Lars and I wolfed down. We wandered into the sitting room with our coffees. I noticed the picture of James on the noticeboard and commended Lars on his elegant handwriting and the message under James’s portrait.

Lars looked at me blankly.

“What writing? What message?”

“You know, that you like the look of James, of course.”

Lars came over to my side and inspected the message.

He snorted. “I didn’t write that poncy crap!” he said, giving me a dig in the ribs with his rather sharp elbow. He read ot the message in an affected, upper-class, lisping voice: “He is nice, Peter, I do so like him!” He gave a chuckle. “You’re having me on, Peter!”

He saw my consternation.

The teen boy went on, almost indignantly; “Come on man! You really think I wrote that? Give me a break. He’s okay, but he’s not that fit!”

“So if it wasn’t you, then who was it?” I asked, already knowing the answer to my own question. I looked hard at the sketch of James. He seemed to look cheekily back at me as if to say You know it was I!

“Good grief!” Lars said, giving me a look as if I were the dumbest blond in Essex. I felt like an idiot, but there had to be only one explanation.

Just at that moment, we were interrupted by my ‘phone. It was my agent, Joshua Hallam.

Peter? Josh. Don’t talk, just listen.

Joshua was always like this; a dramatic, flamboyant person, larger than life. It was around Josh that the world revolved. He was like an oversized schoolboy, a whirlwind of exaggerations, gestures, sweeping statements. However, I knew that under that seemingly breezy, disorganised façade was a very astute mind. Josh was an excellent judge of character. His trick was to be   always speaking so that one couldn’t get a word in edgeways and he used this tactic most successfully, almost always getting his way. It has to be said, Josh is a very good literary agent and very seldom wrong, but more than once, after a bout with him, I felt as if I had been badgered or browbeaten into some project or other that I would otherwise have turned down. Yet in the event, everything would work out well and Josh was right more often than not. His instincts were good, so I had to trust him, even though I often thought he was going out on a limb. He made commitments for his artists before, in fact, actually consulting them. I had the distinct feeling that this was the case now.

Knowing that it would be impossible to get a word in until he had finished what he had to say, I sighed and endured the excitable, verbal onslaught:

I have a new project you might be interested in. It’s a one off: a book about a very fine stately home. Harlescombe Hall, the ancestral home of the Earls of Pevensey. The present Earl wants to commission a set of illustrations for a limited-folio edition. Before you say no, Peter, it’s worth a lot of money for you, I’m talking thousands, Peter. Thousands. He wants you to go down there at your earliest convenience. He’s invited you for lunch AND dinner tomorrow and to stay the night. I really think you should accept, Peter. It’ll do your career a world of good, it’s a real coup! You’re his first choice, Peter. He’s just been on the phone to me. He’s seen your work and he’s crazy about it. He’s ready to pay a really handsome sum. What do you say, Peter? Say yes! It’s a great offer and he only wants a few watercolours, you know the sort of thing; the ancestral pile, horses, dogs, the family. Face it, Peter, it can’t do you any harm and there’s no rush for that other project you’re working on, is there? Go on, be a good lad and say yes! The house is down in Sussex. I’m sending the details over by cab. You’ll do this for your good friend Josh, won’t you? There’s a good lad!

I knew that Josh would get ten percent of what the Earl was offering me, which explained his alacrity in accepting on my behalf. It was true, the other project wasn’t top priority and this sounded quite a simple affair; a few atmospheric and flattering exteriors and interiors, it couldn’t be that hard and if Josh said the money was good, then the money had to be excellent. I had to admit that my ego had been tickled that a belted Earl had handpicked me to be his official illustrator.

“Okay, Josh,” I had long learned that it was nigh impossible to refuse Josh once he had set his mind on something. The fact that he had accepted the Earl’s invitation on my behalf was also a factor. Although I was mildly irritated that he had done so, and with such short notice, taking it for granted that I would drop any plans I might have made for the weekend to do this for him. However, I knew also that it would appear rude and churlish were I to refuse what would hopefully be a couple of good meals and the offer of a night in a stately home.

Good lad! I knew you’d see the advantages. Make sure you don’t miss the train, you’ll have a bit of an early start. The tickets are on their way to you with the other stuff in the cab. Don’t forget your materials, I think the Earl would like you to do a couple of preliminary sketches for him while you’re there. You’ll get good food, good company and I hear his cellar is legendary! We’ll talk again on Monday, yes? Bye, Peter!

I flipped my phone shut and took a deep breath. I felt I had swum an Olympic event entirely underwater!

So that was that. My weekend sorted out for my by Joshua Hallam. I filled Lars in.

“Sorry, sweet boy, but it seems that I’ve been hijacked!” I had hoped that Lars and I would be able to spend the weekend together. I felt I needed some time with him for a proper heart-to-heart, find out whether or not we had a real long-term relationship and to hear Lars’ thoughts on the matter. I had the feeling that he had appeared last night for just that, but I had been too tired and had literally collapsed on top of the poor lad.

“That’s okay, I expect I’ll survive!”

I gave him a warm hug and a long, deep kiss. “We still have the rest of today and tonight,” I whispered.

Wrong!

We were interrupted again. This time, it was by a knock on my front door. Lars and I unclinched and I went to the door, wondering who it could be.

It was the sergeant from last night.

“Sorry to bother you sir, but D.C.I. Morrison asked if you would be available to meet him downstairs in the basement, that is…” he gave Lars a slightly confused look and seemed to blush slightly.

Luckily for us, both Lars and I had opted to throw on some clothes after we had got up and not wander around naked as we usually did. Lars was minimally clad in a tight white T-shirt, Levi 501’s  and barefoot. To a man as accustomed to observation as the D.S. Richards surely must have been, it had to be fairly obvious that Lars, if not living here with me, had at the very least spent the night.

I could almost hear the cogs in D.S. Richards’ brain as he worked out Lars’ and my relationship. Obviously I was too young to be his father; I could be a cousin or uncle, though that was also a bit far-fetched, given our closeness in age. Lars could, by a stretch of imagination, be my younger brother, but there was no family resemblance.

I saw the sergeant trying to put two and two together, his eyes flckering towards the sofa in the sitting-room; no bedclothes, so now he could probably assume that the boy and I had shared the bedroom and from there it was but one small step to Lars and me having shared a bed – in other words, slept together. Which, although not strictly against the law of the land, was still perhaps something that I would prefer the police not to know too much about.

To give him his credit, if he was shocked or suspicious, at least Richards didn’t show it, apart from a slight colouration of his cheeks. If anyone was slightly uncomfortable, it was I, but I tried to remain as cool as possible and told the policeman that I would be down directly. He had no option than to go back downstairs.

Lars was smiling. “Just as well he didn’t see this!” he chuckled as he pulled me to him and gave me a deep, passionate french kiss, whilst grasping my crotch firmly through my trousers.

Reluctantly, I had to pull back. “Hold that thought!” whispered Lars, giving my cock a squeeze.

“Unfinished business,” I replied, doing the same to the teen. I could feel he was semi-erect and I was very tempted to let Morrison and his stooge wait, but decided that was probably not a very good idea.

I slipped on some shoes and made my way downstairs. The sergeant was waiting for me in the hall.

“You have the keys to this ground-floor property, sir? Is that how you saw what was going on in the basement?”

“Yes, I check in on Sebastian’s studio while he’s away,” I replied, “which is why I have a set of keys. He does the same for me.”

“That would be Mr Sebastian Walker?”

“Yes. He’s away for a short holiday. Greece, I think.”

“Are you expecting him back soon?”

“I think he said he’d be away for about a week, so I suppose he’ll be back sometime after the weekend,” I replied.

“And the middle-floor flat? Do you have the same arrangements with the owner there?”

“No, as I said to your colleague yesterday, I have little or no dealings with him. He’s away a great deal and someone else sees to his post and looks after the flat. He’s an anthropologist or some such.”

“So you went through Mr Walker’s studio, out into the garden via a shed and saw what was going on in the basement through a window?”

By now we had walked out of the front door and round the side of the house and down the steps. Dr Towns waved to us from the dig outside the house. He had been allowed to continue his work, I noticed. He didn’t seem fazed by the police presence.

The door to the basement flat was open, a uniformed policeman standing guard outside.

“Yes, that’s what happened. I told all this to Morrison yesterday.” I replied.

“We like to make sure that we don’t miss any details,” replied the sergeant humourlessly.

Morrison was in the front room as we entered. There were several white-clad forensic experts, taking photographs and dusting surfaces.

“I’d be obliged if you would come with me, sir,” said Morrison taking off one of his latex gloves to shake my hand.

We went down the dingy hall into the back room, the same one where I had seen the boy last night.

“How is the boy?” I asked, as I surveyed the room. There was litter everywhere, mostly the same kind as in the van; wrappings from take-away foodstuffs, paper cups, old newspapers, rags. There was a slop-bucket in one corner and the bed was disgusting, filthy mattress, blanket and pillow. My heart went out to the boy and hoped he was getting the best treatment possible.

Morrison shrugged. “He’s still in shock, hardly says a word. Terribly undernourished. One positive thing is that he doesn’t appear to have been sexually molested… that was probably next on the agenda for when he got to where he was meant to be. This…” he indicated the squalid surroundings, “… this was just a holding place. He’s probably only been in this country a matter of days and has probably been ‘bought’ by some rich man and those thugs were probably waiting for orders where to transport him next. They’re proving to be most helpful…”

There was a short pause as we both contemplated on what would have happened to the boy had I not intervened. It hardly bore thinking about. I wondered why Morrison had brought me in here. The stench was awful and the air oppressive.

“I was wondering, Mr Taylor…”

“Yes?”

“Your bedroom corresponds to this one, only three floors up, is that right?”

“Yes,” I didn’t quite see what Morrison was getting at.

“And the front room corresponds, roughly to yours, in size, doe it not and both your back and front rooms are roughly the same size?”

“Yes, I would assume so,” I replied. “The floor plans are very similar. The studio up above corresponds to this, more-or-less.”

“Well, there’s one thing I’m not quite sure about,” the policeman continued, “I can’t quite put my finger on it, but somehow the proportions don’t feel right. I just wanted your opinion. If you’d follow me…”

Morrison led me out of the smelly back room and back along the corridor to the other main room. On our right as we walked were a small lavatory, and a kitchen, just like Seb’s studio upstairs. We went into the front room. Then I saw what Morrison had been hinting at. This room was considerably smaller than the back room and certainly not the same size as my front room.

“You see my problem, Mr Taylor?” It would appear that this room has been made smaller – the back wall is a good three feet – if not more, closer to the window than in your flat. It’s as if someone has built a false wall… and there’s no longer a connecting door through to the back room, as there is in your flat.”

“Yes, you’re right!” I agreed. The room was most definitely smaller and out of proportion than mine. The fireplace was much closer to the back wall than the front, giving the room a lopsided feel.

Morrison went over to the room’s back wall and began banging on it in various places.

“How long has this flat been these so-called ‘offices’?” he asked.

“I think the previous owners sold it just before I moved in,” I replied. “About three to four years ago.”

“Did you know the previous owner?”

“No. I only knew he had been recently widowed. Sebastian, Mr. Walker, knew him slightly, I believe. He’s had his studio here for about ten years.”

“Hmm…” Morrison was still banging on the wall. Suddenly, he hit what was obviously a hollow spot. He made some further exploratory knocks to compare the resonance. There was definitely a space behind the back wall. Morrison gave me a meaningful look.

“I wonder what we’ll find here,” he said, grimly.

We both inspected the false wall. One would never have known it was not an original part of the architecture, except for the fact that it made the room feel ‘wrong’, as Morrison and now I, had noticed. A casual observer would probably not have given it much thought. But Morrison was no casual observer, I noted. Not much got past him.

“Richards! We need a couple of sledgehammers in here. Now!”

I had Morrison’s permission to help and Richards and I began to lay into the false wall where it sounded hollow. Before long, we had made a hole big enough to peer through. There was a musty odour, not that unpleasant, which emanated from the opening.

By virtue of his seniority, Morrison was first to look. Shining a torch into the hole, he looked down into the space we had revealed. After a few moments, he withdrew his head. He looked grim. He stepped away from the wall and nodded to me. I took the torch and shone it into the gap. On the ground lay what looked like a pile of rags.

Then I saw the bones.

At that moment, it was as if I heard a long drawn-out sigh and could have sworn I felt a draught on my cheek.

“Let’s get a pathologist down here,” ordered Morrison. Just as Richards was flipping his mobile open, I had an idea.

“I wonder, Inspector, if an archaeologist wouldn’t be more use to us right now? Maybe we can get this dated and then your guy can do the other stuff based on his findings.”

I had Dr Towns in mind. He was right outside and this might even tie in with his excavation in the street. After a while, I had managed to convince Morrison and Dr Towns was asked if he wouldn’t mind assisting us in making a preliminary dating of the find.

Dr Towns didn’t mind one little bit. By the look on his face when he entered the room, it seemed as if twenty Christmases had arrived, rolled into one. He was positively beaming.

“What do we have here?” he said. He was even rubbing his hands in expectation.

“We were hoping you would be able to tell us, Dr Towns,” said D.S. Richards, drily.

The sarcasm was lost on the large man as he peered into the space between the walls.

He seemed to be murmuring to himself, his head lost to view. We couldn’t hear a word he was saying.

Eventually, his face reappeared. For someone having just seen the remains of a human being, he seemed remarkably cheerful, but then this for him was probably El Dorado. It seemed to be being a good week for Dr Towns.

“We’ll need to break away the wall down to floor level,” he said, wiping the cobwebs from his bushy black beard and shaking plaster from his woolen hat.

Gradually, the small sad pile of clothes became revealed and we could clearly see the white bones sticking out. The skull was covered by some cloth, the arms thrown up over the head. Dr Towns hunched over the remains, his enormous hands very delicately and gently moving small segments of the material. A police photographer was taking photographs. The atmosphere in the room was a mixture of sadness and tension. Towns took some tweezers from his jacket pocket and pulled back the cloth over the head. The skull stared back at us, empty eye sockets and grinning teeth. There was still a fair amount of hair attached to the skull; long and black.

“Well at least the rats didn’t get to the body and whoever did the bricking-up did it very well, not much air got to the remains and it was dry in here. The body is partly mummified.” said Dr Towns at last.

“It would appear that this individual was bricked up here. Whether prior or after death I can’t yet say, but it is interesting to note that the fingernails are badly broken, indicating that this person spent several hours at least scratching away at mortar; there are traces under the nails, but I would need to have a much better examination. Judging by the state of the teeth, I would guess this individual was aged about thirteen or fourteen at death. I can’t be sure of the sex until I can examine the pelvic bone, but I would hazard a guess that this individual was bricked up here alive.”

He let the statement sink in before continuing:

“Judging by the style of garments, I would say this individual lived in the middle to latter part of the nineteenth century. I can’t any any more than that at the moment and I’ve probably already made too many assumptions, but I’d say they were fairly good guesses. Hold on…”

The archaeologist continued his examination of the cavity. Something on the back wall had caught his attention. He muttered to himself under his breath and then asked for a torch to be shone there

“Something’s scratched on to the rendering here,” he said, peering closely at the wall. Richards was taking notes. There was a silence as we waited for Towns to disclose what he was seeing. At last he spoke, reading the scratched letters.

“My name is…” His voice was hoarse. Clearing his throat, he started again.

My name is James Venables, aged 15.
I will die here.
My father did this. I am an abomination in the eyes of the Lord.
where IS Alfred? God protect him, I love him so.
November 1881
James.

It was as if a jolt of electricity passed through me. The image of the sketch pinned to my noticeboard flashed before me. And here he was; nothing left but a heap of mouldering bones and rags.

I gazed at the sad, mortal remains of the boy whom I had sketched after having seen his spirit. I was more than convinced that I had seen him, the sketch was made immediately following his appearance. And here was the poor young thing’s body; proof, (if I ever needed it) that his appearance and interaction with me had been real.

He had been murdered here, for murder it was – deliberate, cold, calculated murder of the worst sort; a frightening, lingering and lonely death for a poor young boy whose only crime, it appeared, was to love someone called Alfred.

And he had appeared to me. A cry for help? Had the book brought his spirit to me? I could think of no other explanation. Up until then, I had felt nothing strange or supernatural about my flat, or this house. Perhaps the book had acted as some sort of catalyst and James had answered its summons.

I thought of how he had met his end. What kind of father could do that to his son? It seemed clear the man was a religious zealot, the bit about being ‘an abomination’ certainly gave that impression. The poor boy had paid the ultimate price because of some religious fanatic’s distorted view of the world. Where was the love there? The tolerance?

Almost as if someone had whispered it into my ear, I knew what I had to do.

“What will happen to the remains?” I asked.

Morrison looked at me questioningly before replying:

“After the pathologist has examined them and Dr Towns here, if he wishes, then I expect the remains will be cremated. I don’t expect anyone will come forward to claim them, but it will be our duty to try and trace any living descendants or relatives, but after all this time I don’t hold out much hope of that happening.”

“I would like to offer to bury the boy, at my own expense,” I said. “The poor lad needs some recognition that he ever existed. Do you think that would be possible?”

Morrison gave me a keen, appraising glance, before nodding assent. “I see no problem with that, providing no-one steps forward to claim the remains. That process will probably take about six months, after which…”

“Thank you, Inspector. I appreciate that very much.”

Suddenly, I felt I had to get out of this dingy, sad basement. I needed fresh air and the company of the living. I said goodbye to Morrison and the others and went back upstairs to my flat and Lars.

For the next two hours, my world was filled with Lars and our passionate lovemaking.

 

TWENTY-ONE
(SATURDAY NIGHT – SUNDAY EARLY MORNING)

Lars and I resurfaced in the early evening and as there was now nothing edible in my kitchen, we decided on Luigi’s for dinner. I recounted the discovery of James’s remains and the scratched message. Lars looked more and more upset as I told him the story and a tear trickled down his smooth cheek. I wiped it away with my thumb.

“Poor little bastard,” he said. “What a fucking awful thing to do to him! And that was meant to be his father! Someone who should have loved him and cared for him! I hope he’s rotting in Hell!”

“I want to give him a decent funeral and a memorial,” I said. “I want his life to have counted for something. His and Will Fremantle’s.” I then told Lars about the plan I had started to formulate, to see what he thought of it.

When we got back to the house, all was quiet. The forensic team had left, taking with them, I presumed, James’s remains. I very much hoped that I would be able to give him his proper funeral. The chances that anyone would claim his remains were next to nil, I thought. At my desk, I booted up the computer and Googled James Venables and the address of this house, in the vain hope that it might turn something up. It didn’t.

Then Lars suggested something quite brilliant. “Look up the closest Census to 1881,” he said. “There’s bound to be something there!”

After a few false starts, we eventually got to the London Census from 1881.  We found that the records were divided into districts of London and then by parish and finally, street and house. After ages scrolling through what seemed like thousands of names, we eventually found my address and there at last, staring at us, in black and white was the proof we were looking for.

I felt a chill in my heart as I read the faded print describing the previous, long-dead occupants of the house where I now lived:

My guess was that Edward Venables Senior had been widowed after his wife had died giving birth to the third child, Edward ‘junior’. How many others had been born and died in between, I didn’t know, but I knew that in those days, the infant mortality rate was high and that the large gap in age between Josiah and Edward the infant could be explained by several intervening children not surviving for very long.

To be able to keep five servants, Edward Venables must have had a good living as a Master Mason.

And there was the name Alfred. I wondered whether this was the same Alfred that James had been in love with, the one who, in effect, cost him his life. I thought it most likely. What had happened to him, God only knew. I hoped he had got away and escaped the bigoted tyranny of the Venables household.

Then there was the question of how had Venables Senior got away with it? How could he have had a false wall built in his basement, where surely the kitchens were located and also most, if not all, the domestic servants’ quarters. With a house inhabited by nine souls, there couldn’t have been much, if any privacy. I couldn’t work it out – unless Venables had got rid of his servants, he would have had a very hard time doing what James had accused him of.

I wondered if these questions ever be answered. Suffice it to say, poor James had been cruelly and unnaturally murdered in the basement of this house, by his father, probably for the ‘crime’ of being in love with someone of the same sex as he.

I sat back, my mind whirling with the images of James. I felt such a sadness overcome me.

Lars began to type furiously at the computer, while I contemplated man’s inhumanity to man.

A little while later, Lars gave a low whistle. “Look, Pete! See what I’ve found!”

I looked at the screen, at first not really registering what was there, but then  suddenly, I sat up, alert, my nerves jangling. I read:

Edward Venables, Master Mason, late of the parish of St. Giles in Seven Dials, London, was laid to rest in unconsecrated Ground outside the churchyard of St. Giles-in-the Fields, this morning. He was aged 46 yrs. It is thought that the above Edward Venables did – whilst of unsound mind or due to the effects of Drink – take his own life and that of two of his children, Josiah and Edward. The whereabouts of his eldest son, James Venables, is not known. The boy, apprenticed to his father, is not under suspicion as it is clear, according to the police superintendent that Edward Venables left a Confession, before he himself took a stonemason’s mallet to his poor childrens’ heads, whereupon he did hang himself from the Great Oak by the Pig and Eye. The Police surmise that the boy, James Venables, escaped his father’s attacks but was unable to save his brothers. The unfortunate boy’s father had become encumbered by numerous & injurious Debts and had taken to drinking heavily. He had dismissed his Servants a few weeks prior to the grevious Tragedy and the Cotters have since endur’d much Hardship at the Almshouses at Holborn. The boy, Alfred Cotter is also gone missing. Since there are no immediate relations of the late Edward Venables living or yet come forward, the House and Contents will be sold by Public Auction on Friday next commencing at 11 o’clock sharp.

The account, I saw was from the “Seven Dials Gazette” from January 1882. So that was what must have happened: Venables the father had obviously lost it, killed his three sons, then taken his own life. Alfred had disappeared. I hoped that meant he hadn’t also been another of Venables’ victims and that his body wasn’t lying somewhere undiscovered. The house had been sold and the false wall not discovered until yesterday, nearly 130 years later.

Lars cuddled up close to me. He was quietly crying. I put my arm about the slim teen’s shoulders and held him tightly to me, allowing the boy to give expression to his grief. My own eyes felt moist as I hugged Lars. I happened to glance up and my eyes caught the sketch of James. He was smiling. Then, gradually, the image faded until the page was blank.

I knew that he had found peace. Eventually, I was sure, I would be able to bury his remains and the life of James Venables would have at last, meant something to someone – me.

We were interrupted by the doorbell. It was the taxi which Josh had sent round with the documentation and my train tickets. I spent the rest of the evening looking up what information I could about the stately home I was to visit the next day.

I found the Earl on Google:  Hugo Philip William George Montagu, fourteenth Earl of Pevensey, Viscount Morley, Viscount Ashworth, Baronet Harlescombe. That was a mouthful of titles! Much easier to be plain Mister! I closed the computer and looked over at Lars, who was listening to his iPod.

Lars and I never had the discussion that I thought we needed. I had decided it was up to Lars to broach the subject and I was sure he would – in his own good time.

I packed what clothes and materials I would need for the visit to the Earl’s and Lars and I were in bed early, before midnight and after a short time spent cuddling each other, we were both fast asleep.

My alarm woke me at 7:30 – an ungodly hour at the best of times, never mind it being a Sunday. Lars was still fast asleep; it would have taken the onset of World War III to wake him. I looked down at the sleeping figure and reveled in his boyhood beauty.

How lucky I was! But would it last? How long would it be before Lars moved on, tired of someone older than he – or else just seeking pastures new and other, more exciting places to sow his wild oats? I knew that I could have no claim on the youth – it had to be his decision whether or not to stay with me. I must just enjoy every moment while it lasted.

My eye roamed over the perfect body, the beauty of the male adolescent and I felt my cock hardening. Alas, I had no time and it would have been cruel to rob the divine youth of his beauty sleep. I went to the shower and hastily brought myself to climax under the jets of hot water.

I ordered a computer-cab by ‘phone, making sure I had time for a cup of coffee – otherwise I would most certainly not have been able to function – and went into the sitting room. Immediately my eye fell on the small leather book, lying on the coffee table. I certainly didn’t recall it being there last night, but by now I was getting used to the little volume popping up out of nowhere. I knew that it wasn’t a coincidence that I saw it at that moment. I sat down and took the book, flicking idly through the blank pages. One of them, however, was not blank. There was an image, some sort of heraldic crest:

The family crest of the Earls of Pevensey, I assumed. “Omnia Vincit” – I knew that it meant ‘conquers all’ although usually the word ‘love’ came first – but not in this case.

Warlike creatures; lion and eagle, a battle-axe and a stronghold – the images told me a lot about the Montagu family. Their pride obviously lay in strength, cruelty, dominion and power. Of course these crests were created in centuries past, when the struggle for power and control was often bloody and violent. That wasn’t to say that the present-day family was anything like that.

Yet somehow, I felt that the little book was showing me this image for a purpose, almost as a warning.

And then it hit me. Montagu.

The book had already shown me a story about the Montagues. Poor young Philip, the ‘young plover’ from the fourteenth or fifteenth century – abused by his father in some sort of coming-of-age ‘ceremony’. I felt a chill run up and down my spine. What was I about to encounter down at the Pevensey family seat? The little brown book did not show me things without a reason.

I stuffed it into my case and after leaving a note for the sleeping Lars, left for the station.

A cold, dark early Sunday morning in central London with very few people about. One could be forgiven for forgetting London the bustling, heaving metropolis; at times like this, it seems as if it is just a village, quiet, empty, peaceful. The occasional black cab speeding along the empty thoroughfares, flocks of sparrows, pigeons or even gulls flapping around the detritus from the night before; discarded food, the birds beating the street-cleaners in order to squabble over the meagre pickings. Cans and plastic bottles being blown to and fro by the chill November winds. The tall, empty buildings darkly towering over the silent, litter-filled streets. At times like this I had a sense of just how long people had inhabited this site; there had been settlements here in Neolithic times and before and constant habitation right down to the present day.

So many ghosts, so many layers of civilisation. Lives spent – some wisely, others thrown away. Lives given, lives taken. Births, marriages, deaths. Great men and women as well as the vast myriad of the unknown, anonymous multitude passing through their existence on this small piece of Earth. The Great and the Good; Kings, Queens, princes, rich men poor men, beggarmen – thieves. Priest and potter, murderer and doctor. The whole gamut of existence together making up what we call civilisation.

This vast tapestry of human existence here where I stood, going back centuries. And what would London look like in another thousand years time? Would someone walking on this spot one cold Sunday morning perhaps think the same thoughts as I? What mark, if any, would I leave behind?

Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtg – the tune of the Bach Cantata came unbidden into my head: Ah how fleeting, ah how futile is man’s life!

I looked out of the cab window as the seemingly deserted city flashed by, seeing everything, seeing nothing.

This had been the city of Pepys. Shakespeare had had his plays performed here. Handel had lived in Brook Street. Dr Crippen, Charles Dickens, Sir Alexander Fleming. Monarchs, statesmen, poets, playwrights… Thousands upon thousands of people had made their mark, then moved on into the unknown this bourne from which no traveller returns…

My thoughts kept returning to the small book which had so mysteriously come into my possession: how it seemed to be a channel between me and the world passed by. Those poor boys meeting their various fates: Tom Thatcher, whose final resting-place no-one would ever know, a forgotten cipher in the great twisted strand the Fates had woven. The young Philip Montagu whose descendants I was probably about to meet. Will Fremantle, James Venables.

Their various lives, their deaths.

Why had the book ‘chosen’ me? And why these particular stories? Was it because I was gay and could understand, relate to them? Was it because I had psychic talents? I had no idea. All I knew was that for some reason, I had found myself in these circumstances and somehow, seemed to be able to do something about what I had been presented with.

Maybe I was just a channel through which some strange powers were passing, a conduit for those poor boys to achieve some sort of closure after death. I really couldn’t say. Maybe the whole thing was just a set of unbelievable coincidences, with me just happening to be in the right place at the right time.

Use it wisely.

I was no longer sure that it was I who was using the book, rather the book was using me.

And why this latest ‘adventure’? was this trip down to meet the Earl of Pevensey another link in this chain or a completely separate event? There had to be a purpose in this meeting. It was too much of a coincidence. So what was I supposed to do once I had got down to the Earl’s ancestral home, Harlescombe Hall? Maybe all I had to do was to be a good conversationalist, make my sketches and enjoy the Earl´s hospitality. But I knew that there was something else at work here, another purpose.

The cab dropped me at Victoria Station in plenty of time for my train. So much so, in fact, that I went into the buffet for breakfast.

Or rather what British Rail or Network Southeast or whatever it was called nowadays, passed for ‘breakfast’. In the end the best option seemed to me to be a croissant and coffee. I comforted myself with the fact that I would in all likelihood be given an excellent lunch and dinner at Harlsecombe Hall. In actual fact, both the pastry and the coffee surpassed my expectations.

As I sat in the sparsely populated cafeteria, I opened my laptop and Googled Harlescombe Hall. There I found several entries. I read that the present building was Elizabethan, more of a glorified manor house, not one of those enormous stately homes standing majestically in vast swathes of open landscaped parkland.  Harlescombe nestled in a coombe or small valley. It had a moat, however and was also a business; the local sheep gave high-class wool and Harlescombe cheeses were famous.

The present earl, Hugo Montagu, was the fourteenth in line and it appeared that in centuries gone by the family kept their status and position by supporting whichever monarch seemed to be in the ascendant. One Earl, Henry, even fought with Cromwell’s Roundheads during the civil war but was denounced by his son when Charles II was restored to the throne. The price for the family’s continuing power was Henry’s head on a spike, which didn’t seem to have troubled his son, John, overly much.

Later earls included generals, diplomats, industrial magnates, and the present holder of the title was a highly successful businessman; on the boards of several high-profile international conglomerates. He was a product of Eton and Oxford, where he had been a rugby blue and also rowed for his college, Merton. He succeeded to the Earldom on the death of his father who died relatively young.

Along with the title and various properties, Hugo Montagu was a member of the House of Lords and had various other titles, including two baronetcies. All this at the relatively young age of forty six. I read that he was married to a famous society beauty, Phyllida, eldest daughter of the Duke of Ballygore and that they had only one child; a son, the Honourable Kieran Hugo Philip Montagu, about to turn fourteen.

Alarm bells began ringing in my head. I recalled the account in the book about Kieran’s ancestor, Philip, whose coming of age was ‘celebrated’ by his father. Was this the point of my visit? Was I going to play some, as yet unspecified part in this family’s life? I was beginning to believe that there were no such things as coincidences and that somehow all that was happening to me this week had been pre-ordained.

Just a week since I had stumbled upon that non-existent bookshop! It seemed to me to have happened years ago, so much had occurred in the past six days.

And it seemed to me that things weren’t about to end. What would I find at Harlescombe Hall and if I did find anything, would I be able to influence events?

Only time would tell.

 

TWENTY-TWO
(SUNDAY LATE MORNING – LUNCH)

I was met at Harlescombe Chase railway station by Earl of Pevensey himself. He was a large, barrel-chested man, about forty, I supposed, with a florid complexion, raven-black hair a full beard and piercing blue eyes under bushy eyebrows. He was casually yet expensively dressed in typical country attire for his class; tweed jacket and cap, checked shirt with tartan tie, cavalry twills and highly polished brown brogues. Over all he wore the instantly recognisable trademark of rural gentrification, the waxed Barbour. Not unexpectedly, he was accompanied by two large Golden Retrievers. He greeted me warmly, positively exuding noblesse oblige.

“Glad you could make it, Taylor,” he boomed,  “Good of you to come at such short notice!”

I smiled inwardly. People like the Earl expected their summons to be obeyed, so there had been little question of my not ‘making it’. Joshua had accepted on my behalf anyway. I was really only doing what I had been instructed to do.

I murmured my thanks, only just remembering how one addresses an Earl: he was ‘my Lord’.

Montagu waved his hand in a peremptory fashion, dismissively. “Not much of a one for titles down here! Just call me Hugo, there’s a good chap!” And that, I could tell, was an order.

Taking my suitcase, he ushered me to a mud-splattered Range-Rover and we drove through fields of sheep and cattle until we descended between the rolling hills down into the coombe and Harlsecombe Hall. On the way he complimented me on my work; he seemed to know about just about every book I had illustrated. The man had obviously done his homework and I was very flattered. I began to feel at ease, although always, at the back of my mind like an undulating serpent, thoughts of the small brown book kept insinuating themselves into my consciousness; I recalled the account of this man’s ancestor and his son and wondered if the same was going on between Hugo and Kieran. Or was I here to stop it from even beginning? I would just have to wait and see and keep my eyes open.

“We lunch at one,” said Hugo as he led me into the house, “perhaps you would like to wander around and soak up the atmosphere or whatever you artist chappies do. Ambrose will show you to your room.”

I’m sure he didn’t mean to sound patronising, but that’s how it came across. ‘Artist chappies’ indeed! I gritted my teeth and forced a smile. I supposed the aristocracy did it without thinking. Out of nowhere, a tall, blond man of about the same age as his employer, I guessed, had materialised. He took my case from the Earl.

“See you later on. I need to get on with some boring estate work. I’d suggest you take a turn round the gardens while there’s still some decent light.” A not-so- subtle hint that I should get right down to work, an order given by a man used to giving orders.

The earl disappeared through one of the several doors leading off the entrance hall and a discreet cough preceded Ambrose’s quiet voice; “If you would follow me, sir, I shall show you to your room and I recommend you unpack later. On the way, I shall give you a brief idea of the layout of the house so that you won’t get lost.”

My room was on the second floor in what must have been a later addition to the house. On the way, I understood the comment about getting lost. Ambrose led me up two flights of stairs, along a corridor and then up some more steps, another corridor, a sharp right turn, then down a few more stairs. I could see now how easy it would be to get lost in this warren of a place.

Another corridor, through a heavy oak door and then Ambrose opened another door and we had arrived at what was to be my bedroom.

The rooms here felt as though they were slightly isolated from the main body of the house. I commented on this and Ambrose replied, “Yes sir. This wing was added by the eleventh Earl. He had several children and needed the space! In actual fact, the original Elizabethan Manor House is relatively small, but various members of the family have added bits on to it down through the centuries. It still appears to be quite a modest abode, it looks compact from the outside, but it stretches way back along the coombe. Once you’re inside, it’s a veritable warren –  all sorts of ups and downs and twists and turns, it’s very easy to get lost! That’s why we have these…” he indicated an army field-telephone on an alcove in one of the walls by the door to my room. “They’re the brainchild of the thirteenth Earl. He got tired of his guests losing their way and being late for dinner that he had several of these installed at strategic points around the house. Guests were able to  call the butler for help! That is why all the guest rooms have names, so that we know exactly where everybody is! Your room is named after the fifth Earl, Hector.” The blond, rather oleagenous man smiled, displaying a perfect set of even, white teeth.

The room he showed me into was spacious; highly polished oak floorboards, huge dark beams in the ceiling and walls and small latticed windows looking out over the moat and a large weeping willow. I guessed the room was at the side or even the back of the house, it certainly wasn’t the front. There was a large fireplace but no fire, a large radiator on one wall showed that the house, or this part of it, was centrally heated. Heavy dark furniture and a large bed. I had half expected it to be a four-poster, but it was a normal double bed. Ambrose showed me the adjoining bathroom with the amenities.

“There are only two rooms on this floor in this wing,” he explained, “Hector and next door is Galahad, young Master Kieran’s room, when he’s not away at school. He’s here at the moment, in fact, as he will be celebrating his fourteenth birthday in a few days’ time and his father will be throwing a party for him next weekend, so young Kieran’s Christmas holidays will be starting early this year!” For some reason, I found this man’s manner a little unsettling; he was too precise, too handsome, too much the perfect gentleman’s gentleman. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I almost felt there was something a little sinister about the man.

“You will just be four for lunch, although there will be some guests, close friends of the family, arriving for dinner, which will be an informal affair,” he quickly added, seeing the look of panic on my face. I hadn’t thought to pack a dinner-jacket.

“Now, if I recall, his Lordship said something about you ‘soaking up the atmosphere’ of the place before lunch? Might I show you the way to the garden, sir?”

I spent a pleasant hour wandering through the immediate grounds. Outside, the front of the house, across the moat, a fairly spacious lawn stretched down to fields where a herd of cattle grazed. The trees came almost right up to the house at the sides, so it appeared to nestle beneath the spreading canopies of large elms, and oak trees. Of course the branches were bare this time of year, but during the summer, this must be a very picturesque spot. The three-storeyed half-timbered red-brick house, with its stone mullions, diamond-paned windows and a touch of crenellation made this spot as English as it could be.

Above the front of the house, I could see a lantern roof, it seemed large and I wondered what architectural feature it belonged to. Although not one of the vast grandiose stately homes of England, this was still obviously a haven for the privileged and titled, although I knew I would never wish to trade places with these people; the responsibility, not to mention the hard cash which it took to keep these houses from falling into disrepair and decay must be phenomenal. This was probably why the present Earl was giving the house up to the National Trust; he and his descendants would still have a place to live, but the property would ostensibly belong to the nation.

The dogs roamed about the driveway and rooks cawed in the bare branches.

I had my folding campstool with me, my box of watercolours and a sketchbook and I immediately began making quick preliminary sketches to help me later on when I did the final illustrations. Either I would have to imagine the summer foliage or else would have to come back here to see for myself. I would prefer the latter. It all depended on how eager the Earl was to get this publication printed. It would be ideal to see this view in stronger light, summer sun dappling the various shades of green. Of course I could do it without having to be physically present, but as I say, I preferred to see it for myself.

I also had a small digital camera with me, to take pictures of small details which I might work into the finished project, however that would be. I was sure the Earl had very decided views on that! It might be a question of compromise, if I wasn’t allowed to get my own way entirely. We would have to see.

Meanwhile, I was quite happy to make my sketches and wander around.

It was chilly, but there was no rain and the wintry sun made fitful appearances, the pale gold light occasionally highlighting the warm red brick or glancing off a window. I went round the side of the house, to the part of the garden I recognised as being overlooked by my bedroom window. I looked up and identified my room by the large vase of chrysanthemums which had been placed on the windowsill. My eyes travelled to the next window and I thought I saw a curtain quickly fall back into place, as if someone up there had been looking down at me and seeing me glance up, had suddenly let go of it.

That was young Kieran’s room. I stood still and kept my gaze on the window, but there was no further movement, nothing to suggest that there was anyone up there.  I assumed I had imagined it and continued to explore.

Small waterfowl were swimming on the placid, greenish water of the moat and beneath the weeping willow I saw the prow of a dinghy peeping out between the long pale leaves which just brushed the surface of the water. On the other side of the moat, the trees grew closely together, a forest which climbed the hill, rising up and away from the house.

Distant, intermittent birdcalls echoed between the trees, giving me a slight feeling of disorientation, unable to pinpoint exactly where the sounds were coming from. I heard the bark of a fox and what I thought might be a deer somewhere deep inside the canopy of trees. I sketched quickly, trying to capture this stillness, this slightly eerie atmosphere. A shame I wouldn’t be able to incorporate sounds as well as the view into the picture!

I continued slowly along, following the perimeter of the house. From here it was easy to see the succession of additions; differing building styles, subtle changes in the colour of the bricks, larger windows. I turned one corner and found myself below one such larger window, a sash window, partially open at the bottom. It looked out over what seemed to be a small orchard. Apple and plum trees, mainly. The trees were hedged in by blackberry and raspberry bushes, devoid of both fruit and foliage at this chill time of year.

I heard voices drifting out through the open window into the still, November air.

“He knows what’s expected of him?” The voice was that of the Earl, patrician and cultivated but at the same time slightly louder than it needed to be, as if he were used to asserting his will and authority, or scolding his dogs. “Will he be a bore, Ambrose? Will we have to restrain him or use other means?”

“He seems resigned to it, my Lord,” replied the servant, smoothly and slightly unctuously, the words seeming to ooze easily out of his mouth. “He has undergone some, ahem, preparation at my hands, as I was instructed, my Lord…” his slight cough seeming as if to convey either discretion or self-deprecation, I couldn’t tell which from out here.

I held my breath as I stood beneath the open window, listening, wondering what ‘preparation’ the manservant was alluding to.

“I have perforce had to take the precaution of administering a controlled dose of Valium and he is being … ahem acclimatised as we speak, my Lord. He is in slight discomfort, but no pain. He will show no sign at lunch, my Lord. In fact, I had better go up to him now and get him ready to join us.”

“Yes, do that Ambrose and keep up the good work! If you think it too risky for him to lunch with us and meet outsiders, then use your discretion and I’ll make up some story that he’s ill or something. We don’t need to take unnecessary risks, now do we? What with the ceremony so close. I want this to go well and I want young Kieran to have good memories of his coming of age. The ‘Droit du Seigneur Montaguise’ is an ancient and honoured tradition in this family and I have to ensure that it will continue through Kieran down to the next generations. No Montagu has yet failed in this duty and dammit, Kieran won’t be the first. Make sure it goes smoothly!”

“I’m sure he will do splendidly, just as you did, my Lord! Young Kieran will do as is required by tradition – one way or another.”

I heard the slight menace behind those last words and felt my skin crawl. The poor boy would have no choice and no chance.

“Yes, good.  I’d prefer not to use too much force, though, Ambrose, but he does understand his role, does he not? The family tradition? You have explained it carefully to him? I don’t want any misunderstandings to ruin the ceremony.”

Here were these two men, master and servant, in the 21st Century,  calmly discussing the possible drugging or use of force in order to rape and sexually abuse a thirteen-year-old who was also the son of one of the two men.

I felt sick.

As quietly as I could, I retraced my steps and found a secluded spot, hidden from the house by some trees and sank to the ground, my legs suddenly seemingly unwilling to bear my weight. My mind was teeming with visions of what I had just overheard and I realised I had to act. I couldn’t just stay here, accept this brute’s hospitality and then leave again, knowing that within a few days his son would be subjected to God knew what shame and degradation, not to mention pain and psychological distress.

After a short while, which I spent in trying to find a way of rescuing the as yet unseen boy, I made my way around to the front of the house. The Earl was on the front steps smoking a cigar.

“Ah, Taylor! Soaked up a bit of the local atmosphere eh?”

I didn’t let on how much ‘atmosphere’ I had just been exposed to. I put on a smile and said I had made some preliminary sketches and that the house and its environs offered some ‘interesting possibilities’. I made it sound as vague as I could.

Looking at him, I felt my gorge slightly rise, seeing the man in a new light after having heard the conversation of a few minutes ago. The Earl obviously didn’t sense my feeling of revulsion. On the contrary, he put his arm about my shoulder and whispered almost conspiratorially; “got some fine examples of English and Dutch portraiture in the Gallery,” he said, exhaling his cigar-smoke right in my face. “You’re an artist chappie, you’ll appreciate the finer points! Come and have a quick look before lunch and eat your heart out, young man!”

We entered the house and Ambrose was instructed to put my painting things back in my room. Then, with a grand gesture, Hugo Montagu flung open a door and ushered me into what was called the Gallery. It stretched half the length of the house and every available space was covered in portraits; the Earls of Pevensey since time immemorial.

Montagues everywhere, staring down at me from all sides; the generations squeezed together in this long, low-ceilinged room, which made it feel somewhat cramped and a little claustrophobic.

There was a distinct family likeness; the adult males, just about all of them with bushy black beards, dazzlingly blue eyes and a slightly cruel turn to the mouth. There were no portraits of these aristocrats’ wives – this was the room of the Montagu Men, with capital M´s.

Earls in armour, Earls in rich brocade, Earls in various uniforms, Earls with coronets, Earls in severe black with intricate lace collars or ruffs, Earls with horses, Earls with faithful hounds. The pride of the English aristocracy rendered in oil on canvas.

I identified a couple of Reubens, a Holbein or two, down through the centuries; Singer Sargent, Augustus John via Joshua Reynolds and Gainsborough. Every portrait was of the incumbent Earl with his son aged about twelve or so.

These portraits showed the head of the family standing proudly, a heavy hand resting on the shoulder of their son, who knelt at the Earl´s feet. The boys were all dressed in a very similar fashion, just a simple white silk or lawn blouse, trimmed with lace, which hung down to the ground. The boys’ legs were bare. It seemed that this white diaphanous smock was the only of item of clothing the boys wore. Around their necks hung a noose of richly tasseled silken rope, the end of which, I noticed, was barbed. They looked out of the picture straight head on to the viewer and the boys’ expression was almost blank in the portraits; looking out with seemingly dead eyes.

They were all exquisitely painted and were made to look very beautiful, sexually ambivalent – desirable. I stopped at one portrait and looked more closely. It seemed to my trained eye that the boys had been painted naked with the white shirt painted over the body afterwards. There was no other way that the painters could have achieved the effect that they had; the material of the shirts seemed so fine and thin – one could almost, but not quite, see through it. I could see the way the material clung in places to the youthful torso, accentuating the chest, slim hips and buttocks. I could clearly see the aureoles of the boys behind the simple folds of the shirts and noticed how cleverly the artists had made the cloth cling to the boys’ bodies making them both overtly desirable yet at the same time boyishly innocent.

It was as if the artists had made the viewer decide what he could, or could not, see.

I felt both slightly nauseous yet, despite myself, also not a little sexually attracted to these waiflike androgynous figures. I felt, rather than saw the Earl watching me closely.

“Handsome bunch, what?”

Almost despite myself, I had to agree.

“Most striking,” I replied, trying to sound as neutral as possible. I couldn’t possibly let this man know I found the images stimulating. In fact I was horrified that I did react this way to the portraits. Each painter had lavished a great deal of attention on the pre-pubescent figures; every brushstroke lovingly executed, each cheek slightly flushed, baby-blue eyes sparkling, moist ruby lips slightly parted, the pearly white teeth just visible. Soft jawlines, snow-shite necks, the white chemises open down to the sternum, displaying soft white flesh of the chest. These artists were true geniuses and knew how to make their models extremely pleasing and frankly, very erotic.

For a moment, I wondered how a woman would view these paintings. Would she notice the sexual overtones? Would she appreciate the nubile beauty of these pre-pubescent boys? Or would the females just coo over them, not fully appreciating their attraction in the same way as a pederast would. Would not the women in actual fact just enjoy the portraits of the virile father-figures?

The adults in the pictures, it was perfectly clear to my trained eye, were not painted with nearly the same care and loving attention to detail as the boys. However, I had studied painters’ techniques. I had learnt how to enhance using various types of brush and brushstroke; differing amounts of paints, layering the colours to give a sumptuous, almost three-dimensional effect. I knew about mixing colours to give that extra depth to hue and I was sure that ordinary viewers would not consciously appreciate the subtleties employed.

To me, a gay man, these were pictures made for the older male to enjoy looking at boys. It was quite obvious that the focus of the portraits were the scantily clad pre-pubescent boys. The artists had made them look adorable and sexy, without being too overtly girlish. A difficult job, but in every case, flawlessly executed. I wondered whether they had been explicitly asked to do so, to make the boys sexually alluring. In my opinion, they had to have been. Every boy was a masterpiece of covert sexuality, almost, but not quite overstepping the mark of being a representation of the young male figure to outright soft porn.

Some of the portraits used Harlsecombe Hall as a backdrop, others were interiors and apart from the subject matter of the portraits, they all shared one feature in common. In the top right hand corner of each painting there was painted an earl’s coronet; a small crown decorated with eight alternating gold strawberry leaves and silver balls under which there was a shield with the family crest. Some bore a date, but most did not.


Every father-figure held a sword in his hand which was pointed at the boy’s breast, the point of the sword just pricking the skin above the heart, drawing a small amount of blood. I knew it to be a representation of the boys’ rite-of-passage ceremony, on the surface, that is, but knowing what I did, this ceremony with the sword had distinct sexual overtones; the piercing of the boys’ virginal flesh with the phallic symbol of the sword, the image also embodying power and domination, drawing blood from the breast of the boy – ritualised sexual penetration.

The boys in the portraits, although meant to be the central object of the representations, were curiously lifeless. Yes, they were beautiful. Yes, they were staggeringly well painted; every detail lovingly executed. One’s eye was inexorably drawn to them, yet they were mute, seemingly unaware.

I was reminded of the young whores who traded close to where I lived in London’s West End; they were beautiful girls, but their eyes were dead. They turned their tricks, solicited their trade without any sign of life. Obviously they were on drugs, a necessity for survival on the streets and it was clear that the life had been knocked out of them.

Beneath the thick makeup and skimpy, revealing clothes, these girls were nothing more nor less than some pimp’s chattels, to do with what he wanted. Working them mercilessly and efficiently, forcing them to all sorts of imaginable – and unimaginable horrors. Beating them up if they didn’t perform gladly or if a ‘customer’ complained. Most of the girls were barely into their teens, many from abroad, somehow inveigled or tricked into coming to London to make their fortune and ending up on the streets. Mere playthings – sex-toys, to be used, then discarded by the paying customers.

The boys in these portraits reminded me of them and inside, my heart bled for them. Knowingly or not, just about every picture showed the same dead, expressionless face, barely visible beneath their extraordinary beauty.

Hugo pointed at one of the portraits we had stopped in front of. “The third Earl’s sword. Every eldest son is marked by his father when he comes of age. A small reminder of who he is and what family he belongs to. All harmless fun really, a rite-of-passage, I suppose.” He opened his shirt and showed me a small, triangular white scar just visible through the thick, black chest hair, above his left nipple. “A sort of badge of honour!” He laughed, buttoning his shirt up again.

Of course, he didn’t tell me the other, more sinister part of the poor adolescents’ rite-of passage; the degradation, humiliation and perverse side of the ceremony. The scars from that initiation hidden, buried deep within the psyche of every Earl of Pevensey, since time immemorial.

I shot a quick glance at my host. He, too, had undergone the treatment he was planning for his son. Had that scarred him? Did he bear some deep trauma within? Or had he forgotten  and was therefore prepared to inflict the same upon his offspring?

Was it this ridiculous sense of ‘it was alright for me, it will be alright for him’ mentality? What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. It was akin to those dinosaurs who say that a ‘spell in the army does wonders for a chap’s moral fibre’. This English obsession with ‘making a man’ out of the boy, never for a moment taking into consideration the feelings or sensibilities of the younger male. The displaced notion that manliness is a direct result of hardship, deprivation and frankly, bullying. Which is why I was an ‘artist chappie’ in the eyes of this macho aristocrat, the epithet spoken with a slight sneer which he had made no effort to hide. He had probably assumed (quite rightly in this case) that I was gay and this private viewing of the scions of the Earls of Pevensey was a way of either making me feel uncomfortable or else to confirm his suspicions of me.

But I wasn’t the one sodomising my fourteen-year-old son! I wasn’t preparing a debauched evening of sexual abuse and molestation, rape and who knows what else! How could this man justify his behaviour and the behaviour of his ancestors and merely put it down to ‘Tradition’? Raping your own son can by no stretch of the imagination be called normal heterosexual behaviour. There was some twisted gene running through this family and endless talk of family honour and tradition and history could never wipe that stain away or justify it.

How had something like that become hallowed tradition? This was the kind of thing which kept people living in the Dark Ages, I thought. The weight of ‘History’, ‘Tradition’, ‘Ceremony’. Did these people really think there was a place for this way of thinking here in the 21st Century?

Again, I felt the Earl’s eyes on me and for some reason, I felt myself blushing. The man had no idea that I knew what this initiation ceremony involved, apart from a harmless scratch from an old sword. Montagu had no idea that I had read an account of one of the first such initiations, maybe even the very first, the very begetter of this twisted tradition. An account written by a boy who seemed to not only have endured the abuse but wrote that he actively enjoyed it. Had Hugo enjoyed it? Would Kieran enjoy it and then go on to rape his son? Was there any way of breaking the chain, or was this rite an inescapable fact of life for the eldest Montagu boys as long as the family line lasted? If I were to somehow prevent the rape taking place, would that be enough, or would the centuries of ‘tradition’ be stronger? Was there any way I could save Kieran from his fate? If I were to do anything, I would have to think fast.

Maybe I just shouldn’t get involved. The Montagu family had lasted for centuries, the line had continued, unbroken, down to the present day. Perhaps I should just leave well alone and not do anything. After all, it wasn’t my business and if it hadn’t been for the small book, I would have had no idea of what was going on and what was about to happen.

I had just decided that there would be no way I could influence or change events and that I should do nothing when the door to the Gallery opened and the Honourable Kieran Hugo Philip Montagu walked into the room.

The beauty of the paintings paled into insignificance compared to the living example of Montagu boyhood as it appeared before me. No painting or painter could ever do full justice to this youth’s extraordinary beauty, I thought. A delicate bone-structure, black hair, a pale face, coral lips and dark, intense eyes, almost violet in the dim light of the low-ceilinged room.

I recalled that archetypal portrait of romanticised childhood beauty; the picture of Charles William Lambton, known as “The Red Boy” by Sir Thomas Lawrence:

My more lustful, prurient side was reminded of Caravaggio’s “Vincit Amor” – rather appropriate, considering the Montagu family motto, I thought.

Yet even these manifestations of pre-pubescent male beauty, however excellently executed could not match up to what stood before us, as the pale November sun filtered in through the latticed windows of the long gallery, highlighting the pale cheek, the bright eyes, the raven-black hair. Just as a minute ago I had felt myself blushing, now it seemed to me that the blood rushed from my head and I felt for a second, slightly faint.

Here before me was unutterable beauty made flesh. And the flesh was that of a thirteen year old boy.

He gave me a brief, incurious stare, before turning to his father.

“Mother says you’re late for lunch and will you come directly?” His upper-class accent was slightly slurred, the diction a little lazy. Even in that short sentence, it was clear to me that the boy had inherited the ability to give orders. He spoke to his father as an equal, giving him an almost disdainful look as he passed on the message from the Mistress of the house.

Hugo Montagu gave a short, somewhat mirthless chuckle. “Yes, of course. We don’t want to upset your mother now do we?” He managed to make the short statement sound extremely patronising to my ears. “Tell her we’re on our way.”

The beautiful boy turned and left the room. I could have sworn that the daylight faded on his departure.

“Good-looking lad, my son!” said the Earl, still looking at the place where his son had just stood. “Don’t know where he gets his looks, must be from his mother!”

I thought we would follow Kieran immediately, but Montagu guided me to one further portrait; the same type of picture, but this time much more modern. The adult in the picture was in uniform; scarlet tunic, sash, medals, peaked cap. As usual, beside the older man a boy was kneeling; the same vacuous look, soft lines, naked beneath the white shirt.

“My father and me,” said Hugo. I gave him a quick glance. The man looked proudly at the erotic portrayal of himself as a pre-pubescent boy. I didn’t recognise the artist and like all the other portraits, it was unsigned.

“My, my,” said the Earl, more to himself than to me, as he studied the picture closely, “it seems just like yesterday…”

He paused again, puffing at his cigar.

Ominia Vincit, Taylor, omnia vincit…”

He seemed to shake himself out of his reverie and said, “well, we mustn’t keep Her Ladyship waiting!” This was said without any humour and I seemed to sense a deep resentment in the man as he ushered me out of the Gallery and away from the images of the Earls and their deflowered, zombie-like progeny.

We crossed the black-and-white tiled hall with its ponderously ticking tall-case clock and entered the dining-room.

This was the mirror image of the Gallery we had just left. Stretching practically its whole length was a massive dark oak table. I remembered Ambrose telling me it ‘only’ seated thirty-six.

The walls here were covered in more paintings, this time landscapes, views of the house, various dogs and horses and, finally, some of the female members of the Pevensey line. The room had a less imposing air about it, despite the gleaming silver candelabra on the table and vases of flowers along its length.

There was a fire burning in the generously proportioned hearth and the room, despite its size, felt almost cosy. Lady Pevensey sat the far end of the table, opposite her son. There was a place laid next to her – presumably for me – and my host, the Earl, strode forward and took his rightful place at the head of the table, urging me to sit as he did so.

I took the hand Lady Pevensey offered me as I sat beside her. She was a stunningly beautiful woman in her mid-thirties, I guessed. Her Irish ancestry was evident in her colouring; creamy complexion, black hair and blue eyes, with a ‘sooty smudge’. She was simply yet elegantly dressed, according to the time-old dictates of her class: cream-coloured silk blouse open at the neck, a pale yellow angora cardigan casually thrown over her shoulders, calf-length dark tartan skirt, flat-heeled patent leather court shoes with buckles. Her hair was swept back from a high brow and held in place with a matching yellow hairband and at her neck was a discreet double row of seed pearls, with matching earrings. The perfect picture of what an Earl’s wife, at her country home at Sunday lunch should look like. Open any edition of “Country Life” or the “Tatler” and one would see her type duplicated in their hundreds.

I took my seat next to her, glancing across the highly polished table, over the glinting silverware and crystal, at the vision of pre-adolescent pulchritude seated opposite.

Kieran Montagu looked back at me, his eyes seemingly dead, his face expressionless, almost sullen. I wondered whether or not he was still under the influence of the Valium that I had overheard Ambrose and the Earl discussing shortly before, or whether the boy was just behaving in the usual teenage way; indifferent hostility to all those around him.

Lady Montagu (“Do call me Phyllida!”) was asking me about my last book I had illustrated. I was only partially aware of her question, my mind was still overwhelmed by her son’s amazing beauty.

I made myself concentrate on my hostess’ questions and was able to give what I hoped were reasonably intelligent answers. Meanwhile, Ambrose was quietly and efficiently serving soup and filling our glasses.

All through lunch I found my eyes being forced back, again and again, to Kieran. His beauty was like a drug; I couldn’t get enough of it. My glances in his direction had to have been noticed by his parents, but if so, they gave no sign.

Another thing became clearer to me as the meal proceeded and that was the Earl’s obvious contempt for his wife. For her part, she seemed charming and played the role of hostess admirably, yet it was clear that she wasn’t a very quick-witted individual. In fact, she seemed to be the typical ‘upper-class twit’ – more money than brains. I wondered idly during lunch whether there had been just a bit more inbreeding in the Ballygore family than was healthy.

Hugo Montagu, I had already realised, was the overbearing type, who obviously had a very tight hold on the reigns in this household. I began to fear even more for poor Kieran and for what lay in store for him – if it hadn’t happened already. Perhaps his surly disposition was in actual fact a symptom and that his father, or someone else, had already been subjecting him to some form of abuse. Possibly a master at the exclusive boarding-school he attended, or an older boy – or his father, or a combination of all three.

During the meal I covertly studied the beautiful boy, looking for more signs, although I wasn’t sure I would even see them or be able to interpret anything from his behaviour and demeanour.

What I thought  I could detect was that the classic symptoms were there; disinterest, aloofness, non-communication, lack of social skills. The boy hardly said a word at the meal and only when asked a direct question by his father.

Another thing which I noticed was that Kieran hardly looked at his mother and didn’t say more than half a dozen words to her for the entire meal. This I found odd and disconcerting; a boy who ignored, even avoided eye contact with his own mother. Something was definitely wrong in this small family. Very wrong.

Phyllida, Lady Montagu didn’t appear to notice as she wittered on about local fêtes, the famous Harlescombe cheese and her local charity work.

As the meal went on, I began to feel more and more uncomfortable. It felt as if the walls and ceiling were closing in on me and I was getting a distinct feeling of growing claustrophobia. The limited conversation, the silly brainless lady, the overbearing, hectoring man and the mute, sullen boy. Added together, the it seemed to make the atmosphere stifling and I couldn’t wait for the interminable meal to end. I hardly noticed the food.

I was heartily relieved when Ambrose finally announced that coffee was ready in the Drawing room; I couldn’t wait to get away from the table and the strained atmosphere around the table.

Kieran left us and I sat drinking coffee with his awful parents just wishing the boy was there and silently cursing Josh for dumping me in the middle of all this. Or rather, I should have been cursing the book, for it was through it that I was here, of that I was now sure.

Meanwhile, his Lordship was outlining what he expected of me; just as Josh had predicted – a few illustrations of the exterior and some interiors.

The next request came as a surprise.

“Taylor, I want you to make a sketch of the boy,” said Hugo. “Nothing fancy, not a full-blown portrait, just a simple pen-and-ink or pastel – to mark the occasion of his birthday. You up for that? If I like it, I might commission the official coming-of-age portrait from you … in the same vein as the ones in the Gallery. You up for it, Taylor?”

I noticed how he referred to his son, his only son and the heir to his title and all the family possessions. He didn’t seem to have any real, fatherly pride or affection for his son. Furthermore, he didn’t even so much as look at his wife during this conversation. It was obvious he didn’t feel the need to consult her and I thought I detected a slight emphasis on the fact that he wanted the portrait to be like the ones I had seen earlier. In other words, I was to make the boy’s image sexy and alluring.

I had no choice but to agree – at least to this informal sketch.

Hugo picked up the handset of an old field telephone, similar to the one Ambrose had shown me before lunch. He began speaking into it.

“Ambrose, I’ve asked Taylor here to do a quick likeness of the boy. Would you see to it that he’s in the library in fifteen minutes.”

The Earl looked at me. “Sorted. It shouldn’t take too long, should it? Then you can get on with your other work. I’ll see to it that you’ll be suitably recompensed…” I tried to wave the offer aside, but he was insistent. “It’s an extra job, Taylor and might lead to a full-blown commission. Don’t worry, young man, you won’t find me stingy, eh what!? Just accept it, there’s a good chap.”

There was no answer to that save to accept gracefully, which I did. The full-blown oil painting was quite another matter. I felt a sickening feeling in my stomach, faced with the prospect of having to be the latest in this long line of albeit illustrious artists to make a record of a son’s humiliation at the hands of his father. But that would have to be a bridge I would cross later. For now, I saw no harm in agreeing to the Earl’s request for an informal sketch.

I hoped that the Earl or Lady Pevensey didn’t expect to be present at Kieran’s sitting; I wanted some time alone with the boy – time to spend being able to look freely at him and admire this delightful specimen of burgeoning boyhood…

With an almost physical start, I caught myself up. What was I thinking? Having lascivious thoughts about a thirteen-year-old, for Christ’ sake? I was no better than Hugo Montagu or Ambrose or any other child-abuser.

Then I began, mentally, to justify myself. I wasn’t about to have sex with the boy, force myself upon him or subject him to physical abuse, like his father and God knew who else. I would just enjoy looking at the youth – nothing more than that. Purely from a professional standpoint…

Who the hell was I kidding? I was attracted by the boy’s extraordinary beauty and why not? I just had to remember that it was strictly ‘look and don’t touch.’

Hugo was speaking. I forced my attention back to what he was saying.

“This is the Great Pevensey Sword,” he said, taking an enormous broadsword down from where it had hung on the wall above the fireplace. The blade alone must have measured over four feet in length and the large hilt was wrapped round with chased leather. It looked pristine, sharp and very deadly.

“It’s the Third Earl’s sword,” Montagu went on, hefting the enormous weapon in his right hand. It must have weighed a great deal, but in the Earl´s hands, it seemed as light as a feather. He gave a couple of flashes of the blade.

“Oh, do be careful, Hugo! You know I hate that thing!”

Montagu just laughed and waved the sharp blade even closer to his wife’s face. He was enjoying being a bully, I could see that.

“This is the sword from the portraits, Taylor. The very self-same one! It looks remarkably good for its age don’t you think?” He waved the sword some more, now closer to my head. It took all my self control not to flinch. I wasn’t going to give this bully the satisfaction of seeing that he scared me.

“This is what we use in the coming-of-age ceremony. Young Kieran will feel its sharpness and be marked as one of us for his lifetime! And his son after him, keeping the tradition alive…This has been used for over six hundred years, Taylor! Looks like it was forged yesterday eh?”

He made a couple more passes with the weapon before his wife spoke again.

“Hugo! Put that horrible thing back in its place! At once! I’m sure Mr Taylor is not interested in your barbaric blood-letting tradition. Poor Kieran! You promise you won’t hurt him?”

The Earl replaced the sword and turned back to his wife, a supercilious sneer on his face. “Of course we won’t, my dear! Just a small scratch. He’ll have to take it like a man. All the Earls of Pevensey have been marked by the Great Sword. It’s an honourable and noble tradition!”

The ‘other thing’ that would happen to the hapless boy was neither honourable nor noble, I thought grimly to myself, picturing the poor boy’s upcoming degradation.

“Well, I’m glad I won’t be here to witness it,” said Lady Montagu. “You and your traditions!”

She turned to me and continued, “The Earl’s wife and all the female members of the family and servants literally thrown out of the house while the men go for a weekend of drinking and silly ritual! I really don’t know why I agreed to it…”

She was cut off by her husband. “Because that is the way it has been done for six hundred years, and that is the way it always will be done, my dear!” His voice, though quiet and steady was menacing and his look betrayed his scarcely controlled anger.

“Well I don’t want to come back to bloodstains on the carpet and you and your friends the worse for drink. You must think of Kieran, he’s only a boy…”

“It is because he is a boy that this ceremony has been enacted down the centuries, “ snarled the Earl, not even bothering to conceal his contempt for his wife. “He becomes a man and will take his medicine like a man!” He glared at his wife, his face red, eyes staring.

There was an uneasy silence as each realised that they had let the façade of good manners slip in front of a guest. Visibly collecting himself, Hugo Montagu turned to me and said, almost brusquely, “I expect you’ll want your materials. I’ll call Ambrose. How long should you be, do you think?”

“I expect the sitting might take about an hour or perhaps two,” I replied, trying hard to sound calm and detached.

The Earl grunted and pulled a cord, which would presumably bring the butler.

Lady Montagu sat quietly, her face pale and lips pressed tight shut. The only sign of any emotion were her flashing blue eyes.

The door opened quietly and Ambrose came in. “You rang, My Lord?” Despite the highly-charged atmosphere in the room, I almost burst out laughing. The scene was like from a second-rate melodrama.

“Taylor here is going to do a portrait of the boy. You’ll need to show him to his room so he can get his stuff. They’ll be in the Library for a couple of hours.”

I didn’t like being referred to in the third person but nevertheless gritted my teeth. Montagu was not exactly the politest of men, despite his breeding – or maybe because of it.

I followed the tall, silent butler through the confusing house, trying very hard to memorise the route, but there seemed so many twists and turns, so many odd little staircases, that by the time I was outside Hector, I was as lost as ever.

“If you are agreeable, I shall wait for you, Sir and then escort you to the Library,” said Ambrose, his voice and manner as unctuous as ever. I wondered what part he would play in Kieran’s upcoming induction into manhood and my flesh literally crawled.

I had decided on pastels for the portrait, easier to work with than watercolours or pen and ink. As I gathered together my materials, I wondered what kind of life it must be for Ambrose, waiting on a family, being there at all times and yet not there. I supposed one was either born into it, like the aristocracy, or else just learnt it like any other job. I wondered whether Ambrose’s family had been involved with the Earls of Pevensey for generations, or whether Ambrose (was that his surname or forename?) had applied for job of butler and general dogsbody, content to be subservient to his employers.

With a sudden lurch of my stomach, I recalled the book and the name of Philip Montagu’s tutor – the monk, Ambrosius.

I began to have a horrible feeling about this whole setup and for an instant, wanted to do nothing but to get away from this place immediately.

Then I thought of the boy, Kieran. Surely it had to be my number one priority to do what I could to get him away from this situation, this looming coming-of-age ceremony, which was no more than statutory rape and sodomy as far as I knew. Perhaps I would be able to find a way. My running away, I decided, was not the solution to anything. I selected my materials and on a whim took the small brown book (the pages were blank, I did a quick check) and found Ambrose closing the door to Kieran’s room behind him. Another dose of Valium to keep the boy docile? I felt almost nauseous.

I was feeling very anxious. It was obvious to me that Kieran’s father was a tyrant and a bully and these coming-of-age celebrations, or whatever I should call them, filled me with unease for the boy’s safety and wellbeing.

Had every Earl of Pevensey been like Hugo? Intolerant, overbearing, aggressive? Would Kieran turn out the same way as his father and presumably countless generations before him? Was there any way I could prevent what was going to happen from taking place?

Would it make any difference if I did?

Eventually, Ambrose stopped outside one of the doors off the main hall. Opening the heavy oak door, he announced, “The Library, Sir. Just ring if you require anything.”

After the dim corridors, low-ceilinged Gallery and Dining Room and what I had seen of the rest of the house, the Library at Harlescombe Hall almost literally took my breath away.

A spacious octagon, rising the whole height of the building, some three stories. Topped by a lantern roof, I guessed the height from floor to the top of the lantern was about thirty to forty feet. There were full-length lancet windows on four of the eight walls and shelves of books on three distinct levels; floor to ceiling. Galleries ran round the room at each of the two higher levels, reached by a spiral staircase. At ground level there were two massive oak desks, several armchairs, a couple of sets of library steps and two or three glass-topped cases containing various collections and objets d’art, presumably garnered over the centuries.

Over a massive fireplace was a full-sized portrait of a man holding an open book, standing next to large globe. He had the same glinting blue eyes and black beard of the Montagu family, although the expression on this man’s face was gentler than the other portraits of the Earls of Pevensey and his beard was trimmed, goatee-style. He stared out of the painting with a sad expression, it was not too difficult to imagine his eyes glistening and his full red lips about to quiver. The painter had made a masterful job of capturing a fleeting moment; intensely emotional, almost private.

I wondered who this sensitive portrait painter could be. Like all the other portraits I had seen, there was no signature that I could make out and no name came immediately to mind. It was an exceedingly good – and lifelike portrait, showing a completely different side to the Montagues than I had hitherto seen. Unlike the bluff, arrogant and warlike side of the other Earls, this painting showed a man apparently with feelings – and not afraid to show them.

Apart from white shirt and stockings, the man was clothed in black; a waisted doublet with a prominent and elaborate lace collar; puffed, slashed sleeves and pantaloons richly decorated with silver thread and pearls. His elegantly stockinged calves ended in feet encased in shoes with elaborate buckles and ribbons. His hair was long and luxurious and he wore a single pearl earring. I guessed from his costume that he was from the fifteenth or early sixteenth century.

His shirt was open at the chest, revealing the now familiar small scar. The man was pointing to it with his left hand. There was writing in the book which he held in his other hand, but from where I stood I couldn’t make out what was written there, if anything at all.

The background was instantly recognisable as the house in which I was now standing, the lantern roof prominent, although the house itself looked much smaller and there were fewer trees around it. The Earl had a greyhound standing by his side. The artist had painted a turbulent sky; it looked as if it might pour down with rain at any moment. I peered closer, still looking for a signature or artist’s moniker. I saw none. However, obviously following tradition, or else by command, in the top right-hand corner was the familiar crest, topped with an Earl’s coronet, just like on all the other portraits.

This was  altogether a completely different type of portrait from the others of the Earls of Pevensey and there was no kneeling figure of a young boy, no erotically-charged image of a son kneeling at his father’s feet. Maybe that’s why his picture had been relegated to the Library, I thought to myself as I stood beneath the vast canvas, admiring the workmanship.

“Henry, eighth Earl,” a soft boyish voice startled me out of my contemplation of the painting. I turned to find myself staring into the deep dark blue, almost black eyes of this man’s direct descendant. The likeness was extraordinary and I gave an involuntary shiver as if I had seen a ghost.

“His wife and son had just died,” the boy went on in that soft, slightly husky voice of a boy on the cusp of manhood, which I found extremely sexy.

“The story goes that he was forced into marriage, so that he could sire a male heir to keep the line going, but that he wasn’t really the marrying kind – if you get my meaning.”

I looked sharply at the boy. I got his meaning all right, but what was he thinking? Did he fully understand the implications of that phrase, the marrying kind, or had he just picked it up from hearing the story before?

Kieran looked straight at me, not a hint of a blush on his cheek, and an almost challenging look on his face, as if daring me to show shock or even understanding of his choice of phrase. With much willpower, I managed to keep my expression neutral.

“The story goes that he went on a long voyage after his wife and son died, that’s why the globe is there, and he began to write poems, something highly unusual for an Earl of Pevensey.” This time, there was a slight hint of irony in the boy’s voice. He smiled very slightly before he went on to his captive audience.

“They say that the sad expression is not just for his wife and son – he of course had to marry again and produce an heir and it’s been said that’s why he looks so sad.”

This time I really felt that the boy was trying to get some kind of reaction out of me. I got the impression he wanted to try and shock me, but I wasn’t going to let him see that. He seemed very precocious young man – and I was sure he knew all about the difference between the marrying kind and others. After all, he went to an exclusive boys’ boarding school. I was fairly sure he was well-versed in the various types of sexual preference, even at his age. Especially at his age.

What worried me, was that he seemed too aware of the ways of the world. Had there been other influences at work on this boy’s young mind? Shades of Miles from Henry James’ Turn of the Screw, perhaps? I instantly rejected the thought. I was getting affected by the atmosphere of this place. Before long I’d be seeing visions of long-dead governesses and Peter Quint in every dark corner!

“Well, he must have done just that,” I replied. Kieran looked perplexed, a slight frown on his features, before I explained; “Married again and had a son! Otherwise you wouldn’t be here!”

“That’s true,” admitted the beautiful boy.  He was silent for a moment or two before he changed the subject:

“It was he who built this Library.”

He indicated the vast library around us; the unending shelves, stretching around the room and way up into the high roof.

“Before Henry’s time this house was just the hunting-lodge. The Earls of Pevensey lived in a much grander house, on the other side of the river, but Henry had it torn down, stone by stone, after his wife and son died. He said the house was unlucky and that no Pevensey would ever live – or die there again. He had the rubble covered with earth and then planted a whole forest around and over it. His wife and son are said to lie beneath the mound and the locals won’t go near the place. They say it’s haunted. I’ve been there. I’m not afraid. It’s just a lot of trees and a steep hill now. Henry moved here. He just took the portraits and the Great Pevensey Sword before he had the place demolished. There’s nothing but forest where the old house used to be. Anyway, after his next son came of age, he went into a monastery or something and spent the rest of his life writing stuff. It’s all here somewhere, though I don’t expect anyone knows exactly where the books are now. The Montagu family are not great readers.”

He imbued this last statement with heavy irony. I knew what he meant. The boy’s father, if he was a typical representative of the Pevensey clan could not be described as a bookish sort of man.

“I was asked to draw your portrait,” I said, aware that I had to start soon or lose the light.

“Where would you like me?” asked the boy. I  quickly looked again at him to see if he was being cheeky, but he seemed quite serious.

“By the window, there, I think,” I replied, “so that I get some proper daylight on to you. Standing, if you please.”

The pale November sun shone feebly through the leaded panes illuminating the pale boy’s features with a gentle glow. His raven-black hair contrasted dramatically with his almost white cheeks while his dark blue-black eyes reflected the sunlight, sparkling and fresh. The cupid-bow mouth, perfectly formed rosy lips, which the boy occasionally moistened from time to time with quick darting movements of a small, pink tongue. His hair was curly, worn quite long, almost unruly – there was obviously no school regulation for short back and sides or the famous ‘Eton crop’ nowadays.

He was dressed in a pale blue V-necked cashmere sweater over a cream shirt and brown corduroy trousers which hugged his slim figure perfectly. His legs were long, ending in feet clad in very well-polished brown shoes. No hoodie and trainers for this young scion of the Pevensey clan!

He seemed perfectly at ease as I busied myself with my sketchpad and pastels. He had a natural grace about him and stood at the window, one arm resting lightly along the window-sill, the other in his trouser pocket.

Without me having to say a word about posture or position, he had assumed exactly the pose I wanted; looking through the glass at the world outside the house. He looked exactly what he was: a young aristocrat surveying the world with confidence and an obvious knowledge of his place in the world. Secure in his own environment, yet at the same time facing the outside world with his own sense of self – content and confident.

I wondered how much of that look was just a façade and how much of it was genuine. A member of the upper echelons of society, he obviously knew his place in the scheme of things; heir to a title, land, properties. Yet he was still just a young boy. Did the weight of history hang heavy on his shoulders?

As I watched, I wondered how much he knew about his forthcoming ordeal. Had he perhaps already suffered at the hands of his father or Ambrose? What had been the preparation I had overheard about before lunch? The boy was being groomed, that much was certain, but how? Was Ambrose performing the same task as the monk Ambrosius from the book? Was Kieran aware and a willing part in all of this?

Then again, doubt was always at the back of my mind. Was I absolutely certain that Kieran was about to be subjected to the same assault as his distant ancestor, or was this coming-of-age ceremony purely innocent – just a tiny scratch from an old sword and perhaps a bit too much alcohol? Had I perhaps been misled or misunderstood the story in the book? Was I leaping to conclusions?

Yet the coincidences which led me here were just too unbelievable to be mere accidents. So far, all that the book had told me and shown me had been true and I had been able to act and react to the stories. Will Fremantle’s tormentor, or one of them at any rate, had been arrested, James’s hidden body had been found – Kieran Montagu was the next loose end to be tied up, it had to be like that, I thought. There was no reason to suppose that the story of the third Earl wasn’t true and that I had been more-or-less sent here to prevent a repetition of those events.

I looked again at the beautiful boy as he settled into his easy and relaxed pose. He had to have many admirers at his school, he was such a beautiful boy.

Had he worked out yet that beauty such as his could be used as a weapon? Did he yet know how powerful he was, by virtue of that beauty? I wondered how many hearts he had already broken; his peers at school, older boys perhaps, masters even?

Perhaps he was already indulging in sexual activities at school? I had no way of knowing and I silently reprimanded myself. I should really have been ashamed of myself for even assuming that the boy was even sexually aware at all. In my mind, I had robbed the boy of his innocence just as surely as his physical innocence was about to be ripped away by his father and maybe others in just a few days’ time.

Is there anything I can do? Can’t I somehow save this boy? I thought, as I began to draw the first few lines which would eventually, I hoped, become a reasonable likeness of the Honourable Kieran Hugo Philip Montagu, the future fifteenth Earl of Pevensey.

 

TWENTY-THREE
(SUNDAY EARLY AFTERNOON)

The sitting began well. The light struck the boy’s face obliquely, giving a dramatic effect; piercing blue eyes and shaggy black hair contrasting with the pale features and beautifully formed mouth. As I sketched I began to envisage that delicious mouth engaged in all sorts of activities. I had to surreptitiously adjust my clothing as I drew – my cock was responding vigorously to this boy’s incredible beauty.

Kieran seemed oblivious to me and everything else around him. He stayed practically motionless, staring out of the window. I had never had a better sitter, but I felt the silence was a little uneasy.

Kieran seemed withdrawn into himself; there wasn’t that usual quick curiosity and fidgeting normal for most thirteen-year-old boys. At least that’s what I felt, as I observed his slightly hooded lids and the mouth which seemed to have a small downward turn as if, just below the surface, there was some unhappiness in the boy’s mind. Once or twice Kieran let out a gentle sigh, but if he noticed, he didn’t register the fact.

After about twenty minutes, I called a break and told Kieran to relax and move about a bit to get his circulation going. He came over to me and inspected my efforts so far.

He studied the sketch closely.

“Do I really look that sad?” he asked. I looked with him at the sketchy portrait. There was a certain melancholy about the eyes that I hadn’t been aware of as I drew.

Kieran was standing very close to me and I could smell the scent of his hair, clothes – him. I was intoxicated by his sheer closeness and felt myself trembling. The boy’s soft jawline, smooth chin and slim neck – right beside me. I could even feel the heat emanating from his slim, sexy teenage body and I felt my cock go instantly hard again. Without being able to stop myself, I placed a hand lightly on the boy’s shoulder and leaned forward, as if to inspect the picture more closely.

Immediately, Kieran flinched and leaned away. It was a subtle movement, but enough to let me know that I had crossed an invisible line; physical contact was unwelcome. I withdrew my hand from his shoulder, my heart beating violently in my chest. I cursed to myself for my gauche behaviour and for the fact that I seemed to be unable to keep my hands off the boy.

Why can’t I just control myself?  I thought to myself, annoyed about my weakness in my proximity to him.

In that one, simple action, that slight, seemingly innocent physical contact, I thought I might have probably destroyed any hopes of Kieran trusting me. It was obvious he didn’t like what I did; most likely, he had often been subjected to such behaviour before. I couldn’t blame any gay boy or man not itching to touch this vision of beauty which was Kieran Montagu.

I took a step back, at the same time as removing my hand and made no comment, nor did he, but there was a subtle shift in the atmosphere in the large room.

Mercifully, the awkward moment seemed to pass.

Kieran leaned forward and picked up the little brown book which lay next to my box of materials. Had I put it there? I thought it was in my jacket pocket.

Kieran studied the worn leatherbound book without opening it. There was no title either on the front or on the spine.

“One of ours or one of yours?” he asked, his sexy voice stretching the vowels in the only way a true-born aristocrat can. That simple question, implying ownership, property and possession.

He turned a questioning look at me, his hooded eys with their impossibly long lashes surveying me as if I were a specimen in a jar.

“One of mine,” I replied, not knowing what – if anything, might be in the book, so I didn’t elaborate as to its contents. If it was meant to be that Kieran opened the book and saw something in there, then that was fate. I knew by now that the book did exactly what it wanted to do.

I recalled those people who had looked into the book since it had come into my posession. Albert, I know, had seen something, but if he had, he had not shared it with me. Lars had seen nothing. Simon Stafford-Jones had seen the image of himself as a youth while Detective Morrison had seen his long-lost brother. In Simon’s and the policeman’s cases, their discoveries had led to positive things happening, or so I hoped. If Kieran were to see something in the book, I was sure that it would be something that he was meant to see and that it would somehow or other, be positive. At least, that’s what I was telling myself as I waited to see what Kieran would do.

He opened the book.

There was a deep silence in the vast octagonal library as I watched for any reaction from the young boy as he studied the small volume.

“It’s a poem,” he eventually said. He looked up at me with a puzzled expression on his face, a small frown furrowing his brow. He had gone even paler than usual. He looked back down at the book, opened the very front and then quickly flipped through the whole volume. It was evidently blank, as he turned back to the original page he was studying. I watched as he read the page again.

After a few moments, he looked up again and handed the book to me, showing the page that he had read. I noticed that his hands were trembling slightly. I took the book and looked down.

Under a familiar image, there was a poem, just as the boy had said, but its content was far from ordinary:


Know I earldom’s repeated awful notion
In evr’y recorded age!
Ever’y father a son’s honour and devotion
Ripped from his soul
And wakens my rage!
Ne’er again repeat – end it Kidling!

I read and re-read the stark lines. How was I going to explain this to the boy? Kieran had slumped down into one of the nearby capacious armchairs, chewing his lip and gazing blankly into space. He looked very pale and suddenly very small and vulnerable.

Shivers ran up and down my spine as I read the poem one more time. I had just noticed something else, something I didn’t think even the boy had seen – at least I wasn’t sure. If he had noticed, then I think he might have reacted much more strongly to the poem.

But how to break it to him?

“Kieran?” I began, keeping my voice soft and low and as soothing as I knew how. The boy was trembling as if he were cold, his eyes wide and staring, reminding me of a thoroughbred horse just before a race; nervy and fretful. I would have to be very gentle with the boy.

“Kieran, do you understand what’s written here?”

I got no response for such a long time that I thought he hadn’t heard my question. Just as I was about to speak again, Kieran turned his face to me and nodded, silently.

“I … I don’t know…” He looked close to tears, the sight of him tore at my heartstrings. He looked as though he had had a terrible shock.

I searched for the right words to continue: “Kieran … this book …” I paused. It seemed as if the boy had turned off again and wasn’t even in the room any more. He looked lost and abandoned and now, very frightened.

“Kidling … it said Kidling …” Kieran’s voice was very quiet, no more than a whisper. I went over to the chair in which he was sitting and crouched down on my haunches beside him.

“That … that was my Nanny’s nickname for me. She was from Sweden and looked after me when I was small. She called me ‘kidling’ because I liked the story she used to tell me about the three baby billy-goats who had to cross the river where the big bad troll lived under the bridge… she said I was like the smallest kidling in the story…”

He broke off, a tear welled up in his eye and after hanging for what seemed like an eternity on his long lashes, rolled slowly down his alabaster cheek in to the corner of his coral-red mouth.

“She said the nickname was our very own secret. Only she ever called me that … Not even Mummy and Daddy ever knew that …Why is it in that horrible poem? How did it get there?”

“This book is like a sort of history-book and fortune-teller rolled into one,” I went on, wondering whether I sounded like a complete nutcase, but realising there was not really any other way to describe the book and what it contained.

I took a deep breath and battled on:

“This poem was probably written a long time ago. I’m only guessing, but I suspect it was written by the eighth Earl, Henry – and it was written for you to read, Kieran. It’s a sort of warning…” my voice dried up.

Kieran was looking very intently at me, probably wondering whether or not he should bolt and run from this obvious lunatic by his side. However he stayed perfectly still, his mouth slightly open, his breathing shallow and quick.

“A warning? From Henry to me?” We both glanced over our shoulders at the large portrait hanging over the fireplace. We couldn’t see it from where we were, it was in the shadows.

It was now or never. I braced myself.

“Have another look at the poem, Kieran. Do you notice anything else about it, apart from it using your nickname?”

The boy scanned the lines again, a perplexed look on his pale features.

“No. It’s not a nice poem though, is it? I mean, awful notion… rips from his soul… rage and all that. It seems very angry!”

He paused again, giving me a long, hard stare. “Are you sure it’s by Henry? I mean, how can you prove it?”

“I can’t prove it, Kieran…”

“For all I know, you wrote that yourself and planted it there for me to find, for some odd reason…”

“Look at it again, Kieran. It’s printed. Not handwritten, or photocopied. That book is as old as it looks. See, the poem is printed!”

The boy looked more closely at the page. “You’re right. So you didn’t just write it down to scare me or whatever, but you could have had this prepared before you came here…”

I interrupted the boy, raising my voice, trying to get him to understand.

“Kieran, I didn’t know anything about you, not even that you existed until I saw you for the first time just before lunch today. I’d never even heard of your father until yesterday and the Earls of Pevensey mean nothing to me! You have to believe me! This book…”

Again the boy interrupted me. “So I’m supposed to believe that this book is meant to mean something to me? Okay, it uses the word kidling, but kidling might be a word anyone could use, without it meaning it’s my nickname!”

I paused before I spoke again and drew a deep breath, trying very hard to control my voice. This was the pivotal moment.

“Kieran, look again at the poem, look beyond the words…”

“I did… I…”

“Shh.” I held up a hand, keeping my voice very even and as calm as I could.

“Kieran, does your name appear anywhere else in the Montagu family?”

The teen looked blankly at me. I made another attempt.

“Are you the first to be called Kieran in your family?”

The boy nodded. “Yes. The name Kieran is from my mother’s side of the family – all the eldest sons of the Dukes of Ballygore have been called Kieran. My mother wanted to keep up the tradition I suppose and my father agreed, which is odd … “ his brow furrowed slightly “…but maybe he loved her then.”

He could not disguise the bitterness in his voice. I had to let it pass, though, because what I had to say could very well turn this poor little boy’s world upside down. I had to be very careful and gentle with him.

He paused and then said, “But why do you ask about my name?”

“Kieran,” I said as gently as I could, “look at the first letter of each line…”

“K … I … E … R … Oh my God! It’s my name!”

I nodded. “Now look at the first letters of the words in the first line…”

“My name again!”

“Precisely. And your name appears one more time! Can you find it?”

The boy studied the poem one more time. Finally, he gave a loud exclamation. “Bloody hell! It’s there in the last line, but spelt backwards!”

“The poem is what’s called an acrostic. Some letters are very important and arranged in a special way. That’s why it seems a bit …” I searched for the right word, “…unwieldy. It’s not great literature, but it is trying to get a message across and the letters which spell your name occur too often to be coincidence. Someone was trying very hard to get your attention.”

The boy looked almost as if he were about to be sick, he was so pale.

“So, this poem is addressed to me? I don’t understand… why?”

“I don’t know, Kieran. It’s a total mystery, but believe me, this book has not been wrong so far…” I left the sentence hanging in the air. Now was not the time to try and tell what would sound like fantastical tales.

“Has this got something to do with my coming-of-age celebrations?” asked the young boy, his face worried.

I had to make a decision, but I didn’t know what Kieran knew about the upcoming ordeal and what he was able – or prepared – to  tell me.

“You’re about to turn fourteen,” I stated. The boy nodded silently, anxiously, I thought.

“According to an old tradition on your family, you will be pierced by the Great Pevensey Sword, right?”

Another silent nod. I could see droplets of sweat beading the boy’s smooth upper lip. My hands, too, felt clammy and the sweat trickled down my back. I had to handle these next couple of minutes very carefully.

“You’ve seen those portraits in the Gallery?” Another nod and a definite tension in both of us. I could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. I felt an almost overwhelming pity for the poor boy seated by me, but I had to go on, finish what I – or rather the book – had started.

“Do you know what else happens at your coming-of age, Kieran? Do you know what is supposed to happen, apart from the ceremonial bloodletting?”

Finally, when he spoke, the boy’s voice was a hoarse whisper, I had to lean closer to hear what he was saying.

“Ambrose told me. It’s called Droit du Seigneur Montaguise … it’s when the Earl, the father … my  father … passes down  … power to his son … Ambrose says I have to be brave…”

There was such a look of apprehension in the boy’s eyes, my heart went out to him. I had to physically check myself from reaching out to hold the boy. That would not be the right thing to do in the circumstances, I thought, recollecting his reaction to my last, clumsy attempt.

What had made the boy shun such physical contact? Was it the result of a bad experience? Whatever the cause, I knew that however innocent, he would feel uncomfortable with it, so I let my hand drop in mid air.

I still wasn’t sure if the boy actually knew what was awaiting him. I was wondering if even I knew.

After a moment, Kieran spoke again, looking with unseeing eyes, over my shoulder into the distance. His voice was flat and without inflection; he was clearly reciting something he had memorised.

The youth must wear naught but the white shirt, signifying purity of body. The cord and barb around his neck signifies obedience for his Sire and Master in all that he demands of him, without question. The sword at the breast is for the letting of blood, honour is only won through pain. The Sire and Master must dominate and possess him entirely, body and soul, for without the great gift of his father’s seed, the youth is nothing and will come to nothing and the Pevensey line will be damned for evermore.

After a long silence, Kieran turned to me, refocusing his eyes. “You, see, it’s something I have to do. There’s no escape…” His lip quivered and another tear coursed down the pale cheek and finally, in a great burst of emotion, he finally flung his arms about my neck, sobbing loudly.

“But I don’t want it to happen! I’m scared. I….” The rest of his sentence, if there was any, was lost in loud, heaving sobs, as the poor boy poured out his grief, to me, a total stranger.

I ventured to hold the boy and met no resistance. He pressed himself closer to me, burying his face in my neck. I felt the dampness of his cheeks. I tried to soothe him with gentle murmurs, stroking his back until, gradually, his shoulders stopped heaving and the sobs died away. We stayed there for a couple of minutes as the young boy began to calm down again.

“So, Kieran, you know what will happen at this ‘rite of passage´, what is expected of you.” It was more of a rhetorical question. The boy nodded, silently, his tearstained face wracked with a mixture of fear and what I could only describe as disgust.

“Ambrose has told me and …” he took a deep, shuddering breath, before continuing: “my father as well. He says it’s the great tradition of our family and an honour and that I must take it like  man, that without going through it, I won’t be worthy…” again he paused, and with a great effort, I could see, he held back the tears which threatened to engulf him yet again. His hands gripped the sides of the armchair, knuckles white.

“Does your mother know anything about this?” I asked, “Surely she…”

“She doesn’t know anything, and my father and Ambrose have told me that she must never know. If I tell her, they say they’ll punish me…”

My heart was nearly bursting with pity for this poor, vulnerable boy, who, except for accident of birth would never have had to undergo this savage, dehumanising degradation.

What kind of father would do this to his son? I could see that the poor boy was terrified; he had probably been frightened out of his wits by the threats of the two men who should have had nothing but proper love and affection for him. Instead, he had been subjected to threats and what would be a traumatic, humiliating experience.

“This poem, Kieran. It is addressed to you! It is telling you that you have the power to stop this happening, but you have to be brave…”

Kieran spoke again, his voice practically inaudible, hoarse and thick with emotion.

“Some of the older boys at school have been doing things to me and I hate it! It hurts and they won’t stop! I can’t tell any of the beaks, my life would be hell at school if I did – it’s bad enough as it is! But I don’t like it! It hurts and it’s wrong! Now my father is going…” Again, he broke down.

I had to do something. This must not be allowed to happen!

“Kieran! Do you trust me? Do you believe that I have nothing but your best interests at heart?”

He gave me a long look from tear-filled eyes before eventually giving a slight nod.

“Believe me, Kieran, I will do everything I can to stop this. All I can. I promise! But for now, you must appear as if everything is normal. Your father and Ambrose must not suspect that I know anything. Can you do that for me, Kieran?”

Again, a long pause and a sad look, before the boy gave another, almost imperceptible nod.

“Try to calm down and let’s finish this sitting as if nothing has happened. I’ll think of something. Even if … even if I have to break the law, I won’t let any harm come to you. You do understand?”

“Y…yes.”

“Good boy! Now, wipe your face and take a few deep breaths. We need to act as if everything is as usual. Can you do that?”

“Yes.” The boy wiped his eyes and tearstained face, blowing his nose on a handkerchief he took out of his trousers pocket. How many thirteen-year-olds these days have a pocket handkerchief? I thought wryly, as I waited for the poor boy to settle himself.

“Okay, I ‘m ready now…” his voice was firmer, steadier and Kieran’s eyes blazed with determination. “I … thank you, Mr Taylor…”

“It’s Peter, and there’s nothing to thank me for. I should thank you for telling me about this… Now, let’s get back to the sitting before anyone comes in.”

Kieran resumed his pose and I could see him gradually calm down; his breath became more even and his eyes lost their redness. As I sketched, I made a few jokes – not very good ones – in order to lighten the atmosphere and take the boy’s mind off the horrors he must have been imagining until then.

It was obvious that the boy had had some very unpleasant experiences already; sexual abuse and bullying at an boys’ boarding school is particularly cruel and depraved. God only knew what he had been forced to do. To think that he didn’t even have a safe haven in his own home was a sad and upsetting thought. No child should have to undergo this torture.

Kieran – and indeed most boys of his age – was an innocent and now his innocence had been ripped from him – by the very people who should have been there to love and protect him. It was obvious to me that his mother had no idea, was quite blind to what was going on under her own nose. She was too involved with appearances, what the Lady of the Manor should do and wear and how to behave in Society, that she was a total incompetent as a parent.

Thus Kieran had had no-one to turn to, until the book had sent me to him. Now it was up to me to make sure that he was protected and the danger to him was removed – or he from it.

I would finish the sketch for the Earl, but if he commissioned me to do the ‘official’ portrait, the record in oils of ritual rape, then I would refuse. Hopefully, if I could find a way, I would try and ensure that the rape would not take place and maybe the centuries’ old ritual which had plagued every eldest son in this family would cease for ever.

As I drew, I thought hard about how I could do something to help.

Finally, after about another half hour, I was finished and pleased with the result. I had made a conscious effort to make the picture of Kieran look like a more cheerful boy, but even I couldn’t completely hide the sadness behind the eyes.

“We’re done.” I said, finally, as I made one last, tiny stroke. Any more tinkering would ruin the picture.

Kieran stretched and came over to look at the result. This time, however, he did an extraordinary thing. As we looked at the picture, he came and stood close by my side, took my hand, placed it on his own shoulder and held it there with his.

I quietly rejoiced in the trust he showed me in that simple, almost absent-minded gesture.

I packed up my stuff and we made our way out of the imposing library.

As we passed by Henry’s portrait, we stopped and looked at it together. Kieran certainly was a descendant, that was clear; same black hair, those penetrating blue eyes – they even shared the same sad look I had just now worked so hard to disguise.

The Earl still pointed at his scar, the greyhound by his side still stood as if about to leap away – the artist had captured the final split-second before it would seem that the hound would dash off in pursuit of something or other it had seen. I could see the tension in the animal’s body, the alert eyes, quivering nostrils, trembling flanks – it really was masterfully achieved.

“I think that the eighth Earl is trying to help,” I said. “I think the greyhound is you, Kieran, about to slip the leash and run free. Escape this house, this tradition, this evil…”

Kieran said nothing for a few moments as he surveyed the picture of his sad-looking ancestor.

“Show me the book again, please,” he asked.

I handed the small volume over. The young boy flipped through the pages.

“It’s not there! The poem’s gone!” His mouth opened in astonishment and he turned his wide eyes to me, a questioning look on his pale features.

“That’s the way this book seems to work,” I said, feeling very inadequate. I knew no more than the boy. “It’s done its job – the rest is up to you – or rather us,” I added.

We looked again at the portrait.

It was so frustrating that the painting didn’t seem to have a signature. I moved closer – it  was getting gloomy in this part of the room – and tried to see if I could spot any mark whatsoever. As I glanced all over the portrait, I thought I could discern writing in the book the Earl was holding open.

“Kieran,” I beckoned the young teen over. “You’ve seen this painting masses of times, I suppose. What’s written in the book?” I pointed at the small brown volume in the painting.

Kieran shrugged. “Dunno,” he said, “I’ve never noticed any writing there.”

“Get those library steps,” I indicated a set on wheels close by. “Bring them over and jump up, there’s a good lad.”

I don’t know why I was so curious, almost excited, but I now desperately wanted to see what the artist had written in the book that he had made the Earl hold for his portrait – or that the Earl had chosen to hold for his portrait, I didn’t know which.

Kieran pulled the large, cumbersome library steps over to beneath the painting and climbed up. He squinted for what seemed like an age before he turned and spoke.

“It says: The Compleat Angler and it’s by someone called Izaak Waldon”

 

TWENTY-FOUR
(SUNDAY LATE AFTERNOON)

The initial shock at Kieran’s announcement was almost visceral. Yet again, the book had managed to catch me unawares.

Yet, paradoxically, I was not as surprised as all that. Of course the book would have a surprise in store for me! I should have seen that one coming! I almost laughed out loud, as I helped the slim boy down from the library steps. He gave me a curious look.

“You alright, Mr…. I mean, Peter?”

“Yes, Kieran, I’m fine. I just didn’t expect that title, that’s all.”

Another quizzical look.

“It’s a long story, Kieran – nothing important,” I lied. The story of the book, how it came to me and what it led to was just too unbelievable for words. I had images of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland flashing before my eyes – this had been a truly bizarre week! And there was still work to be done. I had made some sort of plan and now I needed a bit of time to myself to get things moving.

I gave the eighth Earl another look before we left the library. From here it seemed to me that he looked less sad – was that the hint of a smile playing round those full, red lips?

No, surely not – just a trick of the light. I remembered the time I thought I saw James smiling at me. I felt a twinge of sadness for the poor boy and his sad, lonely fate. I just hoped that with Kieran, I would be on hand to stop anything bad happening to him.

As we re-entered the gloom of the hall from the comparative brightness of the many-windowed library, we were both of us startled when Ambrose loomed, as if from nowhere.

I wondered if he ‘just happened’ to be passing or whether he had been on his way to collect us. Kieran and I had been a good hour and a half together  and the thought even crossed my mind that Ambrose had just hung around in the hall, waiting for us, but I dismissed the thought immediately; surely he had enough to do?

“His Lordship is keen to see the fruits of your labours, Mr Taylor,” said Ambrose with a smile, his manner unctuous. I noticed how he looked at Kieran as he said this, his pale eyes raking across the young boy’s body. He couldn’t disguise his lust for the boy. It takes one to know one, I thought to myself, wondering if that was how I looked when I spotted a sexy teen.

The immaculately dressed and groomed butler accompanied me across the hall to another door. I noticed he gave Kieran another look as if to say You’re not wanted here, young man as he opened the door and announced me. Kieran obviously understanding the silent message turned and left us.

“Mr Taylor, as you requested, my Lord.”

The study was obviously the Earl’s own private domain.

On the walls were photographs of rugger teams, rowing eights, pictures of his Lordship in the company of royalty, pictures of his Lordship shooting, fishing, in full hunting dress on horseback with a pack of hounds.

There were large comfortable leather armchairs, low tables as well as the large desk behind which Hugo Montagu leaned back in a large swivel chair of buttoned leather. The aroma of cigar smoke hung heavy in the air – Montagu was puffing at a large Havana as he stood to greet me.

The desk was littered with papers, ashtray, a decanter and a couple of snifters generously filled with cognac. On the wall behind him hung a large portrait of my host, dressed in his ermine robes wearing his coronet. Black hair, bushy beard, penetrating blue eyes.

A link in the long chain of Montagues stretching back into the mists of time.

Elsewhere there were large stuffed salmon in frames hung on the wall, a couple of photographs of this house and another one I didn’t recognise.

In a silver frame on the side table next to the armchair I now occupied was a photograph of Kieran. In black and white, it looked to have been taken relatively recently and I was struck yet again by the boy’s extraordinary beauty – and I felt an involuntary stirring of my loins.

Montagu came round the large desk with the cut-crystal glasses and offered me one, which I took somewhat reluctantly. I needed to keep a clear head for what I needed to do and yet again, it came as no surprise to me that Montagu hadn’t asked me if I wanted a drink, he just assumed that if he thought that I wanted one, then I did want one – I  had no say in the matter.

I placed the well-filled glass on the low side table by my chair, resolving not to touch a drop, however good it might be.

“Let’s have a look at your efforts then, Taylor” he said in his usual patronising way as he handed me my drink. I opened my sketchpad and gave it to him to look at. Montagu moved over to the window in order to get a better look. He studied the picture for a good long while.

I waited in my chair – memories of waiting in the Headmaster’s study at school suddenly coming back to me. Would I be congratulated or chastised? I felt like an eleven-year-old all over again.

I shook the thought from me. Frankly, I didn’t really give a toss what the man thought. He had asked me for a picture of his son and I had done one. A bloody good one, even if I say so myself. I recalled it was Montagu who had asked me to come down to Harlescombe Hall and not the other way round. Josh had said the Earl knew and admired my work, so I really didn’t need to feel like a naughty schoolboy!

Montague tore the page out of my sketchpad and after another intent look at it, placed it on his desk. He returned the rest of my pad to me. “Nice work, Taylor! The boy looks a bit peaky, though. When you do the oil-painting, you’ll need to capture that … how shall I put it? That inner glow. Catch my drift?” He stared at me, like a poker player trying to read a tell on an opponent’s face. I kept my expression as blank as I could.

If by inner glow he meant that I had to emulate those other portraits with their dead eyes and overtones of homoerotic titillation, then I would have to disappoint the man. However, now was not the time to reject his offer, I didn’t want to cause any ripples or raise any suspicion that I had any inkling of what might cause that so-called inner glow.

Again, Montagu had assumed I would accept his commission. He had used when and not if. The arrogance of the man was stupefying! I felt suddenly nauseous in this hot, rather stuffy room, with the Earl´s cigar giving off such pungent fumes. I both needed fresh air and to get somewhere private. I somehow gave a non-committal answer which might be taken as a ‘yes’ before I stood up and excused myself, using the fading light as an excuse.

“I saw a good view of the house earlier on which I want to get on paper, if you’ll excuse me,” I said.

Montagu seemed a bit miffed at my sudden departure. He merely said, “We’ll be having dinner at eight, drinks half an hour before. No need to dress up, old man! Just friends of the family.”

Inner fucking glow! If that’s what he thought he saw in those pictures, knowing that all those poor boys had been raped, abused, sodomised, and God only knew, then what inner glow? In that moment, as I left the study, I could have cheerfully strangled that man. I was determined that Kieran should not undergo anything at all to do with fucking ‘Inner glows’!

Ambrose was still hanging about in the hall. Eavesdropping? I didn’t know and I didn’t care. If that’s how he earned his salary, it wasn’t my business.

“Just going out to get some sketches,” I said, irrationally feeling the need to justify myself to the man. “Need to hurry. Light!”

The butler helped me into my overcoat and I was out of that house as fast as I could. I walked down the slope, across the small bridge across the moat and on to the lane above the home field. I walked a couple of hundred yards until the trees obscured the house from view before I fished my mobile ‘phone out of my pocket and made a couple of calls.

After I had finished, I did actually do some more sketches of the house and grounds, as I had said I would. I also took some more photographs for later – if indeed the project ever got off the ground. I wondered if my impending intervention in events would mean that the Earl would declare me persona non grata and withdraw his commissions. What the hell? I didn’t care. It wasn’t as though I needed the money.

It was getting decidedly gloomy. I looked at my watch; it was already nearly five. Now it was just a question of waiting for the events that I had set in motion to evolve.

Not for the first time, I hoped and prayed I was doing the right thing and that I hadn’t got the wrong end of the stick. My primary concern must be for Kieran and if I had any reason to believe that he was in danger, then I had to act, it was as simple as that.

If, however, nothing more sinister than a scratch with a swordblade was in store for the lad, then I would just be regarded as a hysterical busybody and no damage done, except maybe to my pride – but my pride wasn’t the issue here.

Even though I had no solid proof of what, deep inside myself, I knew was planned for Kieran, the events I had experienced this week proved to me that I must be right and although I had no way of proving anything, my duty was to bring my suspicions to light. This I had done and now matters were, effectively out of my hands – almost, but not quite.

For now, though, I could do nothing but wait.

All the while that I had been thinking, I had walked aimlessly, only vaguely aware of where I was going. I now looked around me to get my bearings.

I was in a copse of ash, elm and birch. Although bare of leaves, it was distinctly dark under the trees. Dark and deathly quiet. No wind stirred the branches above me and a thick carpet of dead leaves deadened my footsteps. There was an earthy, musty smell, mingled with a faint aroma of burning leaves, carried in the still air from some farm nearby, I supposed.

For no reason, I was reminded of my experience in the bookshop from a week ago. There seemed to me to be the same atmosphere – a feeling of time standing still; an expectancy all around as if everything was holding its breath. I found that even my breathing was shallow and I slowed to a halt, taking in the suddenly mysterious atmosphere which surrounded me and listening intently, for what, I had no idea.

My senses alert, I was aware of every minute sound; the beat of a raven’s wings as it flew somewhere overhead, the far distant bleat of a sheep or the maudlin lowing of a cow. I was startled by the sudden excited chirping of a bird as it took off from a bush close by, the whirring of its tiny wings like a Lilliputian machine gun. Somewhere in the thick undergrowth, I heard tiny rustlings; a mole or maybe a hedgehog, hidden in the gathering gloom, on a lonely exploration for food.

Then, I was aware of the sound of a larger animal, snuffling not far away, moving, it seemed to me, quickly yet almost silently from place to place in the bushy undergrowth. Still hidden from view, the creature sounded sometimes very close and then further away; that same snuffling, scratching sound, over and over again. I felt the hackles on the back of my neck rising and a cold, clammy sweat break out all over me.

I stood as still and as silent as I could, hoping that whatever it was would move on. The sound was too loud for a mouse or hedgehog, to quiet for a deer. Maybe it was foxes, or badgers, drawn by the early November dusk to venture out from their sett. It was getting darker in the wood and I strained my eyes, trying to see what might be making the sounds.

I was just about to turn back when all at once, came a loud rustling sound of an animal breaking through the undergrowth, branches snapping, dried leaves rustling. And the sound came from two sides at once, converging on me. I heard the heavy panting breath of something getting closer and closer… until the two Montagu family dogs bounded into view, all tongues and tails and excited yelping. They weren’t attacking me, just curious to see what foreign creature was in their neck of the woods. I felt like a fool for being scared a moment ago.

They were followed almost immediately by Lady Pevensey; headscarf, Barbour and wellington-booted, with a shepherd’s crook topped by a bone and silver handle. She was as surprised to see me as I her.

I immediately began a profuse apology, feeling perhaps, that I was trespassing, but she waved my stammered apology aside.

“One of my favourite spots on the estate,” she said, indicating the trees around us. The dogs went off, snuffling at the ground, eagerly following this scent or the other.

“I often come here to think,” Phyllida Montagu went on, “it’s one of the few places I can be alone…”

I started to apolgise again.

“Oh, sorry,” she said with a slight rueful smile, “I’ve put my foot in it again! I didn’t mean to offend…”

This time it was my turn to dismiss her apology; “No offence,” I replied.

“It’s lovely here, any time of the year,” she took a deep breath. “Can you smell that woodsmoke?”

I said I could.

“Do you know that fire is probably at least three miles away? The air is so still this coombe has its own microclimate. There might be gales, rain, even snow up on the tops, but down here it’s very sheltered. I come here all year round; spring with the carpets of bluebells, summer’s leaves, the ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’ of autumn and in winter, after a fresh fall of snow, it’s a wonderland! I think of it as my Narnia! Is that not foolish for a grown woman?”

I demurred – she was not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, I thought rather ungenerously. I caught myself up; I shouldn’t hold it against her for having a bit of make-believe, seeing how she had to live with that brute of a husband.

But all I said was, “No, not at all. It’s necessary to have a place to oneself. I’m so sorry to have intruded… ”

I made as if to leave, but she laid a hand on my arm and stopped me. I was surprised by this informal, almost intimate contact and turned to face her. She looked serious and I could see a look of weariness, almost pain behind her eyes. At lunch she had seemed the vacuous aristocrat, with no thoughts of anything except perhaps the local W.I. or summer fetes but in her look now, here in this darkening wood, she looked older and sadder.

“How did the sitting go? Did Kieran behave himself?”

“It went very well. He was an exceptionally good sitter,” I replied, truthfully, wondering what prompted her to ask.

“I look forward to seeing your picture,” she replied.  I nodded my thanks. There was a short silence, as if she were making up her mind about something.

Her next question surprised me.

“Tell me, Mr Taylor, what do you think of those pictures in the Long Gallery?”

She paused and fixed me with an intense, questioning stare.

“What do you really think of them?”

Suddenly, I felt that this woman was not as foolish as she made herself out to be. I realised the charade she had played out at lunch had been for my benefit; the chatelaine, hiding her true feelings, pretending to be the air-headed, obedient wife of the Master of the House.

In that moment, I realised that maybe Lady Pevensey was not all she appeared – she probably knew more than I had at first thought. I saw both a shrewdness and a pleading in that look. I knew that I would have to be honest with her – give her my real opinion and not say something that I might think she would want to hear.

When I had finished, she again took my arm, but her grip was firm, her fingers tightly wrapped around my wrist.

“Thank you, Mr Taylor, for being so honest with me.” She paused before continuing with a vehemence which took me by surprise.

“I hate those bloody pornographic pictures!” She exclaimed. Those poor boys! Every single one of them! Those pictures are disgusting! I can’t go into that bloody room – poor Kieran…”

She broke off. I knew then, that she must have an idea what those portraits represented. Perhaps not everything, but she had seen the meaning behind the images, the boys’ loss of innocence, their degradation and suffering.

She changed the subject again, her voice calmer, yet with a steely edge; “Did Kieran say anything … about his coming-of-age? Does he know anything…?”

There was no recourse but to ask her what she knew. She knew everything.

“I’ve seen some of the eighth earl’s writings,” she said in a simple, matter-of-fact voice. “He wrote a lot down … poor man! Not only losing a wife and child, but having to remarry, go through the whole produce-a-male-heir thing just to keep that bloody family line going! It should have died out! It’s wicked! Twisted! Poor Henry! All he wanted was his books and his private life – I feel so sorry for him! He could have ended the Pevensey line, but he didn’t; the pressures were too great, I suppose. No wonder he disappeared into a monastery after his second son came of age … “

She paused, a look of disgust briefly crossing her features.

When she spoke again, her voice was quiet, almost wistful;

“He lived to be a very old man, you know, locked up behind the monastery walls for another fifty years! His son, of course, carried on that loathsome, perverted tradition! And now Hugo … Kieran… it doesn’t bear thinking about!”

She had raised her voice and her last sentence echoed through the silent wood. Somewhere overhead, a pigeon flapped out of the trees, cooing noisily.

She paused and took a couple of deep breaths, trying to calm herself and then repeated her question. “Does Kieran know…?

“Yes,” I replied. There was no way of making the answer any easier for her, so I opted for a simple answer.  She seemed to visibly recoil.

“I’m bloody not going to stand by and let this happen to my son!…”

I then told her about my ‘phone calls from earlier on.

“I’ll help you,” I said. “This ends here!”

Phyllida, Lady Pevensey, daughter of the Duke of Ballygowan, the epitome of the stiff upper lip way of thinking which has been drummed since time immemorial into the English aristocracy suddenly and totally unexpectedly collapsed into my arms, weeping: the second member of that family I had found myself comforting in one day.

“This won’t happen,” I said to her, softly as she gave vent to her pent up emotions. “This tradition will die out today and never be revived!”

After she had gathered herself, I outlined my plans and found that Phyllida was pragmatic and practical. Between us, I thought, it would be possible to save the boy from his forthcoming humiliation.

As we walked back to the house, we both felt determined and confident. We would succeed.

 

TWENTY-FIVE
(SUNDAY EVENING – DINNER)

By the time we got back to the house, it was quite dark and had suddenly got very cold.

“There’ll be a frost tonight,” observed Phyllida as she ushered me and the dogs into the welcome warmth and brightness of the house. Ambrose was, unsurprisingly, waiting for us in the hall. The man seems to always be around, I thought as he efficiently divested us of our coats.

“Come into the drawing-room for a warming drink,” suggested Lady Pevensey. I saw Ambrose’s frankly curious stare and felt his eyes boring into my back as I followed my hostess into the room where a fire was roaring in the grate.

Dismissing Ambrose, who had followed us in, she poured the drinks herself, offering me a generous whisky and having a schooner of sherry for herself. We sat down on either side of the fire and my eyes were drawn to the Pevensey sword, back in its place on the wall. Following my gaze, Phyllida shuddered.

“Sometimes men are so cruel and thoughtless…” she began and then, realising what she had just said, began to apologise, “There I go again! Putting my big foot in it! Present company accepted of course!”

“No, I agree with you,” I replied. “I think the world would be a much better place if women ran things. There would be no war, no naked ambition, no greed, poverty or exploitation. I quite agree; men are brutes!”

She gave me a speculative look, before slowly nodding her head. I got the feeling that she had seen right through me – perhaps I had given too much away? I had the impression she had had her suspicions about my sexual orientation confirmed. Well, if she had, then it was too late for me to do anything about it. I wondered if she thought I might be another threat to her son, in which case, I would have by now completely lost her trust, I was sure.

She seemed to either ignore what I had just said or perhaps she decided that what kind of person I was didn’t matter and that I wasn’t a threat to her son.

Instead, she raised her head and looked over at the closed door through which Ambrose had lately disappeared. In a low voice, she said; “I don’t trust that man. He’s too thick with the Earl. He’s been with the family since he was a boy, he and the Earl were boyhood chums. His father was butler before him. I sometimes think there have been Ambroses at this house almost as long as Pevenseys!”

I held my tongue. I did not feel it would be wise to mention the monk, Ambrosius whom I had read about in the third earl’s account in the small book. The story which, if we did not intervene, would soon repeat itself.

“Cheers,” said Phyllida, raising her glass, after which she added in a lower voice, “let’s hope we succeed tonight.”

“Cheers,” I replied in my normal voice, for the benefit of anyone who might possibly be listening at the door.

So, whatever Phyllida, Lady Pevensey thought of me, we were still, it seemed, co-conspirators and I was greatly relieved.

We stayed for another twenty minutes or so, chatting about this and that, before I excused myself. “I think I need to make myself look presentable for dinner,” I said as we stood. She tugged the bell-rope.

“You know it isn’t a bit formal, Peter … I may call you Peter? …  It’s just a couple of old friends of the family; a dull bishop and an even duller solicitor! Kieran’s confirmation is coming up and when he turns fourteen, he has to take on certain responsibilities…”

Just for  the briefest of  moments, her voice wavered and her poise became unfocused before she straightened up and looking me straight in the eye, continued; “… there are certain duties he will assume.”

This little speech, I guessed, was for the benefit of Ambrose, who had materialised at the door.

“Would you show our guest to his room, Ambrose?”

Turning to me she added, with a gentle smile, “see you back here at seven-thirty, Peter.”

As I followed Ambrose to my room, I concentrated hard on the route. I made mental notes of landmarks on the way; a picture on the wall, a piece of statuary, the names on the doors. I would need to know my way about later on.

Ambrose was silent, in fact I fancied I could feel a coolness, bordering on resentment emanating from the tall, slim body as he led me through the house. Perhaps he had detected a conspiratorial air between me and Phyllida?

When we reached my room, he spoke for the first time;

“Perhaps Sir is becoming familiar with the layout of the house? Will Sir need to be guided back down for dinner?” There was a supercilious air about him, almost condescending as if he had no doubt that I would get lost and would have to rely on his services to guide me back downstairs.

I kept as calm as I could as I replied, “No need, Ambrose. I’ve been dropping breadcrumbs along the way. I’ll just follow their trail.”

Ambrose even gave a quick glance at the floor of the passage, before he visibly bristled, realising I had been making a joke.

“Very good, Sir,” was all he managed, his voice cold his eyes flashing.

Without another word, he turned and walked back the way we had come. A petty triumph, I know, but I was exhilarated by it. I closed the door behind me and made for the bathroom.

After my encounter with the somewhat eccentric vagaries of old english plumbing – requiring a delicate balancing act between hot and cold water taps finally producing a tepid bath, I unpacked my few clothes and decided that I needed to try and snatch forty winks; it had been a long day and I needed to be fresh for the evening. It was about quarter past six, so I had a bit of time. I set my mobile ‘phone’s alarm and lay back on the surprisingly comfortable bed and closed my eyes.

I was in that no-man’s-land between sleeping and waking; jumbled images crowded through my semi-conscious state; a greyhound speeding through a field, panting, its tongue lolling out, fixed, panic-stricken eyes; broadsword; the boys from the portraits downstairs; scenes of mysterious half-recognised figures, menacingly surrounding me, gripping me with a fear and an almost physical foreboding; voices murmuring; rough hands all over my body.

Suddenly I felt as if the hands were holding me down, a sharp pain in my chest, as if I had been stabbed: My perspective changed and I was now an observer. A naked boy shackled to a wooden frame, forcing him into a position of subservience, pale buttocks lit by flickering torchlight.

A large, powerful bearded man shed a cloak to reveal his state of engorged arousal, a rampant penis slick with oil, copious amounts of precum leaking down the nine-inch shaft as thick as the boy’s wrist.

The wild-haired man approached the helpless boy and forcefully began to thrust his massive organ into the trembling youth’s anus. The boy’s screams were muffled by a gag in his mouth; his eyes wild and weeping as, without mercy, the older man rammed his member home – back and forth, pounding the helpless boy’s body. With a great roar, the man reached a shuddering climax, his great meaty hands gripping the boy’s slim waist. The boy’s anus stretched wide by the invading iron-hard cock.

I saw blood running down the boy’s legs as the man finally withdrew his invading tool and now, mixed with blood, the man’s ejaculate gushed from the weeping boy’s ravaged posterior.

The shackles were removed and the poor abused boy collapsed to the floor, choking as he tried feebly to remove the ball of cloth in his mouth. Finally succeeding, he gave a loud, heartrending scream while the older man stood back, his leaking cock still hard.

Laughing, he took a goblet and tugging at his hair, forced the boy’s head back and poured the contents of the silver cup down the sobbing boy’s throat. The lad immediately vomited and his bowels gave way. The man released the boy’s head allowing it to crash on to the floor, knocking him out.

The man looked for a moment at the unconscious figure with a look of absolute contempt, before he left the room leaving the now silent, ravaged boy alone on the cold stone floor.

I sat up suddenly and found myself in bed, in my room, my body covered in sweat and a foul taste in my mouth. It took a few moments for me to realise where I was as the dream, or vision, faded.

The book was in my hand; it was open and written there, in large letters were three words:

go to him

I needed no further urging. The book didn’t need to tell whom to go to. Hastily dressing and with a feeling of foreboding, I left my room and knocked on the door of the room next to mine; Galahad, Kieran’s room.

There was no answer. Not even waiting to receive a response, I opened the door and went in.

In that first quick glance, frozen like a tableau, I took in the knotted sheets tied to the leg of a heavy desk, Kieran, wearing a duffle coat, standing by the open window, a rucksack in his hands which he appeared to be about to throw through the window.

The teen’s pale face whipped round to meet my eye as I burst through the door. In that moment, it seemed like a scene from a Boys’ Own annual – knotted sheets as our hero escapes from the dorm, but I knew this was no fictional adventure.

Kieran’s wild eyes and panic-stricken look convinced me in a moment that this was a desperate act by a boy who felt he had no other recourse.

I found my voice. “Stop, Kieran! Stop right now!”

I crossed the room in a rush, reaching out to grab the rucksack before it was hurled from the window. I felt the blast of cold air hit me as I took it from Kieran’s unresisting grasp. Letting it fall to the ground at our feet, I drew the boy to me, away from the window. It was like dragging a dead weight. Kieran made no pretense at resistance, allowing me to pull him into the room and sit him down on the unmade, disheveled bed. He sat there, head bowed, like a man condemned, as I pulled up the knotted sheets and closed the window.

“That’s not the way, Kieran,” I said as gently as I could, perching on the bed next to him. “You wouldn’t get very far on your own, now would you?”

The boy sat motionless, no expression on his white face. A teardrop coursed down his cheek, unchecked.

“Kieran, your mother and I…”

I felt the boy go tense, clenching his fists in his lap. I plunged on, I had to let him know.

“Kieran, your mother knows about what is happening here and she is on your side! She’s been too frightened until now, bullied by your father, but now she’s determined … she’s on our side, Kieran, you have to believe me!”

For a few moments, I thought the boy hadn’t heard me, his face showed no expression until, finally, he very slowly turned to look at me, his eyes glittering.

“She … knows? But how? …Why hasn’t she?…” he broke off as more tears flowed.

“Like I said, Kieran, she’s been too frightened. But she and I have a plan. Now, we have to be quick. I need some information from you.”

We spoke for a few minutes, Kieran answering my questions and I his. The plan that Phyllida and I had formulated was by no means foolproof, but it was the best option we had.

Even as the boy and I were speaking, I knew that help was on its way. I looked at my watch; it was nearly time for us to be downstairs for pre-dinner drinks. It was vital, I told the boy, that we acted perfectly normally and gave no hint at all that we were about to do anything out of the ordinary.

“Kieran, is there another way downstairs, one that Ambrose wouldn’t expect us to go?”

The boy nodded, “there is another staircase at the other end of the wing, it goes down on the other side of the library. Ambrose has no reason to suspect that you know about it and it’s a slightly longer route, so he wouldn’t go that way. Why?”

“I need to use one of the field telephones,” I said, “and use it as a way of getting Ambrose up here, while we go the other way. Your mother is expecting us in the drawing room.”

“Okay,” replied the teen.

Kieran divested himself of his duffle coat. Underneath, he was wearing thick outdoor clothes, an Arran sweater and heavy corduroy trousers.

“You need to change into something more suitable,” I said. Without hesitation and with no sign of embarrassment or unease, the boy stripped down to his underwear. I took in the perfectly formed adolescent’s body; narrow waist, slim hips and tantalising bulge in his white briefs. As he turned to the wardrobe for a change of clothing, I admired his beautiful, rounded buttocks, the globes of flesh filling the briefs very nicely. Milky thighs and slender calves ended in surprisingly long-toed feet.

Quickly Kieran dressed himself, the boy’s deliciously sexy body hidden once more from view. If he suspected that I was perving him, he gave no clue and I tried to keep my expression as neutral as possible. The last thing he needed just now was feeling threatened by yet another older male.

“Now, we have to make your room look normal. We don’t want to arouse any suspicion.”

Kieran and I made quick work of untying the sheets and remaking the boy’s bed. After straightening things up a bit – though not too much, we were ready to go.

As we left, I took the key and locked the room from the outside, pocketing the key.

“It might just give us that bit more time,” I said. “We can take the rucksack and hide it in the cloakroom,” I added, my voice now a whisper. The timing now was crucial and I was getting very nervous.

“I’ll be two seconds,” I and went into my room and hurriedly threw my stuff into my case. I had briefly considered leaving it behind, but decided it was best to take it all with me.

“Now, we need to get to a strategic place where I can call Ambrose and then we can quickly make ourselves scarce!”

Kieran nodded and I followed the quickly-moving boy as he led me through the twists and turns of the confusing house. At a point where two corridors met at rightangles, he stopped by one of the field telephones.

“Tell Ambrose you’re outside William,” he said. “It’s right at the other end of the corridor. He’ll have to come and find you, it’s too complicated to give directions.”

I hoped that was true. For our plan to work, it was vital that Ambrose came in search of me.

I lifted the heavy receiver from its cradle and turned the handle on the side of the phone.

After a few, tense seconds, a voice, faint through the crackling connection answered. It was Ambrose.

“Ambrose, I’m so terribly sorry to be a nuisance. I thought I had memorised the way, but it seems that I have managed to get myself lost.” I hoped my voice sounded convincing. To me, I sounded nervous and so obviously lying, but the reply came back, smooth and condescending as ever;

“May I ask where you are, sir? What is the name of the nearest room to you?”

William,” I lied, glancing at Kieran, hoping that the man would take the bait.

There was silence at the other end for a few seconds before Ambrose’s slightly irritated voice replied, “Very well, Sir. I shall be with you shortly, though how you got yourself to William…

“Thank you so much, Ambrose. I’m so sorry to cause such inconvenience..” my voice as ingratiating as I could make it. Before he could say anything further, I hung up and Kieran and I made our way as quickly as we could; more stairs, corridors, sharp turns, until we ended up at a door, which when opened, found us in the Library.

Kieran went ahead and inched open the door into the entrance hall. After a second, he beckoned to me to follow him and we hastily put our bags behind the door in the cloakroom by the front door. I quickly checked the front door – it was not locked.

We looked at each other. I could see the anxious look in Kieran’s eyes – he was nervous, like a colt. I too felt uneasy.

The whole plan depended on timing and things happening in the right order. I checked my mobile ‘phone. It was switched to ‘silent’.

“Okay, my boy,” I said, “You ready for this?”

Kieran nodded, his chin jutted forward in a determined way. He was pale, but otherwise looked as he usually did. I gave him a quick pat on the back and whispered to him: “okay, let’s do it. Act normal!”

Together, we entered the drawing room.

The guests had arrived. Hugo Montagu took charge and introduced me to an elderly gentleman with purple shirt and dog-collar, a large, ornate cross hanging about his neck. “His grace the Bishop of Chichester,” I shook hands with the man who fixed me with pale, watery eyes.

“You’ll have to speak up young man. My hearing’s not as it was!”

The other stranger was introduced to me as Sir James Blunt, whose family had been solicitors to the Earls of Pevensey for at least three generations. He certainly looked well on it; a very fat man, with a florid complexion and wild white hair. He wore a monocle and I noticed the little finger of his right hand was missing as we shook hands.

I glanced over at Phyllida. She looked calm and composed and gave me an almost imperceptible smile. Kieran, I was glad to see, went over and stood close to his mother. After having almost completely ignoring her at lunch, it was obvious to me that what I had told him had registered and knowing that she knew and was on his side, he felt he could trust her. Hugo, I’m certain didn’t even register the subtle change in the relationship between his son and his mother.

“What’ll it be, Taylor?”

I asked for and was given a single malt and the next twenty minutes were spent in small-talk.

At one point, Ambrose came into the room, obviously a little uneasy. When he caught sight of me, a look of anger crossed his face for an instant, which he hurried to conceal. “I’m terribly sorry, Sir,” he was addressing his employer, “I was under the impression that Mr Taylor here was lost, but now I see that he is found.”

“Yes, Ambrose,” I interrupted Hugo, “I am so sorry about that, but I was lucky enough to bump into Kieran and he showed me the way down.”

Ambrose gave Kieran a suspicious glance before recovering himself. “Well, all’s well that ends well!” I could see that he plainly didn’t mean what he said. He then turned to Lady Pevensey, “Dinner will be in five minutes, M’Lady.”

“Thank you Ambrose.” Phyllida then turned back to her son and resumed her quiet conversation with him.

After another almost venomous look in my direction, Ambrose turned and left the room.

“Absolute rabbit’s warren, this house!” boomed Sir James. “Damned good idea those field telephones, Hugo! Old Ambrose saved my bacon on more than one occasion when I was a lad! Your father hated one being late for dinner! Ruined his appetite he’d say!”

We finished our drinks and Phyllida led us into dinner.

The room was lit only by the candles on the table and a large fire burning in the ornate fireplace.

The table, I noticed, was set for seven; gleaming silverware and crystal, the firelight flickering over the gold-edged porcelain of the dinner-service. Each item of china bore the Pevensey crest in gold and the silverware, too, was similarly marked.

One unusual aspect of the scene, something which gave it an air of unreality, almost theatrical in its incongruity was the fact that the Great Pevensey Sword lay down the centre of the table, its hilt towards Hugo’s chair, the naked blade gleaming dully in the candlelight.

Hugo Montagu placed the Bishop to his right and Sir James to his left. Phyllida sat between me and the Bishop and Kieran was opposite, next to the lawyer.

There was one further place setting, which constituted the second unusual aspect; for it was down at the opposite end of the table to Hugo, at least twelve feet away. I wondered who the seventh guest was and why the odd placement.

I gave Kieran a glance. He looked nervous. I could see him eyeing the sword with some apprehension. As we were sitting down, Phyllida spoke. “Do we have to have that barbaric thing on the dining-table, Hugo? It gives me the creeps, wondering how many poor souls have met their deaths with that thing! Too gruesome!”

Hugo, with his usual condescending sneer replied; “It’s tradition, my dear.”

He carried on in a declamatory voice, obviously quoting:

The last Sunday before the eldest son’s coming-of-age, the Great Sword is to be placed, unsheathed upon the Board. There shall be gathered together Seven persons; the Lord Pevensey, his Consort, a Bishop, a Lawyer, an Artisan, a Servant and the Boy who Must Become a Man. They shall eat meat together and make a Toast to their Sovereign Lord, whereupon the Boy shall kiss the Sword which will be blest by the Bishop.’

So, I had been invited to fill the position of Artisan.

No prizes for guessing who filled the place of Servant; Ambrose entered the room, took his place at the end of the table after which came a line of waiters, who quickly, quietly and efficiently served the meal.

Ambrose’s presence at the meal would make my plan that much easier to execute. As much as I was beginning to hate the sight of the man, I was glad of him there at the table with us.

The food and wines were all excellent. Although nervous, I did my best to eat as little food as I could, without appearing rude. However, I kept my consumption of alcohol down.

Kieran, I noticed, was toying with his food. I saw him catch his mother’s eye and she made a sign to him to eat up – it would not be a good idea to arouse suspicion.

All through the meal, I felt rather than saw, Ambrose’s malevolent presence at the end of the table. I got the feeling that he was observing us all closely, I don’t know why I had that impression, possibly because we were about to do what we were going to do, but I must say, I felt more than a little paranoid during that meal.

For his part, he was totally ignored throughout the meal, although enjoying exactly the same food and drink as we. More tradition, it’s beginning to feel like bloody Gormenghast! I thought to myself.

Hugo Montagu kept the conversation going throughout the meal. He was obviously a man who enjoyed the sound of his own voice and his stories, mostly about himself, or one or other of his illustrious ancestors, went on and on as the meal progressed. He was drinking heavily. Obviously, his guests were used to this behaviour and made only polite noises as our host, getting progressively louder, regaled us with story upon story.

Finally, the plates were cleared away and a very fine vintage champagne was served.

Hugo got rather unsteadily to his feet. Swaying slightly, his expression slightly glazed and voice rather louder than it needed to be, he looked over his guests and then at his son.

“Kieran, my boy! This dinner will be the last Sunday meal you will eat as a boy. Next Sunday, you will be a man! That is why, it has been a tradition in this family…” here Phyllida Montagu coughed loudly into her napkin.

Whether it was a genuine cough or she couldn’t contain herself, I couldn’t tell.

Her husband fixed her with a belligerent stare. “I hope you are not catching a cold, my dear,” he said, obviously angry at having been interrupted in full flow.

He stared at his wife for a few moments more before he resumed his speech.

“As I was saying, it has been a tradition in the Pevensey family, for the Boy to acknowledge the Sword which will be used in the ceremony. The eldest son will pledge fealty to his Lord and Master and do homage to the Great Sword and forgive it for the wound that it must incur upon him.”

Hugo paused for dramatic effect.

“Kieran, come here boy!”

Kieran rose from his chair and walked around to where his father stood, swaying slightly.

“Kneel, boy!”

Kieran knelt. I was reminded of the pictures in the gallery and I felt my gorge rise.

Hugo Montagu, fourteenth Earl of Pevensey, Viscount Morley, Viscount Ashworth, Baronet Harlescombe took up the Great Sword of Pevensey from where it had lain on the table throughout dinner and lowered the hilt towards the boy’s upturned face.

“Forgive the weapon for what it must do, boy! Today you kneel, tomorrow you wield”

Kieran, eyes closed, leant forward and placed his lips against the leather-bound hilt of the sword.

Other images crowded through my brain as I watched the boy’s rosy mouth meet the weapon’s prodigious handle. Yet another humiliation of the boy – albeit a surrogate ceremony for the real horrors which awaited the boy later this week.

Seeing what was now taking place, I was glad that I would be instrumental in getting this boy as far away from this lunatic father of his as I could.

I felt Phyllida stiffen beside me. She still held her napkin to her mouth, her knuckles white.

The perfunctory kiss over, Kieran turned his head, opened his eyes and looked directly at me.

Kieran kneeling. I was reminded of the pictures in the gallery; his eyes were dead and it seemed that all the hope had gone out of the boy.

The silence was broken by Hugo.

“Well done, lad! Stand up now and give your father a hug!”

Kieran stood and meekly allowed his father to take him in a bearlike embrace. Still holding the sword – point downwards and behind the boy, Hugo, obviously drunker than I had previously thought, put his other hand under his son’s chin and raising the boy’s face, kissed his son, full on the lips.

Not just a quick peck, but for a long time, his breathing heavy, his arm tight around the boys’ slim body. The scene seemed to go on for a great length of time, but maybe it was only a few seconds or so. But it most certainly wasn’t the kind of kiss a father ought to be giving his son.

A quiet cough from the other end of the table seemed to rouse the Earl. His eyes seemed for a moment not to be able to focus, before he released the boy and with a loud guffaw, raised his glass.

“To Kieran Philip John Montagu – my son, the future fifteenth Earl, who will be made a Man!”

The other guests politely raised their glasses and drank. Neither Phyllida nor I joined in the toast. I recalled the dream I had had just before dinner, before the book sent me into Kieran’s room to stop him running away. Had the boy done that, he almost certainly would have been found. I was hoping, that with his mother and me, his escape from that deranged coterie of his father and Ambrose, would be permanent.

I felt my mobile ´phone vibrating in my pocket and I surreptitiously looked at my watch; it was time.

Now I hoped Phyllida would do what we had discussed.

Hugo, by now had sat down and the Bishop was now saying something. I couldn’t focus on what it was; I had just caught Ambrose yet again staring at Kieran with such obvious lust, that it made my flesh crawl. What he and Montagu had planned for the boy didn’t bear thinking about. I desperately hoped that what would happen this evening would succeed and Kieran would be free.

“Ambrose, m’old cock!” The Earl shouted down the table after the Bishop had mumbled to a close.

“Let’s have cigars and brandy! And move up to this end of the table and join us!”

Phyllida stood. She looked pale, but determined.

“Kieran, let’s leave the men to their post-prandial.” She gave the boy and intent gaze. After a brief glance at his father, the boy nodded and rose.

“That’s right, m’dear! Take the little plover away from the bad influence of cigars and a snifter! He’ll soon acquire the taste! Won’t you m’boy?”

I felt my stomach turn at the man’s term of endearment for his son. I found myself standing too.

“If you don’t mind, Hugo, I’ll give the cigars a miss…anyway, we can’t leave Lady Pevensey alone, can we?”

Hugo’s reaction was as unexpected as it was typical. “That’s right, artist chappie! You go and sit with the good Lady Pevensey. You can talk about watercolouring.”

His crass rudeness was quite breathtaking but I was determined not to rise to the bait. I gritted my teeth and we left the room. As we passed Ambrose on our way out of the dining room, he gave me a knowing smile.

To this day, I will never know how I managed not to hit him.

The door closed behind us.

I checked my mobile phone: one message. It was what I had expected and I was greatly relieved to see it.

“Okay,” I was whispering, more from suppressed nerves than anything else; they were talking in such loud voices from the dining-room that they would never have heard anything going on outside in the hall.

“Let’s get out of here!” We went to the cloakroom and collected our bags. Phyllida had no luggage, only her handbag, but clothed herself in a massive mink coat.

She showed me a rolled-up tube of paper, which she placed in her coat-pocket.

“Your sketch of Kieran,” she explained. “It’s a wonderful likeness and when all of this is over and we’re settled, I want you to do a proper portrait, but…” she added with a fierce glint in her eye, “… nothing like that pornographic stuff in the Gallery!”

I promised I would. We were moving as quickly and quietly as we could, the sounds of drunken revelry still coming from the dining-room.

“Won’t you need any luggage?” I asked.

“I’ve got more than enough stuff at our town house,” she replied.

“But that’ll be the first place he’ll look!” I said.

“I won’t be going there,” she said, grimly. “I’ve called my sister and she’s packing up my stuff as we speak. We’ll meet at her house. She’ll put us up for a couple of days. She and her husband can keep Hugo at bay… then after that…” she shrugged, looking lost, just for a moment.

She collected herself. “After that,” she said more briskly, “Kieran and I will go to my father’s place in Ireland. It’s the one place Hugo won’t dare go. My father loathes him – and now I see why.”

A last look round, then she opened the front door and ushered us out into the night, but not before taking some keys from the hall table.

“Might slow them down a little bit,” she said, showing me a few sets of car keys. She even managed a smile.

We left the house. It was freezing cold and a chill wind blew in our faces.

The car was waiting for us beyond the turn in the drive, some fifty yards from the house. As we walked through the cold wind, we heard the loud, drunken voice of Hugo Montagu echo across the silent grounds. I am sure it wasn’t just the cold which made Kieran shudder.

We reached the car; a silver Mercedes – the same one I had used just the other day, I noted. At the wheel, as planned, sat Simon Stafford-Jones.

We piled into the car and drove away into the night.

It was a quiet group of people who sat in the car, driving away from Harlsecombe Hall.

Simon, even though he didn’t fully understand exactly what was going on, hadn’t hesitated for a second when I ‘phoned him earlier to ask him this favour. I knew I owed him an explanation and said I would fill him in after we had driven Phyllida and a by now dozing Kieran to Phyllida’s sister, who lived, as it turned out, not so very far from Simon.

As she and her son left the car, Phyllida spoke. “Thank you so much, Peter for all you have done. You’ll never know…” she couldn’t finish the sentence.

“I’m only glad I was able to do something,” I replied, as Lady Pevensey pecked me on the cheek.  “You will let me know … how you get on?” I said.

“Of course! I do hope that we are going to become very good friends!” She turned to her son, who looked tired and somewhat downcast.

“Don’t worry, Kieran,” I said, “things will be fine. She’s a strong woman, your mother. She’ll protect you!” I felt Phyllida’s warm expression and I found myself, inexplicably, blushing.

Kieran took my proffered hand and then, without warning, threw his arms around me and hugged me tight.

“Thank you Peter! Thank you for saving me…”

I squeezed the young teen’s slim body, murmuring gently into the top of his head, feeling his silky hair against my face, inhaling the scent of boy…

“I mean it, Peter,” said Phyllida, as Kieran finally released me from his hug. “We shall keep in touch. You can be Kieran’s honorary godfather!”

Our goodbyes over, Simon Stafford-Jones drove me home. I was exhausted.

“Perhaps I can explain everything tomorrow, Simon,” I said. “I’ve just about had it for today! Thank you for everything…”

“My pleasure, Peter. I’m glad I could be of help. Give me a ring tomorrow, alright? You need some sleep, young man!”

I let myself in to the dark, empty house. Standing for a moment in the hall, I paused to reflect that it had only been one short week since the book had come into my possession – but what a week it had been!

I trudged wearily upstairs.

Not bothering to unpack or even brush my teeth, I undressed and flung myself into bed and slept for fourteen hours.

 

TWENTY SIX
(MONDAY)

I surfaced again at about two o’clock. As my brain began to come back to life, I lay in bed, the events of the week replaying themselves in my head. The stories of the poor unfortunate boys echoed through my consciousness.

Poor Will Fremantle’s sad story and tragic diary. Stanhope Robertson’s malevolent, tangibly evil presence; I hoped he would get his just deserts.

Montagu’s and Ambrose’s sick perverted plans for Kieran.

James.

I didn’t even try to stop the tears.

The week had been a roller-coaster ride. Even after all that sleep, I still felt drained, emotionally and physically.

All those poor boys! And how many other stories, the same or, God forbid, even worse, could be awaiting me in that little brown book?

Part of me wished I had never seen that damned thing, while another part of me was glad that I had been able to do something positive, something to help. Hopefully, through me, Will wouldn’t have died in vain; Kieran wouldn’t suffer at the hands of his psychopath of a father. At least I had done something for them.

I needed closure for James and I knew what I would do for him.

How many more sad stories would I be subjected to? What had the man in the bookshop said? The book had ‘chosen’ me – maybe it had chosen me for this task and now my task was done. I had no idea. All I knew was that if I was presented with another story, then I would not be able to ignore it and I would have to try and do what I could to right the wrongs inflicted on those poor unfortunates whose stories were presented to me. Was that what the rest of my life was going to be about? I had no idea. I would have to take each day as it came.

As I lay under the warm duvet, my thoughts turned to Lars and how our relationship – if there was a relationship – would pan out. I realised I was falling very seriously for the boy and wondered, not for the first time, what he really thought of me. Was there a basis for a more permanent relationship? Was Lars ready for it? Come to that, was I?

I guiltily thought of Jeremy, whom I realised I had only spoken to once in a whole week. I knew that I would have to resolve those issues.

It had to be admitted that our relationship had been flagging for the past couple of months. It was good that we were apart, so far from each other. We both needed the space to think things through. I knew that, sooner rather than later, I would need that ‘Dear John’ chat with Jeremy. The question was, who would end it? Jeremy or I? I didn’t know.

One thing I did know and that was I needed very urgently to pee. I climbed out of bed and after relieving myself, took a long, hot shower, after which a couple of very strong espressos and I felt I was almost able to face the world.

With a slight feeling of foreboding, I turned on my ‘phone. Missed calls: it seemed like dozens, but were in fact about eight or nine. Voice-mails and a couple of text messages.

Taking a deep breath, I went through them.

Hugo, shouting all kinds of threats down the line, swearing, calling me all kinds of names, accusing me of abducting his ‘son and heir’ and that I would be hearing from his lawyer.

I knew I could ignore the man’s threats. Kieran had left, voluntarily, with his mother. I just happened to be the catalyst in their escape. Montagu was just venting, picking on me.

Hugo again. This time obviously very drunk.  I must say, he chose some very inventive names for me, most of them involving either various names for fecal waste, or sexual acts with animals. Refined language for a belted Earl, a member of the British aristocracy from the upper echelons of so-called society! It just went to prove that no amount of wealth or hereditary titles could cover up the common foul-mouthed man that he obviously was.

I deleted the other two messages from that number without even bothering to listen to them.

Phyllida, again thanking me on behalf of herself and Kieran, whom, she said, had told her the evil and disgusting things he had been subjected to at his school. She emphasised the fact that Kieran had sent me ‘his love’ and heartfelt thanks and that she would very much like for us to meet again soon. She left me her number.

Lars, asking me to let him know the minute I got back, he had something to tell me. He sounded happy. I felt a lurch in my chest, not sure whether I should be happy or not.

Josh, wondering ‘what the hell I had done to upset the Earl’ and I should call him soonest.

Inspector Morrison, wondering if I could come to the police station at Paddington Green at my ‘earliest convenience’ to give my formal statement.

A woman, identifying herself as Patricia Fremantle. My breath caught in my throat. A refined, elderly-sounding voice, gentle, hesitant. I could only take in part of what she was saying:  ‘So sorry to disturb … a complete stranger … heard from an Inspector Barnes in Bournemouth … would I be so kind as to telephone her?’

She left a number.

Will Fremantle’s mother.

I stared down at my phone, lost in thought. What that poor woman must have suffered!

I punched in the number she had given me.

Hello?

“Patricia Fremantle? This is Peter Taylor speaking. I’m returning your call.”

There was a few seconds of silence at the other end. I wondered what thoughts and emotions were going through her mind.

Oh, thank you so much for getting in touch… I wasn’t sure if you would call or not… I’m so very glad you did. I just wanted to thank you for what you did. The inspector who telephoned me told me what had happened, how you tracked down that … that vile man.

Another silence. I could hear some sort of bird chirping, perhaps a canary or something.

I murmured something about only ‘doing my duty’ and that I felt I owed it to her son’s memory.

‘It was such a long time ago. I thought that what had happened to Will would go for ever unpunished. He was such a good boy… if only I had seen and understood what was going on… maybe I …’

I interrupted the soft voice. “It was not your fault, Mrs Fremantle. You couldn’t have known. Poor Will was stuck in a bad place, he felt trapped and threatened and felt he had nowhere to turn…”

‘That’s the worst of it, Peter. He should have known that I would have been there for him, that he could have talked to me. When I think of what he must have gone through…’

I thought of poor Will’s diary and what it contained. Somehow I felt that it would not be right to burden the poor old lady with evidence of her son’s suffering, but wondered how I could explain how I came to track down her son’s tormentor without having to mention Will’s testament.

She went on: ‘I guessed that there was something bad happening at the church, but I thought that perhaps he was being bullied by other boys and that it would blow over. I even spoke to the rector about it, but he and the organist both said that Will was quite happy in the choir… he had a beautiful voice, you know… I see now how desperately unhappy he was and now he’s gone…’

“I happened to meet with one of his contemporaries, Simon Stafford-Jones,” I said, embellishing the truth somewhat.

‘Yes, I remember Simon. He liked Will a lot and I recall he was a good friend to my son. He left the choir after…’ Her voice tailed off and in my mind’s eye, I pictured the poor broken body of Will Fremantle, lying at the foot of the church tower. A young life ruined and then expunged by the cruelty of the two older men, the predators who forced the young teen to do those terrible things, ending with his suicide.

We chatted some more and I asked if we might meet as there was something I wanted to discuss with her. She readily agreed and, as gently as I could, I asked where Will was buried, saying that I would like to visit his grave and meet with her to put my proposition to her.

She gave me the information I requested and we agreed to meet at the main entrance to Kensal Green Cemetery the following morning.

‘Thank you again, Peter. At last I feel I can begin to move on. Knowing that that disgusting animal is in custody, finally, seems to have made life a bit more bearable … it doesn’t get any easier, no matter how long ago it all happened … not a day goes by that I don’t think of Will and what he might have become.’

“If I may, I would like Simon to join us,” I said.

There was a short pause and for a moment, I wondered if I had done the right thing. Her voice, when she spoke again sounded slightly firmer, as if she had had to mentally steel herself to revisit her son’s youth, his closest friend, his co-victim at the hands of Robertson and Cruickshank.

‘Yes, yes, that would be apt, I think. Thank you Peter. I can hear you are a good man and it would be good to meet you. I shall see you tomorrow morning.’

We said our goodbyes and I hung up, the emotions coursing through my mind.

I had some more ‘phone calls to make. The first, to Simon and then I needed to get in touch with the current rector of St. Giles.

And then there was Lars…

Simon readily agreed to my request to accompany me to visit Will’s mother at the boy’s grave. I told him about what I wanted to do to hallow Will’s memory and I could hear the emotion in Simon’s voice when he answered.

‘That’s a wonderful idea, Peter. I’m sure Will’s mother will agree. I would like to assist in a practical way; share it with you, if I may…’

I was touched that Simon wanted to help, and was about to try an dissuade him, when I checked myself. Will had been Simon’s boyhood friend, almost his idol. They had gone through so much together at the hands of Cruickshank and Robertson and Will had been so cruelly snatched away. Who was I to deny Simon the chance to honour his friend’s memory?

Instead, I said, “Thank you Simon. That would be wonderful.”

‘I shall talk to the Rector. Leave it with me, Peter – at least for now. It’s the least I can do after all you’ve been through these past few days…’

I thanked him again and we arranged to travel together to the cemetery the following morning.

Josh was furious with me, when I called him. The Earl had obviously given him a quite different account of last night’s events.

I set the record straight. “I only happened to be there at the right time,” I said, after finally getting a word in edgeways. “It was Phyllida, Lady Montagu, who made the decision to take the boy from his father, to rescue him. I was only too glad to help. And it was a good thing too … you have no idea what that monster of a man was planning…”

‘Well, you can kiss your fee goodbye now…’

“I don’t give a toss about my fee!” I shouted down the ´phone. I knew Josh was regretting not getting his cut.

“That boy was in real, physical danger and now he’s safe,” I said. “I don’t need the money – and neither do you, Josh,” I added, rather a little spitefully.

‘Well don’t come bleating to me if Montagu accuses you of child-abduction! He was screaming blue murder down the phone.’

“Don’t worry, he won’t,” I replied grimly. “He knows that I and his wife were on to what he and his so-called butler were planning for his son’s coming of age. I tell you Josh, if anyone needs putting away, it’s those two!

‘Well, I hope you’re right, Peter.’

“I am right, Josh. Look, there’s no need for us to fall out over this. I’ll call you soon and we’ll have lunch – my treat. I’ll tell you the whole story then. Okay?”

‘Alright Peter. Talk to you soon.’

Lars.

My beautiful, sexy youth! He had sounded so upbeat on my voice-mail! The one bright light in all this sadness I had been raking over in the last few days. I checked my watch. He would still be in school, so I would have to wait until later before I could talk to him. I felt a physical aching in my loins. I really wanted that boy, needed him.

I made myself another coffee and, almost reluctantly, went in search of the little brown book, afraid of what I might find in there. I flipped through the pages. Nothing. The slightly yellowed pages stared innocently up at me.

No more secrets, no sad stories, no records of cruelty, inhumanity, depravity – for now at any rate… I found I had been holding my breath as I had gone through the book and having found nothing, breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Still too early to call Lars. I decided to fill the time by going out and doing some much needed food-shopping. At least that would keep me occupied until I reckoned Lars would be finished at school.

My route took me past St. Giles. Suddenly, I felt an urgent need to enter the church. It was as if I had lost my own free will and it felt as if some invisible force were making me move through the unlocked door. Ridiculous!

Yet what was I doing there? What could be achieved by my going into the building? Nevertheless, my feet seemed to lead me through the heavy doors and on down the wide aisle.

The building was absolutely silent in the growing November gloom. A few votive candles flickered in an iron stand standing against a side wall. As I walked through the building, I studied the few plaques which adorned the white walls. Worthy citizens, the Great and the Good, their names etched in marble and granite, dates of birth and death. A record of this fleeting life.

I came to a spot where there seemed to be a space between two memorials. The candlelight flickered in a sudden draught and it felt as if a gust of air brushed past my face. I turned around, half expecting to see that I had forgotten to close the door behind me. It was firmly shut. The candles flared up again and as I looked at the bare wall, for a brief second, I fancied I saw the image of Will, in his surplice and cassock which had been in the book.

Another draught, like a soft sigh. This is where I want to be. It was as if the words had been whispered right into my ear. Right there, Peter. My place for ever. Please…tell Mum that I’m alright. Tell her that I am at peace now. Thank you Peter… Remember me… here…

Silence. The candlelight settled down, the flames sinking low and the church grew darker.

A faint cough made me spin round, the hairs on the back of my neck tingling, my breath caught in my throat.

“Oh, I am so sorry to have startled you! It was not intended, I assure you.”

The owner of the voice was a youngish looking man with sandy hair, a nervous smile and a dog-collar under a grey suit.

“I didn’t know anyone was here,” I replied, feeling as if I had to justify my presence here, in a building, which after all, was open to the public.

“Yes, it gets quite dark in here in the winter. We try and save on electricity” the young man shrugged apologetically before advancing with his hand outstretched.

“Douglas Champneys, the new Rector of St Giles,” he said. I took the proffered hand and gave my name.

“Are you a local or just visiting?” Champneys gave me a slightly quizzical look over his tortoise-shell spectacles.

“Oh, I hope you don’t find me rude, I don’t mean to be. It’s just that I’ve only been here a few weeks and I’m sure there are a great many people I have yet to meet – and probably quite a few I have met, but forgotten; it’s been a bit of a whirlwind here the past few weeks, but I am gradually finding my feet. I’m sorry to be so inquisitive, of course it’s none of my business!”

The young man blushed to the roots of his prematurely receding sandy hair.

“Oh, no. Not rude at all, by no means!” I hastily tried to reassure the uncomfortable man who must be in his mid-thirties, I guessed.

“Actually I am a local resident – but not a regular churchgoer,” I went on, my turn to blush, as if I had made some sort of dark confession.

“No matter, no matter!” Champneys put his hands into his jacket pockets and indicated the building around us with a turn of the head.

“A fine church, this,” he said, his way of changing the subject, I suspected.

“Clean lines, not much clutter and nice proportions. But a church is just another building unless there are people to fill it,” he continued, half to himself, before realising that what he had said might be a reflection on my own admission on my lack of attendance. Again, the mild-mannered priest blushed. “Not that I mean anyone in particular,” he went on lamely, in fact compounding his unintended faux-pas.

I thought it best to try and ignore his discomfort and agreed with his observations of the architecture.

Then, before I could help myself, I continued:

“Actually, Rector, I wanted to ask your advice and, er assistance on a particular matter…”

“Please, call me Douglas,” he urged. “How can I help?”

I explained my thoughts on a memorial for Will, without giving him any specific details, just calling him ‘a friend.’ I also asked about burials within the building, whether or not it was still possible and indeed legal to inter within the church walls. I was thinking of James, if, or when, his mortal remains would be released to me.

Champneys gave me a quizzical look, his head on one side. He reminded me briefly of an owl, with his glasses seeming to magnify his large, brown eyes.

“What a strange coincidence!” He remarked. “Only a few minutes ago, I received a telephone call from someone on almost exactly the same topic!”

I guessed it must have been Simon, who had promised to set things in motion, when I spoke to him only about an hour ago. He certainly hadn’t let the grass grow under his feet!

“Perhaps you have heard about the … sad and tragic occurrences here back in the ‘sixties, concerning one of the choristers here?” I asked.

Champneys mien became serious and he nodded his head sadly.

“Yes, I have,” he replied. “The bishop told me before I took up my position here. Terrible business! So sad! And so cruel!”

He seemed to reflect for a moment, before continuing, “The bishop couldn’t tell me everything – so much was suppressed, you know and the then Rector, Dr Cruickshank, never admitted to any wrongdoing and there was no way anyone could prove anything against him. I believe the organist…”

“Stanhope Robertson,” I prompted.

“Yes, Robertson. I believe he was made to leave but even then, no charges were ever brought and I suppose he’s gone to his grave a free man.”

“No, not exactly,” I replied and told Champneys the story of mine and Simon’s confrontation with the enfeebled Robertson of a few days ago.

As the Rector listened, he grew pale and I could see he was deeply moved, either by anger or sorrow, it was hard to tell. He looked up at me, a puzzled expression on his still youthful face.

“But how did you manage to find him? I thought there had been no evidence, which is why no one was blamed?”

“I found a diary,” I replied. “Will Fremantle, that was the boy’s name, had made a diary, cataloguing the months of torment he had been subjected to by both Cruickshank and Robertson. There were photographs as well. I managed to track the organist down and now the police have arrested him.”

“And the other man who called me?”

“Simon Stafford-Jones?”

The Rector nodded.

“He was the other boy being abused. We both feel that we want to put up a memorial to Will here, in the church where he sang so beautifully. We are going to visit his mother tomorrow morning. I am sure she will give her permission. She seemed very keen on the idea when we spoke earlier.”

“I think that would be a wonderful thing to do,” replied Champneys. “But you’re not thinking of exhuming the boy and reburying him here? Didn’t you say something about an interment?”

“That’s another individual,” I replied. “The remains of a boy, James Venables, were found in the basement of my house, behind a false wall. He died in the nineteenth century. If no-one claims the remains, I have the option of interring him and I thought it would be fitting for him to be buried here, in what must have been his local parish church, although his father probably didn’t worship here… The boy was murdered by his father. Starved to death for no other reason than he had … feelings for another boy … his father was some sort of a religious zealot or fundamentalist and chose to kill the boy rather than forgive or try to understand him…So much for Christian love and charity!”

My last words came out with rather more vehemence than I intended and it seemed as if the Rector visibly reeled. However, he immediately collected himself.

“What a dreadful story! Man’s inhumanity to man! Poor child! I see no reason why he should not rest here, in the church. Of course, I would have to consult the parish council and the diocesan authorities, but I think that they will be persuaded.”

“There’s one more thing,” I said, grateful for this priest’s readiness and willingness to agree to my plan.

“A skeleton was found buried in the street at Seven Dials, probably from the seventeenth century. It appears to be that of a young boy and that, he too was murdered. We know nothing more, but the site is being investigated by Dr Towns from London University. He is of the opinion that it might have been some sort of servant who was disposed of by his master – God alone knows why. If it is possible, I think it would also be fitting that his final resting-place be here.”

Champneys looked genuinely sad. “Poor things! How much cruelty in this world! As I say, I will put your request to the relevant authorities.”

We were interrupted by someone entering the church. Champneys looked around. “Ah, my wife.” He called her over.

“Mr Taylor, may I introduce my wife Valerie.”

“Please, call me Peter,” as I shook the hand of the petite dark-haired woman, who was heavily pregnant. She had a glow and lustre about her, typical of women in her condition. Champneys had moved closer to her and was holding her about the waist, blushing slightly as he did so. The couple seemed devoted to each other, she snuggling closer to her husband and father of their imminent child.

“Parishoner?” Valerie asked brightly.

“Alas, not strictly,” I replied apologetically, “although I am a local, I’m afraid I’m not much of a churchgoer.”

“Ah well,” she replied, doing her best not to appear disappointed, or so I thought.

“There’s been an archaeological find in the area and Mr Taylor, er… Peter, was wondering if the remains might be interred here in St Giles,” explained Champneys to his wife.

They were now holding hands, fingers intertwined, a couple comfortable with close contact, even in the company of others. I couldn’t help but feel a slight pang as I wondered if I could ever be that close to another person – Lars, in fact – and would we ever be able to show such closeness and intimacy with him in public as these two?

But Douglas and Valerie were heterosexual, their public expression of mutual intimacy was accepted. Would that ever be the case for gay people, I wondered?

So engrossed was I, that I almost missed what Valerie was saying.

“How thrilling!” not exactly an appropriate reaction, I thought.

“Er… I mean the find, not the poor unfortunate victim!” Valerie hastened to correct herself, blushing just like her husband had earlier.

“It’s so unusual to find something like that in an area like this where there has been so much development – nearly four hundred years of constant habitation, buildings coming and going, roads being laid, not to mention all the upheaval of laying electricity, gas, sewers, etcetera. It hardly seems possible!”

I agreed, it was unusual.

“Anyway,” I said, looking at my watch, thinking that Lars must be about finished at school.

“I must be going. Very pleased to meet you both. And many thanks for your help,” I addressed the new Rector. I gave him my mobile number and he agreed to contact me as soon as he had any news about my request.

I did my shopping and went back home.

Just as I had finished putting everything away in the kitchen, my mobile chirped. Lars’ name flashed on the caller ID. Suddenly I felt a fluttering in my stomach and my hands became sweaty. Even just seeing his name made my heart beat faster.

I realised how badly I needed to speak to Lars – and even more, how much I wanted to see him, touch him, make love to him. I answered on the second ring.

At last! Where have you been? What have you been up to? Was it fun down in the country? Did you miss me?

I couldn’t help laughing at the boy’s bubbling cheerfulness and his barrage of questions. I felt myself breathe more easily. Lars was still my friend, still the same, solicitous Lars. He hadn’t gone off me over the weekend or found himself a new lover!

We chatted for a long while, me answering all his questions and filling him in on most, but not all, of the weekend’s events.

Eventually, there was a lull in the conversation and even from where I was, I could discern a change in atmosphere; calmer, more serious, almost hesitant.

Peter, I have to tell you something, but I don’t want to do it over the phone…’

“Well, come over, sweet boy!” I said, “and we can talk quietly over dinner.”

There was a long pause. I began to wonder whether my mobile had lost the signal and when finally Lars spoke again, he was even more serious and spoke so quietly, I had to strain to hear what he was saying.

‘Peter… could you come over to my place? I … I’ve had the conversation with my parents, you know,…  about me, my feelings, … my sexuality … us…’

It felt as if my heart was doing a somersault in my chest and my throat felt constricted.

“Whoa!” I croaked. “Run that by me again?”

‘I really had to talk to the ‘rents, get it all out in the open. They were great about it, really great – after the first shock. We talked for hours! They said they had suspected for a while that I wasn’t … you know ‘normal’ – that they were glad that I felt I could tell them…. They were really fantastic, Peter! But … they said they wanted to meet you. I tried to tell them how great you are and all that, but they said that for their own peace of mind, they wanted to meet you and talk to you in person…. They’ve asked me to ask you over for a meal … tonight? What do you say? Are you angry at me? Pete?…’

It took me a little while to catch my breath and find my voice again. Lars had really taken me by surprise. I was grateful that I was already seated, I wasn’t so sure my legs would have supported me. What I had been hoping for, Lars becoming my lover, no, more than lover, my boyfriend, had actually happened.

Even so, I was now nervous, doubting and unsure about how the boy’s parents would react to me… would they suspect me of being some pervert who had seduced their teen son?

How would I appear to them? I suddenly felt like a nervous teen myself, summoned to meet the parents of a boy seven years my junior with whom I had had the most intimate of relations… I tried to gather my thoughts.

‘Peter? Are you still there? Are you angry with me? Did I do the wrong thing? Peter?’

Poor Lars sounded as though he were close to tears.

“No, my sweet boy. You didn’t do anything wrong! It’s just … a bit sudden, that’s all!”

‘You haven’t gone off me have you?’

“No!” I said emphatically. “Not at all my darling Lars! I’ve felt myself falling in love with you…” I was interrupted by a whoop of joy from the other end.

‘Me too! Oh, Peter! Really? Oh my God, this is awesome! … Please say you’ll come this evening?’

I still had some reservations, everything seemed to be moving too quickly. Suddenly, I was no longer in control … and I had been ‘summoned’ to Lars’ parents!

But the boy’s obvious and genuine delight gave me a warm feeling. He wanted to be with me, be my boyfriend! And, if his account was true, his parents seemed to be loving and supportive. How could I say no? I would have to go through with it, for Lars, for us. After all, Lars had been incredibly brave and mature in talking to his parents. If I truly felt for him the way I thought I did, then I couldn’t possibly turn down their invitation.

“Can we perhaps have a few minutes alone together, beforehand?” I asked, still nervous at the prospect ahead.

‘Sure! I’ll meet you at the station and I’ll walk with you… say 7:30?’

I agreed to his plan.

‘Pete? … I really, really love you. Truly…’

“And I you,” I replied in a whisper, I was close to tears. I meant it… right to the inner core of my being.

“See you in a little while, my love!”

‘See you!’

He blew me a kiss over the ‘phone and cut the connection.

Still trembling with emotion, I dialed another number.

Perhaps Jeremy was not busy. This was a call that couldn’t wait. It would be difficult, but it had to be done, now. Anything else would be unfair to him.

Jeremy’s number rang and rang and I was just about to give up when it was answered by an unfamiliar voice, a slow American drawl.

‘Jeremy Paxton’s cell…’

The unexpected voice threw me for a moment.

“Oh, er… is Jeremy, Mr Paxton there please?”

‘Hi there! This is Wayne speaking. No I’m afraid Jeremy is in the shower right now. Can I take a message?’

I tried to picture the kind of person who could match the honeysweet, rich voice, this Wayne. Knowing Jeremy, it would be some hunk of a black man, early twenties, superb physique and a massive cock … Jeremy’s ideal man.

So, Jeremy was in the shower while this other person was with him. I didn’t need to put two and two together. I didn’t feel any pangs of jealousy, in fact I was almost glad. It made me feel less of a shit than I already was and anyway, we had our agreement; no strings.

“No, there’s no message … except perhaps you might say that Peter called and said hi … and goodbye…”

The voice at the other end seemed unfazed. ‘Sure thing, Peter… ‘hi and bye’ I’ll make sure he gets it. Do you want him to call you back, Peter?’

“Er, no. There’s no need.” I said and hung up. I thought Peter would understand the message. If he did call back, then we would have that difficult conversation, but knowing Jeremy, I thought he would understand what I meant and leave it at that.

A cowardly way out on my part, but a way out nevertheless. Knowing him as I did and also in the light of how our relationship had been heading recently, I was fairly certain I would never hear from Jeremy again and if I did, then only in order to formally break up with me.

We would be both free to get on with our lives, go our separate ways.

Me and Lars… I suddenly found myself humming.

I had a short while before I had to leave to meet him, so I went into the sitting-room and chose a CD at random. It was a song by Grieg, Jeg elsker dig – ‘I love you’ – a random choice, but oh so apt!

I smiled to myself as I put the CD into the player.

***

We met, as arranged, at the station.

I felt now calm and ready to face his parents. Lars greeted me with a long, close hug, neither of us caring who saw us as the rush-hour passengers passed us by, hardly giving us a second look. An image of Douglas and Valerie flashed for a brief second in my mind’s eye. Here were Lars and I doing exactly what I had so wished for only a couple of hours ago!

Lars looked so happy, his smooth cheeks flushed, eyes sparkling. He looked so confident, so sexy, so damn hot!

The evening was a great success. Lars’ parents were so welcoming, so obviously without prejudice. They had the knack of being able to talk about Lars’ and my relationship without embarrassment and whatever they might have thought about our physical relationship, they seemed to take it in their stride.

We talked about practicalities; how Lars had to complete his education, that they thought it best that he didn’t stay overnight with me on schooldays, that they thought their son should stay at home until he reached his majority, after which, if we were still ‘keen on another’ (what an old-fashioned phrase! I couldn’t help smiling at that!) we could discuss options regarding how we would sort out living arrangements.

We even found ourselves discussing subjects like AIDS, condoms, STDs – all without any preaching or judgmentalism on their part.

It was all so civilised, so natural.

At the end of the evening, I hugged them both, feeling that already I had known them for a whole lifetime.

Lars walked me to the station.

“God! I want you so bad, Peter!” he whispered to me as we held each other close at the entrance to the Underground. I could feel his hardness as he pressed himself close to me. We were reluctant to let the other go. Finally, I had to break the embrace.

“I love you, Lars!”

“Love you too! See you on Friday right after school. I can’t wait to…”

Laughing, feeling exactly the same way as he, I replied, “Me neither! Hold that thought, loverboy!”

Another hug and I finally dragged myself away from the sexy boy.

We sent each other text messages on my way home, telling each other, in increasingly explicit detail, what we would do to each other over the weekend.

When I got back home, I made myself take a cold shower. I wasn’t going to touch myself between then and Friday. I would save myself, for Lars.

I slept a deep, dreamless sleep.

 

TWENTY SEVEN
(TUESDAY MORNING)

Simon Stafford-Jones and I met as arranged the next morning and we made our way via public transport to Kensal Green Cemetery.

On the way, we talked about our separate conversations with Douglas Champneys, agreeing that the Rector seemed a kind an sympathetic man and we were hopeful that our plans for a memorial to Will and the interment of James’s and the unknown boy’s remains would come to fruition through his discussions with the Church authorities.

Just as Cruickshank had been an inherently evil man, Champneys was the complete opposite; a gentle and committed Christian and humanitarian.

I had looked up Kensal Green Cemetery on the internet before I left earlier and read:

‘Founded as the General Cemetery of All Souls, Kensal Green and the cemetery was incorporated in 1832  as a private company and is the first and therefore the oldest of the so-called ‘Magnificent Seven‘ cemeteries, built by the Victorians in locations in a large circle around the outskirts of central London.

Kensal Green Cemetery was consecrated on 24 January 1833 by the Bishop of London. It is still in operation today and is still run by the General Cemetery Company under its original Act of Parliament. This mandates that bodies there may not be exhumed and cremated or the land sold for development. Once the cemetery has exhausted all its interment space and can no longer function as a cemetery, the mandate requires that it remains a memorial park. The General Cemetery Company constructed and runs the  West London Crematorium within the grounds of Kensal Green Cemetery. More cremations than earth interments take place these days.’

From our conversation yesterday with Will’s mother, I assumed that Will hadn’t been cremated. Cremation wasn’t as widespread in the sixties as nowadays.

Poor young Will had lain in the cold London clay for over forty years…

Simon and I found a florist’s shop just by the station and we each bought flowers. We were in a sombre mood, each of us I suspect, slightly apprehensive about meeting Will’s mother. Yet, for Simon, I guessed, this must have been more of an ordeal; for him, this visit to his childhood friend’s grave was finally the beginning of the closure process.

As we walked, I reflected on the bizarre, unbelievable train of events that had brought me and Simon to this point in time, this place. I hadn’t heard of him, or Will Fremantle or any of the others until just a very few days ago – yet here we were, on a journey to the grave of a boy who had died some forty years ago…

The day was clear and bright, the November sun bravely trying to warm the chill in the air, but not quite succeeding. As we walked along the perimeter of the enormous graveyard towards the main gates, I thought of the terrible waste of young Will’s life, trying to imagine how a parent could bear the loss of a child, especially in the way that Will’s life had ended. Had I been in the same position, I would have wanted to kill the people responsible with my bare hands.

As we approached the great wrought-iron gates, I could make out a diminutive figure standing under the branches of a large Cedar of Lebanon which overhung the entrance.

“Patricia Fremantle?” I asked, as we approached. The small, birdlike lady nodded in assent.

She had pale, faded blue eyes and a smooth, pale complexion, with only the faintest sign of wrinkles about the eyes. She wore a blue woolen coat with a black fur collar. Although obviously well-used, it still looked respectable. Her shoulder-length grey hair was worn straight under a light blue-and-white patterned headscarf. Her hand, when I shook it, felt as delicate and fragile as a bird’s wing. She wore neither jewelry nor makeup and her feet were shod in low-heeled, brown leather shoes. She gave a ghost of a smile as she greeted us, but her eyes looked solemn, almost apprehensive. She held a small bunch of golden chrysanthemums in one gloved hand.

“This is Simon Stafford-Jones…” I said as they shook hands.

“Ah, yes … the ‘golden-haired songbird’… I remember … that was what I used to call you, then, when …” Her voice faded away and she gazed earnestly at Simon’s face, her brow slightly furrowed.

“You used to come and play at our house … at least you did for a while … until …” She stopped altogether, her eyes taking on a faraway look as she pictured the scene from all those years ago.

A long pause and then: “You had a brand new, shiny ‘Raleigh’ bicycle, I recall … very proud of it you were, always polishing it and oiling the chain …”

Again, she halted. “You two were such good friends, it made me glad to see the both of you playing together … almost like brothers…”

“And those wonderful walnut cakes you used to bake,” said Simon. “Real treats they were!”

“Yes, you used to demolish great slices of that cake!”

The conversation had been conducted in low voices, gentle reminders of a time, long ago, when the world seemed fresh and green and there was always cake for tea …

… Until Cruickshank and Robertson took it all away and defiled and destroyed that safe haven of childhood; summertime, bikes, chemistry sets and Meccano.

“Shall we?” I quietly asked, indicating the entrance to the cemetery.

Patricia took the arm that Simon offered and we set off at a slow pace along the graveled path, between the long ranks of the famous and infamous, lying side by side for eternity beneath oak, plane, fir and elm trees, the wild grass here and there growing over the older graves.

Vast Victorian monuments to the Great and the Good; weeping angels and mourning cupids, imposing mausolea for the well-to-do. The stonemason’s art displayed a thousandfold in crosses, obelisks, pyramids, pillars and urns.

We left the main avenue and Patricia led us unerringly down narrower paths, the gravel finally giving way to mere tracks.

It was very still, hardly a bird sang and the tall grass hardly moved. The gravestones were of every type; large imposing tablets under which whole families rested, some badly weathered, others leaning at drunken angles, disturbed by the root systems of trees and shrubs. Many tombstones were illegible, others completely hidden by the undergrowth. Others bore the sad testimony of a tragedy, many childrens’ graves, pathetically small among the larger, more imposing memorials. There seemed to be hundreds of graves from 1918, victims of the “Spanish-‘flu” epidemic.

Death, the great leveller, indiscriminate, unfeeling. Dukes, princes, the common man. Inventors, philanthropists, tradesmen. All come to dust under the sighing grass and soughing branches.

Finally, Patricia came to a stop and stood silently over a low, flat slab. The area around the stone was well tended; a small bush instead of a cross and the remains of summer flowers around the perimeter. There were two vases with the remains of some cut flowers.

The inscription was plain, simple:

WILLIAM FREMANTLE

1949 – 1963

‘always in my heart’

We stood, heads bowed in silence for several minutes.

Patricia bent down and placed her flowers on the grave. Simon and I emptied the vases and found a standpipe nearby and arranged our flowers.

“I used to come here every day… in the beginning,” said Patricia in a low voice as she gazed down at the stone over her son’s body. “But in recent years it’s been more difficult… forgive me, Will…”

She reached for Simon’s arm and pulled him closer to herself.

“Look who’s here, Will,” she said in a low whisper, “Remember Simon? He’s come to say hello! Wasn’t that good of him?”

She paused, as if gathering courage and then continued: “He and Peter here found that terrible man, Will. The found him and he will be punished! You can be free now, Will! My darling boy, at last you can be free!”

Another pause and then she added in an even lower voice, to herself: “and so can I … so can I.”

After another silence, tears in his eyes, Simon spoke:

“Goodbye my friend! You were my inspiration! You were my shield, my protector! I have never forgotten you and I never shall! I shall look after your mother, I promise! I will take care of her for you, my dearest friend! I … “ but he could not continue. Instead, he hugged the small, frail woman beside him.

O for the Wings, for the wings of a Dove…  the melody seemed to echo faintly in my mind … forever at rest.

As we walked back the way we had come, Patricia spoke again:

“The coroner passed a verdict of ‘death by misadventure’ – I think that he knew how Will died, but he wanted to spare my feelings. The police never pursued any enquiries, they had no evidence… I still remember his name, the coroner: Dr. Desmond McCormack… he had a lazy eye and carried a walking-stick with a bird’s-head handle … funny how some things stick in one’s mind … his ruling meant I could lay my son to rest in consecrated ground … I remember his gentleness…”

Back at the entrance, Simon reiterated his promise he had made at Will’s graveside.

“I hope you will allow me to keep in touch, Patricia. I meant what I said. I would like to be your friend, if you would allow me.”

The old lady patted his arm. “I would like that very much, Simon. Thank you.”

“Then in that case, please let me take you home, if you are going home, that is?”

“Well, yes, I am going home…”

“Then we shall take a cab…”

“No, really, Simon, I can take the bus, it stops quite near here…”

“I won’t hear of it! I’ll get us a cab … if that’s alright?”

Patricia tried to dissuade Simon, but he insisted and hailed a passing taxi.

Patricia turned to me. “One day, Peter, though not today, I would like to hear the whole story of how you found out about … all that. I hope you will be my friend as well?”

“Of course,” I replied, as I kissed her soft cheek.

“Thank you again, dear boy. I shall be in touch.”

She and Simon climbed into the cab. “Won’t you come along?” asked Simon.

I shook my head. I knew this should be a time for the two of them, so I made my excuses, saying I had a meeting. The cab pulled away and I made my slow way back to the station and home.

 

TWENTY EIGHT
(SIX MONTHS LATER)

May 31st dawned bright and warm, the unusually warm spell continuing. I looked over at Lars, seventeen today – still asleep beside me. He had thrown back the sheet which had covered us during the night, those few hours we had slept – and I scrutinised his fantastic body.

No matter how many times I had seen it, I was always taken aback by his utter perfection, his flawless beauty. Since November, his musculature had become more defined, he was becoming more of a young man than a boy. He had also had a growth spurt and was now just as tall as I.

For the thousandth time, I studied him, even though I knew every inch of him, I still couldn’t get enough of his beauty. I must be the luckiest person alive! I thought. Lars was mine – and I was his. Exclusively.

Our lovemaking was still an adventure, a journey into realms of such bliss, it would bring tears to my eyes. I looked over at him, lying asleep, one hand covering his cock. His chest rising and falling gently as he slept, langorous, lithe, slim – perfect. There was no other word to describe him.

I felt a lump in my throat, moved to tears by his sheer beauty and loving tenderness. Not for the first time, I wondered what I had done to deserve such a joyous life. That he was as deeply in love with me as I him, was beyond question and I thanked whatever gods there might be for the gift of this boy.

Our relationship had deepened and over the past six months we had discovered more and more about each other; films we liked, foods we hated, his dreams of the future. We introduced each other to our favourite music, artists we liked.

I had also got to know his parents better and better. They were loving and supportive of their son and of our relationship. They obviously saw how much Lars and I loved each other and how much we meant to each other.

They were also comfortable, amazingly so, I thought, with our ‘arrangement’, whereby Lars would spend two or three nights with me at weekends. For my part, I knew that Lars’ family had to have priority and if he was unable to spend the night with me, then I would have to take second place. Of course I understood, how could I not? But those rare occasions when Lars wasn’t with me, I would feel very lonely.

Simon Stafford-Jones and I had also become very close friends. He took his role as Patricia’s ‘protector’ very seriously and often visited her or took her on various treats.

Lars looked upon Simon as a sort of favourite uncle and we sometimes spent days together, going on various jaunts wherever the fancy took us; museums, art galleries, once even to a football match – Lars was a Spurs supporter. The boy even managed to sit through a whole evening with us at the opera – no mean feat for a sixteen-year-old boy! He even said he enjoyed it!

I heard regularly from Phyllida. She had taken Kieran away from the school where he had been so unhappy and told me how well the boy was doing.

Occasionally, Kieran himself would call me, to tell me some piece of news or keep me updated on his latest passion, which was drawing. He sent me some sketches and I could see he had a lot of talent.

Phyllida’s father, it appeared, had supported her daughter’s suit for divorce from Montagu. The rift between them became very public and ugly and when the news of Philip Montagu’s ‘indiscretions’ with underage boys was ‘leaked’

I guessed the probable source. Although nothing was ever proved, the Earl had no other option than to agree to Phyllida’s claim for divorce. Ambrose, I gathered, had fled overseas at the first whiff of trouble, leaving his employer and partner-in-crime to fend for himself. The more popular tabloids had a field-day.

Being the first – and legitimate son of an Earl, Kieran would inherit his father’s title, although probably not the estates. I somehow doubted that Montagu senior would embark on marriage a second time, particularly since he had been publicly disgraced.

Kieran would be the next Earl and I knew that the vicious cycle of child abuse had been broken and that the disgusting ‘coming-of-age’ ceremony was now definitely a thing of the past. I also knew that Kieran was a red-blooded, heterosexual boy; one of Phyllida’s letters told me of the lad’s new love-interest, the younger daughter of a Marquis and how both families were delighted with their burgeoning relationship. Birds of a feather, I thought to myself, part of me pleased for the boy, while at the same time uneasy about pressures of family, particularly the so-called aristocracy, for whom breeding was all.

What if Kieran, as most boys do, lost interest in the girl? They were, after all still very young. He might move on, sow his wild oats, perhaps finding a new girlfriend, or God forbid, someone not from his class?  How would the combined forces of the aristocratic families react?

The whole business of ‘mapping out’ the lives of their progeny, so rife in the aristocracy, was so alien to my sensibilities. Marriages were practically arranged affairs, selective breeding de rigeur for these people. It couldn’t be satisfactory. Yet the so-called ‘ruling classes’ had had this system in place for a thousand years and they were still with us. It would need great numbers of the younger generation to stand up and say ‘Enough!’ for anything to change.

Maybe Kieran would be one of those? However his life turned out, I hoped the boy would be happy and true to himself.

Lars stirred in his sleep, his hand slipping from his cock. Totally unable to control myself and certainly not wanting to, I knew the best way of waking the boy and a few minutes later, was rewarded with a generous offering of his cum which I eagerly swallowed.

Lars was not slow to reciprocate and yet one more time, we explored the highest regions of ecstasy together in a long drawn-out session of intense lovemaking.

“Happy birthday, sweetheart!” I said, still breathless, as we lay in each other’s arms in the warm bed.

“Mmm,” replied the sexy boy, his eyes closed as he lay, gently stroking my flaccid cock, still tender after our prolonged copulation. I kissed his flushed cheek, inhaling the intoxicating scent of our recent sex.

The sun shone in through the window, bathing the blond boy in a golden light. My Apollo! My Golden Greek god! The youth glowed in the sunlight, his prone body incandescent. The sun picked out his coppery pubic hair, which I had trimmed for him last night, the thick, matted bush of curled, wiry hairs surrounding the base of his thick penis and generous ballsac.

So precious! My Lars – I love you!

“Well, if you want your present, you need to get up, take a shower and get dressed!” I said, giving the boy’s testicles a gentle tug.

“I thought that was my present!” murmured the boy, still supine. “You were great!”

“Flattery will get you nowhere!” I laughed. “I’ll give you another ten minutes, while I have my shower, then you must get up. Okay?”

“Mmm, okay…” another murmur as my sexy boy stretched, enjoying the sun on his naked body.

I had to drag myself away from the almost dazzling sight. It was getting late and today was important.

We had to be at St. Giles Church by two pm. James and the unknown boy were to be laid to rest in the crypt and a memorial plaque to Will was to be dedicated.

Today, Lars’ birthday, would be their day as well.

When I first mentioned it to Lars, he was thrilled that I had chosen his birthday for the service. The sweet boy had shed a tear. Champneys had talked the parish council and the arch-diocese around and they had given their blessing. Dr Towns was sympathetic about the remains of the boy he had excavated outside my house.

As I had expected, no-one had come forward to claim James’ remains, so Simon’s and my offer of interment had been accepted.

I tore myself from the bed and went for my shower and a shave.

As I was making the coffee and heating the croissants, I heard my lover follow suit and shortly he appeared in the kitchen wearing the new clothes we had bought together yesterday; pink shirt and snugly-fitting jeans, which accented the delicious, generous curves of crotch and firm, round buttocks.

I looked him over appreciatively, reveling in the sight. I would never grow tired of observing him and each time I looked at him it was as if my heart beat even more strongly in my chest – my lover! My own! Yet again, my loins stirred at the sight. Flashes of our lovemaking danced before my inner eye.

Lars sat with me at the table and as we drank our coffee, I gave him a small package, my birthday gift to my lover.

Smiling with anticipation, Lars tore open the wrapping and opened the small jeweler’s box. I had bought him a delicate golden chain and small golden disc, which I had had engraved with his name on one side and on the other, the message “Forever Yours”. Corny, I know, but I meant it. Really meant it. And I fervently hoped that he would be forever mine.

My thanks were two glistening eyes and a long, deep kiss. I helped him fasten the chain, kissing the top of his blond head as I did so, fingers stroking his slim neck.

“I’m so glad we found each other,” he whispered, his slim hand covering mine. “I didn’t know I could be so happy!” We were both close to tears, moved by the moment.

I had to wait a few moments to find my voice, before I could reply. “Me too, Lars! God knows, me too!”

We finished our late breakfast chatting about this and that, sitting close to each other, occasionally reaching over to stroke each other’s face or hand.

We were interrupted by Lars’ mobile. It was his parents, reminding us  of their invitation to take us out for dinner that evening to celebrate their son’s birthday.

As Lars chatted to his mother, I went into the sitting room to look over the sketch I had made of Lars – clothed – I was intending to give to his parents that evening and though they were very supportive of us and liberal, even they might baulk at having a nude portrait of their son!

It showed Lars half seated, half lying on my sofa, which I had sketched as the boy was listening to some music on his iPod. His eyes were closed and he looked transported, dreaming some dream or other. When I showed it to him he said that he looked exactly as he had felt as he had listened to the music, a piece of Debussy I had introduced him to; L’Après-midi d’un faune – ‘The Afternoon of a Faun’. The languid, summer afternoon in a forest clearing, dreams and reveries.

Lars was my ‘faun’ – mysterious, sexy.

Later that same day, I had sketched him again, listening to the same music, but this time nude. It was an even better sketch than the other, but it was firmly private; just for me and Lars.

I was tidying my desk, half listening to Lars chatting on the ‘phone, when I picked up one of my sketchpads.

There was the little brown book.

I hadn’t seen it for six months – had indeed almost forgotten about it. I had made one or two half-hearted attempts to find it during that time, but had always drawn a blank. I suppose it just faded from my consciousness.

But here it was again. A small, leather-bound book, worn with age. What could be more innocent than that?

My heart gave a lurch when I saw it. Not today, of all days!

I had a sinking feeling. What new horrors were waiting for me there? As always, the book being there was no mere chance. I couldn’t understand how it had had got there – ‘it can only have put itself there’, I thought to myself. Wishing I could avoid it, but knowing that I couldn’t, I almost reluctantly leant down and picked it up.

The pages were still empty … no … the very last page in the book had writing on it. I steeled myself to read it, silently cursing. I had no choice in the matter, no free will as far as the book was concerned.

Read it I must…

and read it I did.

The fight is o’er, the battle won
Thy travails in the past are done.
Go forth in life, let darkness pass
Thou hast thy wishe; thou hast thy Lars.

The poetry was still doggerel, that hadn’t changed. I smiled to myself wryly. At least it wasn’t another sad tale of a poor lost boy. This poem, addressed to me, held out hope; Lars and me.

Gradually, the ink faded until it finally disappeared, Lars’ name the last to go.

I put the book down on the coffee table. To me, the verse marked both an end – and a new beginning. No more puzzles, no more wrongs to right; the pieces in the jigsaw of my life had now fallen into place.

The journey over, I had my Lars.

I felt the boy’s presence by my side, his warm breath on my neck as he peered over my shoulder at the book.

“That old thing!” he said with a laugh. “Haven’t seen that in a while! Done any more sketches?”

He still thought it was a sketchbook and I saw no reason to correct him. Not exactly deceit, rather a ‘need-to-know- basis. Perhaps one day I would tell him the real reason behind my hectic and strange week in November.

I wondered how long the book would be in my possession; according to the weird man whom I had met at the bookshop back then, the book had a habit of resurfacing and going to different owners. When would it finally disappear from my life?

“No,” I smiled,  “Nothing new!” I knew that if the book had a new story for me, it would make its presence felt.

He looked appreciatively at the nude I had done of him.

“Tasty dude!” he said with a smile. “You should post it on the ‘Net for all those sad old wankers out there!”

I cuffed him gently, but part of me was serious.

“No, sweet boy! Firstly, I would never do that to you and secondly, those ‘sad old wankers’ as you so eloquently put it, are people just like you and me who, for one reason or another, feel unable or are prevented from being themselves in the world. You’re lucky that you have such understanding and loving parents, so that you don’t have to keep that part of our life a secret. And I know that you’re not being bullied at school. But you must realise that this is by no means the norm. So many young teens are confused by their sexuality, they feel that they are some kind of a freak for having those feelings for the same sex. How many poor youths find no way out and end up hurting themselves, or worse, because of how society and their peers react to them? Those ‘sad old wankers’ are sad, that’s possibly true, but they have the right to live in the world as they are and if images of beautiful, sexy boys on the Internet is all they have and they don’t act out their fantasies or harm others, then we must respect them.”

Lars looked both sad and serious.

“Sorry, Pete. You’re right, of course. I just take it for granted how lucky I am. But I don’t take it for granted how much I love you and what you mean to me. I hope you know that?”

He looked so contrite and almost vulnerable, I had to take him in my arms.

“You’re a good boy, Lars. I do know that!” I whispered into his ear, my senses almost reeling from his closeness, his scent, his wonderful teen body pressed to mine.

“And it’s I who is the lucky one! I’m in love with the most incredibly sexy, beautiful boy – or should I say young man now? And he’s in love with me! We should count our blessings!”

We stood, pushing against each other, our kisses becoming longer and harder, our by now throbbing cocks mashing against each other through our clothing.

Alas, we didn’t have time to do what both of us obviously wanted and I reluctantly broke our embrace, but not before giving his hardness a long, firm hold.

“We need to get going,” I whispered, knowing that if we didn’t get moving now, both our resolves would disintegrate and we would end up making love yet again.

That would have to wait until later. Something to look forward to.

Something made me slip the little book into my jacket pocket. In a strange way I thought that bringing it would be like closing the circle, making an end. I felt its slight weight in my pocket as we went downstairs and out of the house, strolling leisurely through the May sunshine to St. Giles.

AFTERNOON, St. GILES CHURCH.

Douglas Champneys was waiting for us at the church when Lars and I arrived, shortly before two o’clock.

I had also sent word to Dr. Towns, who promised to be there for the interment of the unknown boy from the 17th Century. I had also contacted DSI Morrison, letting him know about the short service I had planned. He said he would come if he could.

Simon and Patricia arrived just after us and as we waited to see if there would be any one else, the Rector explained to us how the short service would proceed.

“The crypt has been prepared,” he said, “and after the committal, we shall come back up here and dedicate the marker.” He indicated a place on the floor of the nave, in front of the altar, which was covered by a black cloth, under which was a tablet of stone engraved with the text that I had composed.

“There shall be some music,” Champneys went on, “the organist and John, our head chorister will sing, after which we shall move down to the south wall, and dedicate the wall-plaque, which is here…” he indicated the spot where I had imagined or ‘seen’ Will’s image. This was also covered by a dark oblong of black velvet. Patricia, Simon and I had agreed on the text.

“… you will be saying a few words at this point, Mr Taylor?” I nodded in assent.

Champneys consulted a sheet of paper in his prayer book and then went on, “and finally, another piece of music… I think that’s covered it all…”

As he was speaking, Dr Towns and Inspector Morrison entered the church at the same time. Towns was not wearing his bobble-hat and had managed to find a dark suit and tie in which he looked distinctly uncomfortable. He took my hand in one of his great bearlike paws. “Good idea of yours, Mr Taylor,” he said. “Not many people would be bothered…”

Morrison also shook my hand. He leant close to me and spoke in a low voice: “Found my brother, Mr Taylor! Thanks to you, we managed to locate him. All is forgiven and forgotten. He made peace with our father just before the old man died. I’m so glad for that! My brother is getting used to being back in the family.” He looked sad for a moment.

“Too many years, too much hate and misunderstanding!” He seemed to visibly shake off his mood and drew himself up, looking me in the eye,  “But it’s over now and everything is working out fine! Thank you again for your help!”

I tried to demur, but the policeman went on:

“We broke that kiddie-porn ring and reunited that poor boy with his family. We got a lot of information and made arrests in six countries!”

I knew. I had read about the case and the trial in the papers. A lot of famous and influential people had been implicated and jailed. I was glad. The bastards deserved all they got.

Yet how many boys were still lost or hopelessly trapped in some sex-slavery situation somewhere? At least I had played a part in breaking the ring up, but as the detective had said at the time; you close down one, another one will start up somewhere else. It was a continual battle. But someone like Morrison, I knew, wouldn’t give up.

Yet it wasn’t really just me who had led to these results. It had been the little brown book. Without it, that particular cell would be still operating. I could, however,  take some comfort from the fact that one boy, at least, had been saved. The book had also finally brought justice for Will and, if you believed it, rest for James Venables and the unknown boy.

It was the little brown book which had brought us all together in this place. I had just been the catalyst.

And I felt it wasn’t just this small group of people gathered here on this bright, warm Saturday in May. It was as if I felt the presence of countless others, all those who had suffered at the hands of evil people for no other reason than they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Would they find peace? Somehow, in this sunlit church, I thought, or rather I hoped, that they would.

As the little group waited in the church, I reflected that I thought I had followed the exhortation of the strange man who had pressed the book into my hands that wet November day: Use it wisely. Do no harm.

I took the book out of my pocket and held it in my hand as we descended into the crypt.

Just as we were moving down the stairs, another person came into the church.

Albert Pennyweather.

I hadn’t seen him for some time. Both, my time had been largely taken up with Lars and also I had heard that Albert had been in hospital. He looked older and thinner, but still carried himself erect. He had on his best suit and a crisply ironed shirt and black tie. In his hand he held his slightly flamboyant fedora.  With an inward grin, I thought how much like an undertaker he looked. He gave me a brief nod, before we all filed down into the crypt.

Two niches had been prepared and were occupied by two coffins.

James, the poor tormented boy, starved to death by his mad father. James, who had for a while, haunted me and my flat. James, who had been an almost tangible presence, affecting me in a most intimate way.

I looked over at the living boy by my side, who affected me in the same way and I thought my heart would burst in my chest for love of this exceptional youth.

I said a silent farewell to James.

And the unknown boy, whose body had almost miraculously lain undisturbed in the ground beneath a busy London street since the seventeenth century.

An unknown boy who, it had been clear, had been bludgeoned to death. Had he been a poor mistreated servant? Or maybe of higher birth, perhaps robbed? Perhaps something even more sinister, another youth who had been sacrificed as a result of abuse, a plaything for some older, stronger man who had tired of him and had just disposed of him? No-one would ever know.

One thing was certain; however he had died, it was obviously murder and he could not possibly have deserved the death he had suffered.

Now, at least, he would not be lying forgotten under the streets of London or his bones an exhibit in a museum. The gravestone upstairs, soon to be dedicated, would release him from his lonely anonymity and his poor, broken young body would lie beneath this church for ages to come.

Douglas Champneys began the service. He did not use the Anglican form of burial, but had created a special text, addressing us all as friends, talking of man’s inhumanity to man, of love and forgiveness – and, to my surprise, touching on the right of human beings to love whom they would, without censure or prejudice.

He spoke quietly, eloquently and with much feeling. I hadn’t expected this. His eulogy was a plea for tolerance and understanding, for the rights of those whom society shunned. He spoke of abuse, physical and mental and reminded us of our duty to love each other.

I felt as if he were talking directly to me and Lars. Indeed, he looked over at us several times during the short speech, as if he knew exactly our relationship and for him, it was the most natural thing in the world.

He told us to honour each other, give each other room to self-express, respect the other’s point of view. It was almost like an address at a wedding than at a funeral!

There was definitely more to Douglas Champneys than met the eye.

Finally, he committed the boys’ bodies to the ground, adding, ‘in the hope of tolerance and understanding in the world.’

I could see that his words had a profound effect on all of us standing there. Even Albert once or twice murmured ‘Hear, hear!’ which brought a grin to us all, even at that solemn occasion.

We filed passed the niches on our way out of the crypt. I silently bade farewell to James and the unknown boy, who would now spend eternity next to each other. The thought comforted me.

In the nave, Douglas removed the covering on the memorial which had been placed on the floor of the nave. It was a slab of Bath stone, a warm, honey colour on which had been inscribed:

BENEATH THIS PLACE
LIE THE MORTAL REMAINS
OF
JAMES VENABLES
AND ALSO AN UNKNOWN BOY FROM THIS PARISH
WHO DIED FAR BEFORE THEIR TIME
AS THE RESULT OF MAN’S INHUMANITY TO MAN.


THIS MEMORIAL IS FOR ALL THOSE NAMELESS CHILDREN.
THINK OF THEM AS YOU GO ABOUT YOUR DAILY LIVES
“I ONCE WAS LOST, BUT NOW AM FOUND”

As we stood around the simple stone, the first piece of music Simon and I had chosen began playing.

It was a setting of the Magnificat, “My soul doth magnify the Lord” – the so-called ‘Stanford in G’ a solo which thousands of choristers have sung in churches and cathedrals throughout the country.

I looked over at Simon. He stood erect, his eyes closed and silently mouthing the words. He must have sung this famous solo many times. And Will had probably sung it here, all those years ago.

Now, the pure, sweet notes from the boy treble floated over us and the May sunshine struck the memorial stone, making it glow a deep, rich honey colour.

After the final notes had died away, Douglas began the dedication. The words passed over me. I was thinking of those two, small bodies, lying in their coffins beneath our feet. Two innocent boys who had been cruelly slaughtered, without reason, by those who, through their superior strength had dominated them and subdued them, finally ending their short lives.

Poor James! The boy had called to me across the years and through him, he was now resting here, instead of behind a false wall in the basement of my home.

And the discovery of the unknown boy, I was convinced, was also somehow planned, some higher force or whatever you will call it, had caused the skeleton to be found at exactly the same time as the little brown book was telling me the stories of Will and Philip Montagu and poor Tom, the child who, once he had satisfied his employer’s crazed lusts, was tossed away like any other garbage.

Poor Tom! His body would never be found, but this memorial was for him – and the countless other young boys who had just disappeared through the centuries, after what had most probably been a short and deeply unhappy existence.

They were lost but had been found again.

Concentrated on this small spot, the stone a focal point for our thoughts and desires that such things should never be allowed to happen. All life is precious.

I was aware of a silence. I looked up and saw that the dedication was over.

Douglas was leading us down to the main body of the church, to where the memorial to Will was waiting.

Simon and I stood on either side of Patricia, who looked sad, yet peaceful. She had brought with her a small bunch of flowers and they were now placed in a vase on a pedestal beneath the tablet.

We stood in a small semicircle and Douglas began to speak.

“From what I have heard from his boyhood friend, Simon, Will had the most beautiful and pure voice and his singing literally seemed to light up this place. It seems fitting that we dedicate this memorial to him on such a sunny and warm day and I personally am convinced that Will is now enjoying eternal sun and warmth. We shall not dwell on the evil things, but on the good. Let this memorial bring thoughts of joy to those who knew him and memories of his wonderful singing. And to you, Patricia, comfort and closure.”

Douglas pulled a cord and the cloth fell away from the wall.

 

IN LOVING MEMORY OF

WILL FREMANTLE

SOMETIME HEAD CHORISTER AT ST GILES
THIS MEMORIAL IS PLACED BY HIS MOTHER AND FRIENDS.

“FOREVER AT REST”

 It was made of the same honey-gold stone as the other memorial and yesterday, before it had been mortared into place and with Patricia’s permission, I had placed Will’s head chorister’s medal in a space in the wall behind it. Patricia had requested that the shortened version of her son’s name be used on the memorial, she wanted it to be less formal than the boy’s gravestone.

Douglas looked over at me with a slight nod; my cue to speak. Closing my eyes, the small leatherbound book still in my hands, I saw the image of the surpliced choirboy in my mind’s eye and I addressed him personally.

“Will. I never met you, but I feel I know you. Some things can’t be explained, nor should we perhaps try and explain them, but your story has been told and justice will be served. I am only glad that I could be of help. Wherever you are, may you rest in peace and may you sing with the angels as an angel yourself. Goodbye, young friend. We will never forget you.”

Patricia squeezed my arm and looking over at Simon, I saw that his cheeks were wet with tears.

The soft notes of the organ heralded our second choice of music:

 

Oh for the wings, for the wings of a dove
Far away, far away would I rove
Oh for the wings, for the wings of a dove
Far away, Far away, Far away, Far away would I rove.


In the wilderness build me a nest
And remain there forever at rest
In the wilderness build me, build me a nest
And remain there forever at rest.


In the wilderness build me a nest
And remain there forever at rest
Forever at rest
Forever at rest.


And remain there forever at rest
And remain there forever at rest.

The current head chorister, John – whom I had heard in this same place six months ago on the day I had found Will’s diary – began to sing the Mendelssohn. Effortlessly, his pure voice filled the church.

It must have been my emotional state, or maybe a trick of the acoustics, but I could have sworn I heard another, fainter, even purer voice join in, the voices like two songbirds, soaring skywards with a subdued yet impassioned joy.

The music stopped and the voices faded away.

Will was finally gone.

The silence was deep, emotional, calm.

Gradually the world encroached again and Douglas was quietly thanking us for being there and shaking our hands. I was aware of Lars by my side, holding my arm. The boy’s eyes were wet with tears.

“That was lovely, Pete…” I squeezed his arm.

The small party began to break up. Inspector Morrison said he would keep in touch and Simon said he would take Patricia home.

Douglas thanked me and said he had to be getting back to his wife and young son.

As he was shaking my hand, his eye fell on the book which I was still holding.

“What an old-looking pryaerbook, Peter! I thought you were not a religious man!”

He reached over, “May I?” Now I knew that the book had had a purpose – it had made me take it with me to the church. Another twist in the plot.

However, this time, I had no qualms or misgivings about what it contained. I knew that the book was working for good now and whatever it contained, I knew would be relevant.

I handed the Rector the worn leather book.

Douglas opened it – there was the picture of the bygone clergyman, as I had first seen it six months ago. There was nothing else.

Champneys raised his eyes and looked at me owlishly from behind his spectacles.

“How curious This is a portrait of one of my forbears here, the Reverend Jeremiah Jenkins! What a strange coincidence! I am at present writing a short history of this parish and turned up some interesting facts about this man. He was a champion for ‘distressed youthes’ as it was described back then. He would go into the streets around here and rescue the delinquent or abandoned boys bringing them back to the small abbey here, where he trained them for holy orders. He was considered a saint by many, but alas, it seems, evil and powerful people spread the rumour that he was not all that he seemed to be, that he was spreading heresy and also er … sexually mistreating the boys in his care. Apparently he even wrote tracts about the unfortunates in his care, under an assumed name, er… Izaak… er…”

“Waldon,” I finished the sentence for him.

“Yes, that’s right, Izaak Waldon. He published the book at a press which was located where the public house, “The Crown” now stands. The charges were trumped up, but enough people were made to believe the terrible things he was accused of and it was later found to be that he was quite innocent, but not until after he was hanged. Right here where the Seven Dials monument stands! Poor man! He was a genuine ‘Good Shepherd’ and died for his good deeds. How odd that his picture should be in this little book!”

Champneys handed it back to me.

“Jenkins’ maxim was Do No Harm. It was carved over the door to the old church.” He sighed. “A saintly man indeed.”

We said our goodbyes.

The little brown book could certainly still surprise me. I tucked it back into my pocket.

Albert came over. “That was a lovely occasion,” he said, “I’m glad I was still around to be here for it!”

He gave a slight grin. He really didn’t look well, his recent illness had obviously taken its toll.

“By the way, Albert,” I said, “something’s been nagging at me. Remember that little book I showed you, in the pub?”

Albert’s smile grew broader. “Yes?”

“I was just wondering, er… what..” I wondered how to continue. I felt as if I might be trespassing on something private, something which had nothing to do with me and I began to regret broaching the subject. But Albert smiled on, his eyes now bright.

“Oh, that! Yes?” He wasn’t making it easy for me, but I saw that he wasn’t annoyed or being defensive, so I ploughed on.

“Well, what did you … I mean, was there anything in the book? I thought the pages were blank!”

“Oh, no, not all of them!” Albert’s eyes were positively twinkling now and his grin even broader.

“There was one page…” he went on.

I found myself holding my breath. What had he seen in the little brown book? Albert seemed to enjoy keeping me in suspense. He paused again before continuing.

“It was a short message. Just a couple of lines…”

Again he paused, like a conjuror, teasing, giving himself time for the full effect of his magic trick.

He grew slightly more serious, but I could still see the glint of enjoyment in his eye.

“I was widowed twenty years ago,” he went on, “Cancer.”

I began to murmur some platitude or other, but Albert had started speaking again.

“Shortly before she died, Dolores, that was her name, said to me that she would wait for me on the other side and would do all she could to get in touch with me. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I didn’t believe in all that nonsense – I’d lost my faith years before – but she said she would, almost insisted, so of course I humoured her.”

I began to suspect the kind of message Albert had seen in the book.

“Mercifully, Dolores died before the tragic death of our son, David.”

A look of pain crossed Albert’s face. “David was a young man, in the prime of life. He had trained to be an architect…”

Again Albert paused, but his mood was now more sombre.

“… I was devastated. David and his best friend, Giles, – I suppose these days you would call them gay partners – were attacked coming out of a pub. A group of drunken yobbos picked on them – it was a pub known for its tolerance towards homosexual men. You’d call it a gay bar now, I suppose. Anyway, they were beaten up for no other reason than they were seen coming out of that particular pub. It was a savage attack and the two young men were stabbed. They died from their wounds and no-one was ever arrested.”

“I’m so sorry, Albert,” I said. Inadequate, but I had no other words.

Next to me, Lars had gone pale and held on to me tightly.

Albert reflected for a moment before continuing. “But, your little book!” His mood grew lighter again.

“Your little book did have a message for me! It was from Dolores! It said: ‘The boys are with me and we are looking forward to having you with us, but be patient, your time is not yet.’ Then she said something which proved it could only be her – something only she and I knew. And then I knew that it was her and that she had done what she promised; she had got in touch with me! Now I know I shall be reunited with her and my son and Giles. That’s what I saw in the book, Peter and now I can tell you how grateful and happy I am!”

Albert looked at Lars and me, the same beatific smile I had seen on him after he had first seen the little brown book.

“And I hope you two will be happy together and not meet the same bigoted intolerance and blind hate which ended David’s and Giles’ lives.”

We shook hands and as he left the church he said he very much hoped to see us soon at the “Crown” – but not to leave it too long ‘just in case!’ The last was said with a smile and a laugh.

Lars and I were left alone in the sun-filled empty church. I looked over at the two new memorials, glowing in the sunlight. I knew then, that for sure, that the book had finished with me.

I had done my duty by the boys who were now commemorated here.

Duty? No, an obligation, but one which I was glad to have fulfilled.

I knew now that the book had played its part in my life. I could now put it away and forget about it and I just knew that if I did look for it at home anytime, it would be gone.

When would it resurface? With what stories and for whom?

I felt a lightness, as if some burden had been lifted from me, which in a way, it had. I now had my life with Lars to look forward to.

I looked deep into my lover’s bright blue eyes.

Drawn together we held each other tightly gently kissing, full on the mouth – church or no church, I was sure that Champney’s God wouldn’t mind at all.

I felt the presences of Will and James and the unknown boy and knew they approved.

“Let’s go home, Lars! We have a birthday to celebrate!”

 

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