China Boat

Chapter 64

Let me confess that we two must be twain,
Although our undivided loves are one:
So shall those blots that do with me remain
Without thy help by me be borne alone.
In our two loves there is but one respect,
Though in our lives a separable spite,
Which though it alter not love's sole effect,
Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love's delight.
I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,
Nor thou with public kindness honour me,
Unless thou take that honour from thy name:

But do not so; I love thee in such sort
As, thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

William Shakespeare, 1564 — 1616
Sonnet 36

* * *

The days began to pass, very quickly.


There was a surreal quality to them. A certain disbelief, that it was all happening, and that I was going home … To my grandparents. To my world. To Jack.


To Jack.


And, at the same time, there was the awareness, of what I was leaving behind. This world of Shanghai, that I would probably never see, again. All of the people I'd come to know, and value. All of the friendships I'd made; Miss Lloyd, Doctor Yang, Mister Grey — if one could call him a friend; I thought, now, that just perhaps, I could — and the Fletchers, Mister and Mrs. Fletcher, Mickey, and Tom — 


Tom. Oh, Tom.

* * *

After that first afternoon with the craggy-faced sergeant — his name was Donohue, I found out, later — there was no chance of my slipping away from my Marine escort.

I had not wanted one, from the beginning. I had, very politely, argued the point, with Father.

"Monsieur Simonov never knew my name, sir," I'd said, mildly; that first day, after the assassination, my leg elevated on pillows, and throbbing. "He thought I was French, and he thought I was an employee. No-one involved in this business, knew who I was."

He'd looked back at me, drily.

"Your Mister Chen certainly knows your name," he said. "Or knew it."

I'd winced at the blunt, past tense.

"And so does his father. Both are presently missing." He'd paused, to puff, once, on his pipe. "I called, to summon either, or both of them. I made clear, that the matter was urgent. I pressed my case, hard. I was only told, that both men were unavailable; and I was offered the services of the next-most-senior Comprador in the firm, in their place." Another implacable puff, on his pipe. "Your escort, stands."

I'd swallowed.

"Yes, sir," I'd said, at last. Honestly not sure, whether to feel disappointed, or relieved … 

* * *

Father had agreed with me, reluctantly, that posting a guard on Tom was unnecessary. That such a thing would do more harm, than good, by drawing attention to him.


It had been far too dark, for anyone — any of our pursuers — to conceivably recognize him, after all. And, he had never even met Monsieur Simonov. He had been meant to stay outside the neighborhood walls, with Mister Chen. And, Mister Chen had not known that Tom was coming with us, until minutes — moments — before our departure.

It was all to have been perfectly safe, for Tom, perfectly innocent, just a harmless outing to the exotic Hongkew District.

Well, I thought to myself, a little bitterly. It hadn't really worked out that way, had it?




If the days began to pass quickly, even too quickly — it was because of Tom.


In the days before we sailed for home, I had him over to spend the night with me, twice. After my near-disastrous gaffe with Father, it was all I could dare. For Jack's sake. For my sake.

For Tom's sake.


It was intense.


I made love to him. He made love to me. There was nothing held back, between us; I was no longer his teacher, his guide, his older brother, with careful reservations about what we were doing — 

We gave ourselves to each other, with our whole hearts. And it was the intensity of our emotions, after all we'd been through, which made the nights so wildly, vividly sensual, so tremendously erotic … 


"Shhhh," I'd whispered; that first night, both of us nude, on my bed; me, hovering over him. I leaned over, and kissed him, softly, and wetly, on his lips … for some moments. And then, I came back up, and looked down at him, into his eyes — 

And then, I leaned down, again, and kissed and licked at his neck, where it met the soft skin above his clavicle, and he'd shivered, involuntarily — 


I made him shiver quite a lot, that first night.


And his member — I'd made him lie down, flat on his back, in the dimness of the room, as I worked him over — his stiff and beautiful member had flexed, and bounced against his boy's flat stomach, again and again, as I used my mouth, and my hands, on his smooth body … 

His member had leaked, too, droplet after droplet. So I did the logical thing; I'd taken him into my mouth, to taste him. The essence of him.

"Ohhhhh … Ohhhhhhh — !"

I did it as best I could; with my still-bandaged leg, and my still-bandaged left hand, making it all more awkward than it should have been — 

It was good enough. Tom climaxed in my mouth, memorably. I savored it, and swallowed it, gladly.


Oh, Tom.


Later that night, I entered him. Again; for only the second time, in our lives.


We lay, side-by-side, my front to his back; my bandaged right leg over him, straight out, covering him, my right hand on his very stiff erection — 

I'd prepared him, just as carefully as I had, the first time. And I moved in him, very gently. Very lovingly. I gave him as much pleasure as I could, as I knew how to give. And, the eroticism of it all, crashed through me, in waves.

Tom moved back, against me. He moved, and squirmed around my invading cock.

"Uh … Mmmmmm — !"

He was panting.

His hand went down, to his own member; or to where my hand held it, lovingly. I trapped his hand, and we went still, for a moment.

"Shhhh … " from me, again.

A frustrated sound, from him. I smiled, and kissed and licked his neck, thoroughly, in the dimness.

"We have all night," I whispered to him. "It's better, sometimes, to go slow … "

Ragged breathing, from him. Then — 

"Okay," he whispered back.

I gave him a moment; then, I moved in him gently, again, and he shuddered, again — 


In the end, I climaxed inside of him.


It is a thing I'd only ever done with Jack before; not anyone else, not even Charles. Only Jack.

The uttermost intimacy.

It was right.

And as we lay there, in the dimness, panting, recovering — we'd managed to climax fairly close together; a rare blessing, and a measure of how close, how attuned to each other, we'd become — 

As we lay there, in the dimness, our hearts pounding, so, so close to one another — I'd smiled. Because I'd already decided, that the next time — later that night — it would be Tom, inside me.

As I've said, Jack does not penetrate me, often; usually we both prefer it the other way around. But it does happen, and it is always magical, when it happens. And I knew in my heart, he would approve, when I told him about it happening with Tom.

* * *

The days passed.


"Mister Williamson — ?"

The red-haired, Irish desk-clerk called out to me in a discreet undertone, as I headed towards the elevators. I'd been down in in the ground-floor arcade, on an errand which was important to me; it took me a moment, to react.

"Yes — ?"

A look from him; and then, coming to myself all at once, abashed, I limped up to the desk.

"Telegram for you, sir," he said quietly; and he passed me the green envelope, with the glassine address-window.

"Oh … Thank you, very much!"

"Certainly, sir."

I waited, carefully blank-faced, through the interminable elevator-ride up to my floor; and then the walk down the hallway, to my room. I locked the door behind me, before carefully opening the envelope, moving my finger gently under the flap.

It was short.




I puffed out a hiccup of laughter, mixed with longing, and love, and a few other emotions, as I read it — 

It was classic Jack, of course; of course.

He'd obviously gotten my letter, describing my spill, and my injuries; to the extent that I could do so … And his response was one of concern, mixed with a kind of breathless laughter — 

And an element of white-hot eroticism. All in seven words.

I checked the message-header. The sender was listed by his first initial-and-surname only, 'J. VAN DOERN', and the telegraph-office was in Manhattan; he was clearly visiting his family's townhouse, on the East Side. And he'd been careful, not to specify the sex of the sender. Although, what the telegraph-clerk on his side had thought, on accepting the form, I could only wonder … 


I read, and re-read the words; over and over.


I would be seeing him, again, soon. Well, in weeks, anyway; a month, perhaps. But not, months-upon-months. Not years, as we'd so feared — 


Oh, Jack. Oh, Jack.

* * *

After the first few days, Sergeant Donohue reduced the size of my guard detail from six, to five; including himself. The steel helmets also disappeared, in favor of the broad-brimmed campaign hats; the extra rucksacks disappeared, too — 

But the rifles remained, slung on shoulder-straps. And all of the Marines took their task as armed guards very seriously; the residents and citizens of Shanghai gave us a wide and respectful berth, as we went along the streets … 

Not, in fact, that we went along the streets all that much.

In practice, the only times I left the Cathay, were for quick, short walks up and down the Bund; and, to go to the Marine barracks, which, oddly enough, were in rented quarters in the Chapei District, west of the International Settlement. Apparently, rent was more reasonable there. And, expenses mattered, to the U.S. Government.


I found the restrictions on my movements, very hard.


Oh; sometimes we would go to the Recreation Ground, the Racetrack, too. In some ways, this was worse; there were running-paths in the infield of the racetrack, and I could not go running until my stitches came out … and possibly, not for some time, even after that.

I did try to compensate, by doing some careful push-ups and sit-ups; dressed in my running clothes, after changing in the Club House. I think that by doing so, I did not make myself all that popular, with some of the men.

"You see, you lazy bastards — ?" the craggy Sergeant Donohue had called out, loudly, the first time I'd done it. "This kid is all busted up — look at those bandages — and he still wants to exercise … Why don't you show him what you've got? C'mon, get down and give me twenty — !"

There were groans, which I hoped, at least, were good-natured ones … but the members of his Company, had complied. For my part, I was mortified, red with embarrassment.

To his credit, the craggy Sergeant Donohue had dropped down, and done the push-ups, too. Thirty of them. Effortlessly. He seemed more a force of nature, than strictly human, to me … 


He made good on his word to teach me how to shoot a Colt Model 1911 Automatic, too.


To my very great surprise, I turned out to be a decent shot. An unusually decent one, actually.


"That's good, kid," he told me, the last time. "That's real good … Don't let it go to your head, though. I told you; I've even taught officers, how to shoot." This, with an air of lazy self-satisfaction … 

* * *

Days passed.


My stitches came out, at last. The soreness, which had almost disappeared, came back; along with more applications of iodine, and of sulfa-powder. But I was glad; I'd be able to leave the bandage off, very soon.


On our last night together, when we showered together, before going to bed, Tom had sunk down to his bottom in the enormous bathtub; and he'd examined my healing wound minutely, carefully.

Another shockingly intimate thing to do. Intimate, in its own way; both of us nude, wet, colossally hard, utterly exposed to one another; his fingertips running gently over the angry red, still-forming, scars … 


Our last night, together.


Oh, God, it was hard.


But it was the morning, which nearly broke my heart.


The two of us, up and out of the shower, fully-clothed; Tom, about to take his leave — 


Holding each other. Arms wrapped around each other; bodies pressed together, so tight, so very tight.

It went on, for heartbeat, after heartbeat, after heartbeat. It was not our last goodbye; that would come the next day, when Father and I sailed. But it was our last private goodbye.

The feeling of him, in my arms. The feel of his arms, hugging me … 


"I love you," from him, in a shaky, almost-whisper; his face buried against my neck, my shoulder.


Oh, Tom.


I squeezed him, tight, tighter; and I kissed his cheek. I could feel my eyes filling with tears.


"I love you," I managed; softly.


We maintained our embrace. I moved my right hand, a little, caressing him, caressing his slender back, over and over again, comfortingly.


"But Jack will always be your one true love," from Tom; so softly, that I could barely hear him.


I'd told him that, on board the President Hoover. The day I'd showed him Jack's first, explicit letter to me; the one I'd torn up.


Oh, Tom.


"Yes," I whispered; after a long moment. Then — "Yes. But I still love you. I mean it."

And I did.


Nothing, for a few heartbeats. We maintained our embrace; oh, the warmth of him, the solid, loving reality of him … Then — 


"I'll never see you again — !" from him. It came out, softly, brokenly, and he rocked in my arms, a little — 


I blinked at this. It shocked me.


"That's not true! It's not!" I squeezed him, gently, and then I released my hold on him; and I raised up his face, carefully, with the fingers of my right hand, to make him look at me.

I looked back at him.

"I love you," I said, softly. "You are my friend. I love you. We will see each other again, many times. I swear it."

Tom's brown eyes were filled with tears, crescents of tears, which matched my own.

"I told you; I will write you. I will write you, every week; and you can write me back, and we will stay connected … and when I'm old enough, I can travel to meet you, sometimes, or you can travel to meet me. And, you'll meet Jack; and he'll love you, as much as I do. And," I went on, reaching for the words — "we will stay, connected. We will stay, part of each other's lives. We will."

I looked at him. The rims of tears were still in his eyes; but I thought he seemed just a little less devastated. A little less hopeless.

"Will you write me, back — ?" I asked; gently. I breathed it. "It doesn't have to be much. Just a few words, a few lines, once in a while — "


"Yes," from him. He looked at me; his eyes still wet, brimming. "If you really want me to — ?"


The doubt on his face, about broke my heart.


"Yes," from me; and I pulled him back in, to a full body-hug, feeling him, in my arms. "Oh, yes." I kissed his soft cheek, again. "Oh, yes … "

The tight, warm embrace. The sound of our breathing. The feelings, crashing through me. Through us.

"You know," I whispered, at last; and I loosened my hold on him just a little.

I paused, for just a second; then I went on.

" … we can send each other, more than just our words … " I rubbed my cheek, against his. "I have something to show you."

I released him, a little reluctantly; and then, taking his hand, I led him across the room, to my dresser. I opened the top drawer; and I began removing the contents, and setting them on the dresser-top.

"Here," I said, softly, when I was done. "This is all for you. I want you to have it … "

'This', was my camera, my Leica, and all its gear; the leather camera-case, the light-meter, the very fine-haired lens brush and air-bottle, the lens filters, and lens-cap … everything. Including six rolls of unexposed film; I'd stocked up, for the trip homeward.


Tom stared down at it all for a second; speechless.


"I can't take this!" he'd whispered, at last. "I can't! It's too much, too expensive … " he looked up, at me — " … and it means too much, to you — !"

It was a real wrench, to give it away. I'd bought it all with Jack by my side; it had been a team effort, on our part, and a cherished memory. And having it, and using it, on this trip had meant everything, to me; sending photos back home to Jack had been priceless, to me … 

"Of course you can take this," I whispered; smiling over, and down at him. "I want you to have it. Besides, you have to." I picked up the Leica, and gently handed it to him. "Look at the bottom-plate."


He did.


I'd had it engraved, in the very elegant jewelry store, in the Cathay's ground-floor arcade. The script was flowing, and slanted, and beautiful; I'd been very pleased with the result.

To Tom Fletcher
from his friend,
Rhys Williamson
June, 1937

Tom just stood there, for second after second, looking down at my — now, his — camera, blinking — 

I saw two tears roll slowly down his cheeks.

"I thought … you could take some photos, for me," I said, softly. "Of Shanghai … or of Council Bluffs, when you get back … of your life, really. Of Mickey … I really want to see him, as he grows up." I paused, for a number of heartbeats. "Of you … "

A long silence from him; broken only by two, loud sniffs. Then — 

"I don't know how to work it," he went, in an undertone. He was still looking down at the inscribed base-plate.

I put my arm around his shoulder, and squeezed it, and held it.

"The manual's right there," I said, reaching out with one hand, and touching it, lightly. "You'll pick it all up, fast enough. You're much better with technical things, than I am … "

I kissed his smooth cheek, again.

Another sniff, from him.

"And, you know," I went on, very softly — " — I think every high school in the world, and probably every YMCA, has a photography club. And, a darkroom, and lab … To be honest, it's actually more fun to develop film, and to make the prints, than it is to take the photos … "

Another soft, heartfelt kiss, on his cheek.

Actually, hanging around a photography club, and especially a darkroom, was about the best way I knew of for a shy boy to make friends. Jack and I had seen it happen many times, at our school.

My heart just ached for him. For so many reasons.

A long, still silence, then. I put my other arm around him; feeling him, so warm in my arms … me, blinking away the tears, again.

"Okay," from Tom, at last, in a whisper; and he gently leaned his head over, to touch my cheek … 

* * *

After Tom left, I had breakfast with Father.

We were both quiet; and I do not know if he picked up on my mood, which was very complicated, just then. On the one hand, the joy of leaving for home, the very next day, home, and Jack … 

And on the other hand, leaving Tom. I knew we would see each other again, after we sailed, I had not lied about that … but it would not likely be for years. At best.

I spent a great deal of time, that morning, staring down at my espresso-cup.


I was not to be given much time in which to brood, however. Father was preoccupied with his work affairs, wrapping things up before we were to sail.

That Father had any business affairs left to conclude, was something of a wonder.

Word of Father's involvement with the U.S. Government had, apparently, leaked out. The Viscount Kō had abruptly cancelled all further meetings with Father, and with Mister Carlyle, the bank representative who had flown in for consultations. The coded messages to Father from the Bank had ceased, abruptly, too … 

Perhaps my armed, and spectacularly public, Marine guard detail had had something to do with it.


Father was not at all displeased.


"We have accomplished our primary tasks," he'd said, the previous week; "At least, insofar as we could. And I would never, in any case, have signed my name, or associated my name, to the sort of agreement I was constrained to negotiate, even assuming the negotiations were serious … However. There is more than enough ordinary work to go through, for the next few days. Unless and until I am dismissed." He'd seemed, then, grimly amused. "It will be interesting to see, if they indeed have the courage to dismiss me. Under the present circumstances … "


In any case, Father's preoccupation with business, had left me with the task of preparing our things for travel. And there was still some packing left to supervise, and the final inventories of trunks to be made, and arrangements to transport everything to the boat-docks — 

My mind was on all of this, when the knock came at my door.

"Yes — ?" I said, opening it; expecting someone from the hotel's valet service — 

Instead, it was a bell-boy, bearing a small, blue envelope on a silver salver.

"Message for you, sir," he said, holding out the salver.

"Oh … Oh, thank you."

After I took the envelope, and tipped him, and after he left, I opened it up. Inside was a folded, cream-colored sheet of bond writing paper, filled with small, neat handwriting.

Dear Rhys — 

I hope you will forgive the last-minute nature of this invitation: I was, you see, called away to Nanking on short notice, and I only returned this morning.

Would you do me the honor, of permitting me to buy you a drink, sometime this afternoon? Say, perhaps, five o'clock, in the Terrace Lounge?

There are several topics of mutual interest, which I would like to talk over with you. I believe you would find the discussion, very much to your profit. I believe I can also deliver some good news to you, which is all too rare a thing, in this unhappy world of ours.

Do, please, say yes?

- Your soon-to-be-bereft Traveling Companion,

and Servant,

Ian Grey


P.S. — Do, please, also, accept my condolences on the loss of your late business associate, Monsieur Simonov? By all accounts, he was a good man. And that is, also, all too rare a thing, in this world.

I stared down at the note, for some moments.


That Mister Grey had never been told anything about Monsieur Simonov, went without saying. That Mister Grey knew about him, was completely unsurprising.

The use of Monsieur Simonov's name, though, made the note more of a summons, than an invitation. But it was a rather plaintive, and nicely-worded one.


Under the circumstances, there was only one possible reply.

Thank you, sir. I will certainly come.

Rhys Williamson

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