Royal Opera House; Caravaggio foot; Chelsea bridges; Cheyne Walk

Jamie’s Quest

Chapter Fourteen

The Passing Years

We got through the rest of 2006 enjoyably. Pete was well away painting and drawing like mad. Painting our new abode in Chelsea and drawing attention to himself through placing a few of his best works in that West End gallery. He was interviewed by one of the Sunday papers and photos of two of his latest efforts were put in the article. The gallery owner was over the moon as not only were the seven examples of Pete’s work shown there snapped up at very good prices but the publicity got more people in and other stuff sold as well. He wanted more. The only drawback of selling and getting income is that Her Majesty’s Inland Revenue need blood. Josef, of course, had got all of us in his employ under the wing of an excellent income tax accountant. Pete was allowed in, too. We were amazed how one could rack up expenses to set against tax!

Not having travelled abroad before we had a few days in Paris after getting passports for the first time. Easy enough to get to Gay Paree by Eurostar through the tunnel and Pete vied with the other artists in Montmartre to find the best spots to do some sketching. Of course, the Mona Lisa in the Louvre had to stared at in the minute or so one is allowed because of the press of tourists. The only ‘gay’ bit of Paris we experienced was the sight of numerous rent-boys at the Gare du Nord. None looked too appetising but we saw at least three wandering off with clients. We’d had a reasonable hotel recommended by one of my co-workers and on the ground floor was an excellent restaurant. Real French food is something to savour.

When we got back we bumped into the tenants of the middle flat, Mr and Mrs Cartwright. They were a retired couple who seemed to be rarely at home. We had been told he had been the owner of a furniture-making business but had sold-up a few years ago and now the pair spent most of the year on cruises in the hotter months and at their house in Provence during the colder ones. Of course, they wanted to know who we were and invited us down for a drink. They were most amiable and we learned a bit about their family as there were photographs all over one table.. Their son also lived in Provence, permanently. He and his wife ran a guest-house in an old chateau and had three daughters who thought England was stuffy and preferred to live in France and were all at school there. Their daughter had married an American and had lived there for some years but the husband went off with his secretary so they divorced and she came back to England with the two sons who were placed in her custody. These were teenagers and went to a minor Public School near their home. They lived in Sussex somewhere and she kept an eye on the flat while the parents were away. The teenage grandsons looked about fifteen and thirteen in the latest photos and both had shocks of red hair and great grins as they posed in rugger shirts and shorts. Mrs Cartwright said she missed seeing them very much as they never seemed to want to stay with them, they said London was boring, which she took to mean they were, but they did see the granddaughters much more in Provence. The couple were invited up for a meal and were most complimentary about both that and Pete’s artwork. We found they had no close friends but met up with the same crowd on the cruises. We decided that having money and a family didn’t always bring happiness.

Towards the end of the year Becky suggested to Josef that she thought I was showing sufficient competence to be let loose on at least one client but should remain under her eagle eye, in case I made a ball’s-up of it. She didn’t quite say the last bit, but I knew I still needed her guidance and approval. Josef said he had been approached to take over the financial arrangements of a certain celebrity in the entertainment business. His considerable earnings had been invested in several schemes by at least two other financial advisers and he had just got rid of an agency who was supposed to have been sorting out a deal using his name in advertising particular merchandise. Josef said it was time I started earning more money for him so I was assigned the client. I might add this was discussed and agreed in the first interval of an opera at the Royal Opera House. Josef, who was a widower, often attended performances of operas and ballets with staff and clients. Becky and her husband were there with me and Pete in the usual box for six which Josef invariably booked. Pete had met Josef at a dinner party at Becky’s house and had been met with approval. Josef had two sons, the elder married and living in Canada where he was also involved in high finance. The younger son was unmarried and owned and ran, with his partner, a flourishing Garden Centre and Horticulture business somewhere near where Josef had his house in Surrey. Son and partner lived with him and they had a live-in housekeeper, plus a couple of cooks and bottle-washers as well, to keep them in comfort. What money can do for you!

In the office the next day I had to wade through a great batch of documents relating to the bloke’s investments, plus look at the movements of the various values over the time he’d had them. Becky was discussing the range of holdings with me. It was a golden rule that a good sweep of possible ventures should show up in a portfolio. If things looked unbalanced then adjustments should be made. Of course, I’m not talking about shifting a couple of hundred quid from a bank account into Premium Bonds, or buying fifty shares in Royal Dutch Shell if you had a bit more to invest. This client had money coming out of his lug-holes in my estimation though I knew we carried clients whose assets would make his look like peanuts.

I made an analysis of the holdings, shares, property, and so on. I noted his previous adviser had upped his holdings in property. I did an analysis of those which included three houses in France, two in Italy and two in Spain. There was quite heavy involvement in High-Street shops and office blocks in various towns and cities in the UK but what caught my eye were a number of hefty parcels of properties in the States. When I went though my analysis with her Becky said she had seen such things appearing in a couple of her newer clients’ accounts having been recommended by other advisers. On the surface they looked OK. Becky was curious as she was going through my listings showing the investments over time with me. “The rental income is reasonable,” she said, “but it’s variable.” We both wondered why? I asked Jeb, one of our computer geeks, if he could find a way of unpicking one of the packages. Find out what the properties were, where they were and the type of owners. This took a bit of doing but within a couple of days he produced a printout of the properties, their locations and the values as estimated by realtors, as estate agents are called in the States, in the particular districts.

The analysis was a revelation. The houses, offices or shops were all mortgaged as we knew, but the package was made up of locations and properties where the mortgagees were having difficulty in settling their debts. Many of the properties were over-valued and there was no way, in time, for the package to realise a true value, nor for the borrowers to pay off their mortgages which often were being re-assessed mostly at a higher rate. Thus, many of the properties were in process of being foreclosed as the owners defaulted and the value would plummet down towards zero if not sold on to new owners. Alarm bells were sounded! The other property packages in the portfolio were dissected and were found to be the same. Becky had her clients’ holdings in these packages also analysed. They were all cleverly set up. Clever toads in banks or funds had manufactured these instruments, as they are called in the trade, and were selling them almost at a discount. No wonder they were being snapped up. Within the next ten days all clients’ holdings were examined. There was a quiet selling-back over the next month or so until all clients were clear. It wasn’t a moment too soon. The toxic subprime mortgage shit hit the fan big time! The 2008-2009 market collapse came. Our American clients were stunned and the phones almost never stopped ringing. With due care and diligence our clients lost very little or nothing at all. All portfolios were re-valued and looked at if losses had occurred, but in the end the underlying products were deemed safe. Clients, on the whole, breathed a sigh of relief, as did we in Josef’s tribe. I, Becky and Jeb got very good bonuses for that initial analysis and resolution.

In the August of 2007 there was another scare as Lanky Cocker collapsed again at the end of a gig, luckily in London, and was rushed to hospital where an emergency heart by-pass op was performed. It was found he had also suffered a slight stroke so he had to retire. His wife, Mary, came and stayed in our second spare bedroom while this was happening. She loved it. Actually she loved the view as the Thames was visible. Lanky was advised not to return to sunny climes as he needed constant care now and strict medical supervision. He wasn’t too pleased but realised he wasn’t now in control, if he ever was. Mary was quite insistent. A suitable residence should be found, where else, but here in Chelsea. I had mentioned to Mary that the tenants in the large ground floor flat were leaving as the husband had just been appointed to some job in Australia. Becky and her husband were consulted. Becky was in charge of Lanky’s portfolio of investments. Becky’s husband agreed with her to sell the block of flats and the mews and within a month or so the whole of our building became Lanky and Mary’s. A new agreement was drawn up for Pete and me. We were designated as ‘caretakers’, rather like at the Bloomsbury flat, but with no real duties and the ‘peppercorn’ rent still to pay. We were family.

David Prothero had to make even more careful decisions, more so than the task of deciding between two knotty Philosophical interpretations, but over whether he should stay with us, or his mother, in the same house, on his visits to London. Pragmatics are the correct way, he decided, and we had to keep a careful list as the visits had to be equally divided. Of course, Caroline and their boys, including Ross, came and stayed with Grandma and Granddad almost every school holiday after Mary and Lanky were installed. “It lets David have a bit of peace to write yet another paper on why black isn’t a shade of white, or whatever,” Caroline informed us, “And you can take your turn with your nephews.” That to me. We did and Uncle Pete was especially favoured as he drew funny pictures for them. I was only there to buy ice creams on our outings.

Lanky received plenty of visitors when he was recovering in hospital and on a visit to see him we met two of the ‘Four Spins’. They and the other pair, they were two couples, had opened up two dance studios, one in London, the other near St Albans in Hertfordshire. Both studios were doing well and this pair, Joe and Chas, ran the studio across the river fairly near the back of the National Theatre. Chas had done a physiotherapy course and although a particular speciality was dancers’ problems he also dealt with other troubles such as rugby and soccer injuries. We didn’t realise the agonies as well as the ecstasies which, for example, ballet dancers went through. Through the doors came bent toes, painful bunions, worn Achilles tendons, frazzled cruciate tendons, cracked ankles, wonky hips and twisted shoulders, and most of these seemed to be the footballers. But wherever physical exertion was needed so injuries were rife and had to be tended to. Chas, in a moment of confidentiality, mentioned that while giving a massage a further rub-down was often requested. “It’s not true that all male ballet dancers are gay but, whether or not, a massage so often causes a certain rising, not only of the spirit!”, he said with an upward gesture of his hand . Pete said I sometimes massaged his ego when I said how good a new painting was, and we more or less matched in size of egos. Why he then held his finger and thumb about two inches apart I do not know!

In the New Year, despairing of the banging and clattering of the renovations Mary was having done the tenants in the garden flat gave notice and over the Easter holiday in 2008 Chas and Joe moved in. They did pay rent, though Chas did take over supervising Lanky’s physiotherapy.

News in the financial world travels fast through mainly secretive channels. Who knows who’ and ‘who trusts who’ are paramount. There are some very dodgy characters about in the City and other financial centres as the newspapers often report, and courts, less often, convict. The word for years was, as far as Josef was concerned, that his firm never placed anything as an investment without a full and careful analysis. Josef vetted all prospective clients in conjunction with the four most senior of his staff. In 2008 I was given two more clients to manage. They were rather interesting ones. I can only tell of one as both Pete and I got quite involved in other ways with the client.

As my boss Josef had escaped a Communist country, he would naturally be wary of Russian money. However, over the years he had been seen as an ‘honest broker’, the true sense of that little phrase. He would only take on a Russian client if he was satisfied the money was, within reason, accumulated in a legitimate way. A very slippery concept and one which would have taken David Prothero an age to deconstruct and examine!

One thing in a client’s favour would be if he was, query, hounded by the authorities. Josef had gone himself, as usual, to meet one of the proposed clients who had got to London from Moscow before he would have been arrested. Great lumps of money, in dollars, had been deposited in a well-known bank over a period of time. At first Josef was dubious, but he realised that the man would never have survived if he went back, and his wife and son would suffer as well. Madame D was not only very elegant but she was patently honest in her worries. A well-educated lady, speaking good English and wanting the best for her seventeen-year-old son, Grigor. Comrade D had been through the usual grind of university and being taken on to oversee huge projects where money accumulated for the state, and a proportion went into various politicians’ pockets. He benefited, too, and used the well-known off-shore methods to get his money out of the country. Josef was known as a good judge of character - why would he have taken me on if he wasn’t? Mr D as he was now, was accepted, and I was allocated as the prime channel of communication to handle where and in what the huge amount could be safely invested.

One thing which was in my favour was my, to me, scanty knowledge of Russian. I had done quite well on the LSE course and had gone for conversation to an elderly lady whose parents had met after leaving Russia after the Revolution. She was delightful and, although she had other students, I seemed to get favourable treatment. She lived in a tiny flat somewhere behind Goodge Street off Tottenham Court Road and there were a number of similar elderly ladies in the same circumstances scattered about that area who she knew and met to gossip and play bridge. Pete and I used to visit her and take her out for a meal in one of the numerous little restaurants in that area, or just visit with a bag of fruit or a honey cake or two. Thus my, and by osmosis as it were, Pete’s grasp of the language improved.

It was a great bonus when I met Mr D that I could greet him in his own language. We switched to English very quickly as he was more fluent in my native language than I in his. The three of them were living in a suite in a well-known hotel which had quite a few inhabitants from possibly dangerous backgrounds, Arab, Chinese, Russian, etc., so security was very high. However, I think, though I was comparatively young, I made a good impression. What also helped was that Josef was an ardent opera and ballet buff. Clients love to be entertained and show off their finery. Madame D was no exception. Mr D loved music and their son Grigor was an accomplished pianist even at seventeen. Grigor was enrolled in an International School in Central London where security was high, too. So, musically-minded Josef made certain that the cultured family would attend performances at the Royal Opera House. The first was scheduled and I and Pete would appear as a pair.

Although we had noted on our visits to the ROH as students few black ties were evident unless there were corporate dos. With Josef we would have to appear properly dressed. Luckily, both Pete and I had lashed out on dinner suits when in our final year at our Colleges as dinners and dances had to be attended, which meant we could appear properly attired. Since I had been in Josef’s employ we had donned our black ties and dinner jackets on about six occasions where we had been included on one of the outings. However, for the evening for this new client Josef decreed we should appear in our national dress, even if our skean dhus were plastic and not the real dirks. The police would say the real ones were dangerous weapons!

A taxi arrived promptly as usual to collect us - with Josef nothing was done second best. So, kilted and ghillie-brogued with well-brushed black silver-buttoned jackets, we set off. We all assembled in the Crush Bar and Pete was introduced to the trio and I could see that young Grigor couldn’t take his eyes off the bare bits of our legs between the hems of our kilts and the tops of our stockings. I don’t know if there is such a thing as gaydar, but I wondered? We had the usual introductory drink and bits to eat. We would be going on to a late supper at their hotel after the performance which was scheduled to end at ten-fifteen. I could see that the usually impassive Josef was rather amused. I think he must have made judgements, too, on meeting Grigor at the hotel with his parents when the arrangements were made for this evening’s jaunt.

In the box we sat three behind three. Grigor made certain he sat between Pete and me. How he kept his hands off us I do not know. Pete had sussed the lad out, too, so, even though the lighting was dim, hems were ‘accidentally’ pulled up to show more of a hairy knee and above, a shuffle on the seat to crane around to see something happening almost out of sight on the stage meant a bit more of furry thigh being revealed. The performance otherwise was superb - and I mean on the stage! At supper Grigor insisted he sat between us again. At one point I nearly took his hand and placed it on my leg under my kilt but I thought that might cause an immediate explosion in his undies. He so obviously had a hardon which he artfully kept covered by the linen napkin which, with his long legs, kept slipping. To retrieve it meant he had to bend down and almost touch my leg with his nose. I had, of course, pulled back the hem when sitting down.

Josef must have given Mr D a run-down on us and where Pete came into the equation. After supper, and it was now on midnight, father asked us if we could advise Grigor on suitable courses when he finished school in six-month’s time. He was interested in a general course on Art, or more specifically one in Graphic Design and Computing, as his tutor at the school commended his attempts at painting and a logo he had produced for the programme of a school play. I said Pete, especially, could advise on such things, having passed out tops from two prestigious art colleges. Madame was most interested in that. She had wished to do an Art course after her schooling but her mother, with a good marriage in mind, thought housewifery courses in cooking, embroidery and so on would be best, but she wanted her son to have his own choice. Thus it was arranged that Grigor would be collected on Monday after school and brought to Chelsea to inspect Pete’s studio and be shown information about available courses.

I had left the office early to be home to meet him when he arrived. His car, not a taxi, drove into the mews behind us just as I got to the front of the building. Yep, he had a bodyguard. I went round into the mews and, before Grigor got out of the car, I was looked over very carefully. I must have been described because the driver nodded at me and opened the door to let Grigor out. We actually shook hands politely, though I did manage to give his hand a squeeze and used my thumb to give him a little massage, or message. I had been told that was what Masons did but knew no more than that. Grigor, very polite, said “Thank you, Martin”, to the driver. Martin was obviously ex-military and said he would remain with the car. Grigor was all smiles but said nothing more as I used my key for the back entrance to the downstairs lobby and we went through to use the old-fashioned lift up to our flat.

Pete had the door open and another handshake took place. All very formal. Pete asked if he was hungry and thirsty and Grigor said he was. There were cans of cold fizzy muck plus a plate of sticky buns ready on a side table. Seventeen-year-olds are always hungry and while he stood looking out towards the river and then looking silently, as his mouth was full, at Pete’s display of paintings, water colours and drawings on two of the walls of the large living-room, three buns and two cans of liquid disappeared down his gullet.

His attention had been mainly on that drawing of Pete’s of us clasping each other which he had drawn that time in the Storeroom at Kinloch. It had been carefully preserved and was now safely framed behind glass. After looking at other things displayed, including two small sculptures, which one of the young ladies who had tried to tempt me, had done, he returned to the drawing.

Very shyly he said quietly, “You are very beautiful there.” Before Pete or I could reply that we were still rather beautiful, at least to each other, he turned and grasped at Pete’s arm. “I do not know what to do?” he burst out and started weeping. In fits and starts we heard his story. If Adil had been in a quandary young Grigor was in turmoil. Dad and Mum had known he was gay from when he was fourteen or so. He had a good friend at the International School, a French lad, same age, named Didier. He didn’t know if he was gay. He knew he loved Didier. How could he find out if Didier loved him? What would his parents say if...? If? If? If?

We got him settled on the sofa between us. He calmed down and we listened as he said he was so glad to be away from the school he had been to in Moscow. He knew he was gay when he was fourteen and two of his so-called friends guessed he was. No friends, they spread the word so he had come in for a good deal of bullying. One afternoon two of the older boys threatened to rape him but were disturbed by the school caretaker and they got away with it. They had got Grigor bent over a school desk with his trousers and pants pulled down ‘A hocu teba vyebat, gomosok’ one had said as he pulled his prick out ready. His desire to fuck Grigor was thwarted as the old man came into the classroom at that moment. They told him Grigor was complaining of having worms and they were looking to see if it were so. The caretaker was a known drunk and quite befuddled most of the time and didn’t see the erect prick poking out of the potential rapist’s open fly. The old boy just shouted at the three of them to get out as he had to lock up. A lucky escape. Just a short while later, when he was fifteen, his parents decided to leave their home country. There were rumours his father was in trouble and likely to be arrested, it was time to go. With help they had got to Switzerland, but there were visa and settlement problems, the Swiss are very picky. Grigor quickly learned English at an International School there and last year they had arrived in London and had been accepted by the authorities as needing a form of asylum. One of his father’s colleagues hadn’t been so lucky and was in some sort of delayed house arrest and probably awaiting a trial.

Time was passing quickly. I knew the driver was instructed to take him back to the hotel in an hour’s time. I said I would see if he could stay longer. I went down by the stairs, quicker than the lift, which Mary Prothero said needed updating, and found the car and driver in the mews. He was sitting on a collapsible chair by the driver’s door and reading a book. I explained we were still talking, any chance of an extension? He grinned when I asked it. He said he would call the boss. He then caught me unawares. “When you came to the car earlier I thought I knew you. You’re Mister James Drummond according to my instructions?” I nodded. He looked at me closely. “Relation of the Captain?” Seeing my look he laughed. “I thought so. I was never in his Company but me and Sarg One know him well. You must be proud of him?”

After he’d ‘phoned his boss, who said another half an hour would be fine and he’d tell the lad’s mum, he quickly told me he’d done fifteen years in the Marines. He had been slightly wounded in some skirmish three years ago so took a discharge and pension but had got back to good health quickly. He and a pal, another Sergeant, thus the Sarg One, had joined a group who did high security work. From the way he said about Sarg One I knew they were more than just good pals. He said he couldn’t come up to chat now but took a business card from his pocket and scribbled a mobile number on it. Meet for a drink sometime? Definitely.

I fairly flew up the stairs almost expecting the pair to be rutting by now. No, they were sitting sedately side by side with Pete telling Grigor about his own life and how we had met at school in Scotland. Pete had been diligent and had a sheaf of printouts and a couple of brochures about Art courses and Graphic Design. I asked what Didier was interested in. Another coincidence. He wanted to do something like Dance, or Drama, at college, but was also interested in Art. His parents weren’t too supportive on any of that other than Art, but only looking at it or as a hobby, so he was also in limbo. Father was at the French Embassy and wanted son to do something which took him to one of the Ecoles Superieure, or higher, and follow in his footsteps. I said we would like to meet the lad, but didn’t mention the pair in the garden flat. Why not come with him after school another day and stay for a meal? The look in his eyes was one of sheer joy. But would Didier’s Maman allow it? Just tell him to tell mother he would be meeting an up-and-coming artist who already taught at a superior college. Yes, Pete with his skill, plus contacts, was dealing with the daubs and scratches of fledgling artists two mornings a week at his old College which had relocated to Millbank near the Tate Gallery a couple of years ago. Grigor said he would say goodbye the proper way until we met the next time. Whether they were Russian kisses or French kisses - not that sort! - on the cheeks we would have to enquire next time. He had our mobile numbers now on his ‘handy’, using the German term for that device, and fairly skipped down the stairs on the way out. ‘Martin Cobbold’, or ‘Sarg 2' as his scribble on the card told us, was ready to go. He winked as he closed the door when Grigor was settled. “You’ve got a happier boy there now.” I said we’d be phoning but expect to be back soon with Grigor and his friend.

We were right about Sarg 2 and his pal Sarg 1. We did meet the pair first time in a pub, in the Fulham Road almost next to the Chelsea Football ground. They were Chelsea supporters so were regulars there. They shared a flat in Pimlico, not too great a distance away. After that convivial drink, where I heard two tales of Jonathan’s exploits, we invited them next for supper at the flat. That was the first of many occasions and the random presence of two beefy ex-military types certainly keeps interlopers away from around the building and the mews.

For Grigor and his friend it turned out to be a really happy story. When we knew the evening he and the so far unmet Didier would be coming for supper we invited Joe and Chas as well. Both Sarg 1 and Sarg 2 were in the car which brought them but drove off and said they’d be back after the match around eleven! No worry, they would wait below. With all the things that Joe and Chas related that evening about dance especially and the various ways you could market your skills Didier was over the moon. Could he meet them again? This time he came alone after school by bus, as he didn’t need security, and was closeted with the pair for over two hours. They all came up to us afterwards in great spirits. Didier was determined to tell Papa and Maman exactly what he wanted to do. Dance, Drama and Theatre Production. A bit of dramatic foot-stamping went on no doubt on Papa’s part, but Grand-maman in Paris then entered the fray. Dancing was in the family blood. Grand-maman had been a ballet dancer in her youth until snatched from the stage by a somewhat older gentleman. They married none too soon and Maman was the result. A greatly loved daughter, but not interested in dance. Her grandson was, so heredity will out, and with a fierce condemnation of all things bureaucratic and political, Grand-maman fully supported his desires. Papa did not seem to quibble after that onslaught. We got the impression Grand-maman held certain purse-strings deriving from the very wealthy old man she’d married now long gone.

As soon as the pair left the International School after their International Baccalaureate exams in 2009 and Sarg 2's boss deemed Grigor not to be a target for polonium, ricin, or kidnapping, the pair were enrolled in their chosen courses in local colleges and lodged contentedly in the mews behind the building. Joe and Chas monitored Didier’s progress while Pete did the same for Grigor, though he wondered at times why some of the things produced on one of the courses were considered to be art. Grigor also continued to have piano lessons and was bought an expensive electronic keyboard which he could listen to on earphones without disturbing the neighbours with repeated scales and exercises. From the bleary eyes on several mornings each week we came to the conclusion that other exercises and heights were scaled at least twice nightly. Still, having such examples of youthfulness around helped to keep us rather wanton. No, at no time did we invite them for anything but supper, though Grigor did say much later that our first night at the opera made him so randy he had hardly slept that night as he had to jerk off four times. ‘Jerk off’? Where do boys learn these American terms? ‘Wank’ or ‘toss off’ were good enough for us. And two times for that young lad after having his momentous wet dream!

The pair were a delight to have around. Over the years we were able to palm off growing nephews who we felt preferred younger company especially as we had installed a basketball hoop in the mews. This was mainly for Grigor who, for some reason, had developed an obsession as well as a talent, for this American game. As he was now six foot, a couple of inches taller than either Pete or I, and getting quite muscular, we didn’t get in his way but bounced the ball for him to grab and deposit cleanly in the net. The pair did prove more than useful to Pete.

Around the Easter of 2010 Pete had had a rather strange commission which came through the gallery which had displayed and had sold quite a few of his paintings and drawings since he had been a student. They said it was for a rather eccentric client who wished to remain anonymous for the present. This guy, we assumed the client was male, wanted a series of six Biblical paintings in classical style. ‘Adam in the Garden of Eden’ before Eve was produced from his rib, ‘David’ standing on the recumbent figure of Goliath, ‘Saul and David’, with David playing the harp, ‘David and Jonathan’ the loving couple, ‘Absalom’ caught by his hair or neck by a fork in a tree and, finally, ‘Samson’ pushing apart the pillars of the temple. Each had to be on canvas and exactly four feet four inches deep by two feet three inches wide. The final instruction was that each character had to be nude and circumcised. He had obviously taken on board that Michelangelo’s ‘David’ in Florence wasn’t cut and should have been following in Abraham’s steps, or snipping. The client would be willing to pay six thousand pounds for the first one and if approved would increase his payment for each of the others. As a retainer there was five thousand pounds which would be paid up-front anyway for preparation and materials.

There was quite a bit of discussion about whether Pete should accept the commission. Were the paintings to be exhibited? If so, where? If not, no problem. But, were they to be sold on making a profit, possibly, for the client? The gallery owners were adamant the client was genuine and would pay them for recommending Pete so they wouldn’t require any payment from him. They knew the man had a collection of modern paintings, we assumed they had sold things to him and wondered if any were by Pete. The gallery owners said he also had at least four other very valuable paintings he had bought at auction within the last three years. No, he was not English. That was all Pete could gather. He more or less tossed a coin to see if he should accept. In the end he did and Grigor and Didier were roped in as immediate models. They would be well-paid. They, of course, knew all about his work as our flat was full of it and he had also given them sketches he had made of them in shorts and bare tops while shooting hoops or going for a run. They laughed their heads off when asked to model in the nude. Of course they would. When could they start? The only problem being that neither was circumcised. When we playfully suggested a slight operation the answer was no, with a capital N, they would not get their dicks chopped, or as Didier said very firmly ‘Personne ne coupe pas mon cigare!’.

Although Didier was shorter than Grigor, about five foot eight, he had a very defined dancer’s body, slim legs and good upper definition. He also showed off a nice bulge in his dance pants when he went through routines with Joe and Chas. He would be ideal for Pete’s first effort as the young David and his sling as described in the first book of Samuel ‘For thou art but a youth’. We did learn a bit more French slang as, when to great giggles from the pair of them, Didier stripped off completely and then quite unconcernedly rolled back his foreskin to uncover his very prominent acorn, no, more like a mushroom. “C’est mon chauve à col roulé,” he said as he covered and uncovered it again. Stop doing that, I thought, have a wank when you’re at home with Grigor. On the other hand it would be instructive to see a French lad’s ‘cigare’ erect. Average, shorter, or longer than a Scottish one? As he stood there with it flaccid I estimated it as about four inches of boudin blanc in that state. No, he didn’t get an erection and we had to translate what he had said. Luckily we had a French dictionary and found that ‘chauve’ could be a bald man and, after finding ‘col cassé’ was a wing collar, by a bit of thought and an almost English word in ‘roulé’ we decided it was ‘his bald old man with a roll-neck’. A good description. One-up for the sweaty, sorry, sweater wearing French!

We did find out a bit more of Didier’s history when the pair came up for supper one Monday evening. He had had a letter from a cousin, Emile, which had been delivered to the Embassy and his mother had given it to him the day before after church. It was rather a tangled tale. Emile’s mother was Didier’s father’s older sister and there had been a falling-out between his father and the sister over Emile and what he had done when he was fifteen. The family lived on a vineyard in the Burgundy region and Didier would go and spend most of the summer vacation with them from the age of ten or so. Emile was a year or so older than Didier. Didier was quite forthright and said it was Emile who taught him about wanking when he was twelve and Emile was fourteen. “I could not make my stuff then but it was funny seeing Emile go all red in the face then squirt his spunk. We did it together in bed because we slept up in the attic room and it was hot so we had no clothes on,” he said with a laugh. The next year he wasn’t allowed to go and he didn’t find out why for a couple of years after that, and by accident. He had still been attending the strict Jesuit lycee in Paris before he had transferred to the International School in London and had been on a Scout camping trip fairly near where the village and vineyard were. He had borrowed a bicycle and made a ten kilometre journey and, luckily, found Emile by himself near the entrance to the vineyard. Emile had said he mustn’t come in and fetched his bike and the pair had gone to a secluded spot where Emile told him the whole story.

Emile had been in trouble over some girl. He told Didier that one of the girls in the village was found to be pregnant when she was fourteen. Her father had brought his family to the village seeking work, perhaps in one of the vineyards around. Most of the vineyard work was seasonal but the family of father, mother and three children, the girl being the eldest, were more or less destitute so they were given an old ramshackle house to live in and the father got by doing odd jobs around the village.

Apparently the girl, hearing noises from the parents’ bedroom next to the room she and a younger sister were sleeping in, had looked through a hole in the wall and had seen her father humping her mother. She saw this happening almost nightly with mother whimpering with seeming pleasure. All the girl knew about sex was that she would bleed once a month now she was fourteen. She had seen dogs fucking as well so was very curious about what it might feel like if mother obviously enjoyed what father was doing. She had told her young brother of ten what she had seen and demanded to see his prick. The boy showed her but thought all he could do was pee out of it. Was father peeing? The brother had told one of the older boys in the village about his sister and her curiosity and this lad, plus Emile and two others, all fifteen or so, said they would show the boy’s sister what it was like. It ended up one merry afternoon with all four boys losing their virginities the proper way, as did the girl. Result: swollen belly, great denouncements from the pulpit, and a babe was born nine months after the joint fuck. Who was the father? It could have been any of the boys and, of course the parish priest and other authorities got involved. The Mayor tried to hush it up, one of the boys was his nephew, and more or less managed it. However, with Emile also involved and his father one of the principal landowners in the district, someone had to take the blame. The oldest boy was accused of sex with a minor. As he was a minor, too, it was deemed he did not know what he was doing. A quiet cover-up. Emile’s father employed the father a bit more and it was just a matter of time before the child, a boy, would be old enough to show family characteristics.

All this had caused quite a rift in Didier’s family. Father an attaché at the Embassy afraid of any scandal meant that the sister and husband were now personae non gratae. Father’s younger brother, who went into a monastery at eighteen to become a monk, would be kept in ignorance. Didier’s mother, though scrupulously religious and shocked at the nephew’s behaviour, wasn’t so rigid as father and admitted to Didier, when she handed over the letter from Emile, that she had kept in contact with his aunt and uncle. He had opened the letter in his mother’s presence. From appearances it was thought the child was Emile’s. Only a DNA test would tell but the girl’s father had forbidden it. Emile was now at university studying viticulture and would, some day, take over the vineyard and its management. He was in conflict. He had met a girl who he was in love with, but if the child should prove to be his, should he offer to marry the mother? Would Didier be able to come and see him? He needed advice from his cousin. However, Didier would have to go alone because of security and passport problems for Grigor. Grigor said he should go. A decision to be made. In the end it worked out well. The girl was pregnant again by someone else in the village and married quickly. Emile was free to propose to his amoureuse.

We still had to do a bit of research before the full painting of David could be done. Pete was busy sketching the nude young man in different poses. He had to have a sling and that would have to be made. I found the old Bible which had been on a shelf in the so-called fourth bedroom. A box-room or junk-hole at present as we still hadn’t got round to clearing it out or painting and decorating it. I turned to Samuel I and found in verse 4 that the Philistine Goliath was given as being six cubits and a span tall. Our dictionary said a cubit was between eighteen and twenty-two inches and a span was nine inches. I did a quick calculation using a middle point of twenty inches for a cubit and worked out he must have been almost eleven feet tall. If Pete had to draw his prick that would be...? A little more calculation with a six foot man having a generous length of six inches or so erect, or about five inches flaccid, and Goliath would have had a reasonable nine inch floppy on display. I could imagine the backchat between the pair if Grigor was painted displaying, in proportion, a dick that size relative to the more modest phallus of the youthful shepherd-boy. Luckily, I read on a bit and found that Goliath was described as an ‘uncircumcised Philistine’. As the client wanted all to be circumcised Goliath could not be painted showing his mammoth whang. It would have to be a back view of Grigor’s well-proportioned rump and muscled back. I read out my findings about possible height and length of his dick. As the lads were more used to metric measures I had to say that eleven feet was about 3.3 metres, and nine inches was near enough twenty-three centimetres. A concerted ‘wow!’ from them and Grigor pointed at Didier’s pendant prick as Didier peered down losing the pose he had been in. Didier was a truthful lad. “I have made a measure and mine is dix, I mean ten, centimetres when like this.” A good guess on my part about Didier’s part!

Grigor went over to him and bent a little and kissed his cheek. “We are the same,” he whispered, “And when strong.” I guessed he meant ‘erect’. Strong, as in mighty or sturdy would also cover their love for each other as we had seen it develop in just the short time we had known them. Matching in good character as well as in length of prick. An excellent combination.

The good character was shown not so long after when I arrived home from work and after entering the flat found Pete on the sofa cuddling Didier. I immediately thought that seeing the lad in the buff while sketching him for the painting of Saul and David with the harp had set off lascivious thoughts and actions in my partner. What had the pair been up to? A quiet suck and fuck in my absence? I stared and realised they were both fully dressed and Pete was shaking his head slightly. This stopped my immediate reaction of shouting out “What the bloody Hell’s going on?”.

I hadn’t strayed since I’d confessed nearly a year ago to being sucked off by a Polish barista in the backroom of a café I’d often frequented near the office. I was working late as there had been a computer glitch and when two of our whizz-kids, both a deal older than me, had unravelled the problem, I then had to see what was happening in New York to a certain bunch of securities. After making some sense of the figures I had left the office, at nearly eleven o’clock, in the good hands of our night security and craved a coffee. I’d already sent a text to Pete saying I would be late, so frazzled and not really in a good mood I was soon in an empty coffee bar with a medium latte in front of me and Marc, as it said on his clipped-on label, ready to shut up shop. Just as I finished the coffee he put a closed sign up on the door and switched off some of the lights. As I stood he looked down. “You good big?” he asked, “I suck good.” He shook his head. “No pay, I do for boss, he no here tonight.” The only way out was now through the back of the bar and the side door. I just nodded and followed him wondering if I might be knocked on the head and robbed or something.

The something was good. He certainly knew the best way to arouse a customer! He undid my zip and had my immediately erect cock in his mouth and took all my six plus inches in one go. As he knelt his own ample-sized prick was in his hand and, as I downloaded down his throat, he shot in tandem with me, but his spurts of jizz went all over the floor. As my well-sucked prick dropped from his mouth he looked up at me and smiled. “I good, you good big,” he then nodded towards the cum on the polished floor. “I clean, make boss happy.” Well Marc, I said to myself, you made me happy but I’ve got to get home and confess. I did and I was forgiven and showed my Pete I could give head as well as the Pole. No, I didn’t give Pete my pole that night! Nor did I go to that coffee-bar for a couple of weeks. By that time Marc had moved on somewhere else, no doubt keeping another boss and customers happy.

No, Pete hadn’t strayed that afternoon with Didier. I realised the lad was weeping. I sat next to him and he snuggled between the pair of us. His story was told again in great detail. He had finished a dance class that afternoon but had stayed on to practise a couple of sequences again with a lad named Lee who he’d mentioned before. They had stripped off in the changing-room and gone to the showers. They were the last around so the shower room was empty. They had washed side by side, but before they’d turned the separate jets off, the lad had knelt down, as Marc had done to me, and took Didier’s flaccid prick into his mouth with water still cascading down. Didier hadn’t lasted long and, without thinking, was on his own knees sucking on Lee’s now erect tool. Luckily, Lee wasn’t too big in the penile department as he tried to force his cock down Didier’s throat just as he shot his load.

As Didier stood so Lee had clutched him and asked if he would be his boyfriend as he loved him. Didier said he was breathless after all the excitement and had the sense to say he already had a boyfriend, but they could be friends. There was weeping then on Lee’s part. He was lonely. He had guessed that Didier was gay, however what he’d said was all on the spur of the moment. They had dried and got dressed but Didier was in conflict. He was sorry for the lad, they could still be friends, but he had not only been sucked off he had done the same to the lad. What would Grigor say or do? In some garbled way Didier said he had sinned, in deed, without thought or word. I had to work that out. Maman, of course, insisted that Didier accompanied her to Mass most Sundays and only Westminster RC Cathedral, not the small French RC church near her residence at the Embassy, would do. The RC service and the confessional at the Cathedral was mainly in English and he would have been exhorted to repent if he had sinned ‘in thought, word, or deed’. I knew the words as Jonathan used to hold me down, while tickling me, and say I had to confess to Father Jonathan as wanking was a sinful deed and my penance would be to go downstairs and see if there was a spare scone in the tin in the kitchen.

Pete stroked Didier’s cheek. “You must tell Grigor exactly what happened. You are not confessing to something sinful. You didn’t ask Lee to do what he did. If anything he is the sinner. You only did what any lad of your age who was gay would do.”

I thought I would chip in. “Would you like us to be with you when you tell Grigor?”

Pete was more sensible and said it was something too personal and only for the pair of them. Grigor would understand. I said both of us had been tempted a number of times, but all was well between us. I think Didier was more composed now. It was past six o’clock and I could do with a nice cold gin and tonic before supper. I winked at Pete over Didier’s head and went and prepared three of the mixtures, Didier’s a little stronger on the gin. As I gave it to him I asked where Grigor was. He had gone to see his parents to discuss things with them. They were getting restless living in the hotel. A nice suite, but constricting. I knew this as Mr D had said this the last time I’d visited him with a sheaf of documents to be signed.

As I was dealing with their finances I had previously visited Martin’s boss, Perry, as I was told by him to call him, and he had said he was sure they weren’t on a hit list, but things in Russia were always volatile. Someone might try to accuse Grigor’s father of some further crime or other associated with the accumulation of the very large sum which was more or less now safely placed, much in Grigor’s or his mother’s names in case of problems. His parents could move out of the hotel but they couldn’t show too much extravagance in buying a suitable property. From intelligence sources, which Perry wouldn’t or couldn’t divulge, he knew there were many others with even bigger caches - oligarchs was the usual term for them - who would be, and were being, pursued before him and there were a couple of unsolved mysterious deaths already. A house in Highgate say, with suitable security in place would be best. Nothing too ostentatious.

Of course I had to tell Becky all this. She laughed. There was a house coming up for sale, not too near to their mini-mansion just in case Mr P or his cronies dropped a bomb, and it was walled and already had a sort of guard post. See if it would be suitable. Perry would have done a thorough investigation and would be advising. So things were moving along. I knew Mr D had been told about all this and I guessed Grigor was being told about it this afternoon.

There was enough in the slow cooker to feed the now more settled Didier, and Grigor as well who was perpetually hungry. Pete went to the kitchen and put a tray of vegetables in the oven to roast. Didier went and washed his face. On his return he did smile and asked if he could kiss us both for being such good... He paused. “...I have no word,” he said, “You are like two good fathers, perhaps brothers, I do not know.” Pete said we weren’t old enough to have an eighteen-year-old son, unless I had started squirting sperm as an infant. Huh, given the precocious age he’d been when he had his first wet dream he could have at least a thirteen-year-old who, if he was like his father at that age, would be already wanking away merrily five times a day! Pete had confessed he had managed to do that number one day when he was sixteen and was bored at home during the vacation. I just said Pete had wanked so much when he was younger his balls couldn’t produce enough spunk to squirt out the twenty times a day he’d tossed off so there wouldn’t be enough to make any girl pregnant unless she scraped it off his bedsheets and used a turkey baster!

Didier was laughing now and shaking his head. “You are rude and what is this turkey? You fuck a bird?” He put his hand to his lips. “That word is rude. I should not say it but all the boys do.” My, was Didier being prim? “It is a funny word they say it all the time, fuck off, I don’t give a fuck! One boy said fuck me rigid and I didn’t know what he meant but I think he was surprised about something.”

“Well, you’ve used it enough times,” Pete said and slapped his leg, “And I am surprised, like that boy.”

I was about to give a lecture on the use of a turkey baster by certain young ladies when a ring on the doorbell announced Grigor’s arrival. Pete got up to let him in. Didier gripped my hand. He was scared. I whispered that he should tell Grigor everything and he would forgive.

“I wondered where you were,” Grigor said as he came into the room. Pete interrupted him.

“Didier has something to tell you,” he pointed at Didier. “Go to the second bedroom and you have ten minutes. Supper will be ready then.” He turned to Grigor. “And you are invited, too.” Grigor smiled. Food! But first...

Didier stood and rushed from the room followed by Grigor who was asking what was the matter? A door opened and closed and Pete and I went into the kitchen. I laid the kitchen table while he stirred the pot and shook the veggies in the roasting tray. “I think we’ll all need another drink before dinner,” Pete said.

The ten minutes stretched to twenty before two nude creatures came rushing into the sitting-room. They were slobbering and kissing each other so Didier had been forgiven. The confession must have taken at most a couple of minutes we assumed, and what Grigor and Didier did after that took the rest of the time. Grigor broke the kiss and almost shouted out “On lyubit vkus moyego molofabi!”. I managed to translate the first bit. “He loves the taste of my...” There was only one word which would fit. Didier’s own penance was to take his boyfriend’s own outpouring and savour it as he had done, no doubt, many times before.

We were then set upon and slobbered over by the pair. “You will be our big brothers!” Grigor said. Pete slapped two bare backsides and said we would decide that when they were decently dressed. If he hadn’t said that I think we would have been stripped and supper would have been eaten at midnight!

Two happy lads and two more than relieved oldies had an excellent meal. Pete confessed that Mary Prothero’s cook had provided the substantial contents of the pot as she did with other offerings at least once a week in case we died of starvation. Over the meal we heard that Grigor’s father had received a good report on the house. With repairs, painting and refurbishment and a review of security they could move in in three months. He shook his head, he would stay here in the mews flat with Didier.

The contract for the paintings had to be honoured. Pete had made good inroads on the first three quickly enough, ‘David and Goliath’ with Grigor’s thigh and buttock magnified with Didier’s seemingly small foot prominently placed. Pete did a Caravaggio and made sure that Didier’s feet were dirty because, as Grigor had said, he was a shepherd and trekked across dirty fields. ‘David and Jonathan’ were the pair, almost in the pose we had been in for the drawing hung in the flat. The verse in I Samuel said that Jonathan had loved David ‘as he loved his own soul’. In the painting Grigor and Didier were apart and though looking at each other in the most loving way Pete dare not show the circumcised cocks erect. Needless to say the lads were. We did wonder if something had happened which might be depicted as a later verse read ‘they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded’. Exceeded? A hint, perhaps, from a later verse was considered and mulled over: ‘and between my seed and thy seed for ever’. He decided against showing what Staff Sergeant Cowen had also hinted at. “Was there any other evidence of a lewd act having been committed?” We hadn’t quite got to the point, in the Storeroom at the time, of exceeding, expending, exuding, or whatever stage the Biblical pair had reached, but a little whiteness on a stone or two might have been too excessive for what the original Hebrew meant.

He thought he would tackle ‘Samson and the Temple’ next. He needed an older and beefier model than either of the two lads. Sarg 1 volunteered Sarg 2 saying he had muscles where no man needed them. Martin also had no fear of appearing nude to be sketched and painted. Pete told me Martin did have a rather embarrassing moment though while he was in the pose pressing mightily on a wall on one side and a door frame on the other in the narrow passage in our flat. My! Samson wouldn’t be painted with the meaty cock which stood up proud in one of the sketches. Martin had laughed and said it always happened at the gym when he was on the weights machine. “Blood doesn’t always run to my head,” he’d told Pete, “Goes to another head as well!”

Pete was a bit perturbed that he would have to invent his idea of what circumcised cocks looked like. He’d looked on the Net and found medical images and there were plenty of pictures of circumcised nude lads usually with immense erections which he was sure were Photoshopped. He needed live specimens to get the correct result in 3D of the way in which the shank looked below the ridge. He said he had tried to remember what his friend, Ghazi, the Arab lad from Kinloch, looked like, but he admitted the pair of them were more often erect than flaccid. He had done a few sketches of one of the models at the college but he was a man of about fifty, not a young lad, or even an older Saul.

However help was at hand. The Cartwrights below us were away cruising the world, not cruising the Kings Road as Pete said about an obvious hustler outside one of the pubs. Mrs Hartman, the daughter, was having extensive repairs and renovations done at her house - an old rectory we found out. Thus, she and the two sons, now nineteen and seventeen, would be living in the flat below until all was done. The sons were Emory and Ethan. Even after an initial meeting I had renamed them, adding an M. The elder in my imagining became Memory as he was gorgeous and would stick, ready for recall, in any gay boy’s mind, and the other was Methane as he could cause an explosion at any time.

To begin with they obviously didn’t want to be in the flat. They preferred the open country. That was until our pair in the mews appeared in shorts and tee-shirts and started throwing hoops. Could they join in? Both were straight as far as we could ascertain, but the four soon jelled as a group. A few days after the pair appeared on the scene meticulous Pete was moaning, while Grigor was posing as the back view of ‘Goliath’, saying he must find some real live skinned cocks as pictures didn’t always tell the truth. Grigor laughed. He then said he and Dids, a pet name between them, had been to the pool at the gym in Fulham the day before with Emory and Ethan. They had showered after and he had noticed, I think he meant he’d taken a good look, that both were skinless. Not a rosebud between them!

Of course, the pair had been born in the States and had been routinely chopped. Pete’s immediate thought was would they be good models and would they pose? They were certainly well-built otherwise. Both were just under six foot and years of exercise and games at school had given them well-honed bodies. Grigor must have had stared at the pair as he said they were like him and Dids in length and they looked so good. But he had never been with a boy like that and what was it like? The pose was lost but a plan would be concocted. Would Grigor be willing to pose if Emory and Ethan were present? “Of course, I have a good body and those boys might want to share it,” was the response. I think Pete threw the pencil or piece of charcoal at him because at that moment Grigor’s cock rose to full stature in sympathy with his thoughts. A possible three inches short of the Biblical Goliath’s? We laughed when Pete told me all this. Of course, the old schoolboy question: ‘What is the lightest thing on Earth?’. The obvious answer: ‘A boy’s prick, as even a thought will raise it’ was true, true, true!