THE CHAV PRINCE
‘What, here?’ cried Justin. ‘We’re staying here? It’s an effin’ palace!’
‘Yes,’ Matt replied, a little smugly, ‘we’re staying here and it is indeed a genuine palace. It belongs to a friend of ours.’
The rented BMW rumbled over the cobbles of Radhausplaz and under a big arch in the grand and rusticated frontage of an enormous eighteenth-century house, which took up the biggest part of one side of the square. They emerged on to an inner courtyard, where a couple of other cars were parked.
Nathan had his Fodor’s Rothenia out. ‘The Tarlenheim Palace on Radhausplaz was built in the 1740s as a townhouse for the counts, later princes, of Tarlenheim (see p.76). Until recently it housed the transport ministry but was restored to the family in the late restitutions. The external sculpture is particularly notable. Closed to the public except on National Day.’
‘You love this, dunyu Nate,’ grumped Justin.
‘Takes me back to the times mum and dad dragged me round castles and cathedrals when I was little. I pretended I hated it, but really I didn’t.’
‘He’s just like me,’ snorted Matt. ‘Stuff adopting you, Justy. I’m going to adopt Nathan.’
Justin raised his eyes to an unsympathetic heaven in disbelief.
As Terry was unloading the car, a very cool and beautiful man appeared at the top of the steps. Really beautiful. Not in the Matthew class, mind you, but he certainly had something going for him. And Justin recognised him. He was the guy … what was his name? Marc Bennett … who had been screwing Will Vincent in the porn movie the two boys had enjoyed so much. The newcomer kissed and hugged Matt and Andy. He did not move towards Terry, with whom there was plainly some history.
Matt introduced Justin and Nathan. ‘Boys, this is Count Oskar zu Terlenehem, a good friend and my business associate here in Rothenia.’
‘Pleased to meetcha, Mr Bennett,’ quipped Justin.
The count looked appalled. He said in very good English, ‘There is no escape! Even babes in arms know of my other life.’
Matt scowled. ‘Justin, that was hardly tactful.’
Justin was totally unabashed. ‘You know me and tact, Matt. S’okay, your lordship. I’m just a young deviant wiv a criminal record. Doan’ mind me.’
Giving him a hard look, Oskar growled, ‘I don’t doubt you’ll come to a bad end, boy, so I won’t be too hard on you.’ Then he laughed and flicked his blond fringe from his eyes.
Justin smiled sunnily back. He liked this man, who was obviously as mixed up as he was.
Following the count up the steps, Justin found himself taken round the shoulder and hugged by Terry. He looked up at the security chief, who was smirking down at him. ‘Nice one Justy.’
Inside the door was a marble and pillared entrance hall, with two enormous pottery stoves in corners. Classical sculptures stood on plinths and several eighteenth-century paintings of Venetian scenes hung on the walls. A footman in a green-striped waistcoat helped Terry pile the bags in a corner.
Justin stood looking around, open-mouthed. He didn’t notice when the rest of the party disappeared – Terry outside to deal with the car, the others somewhere inside – until he suddenly realised he was alone. Having no idea of where he was supposed to go, he stepped though the nearest doorway and found himself in a long corridor, with doors opening off to the left. Through very tall windows on the right he spied an internal courtyard.
He tried the first door, but it was locked. The second door opened into an elegant panelled dining hall, the table set with crystal and silver. No one was around, so he retreated to the corridor.
At that moment a young man appeared at the far end. He stopped when he saw Justin and said something in a foreign language.
‘Sorry,’ said Justin, ‘I’m English.’
‘Oh … English. Hullo. Who are you?’ The kid, who could only have been in his early teens, was clearly good with languages.
‘Name’s Justin. I’m wiv Matt and Andy.’
‘Okay. Cool. Where are they?’
‘Dunno. I lost them in the entrance hall. Who are you?’
‘I live here, I’m Fritz.’
Justin looked the boy over: cheap jeans, a faded tee-shirt and Nikes. Must be one of the servants’ kids, he assumed.
Fritz looked him over in turn. ‘Would you like a tour? We’ll find your friends eventually, I think.’
Fritz led him up an unsuspected staircase concealed behind some panelling. They emerged in a series of tall state rooms giving on to the square below, furnished with a mixture of antiques and comfy sofas. There was a grand gallery full of portraits of kings, counts, ladies and soldiers from several centuries. Finally they came to a ballroom with gigantic hanging chandeliers.
Fritz chatted all the way. A really nice kid, Justin thought, with wavy blond hair and a tanned face. Thank God Fritz didn’t try to tell him the history of everything they passed, as Matt or Nathan would have done. Instead he showed Justin the secret passages, the hanging armour and weapons, and the mouseholes. He also introduced him to the cats.
‘There seems to be no sign of the other visitors,’ Fritz said at last, ‘so they can only have gone over to the kitchens for a drink and snack maybe. I shall take you down there.’
‘Don’t get into trouble on my account,’ Justin demurred.
‘It is no trouble.’ Fritz led him down a wide, stately staircase, through a side door and into a narrow corridor. Following the scents of coffee and fresh bread, they eventually approached a low cellared kitchen filled with English voices.
Justin stopped and said, ‘Thanks Fritz. You’d better go off and find your mum and I’ll take it from here. Don’t want you getting into trouble.’
Fritz laughed, and called out in Rothenian.
In response the count appeared, a wide grin on his face. ‘Ahoi, Fritzku, zei Angliske verrn?’
Matt and Andy came through together. Matt made what looked very much like a brief bow towards the boy. ‘Hullo, Serene Highness. I see you found him.’
‘Yes I did, Matt.’
Justin was bemused. ‘Okay, will someone tell me what’s up? I’m missing something.’
Matt smiled. ‘Fritz here is Oskar’s younger brother, Franz von Tarlenheim, the prince of Tarlenheim and lord of all he surveys.’
‘What …? I thought that was Oskar.’
‘It’s complicated, but no, the prince is Fritz. Oskar is his guardian.’
Justin stared at the boy. ‘Do I have to call you Serene Highness?’
‘No, you call me Fritz. I like that. Do you want to see my train set?’
‘Wouldn’t say no.’
‘Cool. It’s up in the attic. See you later, everyone.’ He took Justin off with him, both now chatting ten to the dozen.
Justin spent most of the rest of the day with Fritz, much admiring his huge train set, which took up most of the musty space under the palace roof. There were stations, tunnels, sidings, viaducts and bridges. Fritz did all his own modelling, although he bought the rolling stock. He had also wired up the electricity.
‘You’re brilliant,’ Justin finally said, a stationmaster’s cap on his head and envy in his heart.
‘Thank you, Justin. Fun, isn’t it? I suppose we’d better get down for dinner. Willemju will be here too.’
‘My good friend Will Vincent. You have met him?’
‘Oh yeah. Didn’t he used to be your brother’s boyfriend?’
‘Yes. They were so once. But Willemju is now living with Felip. They are both my close friends. Felip takes me fishing on weekends.’
‘Who is Oskar seeing now?’
‘There is a man, I think, a German. I have not met him. He sounds very boring, though, some sort of professor. I had better change. It will be black tie. Do you have a suit? I can do my own tie.’
‘Yeah, but I have to get Andy to do mine.’
At the outset, dinner was a bit frightening. Young Prince Franz took one end of the table. With perfect aplomb and a dignity far beyond his years, he stood at the beginning of the meal to welcome his seated guests with some formal Rothenian phrases. and to propose an opening toast, following the custom of his land. It was abundantly clear that, despite his youth, he merited much respect already from the adults who came into contact with him. He was to his station born, it seemed.
The other end of the table was occupied by a very fine-looking woman, his sister and guardian, the countess Helge, in crimson taffeta and diamonds. Oskar took up the middle with Will, Terry and Felip, the latter nearest Fritz. Opposite them were Matt and Andy. Nathan sat next to the countess and Justin next to Fritz, which suited them both down to the ground.
Fritz looked boyishly handsome in beautifully cut evening dress, with the red ribbon and medallion of an order of chivalry around his neck. Justin wondered if all kings and princes were as funny and pleasant as this intelligent, kind and unassuming young man.
In answer to Justin’s questions, Fritz described his early life as an ordinary village boy in the Rothenian countryside, climbing trees, feeding chickens and going to the local school. He was twelve before the family finally reclaimed its lands and assets from the government, and thirteen when Oskar abruptly resigned the title of prince and count to him. ‘So you see, friend Justy, I had no time to learn to be haughty and proud. But they are sending me on a course next year.’
He looked straight-faced at Justin, and they both collapsed, howling with laughter. A few minutes later Fritz was in complete hysterics when Justin told him the stories of how he earned his ASBOs. ‘Sewage … that’s what we call fumacij. And you flooded a government office with it? You are so totally cool, Justy.’ He wiped the tears from his eyes. Everyone else on the table had by now stopped talking to smile indulgently at the laughing pair.
Prince or not, Fritz had to depart for bed at nine-thirty. Everyone rose when he took his farewell with some other formal words in Rothenian. Will, Felip and Matt bowed their heads to the prince as he kissed his sister and left.
Justin switched his attention to his other side. ‘Hey, Matt, what we going to do this week?’
‘Pete and Tim will be here tomorrow sometime. I get my medal, as you call it, on Saturday. In between we’ll do a bit of tourism.’
‘Christ, not castles and stuff again.’
‘Only for us. Nathan wants to see the big gardens in the city, which you may think is more like it, eh? So you can go off with him and wander. You shouldn’t have much of a problem, there’s a lot of English spoken here. It’s a very safe city, although the trams are tricky. But Will can tell you how to manage them. He’s a genuine native now, living with Felip up in the Sixth District, above the river.’
Early the next morning, a Thursday, three boys left the side door of Tarlenheim Palace. Since it was the summer holiday from school, Fritz had said he would love to be Nathan’s and Justin’s guide round the city.
‘I’m still getting to know it,’ he explained. ‘Helge and I live most of the year at a house we have in the north in the small city of Modenehem. That’s where I’m starting at the Gymnazium – what you call high school – in September. It’s Oskar who lives in Strelzen, where he’s close to Will and their company offices in the Staramesten. He does a lot of entertaining of media and government people here. Now he’s so well off, he pays for the domestic staff.’
They bought day passes at a kiosk with the ‘funny money’, as Justin called it, and hopped a tram clanging its way eastward. Eventually they reached a huge open square in the centre of the city, the Rodolferplaz. They dropped off the tram as it screeched to a halt half way up towards the old royal palace.
They spent the morning mooching around the square and the main shopping street, the Mikhelstrasse. They lunched in one of the many McDonald’s outlets in the city, arguing intensely as to whether the fries were quite as crispy and the chicken sandwich a bit more spicy than back home.
‘I have never been outside Rothenia,’ observed Fritz, ‘and you have been to America, to the Caribbean and now here too, Justy.’
‘Well, you gotta come back and see us in London, mate,’ replied Justin.
‘Absolutely,’ agreed Nathan. ‘After all, Matt and your brother are obviously big friends, Fritzy.’
‘Oskar is very funny about London, where he spent several months last year. He was back in England again only a few weeks ago. He has many friends there I think. Myself, I would like to visit London and Buckingham Palace – although, with the number of English tourists and stag parties in Strelzen, you wonder what’s the point. Most of London seems to end up here during the summer.’
They looked across the restaurant at a party of English twenty-somethings still the worse for wear from the previous night’s binge on the Wejg, the red-light area of the city. One of them was wearing leather hot pants and pink, furry deely-boppers. Nathan shook his head.
After lunch, Fritz took them down to the Botanical Gardens by the river, where they followed Nathan round as he enthused. They passed the rest of the afternoon helping Fritz buy a PS2 game in a brand-new city mall west of Mikhelstrasse, where they were happy to contribute their considerable experience of what was good value. They were amazed by the low prices.
When they got back to the palace, they found the decibel level had increased substantially with the arrival of Peter and Tim from the USA. The two had got in on an overnight flight and were completely trashed, although Tim said he had been out for a stroll. He had never been in Rothenia before, and he loved it, he claimed.
On Friday morning, Fritz knocked on their bedroom door, asking if they were decent.
‘Quite good looking in fact,’ Justin called out. Fritz laughed and went in.
‘It is ten o’clock. When are you getting up? Willemju will be here in half an hour.’
Nathan looked at the prince’s grinning and quite unfazed face. Fritz must know why he and Justin were naked in the same bed. ‘Fritzy, you’re aware that Justin and I are boyfriends. Does it bother you at all?’
Fritz laughed. ‘You are two gay boys, I understand that. My brother and Willemju were boyfriends too, so I realise you do sexy things together. Sexy? Is that right? Well anyway, it doesn’t bother me. You have not made the pass at me, have you? But you might tell me what it is you do together. Is it the wanking or the sucking, and do you push your dick up Justin’s ass? Yes?’
Justin was sniggering now. ‘Er … I’m not sure I want to go into that sort of detail. Where did you pick up your vocabulary? Not in school, I’ll bet.’
‘Helge does not understand the Internet as Oskar does. After I got past the block she installed, I found some interesting sites.’
‘Why am I not surprised. So you went looking at gay porn?’
‘Not really. It is very boring. Always the same things. Much more interesting with the girls.’
‘That’s good news for the future of the Tarlenheim dynasty.’
Nathan threw off the covers and padded nude into the bathroom.
Justin sat up and clasped his ankles. ‘Nakedness doesn’t bother you either, I see.’
‘In Rothenia, being without clothes is not a big thing. If you go to the Spa here in Strelzen you’ll see hundreds of naked people.’
‘Okay, push off, Fritzy. I’m going to wash my Nathan’s back.’
‘Ah … the sexy thing. Don’t make too much noise.’ He went out laughing.
‘An odd boy that,’ Justin mused as he came up behind Nathan to brush his erection against his lover’s muscular buttocks and move it gently over the warm skin. ‘Shower, Nate?’
‘No. Let’s be sexy. Push your dick up my ass and I can do the wanking.’
Will Vincent was pacing the entrance hall when they finally appeared. Fritz, smiling to himself while playing with a Game Boy, had his feet propped up on a rather elegant banquette.
‘Ready lads? Thank God. I thought we’d be having lunch here. Fritzku says you want to see gardens, so I thought I’d drive you down to the agricultural college at Festenberh. It’s well worth a visit, as the botanical gardens and plantations there go back to the eighteenth century, and indeed were planted by Fritzku’s family. Although they lease it to the government, it’s still their house. No problem about admittance.’
In fact, the Director of the college was awaiting them when they arrived after an hour’s drive out of Strelzen. He shook hands very seriously with Fritz, and called him Szeren Hochheit throughout the conversation, which was mostly in Rothenian.
Nathan was off to the greenhouses like a shot, with Fritz tagged along to make sure he did not get in any linguistic trouble. Will, not being that keen on plants, hung back with Justin on the path.
‘You used to be a teacher dinya, Will?’
‘Yes.’ Will looked surprised. ‘Did I mention it?’
‘Nah, I can tell. You got that way of talking to people as if we’re an audience. Like you wanna educate us or somethin’.’
‘Er … right. Actually, you’re not the first person to tell me that. It really pissed off an ex-boyfriend – which is one reason why he’s an ex, I suppose, that and the fact he was a complete bastard.’
‘You like living abroad?’
‘Here I do. I love this country, and I’m glad to be a citizen of it now. It’s done so much for me, and my lover Felip and I feel more permanent as a result. It’s the need to be hitched that we gays get all anxious about. I’ll bet you’ve noticed it already.’
Justin was surprised, but recognised what Will was on about. ‘I guess I have. You mean wanting to get married and stuff. Not that I fancy walking down the aisle with me Nate … though he’d do a good bouquet, grow it himself probably. Mostly I’m anxious about Matt and Andy, and where we stand. They’re not too happy with me search for me biological father.’
‘How’s it going?’
‘We’re talkin’. I’m just not sure how to take it to the next level, or even if I wants to. Matt’s idea for a holiday was a bit of relief. Meant I didn’t have to worry about it for a few days.’ Justin went quiet, his thoughts far away.
Then he perked up. ‘Terry’s some bloke, innee?’
Will brightened too. ‘You admire Terry, then?’
‘Oh yeah … he’s seriously special. Me hero. You like him too, dunya?’
‘Christ, yeah. He saved my life in Rothenia a year or so ago … literally. If he hadn’t been there, I’d be six feet under right now.’
‘What a guy.’ Justin’s spirits lifted. He had finally decided to talk his anxieties through with Terry, who would know what to do.
Justin and Will wandered slowly round to the greenhouses and found Fritz sitting outside, complaining it was too humid within. He and Will crossed back over the lawns to look at the grand house of Festenberh, looming on the hilltop, which Fritz had never visited before.
Justin hung around the doors until a sweating Nathan emerged carrying a wad of seed packets the head of botany had given him. ‘Hey, Justy. You okay?’
‘Fine. We goin’ now?’
‘We only just got here, babe. We’ve not seen the formal gardens yet.’
Justin was a very good boy that day. He was interested in gardens, although not in the theoretical and scientific way his lover was. So he patiently followed Nathan around and even asked intelligent questions and made relevant observations. But it tired him out. He slept in the back of the car, sagging on Nathan’s shoulder, as Will drove them back to Strelzen. Nathan smiled down at him, touched by quite how good he had been.
After dinner and Fritz’s disappearance to bed, Matt announced that it was club night for anyone who wanted to go. Nathan’s and Justin’s hands shot up, and they dashed to their room to get changed. Pete and Tim were already dressed. Will and Oskar said they would go along despite all the unwanted attention they expected, which they would put up with for the sake of their friends. So six other young men were waiting in the hall when Nathan and Justin reappeared, ready to party. Only Felip and Terry were opting out.
Terry had detailed two of his guys to tail the party in a car. ‘They’re straights, poor bastards, so they won’t go inside Liberation, but they’ll be there to cover you when you get out. Me old mate Hendrik says he’ll have his meanies looking out for yer in the club, awright?’
A black limousine deposited them in a very different Rodolferplaz from the daytime one, full of tourists and office workers, that Nathan and Justin had visited the day before. The southeastern corner was now densely packed with throngs of men. Some were drinking gangs heading down to the neon and strip bars of the Wejg. Others were gays queuing up for Club Liberation, surging towards the blue-lit foyer under the eyes of a squad of hulking Rothenian bouncers.
The four teens were all eyes. Matt, needless to say, got a huge amount of awed attention. He was signing tee-shirts in the queue before they reached the bouncers. The admission was waived for him, as well as for Oskar and Will, who were recognised as friends of the owner’s. After Andy paid for the rest, they were allowed inside the packed club. Lights rippled and flashed across the dance floor. Dark groups occupied the bars and tables. The noise was deafening.
Andy dragged Matt straight on to the floor, with Will and Oskar following. The boys took a table. ‘Hey, it’s waiter service!’ approved Pete. ‘And what hunky waiters, too,’ he added in an undertone which Tim couldn’t hear. They ordered drinks and scanned the floor. Most of the clientele seemed to be British, American and German, although Czechs and Rothenians were in evidence, especially among the younger, slimmer element.
‘You been to clubs a lot in the States?’ shouted Justin to Tim, over the noise.
‘We sneak down to New York from time to time to sample the scene,’ Tim hollered back.
‘Like this, is it?’
‘No … here’s a bit old fashioned compared to the States, but it’s nice enough. Seem to be a lot less drugs circulating, from what I can see.’
Beers arrived, and they sat soaking up the atmosphere, which was relaxed and friendly, quite unlike the danger and darkness of the club that Justin and Nathan had penetrated in Camden. Nathan was tapping the table to the rock rhythm and finally asked Justin to come on the floor with him.
Justin grimaced. ‘Nah, Nate. I don’t do dancin’. Don’t think I could.’
Nathan looked disappointed. But Peter took him by the hand and dragged him off with Tim. The next thing Justin saw, they were moving together in a group off beside Matt and Andy. Oskar and Will were dancing very close too, farther out onto the floor. Although it was by his own choice, Justin still felt left out and forlorn.
A slow Scandinavian electronic number started and still they stayed on the floor. Now Justin was annoyed, feeling everyone was staring at him. The group had divided into couples, so he expected Nathan would come back. Suddenly he noticed his lover with a stranger – a dark, slim man – moving sensuously, although they weren’t in a clinch. He was furious.
The music changed and Andy bounced down by him. ‘Come on Justy, won’t you dance with your dad?’ Then he caught sight of the expression on Justin’s face and changed tone. ‘Justy, what’s upset you?’
‘Nathan’s dancing wiv that foreign whore over there …’ Nathan was in fact talking to Peter off to the side of the floor. ‘… well he was, anyway.’
‘Justy, you can’t blame Nathan for wanting to dance. Matt took his time about getting on the floor with me too. But I waited for him to feel comfortable with the idea. And just cos a boy wants to dance with your Nathan doesn’t make him a whore.’
‘Matter of opinion,’ Justin grumbled.
Andy frowned, grabbed his hand and dragged him resisting towards the lights and music. ‘Dance!’
‘Feel the movement, kid.’ Andy pulled him into a crowd of aimlessly swaying men and began doing so himself. Justin tried to copy him, but couldn’t quite get it. He was red and sweating, but at least no one was staring at him. Peter and Oskar were dancing next to them, which helped. The music mercifully changed back again to a slower rhythm, and Justin’s heart lifted when Nathan appeared behind Andy to take his place. Andy retired smiling.
Nathan held Justin close, nuzzling his ears and kissing him, and suddenly movement was not a problem. Justin’s fingers crept past Nathan’s waistband and pulled him close. When Nathan cooed in his ear, ‘Oh, I do love you, chavvy babe,’ Justin finally saw the point of dancing, as his lips brushed his lover’s cheeks and sought his mouth. They danced on, making their love a real thing to those around them. Matt and Andy stood watching them from a distance, with a glint in their eyes not too far distant from parental pride.
They all returned to the table, which was beginning to attract a lot of attention. News had spread that Jason Williams and Marc Bennett, the Falkefilm porn gods, were in the club. They drew some men, while the presence of supermodel Matt White and the billionaire Peacher brothers on the same table drew others. Dozens of mobiles were taking pictures of them, and camera flashes lit them up from time to time.
‘Why are they staring at us too?’ asked Nathan, alarm in his voice. ‘We’re not famous.’
‘Ah, but Nathan,’ Oskar answered with a quirky smile, ‘celebrity is like measles. Hang round with someone who has it, and you’ll catch it too.’
‘Tell me about it,’ agreed Peter. ‘From the moment I was in Teen Vogue at fifteen, they never let me go. When it got round I was gay, they just took pics of Timmy babe too. It’ll be in half a dozen US mags by the weekend that I was clubbing in Strelzen.’
‘Iss like living in a goldfish bowl.’
‘Sure is, Justy, sure is. But you get used to it, don’t you Oskar?’
‘It is inconvenient, but yes, you do get used to it, in all its foolishness. I’ve made Hello two issues running … well, it was my fault. I had to go to Cannes for the film festival, where we had a documentary in the running for an award. After learning that I went to all the parties, they started linking me with Princess Caroline of Monaco, just because we had a drink together. Don’t they know I’m gay, for heaven’s sake?’
Peter was curious. ‘What’s she like?’
‘A very lovely lady with such tragedy in her life, natural and friendly, I thought.’
‘Dad also knows her, and is asking her and her new guy over to St Kitts for his birthday party. Say, Oskar, why don’t you come too? I’d really like that.’
Oskar smiled, clearly touched. ‘Thank you, Pete, I’d like that very much myself. In the meantime, how about another dance? Maybe then Hello will get the right idea about me, do you think?’
The two tall, blond, muscular young men slid through the crowd and out on to the floor, followed by a lot of eyes. Justin looked round for Tim but couldn’t see him. He grinned at Nathan, who grinned happily back. ‘What are two kids like us doin’ hangin’ out wiv the jet set, Nate? Well, you belong here a bit: you are one of the upper classes, aintchuh? But me … this is insane me bein’ here, completely nuts.’
‘All we have to do is enjoy the ride, my chavvy babe. Soon enough we’ll be sitting in the back of classrooms at Hornsey College or digging ditches for Mr Anderson. The longer we stay here, the more attractive that seems.’
Justin excused himself, shouldered his way through the crowd of fans and found his way to the toilets. He was being stared at all the time he was pissing into the porcelain, although it was his prettiness as much as the company he was keeping that gained him attention, as he knew well.
An American guy stood next to him. ‘Hi!’
‘Er … hi. ’Scuse me, but this isn’t the best time for a conversation.’
Nothing daunted, the American continued, ‘See you were sitting with those amazing guys. You an actor or something?’
‘No … I’m a gardener.’
The American looked offended. ‘No need to get snippy, kid. Just asking.’ He went off in a huff.
‘And I was just replying.’ Justin zipped up. It seemed the truth did in fact set you free after all.
As he was returning to the floor, he noticed Tim just at the entrance to the darkroom, fingering his mobile phone. Justin came up behind him, curious. ‘Who you ringin’, Tim?’
‘What the fuck …? Jeez, you crept up on me there, man! No one. Not ringing anyone, just putting more credits on the damn thing.’ But Justin knew the look of someone caught out, and Tim was definitely discomposed. However, it was not Justin’s business.
He peered into the darkroom, which was already occupied by several groups. Not especially interested in the action, he tore himself away from the peep show and wandered back to the floor. Nathan and Matt were dancing together. Oskar was still with Pete, moving very nicely as it happened, two blond demigods quite away in a world of their own.
Tim had disappeared again, a pity, as Justin was psyching himself up to ask for a dance. They did after all have some history of intimacy, and Justin could still feel Tim’s skilful mouth on his dick that night on the yacht. He was horny enough by then to fancy the idea of a foursome with the American teens, though he guessed persuading Nathan might be a lost cause. Meanwhile, he stood leaning up against the wall, tapping his feet to the music and admiring his Nathan from a distance.
It was the changing of the guard at the presidential palace at the north end of the Rodolferplaz when two chauffeured limousines pulled through the great gates into the forecourt. Soldiers in blue uniforms presented arms and state policemen saluted as the cars drove under the arch. It was all very scary and exhilarating. An undersecretary of state and Mr Pokolosky, the chef de protocole, were waiting to welcome everyone.
As Matt and Andy emerged, they were met by a volley of flashlights and the whirring of cameras. Oskar and Fritz received similar attention.
Fritz was looking very fetching in morning dress. He was also wearing the full insignia of the Noble Order of the Red Rose, since medieval times a privilege of the counts of Tarlenheim as hereditary lord high marshals of Rothenia. Oskar insisted it was time the old ways were reasserted in their country, so Fritz, who always liked the idea of making a fuss, had donned the sash and put the heavy, glittering star on his chest with pride and a twinkle in his eye.
Mr Pokolosky looked disconcerted for a moment when he saw it, but then smiled and nodded at the young prince, who grinned back. Pokolosky bowed the Tarlenheims into the palace with very real respect.
The group walked up staircases and through tall corridors till they came to a set of doors where members of the presidential guard in full dress stood to attention. Drums beat a smart tattoo as they approached the old royal throne, on whose steps stood President Maritz, a tall and distinguished figure.
Oskar and Will Vincent stood behind Matt as his sponsors. The rest of the party took the front row of seats. Justin, quelled for once by the grand parade of state panoply, stood almost to attention next to Nathan, the two resplendent in their morning suits and grey gloves.
After the national anthem played, the president approached the podium and made a brief speech. When he had finished, Will whispered to Matt, who moved forward to have the sash of the order placed over his shoulder, and the star clipped to his coat. The president shook his hand and kissed him on each cheek.
Then it was Matt’s turn to acknowledge the honour bestowed on him, which he did in graceful and very appropriate English, translated by Will. There was much applause and drums beat again. They all had their pictures taken with Mr Maritz.
Afterwards, a chamber orchestra struck up to signal the beginning of the presidential reception. White-jacketed waiters circulated drinks and canapés, while more substantial fare was available on buffet tables.
Justin had the privilege of meeting his second head of state in six months. He was almost getting used to it. ‘Nice old geezer,’ he commented later. ‘Spoke really good English, and even knew a fair bit about gardening.’ He and Nathan had talked about their plans for a market garden to the president, who had invited them to have a look at the palace gardens anytime they wished.
Rothenian TV cameras had recorded the event, so in the evening they watched the whole thing unfold again on a news feature intercut with clips from Matt’s documentary and an assessment of its world impact on Rothenia’s image. The relationship between Matt and Andy Peacher was of course left discreetly unmentioned.
Will translated for the boys. ‘Don’t we look amazing?’ enthused Tim. ‘You’d better have taped that, Will.’
‘State TV sent it to me on DVD this afternoon. I have friends in the newsroom. I’ve got copies for all of you.’
‘They made a bit of fuss over Fritzy’s being there too, didn’t they?’ asked Nathan.
‘Yes. The aristocracy is becoming fashionable again in Rothenia. I’ve got a feature on the stocks about it: Central Europe’s resurgent upper classes. It deals with their persecution under Communism and their slow reclamation of the assets stolen from them. The Tarlenheims make a good story, but there are plenty of others even in Rothenia, never mind East Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland. I have buyers lined up for it in the UK and USA. Fritzku’s going to be interviewed and get a fee, aren’t you?’
‘Certainly,’ agreed Fritz. ‘I want the money for a new Flying Scotsman with Pullman carriages. Hornby import. Very good.’