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Love Existentially. Part 28.
By John Teller.
Book Nine More pain... Jabberwocky of Existential Love.
He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.
Stuart Begbie. February 12th 1971. Paris.
I'm late. Roger Peyrefitte will not be pleased. Dinner at eight, he said, I will meet you in the bar at seven thirty. It's now just turned seven forty-five.
I'm greeted by the doorman, and after he has taken my coat I look through the many people who are thronging around the bar of Le Tour d'Argent to see if I can see Roger. I can see him. He's chatting to a good-looking young man wearing a silk scarf tossed loosely around his neck, which is not necessary in the bar. He's wearing it for effect. Foppish, gay young men often do that in Paris. It's become a bit of a fad... sorting the `boys' from the `men'.
Roger smiles widely when he sees me, and when I'm with him, in English, he says, "Good evening my young friend."
I smile at him. "Sorry I'm late. The traffic."
He puts a hand on my arm to disarm any misgivings that I'm late, and asks, "An aperitif?"
I shake my head. "No thank you. I'll wait until dinner." I look at the young man, and ask Roger, "Do we have company?"
Roger shakes his head. "No. Eduard has just been telling me about his latest trip to the United States." He grins at Eduard. "He's been a very naughty boy. Apparently, he lost a fortune in Las Vegas and dare not tell his boyfriend."
I smile sympathetically at the young man, and speak to him in French, "Rather you than me. I prefer the Monte Carlo Casino. It's far more beautiful there when you sit on the harbour wall with your head in your hands, wondering what you've done."
Eduard laughs. "You like to gamble too?"
"Not really. I was there once with a good friend and was pretending to be a gambler."
"How can you pretend to be a gambler," asks Eduard.
I look right into his eyes, and I know he will not understand. I was with Michael and we'd fallen out. It was over nothing as usual, but he'd hurt me when he said that it might have been better had we not met when I was complaining that I never saw much of him. I shouldn't have complained. He was on leave and we'd decided to spend it on the Cτte d'Azur. We were in Nice. I stormed out and walked over the hill to Monte Carlo and went into the casino. I lost every penny I had on the roulette wheel and more and then sulked like a five-year-old as I walked back, partly intoxicated and weeping at my stupidity. We'd taken an apartment with a sea view, and Michael was sitting on the patio in a swinging seat when I got back. He could see that I was upset, and lifted his arm for me to sit with him. When I did, he wrapped his arm around me, kissed my hair, apologised for his remark, and said it was probably the most stupid thing he'd ever said in his life. We made up. Then I told him what I'd done. I expected him to be angry, but all he did was laugh. When I asked him why he was laughing, he said we'd have to cut back on everything to pay off the debt and that it would mean us eating pig's trotters and chips for every meal. During the remainder of our time on the Cτte d'Azur, I clung to him like a leech because I loved him so much.
The precious thoughts have knocked me back a bit, and my eyes are not quite right when I can't look at Eduard when I reply, "You can if you're stupid like me."
Roger seems to sense my discomfort and places his hand on my arm. "Shall we go to our table? I think it's ready now."
I smile at him, and nod, and say goodbye to Eduard.
After we've ordered, Roger asks, "Are you alright?"
I shake my head. "Not really."
"Captain Marvel? Is he still playing silly games?"
"If you mean is he still driving that damned truck up and down to Qatar, then yes."
"And is the boy still with him?"
"And are you jealous?"
I look into Roger's eyes and answer him truthfully. "I shouldn't be, but I am. Do you think I'm stupid?"
Roger reaches across and touches my hand. "No. Or maybe yes. Love does strange things to you. I don't need to ask if you still love Captain Marvel, and I'm in no doubt that he still loves you. It will be difficult for a while, and then things will work out. Give it time."
I squeeze Roger's hand, and then release it. "How long does it take?"
Roger looks wistful. "Sometimes forever."
He nods. "Some burdens of life are worth carrying. Those very special loves are the heaviest, but they're also the most worthy. You must move on with your life; marry and have children and enjoy what you create. It won't change what you are, but life will be good. Sometimes you'll look back and wish you'd done things differently, but you can never undo those things. As I have told you many times, love is existential. Now let us eat and be merry." He grins at me. "It's not too often these days that I dine with such a beautiful young man."
I chuckle when I ask, "Don't you ever stop flirting?"
He laughs. "Never! Now what are you eating?"
I've already decided what I'm having. My melancholy will not allow me to do otherwise. "Pied de Cochon... with plenty of salt and vinegar. If they have it on the menu."
Although it's February and cold, wrapped in our overcoats and linking arms, Roger and I stroll slowly by the Seine as we chat. After we've walked under Pont Neuf Bridge, Roger asks, "Have you something to tell me?"
I pull us to a halt and stare first at the starry sky, and then at the waters before I tell him, "Isabelle is pregnant."
Roger chuckles. "I knew something special was on your mind. Let us hope it's a boy as beautiful as you, and in a dozen years time you can leave him in the good care of his grandfather, Roger. I will be his mentor."
His comment makes me laugh. "I just knew what your first words would be."
He laughs. "He could not be in better hands. If it is a boy, what will you call him? Michael... or Roger?"
Because we're linking arms, I squeeze his tightly. "Neither. He will be called Alexandre."
I feel Roger's arm tense in mine when I say it, and then he asks, "After Michael's father and brother?"
I lay my head against his. "Yes, but also because there is a very special person in my life to whom the name means a lot. He will be part English and part French. The French part will be for your special love. That's why his name will be Alexandre and not Alexander."
Roger looks up at the stars, and says, "It might be a girl, in which case I will still love her, but if it is a boy, then I will worship him. Thank you my beautiful boy." When I glance at Roger, tears are streaming from his eyes. And then he asks, "Has Isabelle changed her mind about getting married now?"
I shake my head. "She says it's not necessary. She says that we love each other and she doesn't need a legal document to say that. I've argued the usual stuff that it makes some things easier, but she says we'll manage."
Roger humphs and we continue to walk in silence for a while.
******************** ********************** **********************
Michael Johnson. Near Mandali, Iraq. March 13th 1971.
I've been asked to make a detour. I don't like it. It means we're alone without any of the Bogs-to-Wogs convoy. Normally we would go directly through Baghdad, but it means a detour from Samarra across through Khalis and Baqubah almost to the Iranian border. The Iraqi main roads are bad enough without making detours on roads that are not designed for semis with long trailers. I told Imaan it was not a good idea, but he insisted that arrangements had been made for me to meet an Arab called Muhammad Al-Miqdadiyah, three miles out of Mandali, and he would give me a small, locked metal safe to take to Qatar. I was given a telephone number to ring and have already spoken to Muhammad Al-Miqdadiyah from Samarra when I refuelled. He spoke half-English and I managed to work out that he would be waiting in a blue Mercedes parked by a small group of trees before we get to Mandali. I'm surprised there are any trees. This part of Iraq is mostly scrub and high, rocky hills.
It's a good job we're light-loaded, and twice I have to drag the trailer across corners and not around them. If it was wet, we'd have no chance. Even Hamzah is looking worried.
I check my watch again. Two-fifteen in the afternoon. The sun sets at six and I need to get this rig back on decent roads before it does go dark. It's bad enough driving in daylight without trying to negotiate this terrain in darkness.
I'm not sure if I'm relieved or worried when I see the Mercedes. It is blue, and the Arab standing by it in his long white dishdasha and a red and white and black chequered keffiyeh on his head is smiling like a lunatic when he sees me stop a few yards away. I've got a present for him. I know exactly what it is. Unless it's in a tin box, money notes feel the same no matter what currency it is, and I have a package big enough to almost fill a bergen that Imaan said was to be exchanged for the metal box. But my orders are that I have to get my present first, so I don't get out of the cab and my right hand is poised to trip the switch that will release the SLR from its hidey hole in the roof lining while I wait for him to approach. When he gets by the driver's door, he grins and clicks his fingers in the universal sign that he wants money. I smile at him, and nod. Then I make the universal sign that I want whatever he's got by beckoning all the fingers of my left hand at him. Another big grin from him. Then a thumbs up. He goes to the car and takes out a small travel safe no bigger than a shoe box. Imaan had given me a description of what to expect, so now I'm in no man's land. If it's filled with uranium, I won't know about it unless me and Hamzah turn green on the rest of the journey. My orders are that I'm not to check it. So I take it from him, hand it to Hamzah, and take the large parcel containing the Arab's ill-gotten gains and push it through the cab window to him. Again that daft grin from him, and he must be a trustworthy Arab, because he throws the parcel into the Mercedes and with a wave of his arm through the window, is gone in a cloud of dust. I look at Hamzah, and giggle. He bursts out laughing. I think both our reactions are because we're relieved that everything has turned out fine. Well, up to yet it has. I still have to get us back onto decent roads before it gets dark, and the first thing I need to do is find a decent place to turn this rig around. I drive for more than half a mile before I find a place that looks suitable... and even then I don't mess about when I slew the rig first left onto what I think is hard ground, and then right back over the road and onto more ground that looks half decent, and when we're back on the road and facing the way we came, I breathe a sigh of relief. Hamzah must have been thinking the same, because he giggles when he says, "I knew you could do it. I wouldn't have dared try it."
I wouldn't have dared try it. He would. My special young man is a fearless character and can drive the Volvo F88 almost as well as me. He's done plenty of driving, and it's not because I want him to be a truck driver.
When you finally march up the steps of Old College to be commissioned as officers in the British Army at the end of the Sovereign's Parade after having done forty-eight weeks training at Sandhurst Military Academy, not only do you look smart... you have to be smart. Analyse; formulate; preparation: think ahead. You don't forget those things. That's why, when I considered Hamzah was old enough and big enough to do it, on one of the long stretches of seemingly endless roads, I told Hamzah to get in the driver's seat and get on with it. He'd been badgering me to let him `have a go' for a while, so, because there was little damage he could do except barge a few tonkas off the road, I pulled over, made him swap seats, adjusted the driver's seat to accommodate his small frame, and then practically ignored him for two hours. (Like a proper inquisitive boy, he'd previously learned how to steer the truck and change gear and work the accelerator and clutch and brakes while he was sitting on my knees - not without some sexual antics while he was doing it - and he knew the basics.) Within an hour he was singing his Arab songs and I had to tell him to slow down. Job done. If anything was to happen to me, I had a co-pilot who could get us to safety.
Intuition is a strange thing. I've worked it out that the greater part is observation, followed by part logical thought. But there's an ingredient of intuition that is unfathomable. Perhaps the unfathomable part stems from human instincts that have long been stifled with progress: a hidden part of the brain that detects right from wrong... good from bad... harmful or non-harmful. I didn't want to make this detour. It wasn't instinct that made me not want to. Common sense told me it wasn't a good thing for a Westerner to wander from the straight and narrow, and that's because I've long since learned that Western culture and that of the Arab world are alien things. Westerners don't think like Arabs, and vice-versa. We've been spoiled in The West, but an Arab has to live by his wits every day of his life if he's to survive. My little Hamzah at the side of me is the perfect example of that philosophy. I may have gone to university and through Sandhurst, but Hamzah has done his training in the real world of survival. Where we learn it, he's done it. In many ways he's much cleverer than I am. I didn't find him: he found me. Yes, we have a super relationship, but in the greater scheme of things `out here', Hamzah's natural instinct for survival is part of the team we have become. And it's while I'm pondering on this detour that Hamzah's natural instincts kick in when he says, "Michael... I didn't like that man."
I look across at him. "The guy in the Mercedes?"
He nods. "He smiled too easily."
I'd been thinking the exact same thing. When one is dealing with large sums of money in exchange for goodness-knows-what, you don't grin like a lunatic. If I'd been in his place and in my own territory, I'd have been armed to the back teeth... and I most certainly would not have been alone.
Again I look at Hamzah. His beautiful blue eyes look right into me, and, as always, they stir my soul. But this time as we look into each other's eyes, I become fearful. Not for myself, but for the soul that resides within the beautiful boy beside me who I have come to love deeply. And that's why my Sandhurst training kicks in. Analyse; formulate; preparation: think ahead. His safety is the only thing that matters to me... especially now my own intuition is screaming at me that something is wrong... and especially now I can see that my own intuition is also echoed in the eyes of the boy I love.
The sickening feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when things are about to happen occurs when I see that the white Range Rover SUV about half a mile ahead has its tail lights on. It's still daylight. There's no reason for them to be on. But there is a reason for them to be on... the driver of the vehicle wants to be seen. Analyse; formulate; preparation: think ahead. I look across at Hamzah and bark out instructions. "Get under the bed. Not the bedclothes... the mattress! And stay there! Under no circumstances are you to come out! Do you understand me?"
Hamzah's fearful eyes look into me. "What's happening? What about you?"
I snarl at him, "Do as I tell you. Under no circumstances are you to come out! Do you understand me?"
Hamzah reaches under the seat and brings out the small safe Mercedes Man gave to me. "Give it to them if that's what they want."
I nod. "It will be if this is a real hijack. Now put it on your seat and get under the mattress. And remember what I told you. Under no circumstances are you to come out! Do you understand me?"
He nods, scrambles into the bunk compartment, and I hear him disturbing everything to hide himself away. When it goes quiet and I know he's settled, I draw the curtains across. Now it's just me and whatever. I draw closer to the SUV with one yellow and one red tail light. Typical Arab vehicle maintenance. Then I undo the compartment in the headlining and unlatch the SLR from its fittings. I leave the safety catch on and lay it on the seat Hamzah was occupying, and then fasten up the compartment again.
The unmade road is on the side of a small hill. To the right, about fifty yard away and down the embankment is a dry river bed; to my left, impenetrable inclined terrain of the rest of the hill. I have no choice but to go forward. The SUV is slowing down. I'm thinking what to do. Although all my senses are screaming at me that something is very wrong, a small part of my brain is also yelling that the person or persons in the SUV might be completely innocent. That's how a civilised brain works. If I was a psychopath I would just barge the SUV off the road and get the hell out of here. But I'm not a psychopath, and when the SUV stops and one of the rear doors opens and two small boys aged about eight get out, I feel a sense of despair that any plans I had to barge the vehicle off the road have gone completely. But seeing the small boys gives me a hint of relief. Perhaps they've just broken down? I pull the truck to a halt about twenty yards behind the SUV, disengage gear, apply the air brakes, and leave the engine ticking over. The moment I've done it, I know I've been outsmarted. In fact, I couldn't have been more outsmarted if I was a complete dummy. That's because I don't think or act like an Arab.
Immediately to my left, about twenty feet up the hill is a large boulder, and from behind that boulder spring two Arabs dressed in dishdashas and red and white and black chequered keffiyehs. No, neither of them are Mercedes Man, but I'm in no doubt they're from the same tribe. And they're both holding something I'm familiar with.
The Kalashnikov AK47 is probably the most famous assault rifle in the world. There are better SLR's, but none have been proven and tested in every conceivable condition in the world as the AK47 has. It works just as well in mud as it does on a lonely road in Iraq, and I'm not about to argue whilst looking down the barrel of two of them. In fact, I don't have time to argue, or even slip off the safety catch of my own SLR, because after seeing flashes from the end of one of them, everything goes black... but not before...
It's cold the first time I notice him: a clear-blue-sky-and-a-keen-Northerly-wind type of cold day: the type of February day where the sun warms one side of you and the other side is frozen to the marrow if, like me, you don't have warm clothes to keep out the cold. It's during the morning break at school, and I'm sitting alone on a low wall, reading through some notes I'd taken during the last lesson (English Literature), when I look up and see him. He is with a group of boys his own age: year three. I know most of them, because I know most of the boys in the school. Well, in a knowing-them-because-I'd-seen-them-before kind of way. He will be thirteen or fourteen, which is the age range for the third form. But I can't recall seeing him before.
He is laughing; a bubbling, carefree, open mouthed, show-your-beautiful-white-teeth laugh, because he is on the receiving end of trying to retrieve his school cap, which is being tossed from boy to boy. The cap goes high in the air, and the Northerly wind catches it. The wall I'm sitting on is to the South of them, and the cap lands at my feet. The boys go quiet. I'm a senior, and a prefect in this school, and seniors and prefects, when they're studying, should not be disturbed by silly junior games.
I pick up the cap. It's a good quality one, with a lining. (Unlike my own, which I was required to wear at his age, which had none.) There's a name in it. I read it. Stuart Begbie.
Stuart Begbie is walking towards me now. The laugh has gone, but underneath the windswept, tousled blond hair, he's smiling. "Sorry," he says with a twinkle in his beautiful blue eyes.
One glance. That's all I have time for. I drop my own eyes. Nothing new there. I'm shy. I always have been. I mumble, "It's not a problem, Stuart." And I hand it back to him and sneak another quick glance at him.
Rosy cheeks; a nice nose; full lips; slim; small-for-his-age. Almost too beautiful to be a boy.
His leather gloved hand takes the cap from me, and his partly broken voice is soft and warm and friendly. "Thank you, Michael."
And he's gone, and the boys begin their boisterous game again.
******************** ********************** **********************
They came with guns in the night, firing them everywhere. My brother Kamran was the first to die. At least I think he's dead. How can you live when half of your head is blown away? It's seared in my memory... the strange sight of a pure white jawbone complete with teeth separated from the rest of his head and stripped of the skin of his lower jaw. The lighting in our house was poor, but I clearly saw the whiteness and clarity of his jawbone spinning through the air before it bounced off the wall. That's another thing I've never got my head around... I didn't hear the gunfire until after I saw the jawbone hit the wall. Rat-a-tat-tat. The sound of automatic gunfire. The same sound I've just heard. But everything is different now. That night when they came, the gunfire was loud and there were screams everywhere. But not now. Rat-a-tat-tat... subdued; distant because I'm under the thick mattress, and then... nothing. Well, nothing until I hear muffled voices... voices speaking in a tongue I understand, but because the diesel engine is still ticking over, I cannot quite make out what they're saying. But I feel the cab move when the door is opened and someone climbs in. I'm terrified. They only have to open the curtains and lift the mattress to find me. But they're not looking for me. Why? I have no idea. The voice is not so muffled now, and I hear whoever is in the cab tell someone they've got the box and Michael's gun. But no sounds from Michael. Is he dead? He must be. I know Michael. He would be doing one of two things if he were not... swearing and cursing if he was angry, or pleading if he thought it would get us out of this situation. Michael is dead. But I am too terrified to be numbed even by that thought. If they find me, I will be joining him. So I try not to breathe.
I'm lying directly over the engine, which is now turning over faster. They're driving the truck. Then the revolutions lessen back to tick-over, but the truck is not stopping. The cab is bouncing over rough ground and gathering speed. Then it dawns on me what's happening. They've driven the truck off the road and it's going downhill. Then chaos.
The engine is still running, but the truck is on its side. I'm not dead. I'm not even hurt. I'm just upside down and disorientated. But at least I can see now. I wish I could not. Michael's strangely crumpled body is slumped by his driver's door, but his left hand is outside the cab, lying on the ground, fingers open and white, and his wrist is trapped underneath the frame of the window. That worries me. If I don't get his hand out from under the cab window strut, he could lose his hand. Lose his hand! Have I lost my mind? He's probably dead!
Michael! Dead! What a strange thought! I can't let him be dead! His jaw is intact! He's covered in blood, but his jaw is still attached to his body, so he can't be dead!
I've crawled through the broken front window. That's strange. My side of the split screen is unbroken. They've gone. There's no SUV. We're alone. Think... Hamzah! What would Michael do? Turn off the engine. That's the first thing. The light is fading. It will soon be dark. I scramble back through the window, and just as I do, the engine stops of its own accord. How strange! How to help Michael? I can't help him. Others will have to do that. I need to get help. I know the drill. Michael has taught me what to do in an emergency: PRESS THE RED BUTTON. Michael says it can be pressed only in an emergency. This is an emergency. Undo the compartment where the gun is stowed. It's there... the red light that glows constantly and a red button on the small black box. When he first told me about it and showed it to me, I asked if I could press it for fun. He said it would blow us to bits if I did. I giggled and pretended to make a move towards it. He slammed the compartment on my fingers. It hurt. He said he was sorry and kissed my fingers. I remember he kissed them longer than he should have done. I remember thinking it was because he loved me. I daren't press the red button. It might blow us to bits. I look at Michael in a crumpled heap. Sorry, Michael, but I don't know what else to do. Best to put my finger on it... close my eyes, and hope for the best.
Nothing has happened. I open my eyes. Now the red light is lots of red lights all in a row and all flashing along the small black box. Perhaps it's a warning to get out before we're blown to bits. I pull my head right into my shoulders and wait for the explosion. Nothing. He was telling me lies. No... he was making fun of me. Michael is always making fun of me.
I've scraped all the soil from under his arm. I can move it now. I can't shove it back under the steel of the cab, but at least the blood can flow. That's one job done. Now I need to clean the blood from his face. No, not just his face... his head. His head is covered in blood. But I've got to move his legs first. But how can I do that? He's upside down and lying on the back of his head and his neck. He might have a broken neck. His legs are everywhere. I can't put them anywhere because they keep falling back down. And they're heavy. He's like a baby just before it's born... upside down and curled into a ball and ready to come out. It can't be doing him any good being like that. Put the cab light on you stupid fool! That's better. I can see better now. I know what to do. Fold his legs over behind the seat and wedge them down with the mattress. That's it. Perfect. They're not falling back down now. Is that more comfortable, Michael? I'm leaning back on your legs Michael so they don't fold over again. It's uncomfortable, but I'm okay. And I can use this shirt to clean your face. You're okay. You've still got your jaw. You only die if you lose your jaw. I know about these things. You're not dead yet. I know that because I can see the little bubbles you keep blowing in the blood that's coming out of your mouth. Do you want me to sing to you Michael while we wait for the red lights to get us help? Raji will help me. I know what I'll do... I'll get my Raji Beads and they'll bring us luck.
I've got them Michael. They were at the bottom of the cab behind you. I'll put them on and then let's see if the radio is working. It is! Right, don't move while I find us a channel to listen to. Got one. Ahhhh... that's nice. You'll like this Michael. I know you like me and Raji singing, so we'll sing to it. I don't know the right words so we'll make some up about you and me and Raji and how much we love one another. I'm sorry I'm crying Michael, but I can't help it. And so me and Raji sing to Michael, the man we love more than anything on earth.
******************** ********************** **********************
The Long Night.
In a small concrete underground shelter at Abū Nakhlar, 20 miles SW of Doha. 1733 hours local time.
Mohammad bin Shalim places his pen on the desk and sits back in his swivel chair, contemplating the upcoming wedding of his third daughter, when, in stark contrast to the rows of green lights in front of him, a red light flashes. He checks the provenance. 26. He rechecks it, and then opens the ledger on the desk by his right hand.
26. Transit UK. He opens another ledger. Transit UK in progress from London. Then he sees the red sticker at the top of the page. Only once before has he seen this level of status on this route. Normally, it's always orange or yellow-flagged.
He must follow strict procedure, and gets out of his chair and goes to the large green cabinet to reset the circuit. The red light goes out, and he holds his breath, hoping that it's a circuit fault, but the red light reappears once power is restored. He turns to his superior work colleague and explains everything.
Headquarters Dhofa Military Base. 1829 hours local time.
Major Mustapha Barzani of the Qatari Special Forces and his British counterpart, Major David Lee-Hemmings, study the data 33°45'10.3"N 45°24'21.3"E supplied by the American satellite, and locate the data point on a 1 inch to a mile map of the Mandali area of Iraq. As the crow files, from where they are, it's seven hundred miles NNW to the location. Brigadier Harold Stephenson, who is in charge of the Military base, and watching what they do, spreads the map a little wider and points to a spot in Iran: Kermanshah, and says quietly, "We have a 22 SAS unit training in the area."
In the Middle East, Diplomacy is more about greased palms than diplomacy, and at 2100 hours, enough palms have been greased (or promised to be greased) for a squadron of 22 SAS to get permission to cross the border from Iran into Iraq in a Puma twin turbine-powered helicopter under the command of Captain Mike Fellows. Flying low over villages and scattering goatherds and villagers alike, it takes just seven minutes after crossing the border to locate the overturned truck at coordinate 33°45'10.3"N 45°24'21.3"E. But because there is nowhere to land the helicopter, the twelve-man squad drop from the craft on ropes to take up position around the wrecked truck before the craft zooms noisily into the air to take up position some way away when the pilot finds a suitable place to touch down.
2217 hours, and after the sound of the Puma fades away, only the faint sound of dogs in the distance can be heard as Captain Mike Fellows and Corporal Bill Stanier approach the wrecked truck. Captain Fellows's orders are simple: Investigate Qatari diplomatic transport distress signal. High security goods in transit. The situation looks simple enough. The truck has left the road and crashed down an embankment, so, carrying high powered torches, Captain Fellows and Corporal Stanier approach from the back of the truck around the roof of the overturned trailer. Then they hear something strange... Arabic music coming from the smashed cab of the truck. And the light of the cab is on, illuminating a small area in and around the front of the cab.
Captain Fellows has served in many spheres of combat and he's used to most things, but he's deeply moved when he sees what's going on. The small, blood soaked boy isn't aware of their presence as he strokes a bloody rag across the bloody head of the man who is doubled up at the bottom of the cab, and in a voice that is crackling with fatigue, he continues to sing along with the music. Captain Fellows is reminded of a dog that refuses to leave its dead owner.
Investigate Qatari diplomatic transport distress signal. High security goods in transit.
Captain Fellows is thinking on his feet as he barks out orders to the troopers as they try to extricate the injured man. Brute force by six troopers is enough to lift the cab so his hand can be freed from under the window strut of the truck, and in a few more minutes the casualty is out and being attended to by the medic; Lieutenant Graves. Corporal Stanier is comforting the boy while all this is going on, but the boy is still wailing his stupid songs even though the radio has been turned off. He's obviously in deep shock.
High security goods in transit. A load of lush furniture! That's all that's in the trailer. Something is wrong. Very wrong! For a start, unless this truck is carrying something of great importance, he wouldn't be here. One does not violate sovereign territory without good reason, and what the hell is a small boy of obvious Arabic descent doing comforting the driver? It has to be sorted, and quickly.
Lieutenant Graves is horrified when he hears what the captain has asked him to do. No way can he give the small boy a shot of Methamphetamine in the state he's in. He stares at Captain Fellows, and growls, "You can't do that to the boy. It could kill him!"
Captain Fellows grabs his arm. "Jake, something is wrong here. We're not on a pleasure trip. We're breaking every rule in the book right now. I need to know what's going on. This is supposed to be a high security cargo and all we've found is a load of fucking furniture. The lads have searched the cab and there's nothing in it of value other than enough money a transit vehicle of this type would normally carry on a journey of this length. It's come from the UK and is now wrecked in the middle of nowhere and not on the direct route to Doha. It shouldn't be here. This is one of those rare incidences when we really need to know. Only the boy can tell us what's happened. Now I'm ordering you to inject him with enough upper to get some sense out of him."
Just as he's said that, Sergeant McGraw comes to them, and says, "Sir. There's been a firefight here. I've just found two entry holes in the roof of the cab. I think the driver has been slotted. And I've found three passports amongst the papers. One is an old British one and is for Captain Michael Johnson, another is a dual nationality one... Quatari/British for Michael Johnson and he lives in Cornwall in England, and the other is a British passport for Hamzah Bousaid, born May 1st 1957 and he's of the same address, so that will be the boy's and he's almost fourteen years old. He's definitely the boy in the photograph in the passport."
The Methamphetamine is kicking in big style. The boy's eyes dilate and he begins to shiver uncontrollably as he grips the string of Hindu prayer beads that he has around his neck. A few moments later and he's almost dancing; his dick is fully aroused and is sticking grotesquely out from his flimsy, blood-soaked shorts, and Captain Fellows knows he's been overdosed, so he takes his notebook from his tunic breast pocket to record everything the boy says, and then he grabs the boy's shoulder and stares into the mad eyes. "Do you speak English?"
"Who are you?"
"Hamzah Raji Khan Bousaid."
"How old are you?"
"We are almost fourteen."
"We? Is there someone else involved besides you and the gentleman you were holding?"
"Yessir! Raji Khan. He is me." The boy thumps his chest. "We are Hamzah and Raji! We live together. He is me."
Captain Fellows thinks he knows what's going on. The boy has an imaginary friend and the drug is making him hallucinate, so he doesn't pursue it, and asks, "Who is the man you are with?"
The boy almost stands to attention. "Captain Michael Johnson, son of Alexander Johnson who won Victoria Cross."
"What is Captain Johnson doing driving this truck?"
"He works for Qatar Embassy."
Everything the boy is saying matches up to the information in the three passports. "Who has shot Captain Johnson?"
The boy's eyes are darting all over the place. He's hyped up to high heaven. "Range Rover. Red light, yellow light."
"What do you mean?"
"Red light, yellow light. Lights on back of Range Rover. Stopped. Michael told us to hide under bed. They take box."
"Box! Blue Mercedes. 412412. Man exchange metal box for money. Red white and black chequered keffiyeh. Big man. Laughing man. Give box. Take money. We go back to Baghdad."
When Captain Fellows has written all this down, he asks, "What was in the box?"
The boy's head shakes violently. "Don't know. Not allowed to look at anything. Locked. Small safe. Then shooting. They take box and Michael's gun and drive truck off road."
Captain Fellows computes the information in his mind. The high the boy is going through has highlighted everything he has seen, even to the numbers of one of the vehicles involved. Without the drug being injected, he would not have remembered that. It's beginning to make some sort of sense now. Typical Arab treachery. Handover money... re-take whatever was in the box by hijacking the truck on the return journey. But was this transaction one by Johnson off his own bat, or was it legit? Sounds legit, but he has to ask, "Was Captain Johnson ordered to exchange the money for the box?"
"Yessir. Not sure it was money. Large bag. Michael said it was probably money. We are not allowed to look. Orders. From Imaan. Embassy in England."
Captain Fellows is just about to ask the boy who Imaan is, when he suddenly begins to shake violently, and his eyes shoot up into his head.
Lieutenant Graves catches the boy as he falls, and glares at Captain Fellows. "That's two casualties we have now!"
"How is Johnson?"
"Almost a goner. He soon will be unless we can get him into intensive care. The same will happen to this boy. He's about eight stone. I gave him enough upper to hype a sixteen stone trooper."
Captain Fellows nods. "Let's move then, but do a double check to make sure there's not another boy around. I'm pretty sure the boy was hallucinating and has an imaginary friend, but double check to make sure."
0120 hours, Mukhabarat complex in the Mansour district of Baghdad, Iraq. March 14th 1971.
Secret Police Chief Nizar Hussein Al-Tikrit is in a vile mood when his car drops him off at headquarters. Whatever this problem is, it had better be seriously important or there will be a few widows before dawn. When he sits at his desk and sees a written order that he has to telephone General Abdu Allah Al-Zahawi, he begins to sweat. Twenty minutes later he is sitting in his chauffeured SUV as it speeds north towards Baqubah, closely followed by two more SUV's filled with lesser beings of his feared organization.
As the vehicle travels along the almost deserted highway, he re-reads the typed information he was given by his assistant.
Qatar Diplomatic Transport (blue and white articulated vehicle) attacked in transit. Vehicle allowed diversion to Mandali as arranged with Directorate 2 on February 3rd 1971. (Documents enclosed.) Request specific from the highest authority in Qatar.
At 2030 hours, permission requested from high authority channels in Doha to Directorate 1 for British Special Forces entry from Iran to investigate incident. Permission granted. (See enclosed document 2c.) Casualties 2 driver and assistant. (Both now evacuated to Tehran.) Definite signs of firearm projectiles in vehicle power unit (small arms). Conclusion together with ancillary information as per attached document 43971: vehicle attacked after primary rendezvous, and collected contents stolen on return journey to urban Baghdad.
Transit vehicle and all contents now destroyed by British Special Forces before leaving scene at coordinate 33°45'10.3"N 45°24'21.3"E.
Orders for you to investigate and attempt recovery of stolen goods. If recovered, place under high security and await further orders.
Further orders: contents of secure package FOR YOUR EYES ONLY to confirm recovery.
Secret Police Chief Nizar Hussein Al-Tikrit is as wiley as they come, and he knows exactly what has happened. The driver has picked up the package and paid for it. Then, on his return journey, the contents have been stolen by the person, or persons acting on his behalf, and the culprit is now in possession of both the money and the goods. And he knows exactly who the culprit is.
He re-reads attached document 43971. Having been educated at an English public school, he had insisted the document had not been translated. One can get a better perspective when one reads from the mind of someone familiar. One tiny error of translation can give a document a whole new meaning. But this time he will be reading the mind of the Special Forces Commander.
Assessment of situation and conclusions by British Special Forces Commander.
Unable to interview driver of diplomatic vehicle. Gunshot wounds and other injuries. Driver unconscious.
Interview with travelling assistant who is almost fourteen years of age and is of Middle East origin.
Although in shock, we ascertained the following information from the assistant whilst he was under influence of Methamphetamine.
1) Contact 1 in Blue Mercedes saloon number 412412. Contact 1 wearing red, white, and black chequered keffiyeh. Large person. Jovial. Exchange of (probably) money for small metal safe took place three miles from Mandali. Contents of metal safe unknown. After exchange, diplomatic vehicle was turned around and en route to Baghdad to continue its journey to Doha.
2) Contact 2 with white SUV Range Rover with one red tail light and one yellow tail light. (Vehicle number unknown.) Before contact with occupants of SUV Range Rover and before the occupants could see assistant, the driver ordered assistant to hide under mattress in sleeping compartment. In that position, he heard gunshots and then heard someone enter the vehicle cab. He heard one person say he had found the small metal safe and a small arms weapon belonging to the transit driver. The vehicle was then put into gear by unknown person and driven off the road and into a dry river bed approximately 50 yards down steep incline. Vehicle found on its side in dry river bed.
3) After an intensive search, we were unable to locate the metal safe and presumed it had been stolen. Our instructions were to destroy vehicle and all contents. This was carried out after all personal belongings had been removed.
4) Injured personnel taken by helicopter back to Iran.
5) Nothing else known.
6) Conclusions. Highly probable that contact 1 and contact 2 were associated. Also very probable that contact 1 had not informed contact 2 that there were two persons in the diplomatic vehicle. I can come to no other conclusion why the assistant driver was not removed from the equation.
Secret Police Chief Nizar Hussein Al-Tikrit digests the information. He's impressed, especially that the commander injected the witness with Methamphetamine. He would have done the same. Others might have broken his fingers or kneecapped him, but interrogating a shocked person requires cunning and not brute force. Yes, the British Commander is worthy of respect. Because of his actions, there is sufficient information to take action on two fronts: the home of Muhammad Al-Miqdadiyah, and also that of his brother-in-law, Ayaan Muhammad Al-Miqdadiyah. The former owns the blue Mercedes, and he has been informed the latter owns the Range Rover. Even local gossip about different coloured tail-lights is logged in the highly efficient regime he runs. And because of this information, a team is already ahead and on its way to Mandali to arrest the tribal leader Muhammad Al-Miqdadiyah, and this team he's leading will soon be visiting Ayaan Muhammad Al-Miqdadiyah at his splendid home at Baqubah where, most probably, the metal safe will still be. The Secret Police Chief grins, and his mood eases. They seemed to have made two fatal errors... Ayaan Muhammad Al-Miqdadiyah had not been informed by his brother-in-law that there were two occupants of the diplomatic vehicle, and they should have burned the wrecked truck before they left it. There would have been no witnesses then.
1120 hours, Mukhabarat complex in the Mansour district of Baghdad, Iraq. March 14th 1971.
Secret Police Chief Nizar Hussein Al-Tikrit is sitting in his office feeling highly pleased with himself. Although he's tired, he's waiting for a call to inform him that his car is ready to take him home. He will need at least six hours sleep before he dines this evening with Saddam Hussain. While he's waiting for his car, he ponders over the previous ten hours.
Sometimes his work is extremely difficult, and other times things slot easily into place. Today has been the latter. Muhammad Al-Miqdadiyah and Ayaan Muhammad Al-Miqdadiyah are now safely tucked away in Abu Ghraib Prison, where they will remain until their fate is decided by The Great Man. Perhaps over dinner tonight that will be decided. Normally, they would have been dispatched, but one's enemies can occasionally be useful. After all, what they did was not so bad. Their crime was against whom they did it.
FOR YOUR EYES ONLY! It was revealed only when he was safely back in his office. The key-code to the small metal safe was gladly given by Muhammad Al-Miqdadiyah when he was told the consequences of not doing so. He had the lives of his seventeen children and three wives plus his own life and those of his brother-in law's family to consider. But even Secret Police Chief Nizar Hussein Al-Tikrit was taken aback when he discovered what all the fuss was about. He certainly had never seen one so beautiful, and was even tempted to lie and say that the box was empty; do away with the two crazy fools who had double-crossed the diplomatic driver, and nobody would be any the wiser. But Police Chief Nizar Hussein Al-Tikrit is not a fool. Neither is the man he will be dining with tonight. And it was on His orders that the locked safe, complete with original contents, was taken onto a Directorate 1 private jet, accompanied by four of his most trusted servants, to be delivered to Doha, and only when Police Chief Nizar Hussein Al-Tikrit received confirmation that the goods-in-transit had been handed over and signed for, and after a telephone call to Saddam Hussain to confirm successful delivery, did he order a car to take him home.
It's been a good day, but still the sight of the beautiful object will not fade away. It was more beautiful than the most gorgeous of girls, and even compares with twelve-year-old Sadiq who will be waiting for him when he gets home. A woman for breeding; a boy for pleasure, but nothing beats a melon in the desert. Foolish sayer. He, obviously, had never met Sadiq before he made that saying up. No other boy Police Chief Nizar Hussein Al-Tikrit has met in his life can perform so well, and none come close to his amazing beauty. He is all things to all men. Well, those whose morals have not been twisted by control freaks in The West. Fools!
Police Chief Nizar Hussein Al-Tikrit is tired. Too tired to even disturb his favourite wife. The beautiful boy, Sadiq, drained him of his bodily essence earlier, and the effects of smoking the shared hookah after dinner with Sadam Hussain have eased his mind of all problems. Not that he has any now. Like the obedient servant he is, he could find no objections to his leader's command that he should select four Kurds and place them before a court in the morning. They will be found guilty of robbery against a High Power and sentenced to be hanged shortly afterwards. By this time tomorrow, Muhammad Al-Miqdadiyah and Ayaan Muhammad Al-Miqdadiyah will be free men. But they will never be free men. Like himself, they are members of the Ba'ath Party, which, through fear and brutality, rules this great country. Police Chief Nizar Hussein Al-Tikrit laughs inwardly. His actions will be greatly rewarded and the world will be his oyster. Oyster! How ironic!
******************** ********************** **********************
Archie Whittingham. Sunday 14th March 1971. Kernow Art Studio. Cornwall, England.
The sound of the gale blowing outside wakes me from my slumbers. I check the clock... just turned 7am. There will probably be no customers today, so a lie-in will be fine. Anyway, I need another couple of hours sleep. Alain kept us awake `till well past midnight. Goodness knows where he gets his energy from, but he just giggles at me when I tell him that a thirty-six-year-old man cannot keep pace with a seventeen-year old. I turn over and snuggle into him. He's got his back to me, so it's easy to spoon behind him and wrap my arm over him. He stirs slightly, realises what I've done, snuggles himself even closer to me so our naked bodies are as one, and then drifts off to sleep again. Typical! Even a force eight gale can't disturb him in the morning. One of my biggest problems these days is getting him up so he can go to the art school.
Just for fun, I kiss the nape of his neck and fondle the softness of the thing that is usually never soft when we're in bed, but because it remains soft, I realise that he must have gone right back into the Land of Nod.
It wasn't soft last night.
I knew I was in for trouble when he picked up You and Me and began to lick it voraciously. Then he handed me Richard, which, despite his protestations that he enjoyed it cold because of the shock value, had previously been warmed up in its red velvet cover in front of the fire before we went to bed.
Richard is the cause of much hilarity and fun with us. Richard is almost two years old now. Richard was created for me for my birthday, but it was a typical fifteen-year-old boy present. Although it was a gift to me, its usefulness was for Alain. Much like when he buys me a box of chocolates and then eats most of them before I have time to have any. If we were to enter Richard in an abstract ceramic art exhibition, it would win hands down. Richard is a perfect ceramic replica of my penis, complete with a chubby ballsac.
And last night Richard was used frequently to satiate my boy's voracious, sexual appetite... along with every other tool that could be used to give him pleasure. But why was last night so frenzied and long-lasting? I know why. Yesterday was the first time I've seen him since I dropped him off on Thursday morning, because on Thursday and Friday night he stayed over with his friend, Gerald Prosser, at Gerald's home.
It's a most unusual liaison. Gerald is a lovely young man, but he's more girlish than a girl. I never question Alain's decision to stay over with Gerald. It isn't the way we work, and Alain and I have had more than three wonderful years to get used to the way we work. There's no third degree from me, and Alain never, ever offers the slightest information about the other side of him. It's become a given that we accept what we are and just get on with life. And why is that? Because there is one thing of absolute certainty with our association... we love each other.
How do you know when someone truly loves you? It really isn't difficult when it's true. For instance, when we're sitting on the sofa together, Alain will often wrap himself around me and tell me that he needs a cuddle, and while I'm cuddling him, occasionally he'll cry. I'm used to it now, but in the beginning, when I asked him why he was crying, his comment was quite terse: "Because I love you, you silly old fool!" And there are other things he does. He'll leave me at the college and hand me a large foolscap piece of paper. Then off he goes with a grin, and when I look at the paper, I see that he's filled it up from top to bottom with the words: Je t'aime, or if he's decided to vary it and he's in one of his fun moods, he writes, I love Archie Whittingham all the way down the paper, and then ends it with a silly drawing of me. And I keep every single one of his silly letters in my Loving Box. I don't hide the contents from him. The old Georgian writing desk is never locked. Sometimes, when there's nothing good on TV, he'll get it out and together we giggle away at the contents. It contains not only his letters and his scribbles, but many other small items that I've stored away like a love-struck magpie. Alain is a very emotional boy. If we've been looking through the Loving Box and reminiscing, our lovemaking afterwards is always different. Richard is left in his velvet cover and we make love face to face only, exchanging loving kisses from beginning to end. That's how you really know when someone loves you. That's why I'm not bothered what's going on with him and Gerald Prosser. The other part of his life is simply not my business, just so long as we never lose the loving part of what we are. And we've both accepted that situation.
I smile to myself. My fondling is beginning to take effect, and it's time to play one of our games that we both enjoy.
******************** ********************** **********************
I smile to myself. I've been trying to play dead for ages, but Archie's gentle fondling has finally overcome my futile efforts. It's a game I never win, and a game I never want to win. We've played it for years, since when I was a small boy. I'm not so big now and can still snuggle easily into Archie's cuddling position, but there is one part of me that has grown exponentially compared to the rest of me. And that part of me is now responding to the expert finger manipulation from the person I love most in the world.
Gerald adores that part of me. He worships it as much as Archie and Roger do. Only Michael treats it with contempt. To him, it's like the rest of me... there to be used as he sees fit. Michael is not sadistic; he knows exactly how I enjoy making love with him. Making love? No, we never make love. Ours is an association of need. He's told me that I'm the most sexual object on earth. Not the most beautiful; not the most gorgeous; but the sexiest creature he's ever known. That's why he desires me. He says I bring out the animalistic part of him; the only boy who can unlock those troglodyte genes that lie dormant whenever he's with anyone else. And the experience is mutual. With everyone else I am careful what I do. Even with Archie, despite our shared experiences, the key to the real door of my inner desires remain locked. Only Michael has that key. When Michael has taken me, I am like the cur dog... fawning before him; subservient; cowering and proud of the bruises both on my body and inside it.
I am missing him. Where is he now? Is he bedding Hamzah in some far and distant land? But I am not jealous of Hamzah, nor am I jealous of what Stuart had before Hamzah. I have no need to be jealous. Whatever they give, or have given, it pales into comparison to what I have given to Michael. There are two keys, and just as Michael has the key to my perversions, I am the only one who holds the key to Michael's inner desires. That's why I'm not jealous. One is only jealous when someone has something one does not possess, and only I have the key to the real Michael, just as only I have the key to Archie and Gerald. Regarding the latter two, that key is affection. With my special man, Archie, I would never misuse it. I would be frightened to do that. Archie possesses the only key to something equally as precious as the other side of me. Archie is the only person who has the key to my affections. I love him; I adore him; and I know I always will.
Archie's expert manipulations have brought me to full arousal.
Gerald adores me when I'm in this state.
What a strange couple Gerald and I are! We're identical in that we both like to be taken, but my lovely foppish friend has discovered a part of me I never knew existed: the magnanimous side of what I am. I do get great satisfaction being with him, but that's because, when he fawns over me afterwards, I discover in him the same thing that Michael brings out in me. How strange! It's like an experiment. I have discussed it with Roger. He was most pleased when, after we had shared a wonderful two hour bed-session during a time I was at home with Mama in Paris, I told him about Gerald and me during one of my visits to him. Then Roger paid me the most wonderful compliment: he said I was the most exciting boy he had ever known, and that my tales bore out all the truths he has been shouting from the rooftops about the makeup of what makes a boy. He made me giggle like a little girl when he said he would love to exhibit me naked on a pedestal in the middle of St. Peter's Square in Rome and cry `Hypocrite!' to every man who became erected when they looked upon me. Then he made me laugh out loud when he said the first erection would be the Pope's. That's why I still visit Roger every time I'm in Paris. He has a wonderful sense of humour. And if I'm truthful, I actually love Roger. That's because I'm discovering how many different kinds of love there are.
I'm still playing dead when Archie slips inside me. I'm impressed. Considering what I made him do last night, I thought it would take at least twenty-four hours for him to half-recuperate. In fact, if I'm truthful, I'm surprised he isn't using Richard instead of himself. It wouldn't be the first time we've played this game with Richard, and occasionally, Archie has left him cold before using him. He knows there can be no pretence of me being asleep when a freezing cold Richard shocks me to the marrow. But Archie wants to love-play today. This is what he likes. He knows what my reaction will be.
And when it's all over, he gets his reaction. I turn over and we kiss long and gently. These are special moments to us both, and especially for me. I am in the arms of the man I have loved since I was fourteen years old and first looked at that picture of him in his business brochure... the wonderful, soft, caring man who took me into our studio that cold day and made me welcome. I adore Archie more than life itself, and after our first few kisses, tears stream from my eyes because I adore this man so much. Of all the things I do in my life, these moments are by far the most precious to me.
******************** ********************** **********************
Alexander Johnson. Sunday 14th March 1971. The Midlands, England.
My oldest son, Alexander 3rd, aged just fourteen, takes the front of the two man kayak and helps me load it onto the roof rack of the Range Rover alongside the other.
He's growing tall now, and looks even more like Michael. He's just like him athletically, too, and Michael was bursting with pride when I told him that Alex had won the Midlands 880 yards and one mile races in January. So was I. It brought memories flooding back to me of our times together with Dada before he died. Dada and me were very close that way. We were both proud of Michael and his athletic prowess. But Dada would joke with me and ask me not to let on how proud he was. He said he didn't want Michael to be getting big-headed. But I did tell Michael. Michael just laughed and kept up the pretence and only occasionally said he'd won this or that as if it was commonplace. Then me and Michael would laugh our socks off when we went to bed. It was only after Michael won the All-England Schools Cross-country race that the walls of indifference came tumbling down. I can clearly remember Dada's misty eyes when he said we had a hero in the family that day when Michael came home while we were eating dinner, and before Michael came home, Dada kept on at me to make him the best dinner he had ever had to celebrate. That's why I did him that pork chop in the oven. It was Michael's favourite meal.
Alexander is becoming the second man in the house. When we get to Blithfield Reservoir, he'll be in charge of the kayak he and twelve-year-old Michael will be in. I'll sort out me and Carol, and I'm never worried about our two boys in the other. I would be if there was only Michael in it. He's mustard! Trouble with a capital T! He reminds me of me: rough and brittle on the outside, but soft and chewy as caramel toffee inside. But that's his Uncle Michael, too. The only place you can hurt him is inside.
I'm just tying the kayaks down when, because the front door is still wide open, I hear the telephone ring. The first thought that comes into my mind is that Carol shouldn't answer it. It will probably be work calling about something, and the last thing I need now is a call-out because some stupid arsehole has driven a bulldozer into a quarry, and when Carol calls me and says it's for me, I'm quite angry when I snap at her, "Is it bloody work?"
She has a strange look on her face when she shakes her head, and says, "No. It's Imaan from the Embassy. He wants to speak to you."
I go cold all over. Only once before have I spoken to this guy, and that was because Michael was overdue because of a serious breakdown on one of his daft trips and Michael had asked him to phone me so I wasn't worried because he'd broken down miles from anywhere and couldn't telephone me himself. I remember my reaction then: it was to wonder if something had happened to Michael, and now I'm hoping that the idiot has broken down again. I take the receiver from Carol, and say into the mouthpiece, "Hello. Alexander Johnson speaking. What's he been up to this time?"
******************** ********************** **********************
When Alex takes the receiver from me, I begin to shake. There was just something in the man's voice that was not right when he said he wanted to speak to Alex. He said it was very urgent. And I know something is terribly wrong when Alex slumps into the chair beside the telephone table and I watch the blood drain from his face after he's carefully replaced the receiver. I put my hand on his shoulder, and ask, "What's wrong?"
Alex looks up at me. Never have I seen so much pain on my man's face as tears flow from his eyes, and then he says one word: "Michael."
To be continued...
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